Wednesday, 22 April 2015

I Choose To Stand Playlist

Hey readers, you might have noticed that I have added a new feature to the blog: a dedicated Spotify playlist!* My last post about music sort of inspired me to do this (that, and I listen to way too much of the Cracked podcast). I'm planning on adding 1 or 2 new songs per week, depending on what I'm listening to at the time... or, if I'm in a bit of a dry spell, I'll throw in some long-time favourites. Hopefully it'll act as a good catalyst to at least make a post on a fairly regular basis, if only to explain my newest additions.

With that said, I think I'll definitely make it a custom to explain my choices. For my first song, I wanted to do "Run" by Project 86... but unfortunately, their self-titled album it was the only one not on Spotify, much to my irritation. If you have read the blog before, you might know that the blog's name comes from the lyrics to that song (even though the line itself is never even uttered in the actual recording, oddly enough). With Spotify dropping the ball though (or, more likely, BEC Recordings), I figured I'd just go with another favourite P86 song instead to make up for it. I ended up going with my current favourite, "P.S." It's an extremely dark and somewhat experimental song that exemplifies their sound on Drawing Black Lines (IMHO, easily their best album). I'm kind of sad that P86 have moved further away from this sort of dark content with each successive album, but that's more of a personal gripe. Rumour has it that the title stand for "Porn Song" or "Porn Sucks", and deals with pornography addiction and/or abuse (the Japanese section apparently is largely made up of the girl begging someone to stop hurting her). Anyway... I don't know what else to say about it. It's an awesomely dark song, I love it.

Song number two is one that I have been really getting into recently, "Escape from Midwich Valley" by Carpenter Brut. I heard it through the Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number soundtrack, but it apparently also appears on the Carpenter Brut EP I and Trilogy albums. In any case, this is the sort of electronic music that I'm really digging at the moment: slow and steady build-up before it just lets loose. I haven't finished Hotline Miami 2 yet, but for some reason this is really striking me as a fantastic end credits track for that sort of screwed up story, and am hoping that I end up predicting this one correctly. I'll have to check out Trilogy on Spotify sometime soon to see if Carpenter Brut's stuff is all this enjoyable.

And finally, for my third song I felt like I was basically honour-bound to include my favourite song in the initial batch for the playlist. As a result, we close out with Anberlin's "(*Fin)". Ever since I first heard this song, about 7 or 8 years ago now, this song has been a top 3 contender for all-time favourite. For a while there I would have put "November Rain" ahead of it, but in the last couple years, "(*Fin)" has come ahead as the clear favourite for me. The song is just fantastic from top to bottom, building and building upon itself until you don't think it can get any more epic. Children's choirs are hit-or-miss in rock songs, but they really help here. The stand-out section of the song though is the last few verses where Stephen Christian just belts out full of emotion. As if this section wasn't amazing enough, it gets even more impressive when you discover that he freaking improvised that whole section on the spot. Holy crap.

Lyrically, the song really resonates with me as well. There's a few different, but related ways you can take it, but in a nutshell it is dealing with people of faith who think they're doing good but are actually causing harm and turning people away with their actions (eloquently expressed as being "the patron saints of lost causes"). It's just such an incredible song from top to bottom that I just had to get it out there as soon as I could.

I'm also extremely bummed that I'm never going to get to hear this song live now. Anberlin went on a farewell tour last summer to end their career on a high note. I was going to see Anberlin's last Canadian show with my brother in November, but that was the day that the snowpocalyse hit. We were worried that the weather was going to keep us from making it to Toronto, but we succeeded despite the odds... and then discovered that the band was trapped under 2 meters of snow in Buffalo. Sad times all-round...

Anyway, thanks for reading. I'm already trying to figure out how to narrow down the songs I want to post next, so hopefully this will get me posting more!

