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84th Academy Awards: Predictions vs. My Picks

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For anyone following the Academy and film each year like me, it should go without saying that I was beyond dissatisfied with the nomination choices this year, and normally I think they do a fair job at nominating the right films and people. But we've all vented our frustration, and tonight, the awards will be handed out. A number of people have made their predictions for who they think will win, and there seems to be a fairly common consensus. So I'll be contributing my thoughts, both in regards to what I expect to win and, for the categories I feel I've either seen all or, in my opinion, most of the nominees, which I'd personally pick. If I don't provide a "Who/What I'd Pick," it's probably because I haven't seen any of the nominations.

Best Live Action Short Film

What Will Win: Raju

Best Animated Short Film

What Will Win: La Luna

Best Documentary Short

What Will Win: Incident in New Baghdad

Best Feature Documentary

What Will Win: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Best Visual Effects

What Will Win: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

What I'd Pick: Hugo or Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Sound Editing

What Will Win: War Horse

What I'd Pick: Drive

Best Sound Mixing

What Will Win: Hugo

What I'd Pick: Hugo

Best Original Song

What Will Win: "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets

Best Original Score

What Will Win: The Artist

What I'd Pick: War Horse (but to be honest, any of the nominees is worthy of this award except for The Adventures of Tintin)

Best Make-Up

What Will Win: Albert Nobbs

Best Costume Design

What Will Win: The Artist

What I'd Pick: The Artist

Best Art Direction

What Will Win: The Artist

What I'd Pick: The Artist or Hugo

Best Editing

What Will Win: The Artist

What I'd Pick: The Artist

Best Cinematography

What Will Win: The Tree of Life

What I'd Pick: The Tree of Life

Best Foreign Language Film

What Will Win: A Separation

Best Feature Animated Film

What Will Win: Rango

Best Adapted Screenplay

What Will Win: Moneyball

What I'd Pick: The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay

What Will Win: The Artist

Best Supporting Actress

Who Will Win: Octavia Spencer in The Help

Best Supporting Actor

Who Will Win: Christopher Plummber in Beginners

Best Lead Actress

Who Will Win: Viola Davis in The Help

Who I'd Pick: Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Best Lead Actor

Who Will Win: Jean Dujardin in The Artist

Who I'd Pick: Jean Dujardin in The Artist or George Clooney in The Descendants

Best Direction

Who Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

Who I'd Pick: Martin Scorsese for Hugo

Best Picture

What Will Win: The Artist

What I'd Pick: The Artist or The Descendants

The Film Reels...They're Everywhere!

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I'm not majoring in a field that (directly) pertains to film, and there are countless people out there with way more experience and legitimate backing to their thoughts on any film, but I'd like to consider myself one who knows more than most my age. Some of the movies I've watched this year are ones I'd be a bit surprised if my friends even heard of, which is partly thanks to my college's film club (for the meetings I was able to attend). Every week they'd show a film and, oftentimes, they'd pick a lesser known movie that would also be a bit older than me. So with that out of the way, here's a list of some of the standout films I've watched recently.

Put up with this franchise as long as I have, you wouldn't be smiling too much either.

Summer Fiesta: I have to open up and say that 2011 has been an incredibly underwhelming year for film; hardly anything has really caught my eye and those that have are, as always, given limited releases. The spring and summer all brought films that were anywhere from bad to above average at best. On the lower end we had The Hangover Part 2, which failed not because of its regurgitation, but because it's almost completely devoid of any good comedic material. Then, on the higher end, we got films like the promising Moneyball and surprisingly engaging Rise of the Planet of the Apes. I'll admit that my expectations weren't too high for Moneyball based on the trailers and, critical acclaim aside, I think it mostly met my moderate expectations. It's better than most of what we saw up to its point of release, but other than that superiority in mind, I don't think it really has anything Oscar-worthy beyond the script. It's interesting that a lot of people think Pitt should be in the running for a Best Lead Actor nomination when he's mostly just doing a better job than usual playing his typical character type. If anything, I'd say Jonah Hill's the real star of the film, finally stepping into something different, which he accomplishes with great success.

