Thursday, April 14, 2005

My new letter to chris thus far:

Hey Chris,

Sorry it’s been so long since I last wrote, I keep meaning to write when I’m at work, but a lot of times I forget. To kick this off I’ll update you on the cool movies and games. As you should probably expect, this is all out of order by now.

I’m glad you enjoyed The Aviator, when you mention it as a look into TWA, it is very interesting, but as a movie, I found it pretty dull and dragging, and Leonardo’s acting to be a little over the top. The movie was too focused on him. The end also dragged a lot.

Sin City came out a few weeks ago and we all went to go see that, even Justin showed up for it. The feelings about the movie were very mixed, and a few people said afterward that they were tempted to walk out. I can guess who they were, but I’m not saying. It was a pretty enjoyable movie. I didn’t think I’d ever like anything so bad in my life. The acting was horrible, the direction overdramatic, and the dialog was a linguophile’s nightmare. I was assaulted by insanely over the top analogies, such as, “I felt like a palsy victim trying to perform brain surgery with a baseball bat.” How beautiful is that?

There was this one scene that was particularly horrible with a group of hookers dressed in the funniest costumes standing up on the rooftops firing down onto a group of mobsters. It was so incredible; they did not even try to pretend like they were actually shooting the weapons. It was like watching four year olds gunfight.

There were a couple of great parts involving a couple of thugs who showed up during Bruce Willis’ part of the film. They spoke sort of like Shakespearean actors, and it was genuinely funny to listen to them banter. I really cannot stress enough how horribly bad the whole movie is, and how it is not in the least an example of good directing, or writing, or anything. All in all though, it was the fact that it was so horribly bad that I enjoyed it. It was the best comedy of the year. I laughed quite a bit. Mike said he couldn’t decide if he really liked it or if he really hated it. Later on he decided that he really hated it, but then, that’s Mike for you. I think that even amid all the junk in the movie, there were a few good scenes.

Maybe I just liked the movie a lot more because we got in for free, since Mike’s friend was working there. We also saw Robots recently, the movie with Robin Williams and a few other people in it. That was pretty enjoyable, it had heart, and it had some really good, really funny parts. I found myself to be the only one in the entire theater laughing at certain parts of the movie. It just warmed my heart to see Robin Williams in a back alley stealing shoes (feet). Brought back fond memories of the Fisher King. The acting was really decent, but the film had several parts where it suffered from low quality rendering. It was fuzzy at those parts and painful to the eyes, during the opening credits was the worst bit. Other parts were rendered so well, I could almost have been told it was claymation. It was really on the list of the most enjoyable movies I had seen this year.

Just last week, though, we went to see the movie Sahara. I do not know if you have seen any previews for it. I think it likely that you have seen one preview, even if you do not remember it. It is based on an adventure novel character and one of his adventures in the Sahara dessert, tracking down the Merrimac, I think. It was one of the two ironclads that were built during the civil war. I really loved this movie; there was tons of action, lots of great one-liners. It had Steve Zahn in it as one of the main characters, if you remember him from Happy Texas. “The light is green!”

Really, as soon as you can, you have to see this movie; it is at least as good as National Treasure is. Be warned, it is also at least as cheesy. But I do like cheese, in the right quantities. This is another one that just about everyone went to go see, before we had a grill the next day.

I saw Constantine, had to look up the old letter to see if I had seen it, or not when I wrote you last. I probably saw it the weekend right afterwards. It was very, very cool. In the same vein as Sahara, you did not necessarily want to think about everything that you were watching, but it was lots of great fun, and action, with a twist of some horror just for shits and giggles. When you see it, stay for the ending credits, because a lot of people missed the last little bit that is tagged onto the end of the movie. It is not a wonderful addition to the experience, but it certainly is a nice touch and reward for people who watch the credits of a movie. Sometimes, I’ll do it just to learn the name of music from a film.

