Saturday, September 17, 2011


Years and years ago I read comics, but I fell out of it because I was cash strapped and it was hard to keep up with everything. With the reboot at DC, I figured now was as good a time as any to dip my toes and see what, if anything could catch my eye.

These past two weeks I've read:

American Vampire - #1 - #3
Detective Comics #1
Justice League #1
Ressurection Man #1
Secret Six #1 (2008)

I still have to read:

American Vampire #4-#5
Animal Man #1
Demon Knights #1
Green Arrow #1
Mister Terrific #1

And I've just ordered the first omnibus of Secret Six, which contains #1-#7 which was roughly the same price as buying the individual issues on their own and Mr. Murder is Dead. I hope to do a more detailed review of the comics I have read tomorrow, but in the mean time I want to do a quick review of Comixology, an online store where you can acquire digital copies of various DC Imprints - DC New 52 (for easy reference), DC Comics, DC Universe and Vertigo.

1. Ease of acquisition.
Due to the hoopla surrounding the DC reboot, it can be difficult to acquire some of the new 52 issues, and if you can find them, some stores are real asses and jacking up the price on them because of the demand. These are just purchase and download: it saves you the trouble of calling around or running around to no avail and you'll only pay the list price, which is nice!

2. The comics are really high res.
I have a 23" monitor and the artwork is simply gorgeous on these. The files are all high res and nicely fill up the screen without becoming blurry. It's a great way to read them!

3. Easy to use reader.
There's a simple little tutorial and you get the hang of it right quick.

4. You can access your comic wherever you have a connection.
There are readers for both the iOS and Droid platforms and you can access the PC/MAC version right through the store. Convenient!

5. You can support your local comic book store!
You can sign up through your local store and the store will get a percentage of the sale. It's likely not the same as what they'd get if they sold you the actual comic, but it's still nice to be able to support them. :)

1. The website can be a bit slow to load.
The comics all pop up as rather large thumbnails and the site isn't always the most responsible. I wish you could load as a list instead, it'd be quicker and easier to browse.

2. The website (at least in Firefox) seems to have issues closing out once the credit card processes. Mine seems to hang, but I'll get the e-mail confirmation that the payment went through and the comics will be there. Odd, and minorly annoying. I haven't tried it in IE yet.

3. You don't have a physical comic.
Reading on a monitor will never be the same as holding the comic book in your hand.

4. Although you can read it on a mobile device, it's not as accessible.
Unless you have an iPad, I don't know how viable it really is. You have to scroll panel to panel which I find distracting. There's an option to view the full page when you first turn to it and before you turn away from it, but it's not the same.

All in all, I'd say the service is probably best for getting the one-off comic to check it out. My local store offers a subscription service if you read 5 or more titles. If I decide to follow 5 series - and I may well might (I'm already at 4 on my list) I'll probably join my local stores subscription list to make life sane, but I can still see myself using this for the one off that I want to check out. I'd say this is a nice alternative to a brick and mortar store if you don't have ready access to one, but it just doesn't replace it - you don't get the physical copies, you don't get the benefit of the advice and recommendations of the staff, you don't get access to the comic community either - and it's them that will turn you on to titles you otherwise wouldn't have considered. Pretty much my entire list above has come about due to the recommendations of several people, and I have yet to be disappointed! At the end of it, I'd say this is a nice supplement to a store, but can't really replace it.

My grade: B

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I'm a fan of the Pirates franchise. I've always found it enjoyable - even number three, heck At World's End may actually be my favorite. When I heard that they were making number 4 sans Will and Elisabeth, I was kind of happy though, because I couldn't see how they'd fit in to the new film - not with him ferrying the souls of the dead and her doing...whatever.

As you'll see, I wound up missing them. Mild spoilers are below

Genre: Action-Adventure, Pirates, Comedy

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hours 17 minutes

The Review:
On the bright side, we have a more-or-less independent standing film where there are few characters that you need to know going in (Jack, Barbossa and Gibbs. A keen eye will recognize the Lt. Commander serving under Barbosa from Beckett's ship) so you're not tied down by the series' own mythology - a change from the previous sequels where knowledge of the previous film was all but mandatory.

The story here is serviceable: The Spaniards want to find the Fountain of Youth to destroy it. The Crown wants it presumably for the waters and/or because the Spaniards are going after it. Jack still wants it, kind of, but more or less seems preoccupied with other matters such as who is impersonating him in London and what happened to the Pearl. I like the Spaniards, and Barbossa's motivations. The rest is just kinda there and a bit more generic feeling that previous plots.

The series has always demanded a measure of suspension of disbelief, but there are moments - such as a flamethrower on the bow of the Queen Anne's Revenge - where it's impossible to muster it. Magic and the supernatural has always been part and parcel of the series (Angelica: I don't know if you believe in the supernatural. Jack: Oh, I've seen things.) but to quote the first movie, it strains credulity to think that Blackbeard could do what he does.

Speaking of the new characters - none of them really wowed me. Despite the menace of Blackbeard, I think Beckett a much more threatening villain. Angelica had her moments and was my favorite of the four, though I wouldn't be sad to not see her in Pirates 5 (though if you stay for the blurb after the credits you know that won't come to pass). As for the priest, he was bland, sanctimonious and had no reason to fall in love with the mermaid. In the movie promo they were making a big deal about how he stayed good while Will had strayed to become a pirate. Why were they bragging about this? Will Turner had some depth to him and some motivation in all three movies. At one point you think the priest might well be dead and I was disappointed to learn I was wrong. As for the mermaid, she was a pretty plot device and nothing more.

There were some good fight scenes (though by this point they've started to feel old hat) and some good one liners, but without question, the series is starting to feel stale. The movie was at its best when it was Barbossa and Sparrow quarreling but there wasn't enough of that for my taste. Plus, at some point their going to run out of plot contrivances to bring him back. They've been lucky so far with ones that have more or less worked well (the second film was so-so, this one actually worked well) but I get the feeling their luck is running is out.

Will you enjoy it?

If you can turn off your brain, it's a decent bit of fun (but don't start thinking, it'll fall apart). If you're a fan of the previous two movies, you may find it fun, but a bit lacking. If you ran out of patience with the series in the last film, it won't sway you back.

I'm a fan, but even I admit - it's time to pull the plug before the Black Pearl runs permanently ashore.

My Grade: C

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Restaurant: Cafe Firenze

After becoming a fan of Fabio on Top Chef and learning that one of his restaurants was relatively close to home, this place was added onto our "to try" place for quite some time.

For Mother's Day, mom had requested being taken out to lunch, so it seemed as good time as any to check it out.

Cuisine: Italian
Price: Moderate ($11-$30/person)
Ambiance: Casual/Dressy Casual

Aside from an absolutely gorgeous bar that you see as you walk in, the ambiance is very much what Americans would consider as "traditional" old-school Italian, with lots of dark woods and dark leather on the booths. The booths were a bit too deep for our preference - even with the pillows on them to help push you closer to the table. Noise level was good, the high ceilings helped keep it quiet, though I was there for a late Sunday lunch, so I can't speak to how loud it'd get during truly busy times.

They introduced an "Under 10" lunch menu that had a nice variety of lunch choices for under $10, but that (and much of the menu at large) was very much American-Italian. If your looking for food like Fabio cooked on Top Chef, you might be disappointed.

