Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim goes to Hollywood

You may remember that I posted a blog three weeks ago about the six Scott Pilgrim comics. The movie based on the books came out a day or two ago and I saw it with a couple friends last night. 

(May contain spoilers)

It was good! Michael Cera did a good job playing a deadpan everyman, and the director captured the spirit of the books well, for the most part. The visuals and music oozed style and nostalgia, and the gags and dialogue really seem to hit home with early-20s nerds and hipsters.

The first portion of the movie follows the comics just about verbatim and is extremely well-executed, though the last half of the movie seems to scrap just about everything but his confrontations with Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends, who are casted well and steal the show at times (Especially Todd, the one armed with Vegan powers).

Unlike the movie, the books are as much about Scott's exes as they are about Ramona's

This suprised me a bit, since the "boss battles" are really the least of his problems as the series progresses; one of the things I was disappointed to see missing in the movie was how Scott's life basically falls apart completely before he gets his shit together in the end. 

This focus on the action causes themes like "moving on" or "growing up" that are core to the books to be communicated poorly to the big screen, as Scott's moments of conflict and reconciliation with his past are simplified, downplayed or cut out entirely.

Other stuff I hoped to see:

This bit was hilarious

This one got animated as a promo, at least

The changes made to the source material were noticeable at times, but they may have been necessary to have it fit the medium better. 

The result is a fun and hip movie, easily one of the best to come out this summer.

 In spite of my nitpicks, I really enjoyed the film, and I think it deserved the loud applause the crowd gave it in the theater. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Starcraft II Solves the World's Problems

A timeline of the past week:

July 27: Starcraft II released. Gamers, federal judges and BP executives from around the world line up at midnight to get their hands on it.

July 28: Judge Susan Bolton blocks key provisions of SB 1070, the controversial Arizona bill.

August 4: Judge Vaughn Walker rules Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ballot measure, unconstitutional.

Also August 4: On Day 106 of the oil spill, BP announces that their static kill procedure has been successful in plugging the oil well.

Three of the summer's big issues solved within one week of the Starcraft II launch? Clearly not at all a coincidence.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Checks His Baggage

The other day a comic known as the Scott Pilgrim series caught my eye. After reading a friend's copy of the first of five books, I was immediately hooked and finished the other four before the evening was over. The sixth and final installment actually comes out today, so I might even go out and buy it.

 The art seems to be influenced by the Japanese style, and has a pretty simple, clean aesthetic. It all revolves around Scott Pilgrim, a 23-year-old Canadian slacker, who is dating the girl of his dreams on a provisional basis until he is able to best seven of her former boyfriends in combat.

Meanwhile Scott has some baggage of his own to deal with, as his past love interests are still sticking around to cause him trouble or otherwise complicate the interactions of the characters (see right; click to expand).

The cast is big enough to be a bit confusing at first, but most of the characters are well fleshed out and breathe some life into the world. Scott himself is a great protagonist, likeable and well-meaning but naive and a little dumb at times.

The story does a good job of capturing both the mundane sort of stuff people our age deal with (finding a place to live, going to parties, holding a job) as well as some heavier themes: when is it time to grow up? Or move on? What do you do when your past catches up with you?

The storyline starts out fairly simple and upbeat, but gets a little nuanced and stormy as the "defeating ex-boyfriends" plot takes a backseat to Scott's efforts to keep his personal life intact as his world becomes increasingly unglued.

In spite of all that the series retains a good sense of humor, poking fun at 20-something hipsters in bands or having fun with Scott's blockheadedness at every opportunity.

Overall the series is an entertaining, quick read and I hope to get my hands on the last book soon. Apparently they're making a movie for it with Michael Cera and the folks who did Hot Fuzz and Shawn of the Dead.

I'm not sure how well it'll translate to the big screen, but I'll probably end up seeing it when it comes out next month. I'm glad I just discovered this comic now, so that I can appreciate it all at once instead of waiting a year or two between books!


Update 7/21: Well, I caved and bought the final book at Borders, and it was great! It provided some much-needed relief from the bleakness of the fifth volume, tied up the many loose ends and question marks of the series in a satisfying way without coming off as contrived, and it addressed the "heavier themes" I mentioned above directly and with finality. O'Malley did a really good job making this story work.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Old Spice Man Invades Social Media: Best PR Idea Ever or Best PR Idea of All Time?

Today I ran into one of the smartest ad campaigns I've ever seen: Old Spice decided to have the Man Your Man Could Smell Like from their commercials post hundreds of personalized video responses to twitters about him and comments on his youtube videos.

"We have liftoff... into the most fragrant space known to man."

I've always been amused by parodies of online comments and other correspondence, and the campaign starring the guy was already clever and well done on its own right, but this goes a step further by offering up a sort of towel-clad bonus jackpot for users who help the video go viral.

The result? The Old Spice "Questions" video has over five million views and six thousand comments, and the Old Spice Twitter now has almost 20,000 followers, up from 8,000 five hours ago. Will it translate to sales? Probably.

