No Feast 'til Brooklyn

It's officially that time of year again. Today, on the last day of April, I played my first Italian feast of the year. It's always fun to surround myself with people who look and sound like extras from the Sopranos. The weather was still a bit cool in the morning, but once the breeze died down it turned out to be a nice day.

There's always time to kill before a feast, since our band leader usually has us arrive far too early. We arrived at 10:30 AM for a 12:30 procession, briefly playing one tune during the 11:00 AM mass. Sitting around I got into an interesting discussion with my friend Bill, a veteran trumpet player well into his 70s, a little older than my dad. He was insisting that cigarette smoking is not addictive, because anyone who inhaled secondhand smoke would have a desire to light up themselves. It was thin “science” at best, and surprising since he's knowledgeable in most other scientific areas. I think it's mostly denial about the fact that he can't quit. He further argued that he can give it up any time, and that's another reason it's not addictive, since he has given it up before. When I asked what was the longest period of time he gave it up for, he shrugged and said, “about a few hours.”

Once the procession got under way, the day moved quickly. It's always fun to walk in the street, although at one point I got melted tar on one of my shoes. We played a lot of songs which was rough since this is only the second time I've picked up the instrument this year, but I managed. At the end of the gig we were invited in to the church's adjoining school, where refreshments and food were being served to the congregation in the auditorium. We sat in a nearby classroom, when a quartet of small boys came in looking for trouble. They ignored us when we cautioned them against going through the teacher's desk drawers. All they found was some construction paper and a collection of small plastic straws, but one boasted about finding a knife last year. I can only hope he meant a letter opener, and that the object was not taken by him. They next found some wooden rods and at first one played the role of teacher, writing the word “detention” on the board and striking it with the stick, no doubt reenacting a personal experience. It wasn't long before they were dueling, rolling around on those cool sneakers with hidden wheels that I wish I had when I was a kid. When they nearly broke our snare drum, we all yelled at them to leave. After finishing our cookies and soda, it was time to head home, and passing the imps in the hall I heard one gleefully tell his crew, “Oh good, they're LEAVING!” I can only assume the Sunday school teacher is going to find the room trashed, and I have no idea where any of these kids' parents were.

Driving home the traffic was as good as it was coming home. Gas prices around here have skyrocketed recently, $3.19 in most places for the cheapest octane. Listening to the radio yesterday, I heard The Radio Chick outline the equally useless solutions being presented by our government. The Republicans want to issue a $100 rebate check to consumers to normalize the jump, which one of the Chick's sidekicks was quick to note would cover TWO tanks of gas for him. Just as useless, the Democrats are proposing lifting the tax on gasoline for two months, allowing gas stations to charge lower prices. Of course, after two months the prices would go right back up. Bill tried to draw a comparison for my dad and I between gallons of gas and gallons of anything else, from milk to spring water. However, while the price has gone up for those items, it's been a gradual result of inflation and not a sudden leap of 15 cents overnight. Also, I don't go through a gallon of milk anywhere near as fast as I go through gasoline. Feast season has officially started though, so I'll be driving to Brooklyn and other locations quite frequently the next few months, going through even more fuel.



When I was a child, I wanted to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to do it. Like most children mistaking freedom for license, I assumed that, once I was an adult, I could do whatever I wanted. This idea would occasionally be reinforced when my parents used the expression: “when you're older you can do what you want, but right now you have to do what we say.” The reality is that life has obstacles, things we don't plan on that get in our way. Perhaps they make life more interesting, though. If there were cheats in life as there are in some video games, I think we'd get bored.

A few weeks ago I learned my dad had already mowed the lawn at his lot once this year, while I was at work. He casually asked me to help him with the garage door there the next chance I had, because he had difficultly lifting it and he suspected the springs may have worn out. While it rained throughout last weekend, today offered far better conditions. And so we set out early to tackle what should have been a simple job.

I wanted to stop at the post office first, to return When Harry Met Sally... to Netflix, and my dad wanted to swing by the local gas station. With nearly a full tank, he was still concerned about running out tomorrow on our way to a feast in Brooklyn. He also wanted to get some to put in the lawnmower over at the lot. Unfortunately for both of us an obstacle, in the form of a little league parade, barred the road to both the post office and the gas station. Life has obstacles, things we don't plan on that get in our way.

We decided to get gas on the way home for the car, and take a chance that there was enough in the mower should the grass need to be cut again. My dad suggested a post office on the way in a neighboring town, and I knew precisely where it was. As he asked where I was going and if I had passed it, I was confused. He went on to explain that it had moved recently, and we had definitely missed it. My stubbornness is my greatest obstacle, and I continued on to show him the post office. When I saw it was now a florist, I had to concede. Fortunately, there would be another one on our route. My dad ran in for me and mailed it, and after he returned I checked to make sure no one was alongside me before pulling away from the curb. An SUV passed me and then I accelerated, braking immediately as the driver decided to park in front of me, cutting sharply to the right. He came to a halt leaving the way clear to proceed, but opened his door in to traffic. As he stood fumbling with his keys, his door still wide open, I veered into oncoming traffic and returned to my lane, noting in the rearview mirror that cars behind me were forced to do the same. The man, an obstacle no one planned on, remained oblivious to his nature.

We arrived at the lot without further incident. Even with both of us working together, the garage door proved extremely stubborn. I saw stars once it was up, and rebuked my dad for going there by himself. He doesn't carry a cell phone and should he have had a heart attack, my mother and I would not have known until we went looking for him after he didn't come back. He waved it aside, pointing out that he has to go some time and he figures he's got about five years left anyway. The obstacle of stubbornness is a family trait on my dad's side, rivaled only by the inability to part with anything that I inherited from my mother. Indeed, I surveyed the items in the garage, the racks of books, shoes, old clothing and other junk that, rather than donate or discard, she had gradually placed there for Summer garage sales. For the last five years she volunteered weekends at an arboretum however, and so these items sat idle, the playthings of rats and spiders. Before we could fix the springs, we had to get past tables of breakable glass items, more obstacles.

We adjusted one side of the garage, and I pulled the cable and spring to give my dad the slack he needed to hook it a little further. When we moved to the opposite side, my dad asked a scary question. “Is that some kind of animal up there?!” Cautiously, I moved through the shadows to see what he was referring to. In the corner recesses above the door, something round, white and flaky, a little larger than a basketball loomed. It was a nest, hornets by my uneducated guess. “What should we do? Knock it down?” I couldn't disagree more, but he decided if he used a long hooked garden tool he'd be fine. He couldn't be dissuaded, so I moved about thirty feet away and readied my cell phone to call 911. As he pulled away the flakes of the nest, he observed that it seemed to be bits of leaves and newspaper, more likely put there by a mouse or a rat than any kind of stinging insect. We didn't encounter any inhabitants and, with that obstacle out of the way, adjusted that side of the door as well. “That should do it.”, said my dad with inexplicable certainty.