*On the off chance that you didn't notice, it's on the right sidebar below the post archive.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Back From the Dead 2: Electric Boogaloo

I'd like to mention a couple other rather major changes that have happened over the last year that I neglected to mention in the previous post, but that I feel are worth mentioning. I was originally going to make this a small post, but it kind of ran away on me so I guess this is what you get for now. Enjoy it.


First of all, my music tastes have been refined a bit more. Work has allowed me to truly discover the joys of internet radio - no longer am I stuck choosing to listen to 3 classic rock stations, 5 pop stations or 1 country station. Now, I can finally listen to my actual interests, namely metal. I really should have sought out internet radio long before now, but... well, eh, whatever. Some of the bands this has introduced me to include A Feast for Kings (I really hope they can recover after the tragic death of their lead singer, because their debut EP was incredible), Impending Doom (if you have a single brutal bone in your body, you owe it to yourself to check out There Will Be Violence, Baptized in Filth and Death Will Reign), Sleeping Romance (kind of like Evanescence, but with more metal and far less angst) and My Heart to Fear (I'm only starting to get into them, but if nothing else then check out "The Sneaking Chair").

My tastes have also started to shift slightly towards electronic music. This is largely thanks to the Hotline Miami games and John Wick, which have showed me that shooting people looks really freaking cool when you do it to a backdrop of electronic music. It's not a genre that I'm a huge fan of still, but I can see that potentially changing in the future as I dabble with it. I have already used some of this influence for a Stormrunners compilation video - normally I'd do a straight-up hard rock or metal song to back it, but this time I decided to use an electronic-metal remix of Love & Death's "Paralyzed" that I realized would be awesome for the task. I'm pretty impressed with the result, so we'll see where this goes in the future. I was also working on an electronic album a couple years ago that I shelved, but I was actually listening to it again the other day and quite liked what I heard still. This new-found interest might make that album see the light of day after all... ;)


Oh, and on the subject of music, I'd feel awful if I forgot to mention P.O.D.'s The SoCal Sessions. I first saw them advertising this thing as a crowdfunded effort on PledgeMusic. As I have said before, they have been one of my favourite bands for more than a decade now, but I was hesitant about this one: an all-acoustic album where they cover some of their older songs. I'll be honest, I wasn't entirely on-board with this when I heard about it. For one thing, they already kind of did this with a live album called the Rhapsody Sessions, which was one of their more boring efforts IMHO. Furthermore, they had already tried a more acoustic sound on When Angels & Serpents Dance, which was a decent album, but felt like they completely ditched their heavy sound to the album's detriment. The fact that Murdered Love went back to their heavy sound suggested to me that the band was trying to get back to their roots rather than following deviations. So basically, these potential issues were making me hesitant, but I pledged and more or less forgot about the album for months. However, I got a package in the mail a few weeks ago which surprised me, until I opened it and saw some really evocative album art with P.O.D.: The SoCal Sessions emblazoned upon it. I threw it in my computer and my worries about it being a lazy cash grab were blown away from the first song. This album is actually, to my great surprise, really good. Sonny nails it on the vocals, the song selection is excellent and very diverse, and some songs are actually improved by the acoustic transition. In particular, "Panic & Run" has to be one of my least favourite P.O.D. songs, but the acoustic transition takes it from an unfocused, too-fast hard rock song to an apocalyptic reggae track. The band's reggae influences get played up even more, which is awesome as far as I'm concerned. In fact, the only track I'm not keen on is "Will You", but that's mainly because it is the only one that sounds like a "generic" acoustic version of a heavier song. Luckily, the other tracks are adapted far more interestingly.

