Archive for June, 2009

Annoying Things About Podcasts

I’ve been an avid listener to podcasts for several years now, ever since buying my first iPod in 2005 (it was a 4th generation 20gb iPod Photo, which had provided me with many hours of audio entertainment, until it began to die this past December; it has since been replaced by a comparatively newer model 30gb 5th gen iPod video).  Every day, I update my list of podcasts in my iTunes, hoping that something new will be available for download so it can accompany me on my excursions to San Francisco.  What attracted me to podcast was the magic word: FREE.  They’re free to download, free to listen to, free to share, and if deleted, free to re-download (as long as the file is still on a server).

Then something wonderful happened: some of the audio podcasts I listened to actually hooked me.  They were quite good, with hosts that were fun to listen to and information that was, well, informative and entertaining.  As anyone who’s ever searched for a podcast to subscribe to will know, there’s a podcast for quite possibly any subject out there.  From video games, to movies, to creative writing, to cooking, to sex, to politics, to religion, to history, to stamp collecting . . . and the list goes on and on.  If you’ve got a hobby, it’s almost a sure bet there’s a podcast on it.

After a while, I began to whittle down the number I listen to, and for various reasons.  The primary reason being time; I only have a limited amount of time per week I can spend listening to shows.  The second reason is content.  If I listen to five different podcasts about movies and the latest reviews, chances are some information and content is going to start repeating itself.  I began to realize that the podcasts I’ve stuck with generally follow a criteria of what I would think any good podcaster would stick with.

1.  If you’re going to start your own podcast, you have to be able to speak comfortably to an audience.  Essentially, you have to be a good public speaker. The rules about public speaking generally apply here: no “ums” or “uhs” when you talk, plan out what you’re going to say or talk about, and if you’re going to improvise, don’t ramble too much or you’ll lose your audience.

2.  Consider why you want to do a podcast.  For example, if you want to talk about video games, good for you.  Go on iTunes and look up how many shows there are about that same subject (both audio podcasts and video podcasts) and think very hard about how you would plan to steal some of their audience.  Remember, downloading shows are free, making them is not.  You’ll most likely have to pay server fees to upload your files, equipment to actually record on, and probably have to do some post-production editing once you’ve recorded.  If you do a show, and you’re some nobody with a Geocities fansite that just regurgitates industry news, chances are you’ll get zero subscribers.

3.  Use some decent equipment, for cryin’ out loud. Most ‘professional’ podcasters generally have a room reserved for, or converted to a recording studio.  They use really nice microphones and have some kind of mixing board.  When listening, they sound like a professional radio show.  I’m not saying that everyone needs to spend hundreds of $$$, but if your show sounds like scrambled AM radio with a  really weak signal, then don’t even try.  At the very least, invest in a decent PC mic, which should cost around $20-$30.

4.  Consider the length of the show and how many times you want to do it. Most shows I listen to are weekly, updated once giving me a reasonable amount of time to listen to the show in its entirety.  However, I rarely get through all the shows I subscribe to within a week, usually because there are so many shows I listen to that are too damn long, I can’t get through all of them.  However, there is one show that I am a loyal listener of, and it’s actually updated almost every weekday.  But, that show’s length is generally around 30 minutes, whereas the weekly shows can go from 40 minutes to 3 hours.

Your train of thought might be as follows: “Hmm… I want my show to be weekly, and if my show is 2 1/2 hours long, that should be plenty of time for a listener to get through it all before the next show.” Don’t think like that.  Consider this: if a listener is subscribing to your show, chances are they’ve got a couple more they’re listening to.  They may not have time to listen to all 150 minutes of your show.  So, if they’re not going to listen, why make it that long?

What I suggest is this:  If you have an audio podcast that’s daily, keep it to 30 minutes or less.  If it’s weekly, no longer than 2 hours (preferably 90 minutes or less).  There is one show that I listen to that’s updated once a month (at best; sometimes once every two months), so in some cases you can have ridiculously long, epic shows because you’re probably not going to be doing one for a while.

