Hiatus and the Big List

For the next two weeks, I'm going to stay away from my computer and any other electronic devices (except for my cellphone). Hence, no blog updates until then.

I'm not doing this because of Lent, however. I don't believe that sacrificing what I love to do (gaming, listening to music) will save me a seat in heaven. Besides, Lent is almost over. The reason why I'm doing this is that I want to finish reading my back logs. I still have 17 books and graphic novels on my "unread items" list. I need to start crossing out some stuff on that list, and fast.

Also, when I get back from my hiatus, I'm going to start a list. The list will be similar to the "Best of [insert year here]" that I do annually. Except this is going to be bigger. Yeah, I will compile all of the things that I love in the past decade (2000 - 2009). I will also include other things like comics, anime and TV, not just games, music, books and movies. I know it's late but I love doing lists.

So, until then. Have fun in the next 2 weeks.


High on Blackjazz

As if The Dillinger Escape Plan's new album, Option Paralysis, isn't enough to blast beat the hell out of me, I found more metal releases that will give my eardrum a good pounding this month. First is High On Fire's new album, Snakes For The Divine. Then I also discovered an excellent band that calls themselves Shining.

High On Fire

"Frost Hammer"

High On Fire is a metal band from Oakland, California. I was enamored by their album Death Is This Communion back in 2007. Their new album, Snakes For The Divine, is a worthy follow up to that. The album got me right off the start. It just grabbed my head and flailed me around my room, from first track to the last. The music is just fast, loud and sludgy the way I like it to be. Definitely a great doom-metal album.



I didn't know who Shining were. I only got curious about them when I heard that: a) they're a metal band who have a saxophonist, b) they covered a King Crimson song and c) the title of their album is Blackjazz. When you put all those three together it just adds up that this band is dabbling with jazz and metal, kinda like Cynic. Except that Shining don't sound like Cynic. They're more messed up: louder, crazier and more experimental. I fucking love it! So far, Blackjazz is the best metal album I've heard this year.

March madness is indeed metal madness. I mean, I got three great metal albums to listen to this month. I'd definitely hurt my neck from banging my head so hard with all this.

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Her & Me (Zooey and I), In The Sun

The duo She & Him, composed of the multi-talented Zooey Deschanel (She, who also played Summer Finn in the film (500) Days of Summer) and singer/songwriter M. Ward (Him), just released their latest album, Volume Two. I just saw the video for their first single "In The Sun" over at YouTube, and I'm sharing it here. Watch.

It's adorable and sunny, no? The video is like "Hit Me Baby One More Time" and "Grease" rolled into one. If this was released two months earlier, it would've been enough to dispel the winter gloom here in Chicagoland.

Although, while the music is fun, it's not really my cup of tea. What I do like, however, are dark-haired and bright eyed chicks (which I have established in this post here and here) like Zooey Deschanel. She was the only reason I bought their first album, and she will be the reason why I'll buy their sophomore album as well.

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I put in a double shift yesterday. 16 hours of work, non-stop. But even though I was pretty beat when I got home, I still made time to buy and download The Dillinger Escape Plan's new album. So now I'm paralyzed.

But I'm not paralyzed because I was out working 2/3 of the day yesterday. Listening to DEP's new album, Option Paralysis, did me in. It had rendered me immobile with its awesomeness and odd time signatures. I just can't stop listening to it. I love its NIN-ish and Faith No More-ish sound. But the band, creativity wise, they didn't really make that big leap in their music. Unlike in their past albums. Still, this album did not disappoint me in any way.

"Farewell, Mona Lisa" by The Dillinger Escape Plan

Don't you ever try to be more than what you're destined for
Or anything worth fighting for
Anyways, you can still download this song for free over at Amazon Mp3.

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Comics Review: American Vampire #1

American Vampire #1
Grade: B
Writer: Stephen King, Scott Snyder
Penciler: Rafael Albaquerque

If you follow this blog, you'd know that I'm a big fan of Vertigo Comics. So every time they pitch something new, I'm always there to catch it. But when I saw their ad for American Vampire, I grimaced in contempt. I mean, really? Another vampire story to ride the vampire pop culture wagon? Though when I saw the ad's tag line that says: "original Stephen King comics work", I couldn't move fast enough to call my comic book retailer to reserve my copy.