Anyway, enough about music that probably only I care about, and onto something else that only I care about: theology (I'll keep this one brief, I swear... if you can't stand religious talk though, then skip ahead two paragraphs)! I think I have mentioned on the blog before that I am a Christian and grew up in a rather conservative, Evangelical family. However, around 6 or 7 years ago I began to feel paralyzed in my faith and was having trouble reconciling what I believed, what I had been taught, and the increasingly apparent politics of the Evangelical church. Things got worse when I went off to university as the Christian group I was with was pushing on me hard to evangelize to anyone I got a chance to. There was one particular question they were also pushing hard on me to answer their "spiritual conversation starter", but I could not come up with an adequate answer: "what is it that you crave?" Hell, I still can't come up with the sort of fundamental answer they're looking for... knowledge? Certainty maybe? Ugh, thinking about that again is really bugging me.

In any case, the Evangelical monopoly on what it is to be "Christian" has been really bothering me, someone who is rather liberal and who strives to be an intellectual. However, one of my best friends (who happens to be studying for military chaplaincy) introduced me to Progressivism through Benjamin L. Corey's blog, Formerly Fundie. I have to say, this has really helped turn me around and I feel like I'm actually growing and maturing thanks to my faith once again. I promised to keep this brief, so I'll just summarize this really quickly: if you grew up in the church, then chances are that you're going to start to question and start to fall away before you hit twenty. If your teachings were anything like mine, then Evangelicalism will make you feel like you either have to believe the way that they want you to believe or you're a heretic. They'll drill their ideology in you and make you feel ashamed (not necessarily for malicious reasons either, but just because religion has been designed this way to be self-perpetuating). If nothing else, just know that there are other understandings which still hold onto the core beliefs and which have just as much (if not more) theological basis than the mainstream church.

Anyway, thanks to Benjamin L. Corey, I have also discovered the joy of podcasts. As much as I'm loving internet radio, it can get a bit stale when they play the same songs on rotation every day. So I started listening to Corey's That God Show while I worked, and it got me hooked. Listening to podcasts basically feels like learning at work, and keeps it from getting too repetitive. In addition to That God Show, I have been listening to The Cracked Podcast, Unpopular Opinion, Dead Things, Quality Control and Hello Internet. If you get the opportunity to listen at work, have long drives, or just have a fair bit of downtime, I'd recommend checking them out. :)

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Back from the Dead

So... obviously it's been more than a couple weeks. Working 8 to 4 every weekday and only getting weekends off leaves me with surprisingly less time than I was expecting, especially when I have to juggle blogging with novel writing, gaming, painting and social life.

Blogging on a schedule (when it is basically being done for free) was becoming a bit of a chore - especially when I worked on retrospectives. You're looking at setting aside a few hours a week to write, which obviously cuts into other hobbies significantly (I was basically setting aside my novel in order to update the blog on a weekly basis, while juggling all my other interests). Initially, I started this blog as something I could throw on a resume, in hopes of landing some job in a writing field. However, when I landed a job that wasn't Tim fething Hortons, the priority suddenly fell off. I'd prefer for blogging to be a fun hobby rather than an obligation. I know I'm making excuses here, but I figure that the record should be set straight on why I went on hiatus for so long.

So what has been going on in the last year? Well, for starters, my the novel is progressing fairly well (over 65k words so far, so probably around half way through the first draft), although my writing speed makes George R.R. Martin look like Sonic the Hedgehog. I got a PS4 and a new computer, which has opened up lots of new opportunities in regards to video and photo editing (not to mention it's the first time I've really been able to take PC gaming seriously). I also started a small Sisters of Battle army which is pretty awesome, I'll see about posting pictures at some point. Oh and I placed 6th and 2nd in two local Warhammer 40k tournaments, which was great, and actually ended up winning best sportsman at one of them as well! I have also done some paintballing as the season has started, but I will probably get in less this year for a number of reasons. First of all, I'm saving up for a car for my 25th birthday. Secondly, it seems like everyone is getting married, so my time (and money) is already being spoken for this summer in regards to that.

