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Author: Pixelback Writer Pixelback Writer's Domain
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Well, I've decided to try and do this blogging thing in a more centralized area, instead of the 3 or 4 places that I try to keep up-to-date. So, head over to Pixelback Writer's Guide to the Galaxy to check it out. Thanks!

Posted on February 19, 2007 at 1:59 pm
The Coming Apocalypse, and Sony's PS3 Release

You would have thought that Sony was releasing the cure for cancer, in limited quantites.

Thursday I found myself driving around with my wife, after we had run our errands for the evening, looking at the many "tent cities" that had cropped up over the past couple of days outside stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy. Guys (and I do mean guys, I saw maybe two female, and I think that they were likely girlfriends delivering supplies to their crazed beaus) had been facing the late-autumn conditions of Dubuque, Iowa, for the past several days, with the perhaps vain hope of being one of the few to lay hands on the coveted prize for the weekend: a Sony PlayStation 3. They waited patiently in line for what was sure to be a rapturous event. $600 tucked safely away in a bank account, or credit account, or billfold, waiting to be spent on the must-have gadget of the holiday season.

We drove slowly buy, in our nice, toasty-warm Ford Focus, as the huddled masses tried to keep warm as the temperatures started dipping into the 20s for the overnight hours. I slept well that night, knowing that not only was I sleeping in a nice, warm bed, but that I hadn't decided to drop $600 on a console that, more than likely, was going to dissapoint me anyway.

"But," you say, "it's the PS3! It's the freaking end-all-be-all of consoles! Ken told us that this one was going to last ten years! How can you put a price on that?"

Okay, I'll admit, the graphics that I have seen the PS3 produce are astonishing. They are certainly able to out-do the Radeon X600 Mobility on my laptop (although it does well keeping pace with the latest releases). But, when all is said and done, the best graphics in the world won't keep me coming back for more. It's the games, folks. And don't try and sell me on the PS3 being a cheap Blu-ray player, either. From what I have seen, Blu-ray offers nothing to the average Joe like me, with my ancient (1999) cathod-ray tube Magnavox television. 640x480 looks just fine to me, thank you very much. I'll laugh heartily if Blu-ray technology goes the way of the UMD movie, but I won't fret it's loss. It's time to look at other technologies for distributing both games and movies. That's where the true innovators are looking now-a-days.

So, I'm surfing the net Friday afternoon, and I start to read all of these news reports about stabbings, shootings, robberies, stampeeding mobs, the kind of stuff I would expect from a report about the L.A. riots. I watched an AP clip of a Chicago electronics store that couldn't keep the crowds at bay, even with the local constabulary in full force. My God, people, what have we come to? It's just a freaking game machine! It's not the second coming!

Sony, are you listening? Did you see that there were people that got killed because you were stupid enough to only release 200,000 units in North America? This kind of mass-mayhem hasn't been seen since the Cabbage Patch doll craze of the eighties! This didn't happen at the launch of the XBox 360, or the GameCube, or even the PS2, and I'm willing to bet that the same craziness will not be seen at the WII launches around the country today. So, yes Sony, I realize that this is human nature, and the nature of young adults more specifically. But I hold you directly responsible for creating this mayhem for your own publicity-related reasons. Shame on you, Ken. Shame.

I did have one final laugh as I was writing this diatribe in my head. I was walking through Wal-Mart (post-apocalypse), and I came upon the PS3 display. Had someone paused the game? The screen showed two vehicles from MotorStorm locked in racing combat, frozen in time. I pressed the Start button to unpause the game. Nothing happened. I tried again. Still nothing. It was then that the ironic truth dawned on me. The game was locked up. Surely the last thing that you want to see from a launch title is lockups, but yet there was irrefutable evidence of it. Can you say "rushed to release?" I knew you could.

Posted on November 19, 2006 at 3:20 pm
Yes, it's true: I'm a geek

I might as well show my geekiness now, because my inner geek sprang out and started doing really bad cartwheels around the room when I read the following bit of information: Peter Cullen will be the voice of Optimus Prime in the new Transformers live-action movie being helmed by Michael Bay!

If you aren't excited about that piece of news, then let me fill you in. Mr. Cullen is somewhat of a legend in animation voicing. Going way back to The Jetsons in the sixties, on to such notable series as The Smurfs, G.I. Joe, Venger in the classic Dungeons and Dragons, and pretty much every Disney animated series since DuckTales.