Our food was on the unexceptional side: my dad's soup had to be sent back for not being warm enough, the supposedly lemon-flavored chicken picatta didn't have much flavor to it (though it was moist), my sister found her wheat spaghetti (which was supposed to be a "light" lunch) to be heavy and my chicken Parmesan was nothing to write home about (if a bit dry). My mom and sister split what was supposed to be a limoncello cheesecake, but they said you really couldn't taste the limoncello and my flourless chocolate cake was good and rich - but reminded me of a fudge brownie recipe that I make in terms of taste and texture. In other words, everything was just good, not great.

Service was at a level to be expected for a restaurant of the price range: attentive and unobtrusive.

We did get to see Fabio walking around in a Jaws t-shirt and jeans before starting his day, which was a nice plus. That said, at $20/head I'd expected something a little more interesting than what we got.

Okay, but I wouldn't go out of my way to go there again.

My grade: B-

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Amusement Park: Six Flags Magic Mountain

I'm not a big amusement park gal. My parents were never really theme park aficionados so I never really was brought up to seek them out. My few trips to Magic Mountain bare that out - I've been 4 times my entire life, only twice as an adult that counts (once I was acting as a camp counselor and my charges refused to go on anything outside of Bugs Bunny world and the pirate ship) - including this trip. My friend had a coupon for $25 admission and I decided why not.
Official Description: 
Welcome to Six Flags Magic Mountain, a 260-acre park featuring world-class roller coasters and over 100 rides, games and attractions.

It's the largest amusement park in California, and is especially known for it's two extreme coasters - X2 and Tatsu

The Review
One shouldn't compare (and can't, at least in terms of rides) compare Six Flags to Disneyland because they are apple and orange kind of parks, but having been at Disneyland the day before, I feel it impossible to not compare them.

My first experience with the park was the tram that took me to the park entrance: the loading area was difficult to locate, there's no real structure, just some paint on the ground and nondescript colored-flags in the air. For that matter, signage in the lot was dismal. I didn't even notice there were sign/section markers until my way out of the park - pathetic. Anyway, when I boarded the tram (which had no attendants to help guests on/off or keep count, just to the two tram operators), I noticed peeling paint everywhere, the front look dented and almost rusting and ads plastered on the side for Skittles. At the time, I tweeted that the tram was in the kind of shape that Disney wouldn't allow it into their maintenance bays, let alone actually consider using it for guests.

I did not know just how much foreshadowing this would be.

Once at the park gates and united with my group, I went to purchase tickets - this was surprisingly easy, most people must have bought them online since I had no wait to speak of. I really didn't have a ticket to speak of either: I got a receipt that said "Ticket" printed on it with a bar code. I have to say that this - just feels cheap. I can't think of a truly good reason to do away with tickets, but since they don't let you keep them anyway( which I also find lame because I do like to hold on to them) I guess it doesn't really matter.

Going through security was easy, and then you're funneled into a large holding pen if you get there prior to park opening. It took over 10 minutes to get through the gates and the only thing I can think of is lack of staffing. It's not a huge thing, but it does add to the growing sense of disappointment.

The park itself is clean-enough; unlike Disney where if a piece of litter winds up on the ground, it's gone in under five minutes (if even that) Magic Mountain has signs everywhere (and staffers wearing shirts) that read "Have a [heart] and keep our park clean!" While I totally agree that the public should be respectful of the property, isn't it the parks job to keep the park clean?

The park is also a mess to navigate - there are hills everywhere, and only one - Ninja Summit - has any kind of lift to get you to the top of it. If there was ever a park that screamed for an in-park tram system, this was it. Everything is a hill and not everything neatly flows from section to section. Also, who thought it a great idea to put a food court system under Superman? The ride is loud to the point that you need to cover your ears. Simply awful!

There is a 'flash pass' system integrated into the park. Unlike a Disney fastpass, where you can use your ticket to get (1) pass for a designated time at certain rides (and you can only have one at a time) and lets you enter into a special queue that's generally much shorter than the regular queue, Flash Passes are a pay-only option that more or less do the same thing, though the lines tend to be much much shorter due to the fact that you have to pay. $41/person will get you a basic pass (which will not work for X2) $69/person will get you a "Gold" version which will let you reserve a seat on X2 - for an extra fee (I do not know what the fee is) and "Platinum" will let you access anything and let you ride twice after only one wait for $99/person. You do get a price break for each additional member of your group, but let's put this into perspective. Gate price for the park is $60. There's an online special that lets you pay $35.00 (and this would be why no one is buying at the gate except people like me!). Your opportunity to cut your ride time costs more than your pass! The passes certainly would help, but are decidedly overpriced and Gold level seems pointless - the best reason to buy a pass is if you want to ride X2 which regularly has lines over 2-3 hours long. The basic one shuts you out and if you have to pay more on the Gold - why not go all the way to Platinum instead?

Anyway. You may have noticed that in all this time, I've not mentioned a single ride. I'm not really planning to- it's not that the rides aren't thrills - (X2 and Tatsu are terrifying and will get your heart pounding and screaming and laughing nervously thrilled you're still alive) -it's because there's something else that overshadowed everything else for me:

This park made the most token efforts at ADA compliance I've ever seen. The friend who invited me has a health condition which leaves her unable to do something like walk an amusement park, and therefore brings a wheel chair with her. We're well aware that this isn't the most friendly for that kind of thing - but this place takes the cake. From signs that give wrong information (Gold Rusher says the entrance is at the exit; the attendant snidely told her it was at the entrance), to tiny elevators that barely fit a wheelchair and the attendant, to mind boggling policies that say the guest may only be accommodated by the attendant (two other major parks - Universal and Disney allow a party of four), it was all horrible. The worst bit though, were the ride attendants. On Superman: Escape from Krypton, it said to knock on the door when you arrived. She knocked. And knocked. It took a passenger telling the ride attendant that someone was knocking for the door to finally be opened. On two different occasions, the rest of the party was completely ignored, to the point that at Scream! when we got up there we were rudely told that two of us would have to go through the line and that we'd be able to ride on the same car- but this was after us (the group) asked a guy where to go and he said on up.

We did go to Guest Services and complained, and you know what, it someways dimmed my view even more. The lady said that "they've hired a lot of new employees" which only implies that they don't train them right! The lady did her best to make it right - she gave my friend the card of the supervisor in charge of ADA compliance and she gave us three front of the line passes for our group of our choosing - even making an exception and giving us one for X2, which they don't normally allow on Saturdays. It was nice, but should never have been necessary.

And what's worse? After receiving them and winding up in the queue for Tatsu, the lady only gave us attention when my friend called her over and she didn't seem overly thrilled to do so. We certainly didn't get front of the line privileges at Apocalypse - he only let our group in because they needed four more. The boarding area was also SO small (and again, I got split form the group) that I couldn't even find an attendant- I was supposed to tell them that I was boarding, but had no way of knowing this!

It just so incredibly frustrating and put a damper on an otherwise fun day. I may in fact be done with the park - I'm still not a thrill ride enthusiast and seeing this part of the park, in combination with everything else that I mentioned above  - just makes it an unattractive proposition to me.

My grade: C- for the park as a whole. Had I not experienced any of the issues I'd had with my friend, I'd give the park a C+. The rides are easily a B+ , but it's not really a park for the faint-hearted as most of the rides worth going on are the thrill rides.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ride: Star Tours The Adventure Continues

Depending how into Disney you are, you may/may not know that Star Tours closed for renovation some time ago. The grand re-opening is set for June 3rd, but today me and 2399 other people (1200 winners and their guest) got to head out to Disneyland before dawn to take a special preview of the ride.

Let's take a look!

