Jul 31, 2013

[Apps] Duolingo (Android)

When I was still in college, I decided to invest my limited free elective subject slots into learning another language. It felt like a nice way to do something truly educational beyond my majors and it could be a lot of fun as well. At the time I had taken up German and managed to get through the first module well enough.

Of course a language not used is one that can be lost and my German is as bad as they come. So when my partner Tobie shared this app, Duolingo, with me, I was pretty curious. And while "gamification" is quite the marketing buzz word these days, I know that it has proven to be an interesting way of getting your users to engage with your content. And that's what this promises to be - a fun way learn another language.

Jul 30, 2013

[Books] The Age Atomic

When I first read Adam Christopher's Empire State, I was rather impressed with the little world that he had created in this unique science fiction story. It felt like a return to more classic science fiction married with interesting touches of detective noir stories, superheroes and even steampunk. Thus by the end of the book, I was rather impressed with the novel and keen on seeing what would happen next.

Thanks to the Angry Robot Army review program, I managed to get a review copy of the next book in this series, The Age Atomic, which brings us back to the world of the Empire State as it exists it the isolated pocket universe attached to our own. And from the title alone, you can imagine that a fair amount of time has passed since the events in the first book, which does make for potentially interesting stories.

Of course this makes me wonder a bit just how many stories are left in this particular franchise. I love the premise of things, I really do, however I also see how things might feel a little limited in one tales there are to tell. I was already surprised that the first book had managed to inspire a sequel at all. And while this sequel was still pretty interesting, I'm not sure if it was truly necessary.

Jul 29, 2013

[Movies] Robot & Frank (2012)

You know I like robots - the title of this movie alone piqued my interest. Throw in some rather interesting casting choices and robot that nicely echoes the ASIMO robot created by Honda (love the aesthetic!) and so this movie was definitely added to my queue.

But don't get me wrong - I do not love absolutely every single movie that involves a robot in it. That would be a horrible exaggeration of my interest in robots and how they are presented in popular media. But this turned out to be a pretty good one, so hurrah for my interest in robotics.

I thought I understood what Robot & Frank was about - we were going to explore an old man developing a personal relationship with a robotic caretaker. But like most movies, our impressions from a synopsis or a trailer was just so not the actual work product. And the ability of movies to surprise us like this time and time again is part of the magic of the whole experience. And it's why I'm so passionate about movies and why I actually take the time to post these reviews to begin with.

Jul 28, 2013

[TV] Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World

A lot of us first really heard of Q. Allan Brocka because of his Eating Out series of LGBT movies. The first one was particularly funny, certainly made waves and was rather memorable. The many, many sequels in that franchise have become increasingly disappointing, but that's beyond the scope of what I'm trying to say.

So when I was doing my research on his work while I wrote my reviews of this other movies, I chanced upon an odd item on this resume - this being the stop motion series Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World. I mean seriously, what kind of a project is this? Who does a show like this?

But yeah, I was rather curious about what the show would be like and so I worked on getting a copy of the show's two seasons and then finding time to actually watch them. To say that I was surprised is a bit of an understatement, but I don't mean this in a bad way. It wasn't that bad for a somewhat independent project (albeit with LOGO support), but it's definitely a show that is very adult and not as whimsical as the little LEGO-like characters would ahve you think.

Jul 26, 2013

[Movies] The Birds (1963)

I'm continuing my journey through the colorful works of the great Alfred Hitchcock - an interesting journey that has covered movies with very different subjects. And after the brilliance of Rear Window, I'm back in his more horror-like films with The Birds.

I suppose I need to revise my usual statement that "I don't handle horror movies well" to "I don't handle traditional horror movies well." And for good or for ill, Hitchcock is certainly anything but traditional in the way he approaches telling stories through films.

You'd think that know the premise of the movie would be enough to understand it - it's the movie where people are attacked for birds for some reason. But that barely scratches the surface of this story and the fact that there are so many other layers to things is part of what makes it so much more fulfilling than your typical horror fare.

And seriously, where did this man get all of his ideas? I can only hope to tap into a thimble's worth of the same creativity that Hitchcock masterfully demonstrated from film to film. That man's genius just overwhelms me.

Jul 25, 2013

[TV] Adventure Time: Season 1

As a follow-up to my review of Marceline and the Scream Queens, I decided to finally address the lack of Adventure Time related content on this blog. I thought it might be easier to just create an overall post to celebrate the show, but instead I figured it's still worth exploring each season and exploring what makes the show great.