He remained inside while I pulled the door down. At first there was resistance, then it fell quickly. About five inches from the ground it came to a halt, and even standing on the handle with my full 193 pounds did little to budge it. Inside, my dad poured motor oil on the track, and asked me to try it again. It moved more freely, and I worked it back and forth a few times to get the wheels oiled, but when I lowered it, some unseen obstacle held it in place inches from the ground. I opened the door again, noting that motor oil was now dripping from the track on to some of my mom's things, including a cylindrical Quaker Oatmeal container which she had labeled “classic”. I'm not sure how much an old cardboard package might be worth but since she was only charging a dollar for it, I'm sure it wasn't that classic. Again, my mom hates to part with things.

We decided to disconnect one spring entirely. If the door closed, we knew it was that side that was the problem. If it didn't close all the way, then the problem would be on the other side. The heavy door fell so swiftly, it nearly crushed my feet. Through my work gloves, my fingers screamed at the strain the handle put on each individual joint. The door closed, and inside I heard my dad ask me to lift it back up. I strained to no avail, and this time he asked if I was still there, a hint of panic in his voice. I told him to wait a minute as I looked around, finding a piece of wood to use as a lever. I tried again, moving it barely an inch when I saw gloved fingers appear from within. Working together, we moved the door enough to slide the makeshift lever in place, and ultimately get the door open. As the twelve o'clock whistle sounded in the distance, my dad expressed concern at how late it was, and finally revealed that one of his friends was bringing a car over to work on at one o'clock. He decided to put the spring and cables back the way they were for today, and we'd tackle the problem next week, perhaps trying sturdier springs from the original garage door. I couldn't believe the rusted springs with very little tension were only a few years old, and that the old ones he had saved, while a little rusted, were much heavier and stronger.

Driving home, my dad wondered aloud about selling the property. While it had been in our family for years, it was becoming too much for him to handle. He considered giving the money to me as a gift, to put toward the purchase of my uncle's house, should my uncle ever fully move into his new apartment, a process he now estimates will take a year. I'd hate to lose something that was my grandfather's, that once meant so much to my dad, and I also didn't like the idea of my parents helping me buy a house. They've done everything for me my whole life, and as an adult I should be able to stand on my own two feet with something. He shrugged and said I was going to inherit it sooner or later anyway, and taxes would be better if he presented it to me as a gift rather than left it to me in his will. I can't imagine such a tremendous gift though. When I graduated high school, they presented me with a sum of cash that, at the time, I found far too generous to accept. After paying my tuition for four years, there was no need to give me more money, especially since they were about to pay my college tuition, whatever my scholarships didn't cover. I got mad and gave it back to them, but I suspect my mom only invested the money and slowly gave it to me on subsequent holidays over the years. Parental generosity is an obstacle pride cannot overcome, and I don't know how I'm going to pay my parents back for everything they've done already. Perhaps that's one of life's great ironies. They've often regretted not doing more for their parents, and if they couldn't pay them back then they're paying it forward with me. Someday after they're gone, if I have children, I'll have to make the same sacrifices for my kids that my parents made for me, my grandparents made for them, and so on. I still want to buy a house with money I earned, and I don't want my dad to give up his family legacy, but I do at the very least understand the greater pattern in his reasoning. If we have insight into the thought processes of the people we love, we have one less obstacle to overcome.


Fantasy Not Final

A few years back Final Fantasy VII, on loan from my friend Rey, introduced me to the world of Final Fantasy. At first, it didn't appeal to me. The characters were cartoonish and LEGO®-like, and the story was very basic. A mercenary ran around with a team on a mission to blow up something in a power plant for some reason, and occasionally a random battle would occur. The enemies were usually boring guys with guns, and the hero had to wait for his turn to take action. When it was my turn, I had to choose an option from the menu to attack. The foes weren't very powerful, but a lot stronger than my character and at first I lost a lot. I didn't know it then, but I would eventually commit over 63 hours to that game, and be sad enough when it was all over to play it again from the beginning, this time clearing any and all side missions.

In any RPG, players are rewarded for their victories with experience. Gain enough experience, and you go up a level. It's a lot like life in that aspect. The more experience we gain, the stronger we become and, as a result, the easier certain challenges become. At some point the hero of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife, became strong enough to take out many of his early opponents with one attack. Of course, just as the heroes get stronger in an RPG, so too do their enemies. By the end of the game, Cloud and his allies would wield advanced versions of their initial weapons, massive hit points, and various spells including the ability to summon powerful monsters such as the dragon Bahamut. With giant robot WEAPONs roaming their world, and their enemy Sephiroth reaching godlike levels of power, winning even with such assets would prove nearly impossible. No RPG is impossible however, to a player willing to invest the time building his or her characters up to be even stronger. Sooner or later, you can defeat any opponent.

Every Final Fantasy game, while sharing common themes, presents an independent story with new characters. The tale is epic in scope, and resolved completely by the end. Each fantasy in and of itself is final. FFVII may be the most popular game in the series, but FFX, the only other game in the series I've played, had been the only one to have a sequel, FFX-2. Now the popular FFVII continues, beyond cameo appearances of its characters in the Kingdom Hearts games, with a DVD movie sequel, Advent Children. This is not the first film to bear the name Final Fantasy, but unlike 2001's science fiction masterpiece (and box office dud) The Spirits Within, it is the first Final Fantasy movie with a direct connection to the game. Someone who's never played the game could enjoy the movie on its own, but it's a dream come true for fans with a sharp memory and a careful eye. The opening sequence of the movie is an exact recreation of the very last scene of the game. At one point after a fight, the victory music played after every fight in the game is heard, and subsequently revealed to be the ringtone on the defeated opponent's cellphone. Quick flashbacks fill in the blanks for newcomers, but the movie is definitely a love letter to the fans.

I won't spoil the plot too much, but many familiar faces reappear. The computer animation, much like The Spirits Within and Final Flight of the Osiris, retains the same level of detail and borderline reality. The game's greatest strengths were its intricate plot, engaging characters, and epic blend of humor, tragedy, hope and despair. One of its biggest weaknesses was the blend of graphics. In story mode, the characters were rendered in a simplified cartoonish style and looked like toys. During fights, the graphics were much sharper but limited to a few poses. It was only during the full movie sequences that told the story in between the action, that the visual aspect of the game truly shone. I found it very satisfying to see a fully-rendered feature film of a world and characters I'd loved. The story doesn't quite reach the epic level of the game, but then it couldn't possibly in 1/42nd the time. The soundtrack is superb, updating and incorporating many of the game themes into rock and operatic presentations. The action sequences are dizzying, and there are very few quiet moments in the film once the action begins. Emotional impact is high given the nostalgia factor, and during one particular scene I felt a dampening of my eyes. The humor is great as well, and comic relief comes best from Reno and Rude, ultra-cool villains from the game who evolve into anti-heroes in the film. Enforcers from a fallen corporation, a threat to their world gives them a common cause with Cloud's group.

This fantasy is no longer final. Later this year a new game, Dirge of Cerebus, will feature the FFVII character Vincent. Additionally, the prequel Before Crisis, focusing on the Turks gang of enforcers, will be coming to U.S. mobile phones, and another prequel, Crisis Core starring the character Zack, is destined for the PSP. I've yet to make my way through all the special features on Advent Children, but I especially enjoyed “Reminiscence of Final Fantasy VII”, a 24 minute collection of chronological clips from the game that summarize the overall epic quite nicely, giving me a taste of the magic without requiring that I play the game through a third time. After all, the fantasy has to be a little bit final, to fit in some of that pesky reality.