After walking through an eerily empty park - they let us in before the park opened, we were taken through a ridiculously long queuing area (which for sake of park guests hopefully won't be quite as insane when the ride proper opens) we were greeted with the "Private Event" sign; it felt kind of neat to walk past it (and it explained to other Guests in the park just why there were tons of camera crews and the like)

Once you made your way into the main waiting area, you got to see your new StarSpeeder, complete with C3PO and R2D2! They took the notion of a spaceport to heart - there was an arrival/departure board, announcements about the baggage claim, an illegally parked rental craft outside (with license plate THX for the insiders who get the joke) and even TSA-like announcements reminding you to not take packages from strangers. Deeper into the waiting area, Captain Rexx from the original ride was even there for you to view for those who have fond memories of your former captain - it was a nice balance of new and nostalgia.

This time around there are 4 40-person shuttles, so loading goes pretty quick. I'd say we were in the second group of shuttles to ride: they started operating the ride about 8:55 and we were out of there by probably 9:10 or so at the latest, so they load pretty quick.

The big hype behind this ride is that there are 52 alternate options available. I think this is a good thing and a bad thing. On the bright side, it'll definitely give the ride some extra life as you have incentive to ride it again and again. On the down side, I thought the story felt much more disjointed than the previous ride did. It had a funny moment or two, but I couldn't tell you exactly what had happened, unlike the previous version which really did feel like a properly told story.

The 3-D was beautifully rendered, though those who get motion sick may want to be weary, I found myself closing my eyes for a few minutes towards the end trying to calm my stomach a little.

All in all, the experience itself is very much a new, shinier version of the original. Fans of the original should enjoy this, and die-hard fans of the original should warm up to. Personally, I enjoyed it enough that when the line calms down (i.e. I can get on it in an hour) I'd go on it again, but I wouldn't wait in the super-long lines that you know are going to occur this summer.

Whether you should make the wait I'd say depends on how much time you have at the park and how much you liked the first. It's a fun ride, but not necessarily worth spending half your day waiting for.

My grade: B

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Junk Mail: "Your Subscription is Expired Letter"

I know this is a strange thing to review, but as you'll soon see, this letter seriously irked me.

By way of background, for several years I was a gamer. Never hardcore, but certainly more than "casual." I owned a PS2, a DS and a PSP. When I decided to pick up a PlayStation magazine, I got the two year subscription because it was the better deal. My subscription recently came to an end as when the consoles moved to the next generation, I did not: too few games caught my eye, let alone at the price tags being charged for them. I've kept my DS for longer trips, but even then I admit that for casual gaming, I use my iPhone instead.

So today, I got the following letter in the mail - highlights are those found in the letter. My comments are in red. All formatting is exactly as seen in the letter.

from the desk of Gary Steinman [editor-in-chief]

Dear [Random Girl Geek],

Hey -- what happened? We mailed you a bunch of renewal reminders but you never replied.
Yes. Yes, you did. Like five of them. Given that you sent that many to an address that the magazines successfully delivered to, the obvious answer to your question is that I decided to let my subscription go.

So now your subscription to PlayStation: The Official Magazine has expired. Finito. History.
Indeed. One would expect that to happen when one doesn't renew a magazine.

What's up with that? I mean, your renewal deal is fantastic: Just $1.50 an issue (vs. the $5.99 cover price other guys pay).
This is where I start taking umbridge with this letter - the tone of the "What's up with that?"""""" comes across as just plain rude. Yes, the price was good, but that wasn't the reason I let the subscription lapse. Plus, I find highlighting in letters like this annoying. It doesn't make it look like this came from the EIC himself anymroe than the not-so-fancy header on this.

Just $1.50 for each issue of the #1 PlayStation magazine in the world, loaded with everything you need to get the most out of Playstation gaming, from in-depth Strategy Guides to dynamite game previews, reviews and ratings. Just $1.50 an issue!
More standard frothing at the mouth kind of ranting. Not that I'm quite sure how this is to convince a person to come back to your magazine. Perhaps if price was the issue it'd hammer how cheap it was home, but if you didn't find the [infrequent] Strategy Guides helpful, or care about the game previews, or found the reviews/ratings lacking, praising them won't change a person's mind.

Wait -- you didn't quit PlayStation gaming cold turkey, did you? Sold your machine and all your games to somebody else? Decided to take up flower arranging or bought an ant farm instead?
And here is the reason this letter pissed me off. What I'm getting a read of is, "You didn't give up your totally badass hobby for something wussy did you?

Nah...that can't be you. So take this final opportunity to get back on board at the same great low price. Mail your Reinstatement Voucher now. 
And now it's basically saying that nah, you aren't a wuss, you just forgot to mail in your money! The command, in highlighter and different font is an obnoxious touch.

P.S. If you recently sent us renewal and it crossed this letter in the mail, thanks.

Oh look who found their manners again!! Ugh.

Look, I get that "serious" gaming is still male-dominated even though the number of female gamers (and older games for that matter) has gone way up. One of my gripes with this magazine has always been the way it feels like it tokenly acknowledges female gamers (a rant for another day) and this here is a perfect example of that: this letter is dripping in testosterone and machismo. I frankly find it disgusting.

Maybe my feminist-colored glasses have become overly cloudy, but this letter hits all the wrong nerves. It's the kind of letter that had my order crossed it in the mail, I might consider cancelling it. Whether or not I'm overreacting,  the only thing I'm sure of is that this letter hasn't made me sad that I let my subscription go nor has it made me go rush out to renew. It's obnoxious, offensive and didn't set out what it was trying to do.

My grade: F

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Play: God of Carnage

My mom started me on the theater when I was young, my first ever musical was the first national tour of Phantom of the Opera for my 9th birthday. Ever since then I've almost always gone a few times a year, and it's something I always look forward to.

When picking what play I wanted to go to at the Ahmanson this year (my mom treats my sister and I to one show a year) the description and the awards catch my eye. It wasn't until much more recently did I learn that the entire original cast was returning, which only served to up my excitement - and my expectations of this play.

Genre: Dark Comedy, Drama

The Cast: 
Jeff Daniels
Hope Davis
James Gandolfini
Marcia Gay Harden

The Official Description:
“God of Carnage" is set in a gentrified section of Brooklyn where two married couples meet to sort out a playground fight between their sons. At first, niceties are observed but as the evening progresses and the rum flows, the gloves come off and the night becomes a side-splitting free-for-all."

The Review:
Jeff Daniels plays a lawyer who works 24/7 and can't breathe without his cell phone. His wife (Hope Davis) is a wealth management adviser who is tired of her husband working 24/7. Marcia Gay Harden plays a writer whose work is concentrated on Africa (her latest book is about Darfur) and James Gandolfini plays a business owner who is henpecked by his wife.

They're all people whose marriages were clearly strained even before the incident (which we never see - nor do we ever see the kids) that prompted this meeting occurred, so no one necessarily comes off as overly nice or likable. Nothing is resolved either, if anything the nerves are exposed and even more raw than before.

If it doesn't sound like there's much to the plot, that's because well, there isn't and it unfolds exactly in the way the summary describes: they start out civil, then they start picking at each other - both the other couple and their own spouses and by the end of it, the women are hammer drunk, the men are less drunk, and they're all looking rather broken. It's clear that the dirty laundry has been aired and you wonder if the couples can pull through it or not.

The play is billed as a dark comedy, I'm not 100% sure I agree. You do laugh, but you're laughing at the absurdity of it, at the frustration and the sadness of the relationships falling apart before you. Watching something Lieutenant of Inishmore on the other hand (a way, way, way darker play than this that will forever be my baseline for dark humor because that was pitch black) you're not only laughing at the absurdity of it, but you're laughing at some genuinely funny moments. I'd almost say it's more a drama with a few funny moments than an actual dark comedy.