It's hard to explain precisely what makes this show so great. It's subtle in its intelligence, quite frankly, but it's also crazily silly in a very good way. Some argue that the show's greatness is centered around nostalgia while others just find it amusing due to the sheer randomness of it all.

I doubt that I will perfectly capture what makes the show so great in a single review - and at the end of the day this will be my perspective of why I enjoy the show and not necessarily how you may enjoy it. But for most geeks that I've discussed the show with there's definitely a major consensus in favor of this algrebraic cartoon.

Jul 24, 2013

[Games] Color Zen (Android)

Ever since I upgrade to an HTC One, I've found myself happily exploring the Google Play Store from time to time in search of interesting apps and potentially cool games to play around with. There have been quite a number of them that I had tried with my ASUS Transformer tablet, but not all of them worked out well.

Now Color Zen isn't a game that I got to try out first on my tablet - but it does hold the distinction of being one of the first games that I installed on my HTC One just because it promise a somehow relaxing casual gaming experience. That may not sound very exciting to most, but when you're looking for a way to decongest your brain in the middle of a busy work day, you really don't have time to wrap your head around game strategy or things of that nature. You just want  a way to relax.

Color Zen offered precisely that, and delivered on this promise amazingly well. Not only is the game rather beautiful to look at and quite relaxing on the eyes, it's actually quite addicting and heck of a lot of fun to play.

Jul 23, 2013

[Comics] Adventure Time: Marceline and the Scream Queens

I'm a major Adventure Time fan, although ironically I realize that I have yet to really write about the series thus far on this blog. And I've watched all the episodes and read most of the comic books at this point - but still no reviews! I know, it rather weirds me out too!

I guess I've been too busy enjoying the series to actually write about it. Go figure.

So this is one of the first Adventure Time posts that I'll have on the Geeky Guide (and hopefully the start of many more to come). I certainly have a lot of catching up to do.

I figured it would be easier to start with this particular mini-series since it's a little harder to tackle the full on-going series (which has about 18 issues at this point). This was the first limited series released for the comic book adaptation of the popular animated TV series and they made an interesting choice in telling a story about Marceline and Princess Bubblegum traveling together.

But hey, it sort of works.

Jul 22, 2013

[Movies] Sharknado (2013)

Movies created by The Asylum are known for being bad. But this is the kind of bad that tries to go all the way to being somehow good, if you get what I mean. And this is not a bad thing - the realm of B-movies is a key part of our shared pop culture history and celebrates what one can come up with on a very limited budget.

Interesting enough, SyFy has long recognized this role that B-movies play in our lives and regularly features such movies much to our mixed glee and dismay. And even in these modern times with digital filmmaking and related CGI effects, it's still pretty easy to make cheesily bad movies.

 A part of me still misses the bad costumes and cardboard sets of the older film era, but then these movies are still pretty campy in their own right. And Sharknado certainly has a most special place given it takes "jumping the shark" to a whole new level of craziness.

Jul 21, 2013

[Pink Scene] Know Your Oh Divas - Karen

Karen is one of the longer-term Oh Divas who has performed at the original O Bar location in Malate and eventually at both Ortigas locations as well. She's a whole lot of drag queen to deal with but she certainly has a unique presence on the stage. Personally I think it has a lot to do with her eyes - she has a certain intensity that's most evident when she gazes at the crowd. In that regard she truly maintains a certain amount of presence as she goes through her performances.

Karen has quite a number of tricks in her bag and over the years I've watched her in a wide variety of costumes, wigs, and other ways of tweaking her appearance. Then you have to factor in her many different performance routines, her props and all these other elements that just come together and present what a true Oh Diva that she is.

She's a woman of few words, but she still has a fair amount to say in this Know Your Oh Diva feature. I'm just thankful that she opted to participate in these interviews.

Jul 19, 2013

[Movies] Rear Window (1954)

After Rope and Psycho, my continuing adventures in Alfred Hitchcock movies has led me to Rear Window, a movie that was recently remade as Disturbia starring Shia LeBeuof. It feels weird to even consider this fact to be true.

What I find to be most interesting about the movies that I've seen thus far is how different each one is versus another. A lot of current movie directors seem to be stuck making certain types of movies or forever rehashing elements over and over again. But for Alfred Hitchcock, each movie feels like a unique creative exploration - a journey that he decided to take. And we're all just lucky to be there along for the ride.

And this was a different kind of storytelling adventure all together. And while it's still a movie with suspense of its primary tone, it still feels quite distinct from the other movies that I've seen. And that's a gift in itself for any a director - and a reward that any movie-goer gets to experience.