I'm not really familiar with King's work, except for The Stand and the comics adaptation of The Dark Tower. It was merely his "master of horror" title that got me to buy this book. That and I was also curious of how he'll do in comics. But he did good, alright. He gave us a bloodsucking cowboy, Skinner Sweet, for a protagonist in this book. I know, a vampire cowboy. But I'll take that anytime over glittering vampires. Plus, King sold his character real well. Because Sweet, the first American vampire, is a bad ass outlaw even before he had his fangs. Think of him as a cross between Jesse James and Wolverine.

Surprisingly, I love the first part of the book, the part that Scott Snyder wrote, even more than King's part. I don't know who Scott Snyder is to be honest. But if his works is as good as in this issue, I want to read them all. Snyder wrote the story of Pearl Jones -the other protagonist- and how she got her fangs. Jones is a struggling young actress in Hollywood, and everybody seems to want to take advantage of her, suck her dry. I really love the pacing, its suspenseful. Every time I turn the page, I was expecting Pearl to be bitten by the guy who's been hitting on her.

Overall, I think American Vampire is going to be a great horror comics. King definitely has the chops to write in comics, and Snyder is also good. The characters here are great, the writing is top notch and the artwork is amazing. The 1920's Hollywood setting is also perfect, glitz and glamor in the surface but grit and grime underneath. It might not going to be as good as The Walking Dead though. But it's still a good horror title to sink your teeth into.

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Draconic Mods

Dragon Age: Awakening came out about a week ago. I didn't buy it. I don't want to. Well...I want to. But, because of the New Year's resolution that I made, I'm only going to buy the game when it's on sale or if the price drops. So in order to occupy myself, and keep me away from buying Dragon Age: Awakening at the drop of a dime, I tried my hand with the Dragon Age toolset again.

My custom amulet for Dragon Age: Origins.

The toolset is really complex. It boggled me even more than the Aurora or Electron toolset did. I failed the first time I tried making mods with it a couple weeks ago, and that was 8 hours of my life gone to waste. But this time, unlike the last, I was able to give my character an in-game item, a god-like amulet. I didn't do it by myself, of course. I had help using the step by step instruction on how to make custom items from weriKK's blog.

But even with this, my modding skill is still at level 0 though. I'm nowhere near as good as those modders who made the Grey Warden Runic Armor or The Ivory Tower mods (two of my favorite armor mods). Those guys are pros. It's still a step forward for me, nonetheless.

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Blizzard in Spring

The last week of winter was very pleasant. The sun was shining all day, every day and the temperature was in the mid-60's. The first day of spring, however, was abysmal. It snowed.

Yet, even though the temperature was freezing yesterday, all I can think about was getting myself a Strawberry Cheesequake Blizzard ice cream from Dairy Queen. My craving for the said frozen confection was so paralyzing I couldn't get myself to do anything, even read comics or play games. So, even though the road was slippery with ice, I drove to the nearest DQ just to satiate my appetite.

Sadly, the nearest DQ from my place is at a mall. I detest going to malls. Being surrounded by high school mall rats makes me old and cynical these days. But since it was snowing outside, I thought that the bad weather might turn the mall into a desolate building, devoid of teenyboppers. But I was wrong. It's almost time for the promenade so the mall was crawling with teenagers, hunting for coats and gowns to wear on that "special" school event. It was scary.

But, with or without teenagers, I waded through the crowd with one purpose: to get my Strawberry Cheesquake Blizzard. I single-mindedly moved towards DQ, ignoring the shoppers until I reached my destination. When I did, I ordered a large cup of Blizzard. The first spoonful I had made everything disappear. It was heaven.


C U @ C2E2

When I attended Wizard World Chicago a couple months ago, some random person inside the convention grounds handed me a C2E2 pamphlet. Thinking it was garbage, I just threw the flyer into the nearest waste basket without even reading it. Then, a few weeks ago, the owner of the comic store that I frequent at asked me if I'm going to C2E2. Not having any idea of what he was talking about, I asked him what's C2E2?

