Saturday, August 31, 2013

News and News

News Item #1

I got back Thursday evening from a four day sojourn to the Grand Canyon. As I believe I've mentioned before, I work on a film crew, so this was actually a work trip. We were filming for a tourism campaign for the Hualapai tribe, whose reservation covers a portion of the canyon labelled as "Grand Canyon West". Some of the highlights of the trip were:

-watching the sun rise over the Grand Canyon

-walking on the Skywalk (a glass walkway that extends 70 feet over the edge of a 2000-foot drop)

-hanging out with a guy named Longfeather who could be the John Candy of the Hualapai indians

-whitewater rafting down the Colorado river with a helmet cam

-driving a truck while the passengers piloted a flying camera drone to get moving footage of a tour bus

-meeting and watching a very talented and friendly close-up magician named Mark Crowe

-flying over the canyon in a helicopter

-attempting a big-eater challenge in the hotel restaurant (I failed but I got a shirt)


News Item #2

Tomorrow night, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in beautiful Las Vegas Nevada, Black Sabbath are playing. I have a ticket. It will be epic.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Beard Hero

I've brought up Brian Wilson, the bearded reliever, a few times on this blog. Well, he has recently elevated himself from just being a player with a cool beard to being a heroic icon for the bearded men of America.

I find the attitude of this article's author to be pretty typical of the smug scorn so often directed at big beards in our culture, but that's a matter for another time.

The Beard

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


If he were with us today, Dimebag Darrell would be celebrating his 47th birthday. Sadly, in what has become one of the best-known tragedies of the metal world, he was killed in December of 2004 by a lone gunman who leapt on stage during a show. That was shortly before I began really listening to metal, so at the time I just knew him as the guy with the crazy goatee from the Washburn guitar ads. It was only after his death that I first became familiar with his musical output with Pantera. 

In the spirit of remembrance, I'd like to share my first introduction to Dimebag Darrell as a musician. It was this clip, from the 2005 Used and Abused: In Live We Trust  concert DVD by In Flames.

Happy birthday Dime, and rest in peace.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Food For Thought

This isn't much of a post. I saw this and thought I'd share. So yeah, just think about it.

By the way, this gentleman's name is John Buckler, in case you were wondering, and he's done quite well in the freestyle category of American beard competitions. He also reminds me a little bit of Steve Carell . . . with an epic beard.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The 13 Most Awfully Entertaining Movies of All Time

 Oh, what luck! 13 of the most horrible cinematic train wrecks in history, all here together in one place!

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will probably know that I'm a big fan of bad movies. Not the kind of bad movies that nobody could enjoy (see: Master of Disguise) but rather the schlock-filled "so bad it's good" variety of bad films. Well what with the recent uproarious response to Syfy's latest gem "Sharknado", this seems like as good a time as any to release my personal list of the most enjoyably awful movies of all time. It should go without saying (even more so than usual) but this is entirely my personal opinion and obviously includes only those horrible movies which I have actually seen.

I'd also like to make special note of the film "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra", which is the most effective and hilarious spoof of bad 1950s sci-fi and horror movies that I've ever seen. It does this entirely "in character" so it comes across like a movie that would be on this list, but since it's meant to be a comedy I don't feel I can really count it in the same way as these movies.


#13: Sharknado (2013)

I've seen it, and it is indeed delightfully horrible, but I haven't had time to decide where Sharknado actually belongs on a list like this. It's got all the typical "deep" social and political messages about the environment that we're used to seeing in these kinds of movies, and of course a hurricane filled with sharks (the title is great but slightly misleading) is a virtual goldmine of cheesy awesomeness, but I just need to give this movie more time to sink in. It prompted me to write this list, though, so I felt like it deserved a spot on here.


#12. The Killer Shrews (1959)

Our intrepid heroes are trapped on an island with bloodthirsty, genetically modified, dog-sized rodents. It's been a while since I watched this one, so I'm a little fuzzy on the exact plot, but does it really matter? It's just as absurd as the name would lead you to believe. The acting is bad, the monsters look ridiculous, and the survivors of the shrew attacks (I can't believe I just said that) eventually escape by crawling around hidden under trash cans. Cinematic gold.