Those were the major releases over the past month, but coming up over the next thirty days or so we can look forward to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, and Episode III. They both look like they are going to be really good. The only thing that irritates me about Hitchhiker’s Guide is that it is like Zaphod’s second head is under his neck or something weird like that.

As far as Episode III is concerned, there is a lot of evidence that it is going to kick butt from beginning to end. First thing, we started downloading an episode at a time of the new cartoon from Cartoon Network of the Clone Wars. They were very cool, after that we went to Blockbuster and bought a copy of the DVD of the first season. It was the single best 69 minutes of Star Wars since Return of the Jedi. All in all, we have about 2 hours worth of cartoons.

Recent DVDs include Ghost Dog and Escape From L.A. Ghost dog was an incredible movie. Well, incredible may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it was indeed very cool. I highly recommend checking it out if you ever get the chance. It is about a hit man who lives by the samurai code and works for the Italian Mafia. Every time I think of the Mafia, I think of the game Mafia, which was a great game. Anyway, it has a sad ending, but an appropriate ending. Escape From LA was pretty much just vapid. It was fun in a way, but not in the same way that Sahara was thoughtlessly fun. I guess even brain dead movies have come a long way in their time. I also got a copy of Hook, which we all watched at the last grill I threw.

The Clone Wars takes place right after the second movie, and has some really awesome action sequences. In fact, it is almost all action sequences. It has both Yoda and Mace Windu kicking butt, and is full of wonderful character development scenes between Obi Wan, and Anakin. It is actually very interesting, you wont see Anakin actually become a Jedi Knight, as that happens in the cartoon between Episode II and Episode III during the second season. It is an absolute must watch. Before Episode III comes out if at all possible. We were in for an extra treat because the DVD came with a playable demo of the Xbox version of Republic Commando.

After playing it, George immediately went out and bought the game. I thought it was just okay, and I had several other games up my sleeve to finish before I even gave it a shot. Actually, the sad thing is that I am replaying Doom 3 right now, and I am not even interested in buying the expansion pack that just came out. The amount of RAM I bought right before you left actually got my machine up to playing Doom 3 on Ultra High settings at 1600x1200. I had always suspected my RAM was the biggest bottleneck on my system at the time, now it is confirmed.

Also, speaking of Doom 3, the movie comes out October 21st, and The Rock will be playing the generic Doom marine. Wow, this movie is going to be really bad. I think it will be amazing to see just exactly how bad it gets. As has been said before, the movie only needed two things to qualify as Doom, to take place on Mars, and to involve demons invading. They already fail on both counts, as they have said it will take place on a bizarrely distant planet and will involve mutants. I believe I have mentioned this before.

Really big news, the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 2 will be revealed on the 16th, and Microsoft at least will be showing off the Xbox 2 on MTV before they show it off anywhere else. Wow, what a waste of money. That’s a big negative, big, big negative for the Xbox 2. I mean, I will read about it the next day, but there is no way I am going to watch MTV just to see that. I avoid that channel on principle now. Besides, I would bet money that the people who do watch it will be treated to about 3 minutes tops of actual relevant Xbox footage, and twenty seven to fifty seven minutes, depending on whether it is thirty minutes or an hour, of xTreme footage of teenagers having lots of fun and drinking, or whatever they do on MTV now.

Sony had originally cancelled their pre-E3 showing of the Playstation 3, but when Microsoft announced they were showing on the 16th, Sony popped out and said they would be showing off 3 hours earlier. They are doing this, just for the shits and giggles of being first. How nice of them.

If you did not already know that we were waiting for Conker: Live and Reloaded for the Xbox, well, you do now. It also comes with a nice treat, though. Rare is updating the original, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, an extremely funny platformer, with Xbox quality graphics and releasing it for free with Conker: Live and Reloaded. Jade Empire is the game I’m waiting hardcore for, right at this very moment. I have already bought it from and it was just shipped yesterday, so I should have it by the beginning of next week or something. It is such a pain in the ass to wait for something that I know I can walk into any store and pick up right now.

