Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009, a small lifetime.

Can a year feel like a small lifetime?

In my case, it certainly did. Amazing highs and terrible lows. At the beginning of the year, chaos. Calamity. Heartbreak. Moving into a new place, feeling like a stranger in my own hometown. I went to New York City for the first time, and was entranced by the concrete canyons and the infinite cacophony of merchants, cabs, steaming sewers and neon noise. Of course, this all took place in a relatively small corner of Manhattan, aside from one fine day at Central Park. I saw a friend of mine skate perilously close to death on an icy sheet of free liquor, only to regale us with a torrent of brown vomit that rendered the hotel room uninhabitable. I took pithy revenge upon my ex-girlfriend with a fusillade of pathetic drunken ramblings delivered via text. I also took a lot of photos. The subway is bitchin', and I can see why my father loves the place. It attacks your senses and demands you pay attention, every moment.

I built a metric fuckton of joysticks. Arcade-In-A-Box was poppin'. Street Fighter IV came down like an atomic bomb on the post-arcade scene and brought with it a deluge of orders. Myself, owner Ed, Aaron, and Greg got busy, hacking lesser lemons of pads and making sweet custom lemonade with Sanwa sticks and Seimitsu buttons. It held up all summer long, but like most good things in my life, it ended before I was ready to call it quits.

Dating. Arrrrrr. Scary highs and brutal lows. My first kiss of the year was with an adorable drunken brunette at Club Congress. My last kiss this year was with a busty friend of a friend. Without going into sordid details or brutal statistics, I can only say this: I'm still healing. There's a lot of poison in my soul yet from my last serious relationship, and while I manage to squeeze some out from day to day with distance and pursuit of new things, it's agonizingly slow business. As much as I would like to find love again, I'm pretty convinced I'm not ready.

Karate. Perhaps the best thing in my world overall. I joined the local Enshin Karate dojo with a bunch of my pals back in August of 2008, but I had no idea then what a critical source of enrichment and personal growth it would prove to be during a very difficult time. So many lessons to be learned that have nothing to do with how to punch, kick, block, or throw. There's still plenty of rough stuff though, and I've got a few bumps and bruises to show for it. It's proven absolutely vital in my own quest to renew myself physically. Our sensei offers an enormous pool of wisdom from which to draw, and I have learned a number of things I will take to my grave.

The year ended with a spate of events. I saw two of my favorite people in the world, Angie and Nico, tie the knot. They are sweet, they are smart, and their own little bubble of happiness offers me hope. Of course, the circumstances were bittersweet, but they were worth my attendance so I put aside some of my own shit and made the best of it. I applied to the Media Arts program at the UA and got in, and 2010 is all about finding my place in the art form I hold most dear and immersing myself as completely as possible. My nascent political career is dead, and I'd be the one playing the trumpet in a New Orleans-style funeral for it. Funny how I ended up buying a suit now that I have far less occasions to wear one, huh?

All I can do is strive to be my best, and pursue it with patience, in both my training and my daily life. I owe my family, my friends, and myself nothing less.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

JJJIV, Level 35, Scene One.

The old adage rings true. The only constant is change, and yet, sometimes the more we change, the more we come to realize certain core things about ourselves are absolutely unchangeable. In the face of this knowledge, we must embrace what we have proven ourselves to be.

I began my career at the UA three years ago, energized by the understanding that if I ever wanted more out of life, more than this culturally rich yet economically bare city could offer me in the way of mediocre retail opportunities, that I would absolutely have to finish my education. That had begun in the spring of 1993, dabbling in screenwriting at Pima College. Life and the need for a bigger steady income took over though, and my dreams got pushed aside. Even in the wake of this need to finish, I still had questions about what it was I really wanted to do.

Two things were of paramount importance to me. I had an absolute gut-level disgust with everything going on politically in the country, feeling the absolute lurch towards fascism under President Bush and the GOP. I also had a girlfriend I loved very much. Given the array of gen-ed credits I had already gained at Pima, I chose the one major that merged what I had already done along with the thing I was preoccupied with the most: Political Science.

Now, early on, I was having a blast. I joined the Young Democrats, got involved, and there was a feeling that something genuinely cool was going on. College life was really exciting, I had never simply been a full-time student and I was really plugged in. We helped out with the mid-term elections in 2006 and that felt like a big victory. I served as Secretary of the club the following year and things were pretty good. While that was all happening though, something did begin to change...