#11.  Eegah (1962)

Here's a film so utterly brilliant that they didn't even bother to give it a proper title. Why not just call it "AAAHHHH!!!"? Well anyway, Eegah is the story of some totally helpless chick who gets stolen and stashed away King Kong style by some big caveman who lives on a mountain in the desert. To the movie's credit, rather than covering some random guy in makeup and having him stand on a box, they actually cast Richard Kiel, who at 7'2" was always a good choice when going for big and scary. The real star of this movie, though, is the acting and dialogue. Stiff, awkward, horrendous "witty banter" flies back and forth between the girl's crabby father and her boyfriend, who seems to be the bastard offspring of Wally Cleaver, the Beach Boys, and a pug. You can tell he really thought this film was going to launch his career as a charming leading man. He even got an Elvis-style musical number with an acoustic guitar and a phantom backing band. It was atrocious.


#10. Alien Species (1996)

As the title suggests, this is a sci-fi movie about an alien invasion. It's aiming more at horror than action, I think, but it fails so spectacularly at both that it's hard to say for sure. Basically a fleet of horrendous CGI saucers have arrived and are destroying cities without actually destroying anything (superimposed explosions on a city backdrop). They're also hiding out in a cave dressed as Power Rangers villains when our dark, brooding, wrongfully convicted hero encounters them. He and some girl escape, they meet up with some friends of hers who happen to have a rocket launcher in their jeep (supposedly it was laying on the side of the road) and they set out to save the day. After blowing up one of the small ships, of which there are thousands, the aliens are so terrified that they initiate a full retreat and leave earth to rebuild its still totally intact urban centers.


#9. Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (1967)

Of all the Japanese movies with a giant monster destroying Tokyo, this is probably the most ridiculous. Yeah, just let that sink in for a minute.

Basically, some scientists studying a remote tribe find a giant egg and decide to take it home. It hatches into a crying baby monster thing, and its pissed-off parents show up to save it. So we're treated to like half an hour of a couple dudes in costumes that look like a cross between Godzilla and a giant chicken, stomping around kicking a poorly made model city and shooting bolts of bad animation out of their beaks. I guess the film was originally released in Japan under the (translated) title "Gappa, the Colossal Beast", but the name was changed for some reason in the American dubbed version.


#8. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

The drug-addled minds of the 1960s certainly produced some uncannily crappy movies, but in terms of sheer incompetence of execution I think Manos has to take the cake. Every single thing about this movie is bad. The story makes no sense. The dialogue is stiff and weird. The acting is a next-level failure, the sound and video quality are catastrophic . . . it's just really, really bad. The film is going for a dark, serious, supernatural cult thing. Needless to say, it misses the mark by a mile, but the ensuing disaster of a movie is pretty funny to watch if you have some smart-ass friends you can con into sitting through it with you. The film has also spawned quite a cult following with fans of bad movies.


 #7. Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Ever want to make something scary? Well just make it giant and have it attack somebody, and you've got instant horror gold. That's all there is to it! At least, that's what many filmmakers in the late '50s and early '60s seemed to think. Thus, we have movies like this one, where good ol' southern folk are getting eaten alive in the swamp by some guys in black trash bags with some white spots on the front. As usual the acting and writing are bad, but this one is really worth watching for the totally ludicrous monsters.


#6. Evil Bong (2006)

Okay, with a name like that it's pretty obvious this movie wasn't taking itself too seriously. Tommy Chong is featured on the cover and in all the ads because, well, it's a movie about smoking weed and they got Tommy Chong to appear in it. Sadly, he's only in the movie briefly. Mostly, it's about his former possesion: a sentient, talking bong that is supposed to be a sassy black woman apparently. Said sassy black bong woman thing seduces her college-aged victims into a fantasy world of pot smoke, where she convinces them to stay and enjoy an eternity of pleasure. That is, until they get killed by imaginary stripper boobies and stuff. It's . . . pretty much the kind of thing you'd expect from a movie called "Evil Bong".


