Archive for November, 2009

21
Nov
09

Here’s what’s going on at the Microsoft Store!!

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19
Nov
09

Early Droid Impressions…

I’ve been dying to get my hands on the Motorola Droid and recently I spent some time with it and wanted to share some early (as early as 20 mins of use can buy me) impressions:

  • The shape is rather uninspired.  I passed right by the phone… In a way, it’s an unfair assessment.  The iPhone is recognizable, but for the most part it’s a big screen and a curved shiny back.  At the same time, other touch screen devices appear to have some personality.  (The new HTC HD2 comes to mind.  That seems to be the kind of sleek, slightly wider screen device that geeks lust over.)  The overall feel of the Droid, however, seems to be a bit… well, the word ‘uninspired’ keeps coming to mind.
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  • The phone definitely has a heavy feel to it… very study.  When I held the Pre for the first time, it felt kinda cheap.  This isn’t cheap.  This is a big metal slab.  But not too heavy.  Just heavy enough.
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  • The most disappointing thing about the phone (and I was really surprised) is the keyboard.  It’s really bad.  It’s the opposite of ergonomic.  Keys have almost no feedback.  The placement is kinda weird (this seems to be due to the shift of the keys over to the left to compensate for the directional pad.)  I was really amped about this device, largely due in part to the fact that I’m excited about Android.  But I was hoping this would give me an iPhone like experience, only with a physical keyboard.  My early experience with it really left a lot to be desired.
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  • It’s really snappy once you get into Android.  It”s as responsive as my iPhone and the interface feels like a whole different world.  I can get used to this!
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    Really that’s it.  Just wanted to get out some early feelings after touching the phone that is depicted in ads as being shot out of bomber into a midwestern city, disturbing all of the common folk.  But now that I had the chance to play with the phone it’s been brought down to earth a bit.  I am pretty sure in 2010 that I will own an Android at some point.  But the Droid will not be my gateway drug.
09
Nov
09

DJ Hero: A Hip Hop Historian’s Review (Xbox 360 Standard Edition)

jazzyjeffscratching_large Just like many other kids who were alive in the 70s/80s, I remember watching the Grammys where Herbie Hancock did a live performance of ‘Rock It’ (which at that time had the most visually eclectic music video to date.)  There was a lot going on in the performance – mannequins were moving around and other Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions swung in the background.  But what I remember most was the DJ in the background, where for the first time ever I saw someone scratching.  After that, I fell in love with the art and later with the skills of so many accomplished DJs, including Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jay, Jam Master Jay, Chuck Chillout, Marley Marl, Red Alert and Premier to name just a few. 

Very late into the craze, I decided to save up my money and get DJ equipment myself.  With immeasurable hope, I turned the pages to the back of a Source magazine advertisement and bought two of the most inexpensive Gemini turntables and a mixer that money would buy.  (They even threw in ten albums which I desperately needed, as buying two of each record wasn’t something that my 12-year-old budget was ready to handle.)

When my box and turntables arrived, within about 3 hours I realized a few things.  First, I learned that you pretty much get what you pay for.  But most importantly I learned that even the most expensive gear and dedication wouldn’t buy the years of practice and perfecting of the art it takes to be a true Hip-Hop DJ.  Watching DJs as a kid, all I saw was the scratching and crossfading.  But only when I used the turntables myself did I see just how much skill was involved.  I had to try to remember the positioning of the song, so that when I went from one turntable to the other, I would be at the correct position.  I had to remember to discern between what I was hearing in my headphones versus what was coming out of the speaker.  All in all, I developed more respect for the art of DJing that day than I ever had watching it alone.

Over the years, the art has been mastered and taken to new levels, as evidenced by watching movies like Scratch and guys like Mix Master Mike, Cut Chemist and many others.  DJing is such an iconic art that in Japan (where arcade gaming, although on the decline, is much more popular than it is here) there are more than a few games that feature turntables and simulate DJing.  I always wondered if one of those games would make it stateside and, more importantly, if they would be worth playing.

A bit over a year ago, I remember hearing that Activision reserved the name “DJ Hero”, (among many other Hero-based game names they reserved).  Ideas began to circulate in my mind about how a game like this might play out.  Exactly how would they translate the art of DJing to a video game?

About six months ago, I had my first look at the DJ Hero controller, and I was pretty impressed.  It looked like the iconic Technics 1200 model turntable that every Hip-Hop aficionado is familiar with.  (And actually I’m pretty surprised that Technics hasn’t attempted to sue Activision – the resemblance is more than minor.)  However, when I saw the screenshot, I thought I was seeing only part of the peripheral.  Where was the other turntable?  Well, Activision aired on the side of simplicity for the controller rather than authenticity.  Initially I thought this was sacrilegious to only have one turntable.  But after having played the game, I think – for now, at least – that they made the right decision.  So, does this game bring me closer to the experience of actually simulating the art of DJing?  Read on to find out.