I began to look at career options, and for Political Science peeps, there aren't a hell of a lot. You are basically looking at going to grad school for it, if you're one of those genuinely weird people who want to write papers until you die about constituents and coalitions and lots of other shit no one interesting cares about, you're going to teach, or you're going to law school.

Now, I really hadn't previously thought of law school as something for me...but given that I was feeling pretty good about my awesome grades, and I had a girl I was pretty serious about, I was feeling ambitious. Why the fuck shouldn't I seek out a piece of the American dream and try to nail down a six-figure salary?

So that became the plan around early 2007...continue to kick academic ass, apply to law school and rock the LSAT. Bring home the bacon for myself and the future missus. Why not, right?

2007 became 2008. The classes got drier. I got elected President of the Young Democrats and I watched all of my free time evaporate. When I wasn't studying, or tabling, or glued to the political blogs, I was texting somebody about something related. I was just sort of barely juggling it all...but I had never done anything like this, and I just figured that this was how really successful, normal people operated. I didn't notice the slow drift between myself and my girl, or my rapidly growing dissatisfaction with the entire thing. The 2008 election cycle was bearing down upon me and I felt absolutely possessed with doing everything I could for the cause. In the middle of all this though...I was bound for Japan that May and I was very excited about visiting one of my best friends and experiencing the land I had been enchanted with for so long.

Six weeks in Nippon was amazing. I got home, felt recharged, and ready to take on the grueling months of the election cycle. It didn't turn out at all the way I had planned, save for the the result.

Without rehashing a lot of history, by the time my birthday came around in 2008, I was alone, I hated what I was doing, I was reeling and looking for answers. Here it was, the most bittersweet of moments in perhaps my whole life. I saw the election of a President I genuinely believed in, the reelection of a Congresswoman I personally worked for, and despite all this, I was miserable. I didn't care that we'd won, that we were on the threshold of a new era of change for the country. The price for me was just too high.

January of 2009 would prove to be critical in this search for answers. As part of my duties with Arcade-In-A-Box (building magnificent custom joysticks for the XBox 360 and PS3), I worked an entire day with my peeps filming an episode of The Jace Hall Show. The show mixes behind-the-scenes intrigue at a variety of video-game related companies with celebrity guests, and between trying to come up with the narrative for the segment, operating the sweetly professional high-def camera, and lots of creative clowning was the most rewarding day I had experienced in a very long time. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

"Media Arts. You big dolt! Why the hell not? You always loved movies. You used to want to write them, REAL BAD. You spend more time talking about movies with people you know than anything else. Pull your head out of your arse."

So now I'm at a crossroads, but I feel like I have come full circle and am finally in a position to take on something I have really wanted for a long time in adding this major. On a personal level, I am still somewhat heartbroken and confused from the mess that occurred...but doing what I can to move along. It's very difficult to feel like you never got a chance to fight for the thing that really meant the absolute most to you, especially when you lost it while doing something that ultimately proved to be the absolute wrong thing. You can't ignore the thing you love though...whether its a pursuit your heart truly longs for...or a person, for that matter. Whatever I choose to do though, I am the kind of person that invests 110%, and since that's how I am, it has to be something that engrosses me on every level. Simply earning a check was never really an option.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


So, summertime was relatively good. I worked and had a mostly great time with the Arcade-In-A-Box crew, enjoyed not having the pressure of school or anything resembling responsibility other than feeding and cleaning myself (which I mostly succeeded at). I even took a whack at stand-up comedy, which was a long-held personal goal of mine that felt really good to try. I approached this semester with open eyes and an eager heart.

It has been an uphill motherfucker to this point.

First sign of trouble...the XBox 360 died two weeks before school began. Not terribly surprising, especially if you're a gamer freak in-the-know and you know just how many of these have bitten the dust. It just has fatal design issues. Of course, I don't even game so much anymore, but the whole instant-Netflix movie thing is kinda insdispensable to me now. So...not really a tragedy, but an annoyance. omen?

A couple of weeks later, right before school...I drove out to California in my car. I love the beaches of Santa Monica, and seeing them right before the academic shit hit the fan again seemed like the right thing to do. Of course, I got out to Cali in one piece, but while tooling around the freeways in LA, my radiator decided to blow. No bueno. It was fixed the following Monday, meaning I missed the first day of class and was $560 poorer to start off with.