And these movies don't really feel all that dated despite the fact that it has been over 50 years since the movie was first released. And I've seen James Stewart in many different classic movies and he still feels different from how he was portrayed here.

Jul 18, 2013

[TV] Person of Interest: Season 2

So the first season of Person of Interest wasn't as bad as we had feared but it wasn't quite a home run either. It certainly had an interesting enough premise at its core and they made an effort to show the wide variety of cases that the Machine could pick up.

But despite the always amazing acting of Michael Emerson, the show still lacked a true sense of focus and it took it a long time before they started to more fully explore the meta-plot driving the show. And one can enjoy the crime of the week format for only so long before you start to look for more.

But in the end the first season certainly left us with a lot of interesting plot threads and story angles to explore. And with Finch now kidnapped, it was up to John to figure out where he is with the help of the nearly intelligent Machine that has been giving them their cases. And that's quite a challenge for even a guy like John, who is practically Batman without the costume.

Jul 17, 2013

[Games] Pixel Kingdom (Android)

Like many other old-school gamers, pixel art triggers a nice warm and fuzzy feeling of nostalgia in me whenever I encounter it. And it's nice that there are game developers out there who continue to celebrate the art form in their games and thus we perpetuate the odd love for pixel sprites with little detail.

I bumped into Pixel Kingdom since it was featured on the Google Play Store for a bit. It promised to combine two things that I love a lot - pixel art and tower defense style games. And while this employs a lane concept more similar to games like Plants vs Zombies, it's still unique enough to be a distinct game.

This game's brilliance is its simplicity. And that probably limits it as well.

Jul 16, 2013

[Comics] Pacific Rim: Tales From Year Zero

As discussed in yesterday's review of the movie, I totally enjoyed watching Pacific Rim. It's a great summer blockbuster that celebrates giant robots fighting giant monsters and little else. It's simple and direct to the point without becoming stupid and insulting. It knows what it wanted to be and it set out to accomplish precisely that - and quite well, too.

While reading up on the movie and its massive Jaegers, I found out that a prequel comic had been released for the movie as well. Given the movie does end up depicting events much later in the war, I have to admit that I was rather curious about learning more about the world that the writers had created for this movie. And you have to admit, the opening sequence certainly set up an interesting picture of this near-future world, although it was certainly the quick and dirty version that one tells on the fly. It was just enough to set up the movie but not quite enough to truly sate our appetites.

But movie prequels are certainly a mixed bag, what more comic book adaptations of popular fiction. Movies and comics are completely different forms of media after all and we have different expectations for each.

I just wanted more giant robots.

Jul 15, 2013

[Movies] Pacific Rim (2013)

I love robots. And big hulking ones - even if piloted by humans they're still pretty cool. Obviously I'm a Transformers fan, but my love of robots has led me down stranger paths like the old 80's cartoon The Mighty Orbots and sad campy B-movies like Robot Jox and Robot Wars. And man, I tried re-watching those movies recently and they were pretty bad indeed - and yet they maintain a special place in my heart.

Pacific Rim clearly set out to be the geek movie of the year. I mean seriously, it's a movie all about men piloting giant fighting robots to defeat giant monsters rising from the depths of the ocean. How can this not be a geek movie? GIANT ROBOTS, PEOPLE!

So we made sure to squeeze in some time to watch this movie over the weekend despite how busy we were with other geek activities. And thankfully, we did manage to see it despite the crowds and it was indeed awesome. And hopefully I'll be able to capture some of that in this movie review.

Jul 14, 2013

[Technicolor Musings] The LGBT Movement Doesn't Talk

Back in March I wrote about the sad state of LGBT activism in the country. The end of that blog post had a simple call to action - the need for more folks to get involved in the struggle for LGBT rights for Filipinos everywhere. And while a few months is too shot a time to expect any sort of significant change, I do find myself thinking about this subject again because of how things have developed - or have not developed.

Yes, I say this during a period when a show like My Husband's Lover is on the air as the first LGBT-focused prime time series in our nation's history. I say this after June's Pride festivities with so many different White Parties, Pride Parties and other LGBT Pride related events. Quantity is not quality you see and we certainly lack quality.

Jul 12, 2013

[Movies] Psycho (1960)

Psyho is one of Alfred Hitchcock's most famous movies. And up until only recently, I had never actually seen it in full. Sure I had seen clips of the famous shower scene over and over again and I've bumped into the odd excerpt from the movie while channel surfing. But still I had never found the time to watch the movie completely from start to finish.

But after watching the movie Hitchcock, I found myself wanting to address the Alfred Hitchcock shaped hole in my life, one movie at a time. This journey began with Rope and now continues on with the infamous suspense thriller, Psycho.