I know there are dozens upon dozens of ‘Things To Keep In Mind’ when doing a show, but these are just a few things that I think are very important to anyone thinking of starting an audio podcast (a video podcast is a whole other matter).

If you want an example of how to do a podcast, listen to an episode of The Daily Breakfast, created and hosted by a priest (yes, a priest) from the Netherlands.  This is the daily show I mentioned earlier.  It seems to do everything right: it’s not too long, not too short, entertaining, and very well-produced.  Yes, he does talk about religion at times, but he does talk about movies, TV shows, video games, and he’s also not some uptight holier-than-thou kind of person (he plays Halo, loves sci-fi movies and shows, and appreciates all sorts of secular music).  What really impresses me is that production value: he has the best produced podcast I’ve ever heard.

On the flipside, there’s a Nintendo-themed podcast by some guy named Daniel Friedlaender.  Holy crap this podcast is boring.  Way too many ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’, pauses, and moments where he just rambles on.  He runs some pretty popular fansites (a Zelda site and a general Nintendo site), but his podcast is just not a great, or eve good, or even ‘decent’ example of how to do a show.  If you want a good Nintendo-themed fan-run show, check out Gonintendo.  That one works primarily because it’s a bunch of people doing the show, and so they can play off each other instead of just one dude sitting in front of a mic.  For a great general videogame podcast, there are plenty to choose from: Giant Bomb, ListenUP, VGO, RebelFM, etc.  Granted, most of those are run by industry insiders (except VGO), they’re still pretty good shows.

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June 29, 2009 at 11:12 am Leave a comment

Another Added to Week of Celebrity Deaths: Billy Mays

Police: TV pitchman Billy Mays found dead at home – Yahoo! News.

Wow, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson . . . and now Billy Mays.  He probably won’t be as memorable as MJ, but he’ll always be remembered for pitching those crazy As Seen On TV products.  R.I.P., Billy.

"Hi, Billy Mays here with . . ."

TAMPA, Fla. – Billy Mays, the burly, bearded television pitchman known for his boisterous hawking of products such as Orange Glo and OxiClean, has died. He was 50.

Tampa police said Mays was found unresponsive by his wife Sunday morning. A fire rescue crew pronounced him dead at 7:45 a.m.

There were no signs of a break-in, and investigators do not suspect foul play, said Lt. Brian Dugan of the Tampa Police Department, who wouldn’t answer any more questions about how Mays’ body was found because of the ongoing investigation. The coroner’s office expects to have an autopsy done by Monday afternoon.

(image from the Associated Press)

June 28, 2009 at 9:29 am Leave a comment

Review: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – The IMAX Experience”

Every filmmaker worth his or her salt will, at some point in their career, work on a project that will test every ability and skill they’ve learned.  It would be their ‘magnum opus’, if you will. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would quite possibly be Michael Bay’s magnum opus.  Say what you will about the director and his films, and everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but it’s obvious he has great technical skill in the action movie genre.  Not very many filmmakers can throw so much on the screen and have it be entertaining to the public.  This new Transformers is, quite literally, everything the first movie was, and more.  Much, much more.  There are more Autobots, more Decepticons, some Constructicons tossed in for good measure.  It’s louder, flashier, with more hot women, more robots, and more bass pumping through the speakers you’d think your chest cavity is going to crumble into dust.

I’ll go ahead and say it right now.  Michael Bay is a master filmmaker.  That’s right.  MASTER.  FUCKING.  FILMMAKER. There are very few directors working in the industry right now that could orchestrate such chaos on the screen and in the volumes that’s on display in this movie.  There’s so much action, and so many “HOLY-FUCKING-SHIT!” moments it literally made my head spin.  There were plenty of times where I wanted to grab the head of whoever was sitting in front of me, shake it violently, and scream, “Did you see that?!  DID YOU FUCKING SEE THAT?!”  From the opening sequence where we’re introduced to new Autobots (including a bad-ass re-introduction of Autobot hero Optimus Prime), to an incredibly staged battle in the forest, to the finale set in the deserts of Egypt, Revenge of the Fallen will please any fans of the genre, the toys, and the director.  And if you’re going to see this movie, chances are you’re already a fan of at least two of those things.

