Day 359-- the Black Dahlia (2006)

James Ellroy's novel the Black Dahlia is a macabre masterpiece, two-thirds dark crime procedural and a third near-gothic horror. It's a harsh book, but incredibly well-written and--frankly--incredibly captivating.

I had been following it's path to the silver screen with equal parts anticipation and dread; I loved the idea of seeing a film adaptation, but realized two stumbling blocks: the novel is overly intricate (maybe complex is the better word) and almost too graphic.

That said, I guess the resulting movie actually does an admirable job--subplots are streamlined, and director Brian De Palma is tasteful in some regards (almost ironic if you're familiar with De Palma pictures). But while much is right, the movie still sinks, especially in the tangled third act.

An adaptation of Ellroy's fictional take on the the murder of wannabe starlet Elizabeth Short, the movie follows two detectives in post-WWII L.A.: Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Harnett) and Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). Their introduction is set up very well: both are boxers on the side, and the LAPD uses them to drum up public support for a pension/budget increase plan. They end up becoming partners and best friends, sharing their time with Lee's sorta-girlfriend Kay Lake (Scarlett Johanson).

They eventually get caught up in Betty Short's murder, shattering friendships and lives as the movie progresses. Bucky eventually gets involved with a Short-lookalike and suspect (Hilary Swank), and things go wacky in that patented James Ellroy way.

But wait, it goes maybe too wacky--screenwriter Josh Friedman tweaked the novel's plot to get it to work on the screen, but a few changes make the last half of the film almost unbearable. The film gets bogged down in excess of every type (including hilarious over-acting), turning the novel's razor-sharp ending into a gooey farce. Look, I know film and page are different forms of art, but the movie sinks during the last half hour no matter what I think of the novel.

That said, Hartnett does a fair job as the lead--he was criticized as being cold, but he plays the Bucky of the novel well (aloof, reserved, almost too quiet). The rest of the cast is passable, but Eckhart is misused, and police brass Russ Millard (Mike Starr) and D.A. Ellis Loew (Pat Fischer) are sorely altered. Their characters were important in the novel, and could've easily been important in the film...but they ended up as mere window dressing, there to deliver plot points before being whisked away.

It's also worth noting that the real star of the movie is Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography. The movie LOOKS amazing; it's crisp and eerily sun-painted, just like an Ellroy novel. Zsigmond deserved the Oscar nod, that's for sure.

In the end, the Black Dahlia runs like this: it starts perfectly, and quickly sags to a cheap phoned-in neo-noir before the two hours are up. I might just go watch L.A. Confidential again (a good Ellroy adaptaion) and wait for White Jazz to come out next year.


posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/30/2007 11:09:00 PM, ,

Day 358

Summer is starting to pack up, take the tents down and consider the '08 tour. I wanted to go to Kennywood (check!) and Cedar Point (no check!) before the summer ended. Fat chance on the latter.

But one thing I have yet to do--lay out at night and watch the stars. There's still time.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/30/2007 12:35:00 AM, ,

Day 357-- culture.ish, volume two

Have you seen the first issue? It's out now.

Nothing like shameless self-promotion, but hey--we love what we're doing, and we'd love if you joined in on the fun.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/28/2007 11:25:00 PM, ,

Day 356-- it's Blade Runner all over the place

I watched Batman Begins tonight. I'd never seen the movie before, and I liked it considerably. Throughout the film, though, I noticed many stylistic flourishes that reminded me of the incredible, incredible Blade Runner.

Well, turns out that Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan took lots of inspiration from Blade Runner. Doing so served Nolan well.

Then, I recalled that means minutes before watching Batman Begins, my friends and I saw a commercial that left me stammering, "that...looks like Blade Runner." I can't even remember what the commercial was for, but it featured panning shots of oppressive skyscrapers weighed down by giant, Asian woman-adorned TV screens.

Despite the fact that Blade Runner bombed when it came to theaters in the early '80s, it's left a considerable cultural impression (not to mention a huge cult following, including countless filmmakers and authors). It's left enough impact that this sort of thing can be released and actually have people clamoring to be it. (I am one of those people.)