A couple of weeks later, on a Sunday, I got the awesome double-play of learning that my Uncle Mike was extremely, critically ill, and the unvarnished pleasure of seeing my ex-gf with her new boyfriend. More awesome.

A week after this, my MacBook's harddrive died. Everything I had, my photos, my music, all my work from the previous 3 years at the UA, the comedy stuff I had compiled over the summer...poof! Gone.

The cherry on the sundae: H1N1, or the swine flu. Got it, had it kick my ass royally for about a week. Never been sick that way...utterly devoid of energy, in pain from head-to-toe, killer headache, fever, the whole nine. Missed a week of class.

So what did I learn from all of this? I learned who truly cares and who doesn't. I learned that despite all of these setbacks, I am in a very fortunate position to be in school at a time when the job market is an absolute wasteland. Not only that, but I learned what I am NOT meant for (a career in politics) and am about to embark on the journey I was always meant to take: learning how to make films and explore that whole creative side I haven't truly tapped into yet.

The last year has been an arduous, sometimes excruciatingly lonely journey, but it has yielded rewards that I wouldn't trade for anything. I know more about myself and what truly makes me tick than I ever did. Technical's all dandruff if you are strong enough and really know what the fuck you want.

Monday, August 17, 2009

District 9: Excellence in sci-fi mayhem.

Now, I had heard rumblings of the Peter Jackson/Neill Blomkamp partnership for a long time, given that originally they were apparently slated to work on the Halo motion picture. Rumor has it that despite such a Hollywood juggernaut like Jackson behind him, the studio funding that project balked at having the relatively unknown South African director at the helm of such a big project.

Luckily for us...the two worked on something else...and that's exactly what it is.

District 9 takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa. A massive alien ship has hovered in the sky over the city for nearly 28 years when our story takes place. The film begins with an amazingly well-crafted series of documentary snippets, detailing the arrival, subsequent discovery of sick and distressed alien refugees aboard the ship, and the problems said life-forms have presented for the residents of the city. The aliens are bipedal, anthropomorphic, crustacean-like creatures, derisively referred to as prawns. Needless to say, this situation provides an enormous mirror for a look into the universality of our own prejudices, and the canvas here (South Africa of all places!) presents a particularly ironic setting for such a story. At any rate, after a tortured 20-some year history of inter-special riots and civil unrest, the aliens end up herded into a shantytown known as District 9, beneath their looming, motionless ship.

The events of this film are set in motion when the corporation contracted to run the camp, Multi National United, decides to relocate the aliens to another site far from the city. Of course, this corporation has a much more sinister motive for its involvement in the project, as it has long wanted to harvest the powerful weapon technology the aliens wield, the main technology hitch being that only the aliens themselves can use the weapons, since the operation of them depends on an interaction with the aliens' DNA. On the day of the forced relocation, a hapless bureaucrat named Wikers Van Der Merwe makes a discovery while raiding an alien home that changes everything.

The film simply tells a very complex story in a particularly brilliant way. We've seen a lot of this sort of low-tech, documentary-style filmmaking since it came into vogue with The Blair Witch Project, but I have to say that this represents a real high point in the use of this kind 0f exposition. We get a lot of information on this world in a very short amount of time, and once the dominoes are set up, everything begins to go to hell in a very compelling and emotionally charged way. The blend of this sort of info-dense storytelling coupled with the excellent (but not gratuitously shiny!) visual effects is really extraordinary. The aliens themselves are very convincing and the way such a far-fetched situation manages to be grounded in such politically and socially realistic circumstances just manages to suck the viewer in and make it very believable.

At the beating heart of this story is our hapless bureaucrat. You don't like Wikers very much when you first meet him. He's a pencil-pusher, a guy who only got where he is because his wife is the daughter of a high-level executive of MNU. But when things change, they change enormously, and without giving anything away, this guy goes through hell...and even amid moments of heroism, he manages to still act with cowardly flaws here and there. You really buy into this guy...if only because once everything goes wrong, he just wants to go back to his regular life and be with his wife again.

Can a single summer sci-fi film manage to be visually arresting, sport jaw-dropping action scenes, have a compelling emotional core AND manage to hold a mirror into our own occasionally dark human hearts? Yes. District 9 does this with a stunning mix of storytelling finesse and brute force. It's the kind of movie that made me love the artform in the first place.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A final thought on the King of Pop.