#5. Sharktopus (2010)

 There are a ton of spectacularly shitty shark movies out there, but my favorite was a Syfy product from a few years ago. Produced by B-movie kingpin Roger Corman, Sharktopus is the tale of a genetically engineered half-shark half-octopus that was being privately developed for the military. I guess submarines just don't cut it anymore. Anyway, the thing gets loose after a boat hits its stupidly-located external control collar, and the creature goes on a rampage down the Baja coast. This features all the classic man-made monster clich├ęs, including "we shouldn't have played God" speeches, a sociopathic "think what this story will do for my career" reporter, a rugged hero who plays by his own rules, a supermodel with glasses who undoes the top 3 buttons of her white shirt while "doing science", and many more. For some reason bullets don't hurt the shark, and evidently the creature doesn't require water either, since it eventually starts walking around on land with its octopus legs. In spite of these setbacks, finally our loose cannon hero and Dr. Boobscience defeat the monster the same way that all great movie sharks are killed: with an explosion.


#4. The Room (2003)

The "Citizen Kane of bad movies" as it has become widely known, The Room is a drama that, unlike some of the other entries on this list, takes itself totally seriously. The fact that Tommy Wiseau genuinely believed he was creating a great piece of cinema only heightens the impact of this monumental disaster of a movie. There are no hokey monsters here. Instead, this film is chock-full of incoherent plot points, dialogue so bad it has become legendary, and acting that actually makes the dialogue look respectable by comparison.

Basically it's the story of one man's descent into madness and death after his fiance and best friend cheat on him, but really it's so much more than that. One of the most quotable of all awful movies, The Room has developed a major following of dedicated fans. It has spawned fan-fiction, countless Youtube tributes and spoofs, and even an independent video game.


#3. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

For decades, Ed Wood has sat upon the throne of terrible filmmaking as king of the bad movie. His towering masterpiece, Plan 9, is often considered to be the worst movie ever made. While I would argue that some of his own movies are actually even worse ("Glen or Glenda" is virtually unwatchable), in terms of that comedic kind of bad this one emerges as the victor. The subject of Tim Burton's best film, the making of this movie is nearly as legendary as the product itself. The whole thing was shot in just a few days with money conned from a church group and some stock footage of the deceased Bela Lugosi, with a veiled chiropractor mutely filling Lugosi's role through the rest of the movie.

The plot is basically that some aliens in pretty silver jumpsuits fly their hubcap-on-a-string to earth, where they land with the intent of conquering the planet. Their plan is to make like 2 or 3 zombies and then . . . ummm . . . I'm not sure what comes next but it will supposedly all end with their victory. There are also some vampires for some reason, along with a boatload of inconsistencies and plot holes. It's cheesy, poorly acted, poorly written, and really serves as a showcase for what a deeply dedicated writer and director with zero talent can accomplish.

For the record, the initial premiere of the film was in 1957, but it wasn't actually released until 1959.


#2. Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008)

The product of a borderline-psychotic director with no talent but a massive ego, Birdemic is a glorious shitstorm of a movie. James Nguyen is absolutely convinced, by all accounts, that he crafted a masterpiece of environmental commentary. What he actually did was create the most hilariously awful movie to come out in years. This rivals Manos as one of the most poorly made films ever, where every single thing from the acting to the writing to the special effects to the sound recording seems to have been done by somebody with absolutely no clue how to make a movie. It is so poorly acted that half the characters can't even look natural walking down the side of the road. The dialogue is so bad you'll be convinced you're watching the filmed version of a 4th grade play. And then there are the special effects. Oh glorious gods of cinema, the special effects! They are, quite simply, some of the greatest things I've ever seen.

In terms of the actual plot, basically a salesman with no charisma "charms" a "model" into dating him, then they get chased around by horribly-animated CGI birds who are pissed off about the environment. It's amazing.


#1. Troll 2 (1990)

The first time I watched Troll 2, I laughed harder than any comedy has made me laugh in years. It's so spectacularly bad that it almost defies description, yet it somehow takes itself seriously enough that you can really believe the people involved thought they were making a good movie. This film produced one of the most infamously bad and hilarious death scenes in movie history. It's full of over-the-top performances, ridiculous dialogue, and goofy-looking goblins. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that, didn't I? There are no trolls in Troll 2. The name was just taken as a marketing ploy, and nobody bothered to take into account that they call the creatures "goblins" about a hundred times in the movie.