At the end of the day, I think this play is the perfect example of acting elevating a work: the fundamentals of the play were solid, if unremarkable and maybe even a bit forgettable. It was the acting that brought this work to the next level and made it work as well as it did. You cared about these people at all because the quartet put their all out there and had a wonderful chemistry and sense of timing that made the beats just right.

If you have the chance to see the play with this cast, I'd recommend it, because the accomodations it's won for the acting are fully deserved. If it's without the cast, I'm not so sure that there's enough to warrant seeing it.

My Grade: B-

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Movie: Priest

I am a Karl Urban fan. I first started watch him back on Xena some 13+ years ago. I went to my first ever fan convention so I could hear him talk. He was hysterical, warm and gracious and I've been hooked on him ever since. Movies like the 2009 Star Trek Reboot (He's Dr. McCoy) proved to the larger world just how good of an actor he is, but real fans of his know one very true fact: he loves making shit movies. Oh, he's not trying to make bad movies, but his love of sci-fi and fantasy and comics leads him to make some rather dubious choices sometimes. Doom? Anybody? Or what about Pathfinder? (I picked up that last one for $2.98 after a sale and a few bucks on a gift card and that was still too expensive). If you're a fan of his, you have to embrace the fact that you're going to see some bad films.

So when I saw the trailer come out for Priest, I immediately threw out all the things I looked for in a good film and settled in to see something cheesy.

Genre: Comic-Book (Manhwa - Korean comics, actually), Action - Adventure, Horror, Western

Rating: PG-13

Official Description:

  PRIEST, a western-fused post-apocalyptic thriller, is set in an alternate world -- one ravaged by centuries of war between man and vampires. The story revolves around a legendary Warrior Priest (Paul Bettany) from the last Vampire War who now lives in obscurity among the other downtrodden human inhabitants in walled-in dystopian cities ruled by the Church. When his niece (Lily Collins) is abducted by a murderous pack of vampires, Priest breaks his sacred vows to venture out on an obsessive quest to find her before they turn her into one of them. He is joined on his crusade by his niece's boyfriend (Cam Gigandet), a trigger-fingered young wasteland sheriff, and a former Warrior Priestess (Maggie Q) who possesses otherworldly fighting skills. -- (C) Sony

[For the record, Karl Urban plays Black Hat - the human face of the vampires and Stephen Moyer of True Blood fame plays Owen, Priest's brother]

The Review:
 By now you've probably seen the reviews: that it's loud, that it's derivative, that it's full of bad writing and cliches: totally, utterly, completely true. Hell, the line "It's a trap!" is the literal second line of the movie and my other favorite gem was "If you're not committing sin, you're not having fun." The special effects are so-so at best; some of the scenes look like utter CGI and during a crucial moments you're pulled out of it by the size of explosion in comparison to the amount of explosives that they're shown to have on hand. The vampires themselves (which in this universe aren't human at all, with the exception of Black Hat, but he's a special case) look like rejects from Alien and the music is generic.

And yet, the movie decidedly isn't a total loss: there's some interesting ideas in there: I love the notion of a dystopian society ruled by an autocratic Catholic Church - there's a great scene where Priest goes to confession and you can tell that it's a computer having the confessor (in this case the Monsignor that you see telling Priest if he goes hunting he'll be ex-communicated) cite out whatever it feels like is appropriate for the situation, you can see it there calculating what it will say based on what has been input -and another scene where everyone stops in their tracks to make the sign of the cross at a predetermined time when a signal lit up and the phrase "To betray the Church is to betray God." is heard often- of course, nothing particularly interesting is done with this premise, per se, but it's still a neat set up.

Really though, if you're going to watch it, you need to go in to watch it for the camp. There's a hysterical scene where Black Hat is literally conducting a massacre as Bach's Funeral Mass is playing in the background. You can't see that and not laugh. It's just impossible to take seriously. The scares are telegraphed and not that scary, there's a tiny bit of gore, but it's rather minimal considering the genre (though less surprising in face of the rating). Some of the talky parts do drag (you see them trying to set up something between Priest and the Priestess- whom are both celibate, it almost looks like she's enjoying herself too much just handing him a Crucifix from That Day) and you don't really care about the characters much- I was personally rooting for Black Hat, not only because it's Karl, but because I found the Sheriff obnoxious (Priest "If she's infected, I'm going to kill her." Sheriff: "I won't let you do that!!11!!") and quiet frankly, Black Hat was having fun. Not that the others were supposed to, but the almost over-the-topness of the performance helped give the film some levity it needed.

Priest is not a good movie. It's a bad movie. Everything that it has been accused of being, it is. And yet, if you go into with the right mindset: that you're going to see something cheesy, it's fun. And for that reason and that reason alone...

My grade: B

Friday, May 13, 2011

Book: Wicked Bugs

Amy Stewart has been doing a lot of promotion for “Wicked Bugs” on NPR lately. A devoted listener, I was hooked during the interview and when I got home called up Amazon and picked it up, the mix of science and human interest being right up my alley.
Genre: Non-Fiction, Science

Official Description :
Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects
Amy Stewart
ISBN: 978-1-56512-960-3

“In this captivating look at the sinister side of the natural world, Amy Stewart uncovers more than one hundred of our worst insect enemies – creatures that infest, infect, and generally wreak havoc on human affairs. From the world’s most painful hornet to millipedes that stop traffic, from “bookworms” that devour libraries to Japanese beetles that munch on our roses, Wicked Bugs tells the stories of bugs gone wild.

Here is a captivating mixture of history, science, murder and intrigue that beings – but doesn’t end – in our own backyards.”

The Review
The author starts out by stating she’s not an entomologist, just a “writer fascinated by the natural world” and I think the book is enhanced for it. She does a good job explaining how the creatures do what they do without it feeling too technical or dumbed down, and the stories she shares about their interactions with humans are varied too, from the gross to the humorous.

There are no photographs here; instead there are some lovely etchings/sketches of some of the insects. For the squeamish, this is likely a plus. I’m torn. I appreciate the art, but I think that insects can beautiful and some have coloration/markings that have to be seen to be believed, so I’d personally preferred photographs. Your mileage may vary.

I think at the end of the day this is a good book to thumb through – read the bits that catch your eye and skim through others. Some sections become laundry lists of insects with paragraphs that just describe how they work without the human factor, and I think those parts do drag some.

I’d recommend checking out the preview pages up on Amazon, the book stays largely in the same vein throughout, so if you that you’ll definitely enjoy the book.

My grade: B

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nail Polish: China Glaze Sea Spray (Winter 2011)

After becoming a make-up junkie I fell back into painting my nails, something I'd largely shied away from for a number of years. Since then I've discovered the joy of crazy colors (you're likely to find me wearing blues, purples, greens and gray more than anything) and that my nails tend to stay healthier painted than not.

China Glaze is probably my favorite brand: they have a huge color selection, formula is generally good and you can find them only for $3/bottle which makes it a great value brand and one that feeds a hobby on the cheap, if it doesn't work out less guilt :D

<b>The Description</b>
"A calming pale blue crème."

This was part of "Anchors Away," their Winter 2011 collection. It's limited edition status might make it hard to find in store there are plenty of online retailers who still carry it.

<b>The Review</b>
This was one of my favorite colors in the huge 12 color collection. My skin tone is both pale and cool (NW15 for MAC-devotee readers) which makes pastels difficult for me too carry off, as all too often they tend to look like colored white out against my skin. 