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/28/2007 12:12:00 AM, ,

Day 355-- fantasy football

I just participated in a live draft for fantasy football. I've never done it before (fantasy football, I mean), and since most know I'm an ignoramus regarding most sports, here were my criteria for selecting players:

-Cool names (because cool names = cool players). Eastern European names got bonus cool points, as did people with mildly suggestive names.

-Players who ranked last got picked first by me. Someone has to love them.

-Location was a plus: "I like New England," I thought, "as well as Colorado. Let's pick people with cool names from there."

So here's hoping that my team--the New Originals--will win. Hooray!

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/26/2007 11:25:00 PM, ,

Day 354-- War (2007)

I read an article on actor Jason Statham in the August 31 issue of Entertainment Weekly. The author mentions Statham's near opponent-less running for the new red-meat action hero of the 21st century. Statham is magnetic in War, but that doesn't make it a good movie.

Statham plays Jack Crawford, a San Fransisco police officer in the Asian crime division. After his partner is murdered by a legendary assassin known as Rogue (Jet Li), Crawford swears revenge. The two eventually square off when Rogue initiates a war between the Triads (Hong Kong-based organized crime) and the yakuza (Japanese organized crime), playing both sides against the other.

Most of the cast sleepwalks through their roles, especially Li. For an actor renown for his martial art prowess, he does very little hand-to-hand fighting, instead relying on his gimmicky special-guns-that-use-special-bullets-that-let-cops-know-he-was-there-because-of-special-silver-shell-casings.
And the supporting cast is wasted--the always-great Luis Guzman is tossed off what is essentially an extended cameo, and then there's the rest of Crawford's unit: the token African-America, the token woman, the token new guy (who also doubles as the token Asian).

There were elements of the movie that actually gave me hope throughout that it would end up being better than it was--some of the action scenes were inspired, the almost worked in spots, and there was an occasion or two where I thought, "Huh, this does a good job at showing how hollow and terrible revenge is." But then the movie went back into 'it could've been better' mode.

I'll blame the director, Phillip Atwell. The dude has just done music videos before this, and you can expect as much just from the overblown visuals and unnecessary mugging. And a cheap, shameful twist near the end was a slap in the face, especially when you realize which direction the film takes it. Shame on you, lazy screenwriter(s).

The few good bits do not make War a good movie. In fact, it's something that ultimately left me uneasy--I think I enjoyed the adrenaline high afterward, but when I started thinking more about the movie I realized how lame it ultimately was.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/26/2007 01:34:00 AM, ,

Day 353

I've been working on a list of words I want to avoid in general, but especially in writing.

This is just a sampling.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/24/2007 11:46:00 PM, ,

Day 352-- some practical things I've learned while playing Doom 3

I got the video game Doom 3 earlier this week for bargain. I've learned a few things since then:

  1. If you ever get offered a job at a research facility on Mars, decline.
  2. Tip to contractors that may design Mars research stations sometime down the road: please install good working lights in every part of the facility. Thanks.
  3. Make sure to stock all Mars research facilities with night-vision gear or--just in case someone does have a flashlight--a roll of duct tape to tape it to something so you don't have to put your gun down to use a flashlight. Just a thought.
  4. If you're designing some sort of fusion core or nuclear reactor, make sure that you can repair it without having to hurdle over rotating catwalks.
  5. Please--when planning your Mars research station--stock more ammunition for your weapons. Just in case creatures from Hell attack.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/24/2007 12:18:00 AM, ,

Day 351-- The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, by Marilynne Robinson (1998)

Marilynne Robinson just may be my favorite living author. But Marilynne Robinson just may be too smart for the likes of me.

The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought is a collection with a common theme. Robinson issues a rallying cry against the willful ignorance that western society has relied on regarding texts. Your average American will say they know that John Calvin was a stoic, humorless Scot from the 1800s that hated women and blacks and sex and fun because a friend read a book about another book about another book that said Calvin was cruel. If they even know who Calvin is at all. Robinson urges, on the other hand, to go to the source--to read about something, learn about it, understand how cultural standards play a role, and then go from there.

I didn't use the Calvin example on a whim--Robinson is Calvinist, and spends several essays defending he and his followers in America. She also takes critical looks at Darwinists (which is different from evolutionists, she points out) and writes much on abolitionists, schoolbooks from the 1800s and community.