In the early eighties, a new animated series bowed that would begin to change the face of American animation forever. That series was the original Transformers. Cullen lent his vocal talents to a number of characters on the series, but none so memorable as the leader of the courageous Autobots, Optimus Prime. His striking vocal talents made Optimus's voice as memorable and recognizable as James Earl Jones's Darth Vader. Cullen continued to voice Optimus in the Transformers' big-screen debut. But, not long afterwards, the series ended. For many Transformers fans, he will always be Optimus Prime. But, when Hasbro decided to resurrect the Transformers brand with Mainframe's excellent Transformers: Beastwars, it wasn't Cullen that voiced the leader Optimus Primal, but Mainframe regular Gary Chalk. Chalk's Optimus sounds a lot like Cullen's, so many people have never known the difference.

So, when it was announced at Comic-Con this week that Peter would be returning as Optimus in the new movie, Transformers fans around the world (or at least those gathered at Comic-Con) gave a cheer. Peter has come home again. Optimus is in good hands (or, at least his voice is). Don't screw this up, Mr. Bay.

Posted on July 22, 2006 at 10:24 pm
Get Your Kicks... with Cars

My wife and I decided to take my parents to the movies the other afternoon. I have to admit, after quite a drought of truly good movies, it's nice to have to make a choice between legitimately good movies to see at the cinema. We decided to go to a movie that me and my wife had already seen, Disney/Pixar's Cars.

Now, if you are a NASCAR fan, I can almost guarentee that you will find something to like about this movie. Heck, it's a movie about race cars, for Pete's sake. But it is more than that, thankfully for the rest of us. It's about realizing that it is OK to not always go it alone. It's also about reliving the past, and realizing that not all change is always for the best. Just because it's faster, doesn't necessarily make it better.

We enter the world of Cars, a world populated not by humans, but by the vehicles that they drive. This isn't Herbie, though. These are fully anthropomorphized vehicles, with eyes for windsheilds and mouths where their grills oughta be. They still have all four wheels on the ground, though. No stairs in this world.

Of course, one of the greatest past-times in the world of Cars is racing. And the greatest achievment in racing, in the US at least, is the Piston Cup. Many dream, some strive, and few win. Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is one of these many. He's a rookie on the Piston Cup circuit, but he's been tearing up the track ever since the first race of the season. And he looks to be the favorite to win the coveted cup. All that stands in his way is the reigning champ, The King (voiced by racing legend Richard Petty), and Chick Hicks (voiced by Michael Keaton), a racer that has been dubbed the "runner up" by the media.

In a race that is as exciting as any one you'll see in the real NASCAR world, we find the three leaders fighting for control of first. We soon realize that Lightning, having fired his crew chief, may have a bit of an ego problem. After taking a comfortable lead by avoiding a massive pileup caused by some shady driving by Chick Hicks, Lightning's confidence is riding sky-high. He refuses to take new tires in the pits in order to save time. What happens next we see coming all the way from turn one. Just as Lightning is about to round the last turn, he loses both rear tires in a blowout, and finds himself trying to ride his rims to the finish line, with both The King and Hicks closing quick. In a photo finish, the officials call it a three-way tie, and announce that there will be a tie-breaker race out west in California in a week's time.

Lightning, who has been sponsored by a company called Rust-eze, dreams of taking The King's place as the spokes-car for Dinoco, a petrol mega-corporation. As he begins the ride to California with his trusty semi Mack (voiced by Pixar-regular John Ratzenberger), his agent calls and tells him that the first to get to California will have the chance to schmooze with the Dinoco reps, and maybe score a spot on the Dinoco team. Excited by the prospect, Lightning convinces Mack to drive through the night to make it to California first. But, like any long-haul driver, Mack is getting sleepy. After getting bounced around by some tricked-out street racers, Mack loses a sleeping Lightning out the back of the truck and continues on to California unawares.

Lightning awakes with a start as he sees car and semi headlights heading toward him. He quickly takes in the situation and gets himself out of trouble. He then rushes ahead to try and catch up with Mack. After following a Peterbuilt off the Interstate by mistake, he finds himself traveling down old Route 66, not realizing that it doesn't lead back to the Interstate. As he zooms towards a small town called Radiator Springs, the local sheriff clocks him and gives chase. In a comical turn, Lightning finds himself tied up to one of the powerlines, after destroying the road running through town.