As for the blog though... I probably won't be posting all that often still... sorry to get anyone's hopes up. I've been super-tempted to make a post for the past few months, but never actually got around to doing so. I imagine I will continue to make infrequent updates, but I can't see myself doing weekly posts like I used to. We'll see if that means that the retrospectives series' are totally dead in the water now, but I'd at least like to finish the Shreks someday. In any case though, I'd like to post on occasion when I have something on my mind and then see where we go from there. In any case, I've got a couple topics I'd like to discuss in the future so hopefully that gets us started again. :)

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

+++WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM+++

Okay, obviously this isn't Shrek 2. That'll come at some point in the near future I'm sure, but right now... well, it took me some time to come to this conclusion, but I think it's time for a short hiatus from the blog. Between work, hobbies and other responsibilities lately, I'm finding it hard to make time to put out anything more than a brief blog post. So, rather than put out a half-assed Retrospective like I was planning on doing (and did, in my opinion, last week), I'm going to take a much-needed break. I've been updating this blog weekly for the past year and a half without fail, but my readership has dropped from ~300 per day to about 10% of that on a good day. As a result, I doubt anyone's going to be screaming in outrage at this announcement.

Now I want to be sure to emphasize that this is not the end of the blog - I'll be continuing the Shrek Retrospective in the next couple weeks I imagine (if only because I want to bitch about Shrek the Third). For now though, I just don't want to go in half-heartedly.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Retrospective: Shrek (2001)

Welcome back good readers as we begin a new retrospectives series! The franchise that we're going to be focusing on for the next few weeks is the Shrek series (for the record though, I'm not including the holiday specials and countless short films on the DVDs in this analysis, otherwise I'd be at this for months). The franchise has been incredibly successful, raking in over $3.5 billion in just a decade and being popular among kids and adults alike. In this entry, we're going to cover the film which started it all - 2001's Shrek.

A bit of an odd poster design, but I like it (maybe I'm just nostalgic for it though).

In 1990, William Steig published a children's book called Shrek!, about an ogre who travels away from home and finds another ogre just as ugly as he is (and falls in love with her of course). It's a gross and irreverent story, with very little in the way of plot. However, Steven Spielberg saw merit in the premise and bought the rights for the story prior to founding DreamWorks. He was initially planning to turn it into a traditionally animated film which hewed closely to the book, starring Bill Murray as Shrek and Steve Martin as Donkey. After the success of Toy Story, the film was reconstituted as a motion captured animation. However, the results were considered unsatisfactory, so it was once again restarted as a CGI animation. First time director Andrew Adamson was hired to co-direct alongside Kelly Asbury - however, Asbury dropped out after a year and story artist Vicky Jenson took over instead. Adamson actually wanted the film to appeal more to adults than the final film did, putting in more sexual jokes and Guns N' Roses music (both ideas which caused a clash with the studio executives).


Initially, Chris Farley was cast to play Shrek, and recorded most of his dialogue. However, he died in 1997 before the film was completed. As a result, Mike Myers was cast to replace him. Myers actually recorded all of his dialogue twice, replacing it all of his original lines with the iconic Scottish accent that we hear in the final film. The process cost the film an additional $4 million, but was considered such an improvement that Spielberg himself thanked Myers for the change. The character also was better understood after the change and more comedy bits were added as the creators gained a better handle on the film. Janeane Garofalo was initially cast as Princess Fiona, but was unceremoniously fired and replaced by Cameron Diaz. Eddie Murphy was cast as Donkey, who was actually modelled after a real donkey named Pericles.

...am I the only one who doesn't see the resemblance?

The plot of Shrek is quite different than the book it is based on. For one thing, in Shrek!, the ogre is so ugly that he actually smites donkey with his ugliness. In the film, Shrek is a grumpy ogre whose swamp becomes a dumping ground for fairy tale creatures by Lord Farquaad, who is trying to build the "perfect kingdom". Farquaad declares he'll give Shrek his swamp back if he rescues the perfect princess, Fiona, from her dragon guarded tower. Together Shrek and his annoying talking sidekick, Donkey, have to rescue the princess, but discover that there's more to her (and themselves) than meets the eye...