What stops that from happening here is the grayed-out nature of the color, in the sunlight it isn't so noticeable, but in darker rooms or indirect light the color looks more gray than blue. This gives the color some added depth and makes it a lot more wearable - and unique - than most pastel shades of blue.

The formula on this color was on the thick side, and as is the nature of light shades, a bit streaky. It was almost a one coater, but not quite. Two coats was perfect.

If you rock cool tones, like blues and/or the grayed out color trend, this is a no-brainer. Find it, use it, love it.

My grade: A-

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Toy: LEGO Creator: Log Cabin 5766

Though commonly thought of as a child's toy, there's a rather large community out there of adults who enjoy LEGO, and I consider myself one of them. I find the building of the pieces to relaxing because as you focus in on the model you tune out everything else.

Genre: Building Toy

Official Description:
Ages: 7-12
Pieces: 355
Price: $29.99

Escape to the LEGO® countryside in this 3-in-1 Log Cabin!

Packed with great details, including an open fire with rotisserie, wooden logs, tree and opening doors and windows, this log cabin is an ideal wilderness getaway. Minifigure included and ready for backwoods adventure, with backpack, paddle and canoe. Rebuild into a country retreat or a river hut.

  • Includes 1 minifigure with backpack
  • Features open fire with chicken on rotisserie, wooden logs, tree, opening doors and windows, canoe with paddle, and horn ornament
  • Unique dark red roof
  • Remove the roof and hinging wall section to play inside!
  • The first LEGO® Creator set to include a minifigure!
  • 3 models in 1: Rebuilds into a country retreat and a river hut
    • River Hut features a brook, bridge, outdoor stove and furniture
    • Country Retreat features a garden, street lamp and porch light
Cabin measures over 5” (12cm) wide and 5” (12cm) tall.

The Review
The Creator series serves as a nice bridge between some of the simpler sets and the way more complex LEGO Modular Building Series, their line for adult fans. Tto give you a sense of comparison for scale of the projects, the ones in that series will set you back $150-$200, have 2000+ pieces and is 10.5" x 10" and can probably set you back about 8-10 hours of build time.

The building techniques are basic and would help give a budding designer some solid fundamentals for designing their own buildings.The roof is solidly attached, but with a bit of pressure in the right place will handily lift off. Tis design also features a back you can open so you can play with the inside. I find that this design makes the structure a little weak when building, if you're not careful you can accidentally take down the entire wall. The stability issue is at least a bit resolved with the roof, but even then with only 2-3 inches of space inside before you hit the roof only the smallest hands will actually be able to really play inside the structure. Again, like with the buildings in this series, the building works better as a display piece than a play piece.

Your build time will depend on experience. I probably spend 2, 2.5 hours total on this kit: most of my time was spent in the prep (sorting the pieces, then I sort the individual page steps into their own cups) the build went quick as I've done it numerous times. Figure another hour and a half for adults with little-to-no experience: so long as you've done your sorting, the build is relative quick, but you will spend time tracking down little parts if you aren't careful in your sorting (dixie cups are awesome) and there may be a few spots where you're confused by the directions. The age range is listed as 7-12, the 7 year old is probably better served doing this with an adult to help them through it especially as there are some small parts and they may get distracted - or if nothing else, the parent should be around so they loose any of the pieces in the middle of it.

Of all the Creator building series, this one has some interesting colors going for it, and I like the boat of the main design (though I gripe because there isn't a good place to store the paddle, it'll be easily lost for those who move hteir models around often), it is (as the box boasts) also the first in the series to include a mini-figure, a nice touch.

I'd say that if you're a completionist, collector or new to the Creator series, it's definitely worth a grab. If you own a few of these, it's not a must have because it rather basic. I picked it up for 50% off during a recent Buy One Get One 1/2 off sale at Toys 'R Us and for me that was the right price.

<b>My grade</b> B-

Monday, May 9, 2011

TV: Screen Test (True Blood S4 Promo)

I'm a Trubie. I'm terribly anxious for the premiere on June 26th, or rather July 5th as I'll be out of town at the time.

Fret not though, HBO knows that #waitingsucks and has been teasing us with bits and bobs since March 5th, the day of the True Blood Panel at Paley Fest. No one knows how to cater to (yet drive us crazy) fans better than HBO. This latest bit debuted after the Lady Gaga concert on Saturday.

Genre: Drama, Supernatural

The Description:
Who needs a description when you can just watch it instead?

Although this is one of the first real previews that doesn't actual hint at or allude to or spoil anything, I still think it's one of my favorites. The music "The Trouble Blues" sets the tone perfectly: there's a heavy air that surrounds this video, like you can see the weight of the world on the characters shoulders. This is especially true for Bill, Tara, Sam and Alcide. Others, like Sookie and Eric look contemplative while Lafayette, smoking his cigarette and fixing his headpiece, looks like he's just trying to cope with it all. The only two that kind of seem out of place are Jessica and Pam. Jessica has kind of an odd innocence about her and actually, for that matter, so did Pam, though I think someone said she looked bewildered. Either way, she seemed to lack the gravitas, that worldliness about her that we usually expect to see. I'm sure that the latter two can be explained away by the "Screen Test" theme, but given what everyone else managed to convey and the music chosen, they just seem out of place. That said, it's the kind of thing you really only notice if you watch it multiple times which the casual fan won't and the more diehard fan will forgive.

It's a good promo, captivating in its own right. It does the job: its job is to make you want to watch more and it does it beautifully.

My Grade A

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Music: Glam Nation Live (2011)

Adam Lambert came to the public's attention through American Idol. He hasn't quite had the success of some of the winners past, but for coming in second he's still done quite well for himself. He's recently completed a tour in support of his studio album For Your Entertainment, and Glam Nation Live is the concert album of that tour. Included is a DVD of the tour, and a Blu Ray version is due out later this year.

Genre: Pop

Track Listing:
1. Voodoo (Glam Nation Live)
2. Down The Rabbit Hole (Glam Nation Live)
3. Ring Of Fire (Glam Nation Live)
4. Fever (Glam Nation Live)
5. Tribal Segment (Glam Nation Live)
6. Sleepwalker (Glam Nation Live - PCM)
7. Whataya Want From Me (Glam Nation Live)
8. Soaked (Glam Nation Live)
9. Aftermath (Glam Nation Live)
10. Jamming With Lazers (Glam Nation Live) [sic]
11. Sure Fire Winners (Glam Nation Live)
12. Strut (Glam Nation Live - PCM)
13. Music Again (Glam Nation Live - PCM)
14. Meet My Band (Glam Nation Live)
15. If I Had You (Glam Nation Live)
16. 20th Century Boy (Glam Nation Live)
17. Until Next Time... (Glam Nation Live)  

The Review:
One thing I always struggle with when going to see major acts live is how disappointing it can be to hear some artists live: they may sound good, but the rarely sound as great as they do in the studio. Adam Lambert may be one of the rare artists where he sounds even better live than he does on the studio, when he can just let his amazing voice soar. In fact, if it weren't for the crowd noise you'd eve

The concert does a good job covering the majority of the album (anything left out you probably won't miss), but my favorite has to be his cover of Ring of Fire - I loved it on Idol, I love it even more here. His voice caresses the song, it's seductive, you get that sense of how the drugs could just wrap themselves around you and entice you until you're hopelessly addicted.

The album does drag in places such as "Meet the Band," those kind of segments are even less interesting outside concert environment than they are when you're there and "Jamming with Lazers" because, you know, when you're listening to an audio  CD you can't -see- the lasers meaning you just get several minutes of the band playing. Your mileage may vary.