I have heard from reviews that it is shorter than the average RPG, and that it is not up to Bioware standards, but that it is still really good. I am very hard up to play it and then sell my Xbox, because if it doesn’t just make my Xbox totally worth owning, then there is not anything that does. Even if Fable were worth keeping my Xbox for, it is coming out for the PC now. Ninja Gaiden is the only thing that seems to be remotely worth it. However, I have played that to death, and I do not plan on getting Xbox-live just so that I can download the expansion packs for it.

On the PC, Call of Cthulhu has been pushed back again, along with STALKER: Shadows of Chernobyl. The way those are looking, you might very well be back home from the army permanently before they hit store shelves. I mean, how long has Dark Corners of the Earth been delayed? It has been at least three years so far; I do not see what is stopping them for going for the record of another three. Okay, that is a bit extreme, you and I both already know that as long as Duke Nukem is around, no game will ever beat it for the prize of longest delayed. I’d almost like to see Duke Nukem Forever come out just for the hell of it.

The longer the game is delayed over time, the less likely it is to be worth the wait, as eventually a point is reached where simply too much time for any game to be worth waiting for is breached. A couple of other games are actually coming out very soon that intrigue me. One is called Psychonauts, which is basically a platformer with and adventure game styled story. It will be kind of like Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, only good and without the annoying mini games.

The other is Area 51, which you might have seen a preview for; it looks to have been heavily inspired by Half Life, even though its heritage is from the old arcade shooter, Area 51. I have seen several videos for it, and it is looking like tons of fun; it just shipped to the factory today, and should be here in a couple of weeks. I always love hearing when a game has gone golden.

Midway's infectious shooter conspires for its April 25 release on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
The truth is almost out there. Midway today announced that Area 51 for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 has gone gold and will be arriving on store shelves April 25. The first-person shooter with sci-fi flavor was developed by Midway's Austin studio, the team that brought The Hobbit to multiple platforms back in late 2003.
Based on the high-security military facility of the same name, Area 51 throws gamers into a potential global crisis. A distress signal from the top secret institution warns the US Army of a viral outbreak, forcing the government to send in the hazardous materials division of the Special Forces to sort things out. As Ethan Cole, leader of the deployed squad, gamers will discover a mind-controlling parasite, an underground alien colony, and enough conspiracies to astonish even the most backwoods yahoo.
Cole will be outfitted with standard issue ammunition at the onset of the game but will eventually have access to alien artillery and some psionic powers to blast infected Area 51 employees and some not-too-friendly ETs.
Midway even signed on some Hollywood voice talent to bring the game's characters to life. David Duchovny, The X-Files' Fox Mulder, exchanges his truth-hunting snooping for high-grade firearms as Ethan Cole. Powers Booth, most recently featured in Sin City and HBO's Deadwood, will voice Major Bridges. Rounding out the cast is goth-rocker Marilyn Manson, appropriately cast as Edgar, an alien who befriends Cole.
A PC version of Area 51 is also in the works, but Midway made no mention of it in its statement today. The PC version is scheduled to ship alongside the console versions.
Area 51 is rated "M" for Mature and retails for $49.99. To uncover more of Area 51's truths, check out GameSpot's previous coverage, including a recent preview of the game.

Well, that should be pretty cool, and I cannot wait to give it a try. Other than that, there is not much news on the gaming front, except that I beat Freedom Force, finally after owning it for years, and its sequel, Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich. I played through the first because I bought the second. Fortunately, I did not experience another Baldur’s Gate tragedy in which the first game was totally inconsequential.

I even wrote a review, which I will print out along with this letter and my novel, anything to give you a little more reading material. George also bought a copy of Evil Genius. As it happens, this is a VERY cool game. It is very much like a version of Dungeon Keeper that totally rocks even harder in every conceivable way, except for the music. But then, it never really had much of a chance considering the music from the original Dungeon Keeper was so incredibly awesome.