Which brings us to the plot. A family is going to a small town for a month to get away from it all, as movie families so often do, when the young son is alerted by his grandfather's ghost that the town is actually the kingdom of the goblins. The creepy little vegetarian monsters can shape-shift out of their rubber masks to instead look like creepy, leering people, which is what they are doing to lure the family into their clutches. You may have noticed that I called them vegetarians. Yeah, they eat people, but only after feeding their victims green Kool-Aid or pistachio pudding to turn them into plant snot. Why they don't just eat plants in the first place is never made clear. Anyway, the kid has to get his family back out of town in one piece, and stupidity ensues. There are also a number of basically directionless subplots, leading to some bizarre and hilariously bad scenes, but I just don't have the room here to go into them all.

Watching the documentary about the people involved just heightens the hilarity of how bad this movie is. The actress playing the mother, who is a bit detached from reality to say the least, actually sits there with a straight face and compares Troll 2 with Casablanca. It's just . . . wow.

All in all, there is no question that this is my favorite bad movie. To anybody with even a passing interest in this type of thing, I'd heartily recommend it.


So that's my list of the 13 best worst movies of all time. I hope you enjoyed it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Top 10 Indie Games

Over the past year or so, I've found myself increasingly interested in independent video games. Much like the world of music or film, where the major commercial productions are polished but utterly bland and soulless slabs of mass appeal in a box, the video game industry has largely come to be dominated by Sims expansions, sports games, and carbon-copy military shooters. Essentially, the industry leaders are producing the gaming equivalent of romantic comedies, ESPN, and Michael Bay.

So, because I love gaming and one can only spend so much time playing World of Warcraft before a change of pace is required, I've started delving more and more into the material produced by the little guys. With widespread computer use, digital distribution platforms like Steam, and grassroots funding tools like Kickstarter, it's now more possible than ever before to produce and release a quality game without industry support. And with a generation of programmers who actually grew up playing classic video games, this has lead to a wealth of new ideas hitting the market. Interestingly, it has also lead to a massive resurgence of retro gaming, since the 8- and 16-bit graphics many modern programmers grew up with have inspired many small budget projects.

Personally, I see this as a wonderful thing. Like the rise of independent film and music, anything that allows the passionate creator to work unhindered by corporate interests is a good thing in my book. More risks are taken, more creativity and personality and genuine artistry are displayed, and generally better games are the direct result.

The point of all this is to provide a little context for this list, which is a somewhat off the beaten path for this blog. As always, this list is only my opinion.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 favorite indie games.


#10. Antichamber

Antichamber is a first person puzzle game in the vein of Portal, but it has a far more demented design. While Portal focused on humor and interesting physics, Antichamber focuses on mind-bendingly weird and difficult puzzles with impossible level designs. The graphics are extremely minimalist, yet incredibly effective, since they feed into the layouts of the levels in some really interesting ways. The best description I've ever heard of this game is that it's like a combination of Portal and an M. C. Escher drawing. It's cool, challenging, and despite my multiple comparisons to Portal there really is nothing else quite like it.



Usually pronounced "V6", VVVVVV is an extremely primitive looking 2-dimensional platformer. This game has little to offer in the way of visuals or storyline, but where it excels is in the gameplay. It's difficult almost to a fault, but the save points come often enough to make it possible to get through even the frustratingly challenging areas. Instead of jumping the game allows you to alternate gravity so you fall either up or down, but you can only do this while standing on a solid surface. The resulting level navigation is simultaneously familiar and unique. Nowhere is this unusual mechanism on better display than in the level "The Tower" which is, in my opinion, one of the most incredibly well-designed levels in any game I have ever played.


#8. Super Meat Boy

Another ultra-hard 2d platform game, Super Meat Boy is one of the flagships of the indie gaming revolution. With the combination of retro appeal, a modern sense of humor, and punishingly challenging levels, this game showed that there was an audience which had grown tired of the modern gaming industry's lead-you-by-the-hand approach to gaming. This trait, a willingness to make players really work for their victory, has become a hallmark of many indie games. Its appeal is more for the "serious" gamer than the casual one, but in the world of serious gamers it has become a modern ideal.