The next morning, Lighting finds himself in the impound, wheel boot keeping him at bay. The local tow truck, Mater (voiced humorously by Larry the Cable Guy) makes quick friends with Lightning, and tows him to the courthouse to go in front of the local magistrate, Doc Hudson (voiced by actor/driver Paul Newman). Doc, seeing that he's a race car, wants to send him on his way never to return, but the local lawyer, Sally Carrera (voiced by Bonnie Hunt) thinks that the town would be better served if the racer worked to repair the road. Begrudgingly, Doc agrees, and Lightning is sentenced to repair the road. Once he is finished, he is free to go on his way.

It doesn't take long for the romance between Lightning and Sally to be set into place. This drives Lightning's progression from a self-centered egomaniac to someone who cares for the people who care for him. He helps to give the run-down town and it's inhabitants some fun and a nostalgic look back at Radiator Springs of old. But, when the world finally catches up with Lighting, will he turn his back on Radiator Springs, and on Sally? If you don't know the answer to this, then you haven't seen many of these movies.

But, knowing the outcome of the movie is like knowing your destination. It's not where you are going that counts, it's what you get to experience on the journey that makes all the difference. The design and animation of Cars is absolutely top-notch, and I expect nothing less from Pixar. They continue to improve the technology, and it really shows. The race scenes at the beginning and end of the movie are spot on, and feel just like watching a NASCAR race on the telly. The sound design here is important, and they deliver in spades. Engine sounds were, in most cases, sampled from the real-life cars the characters were modeled after, so Doc Hudson's diesel V8 sounds just like you'd imagine it'd sound, as does Lightning McQueen's powerhouse.

There are so many cameo appearances in this movie. It's fun to try and pick them all out. From the actual race drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Mario Andretti to others like Tom and Ray Magliozzi, whom many know from their NPR radio show Car Talk. We even get Bob Costas and Darrel Waltrip as the race announcers. For the best of the cameos, though, make sure to stay through the credits. Pixar fans will get a real kick out of it.

Although the underlying theme is something that we have seen many times before in movies, Pixar manages to bring something new and fresh to it. I truly think that Cars is one of the best movies of the year, and a contender for a couple of Oscar nods. Teamed with a killer soundtrack featuring Rascal Flats, Brad Paisley, Cheryl Crow and others, this movie is a joy the watch and listen to. Race down to the theatre and check it out now!

Posted on July 9, 2006 at 9:20 am
It's Fiction, folks!

Maybe I'm missing something, but I need to find an answer to this: why is everybody so up-in-arms about the Da Vinci Code? This is a work of fiction, folks, come on!

Now, if Mr. Brown had written this as a tell-all exposÚ purporting to show us the real truth about Jesus et al, then I could see people having a problem with it. Heck, if there was truth to the story in The Da Vinci Code, it'd turn most western religious beliefs on their ears. It is an extremely intriguing thought, and the story is engaging and a good read, and I for one can't wait to see what Ron and Tom have done with it on screen.

But, repeat after me: "it's a work of fiction, it's not real".

So, then, are we up-in-arms against Dan Brown's imagination? Are his creative thoughts blasphemy? Even if you think they are, they're his thoughts, and he has the right to publish them as a work of fiction. "But what he talks about in the novel is not the truth." You're probably right. That's why it isn't filed under "religion" in the library, it's filed under "fiction", alphabetically by the author's last name, somewhere towards the end of the "B" section.

I guess some of the problem here lies in the fact that Brown invokes the names of true-to-life places, people, and societies. The L˙vre is a real place (I've seen it with my own eyes), as is the Mona Lisa and countless other works by Da Vinci. Even Da Vinci himself was a real, breathing, living person once upon a time. Opus Dei is an actual Catholic society. Mr. Brown did his research when he decided to write this. Like any good thriller, the story seems completely plausible given the fabricated facts in the story.

But, repeat after me: "it's a work of fiction, it's not real".

Or, maybe Ernie's mantra is more appropriate now: "It's only a movie. It's only a movie. It's only a movie."

Never have I seen so much ink and so many computer bytes wasted trying to disprove something that wasn't supposed to be real in the first place. Geez.

Posted on May 10, 2006 at 12:35 pm
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Colin McRae 2005
Get Your Kicks... with Cars 7/9/2006
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit 10/31/2005
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