No, this script isn’t perfect.  To use one of Michael Bay’s own sayings (directed toward the first Bad Boys flick), there are plot holes big enough to drive a truck through them.  That, however, isn’t the point.  A few of the ‘professional’ movie critics have complained about the lack of story.  Did they really think that was what they were going to get?  Honestly?  It’s Michael Bay.  You’re going to pay to see robots destroy each other up on a very large screen, so story isn’t so much of a concern to average movie-goers. The plot is a little more dense and confusing compared to the first, but it does take the time to guide you by the hand in explaining it before smashing you in the face with another ridiculously awesome battle.

To summarize: the Autobots (the good robots) are working in secret with the U.S. Military to defend against Decepticon (the bad robots) incursions on Earth.  However, a Decepticon that predates all of the Transformers, a powerful being known as The Fallen, has ordered a resurrected Megatron to find an ancient machine that will tip the scales in the civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons.  Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeof), hero of the original movie, has a piece of the puzzle, a map of sorts that can lead directly to this machine.

The story does get a little more convoluted than that, especially when Bay and the wizards at ILM start throwing in Decepticons-turned-Autobots, mammoth Constructicons, a magic key, supporting characters that don’t really do anything, and hot girls that aren’t even real girls (but still hot).

If there is anything I’d complain about in this movie, it’s that we, surprisingly, don’t spend enough time with the Autobots, especially the newer ones.  Aside from a couple of the machines, we aren’t given a sense of their personalities, something that I thought was lacking in the first movie, and that is unfortunately a flaw carried over to this one.  And the soldiers played by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson are almost like afterthoughts.  It’s also difficult, at times, to watch the action when all you see is a mess of metal being flung around all over the place.  Another thing: as nice as it is to look at Megan Fox, she isn’t really given much to do here, aside from move the story forward at one point.  Her acting is bland and not very fun to watch at all, but it was a genius casting decision to pair her up with Shia LeBouf from the beginning.  He keeps things lighthearted, but can bring a serious undertone to the scenes that need it.  She may get all the attention, but he’s the real star of the movie.

The IMAX Experience

I had the pleasure of watching this at midnight in a packed IMAX theatre in San Francisco.  What I love about event movies like this is the energy of the crowd; there were all sorts of people in attendance: teens, adults, men, women.  But, for those two and a half hours, we were all 10-year-old boys playing in the backyard with our action figures, and loving every minute of it.  Granted, most of my good will toward this flick is based on the environment I saw it in, that nevertheless improved my attitude of it.  The speakers blasting in your ear, the eight-story-tall IMAX screen towering above you, the crowd cheering and clapping at every action scene; it all really makes the experience that much better.

If there’s an IMAX screen playing this near you, watch it there.  If you’re not watching the 70mm print of this, don’t bother going at all. Yes, I’m serious. Normally, I’m very picky about what movies I watch in IMAX, because I feel cheated every time a movie plays in IMAX that doesn’t have anything shot in 70mm (ahem… Star Trek).  This movie has maybe less than 10 minutes worth of IMAX material, but each second of it is gorgeous.  I honestly felt like I was going to fall through the screen. The battle in the forest, and finally the epic scope of the pyramids in Egypt look fantastic on an IMAX screen.  This movie is also a sound designer’s wet dream; it’d be criminal if this didn’t win the Oscar for Sound Design, this movie just sounds and feels epic (I know that word gets used a lot, but it’s true here).

You need to see this in the largest screens possible with the best sound systems available, and you’ll find those in IMAX.  I know, the tickets are pricey, and I feel the pain when paying for them (I’m a grad student, so I really can’t afford anything), but you’d honestly be cheating your self if you didn’t pony up the extra six or whatever dollars for an IMAX ticket.

Just like how I have a hard time imagining the follow-up to be better than The Dark Knight, I can’t see a third Transformers movie being better than this.  Just as good?  Sure.  But better?  That’s a tall order.  That being said, this truly is Michael Bay’s best work.  If you enjoyed the first flick, you’ll love this one; it may just make you dig around in the attic (or basement) and find some of your childhood Transformers toys and smash them together.  It’s more of everything you liked, and in this case, more is better.