#7. Lone Survivor

A survival horror game set in the ravaged remains of a post-outbreak city, Lone Survivor doesn't aim to scare so much as unsettle. The gameplay is a little awkward and the navigation takes some getting used to, but the atmosphere this game creates more than compensates for those issues. The game plays with your character's sanity, feeding off your past life and shining glimpses of light and madness in just the right places to leave you with an odd feeling in the pit of your stomach long after the final credits have rolled. The unnatural look, feel, and even sound of this game (the title screen music in particular is just perfect) all flow together into an experience that is well worth your time. Incidentally, the game also increases its replay-ability by featuring multiple endings, depending on how sane your character still is at the end.


#6. Limbo

This one kind of combines the past few entries on this list. It's a 2d puzzle-platformer with a dark, surreal atmosphere. This game is incredibly quiet and streamlined in its presentation, without a single word of dialogue or exposition of any kind. There are numerous visual hints that the player is in some kind of gloomy afterlife, and there are bits of the story available outside the game, but in terms of the actual game itself, this thing pretty much drops you on the ground and leaves you to sort things out for yourself. I love how starkly this contrasts with the hand-holding approach I mentioned earlier. The game presents puzzles that are challenging but not impossible, and the controls are fluid and easy to grasp. Probably the most important aspect of this game, though, is the aesthetics. It's a strange, beautiful game that is worth playing if only to see its graphics and design.


#5. Minecraft

Of all the games on this list, Minecraft has easily blown up the biggest. Despite its mainstream popularity, the game was originally designed and released by a single man. The pure, infinite sandbox that this game presents set a new standard for creative freedom in gaming, and proved that fancy (or even decent) graphics are not necessary so long as the gameplay can hold up its end of things. Like many people, I've sunk hours and hours into Mincraft, designing towering castles and constructing elaborate subterranean labyrinths. The programming of the game lends itself to a thriving modding scene as well, so the community is able to have an active hand in the creative direction of the game (at least in the PC version, which is immeasurably superior to the Xbox 360 port). Not only do I personally enjoy Mincraft, it has been an absolute game-changer.


#4. Terraria

One of the games Minecraft directly inspired, Terraria took a degree of the same creative world-building and combined it with a 16-bit 2d platformer and a primitive RPG. It might not seem like all these elements could come together smoothly, and admittedly Terraria has its problems, but the combination actually works surprisingly well. A comprehensive list of the similarities and differences between this and Minecraft would make a lengthy article in its own right, so I won't go into detail. Suffice it to say that I have sunk more time into this game than any other on this list, reveling in the super-appealing (to me) graphic style and building up both my character and the worlds he inhabits. With a new, massive, and totally free update fast approaching, it's a good time to be a fan of Terraria.


#3. The Swapper

This is going to sound familiar. It's an eerie, atmospheric 2d puzzle-platformer with unusual graphic design. Kind of falls in with a pattern, doesn't it? Well I'm not going to deny that I have a certain affinity for platform games, and as a metal fan it should be self-evident that I enjoy a bit of darkness. This one is in a sci-fi setting where you solve puzzles with a cloning tool. Not only is the found-item claymation of the game strange and stunning to look at, the writing is intriguing and poses a lot of interesting questions about personal identity, mortality, and the ethical ramifications of toying with those features of a person's life. It never beats the player over the head with these ideas, but it makes its themes clear enough that even a casual player should pick up on them and walk away from the game doing some serious thinking.


#2. Mark of the Ninja

This is a stealth platformer where you play as a ninja. It's got a more cartoonish style and a bit less weight than some of these other titles, but the gameplay is so smooth and fun that the game is just impossibly addictive. In a way this would be a Splinter Cell type of experience, if you made that game 2d and added parkour and some awesome assassination moves. The game has optional objectives for added difficulty, and there is a crucial decision at the end which the player can make in one of two ways, resulting in alternate endings (though that claim to multiple endings is largely superficial since the point of departure really does come right at the very end of the game). All in all, it's brilliantly executed, incredibly fun, and it establishes an ideal for future 2d stealth games to strive toward.