Either way, hats off to you, Man I Might Be Able to Smell Like By Purchasing Deodorant.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rocky Horror Live

Going to a Rocky Horror midnight showing, I've heard, is one of those things that you have to do at least once. The other day I went with some friends of mine to see the 35-year-old cult hit in Albany.

A different set of jaws

 I had never seen the film up to that point, and I was pretty much unaware of what was going to happen at the theater. I was expecting a B-movie with some audience participation, but this production turned out to have a cast hired to dress up like the characters, provide an introduction and even act out the movie as it plays in the background.

As we lined up outside, the staff came around to announce the rules (no rice, no open flames, no cameras, etc) and haze first-time viewers. One staffer wrote all over my face with her lipstick for being new, but seeing a crowd of people dressed in ridiculous outfits and showing similar graffiti on their faces kept me from feeling out of place.

Before the show, there was a little bit of standup comedy from the guy dressed as Riff, a costume contest and events like a butt dance competition for the Rocky "virgins," after which the cast was introduced and the movie started rolling.

Not your everyday movie-going experience
Throughout the show, the audience is expected to participate. The crowd blows bubbles, dances the Time Warp, calls Brad an asshole at every opportunity, throws toast and toilet paper (though not at the stage, the reasoning being that the cast is cheap but the screen is expensive), while making a variety of old and new jokes about parts of the film, sometimes in unison.
  Throwing stuff during Doctor Scott's entrance

The cast's many well-done costumes and props allowed them to mirror the events onscreen very well, and a few scenes had them coming down from the stage to chase each other around in the aisles.

There were some problems, however. Much of the time the audio was hard to make out over the constant shouting of the audience, which was often unintelligible when they weren't in sync with one another. As a first time viewer, the result was that I didn't really know what was going on a lot of the time.

A lot of time the crowd seemed to try to make their own jokes to go along with the traditional callback lines, but good ones were few and far between and hard to hear over the stream of countless lame cock jokes coming from some audience members, including one really loud guy three seats away from me.

The noise issue was less of a factor about 30 minutes in as the crowd started to calm down, but it was bad enough to cause a handful of "virgins" to walk out of the theater early on.

I recommend seeing the movie on TV or DVD at least once to be able to appreciate or at least understand the live experience. All in all the show was pretty fun, but I probably didn't get as much out of it as I could have due to my lack of familiarity with the film and the culture surrounding it.

This particular Rocky Horror production was put on by Shadowplay Productions (also known as Barely Legal). They are scheduled to perform the show at midnight on the second saturday of every month at Twin Cinemas in Albany, CA. If you like yelling things and dressing in drag, then by all means go see it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Dotman's Hopelessly Misguided Joke of the Day

One of my favorite channels on Youtube is that of Chris Dotson, aka The Dotman, a sort of internet stand-up comedian. He's not well known at all, but I've become a pretty big fan of his.

"Don't you ever check your fruit before you purchase it?"

When he's around, he posts simple videos just about every day where he tells a short (usually one-or-two-minute) joke while holding his wooden spoon or ventriloquist dummy.

He's accumulated 380+ videos on his channel this way, though he seems to have a tendency to vanish for months at a time, and his most recent comeback seems to have gone quiet again.

His jokes are pretty varied, ranging from the clever to the self-deprecating to the awkward. And this guy has awkward down to a science. He seems to like to intentionally mispronounce names, pause for a little too long, trail off or make the occasional bizarre non sequitur.

"We don't need all these bombs going off because a suicide bomber is trying to get laid" 

I first heard about this guy last summer. I really like bad jokes, so I eventually ended up getting through them all, watching a few of them every day as my morning coffee. You can find all of his horribly misguided jokes here, in his Youtube channel.

The Dotman can also be seen in commercials and some David Lynch parody stuff in addition to sketches for his new "Chris and Wife Show." Today I found out that he starred in a movie called Sex Drugs Guns that just got released on Amazon. It seems a lot different from his other stuff, but I might just check it out.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Burnt Face Man

Burnt Face Man is an odd animated internet cartoon series by David Firth, the guy behind experimental, disturbing animations like Salad Fingers and the Spoilsbury Toast Boy. While browsing the site for this post I found out that today is actually the series' sixth anniversary (Go figure).

"Take that, crime, you shit!"

It follows a dysfunctional superhero with a burnt face and his attempts to fight crime. His arch enemies are about as ineffective as he is, concocting absurd schemes that involve insulting Burnt Face Man over MSN messenger or throwing rocks at him.

Often Burnt Face Man will try (with varying levels of success) to help citizens that more or less hate his guts, and his actions are usually recapped by the sometimes-subtly-offensive commentary of a disembodied announcer.

Burnt Face Man delivers every line in an archetypal hero voice that underlines the silliness of the ridiculous or stupid things he tends to say, or his cowardice when he runs away or otherwise folds under pressure. In one episode he's even upstaged by another facially disfigured hero, known as Slightly Bruised Man.

"I may have a slightly bruised face, but at least it's not burnt."