Potato Evolution

A few years ago, the crime scene waiting in my living room this evening would have sent me into a blinding rage. I came home from work, headed in to turn on Smallville, and let my gym bag drop to the floor as I found most of my video cassette collection splayed across the floor. “Yeah,” replied my dad from the kitchen to my stunned silence, “We left it like that for you to find. We weren't home when he did it.”

The “he” referred to the Inimitable Mister Chirp, our lovable, intelligent, and mischievous cat who, of late, has decided the stacks of tapes next to the television make for a great scratching post. My tower started out as a couple of drawers and, when those filled, I began stacking. At first there were two, then four, and finally six stacks, two across and three front to back. A mix of store-bought movies and things I taped from the television grew, finally slowing when I started buying DVDs instead a few years ago. Since I mostly watch movies on my computer now, my growing DVD collection resides in my room. I generally don't save things on tape anymore since most of the old shows are available on DVD, and I'll reuse the same cassette for months before moving to a new one, either because I've filled it with things I do want to save, or because it starts to wear out. Other than taping shows when there's a scheduling conflict, when I'll be home late from work, or when I don't feel like getting up early on a Saturday, I don't use the VCR as much as I used to, and I definitely haven't watched any of my commercial tapes in some time.

Chirp's scratching began innocently enough, a few frayed edges on the boxes, barely noticeable until he did it in front of us, sauntering in casually, stretching and standing on his hind legs as he began digging at my tapes with his front legs. At some point today he must have pulled one of the stacks down, while neither I nor my parents were home. He never bothers any of the cassettes to the right of our television, because those are in a tall shelving unit my dad made for my mom's collection. Perhaps it's time to do the same on the left.

I fell to my knees and began checking each box carefully. They seemed intact, until I got to Highlander. Something sounded loose when I lifted it carefully, a fallen and wounded friend. On the side, the plastic had cracked by the hinge. The tape seemed otherwise intact save for this key one inch square piece of plastic, and I knew I probably couldn't risk putting it in the VCR ever again. As for my copy of a 1978 Spider-man TV movie, a classic collection of episodes of the old show in which college kids accidentally build an atomic bomb and a villain nearly destroys the World Trade Center, the hinge piece had complete snapped off, bits of black plastic scattered across the floor. Fortunately, these were the only casualties. The other fifteen or so fallen tapes were various shows I had recorded myself, irreplaceable unlike the store-bought movies I could always pick up on DVD. Calmly, I set about rebuilding the towers as my mom came inside from gardening, and I heard her quietly asking my dad if I had a fit. When she saw how well I was taking it, she remarked that it was a good thing she hadn't been the culprit.

I probably would be able to get angry at an adult human who would know better, but I can't get mad at this face. It gave me some insight into what it must be like to be a parent. Sure, there were times when I broke something that my parents lost their temper, being only human, but most of the time they were surprisingly forgiving. I remember one time when I was a little boy, sitting in the car waiting for my dad at an automotive junkyard, and I was playing with the little dial that made the rearview mirror tilt. Suddenly, the mirror was in my hand, completely detached, and I knew I was dead. I would have ran, but feared the dogs outside the car, the reason I opted to wait there in the first place. When he returned, I carefully explained what had happened, leading with my trademark expression: “Now, don't be mad...” To my amazement, it was nowhere near as big a deal for him as it was for me, and he didn't yell or get upset. When I was younger, I could get away with a lot of things with my cute, innocent face.

My friend Rey has a saying about sentimental value: “Toss the junk; keep the memories.” As a packrat who has never parted with anything, I have a hard time with this. I can accept the damaged tapes because I know I'll be able to see those shows again someday in another form, but there are memories with those physical objects. I vividly remember my glee in a Borders out East near where my girlfriend lived, when I saw the Spider-man tape on the shelf and remembered seeing it on television when I was much younger. I paid way too much for such a fragile media, over twenty dollars, a lot back then, but it made me happy when I got home and I didn't care. It was a rare treasure I had acquired. The object may be damaged, but not the experiences it represents, and that's why it's easier to accept.

The life of a couch potato is evolving. VCR's were a miracle, an answer to the dilemma of shows being on at the same time, of not being home during a favorite program. VHS defeated Beta and reigned for years. In the 1980s, I had one or two friends who were wealthy enough to own laserdiscs, early optical technology that would eventually give way to more compact DVD. These new formats were expensive, and took time to become popular. We didn't get our first VCR until the late ‘80s, around the time my friends had laserdiscs, yet both technologies were developed nearly a decade earlier. I really only started buying DVDs in the last 3 or 4 years, but that technology is also a decade old. Now a new format war looms on the horizon, with the recently-released HD-DVD format poised to combat the upcoming Blu-Ray. Will Blu-Ray be the next Beta, or will HD-DVD fall? Will Tivo find its way into every household? My tower of cassettes, once a prized monument, isn't as important to me as it once was. It wasn't until my cat broke a few though, that I realized this. Usually, it takes loss to recognize value, but it's a rare occasion when loss of something reveals its insignificance.


PBW: Rainy Days and Seagulls

I love my new camera and going outdoors, but I hate the rain. Unfortunately, it rained throughout this entire past weekend, but I managed to get some great pictures at the beach for Photo Blog Wednesday without ever leaving my car:



My Tale of Sydney Bristow

The year was 2001. The United States was brutally attacked, George W. Bush was President, and some stuff probably happened in sports that year as well. On a smaller scale, a confident man, an unfortunate man, and a rich girl engaged in a morning ritual late in early October, visiting their company cafeteria for breakfast and delaying the start of the work day for as long as possible. The confident man raved to the unfortunate man about a really cool new show he had seen about a female secret agent. The show was called Alias and starred a then relatively-unknown Jennifer Garner as CIA agent Sydney Bristow. The unfortunate man had seen the commercials and idly wondered if it was connected to ”that movie with that girl with that hair”, but this only irritated the confident man who didn't like to be interrupted while speaking. The confident man went on to explain how this girl was a college student by day and a spy by night, did a lot of running to German techno music, and could really fight. He explained how she was tortured by a horrific Asian dentist, pausing to note the Marathon Man similarity. The unfortunate man nodded understandingly, though it would be another year before he'd admit to never seeing that movie and subsequently borrowing it from his friend.