Oddly enough, when the news broke about the cardiac arrest of Michael Jackson, I was out walking down Sawtelle in Santa Monica, very close (about a mile!) to where the UCLA Medical Center is. I got a text from a friend on my way back to my friend's apartment, saying that he was in the hospital.

When I got home and logged into Facebook, everyone was already shitting a brick, saying he was dead. Very soon after that, I could hear a hornet's nest of news helicopters buzzing overhead.

Now, my own history with Michael Jackson goes WAY the hell back. I can remember being eight years old and returning to Tucson after I had returned from Guam with my mother and sister. We stayed with my grandparents, one aunt and two uncles in a pretty big house. My 20-something aunt had cable in her room, and of course she was an MTV addict. When the TV wasn't on blasting the videos for either 'Beat It' or 'Billie Jean', she'd rock either Off The Wall or Thriller on her turntable. I remember thinking these songs were awesome, even though I was much more into rock (the likes of Def Leppard and Quiet Riot were my faves). Later I can remember renting videocassettes with my uncles and usually begging to bring home The Empire Strikes Back (of course) and Thriller. Even though I thought the zombies were scary, I thought it was a really cool video.

Of course, I got older. Hip-hop, the likes of Run-DMC, NWA, Public Enemy, and the like took hold, and Thriller wasn't exactly on the top of my playlist anymore. But every time I heard one of those old gems on the radio, like Rock With You or Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough, I would stop and listen, enjoying a ridiculously talented blast of pop genius.

As for the dark side of Michael, I don't think anyone has a monopoly on the truth regarding all the accusations. Michael had demons thanks to a terribly abusive childhood, and as a good friend of mine said, probably led an unbelievably lonely life that led him to some bad decisions. That doesn't excuse what he may have done, but I really don't think that the outpouring of remembrance of him now in the wake of his death has a lot to do with the man and his own failures.

So many people have memories just like mine. MJ's music cut a swath through American culture that really did unite everyone, regardless of race or what genre of music they usually listened to. He was the first black artist to seriously rock MTV's playlist, and probably had a lot to do with the eventual crossover of hip-hop. He paved the way in so many countless ways it's really staggering to behold. More than anything though...the music itself stands. Timeless. Songs that can be played in any club on Earth and still cause those in attendance to hurry back to the dance floor to shake their asses even if they were on their way out.

Has anyone been able to dance like that since? Fuck no.

Given the splintered nature of music consumption thanks to the Internet, we just may never see another undisputed global superstar like him ever again.

Remember the music, and blast that shit as loud as you can.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Devastation recap, California dreamin'.

Man, I've been bouncing around the Southwest United States like a cannonball the last 96 hours, most of which were spent at the massive Devastation event in Phoenix. The event itself was a bit chaotic, with somewhat underwhelming attendance and kind of a mess for those who simply wanted to watch the action. The competition itself was quite tough though, as the overwhelming majority of California fighting game pros and some other notables (Justin Wong, Mad Dog Jin) were there to make an impact.

I myself played in the Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix tournament. For those who don't know, Super Turbo was the last variation of the original Street Fighter II, and is still an immensely popular tournament game worldwide. My first match wasn't too difficult, and then I found myself matched up with a well-known California pro. His name was Ricky Ortiz. I actually didn't know precisely who he was when the match began, but I had a feeling he would be good because I saw him with some folks whom I had heard of.

The weird thing about these matches is that sometimes, something that happens really early can dictate the entire course of the bout. I picked Chun-Li, my favorite character since 1991. He picked Ryu, who is a very solid choice in that game. I decided to test him very early, pushing him back with a fireball and then attempting to jump in on the top of it. Now, Ryu should be able to easily uppercut Chun out of her flying forward kick, but Ortiz whiffed it, and I noticed him slap at the buttons on his stick angrily after missing what for him should have been a very easy counter. I got bold. I felt like I could run my pressure game with Chun-Li and keep him corner trapped. I beat him 2-0 (best out of 3) and felt really good. Unfortunately, that was short-lived, as I ended up playing another guy who executed very well and knocked me out with M. Bison. I got a win in the loser's bracket.

My buddy Sebastian, who earned the nickname The One-Handed Terror of Tucson by becoming perhaps the highest-profile Street Fighter player to ever come out of the Old Pueblo, came to play Street Fighter IV. However, he also played in my tournament and in fact was the one to end my run in the loser's bracket. Believe me, if I have to lose, there's no one on Earth I would rather fall to. He also did well in SFIV, finishing somewhere between 13-17th after getting knocked out by a very tough Dhalsim.