Over all, this is a very solid album that if you have any interest in pop music should make you at least interested in his work - if not to go see him live.

My Grade: A-

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Recipe: Nestle Toll House Cookies

Baking cookies, in addition to being relaxing and tasty, can be a nostalgic activity. I myself remember a time at camp during winter holiday where we were having ridiculous storming outside and to distract us campers, the camp owner's wife took us back to her place and had us bake cookies to pass the time. And when we bake cookies, a natural starting point for many are Nestle Toll House cookies - the recipe's right on the bag, and it's classic.

But is it any good?

The Description
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat oven to 375

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

The Review

As far as baking goes, this recipe is pretty well foolproof and beginner friendly, which makes it nice for those who simply don't bake very often. This recipe is also incredibly versatile: you can play with the fat, sugar, and flour and create endless variations depending on personal taste. Alton Brown (Good Eats) demonstrated this in the episode "Three Chips for Sister Marsha" where in he made chewy, crispy and cakey cookies all from the same base recipe.

On the other hand, the cookies just aren't my favorite. They're good, but not always the most memorable. Personally, my current favorite recipe is an adapted version of Jacques Torres' - it has a better texture and more depth of flavor (it's also more complex and more time consuming) in my opinion. That said, cookies are are very personal choice. My mom loves loves loves Tollhouse and when she wants a fresh cookie, this is what she wants me to make. And really, I have no issues with obliging with that request. I've made this recipe so many times now that I've got it memorized making it a nice, no fuss recipe when I just want to relax and tune out the rest of the world.

At the end of the day, nostalgia I think helps elevate the recipe from good to great.

My grade: B (A if you factor in nostalgia)

Friday, May 6, 2011

TV: Pregnant in Heels

As much as I enjoy watching skill-based competitive reality shows, I have to say that overtime I have grown to actively dislike non-competitive shoes, the ones whose purpose exists to follow a person or group of persons around in their everyday life. Too often it feels like the genre attracts the worse sorts of people and too often becomes train wreck programming.. I caught the beginning of this after an episode of Top Chef Masters and intrigued/horrified, I hit DVR to record the rest. Last night I sat down and watched the rest.

Genre: Reality, Non-Competitive

The Description:
Rosie Pope is a "Pregnancy Concierge" (read: overpriced lifestyle coach) whose job it is to help women with too much money and ego prepare for the trails and tribulations of motherhood. In her own words, " "Women are bitchy anyway," Rosie says. "So, take a rich, bitchy woman, and put a baby inside of them, and then you've got my client."

The Review:
Let's get the little good right out of the way: I like Rosie Pope. Perhaps not the sharpest tool in the tool box, her heart seems to be in the right place and she seems blessedly ego free. Although I find the notion of hiring a coach for this kind of thing to be a bit on the silly side kudos to her for finding a way to make what's probably a fair amount of money off her clients have more money than sense.

The bad: the clients. These clients are every bit as awful as you'd expect them to be. The first couple are Michelle & Gary who clearly aren't the most talkative. Why you may ask? She's Catholic, he's Jewish, and yet somehow they never managed to discuss how they're going to raise their daughter until she was 37 weeks pregnant. And then, her "discussion" was basically "In Catholicism, the child is the religion of the mother. This is my child. She will be Catholic." Not their child. Her child. In fact, the word "mini-me" even came out of her mouth. Poor girl. No matter how much Rosie seems convinced that Michelle was starting to get the idea that this is a child of them both, you know the mother is going to raise her to be a clone and that the father is too spineless to do anything about it. She did at least resolve the conflict by bringing in a therapist and getting them to compromise at least about the first ritual - the girl would be baptized and then they'd hold a Jewish naming ceremony after the fact at home. Given the rather vast chasm between the two religions still not sure how this thing is going to work. Let's hope that they're both "Christmas/Easter/High Holy Days" kind of religious so the poor kid isn't totally confused. There was also some minor subplot about not wanting to cook or clean, but given her desire to not clean and how spotless the apartment was, you just know that they've got a maid anyway making the whole segment rather moot.

The other client: Mina, makes me weep for humanity and why we can't require licenses for reproduction. Clearly, she sees the pregnancy as the creation of a new toy to play with. She ordered hand-embroidered sheets from London ("But they're stuck in customs!" complete with sad face). She had a BABY GARMENT BAG for the onsie that she'd bring home the child in. She'd painted the baby's name on the wall, but hadn't bothered to convert her "office" ("But you don't work!" The best line of the night) to a true nursery - they'd added a crib and a changing table (but the pad wasn't yet secure and she insisted on waiting for the handyman to do it because she's never touched a hammer and wasn't inclined to do so now) and left all of the rest of the clutter intact. Gods know how she's planning on finding the kid in the crib at 3 am without killing herself. She'd never held a baby before, thought the nurses were going to do all the work at the hospital, and hadn't planned on changing a single diaper - she'd already had plans for a non-live-in nanny. I guess the plan was to let the kid starve and sit in its own waste after hours? She also had to have it explained to her why it's not a good idea to have a dog's pee pad on the same floor that your kid is going to be scooting around on. The dog had never been trained to not pee inside so the obvious answer? "I'm going to hire a dog trainer!" We even had a segment of her going to pick up her "push" jewelery - an oversized gaudy diamond thing that's supposedly supposed to be given to women for giving birth? No idea. And, as Rosie points out, she doesn't even have to push as Mina was having a scheduled C-Section.

A real baby is brought in to give her practice at holding a baby and changing a diaper (the look on the mother's face is rather hysterical and one of the best 'bitch please' looks I've ever seen) and the like and supposedly Michelle gets it and the whole bonding thing. At the end of the episode you see her holding the baby...albeit awkwardly. There's hope she'll get the mom thing. Maybe. I'm not holding my breath.

This show is both a trainwreck and sickens me. These people are so self-absorbed and so self-centered that they're last people on the planet that should having kids. It makes Rosie's personal story (she's using IVF to get pregnant, only to result in an ectopic pregnancy) all the more tragic because these people who clearly Don't Get It can and are having kids.

Maybe these people will turn out to be good parents, but odds suggest that they'll end up raising another generation of people just like themselves, though to be fair the husbands seem like better people...if only they'd grow spines.

There is no purpose for this show and if you're any kind of rational, you'll likely only end up depressed. Don't waste your time, and Bravo, stop wasting our intelligence.

The Grade: D

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Video Blog: Atop the Fourth Wall (AT4W)

Today's review is a newbie-friendly vlog that introduced me to the awesomeness that is That Guy With the Glasses. We'll be taking a look at Atop the Fourth Wall: Where Bad Comics burn. A fun little blog that's rather friendly to comic neophytes as is it to the biggest of comic nerds.

Genre: Comic Books

The Description:
[Note: This is taken from the shows theme song]
"Welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall where bad comics burn.
Linkara is going to teach you all a lesson you won't learn.
Grotsky you're not the smartest, Liefeld you're not an artist.
Anyone whose had a bad comic published, it could be your turn..."

The Review:
The thing I enjoy the most about this vlog is that as much as it is about comics (and it IS about comics) it's a vlog dedicated to good, solid criticism. This is a vlog that looks at insane logic, bad artwork, poor continuity and points out why something is just so bad its bad, or why certain plotlines or arcs are just downright infuriating when compared against the characterization of this person or that. He makes sure to give you just enough background so you can follow along without being lost, which makes this very accessible to the general internet viewing public.