Sydney thought she worked for the CIA but when her fiancée was murdered after she confided in him, her father, Jack Bristow, tells her the truth, after saving her from an assassination attempt in a parking garage. She's shocked to learn that her father is not a salesman, but in fact a fellow agent, deadly and proficient in his career. He too works for the same agency she does, SD-6, but he's a double agent, reporting the bogus agency's evil deeds to his superiors in the real CIA. To avenge her fiancée's death, Sydney makes the same deal as her father, and she too becomes a double agent, a spy within a spy organization. The premise sounded very exciting, but the unfortunate man brushed it aside, noting that he watched too much television already, and certainly had no plans to add another show. As he made this statement, he held a styrofoam cup with one hand, using the finger of the same hand to dispense hot water for tea. In his other hand was a breakfast burrito, bacon and eggs wrapped in pita bread. The cup buckled and scalding hot water poured over the unfortunate man's right hand. The cup slipped from his grasp, splashing him. Immediately, he scanned the room, making sure few if any cute girls noticed his stupidity. Casually, he set down his burrito and asked the confident man to watch it. The unfortunate man strolled out into the empty hallway, then ran into the nearest bathroom where he ran cold water on his hand until the redness faded. He checked for other burns, then returned for his breakfast, sans beverage. Later that week he'd catch an encore and be hooked, through good times and bad, for the next five years.

Sydney's life was complicated and dangerous. She had a roommate, Francie, and a good friend, Will, neither of whom had any idea what she did for a living, assuming she traveled around the world on business for a bank. Within SD-6 she had friends, her partner Dixon and technical genius Marshall. Other than her father though, she had no idea who to trust. Could her friends be unaware of the true nature of SD-6 as she once was? Arvin Sloane, the creepy and calculating leader of SD-6, already robbed her of the man she was going to marry. She couldn't risk the lives of anyone else, and had to endure a man she detested daily without breaking her cover. Her missions were always twofold, and she often had to get the information or artifacts SD-6 sent her after to the CIA. It was difficult to intentionally sabotage missions and not get caught, especially with her partner around. Adding to the tension on the homefront, Will was a reporter who, in investigating Syd's fiancée's death, got dangerously close to the truth each episode, a truth that could mean his own demise. Will was also in love with Sydney, unaware of his competition with Michael Vaughn, Syd's CIA handler who also wanted to handle her.

Each episode presented a new challenge that, contrary to conventional dramas, was not resolved in the course of an hour. For nearly two seasons, the show offered cliffhanger after cliffhanger, the resolution of the previous week's dilemma leading in to a new one that wouldn't be resolved until the following week. People watched loyally and paid close attention. Halfway through the second season, following the Super Bowl, an exciting episode aired in which SD-6 was finally taken down, Sloane was on the run, and Dixon and Marshall learned the truth. The show would be less complicated in an effort to attract new viewers, and thus would slowly decline. Sydney's mother would play a major role throughout the second season but subsequently would leave the show only to return for occasional guest appearances, when actress Lena Olin sought more money for the role. While plots began to sort themselves out in the course of an hour with fewer cliffhangers, the show veered into more unbelievable territory with prophecies based on the works of 15th-century inventor Milo Rambaldi. While such supernatural plots were welcomed on shows like Angel, it was an odd tangent for a series otherwise grounded in reality and intrigue. At the end of the second season, Sydney would be knocked out, and awaken in Hong Kong to discover two years had passed and Vaughn had gotten married. By the end of the third season, she would learn of the existence of her half-sister Nadia, the result of an affair between her mother and Sloane. Season four tried to restore the show to the basics, putting the cast together in yet another covert agency, this time officially sanctioned by the CIA, but the damage had been done. Worst of all, while Sydney's ability to take on any alias, wearing wigs and costumes and speaking foreign languages proficiently made her unique, eventually everyone on the show was going on missions in funny costumes with funny accents, giving it all a sitcom feel. For most of season five, thanks to Ben Affleck, Garner's real-life pregnancy has been incorporated into the show. The show jumped the shark, then jumped a shark that was on fire, then jumped a shark branded with a DHARMA logo, with a laser strapped to its head.

The show's not bad, but what's disappointing is remembering how exceptional it was when it started. Now, with the final season announced and the episode order cut short, only five episodes remain to wrap things up. Will everyone survive? Will the Rambaldi prophecy resurface? Will dead characters show up again? Will anyone care about the host of new characters introduced this season as old ones left and Garner was unable to run, despite her unlikely pregnant kung fu in a few episodes? The only new cast member I'm really enjoying is Amy Acker, having enjoyed her work on Angel and brief appearance on an episode of Supernatural earlier this season. Acker plays a very devious villain and femme fatale, last week taking down a helicopter with a rocket launcher from inside an office building and calmly strolling away as it fell past the windows in the background. It was a very cool scene in an otherwise absurd episode. I'd also enjoy the addition of Rachel Nichols if not for the fact that she played a far more interesting character on The Inside, a show whose cancellation freed her up for Alias.

Five episodes remain, and I'm there until the very end. I don't know whether the final adventures will regain the power of the first ones, shocking and scalding me like a cup of hot water, or if they'll merely drain away, tepid at best.


Monday Randomness

1) Remember when I said ”Roth is the Worst?” Well, because FREE FM plays music on the weekend, I had that station on when I started my car this morning. Instead of David Lee Roth, I heard two other idiots, Opie and Anthony. Yes, those guys, the ones who lament the fact that everyone remembers them as the DJs who had a couple of listeners have sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral. They brought it up again this morning, so it would be remiss of me not to mention it. I guess I wasn't in the minority in my opinion about Roth, and though his replacements stole my joke and suggested they would eventually be replaced by Sammy Hagar, I wouldn't be surprised when it happens. Personally, I'm looking forward to the day I hear music and not idiotic banter on that station but until that day, I'll be tuning in elsewhere.

2) For nearly two months now, a large broken tree limb has hung precariously by a smaller branch, dangling over several spaces in our parking lot at work. Thus far, the solution has been to place four traffic cones in the four spaces directly underneath it. This afternoon I got a phone call from a friend letting me know the latest development to look for when I departed for the evening. Apparently someone found a way to get up to the dangerous object and ensure that it wouldn't endanger anyone, anymore. Yes, that branch is now securely tied to the tree by a rope or possibly a length of garden hose, and it's not going anywhere. Just to be safe, they've left the traffic cones in place as well. If I remember to bring my camera with me tomorrow morning, I may try to get a picture of this marvel.

3) 3.25 miles in 25 minutes on a treadmill is a good time for me. It's not my best, which was 3.5 miles, but I'm finally getting closer to my goal.

4) I can say without hyperbole that Prison Break is the best show on television right now. The premise of one brother getting himself thrown into a prison he helped design to help his older brother escape from death row seemed far-fetched at first, but the elaborate plan involving a map concealed in his full-body tattoo and growing posse of shady accomplices grows more outrageous and intriguing by the week. One thing I've learned is that something horribly wrong will always threaten the plan, each wrench worse than the previous one, yet somehow Michael Scofield will make it work. I never know how he'll get out of a jam until the following week, and it's fun to guess. I think tonight we saw one massive snafu that we'll learn Michael intended to happen, though I'm not yet sure why, but we also saw some hesitation on his part with another task he set out to accomplish, for once something he didn't count on...