The result is a lighthearted and comical series, weird but a lot more accessible than Firth's other work. There are ten episodes so far (including the trailer) spanning six years, and they seem to get better as the series time goes on, as the humor gradually starts to get itself out of the toilet.

The cartoons can all be found here, except for episode 9, the latest one. Happy birthday, Burnt Face Man!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Escaping Hotmail

Maybe about ten years ago I made a Hotmail account for myself, but when I started wanting to switch over to Gmail I ran into a problem.

The trouble with Hotmail, besides its slow loading times, old-fashioned UI, and the ads they embed into your messages, is that they don't enable any sort of automatic forwarding like they used to for free accounts, meaning that once you let them become your main email account, they really, really don't want you to switch over to somewhere else.

While I do occasionally enjoy reading the little MSN articles they put on the Hotmail homepage, I got tired of being locked into checking two different sites to see my mail, so in addition to updating my mailing lists and site registration emails I signed up for this free, abeit sketchy site called Hotmail Forwarder, which can forward up to five messages a day to your new mail client, a nice way to get weaned off the old mail account.

The downside is that they ask you for your Hotmail login (like I said, sketchy). I've used them for a year or so without ill effect and they seem to be legit, but if you use the service, be careful not to leave any stuff (passwords, banking/cc info) in your old account's mail folders that they could potentially use in identity theft, just in case.

I think I'm just about out of the clutches of Hotmail, since all that I seem to be getting in that inbox anymore is prescription drug spam now that most of my contacts have made the switch. It's too bad, though, that Microsoft now forces users to either pay them or entrust their login info to a third party if they want to use a better email client.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ytmnd, the blender of culture

Most people have never heard of ytmnd, or "You're the Man Now, Dog!"

It more or less started out as a place where people would post mini-sites consisting only of a tiled picture, an endlessly looping sound and zooming text. All this in theory serves to capture a brief snippet of something good, and beat you over the head with it.

The first site I ever made, back in 2004, reflected this trend pretty well. I basically just photoshopped two things together to fit the sound clip. I wasn't a regular on the site at the time, but when I logged in a year later the thing had accumulated a couple thousand hits.

Things started getting more complicated on ytmnd as time went on though. Animated gifs became popular, and sites started turning into fads as their content was recycled repeatedly, and fads eventually started getting all mixed up as folks would jam images and sound clips from different sites together, in effect taking some of the best and most memorable moments from film and media, grinding them up and turning them into something entirely new.

Making a ytmnd is simple enough to allow for a lot of creative freedom, as you can really roll out just about anything if you have a couple hours, a good idea and some photoshop knowledge. Around 2006, however, when I was probably most involved with the site, ytmnds began getting a lot more elaborate.

The tiled image and zooming text started to go out of style, pretty much everything was animated, and the standards for quality went way up. They even thought up a whole alternate universe where the fads are slightly different.

This one was from 2006 is still my most popular ytmnd, with 26,000 hits to date and a pretty decent rating. It's nothing compared to the best ones out there, but I enjoyed my brief internet success. All it took was a few screenshots/audio from a DVD, knowledge of the "one man star wars" guy and a pretty good idea.

I haven't really been following the fads much since I left high school, but I like coming back to the site now and then whenever I get a good ytmnd idea or feel like some mindless entertainment.

Now they even have a nifty feature where you can have a background image and.. a foreground image! You're going to have to humor me, it was exciting. I used it to decent effect in my last ytmnd outing.

Anyway, that's just a little background on an obscure site I'm into. Maybe sometime I'll post a quick guide to creating ytmnds.

--D Ham

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Little About Me

I might be making this up, but I think it’s traditional to start a blog with some background.

For those of you who may not know me (or know me very well), I’m currently a fourth-year physics and music student at Berkeley. I do research in the Space Sciences Laboratory on magnetic reconnection in the Earth’s atmosphere, I play Mellophone (F horn) in the Cal Band and I live in a big house near campus with many other bandsmen. I also do a little political stuff as an editor of the Berkeley Political Review.

I'm a nerd and in my spare time I like to play board games, when I can; not that Parker Brothers/Milton Bradley stuff, but more obscure fare such as Citadels, Power Grid, and Puerto Rico. A few of my friends and I have been accumulating a now-pretty-eclectic collection of these “Eurogames,” as they’re called, and we play them on a pretty regular basis.

I also enjoy Flash games, the type you may find on such websites as Kongregate or Newgrounds. I generally play them because they theoretically take less time to play than “real” computer games, but I often end up needing to block those websites during midterm/finals season after spending entirely too much time on them.

I like good movies and follow a few funny sketch comedy groups on Youtube, and I have an on-and-off interest in the humor/etc website, where pretty much anyone can make something amusing if they have a good idea and a little time.

I get out sometimes too, and enjoy heading out to parties or the local bars when I can. Right now I’m in a relationship with a nice girl who likes me pretty well.

I'll probably be talking about interesting stuff in life and media I hear about or come across it. If I stick with this, I hope to provide some good material from time to time. Wish me luck!

--D Ham