The store owner looked at me, quizzically. He was probably running the questions "Are you a moron?" or "Did you lock yourself in your parent's basement in the last ten years?" in his mind. But he did answer my question. He told me that C2E2 is a new comics convention here in Chicago, and it's organized by the same people who organizes the New York Comic Con.

That, of course, got me really excited. NYCC is probably one of the best comics convention in the country. It's not as big as the San Diego Comic Con but it's more comic-centric and way much better than Wizard World conventions. In addition, the event will also be held at the McCormick Place, which is a very big and nice venue. So I'm pretty certain that C2E2 will be awesome.

I just bought myself a weekend pass and I'm really starting to get jumpy here, especially after I browsed their guest page. There are a lot of big names in the comic industry that are coming to C2E2. I probably won't have the time to meet them all. So I made a priority list of who I want to meet first.

  1. Bill Willingham - Fables writer and author of Peter & Max.
  2. Neil Gaiman - Do I need to explain why I'd like to meet him?
  3. George R.R. Martin - Author of the Song of Ice and Fire saga.
  4. Jeph Loeb - Comic book writer icon.
  5. Jeff Smith - Bones writer and creator.
  6. Johnathan Hickman - Secret Warriors writer.
  7. Joe Quesada - Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief
  8. Max Brooks - Author of World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide.
  9. Kevin Conroy - The voice of Batman.
  10. Jim Lee - Comic book artist icon.
If I could meet at least half of these folks on my list, and get their autographs, I'd be a really happy man.

Now, who else is going to C2E2?

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Music Review: Eyelid Movies

Eyelid Movies by Phantogram
Grade: B+
Buy album from Amazon

Download album from Amazon

Electronica was at its height during my high school years. But I tried to ignore the genre back then. After all, I was a metalhead and a guitarist. Songs without palm-muted guitar riffs didn't mean a thing to me at that time. If not for the influence of my band's vocalist, who has a wide range of musical interests, I wouldn't have gained any appreciation for electronica at all. That would've been unfortunate because I'd miss out on many great artists.

Nowadays, I listen to some electronica and even enjoy it. Time has corroded the metalhead in me, I guess. But it's not my forte. I'm not a technohead convert and I'm still deeply rooted into rock music. So I only have a few of the genre's artists in my collection. I mostly have the old, familiar acts like Massive Attack and Portishead (which I started listening to -when they released their album Three- about two years ago). I do try hard on expanding my collection though, and I recently found an excellent band to add to it. That band is called Phantogram.

Phantogram is a duo from upstate New York. A friend who saw them open a Yeasayer concert couldn't stop raving about their music. So I decided to check them out and sample their song on iTunes. I instantaneously fell in love with them after I heard their single "When I'm Small". The song is just cool to listen to, upbeat yet shoegazy. It's a perfect song to listen to when you're driving in a cold night, with your windows down and nobody but you on the road.

The rest of their debut album, Eyelid Movies, is no bore either. The album's music, drenched in hypnotic drum loops and shimmering guitars, feels like a noir film: dark, creepy and full of static. But combine those rhythms with the sensuous voice of singer-keyboardist Sarah Barthel and it becomes dreamlike. "Mouthful of Diamonds", my favorite song in the album, is perhaps the perfect example of the creepy yet dreamy music of Phantogram. It is a buzzy and messy track. But once Barthel adds her alluring vocals, you'll find yourself relaxing in sonic heaven and nodding your head to its beats.

Eyelid Movies is one of the best of electronica albums that I've heard (which isn't a lot), and probably my favorite of them all. Its weird mix of Barthel's sultry vocals and trip hop beats makes it a very good listen. It's not perfect, however, because the beats can become repetitive and Barthel isn't the only one singing in this band. But if you're into trip hop like Massive Attack and Portishead, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy Eyelid Movies as much as I did.

"Mouthful of Diamonds" by Phantogram

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Why I Love Chuck

No, before you guys get any ideas, I'm not in love with a guy. But rather, I'm in love with a TV show called Chuck. I'm so in love with it that I would actually find a way to talk about it, bring it up in conversations just like you would with your crush. You may have also noticed that I've been mentioning the show quite a lot in this blog. I'm sorry, I can't help it. But I'm very addicted with the show.