#1. Thomas Was Alone

I loved this game. It didn't have the fanciest appearance or the best gameplay (though it was solid in both respects), but I can't remember the last time a game has stuck in my mind so firmly after finishing it. Yet another 2d puzzle-platformer, the characters in this one are all mute colored rectangles. Through the brilliant narration, however, these little blocks develop more personality than the vast majority of human video game characters. Further, you grow to really empathize with them and care what happens to them, which makes the tragic-yet-hopeful end all the more powerful. At times this game was hilarious, at other times it was deeply poignant, and throughout it maintained a firm grasp on its subtle storyline. The game mechanics were all fine, and the puzzles presented a modest challenge, but in the end it was the absolutely fantastic writing that kept me glued to the screen until I had reached the game's pitch-perfect conclusion.


That's it, hope you found this interesting.

Newcastle Werewolf

This is my first time trying this beer.

A British import from Newcastle, the Werewolf is advertised as a "blood red ale". It's only 4.5% abv, so it doesn't have quite as much bite as the name suggests, but that's okay. The label has some cool features like claw marks, a werewolf in the middle of the Newcastle star, and the tagline "escaped from Britain", but that's all irrelevant to the beer itself.

The first thing I noticed before even pouring is that this beer has an oddly sweet, fruity scent. Evidently there's some combination of berries used in this brew, which I'm guessing also account for the deep reddish hue. It really is an appetizing looking beer, with a very appealing color and a creamy, moderate head.

In terms of flavor, the berries don't taste as sweet as they smell. Instead, apart from the occasional sweetened hint, they mostly seem to feed into the beer's slightly skunky flavor. It's not a strong enough taste to be really offensive to anybody, but I think this is a bit hoppier than their standard brown ale. Beyond that, the flavor is mild to the point of near absence. There is very little aftertaste, and the whole thing, while perfectly drinkable and probably fairly sessionable, is pretty underwhelming. I'd certainly sit back and crack a few of these open if I was looking for an easy-drinking beer to share with friends, but there's not enough substance to make this something worth actively seeking out to try.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Grave Digger - Clash of the Gods

A classic heavy metal act, Grave Digger have been pumping out records in one form of another since the 1980s. Last summer they put out Clash of the Gods.

This is one of those albums I wish I'd heard last year, because despite the tough competition there's a solid chance it could have made the year-end list. Gritty and tough with sharp hooks, compelling melodies, gnarly vocals, and lyrics dripping in fantasy violence, this album had everything a good heavy metal release should have. In addition, it took no time at all to feel completely immersed. I initially plugged in the title track just to get a sample, and by the midpoint of that track, I was hooked.

The band brings in some really good background instrumentation and atmosphere, but it keeps the central emphasis on the crunchy riffs and the almost-too-harsh-to-be-traditional-heavy-metal vocals. For me, the overall blend was just right.

To be totally honest, while I'm familiar with them by name I don't really know much of the band's back catalog, so I can't comment on where this falls relative to their prior work. For good, recent, straight-up heavy metal, though, it's excellent. It made me want to start digging into their other work, and that's always a good sign from a record.

Grade: A-

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Beards - Having a Beard is the New Not Having a Beard

I've mentioned The Beards on this blog more than once. The comedy folk-rock group from Adelaide, Australia exclusively write and record songs about facial hair. Their style is pretty flexible, in stark contrast with their subject matter.

The band have, on their two previous albums, been rather funny and pretty descent on a musical level. Last year they released album number three, and while I didn't laugh quite so much this time around I think it might be their best release yet. The band has really focused on the musical aspect of their writing, and it shows. With tracks ranging from piano ballads to ZZ Top-esque rock, and even some lovely sax solos here and there, they really put together a good sounding record. Admittedly, the songs taken individually are not stylistically groundbreaking, but what The Beards demonstrate is an ability to play several different types of folk, rock, and pop with skill and energy.

I'd actually enjoy listening to this even with more conventional lyrics, so given the band's fixation with one of my favorite subjects, I really dig this.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Brian Wilson (the baseball one)

Well I was poking around online in the midst of a little insomnia when I happened across this article on Yahoo. It is primarily just a slide show illustrating the evolution of modern baseball's most popular beard. Since I've been on a writing-about-facial-hair kick, I found it interesting.

If you want to take a look, here it is.