I probably don't need to tell you the plot to Shrek because let's be honest - everyone has seen it. Even the last man on earth can quote it word for word (and you were doing it too alongside him). The plot is a relatively straight-forward fairy tale/hero's journey, but the expectations are inverted and played with. Instead of the noble king vanquishing the terrifying monster to get the princess, the monster is the hero and the king is the villain. Furthermore, the princess is a monster as well. This simplistic plot makes the film appealing enough for children, but the inversions keep it fresh and interesting enough for adults as well. The inversions also help to make the film very funny. The humour in the film is a perfect mix of satire, references, gross-out humour and clever jokes, often springing from the excellent chemistry between the lead characters. There are also lots of pointless little moments in the film, such as the Robin Hood attack, which could have come across as little more than filler. However, these almost all end up being hilarious and highlights of the film (although the "muffin man" bit is the annoying exception). Some of the jokes are more adult-oriented as well, although there is plenty of content to entertain both children and adults. In general, the film is just plain funny and nearly every joke hits its mark.


As for the characters, all of them are a lot of fun. The performances are exceptional and it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the roles. Mike Myers is great as Shrek, making us genuinely care about such a grumpy individual. Donkey could easily have been annoying as shit, but Eddie Murphy does a good job of keeping him funny throughout. Cameron Diaz also adds a lot to Princess Fiona, a role which could have easily been dangerously close to the "generic damsel in distress" if the wrong actress was cast. John Lithgow's Lord Farquaad is also an interesting role - on the one hand, he's an effective villain, but on the other hand he's hilariously diminutive and unthreatening. Farquaad strikes a very delicate balance as a comedic villain, and in my opinion that balance is achieved perfectly. The minor supporting cast also add a few laughs, such as Pinocchio, the three blind mice and the Gingerbread Man.

I'm also pleased to see that the animation still holds up very well almost 13 years after the film's release. Shrek isn't quite as detailed or flashy as many of the CGI animated films which have succeeded it, but the characters' movements are still top-notch and all of the scenes are rendered very impressively. I was watching the film with a critical eye towards the animation in particular to see if I could find any problems, but I ended up being more impressed by the little details, such as bent grass, Donkey's fur, Shrek's subtle facial details, etc. Shrek could be released today and still easily achieve nearly as much acclaim as it did in 2001.


If there's a weak point in the film, I'd say that the biggest problem is probably Donkey and Dragon's relationship. It makes for some funny moments initially, but it really seems to be done for little more than plot convenience. Donkey's going to die? Make the dragon fall in love with him! Need to get to the wedding fast? Take the dragon! Lord Farquaad's about to kill Shrek and Fiona? Make the dragon eat him! Dragon just deflates some of the more interesting ways the plot could have gone for the sake of convenience, and makes for some more awkward problems later on down the line... All things said and done though, Shrek is an awesome movie. Everyone loves it, from all ages. I remember going to my friends' birthday 11th party and seeing the film with absolutely no prior knowledge of the film, and loving it. Seriously, if you haven't seen Shrek yet then you must have been living in a Fallout vault or something.

8/10

Be sure to come back soon for the second part of this retrospective series, Shrek 2!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Quick Fix: Paintball Videos!

As I implied in last week's blog post, I definitely was quite busy so that next retrospective series is going to begin on the 22nd. However, in the meantime, you can enjoy some PRZ Fight for Asylum 3 footage and a recap!

Yes, this actually happened.

Myself and 3 other Stormrunners attended the event in Picton, Ontario. It was absolutely perfect paintballing weather - very little wind, sunny weather, not humid, not too wet and not too hot either. We played on Josh Samure's team, which featured some pretty major teams such as Citrus Connection and the Devil Dogs (humourously, the Stormrunners got a shout out as a fellow TechPB team, even though we aren't... but hey, I'm not going to complain about the complement). There were about 650 people playing which made for a very exciting event.