10/10

OK, so according to Hasbro, there’s a connection between this movie and Stephen Sommer’s upcoming G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra.  Apparently, I missed it.  Either it was cut from this flick, or there was so much going on I didn’t take notice.  Well, guess I’ll have to wait until the other movie is released this August to see how this crossover pans out.

(images from Yahoo!)

June 24, 2009 at 11:40 am 2 comments

Review: “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3”

If you’re looking for comparisons between this and the Joseph Sargent 1974 film, the 1998 TV movie, or the novel they were all based on, look elsewhere.  I’m dealing strictly with the recent Tony Scott version.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 pits civil servant Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) against angry train hijacker Ryder (John Travolta).  Ryder and his crew, including an underused Luis Guzman, have taken control of a New York subway car and the passengers within, demanding a $10 million (and one cent) ransom in return.  Caught up in the hijacking is Garber, who works in the New York MTA’s subway control center, and who happens to be the unofficial negotiator between Ryder and the authorities.  Thrown into the mix for good measure is James Gandolfini as the Mayor of New York and John Turturro as Det. Camonetti, the NYPD’s hostage negotiator.  Probable not the most thrillingly original of ideas in this day and age, but it’s a Tony Scott flick; it’s all about the style.

The performances all around were good, but there aren’t any real surprises.  Washington does fine as everyman Walter Garber, and Travolta has a few ‘honest’ moments as Ryder.  Tony Scott is definitely more concerned about the look of the movie, generally allowing Washington and Travolta to do whatever they want.  Travolta definitely chews the scenery a little more, channeling a little bit of his Broken Arrow persona, just turned up a notch.  However, I couldn’t help but think of his role in the underrated Mad City, where he takes kids hostage in a museum (it’s the exact opposite of what he plays here, but there are a few similarities).  What surprised me the most about the movie, and this could be attributed to the script penned by Brian Helgeland more so than the actors, is the dynamic between Garber and Ryder.  There’s a connection they both share partly due to how Ryder feels they were both screwed over by the city of New York.  The two have only a few scenes together as they spend most of the movie conversing via radio, but Travolta and Washington seem to create a chemistry between them.  Helgeland’s script has some modern flourishes, like the use of a wireless laptop camera streaming a live feed from the subway, which is used by both the police and the media to gather information, but for the most part, the story feels a little dated in these hi-tech times.

The visual style is traditional Tony Scott: over-saturated colors, use of modern music mixed with an action score by Harry Gregson-Williams, and lots of crazy MTV-style edits and transitions.  The intro is nice to watch, as the editing and sound teams mix Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” to cuts of the movie.  Some may dismiss Scott’s flash over substance, but I think with a story like this, it needs some superficiality to it.  The story of a train hijacking to get money seems a little old-school in these days’ tales of corporate greed and elaborate terrorism plots, so throwing in some visual panache helps keep things from getting stale.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 won’t surprise anyone.  It’s another one of those summer action thrillers that seem to offer a break between the spectacles of the Terminators, the Star Treks, and the Transformers of the industry.  If nothing else, it’s a decent way to spend an afternoon.  The movie is loud, fast, and occasionally funny, as long as you don’t get offended by jokes made about New York (or Jersey).

7/10

(images from Yahoo!)

June 13, 2009 at 11:49 am Leave a comment

Review: “EA Sports Active”

Attempting to cash in on the Wii Fit craze, Electronic Arts released its own gym-in-a-game, EA Sports Active, a couple of weeks ago.  Having spent that time with the game, working out about 4 times a week, I feel comfortable enough to give my own opinion. Right off the bat, I can say that if you want to get chiseled biceps and rock-hard abs, this is not the game for you.  In fact, there probably isn’t a game out there, you just need to get your ass to a gym and start lifting weights.  But, if you’re like me and just want to lose a few pounds without having to pay for a monthly gym membership, EA Sports Active might be up your alley.