And honestly, what I understood was amazing. Robinson is such a gifted writer and thinker that I can't help but be in awe (and be in agreement) with what she writes. But man, I did not 'get' about half of the essays. Robinson has a knack for going off on intellectual tangents that are so far over my head that it's funny. I re-read countless paragraphs and--after going some a third time--just gave up.

In short, I love Robinson's work, and some of her essays are great. But her fiction has more of a lasting impact on me than her essays do. (I just found out she's taking a sabbatical from her teaching duties this fall to work on her third novel!)


posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/22/2007 08:38:00 PM, ,

Day 350

One of my duties in Geneva's PR department is to keep an eye on print media for any mention of the college. I use Google Alerts to help me with this--I get an e-mail daily that has links to any online publication (which includes most American newspapers and, interestingly, 'blogs) that mentions "Geneva College." It's thorough--I bet I'll see my own 'blog in an e-mail in a day or two.

But the other day I saw a 'blog that mentioned GC, and--though I'm only supposed to keep tabs on newspapers/TV news sites and the like--I dived in to read it. For fun.

Turns out it's about my adviser from my college days, a man I admired as a professor and friend. The 'blog writer is a woman who had him as a professor when he taught at a college in the Midwest. It's a lovely, well-written post about his writing, kindness and family. It's easy to become accustom to the thoughts and feelings of your community; sometimes seeing the thoughts of someone from the outside--across the country, even--can remind you that you're not the only one who has interaction with the folks in your community.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/21/2007 09:10:00 PM, ,

Day 349-- breaking news

This just in--Byron Borger and his traveling circus hit Geneva's campus tomorrow. Byron is giving a talk for my college's faculty retreat; and the linked post on his blog has some good stuff to say about this. I'm glad he's here--I'm excited to hear the faculty's response, especially from those that don't know of him.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/20/2007 11:59:00 PM, ,

Day 348-- the simple joys of Teenage Fanclub

Before I went to my church's evening worship service, I listened to a few Teenage Fanclub songs as I dressed. The Fannies (as they're lovingly called in their native Scotland) have always been one of my favorite bands since I discovered them around 1999.

They've always been a strong band--the three guitarists all write and sing lead on their own songs, and the rest of the band harmonizes like crazy. But as they grew from a loud, chaotic power pop band into a more earthy, soft-edged power pop outfit, they've grown lyrically in a way that I really appreciate.

That's not to say they were poor back in the early '90s--some of their songs are still incredible (the heartbreaking "Alcoholiday" comes to mind). But the middle-aged Fannies have gained a nuanced, simple poetic delivery that celebrates the simple joys in life: growing old with a spouse, walking through fields in the warm sun, enjoying life ("so much under the sun I should play for," as they put it). It's great when a group of guys can still write great, hook-filled power pop tracks that celebrate stuff like monogamy and nice chats and long strolls without falling symptom to the Eagles curse (aka become boring).

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/19/2007 11:29:00 PM, ,

Day 347

Thanks to the autumn movie preview issue of Entertainment Weekly, I now have a lost of movies I want to see before the end of the year:

-3:10 to Yuma (Sept. 7)
-Eastern Promises (Sept. 14)
-The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Sept. 21)
-Into the Wild (Sept. 21)
-The Kingdom (Sept. 28)
-Lust, Caution (Sept. 28)

-Sleuth (Oct. 12)
-The Darjeeling Limited (Oct. ?)

-American Gangster (Nov. 2)
-The Kite Runner (Nov. 2)
-No Country for Old Men (Nov. 9)

-Atonement (Dec. 7)
-Leatherheads (Dec. 7)
-I Am Legend (Dec. 14)
-There Will Be Blood (Dec. 26)

How many of these will I see in theaters? Probably less than five. But hey, it's good to be ambitious!

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/18/2007 10:55:00 PM, ,

Day 346-- back to school

One of the weirdest aspects about working at my alma mater is the disconnect that happens when the students come back. This is the first time I've encountered this--it may change in time, I guess--but for now, it's like I'm stuck in a 1950s hard sci-fi time warp.

This is most clear when I eat in the school's cafeteria. I swipe my card (it reads 'faculty/staff' instead of 'student,' though), get in line, decide on what to eat. Students--kids a few years younger than me, at most--say hi, as do professors. But it's when the faculty that I've called by their title for years call me Jason and expect to hear their first name in return...that's when it hits. And then I realize I'm wearing a collared shirt and a tie and pressed pants.