This blog isn't about hating on something just to hate on it. It isn't mindless ranting. Heck, he doesn't swear in his blog because he doesn't see a need for it, which I admire, even if I have no problems with swearing in this format.

My major criticism is the serialized story-arc he has running through the show. I get that's kinda of appropriate for the genre and he's clearly having a good time, I just don't find it entertaining. That said, for the most part it runs at the beginning or end of a piece so doesn't bog the show down. The other point of contention is that sometimes it does feel like the reviews can kind of blur together, especially when it come to certain series, but it's easy enough to skip the reviews that you aren't interested in and watch only the ones that catch your eye.

Whether or not you're into comics, this is an enjoyable vlog to watch and I recommend checking it out. The shows do tend to run about twenty minutes so keep that in mind if you're in a rush.

My grade: B

Atop the 4th Wall updates late Monday or Tuesday afternoon on or on Monday afternoons on his own blog

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Makeup: Inglot Cosmetics

As hobbies go, make-up is not the cheapest one around. It's reasonable if you stick just to drug store brands, but even prices there are creeping up - Physician's Formula can regularly retail for $10+, cheap by beauty standards sure, but still not -that- cheap.

As a result, beauty junkies are always looking for that next great inexpensive brand that performs as good as some of the pricier mid-tier brands (usually comparisons are to MAC, but can really go for anything from Urban Decay to Make Up For Ever).

The latest brand to set the blogosphere on fire is a Polish brand called Inglot.

Let's take a look!

The Product: A full-line beauty brand, they carry everything from eye shadow to bases to concealers, lip products, nail products. If it's make-up related, they likely have some form of it for sale. For this review, I'm going to focus on their Freedom System Eye Shadow Palette, which tends to be most people's introduction to the brand.

The Price: Varies. Overall the price-point is somewhere between Nyx and MAC. Single shadows cost $12, eyeliners for $9, nail polishes are $10. Freedom System Eye Shadows vary in price, the more you buy the cheaper they are:

Buy - Per Unit Price
1 - $7.00
3 - $5.00
10 -$4.50

The palette itself will cost you $5 if you buy enough shadows to fill the palette, whether you are buying a 3 shadow palette or a 20 shadow palette. The five shadow round palette shown hear cost me $24.00. The palette with the square pans - the only eyeshadows I can find for the palette system online - will cost you $30.00 for the same size. You get a good amount of product either way, but if you're like me and you take forever to hit pan, you don't necessarily -need- the larger size.

Unfortunately, the only way to get the round shadows seems to be in person, at one of their few boutiques or at a make-up show.

The Review
First off: the palette. It's fantastic, amazing. I adore it. It's kinda of hard to tell in the picture, but the lid is held on by four magnets. The lid there is hovering on maybe 20% of the palette and won't go anywhere. This is the only palette I own that I feel that I can toss into a suitcase and not worry about the lid falling off. The downside with the palette is there's no good day to keep track of your colors (more on that in a moment) save something homemade, like taking labeling dots (you know the kind you see at yard sales) and stick them on the lid. Also, the pots are in there tight so if you're a fan of rearranging your palettes, it can be nigh impossible without some creativity.

As for the shadows themselves? At the palette price of $5 or $4.50? Damn good. At the single price of $7 or the potted price of $12? Pretty good.. Overall, they have nice pigmentation, and they wear pretty well (not as good as Urban Decay or MAC, but better than Nyx) though primer definitely helps because I did notice some fading by day's end and I do think they need to be built up a bit. They aren't powdery shadows either. The line can be a bit inconsistent with some shadows being patchy or less smooth than others. If you can swatch before purchase, I'd highly recommend it.

Are they MAC-like? Ehhh. I guess. I'd say if you're looking for a cheaper MAC substitute, they're a good place to look. Are they as good as MAC's (permanent) shadows? I don't know that I'd go that far and the colors themselves aren't necessarily the most unique. They'd be best for filling in a collection with shades you want that you haven't found at other brands you like, or shades you want to use once in a while or play with and not quite ready to commit to in higher-end brands.

Another knock against it is that the value isn't quite as good as it looks on the surface. With only seven retail stores in the United States, most people are going to have to order online. Shipping will you back at least $8.00 (and goes up with the value of your order) which is ridiculously overpriced. There's no reason that a small order (sans nail polish) can't be shipped in a cheaper flat-rate pack from USPS but that's not even a given option. Those extra fees means that some of the money saved isn't really saved at all. With sales tax (because they do have a store in California) and shipping, the $50 10 pan palette comes out to $64.16 - or $6.41/shade - you've all but negated the bulk discount. Before shipping, you saved 35%/shadow by buying 10. With shipping you're saving not quite 8.5% Big difference.

The website does have a tremendous selection of colors - but the nomenclature is awful. We know what to expect from a matte and a pearl. But what about a "Double Shine" "AMC" or "AMC Shine?" AMC supposedly stands for Advanced Makeup Components, but how that translates into the real world is still a mystery to me and what's worse, there's nothing on the website to explain the differences. This, compared to the fact that many of the shades are very close relatives to other shades, makes the tracking of the shades you do own so incredibly vital. It's just too difficult to know what to reorder or what to avoid ordering again if you don't. Never mind that the name "491 DS" isn't exactly catchy.

I'm also not hugely sold on the website itself. While the stores only carry what I presume must be the most popular colors in the line, the website has hundreds. There are no descriptions, only the maddeningly vague names and no way to sort by color to make the page size more manageable. I also wish that instead of annoying little box with your totals scrolling as you move the page, that there was a something static on the side of the page instead.

As I've not ordered line, I can't speak to experience of actually making a purchase - but for what its worth, I've heard good things about customer service and mixed things about the packaging of the orders themselves.

I love the palettes more than anything, but they aren't a value if you aren't buying shadows with them. The shadows are nice, but aren't earth-shattering in anyway. The palettes are still a good value for the size of product you get, but they aren't what most people would consider cheap either. And really, outside of true die-hard junkies who is going to order the kind of volume you'd need to order to make them truly cheap?

There are some colors on the website that I'm tempted by, but to be honest I've not been able to pull the trigger. Knock off a couple more bucks and I'd really be all over it, but at this price I just can't get that enthused.

My grade: B-

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Event: Company Bowling Party

Okay, okay.

In hindsight this is a silly idea, but it seemed okay at the time (well, at the time I was thinking more the bowling -alley- but what can you really say about an alley?) and I'd rather save my first make-up review for when I'm bit more awake and can swatch in daylight.

Genre: Real Life

Description: A company bowling party at Pinz. 2 games of bowling, shoes, and food catered by Jerry's Famous Deli.

The Review
Company gatherings are always a crap shoot. They can be awesome. They can be lame. They can be somewhere in between. It depends on who goes, how much is spent, and everyone's general mood.

Bowling is also a crap shoot. It can be awesome. It can be lame. It depends on who goes.

Tonight, everything fell into place.

The food was crappy bowling alley food and not from the deli next store, but you know what? No one cared. It was there, right at the beginning, and it was plentiful and it was junk food. Perfect for this kind of event. Even better, big boss bought drinks and they were surprisingly strong - I'd expect something watered down, but no, there was a fair amount of Stoli in there, to the point where I nursed it for a while.

The lanes were a good size too - generally groups of 5-6/lane in the first game 4-5 in the second keeping things moving at a nice pace without being too fast or too slow.

The big thing though: everyone was in good spirits. There was friendly comptetion and rivalries, and at the same time everyone was cheering for each other. There was mocking the manager who brought his own ball and shoes and towel, and clamoring to have him rub the towel on your ball for luck. We even had a peanut gallery of those who came to chill and not play.