Objectively, I don't think Chuck is that great. Especially if compared to other Monday prime time shows like How I Met Your Mother or House. The show has a good mix of drama, action and comedy. But it's not as epic as Lost or as funny as 30 Rock. What I do love about the show, however, are the characters -and also Yvonne Strahovski- because they're all fun and very real.

Each character in Chuck, I just want to hang out with. I want to drink Black Label with Casey, and maybe talk a bit about guns. I want to hang out with Sarah and help her with her relationship with Chuck. I want to work at the Buy More and do some crazy stuff with the Buy Moron staff. I want to be a part of Morgan's Call of Duty crew. I want to be the rhythm guitarist of Jeffster. Lastly, I want to be best friends with Chuck.

Minus the computer brain and a sexy spy handler, Chuck and I are almost alike. We both have a degree but we're underemployed. The worst part is, even though we could find a better job, we seem to enjoy our current work due to our co-workers. We even listen to the same bands like Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire. He owns a Les Paul guitar, like I also do. He's a big fan of Y: The Last Man, which I also am. Then, like me, he too is a gamer. So it just makes sense that we should be best friends.

Alright, the last paragraph may have been too much, too Zac Levi stalker type. But what I'm trying to say is that Chuck is the kind of show that I can actually be a part of. As a geek who knows some techno-babble and a lot of pop cult references, you can throw me in with Buy More lot as a character -not as an actor- and it'd be as normal as daylight. That's what I love about the show. I can totally relate to most, if not all, of the characters.

Hmm. I think I just turned into a fanboy.

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The Playlist #12

My week was no different from the last. Except, instead of playing games or reading, I bought the complete season 2 and some season 3 episodes of Chuck from iTunes, and I've been watching it non-stop, trying to catch up on Monday's episode.

Anyways, here's this week's playlist.

"Tom Sawyer" by Rush

"Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer" is definitely my favorite episode of Chuck. Why? Well, in the episode, there's Missile Command, which is one of the most popular video games ever. Then there's Rush, which is one of my favorite bands. Lastly, we get to see Yvonne in her sexy Nerd Herd outfit.

"And The Hazy Sea" by Cymbals Eat Guitars

I bought this band's debut album, Why There Are Mountains, last year. But I didn't listen to it that much. Today, however, I managed to listen to the entire album while cleaning my room. Now I understand why a lot of my favorite critics listed this band in their "Top of 2009" lists. The album is really good.

"Pull Me Under" by Dream Theater

I heard one of our patient listening to this song a couple days ago. I couldn't get it off my mind ever since. So I bought Dream Theater's greatest hits. I'm not really a big fan of the band -even though, back in high school, I was surronded by DT fanboys. But I respect the skill of each member. They really are a bunch of talented musicians.

"Phantom Limb" by The Shins

I thought that I ripped all of my CDs into my iPod already. But when I searched a song by The Shins, I found out that I didn't have any of their albums on my player. I started looking for my CDs but couldn't find them anywhere in the house. I don't know where I kept them or did with them. So I was forced to buy the mp3s from Amazon, which is a bit of a bummer.

"Escape" by Brazil

Brazil came out during the early 00's and, I think, they tried to spearhead the return of 80's arena rock. Unfortunately, not a lot of people miss arena rock. So the band fell into obscurity and finally disbanded in 2007. Too bad they're gone now. Because I kinda liked them.

"Bug Eyes" by Dredg

Some of the people I know are raving over Dredg's new album, The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion. It's good, I agree. But it can't hold a candle against their 2005 album, Catch Without Arms. The album has just a lot of great heavy, melodic tracks, like "Bug Eyes", that I really dig.

"Creature Fear" by Bon Iver

Well, this isn't my favorite Bon Iver song. But this song was playing during Chuck and Sarah's intimate motel room scene, on the "Chuck Versus the Colonel" episode. That scene made me smile, and also a bit envious, as I kept saying: "Well done, Chuck." I wish I have my own Sarah Walker to protect me.

Well, that's it for this week.