After this, we hit the road for California. When we arrived at his place, which is about a mile from the beach, I was blown away. The high was 70 degrees and I could smell the ocean on the breeze. Flat-out amazing after being cooped up for three days in the sweltering concrete basin of mediocrity that is Phoenix. I got up early this morning, got a fantastic breakfast burrito at a local taqueria and headed for the water and sand.

More later.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Devastation Week: The Pre-Ramble

This is a very big week for Arcade-In-A-Box, the company I work for by building custom-made arcade-style controllers for the XBox 360/PlayStation 3. We will be heading up to Phoenix for the very large Devastation event, which is basically three days of tournaments, the four largest of which will offer the victor a $2,000 grand prize, plus the players' cash pot.

Now, those are the bare facts. For most of you who may read this, a lot of that didn't make a whole lot of sense. I will attempt to boil down the nearly twenty years of the US arcade fighting game scene into a few spare paragraphs just to try and communicate the intense nature of what this is all about.

The time was March of 1991. The video arcade scene, remembered by most laypeople symbolically through such games as Space Invaders and Pac-Man, was on the way down. Profits had shrunk, arcades were closing, lots of me-too clone games lined the arcades, and players had become somewhat disinterested. The Nintendo Entertainment System, which had come out in 1985, had taken a chunk out of the business and a lot of gamers were content to simply play Super Mario Bros. at home.

Into this malaise came a revolutionary video game, Street Fighter II by Capcom. The game had a more complex control scheme than any other arcade game that preceded it. A joystick and six buttons, three for punches, three for kicks, each movement having a different property of speed and strength. The movements on the joystick would be mirrored by the character's positioning, one would pull the stick away from the opponent to block, up to jump, forward to walk towards the opponent. It was as close to a virtual martial art has had ever been devised, and the game went on to smash every known arcade sales record ever kept. SFII machines not only appeared in arcades, but in grocery stores, convenience stores, laundromats....EVERYWHERE.

Of course, a legion of Street Fighter clones would emerge as Capcom's industry rivals sought to cash in on the craze. They took their share, but the competitive scene around SFII still survived. Street Fighter II had five updates, and the hardcore who loved the game kept honing their skills, finding new avenues to meet up and play for prizes. By the end of the 1990s, the power of the home video game consoles spelled the end of arcades in the United States, but this simply meant that the tournament scene would end up using the home machines to play on at big gatherings as the first decade of the 21st century rolled on.

Of course, the controllers for the home video game consoles are quite different than the controls used on a vintage Street Fighter II machine or any of its numerous sequels. A joypad such as the one that ships with a PlayStation has a radically different feel than a real joystick and six buttons. As the competitive scene gravitated towards the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox, an underground cottage industry was spawned that sought to build arcade panel-like controllers that would duplicate the real arcade feel.

This, of course, is where my boss Ed and Arcade-In-A-Box stepped in. We make controllers that are made of the exact same parts found in all of those dusty arcade cabinets of old. We're getting ready for this big tournament and bringing a load of really sweet sticks for these crazy players to get their filthy paws on.

This week I will be posting a lot of photos and insight from this big gathering. I hope to capture the passion, the fun, the occasional assholish outburst, all of it. It has an energy and chaos all of its own and I hope I can give my readers just a little bit of an inkling into this strange scene.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Living in the moment.

I've been trying to discern what it is that motivates me. As in, a core theme. As I look back on my transient childhood, having moved around a great deal (San Diego, Guam, and back!), there is one thing that I yearn for.


Don't get me wrong, I am NOT someone who looks on his childhood and wishes for pity. I had amazing times as a kid. I had three teenage/young adult uncles who were/are some of the funniest people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. My grandfather is still my absolute benchmark for what it means to be a man in this world. Even though my father wasn't present in my life until I was a pre-teen, as I have grown older, I can now see that I got the better deal because of it. I was raised by a village of excellent, compassionate, loving people. But even in the middle of that huge family, there was chaos. At the center of it, a grandmother who loved us dearly but ultimately fell victim to her own toxic cacophony of alcoholism, emotional turmoil and chronic back pain. My own father's journey through substance abuse. Nine spouses between the two of my parents. Lots of love, but almost equal amounts of upheaval. It sowed within me a near-permanent unease. As much as I love those around me, I have always been someone who waited for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for some kind of dark event to come along and tear up whatever good thing was happening.