As a coworker said, this kind of things is perfect because you can't take it too seriously.

I'd gone more or less expecting to put in an appearance, hang out an appropriate length of time and leave. I really had more fun than I'd planned on.

Sure, the food could have been better, but who cares? The food wasn't point. The point was to spend some time having fun with your coworker.

Final Score: 300 or, in the language of humans: A

Monday, May 2, 2011

TV: Last Cake Standing: S2E5 Living La Vida Vegas

I have a love/hate relationship with Food Network: I remember watching it in the early years when all the chefs were chefs who legit skills who could really teach you how to cook. Today though, the network is filled with "personalities" with dubious credentials, and even the few stalwarts from the old days that remain (Paul Deen, Rachel Ray) have just become product-shilling caricatures of themselves.

Despite this, I can't give up the network entirely because they've tapped into my weakness: a love for skill-based reality competition television. I like watching genuinely skilled people show off their stuff, the time constraints can really make a chef shine...or completely blow up, both of which are entertaining. Last Cake Standing is one of these shows.

Genre: Reality TV (Skill based)

Official Description:
A Sin City scavenger hunt with the remaining four competitors reveals their next exciting challenge: to create cakes for clients who have come to Las Vegas to celebrate something special. But it's first come, first pick in this scenario and only the swiftest will prevail. Midway through the competition, the competitors head to the blackjack tables for a twist that will have huge implications on who moves on to the finale, and who will go home at the end of the competition. Guest judge and pastry chef Gale Gand helps determine who will advance.

The Review
Last Cake Standing is a six-week long competition with an ultimate prize of $100,000. The show started off with eight contestants. We join the show now with four remaining, and the specter of the finale looming over us.

The challenge for the week is not my favorite style of challenge: there are four clients that the chefs have to find, each with a different theme. First chef to find a client, gets to work with them. I hate these challenges for a variety of reasons:

1. It puts the contestant on an uneven field because some clients are inevitably closer than others - the clients were at different hotels, not even on the same property! Even assuming that everyone spends the exact same amount of time talking with the client, some chefs automatically will have less time to work than others. I don't think it necessarily enhances the game, it just comes off as unfair.

2. At least one of the themes is always difficult to fulfill and at least one of the clients is almost always impossible to please. The themes this time out: a 21st birthday party, a "big win", a bachelorette party, and a family reunion. This time, the guy who had the worst luck with the longest schlep ended up with the bum theme (family reunion) and impossible to please clients - they wanted him to create a cake that basically bridged time AND geographic distance and represented the family. In eight hours. Yeah. Totally fair to make a guy do that while some 21 year-olds want a car and booze. When one criteria is client satisfaction, this just seems again, unfair, not a game enhancement.

So they get going and then comes "the twist." A game of blackjack! It's announced that the chefs will have their assistants replaced by a formerly ousted contestant, and the winner of the hand will get to assign the pairs. But wait! There's more! The assistant paired with the winning chef gets to come back into the game.

Hold up.'re going to eliminate one chef the week before the finale, only to bring one previously kicked off chef back. What exactly is the point of this episode? How is that fair to the chef that made it that far? It seems like a ploy of the producers to bring back the one chef previously ousted that really is the strongest one there - the others? No shot of winning the final round.

The only reason I even kept watching at this point is because two chefs had very obvious trainwreck cakes and the poor sap who got stuck with the family reunion trying to do something to assuage them so they wouldn't completely scuttle his chances.

If you're spending more time rolling your eyes and screaming at the tv than enjoying it, we have a problem.

Unless you're a die-hard Food Network Challenge fan, this series is a safe pass.

My Rating: C-

Sunday, May 1, 2011

iPhone app: Crosslogic

Platform: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, (requires iOS 4.2 or later)

The official description:

Crosslogic Unlimited, also known as Nonogram or Griddlers are picture logic puzzles in which cells in a grid have to be colored or left blank according to numbers given at the side of the grid to reveal a hidden picture.

In this puzzle type, the numbers measure how many unbroken lines of filled-in squares there are in any given row or column.

- Addictive game play
- Up to 1756 levels of challengable [sic] puzzles
- Hints to help you play
- Easy game controls
- Can play over 300 hours 

Price: Free

The Review:
Disclaimer: I suck at logic puzzles. There. I've admitted it. For all that I am "intelligent," I fully admit that logic puzzles tend to be a genre that eludes me. Whether it's because I'm too impatient, I'm not wired to think that way or I just generally don't find them entertaining, I can't say. Nonograms, however, are about the sole exception to the rule.

I first discovered the genre in the overlooked Picross and Picross 3D games for the Nintendo DS. These are puzzle games where you're given a grid (usually some multiple of 5 x 5) and you're given a series of numbers along the top of side of each colum and row and the idea is to fill in the grids so you get a (generally crude) rendering of some kind of image. The rules are relatively simple to learn and they're a good pick-up-and-go puzzle in the sense that if you have to stop in the middle you can pick up later without much penalty: it's relatively easy to reorient yourself. These kind of puzzles are also especially beginner-friendly in a digital format because if you make an error, games will often alert you so you don't go the entire game based on a faulty move that throws off everything else.

So what about this particular game?

One, total props for all of the content being free. All of it. This isn't a 'lite' app with only a tiny portion of the game play or an app where the bulk of the content is locked-away and only doled out as you met arbitrary goals, everything is available to you from the beginning. This is especially nice for more advanced players who won't find the early puzzles a challenge. Also, speaking of content, there's a ton of it here - we're talking hundreds and hundreds of puzzles. You're not going to run out any time soon, you're getting more content than most paid games provide.

Also on the plus side is the fact that the ads are completely unobtrusive. There's a simple ad bar that lies over the top of the puzzle. This app doesn't make you view ads between games or after every turn or after so many moves. If you see something you like, you can click on it, if you don't, you can ignore it.

Puzzle difficulty is handled well too; earlier puzzles in a set are easier than later sets and you aren't confined to taking the puzzles in order either. Large puzzles, which would be hard to play on this screen are broken down into 4-part puzzles for easier handling, it's an innovative way of dealing with the problem of the smaller screen. The game does not support landscape mode, but fairs pretty well in portrait mode.

On the down side, I do have problems with some of the controls: it can be a bit of a challenge to get a game to start initially if you don't just push the right spot. Also, the game uses an on-screen arrows that are functional, but not the best. It's flat out awkward to use for long streaks and can make longer play sessions uncomfortable. It's also too easy to get an error because you pushed a square you didn't mean to, and it sometimes feel as if the game is jumping around the board without your permission because a stray finger brushed the board. These aren't game-ending errors by any means, but it does cause some legitimate frustration.

Speaking of errors, I understand the limit of 5 errors and your out: it forces you to learn to play the game and not win just on sheer luck. On the other hand, when you only have 5 errors and you lose two or three to accidental presses, it just plain bites to lose the game. I wish you could adjust the number of errors to compensate for this.

Finally, this game isn't necessarily the most newbie-friendly game: it lacks a true tutorial mode. There are some basic instructions, but if you're more a person who appreciates a hands-on tutorial this may not fit the bill and you might want to try and find an online game free to get a feel for it.

Overall though, given the sheer ton of content and the low price, my complaints are few. If you're a fan of logic puzzles or nonograms, this app is a must have. If you're even curious I'd recommend giving it a shot. At free, you've nothing to lose except a few free hours once it sucks you in.

My rating: B