I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with Wii Fit, so I’m not here to compare the two in all aspects.  What I can say is that, after an hour with Active, I was sweating harder than I did with my few hours of Wii Fit.  It’s due to the amount of cardio exercises built into the game: you run, jump, lunge, play rudimentary versions of popular sports, all within a carefully programmed set of workouts designed to make you ‘have fun’ while getting your heart going and your muscles burning.  The game starts you off by inputing certain information like weight and height, then moves on to select your workout program.  I chose the 30 Day Challenge, which is designed to help you lose weight by following a set of workouts over the course of 30 days, with about  4-5 workouts a week.  To assist you in the challenge, the game comes with a leg strap for the Wii Nunchuck and a resistance band for some light resistance training.

Here’s my where issues come in.  I watches all the introductory videos, and even some other videos online where someone, like a personal trainer, demonstrates how to use the strap.  The very first workout I did, I was already experiencing issues.  The damn strap just wouldn’t stay on!  However, I realized this may have been due to the material my workout shorts were made out of, and since then I haven’t experience nearly the same amount of frustration as I did that first day.  BUT, I have yet to do a workout where the strap wasn’t slowly sliding off my leg at least once.  If you strap it too tight, you cut off circulation to your leg, and too loose, well, then it’ll fall off.  What EA should’ve done was make some kind of leg strap/belt combo that would keep the strap from falling off entirely while still allowing you a pouch to place the Nunchuck for some of the workouts.

Also, and this may be a fault of the hardware more so than the software, but the game has some issues when reading the movements of the controllers with a select few exercises.  For example, my least favorite exercise are the kick-ups, which is like running, by instead you kick you heels back and up towards your butt.  Think of how cheerleaders prance and run around all peppy during a performance.  The game sometimes requires you to do these slowly on a virtual track, which works just fine.  Then  it may speed it up, asking you to move at a faster pace, at which point the game fails to recognize my movements and tells me I’m doing it too slowly.  I’m damn near running by now and the game’s trainer (your choice of a male or female) is telling me I’m moving to slow!  I’ve gotten so fed up with this exercise that every time it comes up, I whole the controllers in my hand and just swing them around while I do the exercise properly.

Now, the Wiimote and Nunchuck already pose a problem: the cord that tethers the two devices together.  Many of the exercises require you to raise the controls near or above your head.  These usually involve me hitting myself in the face with he cord.  I know there are wireless Nunchucks you can by, and I’m tempted to get one just to use with this game, but using the stock controllers causes some annoyance because of that damn cord.

I’ve also heard reports of the resistance band breaking after only a few uses; I can’t attest to this as my band hasn’t broken yet.  The band itself does an admirable job of mimicking weights, but for some you might want to go ahead and get a tighter band, or find some way to use real weights as the pack-in band may not be enough.  Oh, and some of the exercises are really lame, like the dancing.  I also didn’t get a chance to try out the game with the Balance Board, as I don’t own one,  but I’m sure many of the exercises might be improved when used with this peripheral.

Here’s what I do like about the game: you sweat.  Personally, I don’t feel like I’m getting a workout unless I’m sweating profusely, and this game will make you sweat.  Even on the ‘light intensity’ mode you’ll probably workout up a light sweat by the end.  Also, the varied exercises keep things fun, for the most part, until EA releases the just-announced expansion.  The shoulder workouts really work your shoulders and I can tell that by the end fo the 30 days, I’m going to see results.  Not to sound like a press release, but this game really is made for people looking to fit in a quick workout if they can’t get to the gym.  You get a nice, basic workout (minus any ab exercises) that gets your heart rate up and your muscles burning.  Also, the including journal, which helps track your sugar intake, sleep, food, etc. does a decent job at accountability, making sure that you’re getting rest and a decent diet alongside the workouts.

Another thing to keep in mind: the game advertises that you can get a good workout in 30 minutes a day.  The exercises themselves run about 30 minutes or less (you can set them for any time up to an hour), but expect to be running the game for anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour on every session.  This is due to the (optional) videos and short breaks as the game is prepping you for the next exercise.  But, there is a timer that monitors how long you play, and each workout generally runs at about half an hour of actual exercising.