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God Bless BioWare

One thing I love about BioWare is that always make sure to slip a bit of romance into their role-playing games. Another thing I love about them is they are starting to base their game characters on real life models (see Girls of Dragon Age @ Maxim). So now it's much more easier to admire a beautiful face in their games without feeling a little weird. Now, if someone gives me a queer eye by drooling over Miranda Lawson's virtually beautiful face, I can say: "Dude, it's Yvonne Strahovski. A real woman."

Anyways, speaking of Yvonne, here's an interview of her talking about Mass Effect 2.

Now this video is a proof that God really exist. I still can't wrap my head around it. I mean, it's a pretty girl talking about a video game. She is cute in this interview too, especially when she admitted that she find the game's structure so confusing. I can only imagine, the dialogue branches in Mass Effect 2 is massive. Though not as massive as Planescape: Torment.

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Film Review: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland
Grade: C
Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska
Director: Tim Burton

When I found out that Tim Burton was making an Alice in Wonderland film, I almost died. Being a fan of the director since Edward Scissorhands, I know that the creepy and crazy wonderland of Caroll Lewis will vividly come to life in Burton's hands. His visual style -which I coined as "gothic technicolor"- is a perfect match to Lewis' colorful mad world. In addition, the movie is also under Disney and there are a lot of talents in it. So it's just normal that I would expect a lot of good things about it. Unfortunately, however, reality doesn't always align with your expectations.

But I'm not saying that Burton's Wonderland is a total disappointment. It just didn't meet my high expectations. There are a lot of good things about it. The visuals, especially, is remarkable. Burton did capture that creepy yet colorful setting of wonderland. Most of the actors also did well. Mia Wasikowska played her part innocently and beautifully. Then there's Johnny Depp who did put the mad back in the Mad Hatter.

Burton also tweaked the story a little bit, which made and killed the film for me. Unlike the 50's animation or the books, Alice is already in her late teens, going into her 20's, in Burton's revision. It actually made much more sense that way. Because a younger Alice won't be able to stand a chance against all the torment the wonderland has to offer. The downside about the storyline tweaking is that Burton ended it with a battle (the worst battle I've seen in any film) between the armies of the White Queen and the Red Queen, as if he just ran out of ideas.

All in all, I would say that Alice in Wonderland is a mediocre film. Probably one of Burton's worse film too (though Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is still the worse for me). It started pretty well, however, and the visuals will get your attention. But as you get near to the end, the story falls flatter and flatter, then goes out in a whimper. Still, if you have the extra cash, I encourage you to watch it. If you're broke, avoid it as much as you can.

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Demo Monday: Supreme Commander 2

Unlike most gamers, I don't really hold Chris Taylor in high regards. That's probably because I'm only familiar with his Dungeon Siege series, which isn't that good of a game. A member of a gaming forum that I used to frequent at said that I should play all Chris Taylor's real-time strategy games, especially Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, if I really want to know how good of a game developer he is.

Sadly, I still haven't played any of Chris Taylor's RTS games. So when a demo of Supreme Commander 2 was made available on Steam this morning, I took the time and opportunity to download it and gave the game a go.

The demo is consisted of two parts: the tutorial and a preview of the campaign.

The tutorial part teaches the most basic things in RTS games like how to move the camera, how to move a unit and such. It's really designed to teach the greenhorns to RTS. So if you've played any RTS games, you might as well skip this one.

The campaign preview, however, is pretty thick with huge battles. I didn't expect the first mission to be so dense with action right away. I thought you'd only have a couple of units, and without a base, to disable or disrupt your enemies plans. But I was provided with a base with capabilities to produce a couple types of air and naval units, and also a research tree to upgrade my units.

As for the battles, they really are epic in this game. There were many times in the campaign that I was being attacked on multiple fronts. So I have to mass produce a lot of units and defend those areas. Sometimes, I have so many units that I have to use the map overview in order to locate all of them or to see whether they're winning their battles. The multi-tasking and micro-managing of units here is quite overwhelming. Know I now why this game is called Supreme Commander.

Supreme Commander 2 seems to be a pretty fun game, and I do crave for more. Unfortunately, Dragon Age: Awakening and Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising is also going to be released this month. So I think I'll skip this game until it goes on sale. As for Chris Taylor, looks like he won me over with this game.

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