Normally I don't do well with movies that are described to be shocking or containing horror elements. I just don't do well with attempts to scare me since admittedly I don't handle such content all that well. You can say that I scare easy or that I just don't have a full appreciation for getting scared - whatever. But I do my best to get past this side of me when the movie calls for it. And I already have a greater respect for Alfred Hitchcock even with the little I've seen of the man's cinematic works.

And this was certainly a great movie indeed.

Jul 11, 2013

[TV] The Office: Season 9

Well, this is it - we're finally at the end of this amazing series. And I doubt it'll be easy for anyone to come to a firm consensus in terms of how to "rate" this series as a whole, but clearly it has had an impact on so many of us - at least those of us who watched this amazing show.

The Office marked the start of something different in television - now the mockumentary format is something that we see in both television and movies. And while we should still respect the show's British roots, one has to admit that this US adaptation managed to eke out a space all of its own in the pop culture landscape.

The Office was more than just an other comedy. It wasn't just a show with lots of slapstick gags or seemingly omniscient camera crews who are always in the right place to catch the action. This show was genuinely about people when you get to the heart of things. And while many of them seemed more than just a little crazy, they also felt very real to us given how much development went into their respective stories as written over the years. And that's really what made this show so successful - the crazy characters that made up the Scranton office of Dunder Mifflin.

Jul 10, 2013

[Games] Despicable Me: Minion Rush (Android)

I'd be lying if I stated that my decision to finally get an HTC One was for purely logical, productivity-related reasons. One of my frustrations with my past phone and my under powered ASUS TF101 was the fact that it could not handle many of the more recent games. And it's not like I spend that much time playing games given everything else that I'm involved in. But for the games that I do want to dabble with, I'd to get a decent shot.

Enter Despicable Me: Minion Rush, which is an obvious attempt to capitalize on the success of the Despicable Me 2 sequel currently in theaters. Let's face it - as much as the kids in that movie were cute enough and Gru certainly has his share of funny moments, at the end of the day most of us watched (or will watch) the movie because of those darn little Minions. They are strangely adorable with their gibberish language and slapstick antics. And hey, they really carried both movies for the most part.

This game features our favorite little Minions front and center, as should be the case. The rest of the characters make limited appearances, but let's not mind them too much.

Jul 9, 2013

[Books] Dalek I Loved You

I'm a Doctor Who fan - a Whovian, if you will. I got into the rebooted TV series thanks to fellow geeks and now I'm totally hooked. And with the main show done for this season (apart from the obligatory Christmas special), I'm finally starting on the classic series in order to round out my Doctor Who education.

I picked up this book since it was on sale over on Amazon's Kindle Daily Deal page plus it featured a Dalek in the title and as the primary image on the various versions of the cover. However I admit that I had no idea who Nick Griffiths was before reading this book - and here I was diving into his memoir.

But there's a thing among geeks with similar interests that sort of ties us all together. And reading this memoir felt a lot like that. It was almost as if I had bumped into him at some coffee shop and ended up getting into a rather lengthy conversation. And it's not the sort of conversation that you feel trapped in - it felt nicely genuine and certainly enjoyable.

And that's what this book is like, in a nutshell.

Jul 8, 2013

[Movies] Despicable Me 2 (2013)

The first Despicable Me movie was a cute enough adventure in cartoon stereotypes being played around with. As a first animated venture by Universal Pictures, it wasn't too bad even with all the bigger names in such CGI animated movies. But the movie wasn't a total disaster - and I think a lot of its success had more to do with the cute little Minions that provided most of the humor in the movie.

It came as no surprise to me that a sequel was in the works. The movie managed to bring in enough ticket sales to justify that sort of a decision and they had already managed to capture audiences across age brackets, which is always a good thing. I wasn't quite sure what stories were left to tell with regard to Gru, but I knew that I was going to look forward to more and more of the Minions and their wacky antics.

I have to admit that it's a little hard for me to admit that the movie was good on its own. It's carried a lot by the craziness of the Minions - something that I feel the writers, producers and directors took full advantage of in putting this movie together.

I'm certainly not complaining about that.

Jul 7, 2013

[Movies] Behind the Candelabra (2013)

We'll take a quick break from our on-going Know Your Oh Divas feature reviews this week and instead review a recent movie that certainly surprised me in many ways.

Behind the Candelabra first debuted at 2013 Cannes Film Festival, but then debuted on HBO within the same week. This certainly gave it a wider reach in terms of audiences. Since then the movie was formally released theatrically in the UK in June of this year.