EA Sports Active is another step in the right direction for the burgeoning workout-at-home market of the video game industry.  While many ‘hardcore’ gamers dismiss these games as silly, you have to look at it from the point of view of the game’s target audience: adults with families that may not have time or money to invest in a gym membership.  If that’s the case, this game is for you.  Keep in mind that the game isn’t without its issues, but the workouts, coupled with a healthy diet, should provide results in the end.

7.5/10

June 12, 2009 at 10:24 am Leave a comment

‘Alien’ Prequel Hitting A Few Snags

Interesting bit of news. Although, I don’t think I’d like to see Ripley as the hero for an Alien prequel, it just wouldn’t make sense. I hope that if Ripley does return, it’s in a minor or, at best, supporting character capacity.
clipped from www.comingsoon.net
The filmmakers and Fox, the studio that owns the rights to the franchise, seem to have conflicting ideas about who should direct. Scott plans to produce and had handpicked commercial director Carl Erik Rinsch — whose ads for German electronics company Saturn are known for their futuristic flourishes — to make his feature debut. Rinsch’s selection is complicated by the rumor that he’s romantically involved with Scott’s daughter, Jordan, also a commercial helmer. (Reps for both Jordan Scott and Rinsch did not respond to calls to confirm.) Sources at Fox, however, tell EW that the studio is not interested in greenlighting a prequel unless Scott himself directs. Scott and his reps didn’t respond to calls for comment.
The studio and the Scotts are looking at returning to the original concept of just one alien creature and casting a new Ripley, played in the films by Sigourney Weaver.
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June 10, 2009 at 6:48 pm Leave a comment

Review: “The Hangover”

As the first big adult comedy of the summer season, Todd Phillips’ The Hangover, delivers on laughs, but not much else.  Then again, it’s a comedy, so that’s really all you need, right?  The Hangover follows four friends during one night in Vegas.  Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married, so he and buddies Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), along with soon-to-be brother-in-law Allen (Zach Galifiniakis), travel to Las Vegas for one crazy night a few days before the wedding.  And of course, they have just a little too much fun.  Phil, Stu, and Allen wake up the next day to find their hotel room trashed, a tiger in their bathroom, and Doug missing.

Over the next day and a half, the three travel around Vegas, trying to piece together what the hell they did last night that would cause them to lose the groom.  However, the mystery of the bachelor party isn’t the focus, it’s the shenanigans they get into while searching for those clues.  Along the way they meet a varied cast of characters, including a stripper with a heart of gold (Heather Graham), Chinese gang boss Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), and Mike Tyson (as himself).

Just as any good adult (ie male)-oriented comedy, the gags are pretty funny.  Three guys getting tangled in each other while handcuffed, a naked man leaping from the trunk of a car and beating everyone up, and a grown man being verbally emasculated by his girlfriend is sure to incite a few laughs.  Zach Galifiniakis is the standout here, playing a socially awkward guy who struggles to fit in.  It’s not really what he does that’s funny, but the things he says, which unfortunately won’t be very funny if I just typed them here, so you’ll have to see the movie the understand what I mean.

While most might be quick to compare this movie to the Judd Apatow line of adult comedies, the key difference here is that this movie just plays everything up for laughs.  Most likely, by the end of the summer, this movie will have been forgotten.  What I think is great about most of the Apatow Productions flicks is that they do have a bit of a heart to them.  The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are gems in the genre, providing laughs and lessons for the characters to learn.  In The Hangover, Todd Phillips and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore don’t delve any deeper than they have to.  But, with a great cast like the one that’s assembled, they really don’t have a reason to delve deeper.

The Hangover is silly, sometimes crude, and pretty funny.  It also sets the bar for the rest of the summer comedies (looking forward to Judd Apatow’s Funny People myself) and provides a nice respite from the effects-laden big budget movies that dominate the season.

7.5/10

June 6, 2009 at 11:58 am Leave a comment


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