5) How I Met Your Mother, dare I say it, is a ”Legendary” show, to borrow from the lexicon of Neil Patrick Harris' Barney. Though the twist in tonight's episode wasn't difficult to figure out, arriving there made for a fun ride. One thing that disturbs me is Alexis Denisof, husband to HIMYM star Alyson Hannigan and fellow Buffy/Angel alumnus. I didn't realize until after last week's episode that he now had a recurring role as a sunny morning news anchor. Tonight he had a more prominent role, as the date for Robin, played by series regular Cobie Smulders. He shouldn't be clean-shaven and talking with a (sort-of) American midwest accent. It's a very goofy look and sound for him, and he was much better off with stubble and a heavy British accent. Jumping around firing a pair of shotguns at demons in Woo-ish slow motion would be cool too, but I doubt we'll see him do that on this show. His possible ad lib to his wife Hannigan, “I can't imagine you grumpy” was one of the weaker parts of an otherwise great episode. If it was an ad lib, they really should not have left it in.

6) 24. 24 is the best show on television, and Jack Bauer can handle anything by shooting, driving, or just yelling. He even seems to have a magic hood that keeps out nerve gas and makes him invisible when he needs to sneak into places, which is really convenient but all part of the show's charm. James Heller really made some crappy decisions this season though, while remaining belligerent about all of them. Also of note, the show has become a haven for the cast of Robocop, with Peter Weller playing Christopher Henderson, Ray Wise playing Vice President Hal (Jordan Guy?) Gardner, and Paul McCrane joining the cast in tonight's episode. Can ”Red Forman” be far behind?

7) You know what, The Sopranos is actually the best show. I gasped about four times watching a tape of last night's episode, once for a rabbit, once for a hand, and once for poor Lauren Bacall. I can't believe she played herself, got mugged, and punched in the face! Overall, the episode belonged to Artie Bucco, from the funny little kung fu dance he does after (finally) winning a fight with someone, to the beautiful cooking scene at the end when he finally gets back to doing what he loves, and loving what he's doing. As always, Christopher had some of the funniest lines, and “that Law and Order show...you know, Ess You Vee” was great.

8) I watch a lot of television, and tonight I enjoyed everything I saw. Perhaps later this week I'll be more critical and chronicle the rise and fall of Alias, as it crawls through its last five episodes with more sitcom theatrics and less of the tension and danger that made it one of my favorite shows five years ago...


Phantasmic Links 4.23.06

It's been raining for days now. If this keeps up, I may have to come out with my own grunge album. As a result of the poor weather, I don't have much to report this weekend other than at $3.05 per gallon for the “cheap” stuff, I spent way too much on gasoline today. Also, while watching a Knight Rider episode on DVD this afternoon, I thought the small boy that befriends an amnesiac KITT looked a little familiar. Sure enough, it was indeed a very young Jason Bateman. If that's not valuable trivia, then I don't know what is. What I do know are this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

Speaking of Hasselhoff, has anyone seen him the classic sci fi adventure Star Crash? I certainly haven't, but after finding the link to the trailer for this B-movie at Sarcasmo's, my morbid curiosity is piqued.

C if for Cookie! HT is for Hat Tip, once more to Sarcasmo.

There are many games like Break It 2, but what's particularly nice about this execution is the physics of the paddle, which tilts as you move the mouse from left to right, giving you some indication of which way the ball will bounce, and giving the player more control than in other incarnations. It's 50 levels of fun!

Contribute to the gestalt that is...The Mean Face!

This Back to the Future timeline might help you sort out the linear result of the nonlinear events, if you know what I mean.

At last, we can finally surf the internet...on bathroom floors?! I wouldn't want to work in tech support over there...

Coincidences? I think not...

Here are the top ten worst video game quotes. How many do you know? You cannot escape! YOU will be the ones escaping!

TVGoddess shares some good news for Scrubs fans.

Did you know that William Shatner performed his now infamous cover of “Rocket Man” as far back as 1978? I guess his music career didn't start with Priceline commercials after all. Watching this video definitely makes me appreciate Family Guy's attention to detail.



Fifteen Comics: Part Three

In a hypothetical world, there's a shortage of paper and other supplies and in an effort to conserve, only FIFTEEN monthly comic books remain. Fortunately, I get to decide which books survive as well as the writers and artists assigned. Check out my previous posts for the first ten:



And now, the exciting conclusion:

11) TMNT
Creative team: Eastman & Laird

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would live on, handled by their original creators! I was confused when I saw the movie in 1990 and so many things were “changed” from the cartoon. But the truth was, the cartoon was aimed at a much younger audience and deviated more from the source material than the movie did. The current cartoon series is a lot darker and more mature, although it maintains the humor and personalities of the characters, and if there were only fifteen comic books left in the world I would want this to be one of them. On a side note, I just read that the season 4 cliffhanger that aired last weekend won't be resolved in the fall, as the network decided to jump ahead to season 6, and release the 5th season only on DVD. FOX strikes again...

12) Pantheon
Writer: Jerry Axl Novick
Artist: Mark Texeira

It is a very dark time for powerful races who consider themselves gods. An unholy alliance between Mephisto, Loki, Hela, Pluto, and Ares has led to the downfall of not one but two kingdoms, Asgard and Olympus. With Odin and Zeus slain, their souls in Mephisto's clutches, what hope do the surviving members of their respective races have? Thor and Hercules will join forces to save their fathers and restore their kingdoms, aided by other heroic gods and the one mortal whose strength rivals their own: The Incredible Hulk.

13) Transformers/G.I.Joe
Writers: Simon Furman(plot), and Larry Hama(script)
Artist: Andy Wildman

For this book I've chosen a creative team that has experience with both Transformers and G.I. Joe. This would be a continuity-free series set in present day, that takes both franchises back to their roots. When two factions of a warring alien race crash on Earth, the Joe team finds it may have greater concerns than waging war against terrorists like Cobra. Can they form an alliance with the heroic Autobots when the worst distrusts and fears all of the robots? With Cobra forming a tenuous alliance with the evil Decepticons, they may not have a choice as survival outweighs good public relations...

14) Patriots
Writer: Larry Hama
Artist: Chris Bachalo

It's a dangerous world, and while Captain America is a symbol of freedom and liberty, sometimes the world needs more than symbols. Enter John Walker and his new covert anti-terrorist unit. Together with Tanya Sealy, Cable, Frank Castle, David North and the Foreigner, they travel the world taking on threats quickly, efficiently, and sometimes brutally. Occasionally their methods will bring them into conflict with Captain America and other heroes(especially with members like Sealy and Castle considered to be criminals, and a hired assassin like the Foreigner).

15) Titans
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: John Byrne

Veteran Titans band together as Nightwing, Changeling, Raven, Starfire and Cyborg reunite! They're not teens anymore, and they've seen too many casualties among their allies and successors. Heroes among heroes, they are the Titans.

* * *

And there you have it! Maybe it's a good idea the world isn't limited to just 15 comics, with me in charge. I'd like to thank the readers that stuck with me through three days of geek indulgence, and assure you that this site will soon return to normal. Let everyone who fled in terror know it's safe to return. Here's the list one last time in its entirety:

1) Agency X
2) Justice League Unlimited
3) Warriors 2099
4) The Amazing Spider-man
5) Batman: Dark Knight

6) Quasar Corps.
7) United Strikeforce of Avengers
8) Champions
9) Faith
10) The All-New, All-Invinvible Iron Man

11) TMNT
12) Pantheon
13) Transformers/G.I. Joe
14) Patriots
15) Titans

Good night, true believers!