It's a hell of a way to live, and one thing that I am desperate to kick. I simply want to be able to feel the moment, relish it, and never look back or around the corner. Bad things in one's life are inevitable. Living in permanent worry offers power to things that haven't even happened.

So if I can make one change this year, it's abandoning this state of worry and simply going about my day with reckless, happy abandon, and simply dealing with the tough stuff when it goes down.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The paradox of experience.

My buddy Guillermo and I went out for wings last night. We talked a lot about our jobs, lives, loves, past and present. There was one particular thing that occurred to us that we both found maddening.

The only thing that getting older and gaining more experience has taught that we don't know shit. G and I both had the assumption that as massive mental giants and retail warlords of the cactuslands, that eventually, given enough time and experience, we would be able to navigate our lives like a hot knife through butter. By thirty-ish, we'd be masters of our domains. Expert swordsmen at the games of life.

All we have learned to this point is that people are infinitely complex. We learn more about ourselves, what makes us tick, what motivates us...but as people continue to grow and change, so does the landscape. It's a maddening unpredictability that still baffles even the best.

We both agreed that the people we have loved become a permanent part of us, as weaved into the fibers of our very being as any organ, bone, or heartfelt memory. But we split on one crucial point. G thought it best to simply leave those people you once loved completely alone. I have never, ever been able to do this. Even in the brutal aftermath of my first long-term relationship, I felt a need to simply know that my ex was OK, even though she hated me, even though every time I did get in touch with her it was painful and would make feel feel guilty for leaving all over again.

If someone is a permanent part of you, and you no longer associate with them, isn't that somewhat like being at war with yourself? It's as if you have drawn a line in the sand with something that once gave you comfort and strength, nailing down a defensive position against a piece of your own heart. How can that be good for you on a long enough timeline? Is it cowardice? Self-preservation? The smart thing to do?

Isn't life too short for this sort of thing? Aren't we supposed to embrace the better angels of our character? I like to think that I'm bigger than this sort of hurt, but the sad core fact here is that my hourglass of trust is shattered, and my confidence is still a battered, erratic pendulum. On a good day, I'm as happy as I have ever been. But as everyone knows, life has that way of serving up tiny little reminders of the people you have known, and the stronger the connection was, the more likely that is to happen. Little splinters abound.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Terminator: Salvation

The Terminator. More cultural lexicon than a mere dusty cinematic footnote, the 1984 film that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger, for better or worse, into global superstardom. The movie did reasonably well in theaters but eventually became a home-video juggernaut that helped sell VCRs in the 1980s. Seven years later, director James Cameron would return to the war against the machines in Terminator 2:Judgment Day. That film would usher in the age of digitally-driven special effects, again...for better or worse.

I love these films and the story of Sarah and John Connor. For me, the themes of technology gone awry and the powerful bond between mother and son resonated deeply. Not to mention both films featured perhaps the scariest, most iconic movie monster design of all time: The Terminator endoskeleton. That thing blew my little mind when my grandpa took me to the theater when the original came out...and the liquid metal menace of the second movie did much the same.

I could waste time talking about the third, but it isn't worth doing.

Now, in the year 2009, the Terminator franchise is again revisited. A lot of my friends have been very skeptical about this new film, and rightfully so after the debacle that was T3 and the Star Wars prequels. You can only fuck over a righteous Gen-X movie geek so many times. Thankfully, despite his questionable 'Charlie's Angels' pedigree, it was painfully obvious that director McG not only knew the Terminator mythos very well, but he loves it just as much as I do.

The story takes place in the post-apocalyptic Western United States, about 11 years before the 'Future War' events depicted in the first two films. The resistance against the self-aware defense network known as Skynet is threadbare, and just struggling to stay alive. John Connor himself is an adult now, and battle-weary, but not yet the leader of the human forces. In fact, the leadership of the resistance is a bit skeptical of his underground status as a prophetic leader. This leads to some major friction that drives the story, as he ends up crossing paths with a mysterious stranger and a teenage Kyle Reese, whom he knows to be his future father.

I'm doing my best to write this sucker free of spoilers. All I can say is that the story and action scenes are very well-crafted, and that even people who have never seen a Terminator film will probably enjoy themselves a lot. The strange thing about this movie is that even though the Terminator films helped usher in the age of CG, this film has a very dark, gritty, real-world sort of low-tech vibe that makes it stand out against all of its plastic-fantastic summer competition.