I really could go on for pages and pages about just games, but that would get pretty boring, and if it didn’t, that would mean you are as pathetic as I am. Besides, if I keep talking about them, I’ll forget about all of the other extremely cool things that have happened this month.

Where to start... Okay... well, on the Friday that we were leaving to go camping after I got up at 6 am and had a TON of work at work. Something like 6 samples that I had to run tests on of the nastiest stuff I have ever worked with came in, and I was insanely busy before I could leave work early, I had arranged to work the morning shift that day. Although, I think that if I hadn’t I would have had to test all 6 samples, because normally, Larry doesn’t do squat if he collects the samples in the morning. As it is, I was able to leave him 3.

I got home at 1...I called George and he said he couldn't come over for another hour... he didn't get over till 3:30 because he was fixing Jennifer's computer.... Man am I lucky she couldn’t come, because then I wouldn’t have had a tent at all... Turns out George totally forgot to bring a tent for me, not that he had any more after he promised his other one away to someone else. So I had to share with George, no biggie, I think I would have thrown a fit if he had brought Jennifer along and tried to just make me sleep in the van...

So, George showed up late, took me to AutoZone to buy a starter for my truck then to NTB to get all the repairs going to get done over the weekend. Then we go to George's house to get equipment, then to mine, I forgot my peppers to cook for my chicken, but that ended up not mattering, as you'll see later. Then we hit the grocery store where I bought a few peppers to replace it with, then we showed up at Marcia's house at 5:45… about an hour late, or so. After that we got up and left.

I had fun on the drive... Mike was grumpy but me and George had fun, we listened to some insane ultra conservative talk radio, Michael Savage... the guy is funny, it's like he has tourette's the way he suddenly starts yelling out the words "liberal nazis" and "rats, you vermin, you less than human scum!"

Anyway, after we lost that station we switched to some good music and I napped... I needed it... So after we got there, Mike was bitching about how we were really annoying, and everyone was setting up their tent and Marcia told ME that I wasn't on anyone's happy list because George and I were late. I felt like I should have just stayed home right at that moment, and left those jerks to enjoy their weekend. I had my truck to worry about not working and spending about 150$ to get running by Monday. I bit my tongue and didn't say anything though.

Everyone set up their tents and things got better after we started playing a fun game with a little electronic hot potato type thing where you have to get people to say the word it tells you before you can pass it off. Then, we all went to bed kind of early after we played some card games and chatted for a bit. It was pretty cold and uncomfy, but Marcia and Kayla loaned me a sheet and a blanket and that helped a lot. The next morning I didn't get up till 11, and the first thing we did was split up, some of us went for a walk and some of us went to the grocery store to pick up the last couple of things we needed, an O ring for George’s propane stove, and some charcoal to cook with.

Heather prepped her kabobs before we left and I made my orange sauce when we got back and played hackey sack with Mike and Jackson and a friend of Marcia's who had stopped by to hang out with us on Saturday who left fairly early on. The weather started out really nice, but by 5 we started hearing thunder in the distance.

Turns out Heather didn't know how to use the grill very well and asked me to do the actual grilling of her kabobs, and I was fine with that, I just love cooking, so I start with those and everyone loves them, they have kick and all kinds of peppers, and onions and everything. They're just really good kabobs.

By the time they’re finishing, George is doing his salmon, but he can never get his coals to start up right, and I'm starting my chicken, but it's starting to rain and everyone but George and I run into Jackson and Marcia's tent.

Well, the worst of the rain was about 30 minutes; George and I weathered it out under the small pavilion we set up the evening before. I never even flinch at the thought of leaving my orange chicken to run and hide from the rain in the tent, George is in his poncho propping up the pole to the pavilion, telling me he hopes it holds and isn't blown away and rain is coming in at an angle.