I recognized fewer students than ever before, but that's OK. I don't expect to know many students well 10 years from now, but the distance between college freshmen and me isn't THAT far as of now. Maybe the weirdness will fade as time passes, but I still remember sitting at certain tables a few years back with friends, laughing and talking.

Here's to laughing and talking as a staff member.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/17/2007 11:58:00 PM, ,

Day 345-- the Naked City (1948)

"There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."

The Naked City was a groundbreaking film. Not only was it one of the first films shot entirely on location, but it also was a fairly realistic and frank homicide procedural. Jules Dassin's direction is--as usual--peerless, but while the film is good overall, it doesn't stack up to other great crime or noir films of the era, and it certainly doesn't stack up to Dassin's other great films.

A young socialite is found dead in her apartment. New York City homicide detectives, led by Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and 'new guy' Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor), quickly realize it's murder. (Remember that only new guys have names like Jimmy or Johnny.) One thing leads to another, and they start chasing clues and scratching off dead ends.

There's a lucid frankness about much of the plot, a realism that is rare in 1940s Hollywood cinema. The characters behave like real people, not catalysts to further the plot. There's a scene that involves the victim's parents that is just shockingly sad, and the main suspect is an unnervingly amoral grifter. The casting is great as well--it's good to see Fitzgerald--an aged, slurring Irishman--play something other than a town drunk or leprechaun.

But one thing that stuck out was Dassin's usual attention to detail. Though it was filmed nearly 60 years ago, the Naked City underscores NYC's majesty better than any film I've seen. The camera lingers over alleys and fire escapes as much as it does the skyline. It deserved the Best Cinematography and Film Editing Oscars it won.

The movie is plagued by some crippling problems, though. Producer Mark Hellinger--who died shortly after the film was made--provides a bizarre voiceover that pops up every possible unwelcome moment. A sizeable fraction of the film also veers into quasi-documentary territory, which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for Hellinger's drab voice describing mundane facts about New York, the camera panning over textiles and women mopping bank floors.

I liked it, though. I can see how the excellent TV show Homicide: Life on the Streets may have been inspired by the movie fifty years later, and you can see every NYC-set film trying to ape some of the majesty of these outside shots.


posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/16/2007 10:47:00 PM, ,

Day 344-- shame

I know the entire song by heart.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/16/2007 12:40:00 AM, ,

Day 343

I'm shocked (maybe I shouldn't be shocked at all?), shocked at how many great authors tend to avoid notice in certain areas. What causes this? Why do people in, say, Grand Rapids know Fredrick Buechner when no one in western PA does? And before the whole Pulitzer/Oprah deal, Cormac McCarthy was a rare find (save for the tattered movie edition of "All the Pretty Horses" collecting dust on the shelf of a used book vendor).

It has nothing to do with 'bad taste'--folks in this area are often well read and open to new authors. What is it, though? I feel like I'm missing something.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/14/2007 11:33:00 PM, ,

Day 342-- Thieves' Highway (1949)

Before his blacklisting during the McCarthy era and subsequent move to Europe, Jules Dassin made a string of solid American films. He was at his U.S. peak with Thieves' Highway, a tart piece of film noir pie that is incredibly filling.

Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) is a second-generation Greek immigrant that returns from the his WWII stint as a merchant marine. He learns that his father--a produce trucker--was maimed and robbed in an accident precipitated by crooked produce retailer Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb).

Nick teams up with Ed (Millard Mitchell), an ornery and untrusting fruit hauler, and the two work a scheme to travel to San Fransisco and get back at Figlia.

The plot (adapted from an A.I. Bezzerides novel by the author) is tightly woven, and the depiction of the danger and folly in high-risk fruit shipping is gripping. Truck drivers jockey to beat one another for better selling prices, sometimes driving 40+ hours without sleep. Sometimes they make it. Sometimes they wreck and die. The movie got a lot of praise for the accuracy of the produce black market in the '40s.