Fifteen Comics: Part Two

The comic geek insanity begun yesterday continues! Here are the next five comics among the last fifteen on a hypothetical Earth:

6) Quasar Corps.
Writer: MCF
Artist: Rey

Early in his career , Wendell Vaughn wondered why only one being at a time was given the title “Protector of the Universe.” When his cosmic guide Epoch suddenly falls victim to a mysterious and fatal illness, Vaughn learns the truth, that his Quantum Bands are not unique, and 41 other pairs remain concealed in a pocket dimension, the gateway to which was long ago placed on the deadly surface of the living planet Ego. Epoch dies shortly after sharing this information, and Vaughn decides that he can no longer protect the universe alone. He enlists the Silver Surfer, Kismet, Beta Ray Bill, Tana Nile and Firelord to help him retrieve the other Q-Bands and find worthy bearers. Unfortunately they are followed by Thanos, who claims a pair for himself and nearly destroys our heroes, before they too don bands. Thanos escapes with the remaining 35, and Quasar must now train his allies in the use of their new weapons, bonded to them until death. Since this is my fantasy world, I had to give myself one comic to write, and I always liked the cosmic characters. Rey can draw as well as most professionals, but has never published so much as a web comic, although he's been talking about doing one for years. Though not a Quasar fan, I suspect the prospect of drawing Thanos and the Surfer on a monthly basis would appeal to him. If not, then I'd ask Ron Lim to handle the art, and I might even let Jim Starlin write it...

7) United Strikeforce of Avengers
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Jim Lee

At long last, Millar would do for the mainstream Avengers what he's done for their Ultimates counterparts. This would be a serious team, and they would not only have headquarters on both coasts of the United States, but a vast roster of reserve teammates to call upon in times of need. Captain America would be the overall chairman of the entire organization, with Wasp running the East Coast branch while Black Knight handled the West Coast. The addition of teleporting members to the teams, such as Nightcrawler, would aid in their ability to assemble the perfect strikeforce for any mission anywhere, any time. I chose Jim Lee, because it would just be ridiculously cool to see him draw nearly every major character in the Marvel universe, including the Fantastic Four, most of whom would play a role as semi-regulars after merging their team with the Avengers once and for all.

8) Champions
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Artist: Larry Stroman

The Thing is the one member of the Fantastic Four who remains mostly a reserve member of the U.S.Avengers. Drawing on his brief career as a wrestler and contacts in the entertainment industry, he acts as both a judge and trainer of would-be superheroes who audition and compete against one another in the ring. While in theory the American Idol approach applied to discovering new superheroes is a good idea, in practice it presents the dangers of rejected competitors traveling instead down a path to super villainy, as well as rookie heroes ignoring rulings that they aren't ready. Some will fail and turn to evil. Some will face deadly perils too soon. And only a select few will survive to become....Champions.

9) Faith
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: Marc Silvestri

Maybe I can't see Eliza Dushku in Tru Calling anymore, but I can still see Faith in a monthly comic book series slaying vampires and hanging out with Wood(I refuse to use the ridiculous first name of that character which I just discovered). Of course Whedon would be the writer, and Silvestri could definitely make Faith look sexy and capture the action as she leapt into a mob of vampires.

10) The All-New, All-Invinvible Iron Man
Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Walt Simonson

It would be great to see the Simonsons collaborate on a book again. In this title, Tony Stark realizes the world needs more than one armored superhero when he's unable to join every Avengers Strikeforce mission, even with teleporters on the team. He reconciles with War Machine and designs new suits of armor for Happy Hogan, Natasha Romanoff, Donnie Gill, Abner Jenkins and young newcomer Redd Schurrt. When one of his proteges dies in battle however, will Tony's grief drive him back to alcohol, or push him to create his most sophisticated suit yet?

* * *

Tomorrow this experiment will conclude with my final five fantasy comics. Don't miss them!


Fifteen Comics: Part One

I once dreamed of a career in the comic book industry, and ended up working in direct mail advertising instead. I dislike the term “ended up” however, and I use it far too often. Creativity needs to be stimulated sometimes, and my friend Curt recently accused me of not “geeking out” the way I used to. Normal people might take such a statement as a complement, but I take it as a challenge. Fortunately, Sean provided a solution in the form of a comic book meme, so tonight I'm going to unleash the inner comic geek buried under the weight of designing thirty months' worth of catalogs in the span of twelve.

The premise is simple. In an ideal world, I alone decide the fifteen comic books and corresponding creative teams assigned to them. A world in which the rising cost of paper and printing culls the market so drastically isn't ideal, but one where I call the shots is. I always wanted to work in the comic book industry and for a little while tonight, I get to pretend I do. In no particular order, here are the last fifteen comics in the world:

1) Agency X
Writer: Joss Whedon
Artist: Bryan Hitch

Think of it as X-men meets Alias, with an older Scott Summers as Jack Bristow, his daughter Rachel as Sydney, and the Beast as the resident genius a la Marshall Flinkman. Rounding out the team would be Warren Worthington and Bobby Drake. This is basically the original X-men with Rachel taking over her deceased mother's spot on the team. Professor X is also believed to be dead, and the mansion has been destroyed by their enemies after they were betrayed by Emma Frost, currently at large. Wanting to protect his daughter and avenge his mentor's death, Scott cuts a deal with Nick Fury to form a government task force to track down their enemies while monitoring mutant activity across the globe. All of the other surviving X-men oppose the idea except for Hank, Bobby and Warren, his oldest friends. From time to time old faces may show up, sometimes as allies, many times as enemies. Hardened by loss and betrayal, Scott becomes more focused on his missions, becoming emotionally distant and not noticing developments closer to home, such as a budding romance between his daughter and Bobby Drake. I chose Whedon as a writer because I've heard good things about his X-men comic and I know from his television shows he can handle character development, especially in a tighter group of X-men. Because of the gritty realistic tone of the book, I would choose Hitch as an artist.

2) Justice League Unlimited
Writer: Peter David
Artist: Greg Capullo

The concept would be the same as the cartoon, because it seamlessly integrates all the heroes of the DC Universe into one title. Poised in a satellite orbitting the Earth, a core group of the world's greatest superheroes would maintain order, calling in members for specific missions where their specific abilities are needed. Peter David can blend both humor and drama very well, as well as handle interactions within such a large cast of characters. As for Capullo, I wouldn't mind seeing him get back to a team book and doing for the JLU what he once did for X-Force.