George's salmon didn't come out well and the peppers never roasted, but I weathered the storm beneath the pavilion with the coolers by my side hunched over the mini grill as I carefully prepared each individual piece of chicken and set it aside in the tin foil just about the time that Heather, Mike, and Kayla left Jackson and Marcia’s tent and walked out to hang with George and I.

They liked the chicken even though I couldn’t finish it and serve it right, it had perfect grill lines all across every piece and a wonderful orange flavor and even Jackson and Marcia came out to hang with us. We talked and we cleared off and sat on the coolers and we sang songs as the ground got muddy and soaked our feet, we roasted marshmallows and made s'mores. Stayed up till midnight talking and sharing stories too.

It was great, but by the time to go to sleep it was just to wet and muddy for me to get to sleep, so when everyone else was gone I used a pot for a foot rest for my bare feet and sat my socks on top of the propane lantern to heat them dry and pressed my shoes on it and basically just sat there barefoot with my pants rolled up like a big ol' Huck fin.

After that, I finally got some rest, though I didn't sleep a wink.

I got up at 7 in the morning to use the restroom and got back and laid back down as things started to warm up and George, the boy scout, was still sleeping but I hear him grumble and so I asked if it was time to rise and shine and make pancakes.

He said something that made it pretty clear that it wasn't.

He's a boy scout, so he was up long before me, at 10 in the morning. I can't even imagine waking up that early, but then, he was a boy scout.

At 11 I finally got up and by that time he was trying to make pancakes, but he had forgotten to oil the pan, or I don't know what and they were sticking. I tried my hand at it, oil didn't help at all but then I put a pad of butter in the pan and the pancakes started coming out GREAT. But everyone was already mostly full by that point. I made all the pancakes, and then there was lots of batter left so I asked if I should just make them all and keep them, or what.

Someone said, use it all at once and make a giant pancake cake.

Being the impressionable youth that I am, I did. Covered 97% of the skillet.

It was clear no one thought I would be able to flip such a pancake of the gods. Even I was doubtful, but after working it clear of the skillet, and with all gathered around to watch me fail I made the flip perfectly without even folding the cake. After the pancake was done, I put it onto one of those paper plates, and it was just exactly the right size.

I poured honey and put some butter onto it, then folded it into a pancake burrito in order to eat it. After that we spent the rest of the day cleaning up trash and packing before heading home.

I spent most of that night just relaxing in front of the computer with the Internet out, and just watching TV and reading Huck Finn for school. And that morning before work I got my truck from NTB with the new starter, and after the oil change it ran better than it had since I changed the transmission. And that, my friend, was one insane weekend.

As far as my grilling goes, I have gotten much, much better. I have been drifting quite a bit as far as my cooking skill goes, but that little competition pushed me to really start trying new things, and now I can really put out some food fast, instead of just making the same stuff all the time. I think I might genuinely be switching from normal charcoal to hardwood charcoal with wood chips. They’re easier to add more on top, they light faster, they don’t burn as long, but they burn more controlled, and I can always add wood chips whenever I need to, in order to add flavor with smoke.

When I talked about that orange chicken recipe, I worked on that solid for a week, cooking way more than I normally do, and having George there taste testing with me, and it does not include all of the work that went into recipes that did not make the cut. It really is an awesome recipe; you HAVE to try it when you get back down. I have also been spending a lot of time working on my chicken wings. I have also done quite a few recipes that are 100% new. Fresh roast garlic is one. I take an entire bulb of garlic, shell it and break it up, still keeping it together, then putting it in the middle of some aluminum foil before drizzling olive oil on top of it and sprinkling it with rosemary or even habanero too if I want to make it spicy, then wrapping it up and grilling it just like roast corn.

It end up coming out extremely soft, so soft that if you didn’t split it up, you would mash it out of its casing while you tried to separate the individual pieces from each other at the base.

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