But as a thriller, the movie also works well. Conte plays Nick well, his Army emblem-adorned truck a symbol for the youthful white knight he strives to be in the beginning of the film before the tarnish and wretchedness of the world he's jumped in take a toll on him. His face has this chiseled, Mediterranean glow that shifts well between soft-hearted nice guy and sleep-starved vigilante. There is a great see-saw act between icy blond Polly (Barb Lawrence), Nick's fiance, and Rica (Valentina Cortese), the streetwalk who fits into the plot--both play as opposite sides of the same coin. And if anyone steals the show, it's Lee Cobb--easily one of the greatest character actors in film history. He's perfect as a wannabe Honest John merchant who is nothing but crooked...and seems to hate and cherish that fact simultaneously.

But the real star is Dassin's film work. The black-white contrast is gorgeous, and the camera is always where it needs to be without being showy. There's a scene--shot over a truck that has just flipped over a cliff--where thousands of apples cascade toward the camera. It's amazing.

Thieves' Highway is an overall great movie, only marred by the few inclusions that uber-producer Darryl Zanuck added to the film without Dassin's consent (the out-of-place police message at the end, the goofy theatrics Polly provides at one point). This is yet more proof that the Golden era of American film provided some incredible genre film.


posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/13/2007 11:00:00 PM, ,

Day 341

I want to write a short story, but I have a problem.

I can't think of a plot.

This hasn't been a problem for me in the past, since I tend to throw things at the computer screen until something sticks. This isn't working; maybe it's from brain-drain from work, or because I'm trying to work with a genre I've not tried much in (sci fi or fantasy).

The problem with the second point is that many sci-fi/fantasy short stories spend a chunk of time setting up the environment, making known the nuances that differentiate THIS fantasy world from that of Tolkien's or Roddenberry's. I thought about foregoing that and just diving in, not explaining (or just not getting into) differences in the fictional world. Almost like something David Mamet would do (could you imagine Edmund in Space or Glengary Glen Ross-shire?).

The various sci-fi/fantasy subgenres that lend easily to short narratives--cyberpunk, space opera, our-world-but-magical--have fallen into a state of near self-mockery, so it might be best to avoid. My hold-out option is to do something steampunk; but regardless, I could use some suggestions.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/12/2007 11:37:00 PM, ,

Day 340-- the Rolling Stones' real purpose

Is--to roughly paraphrase a friend--to write songs so better artists can perform them. I make no bones about not liking the Stones, including 99% of their 'classic' material.

The Sundays' version of "Wild Horses" is a great example; not only does it sound better than the original, the song makes you daydream and imagine other tracks as re-done by some other band. Take that, Jagger.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/11/2007 11:51:00 PM, ,

Day 339

Some people like toys. Some people wait in anticipation for video games to come in the mail. Some people get giddy before they drive to a dealership to sign papers for a new car. Some people follow UPS tracking for gadgets coming to them in mail.

I like spices. Here's what I got in the mail from Penzeys (which I followed the past few days via online tracking).

-Whole China ginger (4 oz bag)
-ground galangal (1.6 oz jar)
-hot chili powder (1.1 oz jar)
-lemon grass (.5 oz jar)
-powered China ginger (1.9 oz jar)
-whole cumin seed (.9 oz jar)
-brown mustard seed (1.3 oz jar)
-tellicherry peppercorns (2.2 oz jar)
-white Montok peppercorns (1.2 oz jar)
-ground fenugreek (2.9 oz jar)
-whole fennel seed (.9 oz jar)
-1/2 sharp Hungarian paprika (1 oz jar)

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/11/2007 12:40:00 AM, ,

Day 338

I'll keep this brief: I went to Sheetz tonight. I wanted a small bag of potato chips, and had almost exact change for it. I gave the cashier the change and smiled, since I would be getting a single penny back.

The cashier, however, didn't hand me a penny. She said, "Have a good day next" (in a rush of punctuation-less words). I stood there for a second before she said--quizzically--"do you want your penny?" As if I answered in an affirmative I would be an outcast, a pariah.

It wasn't the penny; I have many pennies. It was just that she assumed that I didn't want my change. Having worked in retail, I realize that there are tons of folks my age that just throw change away, quite literally in some cases. I'm not a fan of massive monetary systems, but really--why make that assumption. That's really colored my opinion of the place.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/09/2007 11:36:00 PM, ,

Day 337-- humor

Have you ever tried to pin down what makes you laugh? Or maybe take it a step further and figure out what your sense of humor is like?