Continue reading ‘DJ Hero: A Hip Hop Historian’s Review (Xbox 360 Standard Edition)’

03
Nov
09

Paranormal Activity: Review

paranormalFrom the moment that I first saw the marketing around the movie Paranormal Activity, I knew I was in for a unique experience.  A wise man once told me that you should be careful what you let into your sight, because some things you can’t erase from your mind.  It’s been the case with a few events in my life.  And it’s certainly should have been a quote that entered my mind before watching Paranormal Activity.

Before I elaborate on all the ways in which this experience etched a spot on my brain that I hope will dissolve some time soon, I need to preface this by describing the type of person who would NOT enjoy this film.  And it’s nothing personal — everything isn’t for everybody.  But I’m a bit disturbed to see in this day and age the number of people who consume media and don’t allow themselves to be entertained.  When you see Peter Pan live on Broadway, sure it’s easy to spot the wires hanging from Sandy Duncan’s waist.  But it’s a lot more fun to allow yourself the pleasure of the enjoying experience.  Folks tend to be taken aback a bit to learn that, although I barely watch it anymore, pro wrestling is something that I enjoy and have enjoyed watching since I was young.  “Uh…don’t you know it’s….um….fake??” Yes, I understand that it’s scripted.  I also understand a lot more about the art of coordinating and timing each sequence to tell the audience a story.  It’s an art.  And that doesn’t mean everyone has to appreciate it.  But you have a much better chance of appreciating it if you don’tover analyze and instead try to find something to appreciate about what you’re consuming.

Usually this is the place where I guess I’m supposed to say, “But, I digress….”  And I realize that I’m belaboring the point.  But the key to appreciating a film like Paranormal Activity is to forget the fact that the people onscreen all have profiles on iMDB.com and several have other film credits.  The key is to simply watch the experience without any expectations and with as little prior knowledge as possible.

I often hear mention of The Blair Witch Project in the same conversations about this film.  And the comparisons are to be expected.  Both were filmed in a sort of ‘mockumentary’ style and, in my opinion, this strengthens the authenticity of both films.  But what carries these films (ironically) are the strong “acting performances”.  I don’t know that you can even call them “acting performances”.  I’m sure that there are large portions of all of these folks in the people they portray.  And while these actors aren’t going to be walking away with any Golden Globes in January, from a horror film standpoint, these are some class-A performances.  To say much more would possibly ruin the experience.  Just trust me when I say that, if you’re watching this the right way, you will find yourself feeling that you’re just watching a young couple and not actors in a film.
So what’s the real hook with this film?  Well, without spoiling any of the experience, for me it comes down to three things (besides the authenticity of the acting performances.)  First, this movie works more effectively for horror film aficionados because it abandons all modern horror film conventions.  There are no musical cues.  There are no professionally done cuts.  You are trusting the very vulnerable people holding the camera – and you feel very alone.  This film has a formula allits own and it is quite impressive.

The second aspect that makes this different from any other horror film are the setting and the effects.  We spend virtually the entire time in one location.  The film was only an hour and half and I can probably map out every room in the house.  The image it left in my mind was just that strong.  The illusion also holds up because, as much as I tried, I didn’t see any evidence that there was some off-screen crew.  The scenes are so dynamic and mobile that it’s hard to imagine where a crew might have been located.  And simply put, the effects are subtle and the effect is chilling.

Technical details like effects, camera work and sound engineering along with a good script and good acting are components that any solid big budget film could posses.  But, for me, there’s something intangible that ties this experience all together.  And for me it seems to be this fact: the film plays upon every fear that you’ve ever had about that seemingly random noise you might have heard.  Or the fact that you think you remember seeing something move in that shadow near your bed.  Somehow this film taps into a place deep in my mind when I resisted sleep as a child and would lie away and let my imagination running wild.  Maybe it’s just me.  But I think there’s an intrinsic value that permeates through the screen and starts gnawing at your fears.

I cannot stress enough — if you are the least bit antsy about being alone in the dark or fear of things dealing with the occult, stay away.  However, if you DO  decide to take this challenge on, ironically the theater isn’t the best place to experience it.  At least not in a full theater.  There are subtle sounds…. that can be most fully be appreciated if you are in limited company.  This film is going to really hit it’s stride when people see it at home with a high def television and a 5.1 or 7.1 sound system.  And the sound, as is the case with most suspense/horror films, is a huge part of the experience.

Stupidly, I watched this film alone and it’s alone that I’ll take myself to bed tonight… all the while singing “Rockin Robin” and “Happy People” as I do my best to forget some of these scenes until the morning.  Yes, if you let yourself get immersed in this one, it’s that serious.