3) Warriors 2099
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Artist: George Perez

Robert Baldwin looks surprisingly well for someone over 100 years old, his kinetic abilities slowing his aging process. In the year 2099, the Marvel Universe has changed. Agency X has evolved to an oppressive organization policing all superhumans, and only the small nation of Latveria offers haven under the rule of the benevolent Doom. His friends and teammates are long gone, but in Latveria Baldwin will find a new team of rebel outcasts to lead, under Doom's guidance. Baldwin joins forces with Miguel O'Hara(Spider-man 2099), Dani Moonstar(as the new Valkyrie, Vanna Astro(daughter of Justice and Firestar and possessing both her father's telekinesis and her mother's pyrokinesis), and the Hulk of 2099. I chose Nicieza because Iiked how he handled the team dynamic on the original New Warriors, which he co-created. In time I could see other descendants of the original team showing up, perhaps Night Thrasher's son is the new War Machine, and I'd definitely introduce a powerful cosmic Atlantean descended from Nova and Namorita. This title would paint the future of the Marvel Universe and with so many characters inevitably appearing, Perez is the best choice for the artist. Can this motley crew change the world? More importantly, can they really trust Doom...?

4) The Amazing Spider-man
Writer: Peter David
Artist: John Romita, Jr.

I can't imagine a world without a Spider-man, and so the original title would endure. Peter David's written Peter Parker before, and the character requires a writer who can handle humor and sarcasm in the face of life-threatening danger. J.R. Jr. is one of the best artists to handle the character, if not the best. Even in this ideal fantasy world, I can't see Todd MacFarlane returning to the character for long before leaving or farming the work out to understudies. Romita is part of the legacy and history of Marvel, and has the heart and dedication for the job.

5) Batman: Dark Knight
Writer: Bruce Timm
Artist: Frank Miller

Batman would certainly figure prominently in that JLU book, but he's too big a character not to have a solo series showcasing his inimitable rogues gallery and supporting cast of sidekicks, including a butler and a commissioner. This would be rendered in black and white like Sin City, with color occasionally used for emphasis. Timm is a sure choice for writer, having handled the character for fourteen years appearing in at least five different animated series. He has respect for the history as well as the abilities allow Batman to be equal if not superior to his superpowered allies. He also understands the psychology and motivation of the character better than anyone else.

* * *

I'm afraid that's all the time I have for tonight. Tune in tomorrow for more imaginary comics!


PBW: Asylum

For this week’s Photo Blog Wednesday, I visited the remains of an old insane asylum. There weren’t any ghosts, but time and a nearby golf course had taken their toll, resulting in a great blend of forms and textures:



These pretzels are making me thirsty...

One day last week on our lunch break, one of my friends purchased the new Berries and Cream Dr Pepper in CVS,and convinced another friend to buy one as well. Something about the sight of wild raspberries on a cream colored label set off some warning signals, so I myself avoided it. The first friend took a sip, contemplated the flavor, made a face, and concluded that it tasted like cough syrup with a subtle Dr Pepper aftertaste.

Soda is something we take for granted, whether on tap, in a bottle, or in a can. There are certain brands we've grown up with that have always been around, that we assume will endure and never change. Yet every few years, even these old standbys try to mix things up with new flavors, and imitators are constantly on the rise. Tonight I'm going to review some of my favorites, although I won't be numbering them the way I numbered cereals. Beverage preference can vary due to many factors, including but not limited to the type of food I'm having with it, whether or not I'm even having it with food, or if I'm cutting back on caffeine at the time.

When it comes to a basic cola, I definitely prefer the taste of Pepsi to Coke. Coke has a more bland flavor, and a bit of an aftertaste. Pepsi presents more of a kick. When comparing their diet counterparts, Pepsi is an even stronger winner. Diet Coke tastes like opaque, fizzy water. Standard cola is rarely my first choice with so many more interesting options out there, and while both of the big two have experimented with variations, from Pepsi Vanilla to Cherry Coke, Cherry Coke is the only variation I'm drawn to again and again, if only due to the lasting subliminal influence of that Cameo commercial in which the phrase “CHERRY COKE!” is substituted for ”Word Up!” in the song of the same name.

In college, a friend introduced me to the generic punch of Simply Soda, which packed more of a caffeine wallop than Jolt or RC. Like RC, the taste was somewhat bland, but, much like with beer, taste wasn't a factor after the second can. Hoffman's will always reign supreme as my favorite generic brand though, due to their fantastic cream soda and notable presence at many of the first Italian feasts I frequented. I enjoyed both the grape and orange flavors as well. I'm not sure they're still in business, as I found very little information online.

Sometimes, I don't want caffeine, and my plain soda of choice is usually Sprite. It can be a little sweet, especially from a tap where the ratio between flavor and seltzer needs adjusting. Still, I generally prefer it to Sierra Mist or 7Up. Sprite lends itself nicely to mixing with fruit juices, especially cranberry. Cranberry juice normally leaves a bad aftertaste and lingers on the back of the throat, but Sprite cuts it and makes it smooth even as it enhances the flavor of the soda. I generally prefer lemon/lime sodas to ginger ale.

My favorite sodas are the unique flavors in a category apart from colas, especially Dr Pepper. If I were ranking these drinks, Dr Pepper would be at the top, followed closely by any brand of cream soda, then root beer, then birch beer. My friend Curt would probably find it blasphemous to include Dr Pepper in the same sentence let alone category, but I'm not saying Dr Pepper is interchangeable with any of these others, only that they’re all unique from Coke or Pepsi. Curt once stabbed a waitress with a fork for suggesting root beer as a substitute for Dr Pepper, which the restaurant didn't carry. That didn't actually happen, although many of us saw the thought flicker across his eyes for a second before he told her through gritted teeth that no, he would not like root beer in lieu of Dr Pepper. My favorite cream soda would have been the aforementioned Hoffman's, which may not exist anymore, and my favorite root beer was Barq's, although that's best in moderation.

When I was young and my parents would take me to Roy Rogers and other fast food restaurants, I was never allowed to have soda with my kids' meals. Usually I got milk or juice instead. The first time I had soda, coke I believe around the age of 7 or 8, was a real treat. I think they regretted my subsequent hyperactivity due to the sugar intake, and it took some more time before cola gradually became a regular drink at dinner time. I probably consumed the most soda during my college years, and as an adult I lean toward Sprite, with Dr Pepper and Cherry Coke as occasional “treats”. There are other options at lunch, and I could probably write an entire essay on iced tea brands and flavors alone, but that's an article for another night.


What makes great animation?

In response to a comment I left over at her blog, Kelly writes: “You know, people always compliment certain types of animated movies as having ‘amazing animation' and I just have no idea what they're talking about. I look and look at these films and just don't see it. I mean, I think they look great, but I just don't get why it's such a big accomplishment. Suppose this is because I'm not an artist.” I remember in my early teens explaining to an older cousin how amazing the animation was in The Transformers: The Movie, countering his argument that it didn't compare with classic Disney. My sole defense was that it looked “really cool”, and while I was quickly dismissed, there is validity at the core of that argument. As with any art form, animation can be gauged by a subjective view of the basic aesthetics. Beyond this, there's the actual technical aspects, and the more involved something is the more impressive it is. One doesn't need to know the process to enjoy animation, and an old adage applies: “I may not know what art is, but I know what I like.”

The earliest cartoons to catch my eye and impress me were Japanese imports. Shows like Orbots and Voltron, with their giant robots and heavy shading techniques captured my attention as something wholly different from the Warner Bros., Popeye and Walter Lantz cartoons I grew up with. These cartoons seemed “real”, with human beings instead of talking animals who, while ideal and stylized, still bore a closer resemblance to people who might actually exist. At the time, the style and realism offered appeal, although these cartoons depicted war and conflict and lacked the adorable appeal of someone like Chilly Willy, whose name STILL instantly triggers recollections of his theme song, even now. Still, whatever the style of the drawings, whether cartoony or realistic, all of these traditional shows used cel animation.