I have recently; maybe it's like trying to put artificial boundaries up around something fluid, but it's a fun activity on an overly-humid summer eve.

Aside from the occasional dip into lowbrow humor, I am drawn to these traits:

-deadpan delivery, or dry humor in general
-gallows humor
-heavy language aspect--example: the whole 'dessert' running gag in Hot Fuzz, or the jokes surrounding all of the villagers' surnames in the same film (they're all descriptions of what they do)
-awkward pauses (but only if used sparingly)
-droll statements (which sort of ties into the deadpan thing)

Of course, I realize that there are things I didn't list that make me laugh, and aspects I listed that don't work in some situations.

People that make me laugh: Flight of the Conchords, Jim Gaffigan, Eddie Izzard, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin.

What about you? What are some things that make you laugh?

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/08/2007 10:44:00 PM, ,

Day 336-- 20 days left


Has a year gone by that swiftly? I've decided that once the 'Blog-a-day is finished, I'll go back to a leisurely posting schedule (say that last bit with an English accent...'shhed-ule'). I'm sort of looking forward to that. I hope that it will make what I say more meaningful, at the very least.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/08/2007 12:26:00 AM, ,

Day 335

My new job has been going well. It's fun, consistently challenging and I feel like I'm making a difference in lots of ways.

I ran into two snags this past Friday, though--my first two real "oops" moments on the job. The first came when a reporter from the local newspaper called and--through some weird circumstances--ended up interviewing me for the paper. Turns out, any time any member of the press calls, there's a certain protocol that I'm supposed to follow. I didn't. I actually didn't know I was supposed to do anything specific, so it was OK in the end. It was especially OK that the article came out well. (Come to think of it, you can read the article here.)

Second "oops:" I wrote a piece for a local business magazine about some of the adult/continued education at Geneva. It was a good article, but it would be a lot better with some quotes from folks that have been through the program. The adult learning department got me the contact info for two people that have been through their programs and would be OK with an interview. So I called. And called. And called. Neither returned any of the calls; I had left about four or five messages to each.

I was running out of time. The article was due Monday (as in this past Monday, which ended less than an hour ago). By the end of the workday yesterday, I was frantic. The people never called back. So I tried one more time.

And I got one of the students, talked to her, and got a great quote for the article less than an hour before I needed to send it in. Talking to her was a good experience, too--I found out the woman had come to know Christ through the program, which is excellent.

These sorts of things--last minute reprieves, in a way--always shake me up in such a way that I can't help but be awed. Thanks God for last minute reprieves.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/07/2007 12:43:00 AM, ,

Day 334-- internet hoaxes

Internet hoaxes--like their real-life counterparts--are occasionally amusing. Especially when you consider the content and the fact that people fall for them. Or maybe that's just sad? Maybe both?

Two of my favorites were the World Jump Day and all of the historical background for the 'boilerplate' robot. The latter is especially funny; this is the sort of thing high school students might dig up and assume is real while scrambling to finish a paper (look here for the great website--my personal favorite is the picture of Boilerplate with Pancho Villa's gang).

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/05/2007 11:36:00 PM, ,

Day 333

I'm up for a challenge. My good friend Luke is wrapping up some of the work on the debut issue of his literary magazine. Submissions are due on August 6. That's Monday.

Guess who forgot to start his short story? (And while you're at it, guess who's coming to dinner?)

I originally had a plot idea, but I tossed it out. I'm starting from scratch. I can do it.

I really can.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/04/2007 11:59:00 PM, ,

Day 332-- Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006)

The Half-Life game series continues to amaze me. As entertainment, they work exceptionally well. But they work almost just as well in a story-telling sense; as technologically ground-breaking as the game is, the interaction between the characters and the on-going story (and the questions raised over the course of the series) are what really draw me in.

Half-Life (1998) introduced Gordan Freeman, the player-controlled protagonist throughout most of the series. A skilled theoretical physicist, Freeman is caught in a devastating accident that ends up ripping a portal open to another world. Freeman survives the chaos as aliens and military units collide, the latter sent to 'clean up' the mess (i.e., kill all witnesses). Half-Life 2 (2004) is set two decades later in an alien-controlled Earth. Freeman ends up a mythical figure leading the human resistance, and eventually cripples the aliens and their human puppets (the Combine). This is where the game ends.