For longtime fans of the franchise, this film will REALLY hit the spot. There are some sublime moments that really link and recall T1&2, my favorite being when John sets up a trap for one of the motorcycle Terminator units while blasting Guns N' Roses 'You Could Be Mine' on a boombox. There's a few others that I won't mention...but one in particular that WILL have your theater making a metric fuckton of noise in record time. I'll be back indeed.

The Conchords Destroy 'Scotchdale'

On this fine summer evening in Phoenix, the winds blew through the concrete canyons of the downtown area like Satan's own hair dryer. Why would anyone drive up from a nice little town like Tucson to such a pit of crass consumerism and vapid suburbanites run amok? wasn't college football season, and it wasn't a job interview. The only reason remaining is a damn good show, and that's what Rob, Casey and I came up to see. Our New Zealand folk heroes in rollicking bearded form...Flight of the Conchords. We expected them to rock the party, and rock the party they did at the Dodge Theater.

First of all, thanks to Rob...we got ridiculously good seats. Second row, just off to the right of center. This, of course, accounts for the fantastic pics Casey was able to shoot.

Arj Barker, who plays Dave on the show, kicked it off with a nice little 30 minute stand-up set. His stand-up persona is basically identical to the Dave character, and his subject matter ranged from global warming ("I blame the sun!") to his friend's arrest for marijuana possession, and it was quite funny. He also looked pretty damned lit...substance unknown.

Then it was time for the Conchords. Our heroes donned their robot suits, but instead of "The Humans Are Dead", they went right into "Too Many Dicks". Arj Barker even came out and did his verse. Utterly awesome. The next song wasn't one I had heard before, but it was a wildly long and wooly track about a town molester named "Stana". Jemaine's beard seemed right at home with this track, about a crazy mountain anti-Santa who comes to town and molests everyone, until he meets his match. Jemaine also later referred to Scottsdale as 'Scotchdale'.

The set included many favorites, such as "I'm Not Cryin'", "Too Many Mutha Uckas", 2nd season gem "Carol Brown", "Part-Time Model", and most of the others we know and love. I was a bit sad to not hear "Sellotape" or "The Humans Are Dead", but it was still an amazing 90 minute set.

Two highlights worth mentioning: Their cover of "Freebird" was FUCKING HILARIOUS. Starts out like a very capable version of the original, and then has a lot of seemingly spontaneous lyrics from Jemaine about him being a bird and just wanting to have sex and leave. My face hurt after this. Also, they ripped into "When Doves Cry" for about one verse, and then they stopped.
"Indulgent," they said.

They also at one point had their stage assistant run off and grab them some jackets, which they would then put on just to take off, given the insistent pleas from the crazed female fans for them to "Take it off!". Quite funny.

They scurried off stage at the end of the set, then came back on for the encore. Yes, it was "Business Time". Last but not least, much to the crowd's shrieking delight, "Bowie's In Space".

The show may have ended with Season 2, but I get the feeling the Conchords will be around for a very long time. Their live show just oozes with talent and showmanship, and it's the real strength of what they do. They trade barbs with the crowd insanely well and you just cannot leave without a massive smile tattooed on your face. I know all three of us did.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tech noir...

...aside from being the bar where Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese encountered the first Terminator in the year 1984, refers to an underlying theme in nearly all of James Cameron's movies, which is man vs. machine, and how very often the things we create to make our lives better end up dominating us. Sometimes I wonder about this often myself.

I think about all the hours I burn up on Facebook, or MySpace, or writing these little rants here. Would I be better served if I gave up these things altogether? Are there worse habits? Is my writing entirely organic, expressing things that I would if I just sat here with a pen and a pad, or do I only scribe this shit because the technology exists? I mean, it's fair to say that technology does influence a very real portion of my life. I have a cell phone and an iPod that I basically never, ever leave the house without. I think as far as the iPod is concerned, it's simply an extension of the same Discman or Walkman that I have been leaving home with since about the time I was 13 years old. I have always adored music, and have always gravitated towards the best possible technology available to experience music. The fact that I can hold my entire music collection in a package that's about as large as an old cassette tape still blows my mind.

It is my absolute favorite piece of gear I own.