Drawing is hard. I knew when I decided to become an artist I'd like to draw comics, but not cartoon strips, and not animation. Comics allow for some license in style, and many artists develop their own signature look. But a cartoon character had to be drawn exactly the same way each time. It's daunting enough for a typical three-panel newspaper strip, and there's definitely room to cheat and reuse characters and backgrounds, changing only word balloons, but animation requires a character to not only be drawn the same way, but for subtle changes to be made to each cel. We take it for granted when characters move fluidly, but even something as simplified as The Simpsons requires the same attention to detail. An average of 30 frames are usually needed, for each second of film! Add to this equation the fact that studios employ teams of animators, and now we have multiple people matching the same style. It's a miracle the end results are as impressive as they are, although a discerning eye can pick up errors. Many of the Japanese cartoons I loved as a kid are riddled with errors, and occasionally watching some of them now I'll notice a character's mouth disappear for a few seconds, or someone painted the wrong colors. I still admire the style, but can only concede that Disney had far superior quality. Even perfectionists encounter mistakes, inevitable in the process of turning out episodes quickly and farming out some of the work, and I've heard Bruce Timm lament imperfections such as specks of dust on certain frames in the opening credits to Batman: The Animated Series.

There are many techniques besides traditional animation. In rotoscoping, frames of film are traced by animators, creating even more fluid motion. Some of the more impressive applications of this technique that I've seen include Fire and Ice, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Secret of NIMH(the very first animated movie I saw in theaters), and the 1978 version of The Lord of the Rings. I saw the latter in installments shown at my local library on an old film projector, and though I didn't understand precisely what was different about the way the characters moved, I knew it was something special. I'm definitely looking forward to the release of A Scanner Darkly. Why not use real actors if rotoscoping so closely approximates reality? The hybrid of film and animation creates something greater than the sum of its parts which, in the same layman's terms I used as a child, “looks really cool.”

Computer generated animation is also on the rise, from various Pixar productions to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, or the soon-to-be-released Advent Children. I've seen blends of cel and computer animation done well in Treasure Planet, and poorly in the ‘90s Spider-man cartoon. While the former was seamless, it was very obvious in the latter when a ship or car were computer generated.

What makes great animation? Technique is a factor, and does not necessarily have to be appreciated solely by professionals. If a person is convinced of the “reality” of what he or she is viewing and not thinking about the underlying structure, then the piece is successful. Style is also a factor, from the wonderfully disturbing and twisted colored pencil animation of Pink Floyd: the Wall to the humorous liquid characatures presented in Les Triplets de Belleville. I've always enjoyed surrealism, seeing reality twisted and dreams brought to life. Again, any art form is subjective. What brings your dreams to life? That's great animation.


Phantasmic Links 4.16.06

I'm not sure why, but my mom made TWO dinners tonight. We finished the lasagna as she set down a full platter of chicken and potatoes, and announced that there was stuffing and corn as well. Since it was just me, my dad, and my uncle, I asked her if she was expecting more people. I guess I know what we'll be having for dinner for the rest of the week. Like any good holiday dinner, dessert consisted of ice cream and various pastries, including cannoli. I'm just glad I skipped breakfast, though I'm certain the treadmill won't be happy to see me tomorrow night. And now, here are this week's PHANTASMIC LINKS:

These signs are hilarious, and I'm torn between “Hammertime” and “Collaborate and Listen” as my favorites. Hat tip to Rubi Bayer.

”Voltron...REPRESENT!” It's funny, but I don't remember that much breakdancing in my ‘80s cartoons...

Is navigating the labyrinth and evading the minotaur in the cards? Play Kreta and find out.

Sean shares a classic lightsaber duel coupled with an actual civil war letter. It's powerful stuff.

Cubrius is a challenging game of blocks sure to create some mental blocks. Hat tip to the Dosetaker.

What is the number one thing I was looking forward to about the future? The answer can only be robots battling in space.

Anyone can escape from a room, but can you do it in 10 seconds???

Play Super Mario Bros....as the BULLET! Take-a that, you leetle eye-talian stereotypes!



It's Easter, by the way...

Growing up, I was always taught that the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus was the most important holiday on the church calendar. Yet Christmas, the celebration of Christ's birth, always gets more focus than Easter. This is due in no small part to the commercialization of the holiday, and the secular focus on gift-giving. People buy candy and food for Easter, but they buy real gifts for Christmas. Some car dealers would have us believe wrapping a car in a big red bow and presenting it to our loved ones is a reasonable token of our affection. No one bought me a car last year, and one uncle only gave me a bag of trail mix. On the other hand, I wasn’t handing out automobiles to my family and friends either.

Easter is as much a time of celebration as Christmas, yet even many Christians see it as a somber holiday. My own parents would resort to guilt tactics when I was a kid. How could I want to run outside and play with my friends on Good Friday when Jesus had died? Riding around on my bike and tossing pine cones, our favorite “grenades”, was very improper on such an occasion. Of course, it almost always rains on Good Friday, as my dad often notes, so the prior example was a rare conflict. Though Good Friday is a time of solemn observance, Easter is a happier time. At mass earlier this evening, I could sense my dad shifting uncomfortably when the priest called for applause upon baptizing a baby. I know he's very traditional, and doesn't feel clapping belongs in church. Still, if Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, and if a child joins our family, these aren’t things to mourn but quite the opposite. Given that my dad grew up in the 1930s however, I can understand his feelings.

Easter is a time of change and transformation. The world changes this time of year, as the first flowers bloom and the temperatures rise. While the first mass is normally held at 8 PM the Saturday before Easter, this year it was held during the regular 5 PM mass. We always begin with a candlelight vigil on the lawn in front of the church. It was strange to be out in the sun, and felt more like a barbecue than a respectful ceremony. We lit our candles and carried them back into the church for a two hour service. Forty-five minutes in some of the children became fidgety, and one a few pews back spoke his mind, whining “I wanna go home, mommy!” over and over. Most of the kids are better behaved, although I myself was once a squirmer. It brings back memories when children act up, but if I learned to quiet down, anyone can.

Change is difficult to accept, but happens whether we want it to or not. The most outspoken children can become the most reserved adults, and the stern and serious priests of my dad's generation can give way to those with a sense of humor and a different approach to the same goals. We all have free will, but as an old philosophy professor of mine used to observe, the interpretation of freedom as license can be overwhelming, and we may give up freedom to allow an authority to choose for us. Life requires us to be proactive to get the things we desire. Jobs will change, family and friends will change, and try as we might to stay the same our shifting environments force us to adapt in order to survive.

It might feel like an ordinary week, followed by an ordinary weekend, followed by another ordinary Monday, but it is Easter. Whether you're celebrating this week, or next week, or not at all, I wish you all a healthy, safe, and joyous time of change. Enjoy it, and God bless.