And that sets the stage for this game. It's easy to play if you don't have any history with the other Half-Life games, but for people that have been following the series since the late '90s it's quite rewarding. Episode One (2006) is the first of three 'episodic' games released (the second should be out in the next few months). They're shorter in length than any of the other games (about 4-6 hours of game play), but they're also inexpensive.

Playing again as Freeman, you wake up outside of the burning husk of the Citadel, the hub of operations for the Combine. With the help of Alyx Vance--daughter of an old co-worker and reoccurring character--Freeman manages to preventing the Citadel's nuclear core from melting down. From this point, Freeman and Alyx try to escape the city, getting as many civilians as they can to escape. Episode One ends on a cliffhanger, and let me tell you--it's intense. Better than many movies I've seen, ever.

What makes this game (and the other Half-Life installments) shine over other first-person type games are the brains and heart behind it. Instead of just shooting everything in sight, you have to be creative to overcome obstacles. A Combine soldier hurls a grenade at you and Alyx--you could run, of course, but you could also use your gravity-manipulating device to hurl the grenade at a stack of barrels that will collapse on the soldier and crush him. You also learn to care for the characters, especially Alyx. She's not just a computer-controlled character that acts as a second gun in a fight; she's a friend. In an abandoned hospital that's infested with zombies (humans that have succumbed to a parasitic alien), she makes scary noises in the dark to lighten the mood. She makes small-talk to avoid focusing on the atrocities the aliens are responsible for. She encourages you as you try to take down a tank with a rocket launcher.

Episode One is very exciting, and it just looks great. Without Episode Two coming out soon, I'm anxious to see what happens to Gordan and the gang.


posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/03/2007 08:32:00 PM, ,

Day 331-- Thums Up

I found an Indian food shop yesterday. I popped in and found a bunch of ingredients I need for my increasingly-fanatical curry cooking. However, I also found a bottled soda called "Thums Up" [sic].

It's...interesting. It's made by the Coca-Cola company, and has a hint of betel nut in it. The bottle is in a tell-tale condition; dust covered the cap, scuffs on the side. It tastes unlike anything I've ever had, especially for sodas. Weeeeeird.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/03/2007 01:35:00 AM, ,

Day 330-- eight easy facts

(Title partially stolen from this album.)

Bryan tagged me to list eight 'random' and interesting facts about myself, then share the love.

1) People are used to always seeing me with a book tucked under my arm; this leads to the assumption that I'm a fast reader. I'm not. If I'm on a roll, I can get through (maybe) three books a month, short books too.

2) My goal is to have my beer card finished at the Backdoor Tavern by the end of the year, but if I try hard I might be able to finish it before the autumn. I have 48 done, 40 to go. If you don't know what I'm talking about, maybe we should leave it that way.

3) I have six or seven unread books that I (honestly) have no desire to read. I'm not sure why I got them; maybe it was because they were all well-regarded and over 700 pages (thus making me look smart when I finish). I'll probably read them anyway.

4) When the street sweeper drives by my window at night, I want to run out and commandeer it.

5) I own a stack of four very well-written books in a serious called "Howdunit?" They're written by experts in the fields of poison, private investigation, etc., and they're geared toward fiction writers that don't know much about that sort of stuff but want to be believable.

6) If they bottled alternative rock circa 1994, I'd buy a bunch.

7) I think video games have great potential as a way to tell stories.

8) I'm finally beating the sleep problem I developed five (or so) years ago. (I was never able to fall asleep until after 1 a.m.-ish.) The solution seems to be that if I just physically exhaust myself all of the time, I'll be tired enough by the time I should be in bed. It's working so far.

Since almost everyone I wanted to tag has been tagged already, I'll just tag Russ eight times. Or, if Gideon reads this, I tag him as well.

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/01/2007 11:57:00 PM, ,

Day 329-- music for the summer

I've always been a big fan of great, catchy pop rock songs that you can listen to loudly while driving (with the windows rolled down, preferably).

Like this:

posted, with grace and poise, by Jason @ 8/01/2007 01:17:00 AM, ,