I don't have any strong feelings about Liberace for or against him, he's certainly a most interesting and peculiar character in entertainment history. And this biographical movie tries to address one of the bigger questions about him in terms of his sexuality - something that he fiercely defended in the public eye.

Thus beyond the ridiculous costumes, the rings and the fur coats, we get a glimpse of the man through the eyes of one who loved him. Or at least someone who thinks he loved him - it's really hard to tell given the rather strange life of this talented musical artist.

Jul 5, 2013

[Movies] Rope (1948)

After watching the interesting biographical movie Hitchcock and with most of our TV shows of interest on season break, I figured it was about time that I addressed the Alfred Hitchcock gap in my film education. And since Tobie already had a rich collection of his movies on-hand the project wasn't too difficult.

And with so many movies to choose from, I can't quite explain why I ended up watching Rope as my very first Hitchcock movie. I suppose I should blame one of those quirky top 50 lists that included this movie as one with potentially LGBT subtext. And while I don't fully buy into that notion, it did remind me that this was certainly a movie that I wanted to see for completely different reasons.

What really drew me to this movie was the fact that it was shot using a series of intricately choreographed long shot sequences. That is hard to pull off with even today's movie standards, so to have a director manage it with an amazing attention for detail is just fantastic. So I definitely wanted to see how he'd pull that off here.

Jul 4, 2013

[TV] The Office: Season 8

This penultimate season of The Office was particularly notable since it was the one that did not involve Steve Carell as the character Michael Scott, who in many wells set the tone for the show for the most part. Plus this is the season that allows me to use the term "penultimate" as part of this review.

I have to admit that it was hard to conceive what The Office would be like without Michael Scott. And while the stories of the likes of Jim and Pam were certainly a lot more endearing, the constant presence of Michael was certainly a unique dynamic for the show.

But now we all have to move on and see what lies ahead. And while this wasn't quite the most coherent season for the show, it was still entertaining for the most part. Naturally the big focus was dealing with Michael's replacement, which makes for good enough television. And based on the DVD graphic alone, you can already figure out who got the job.

Side note: Who the heck made that DVD cover? It's horrible!

Jul 3, 2013

[Games] Trial of the Clone (Android)

Ever since the Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, I've come to support a different number of Kickstarter projects over the past year. One of the quirkier ones was for the Trial of the Clone book, which was meant to be sort of an RPG turned into a book with a Choose Your Own Adventure sort of feel to it. Add in the fact that the book was created by Zach Weiner, the man behind the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (SMBC), and I was all over it.

The project was pretty successful and managed to raise over $130,000 for it's $15,000 goal, which is pretty cool indeed. And over time, I was surprised to find out that the book had been adapted into sort of a game app that was available for the Android platform.

Now admittedly I had my ebook copy of the book for some time now, but just never got around to reading / playing it for one reason or another. Seriously, I have a LOT of books in my reading queue. So it was nice to see that that someone had turned it into a game since it gave me more options.

And then the app went half-off on the Google Play Store and you can sort of figure out what happened next.

Jul 2, 2013

[Books] Unholy Night

So when I first read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was fairly amused by the book and how the author was able to introduce zombies into this classic story. And while zombies continue to rage across mass media these days for some unknown reason, it's nice to see how the Seth Grahame-Smith has continued to expand his range by exploring other story genres.

This book seemed rather interesting at first glance given the fact that we're not playing within some pre-established novel like with the other classics being mashed up with geekier genres. And while the tale of the nativity of Jesus Christ is one known around the world thanks to Christianity, it's not exactly a novel-length epic. And this certainly gave the author a lot more liberty to work with.

And I think this benefited the story a lot. The book still plays on the concept of merging a new story with an older one, but I think the resulting narrative was a lot more thought-out this time around. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did and I think I've gained new respect for this particular author because of that fact.

Jul 1, 2013

[Movies] World War Z (2013)

This is definitely a case of a movie where I had read the book that it was based on beforehand. In fact, I loved the book. But that shouldn't matter in this review.

As I've stated before, my goal when writing such reviews for adaptations is to keep the different versions separate from one another. This is to ensure that each instance of the (more or less) same story gets its fair chance in terms of a review. That sounds reasonable, right?

Admittedly it was a bit tricky for me to keep that separation in mind when I started thinking about this review given how strongly I feel about the book and the amazing liberties taken with the movie's version of the story. And by "liberties" I refer to how the book and the movie essentially only have the title in common and not much else.

Thus while it's a shame that they diverged from the source material so much, at the same time my principles as a review require me to try to remain more or less "impartial" in discussing this movie and not going back to the book too much.

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