...although this guy was easily the coolest of them all.

My only complaint on the day was that the other team got absolutely smoked. They had a poor initial spawn point and were too disorganized at the beginning - they didn't even leave their spawn point for about a minute after the break and none of their forces were sent to their alternative spawn points (a major issue because it would have delayed our reinforcements as we mopped up their troops, allowing their forces to take up better positions). The organizers did their best to even it up a bit, including a reinsertion and a ton of "air strikes" to clear our forces out, but it was definitely a one-sided day.


On the plus side, the Stormrunners did fantastic. The Stormrunners had a confirmed 116 kills and only 17 deaths, which is just a mind-bogglingly high number. Most of those kills were between two of our members, but I myself got 12 kills and only 1 death - not too shabby if I do say so myself. Images and videos are still trickling in, so if you're interested then keep an eye on The Stormrunners' Facebook page and our Youtube playlist. If you want to play with us at some point, we are going to be attending Commando Paintball's D-Day Big Game on June 14th - if you are, leave a comment and feel free to say hi. Maybe you'll get to be in our next video!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Quick Fix: Paintball News and Retrospectives

Hey good readers, I've got an exciting week ahead of me! On the 12th, I'm going to be kicking off the paintball season by attending PRZ's Fight for the Asylum once again. It's a world-class paintball field and I'm extremely excited to get out and capture plenty of footage of the action. I expect that by my next blog post, there will be lots of new footage of the event on my Youtube channel, so be sure to check it out by then. I've been stoked for this event for the last few weeks, upgrading and testing out my marker loadout in preparation - seriously, every time I pre-register for a paintball event, it's like a mini Christmas to me (with the carols being pump-up rock and metal).

Commando Paintball's D-Day event has also been recently announced as being on June 14th. The Stormrunners have attended D-Day since 2011, so this will make it our 4th attendance at the event. Most of the guys are still in school and so will be missing out on Fight for the Asylum, but by June 14th they should be all good to attend - D-Day tends to be one of our best events in regards to turnouts, so I'm excited to hang out with the team and kick some ass. It also tends to be my most popular event in terms of video views, with one of last year's videos just shy of 10,000 views on Youtube (and still growing). You can be sure I'll be attending D-Day this year and getting even more quality footage for everyone to enjoy.


Also, I'm considering upgrading my helmet cam from the Contour HD to a Contour+2. I've got a few reasons for this, so I just want to put them out there. First of all, my Contour HD is in rough shape - a lot of the vital bits which keep the camera's battery in the unit are broken. It's still in working order, but there's only a couple pieces actually keeping it all together, so I'm expecting this to be my last season with the camera anyway (for the record, I bought it used for a half decent price and have been very happy with the camera in all my time with it). Also, my Youtube channel is overwhelmingly paintball-related, so I think I should focus my efforts on improving that part of the channel and making it the best it can be. At present, I can only shoot in 720p (well, I technically can shoot in 1080p, but the field of view is too restricted for my liking). This was fine on my laptop, but now that I have a new computer, I can edit 1080p and 60fps footage with ease. Luckily, the Contour+2 has a much wider FOV for 1080p footage, and I think the video quality is simply better anyway, making it a very attractive option for me. The bells and whistles are also just plain cool: smart phone integration, GPS tracking, plug-in microphones, etc. Anyway, there's no way in hell I'll have one by Fight for the Asylum, but I hope to have saved up enough to make the purchase by D-Day - fingers crossed!

In other news, I'm going to start the next Retrospective series within the next couple weeks. I might be too busy this week to get it done, but if so then it will be posted by the 22nd at the latest. In trying to keep things fresh, it's a very different sort of franchise compared to all the (generally horrible) action/horror/thriller series I've covered thus far. I'm sure you'll like it (and have probably seen at least two of the films in the franchise as well)!