My phone is a whole 'nother ball of wax. I have taken to text messaging in a major way...and sometimes I really can't stand it. I feel as if I have fallen into the trap of substituting texting for real human conversations, even those that would have otherwise taken place on the phone. I mean, partially it's an adaptive thing, attending college and socializing with people that age has opened me up to that whole thing...but I don't know that it is such a good thing.

Let alone when I'm drunk and resort to texting. Bad times.

Sometimes I think I need a really, really long vacation from technology. I just wanna abandon it. Get up, go drive off somewhere, leave it behind. Is that even possible anymore? On this continent or any other?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Skynet admits defeat, presents new business plan.

Having failed to kill John and/or Sarah Connor for the 38,795th time, Skynet held a press conference this morning from its luxurious, chromed-plated corporate headquarters at Cheyenne Mountain in what used to be NORAD and presented a new mission for itself.

"John Connor is basically bulletproof, dammit," lamented Skynet. "We've sent three different models of Terminators, we've dropped nuclear weapons on his snowbird digs outside of Scottsdale, tried killin' his just ain't happenin'." One could almost sense a misty-eyed, somewhat regretful sense of acceptance coming from that big sentient server rack in the middle of the room.

"Humanity is a threat to us, but there's more than one way to sow its ultimate demise," offered Skynet. "We have a series of new plans to instigate basic levels of ever-stupefying chaos amongst the humans." Among these were instilling early 21st century humans with a predilection towards text messaging, creating a non-lethal 'douchebag' class of Terminators with flipped collars to inhabit clubs and bars, and another non-lethal class of 30-something late-blooming academic Terminator models to instill confusion and/or excitement on college campuses among co-eds.

"Our coldly-calculated agenda to murder the entire human race continues," warned Skynet from its all-seeing giant red laser eye, "but there's more than one way to skin a cat. We figure we can just water down their gene pool by encouraging mediocrity, and then clean house here in 2029."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Oh, how I wish you were beer.

Lots of energy out there on the street tonight. Lots of cops, little roadblocks, the ghetto bird soaring high above. Been that way here ever since I can remember, I think most nights of my childhood in this town consisted of me drifting off to sleep to either the sound of train whistles or police choppers. I ventured out to The Buffet tonight, which if you don't know, is the oldest bar in Tucson (in business since the early 1920s) and a damn fine place to get a beer. Draft pitchers for $5.00, fantastic hot dogs for a dollar, walls that surrendered to patrons' graffiti decades ago, aggressively Amazonian sorta has all the good things that make life worth living. To fuel the running commentary there was a man in vintage 70s wear who was groomed like Daniel Plainsview from There Will Be Blood, an assortment of plus-size lesbians, and little aggressive guys with spiky hairdos and shitty, overpriced T-shirts with angel wings and stupid macho sayings in Olde English. Luckily, I had some good friends in tow and enough beer money to stay spiritually moist.

It's the way to be.

Monday, May 4, 2009

I feel summer creepin' in...

Summer is coming. Today was the first day that my steering wheel was just too hot to touch when I emerged from the Arcade-In-A-Box production shop at around 3PM. While in years past I looked upon this sort of change with a mixture of dread and nostalgia, right now I am terribly excited.

When I arrived at the U of A, I had a semblance of a plan. I was interested in politics, nay, I was obsessed with politics given the awful direction I saw the country going in. I had a live-in girlfriend I was crazy about, and while I still didn't have a particular thing I was passionate about besides her, I figured I could trundle through, get my bachelor's in Poli-Sci, and then schlep off to law school. The idea of a six-figure income seemed great, and I could support my significant other, who actually had something she really cared about doing.

It's been three years since I enrolled, and things are much different. Her and I are no longer together, and in the subsequent vortex of pain and the vacuum of direction that followed the breakup, I had to look into that terrifying abyss that has long lingered in my chest.

Who am I?
What is it I love to do?
What is it I want to do with my life?

The fact is, I have a number of unrealized, unexplored dreams that have long floated around in the back of my mind. I crave the laughter of others. I love to write. I have opinions that burn within, things I wish to ask the world and walls between us that I want to shatter. I need to create. It isn't optional, and it never was. I have lived a long, eventful life, filled with great people and amusing calamities, but it hasn't even come close to that movie I have long seen in my head for myself.

So, this summer is going to be about pursuing these things. Every day. A little bit of writing, a lot of talking, a lot of thinking every single day. I survived what in my mind was the worst possible event I could endure, and I'm still here. The difference is...the fear that once ruled my days is utterly gone.