Most of the other releases this year have proved unremarkable and hardly worth more than a sentence of summarizing each. As a fan of the first two films, Transformers: Dark of the Moon was a real disappointing bore; Green Lantern was a mediocre but entertaining watch; then there were the worthwhile action films like Thor, Captain America, X-Men: First Cla ss and Fast Five, all of which were great theatrical viewings that proved to be better than the trailers indicated. Other brief mentions include 30 Minutes or Less, a sparingly entertaining film with one of the worst endings I've seen in some time; Immortals, a film so unsatisfying that even Mickey Rourke couldn't save it from borderline atrocity; Limitless, which I enjoyed despite the supposedly "contrived" ending since we didn't get something preachy, and Deathly Hallows Part 2 which, though a relatively solid film, still felt rushed and only made me wish the films were left in better hands past Goblet of Fire (in fact, they should've had Mike Newell do all the films after the fourth).

In a nutshell, 2011 has been a stark contrast to 2010, which had several films added to my personal favorites list. In fact, up to this point, the only film I'd give a 4.5/5 to is Hugo. I'll comment on the 3D first of all and say that the first 5-10 minutes it's utilized magnificently, but after that it becomes, like most of the 3D in The Lion King's re-release, negligible. Regardless, it's a superb film that anyone with a passion for film should definitely watch. The child actors do a solid job, with Chloe Grace Moretz playing a character who completely contrasts the one of HIt-Girl in last year's surprise hit Kick-Ass (but she manages to be equally likeable here, I think she's the next to star to keep an eye out for). And of course there's Ben Kingsley, who provides the most convincing performance in the film; he should be in the running for Best Supporting Actor--I'd even say his performance here rivals the one he provided alongside Liam Neeson in 1993's Schindler's List. The big surprise with the film, however, is Sacha Baron Cohen as the Inspector. While we're led to think his character will be a carbon cutout, he actually has more depth thanks to a few small scenes that truly add up and made me admire the film all the more because of it.

You-your key...completes me!

So yes, I was quite impressed by Hugo overall, but something I was appalled by is how, when I saw it a few days ago at 7 PM, I was literally the only person in the theater. What's worse: I've heard from at least one other person that they were alone in their theater when seeing it. And yet we have trite trash like Twilight being stormed as if The Dark Knight Rises was being given an early, full-blown screening.

But I'm not one to stay on insignificant matters for too long, so for some actual movies I've seen released prior to 2011...

Capote: I remember just starting middle and one night asking my mother what constituted good acting, to which she said "when you can't tell when the actor is acting." For the longest time, this type of effect escaped me, even when I began to watch more and more films. Recently, however, I've seen it happen a few times, but I think Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance in 2005's biopic Capote was the first time I got the impression I wasn't even watching him as an actor. It really helped getting into the deliberately slow-paced film a lot easier. Additionally, his intensifying relationship with Perry helped lend a sense of tension during the second two acts. I think it's incredible how Hoffman managed to nail down the look, sound and feel of Capote, from losing 40 pounds for the role, looking equally shorter than usual, the high pitch voice and of course his mannerisms and psychology. It's actually an experience in and of itself, one that I think anyone with the least bit of interest in acting needs to watch.

My voice gives me Academy Award status.

Erin Brockovich: I wouldn't have even bothered with this film had it not been for the fact one of my roommates had to watch it for his course. He completely despised it and me, being one who's aroused when films are abhorred in such a passionate manner, was curious to see what it would be like. To my pleasant surprise, I found it a very enjoyable and earnest film. Roberts definitely provides a terrific, memorable performance alongside Albert Finney and, to my surprise, Aaron Eckhart. And almost instantly I could tell that the score was done by my personal favorite contemporary composer, Thomas Newman, so that was a nice touch. Needless to say, the verdict between my roommate and I between the film could hardly be any different.

Amelie: Here's a film I heard all about but never bothered to watch until I had to watch it for my second French course during the Spring semester. Going in, I wasn't sure what to expect since the cover makes the title character seem a bit...off, and imagining the director who gave us Alien: Resurrection do a drama/comedy sounded like an equally curious transition. Thankfully, it turned out to be a entertaining and engaging film. Audrey Tautou provides a wonderful performance and helps make Amelie an irresistibly lovable character. She's shy and timid in some ways, but outgoing and hilarious in others--we're constantly taken into the picture even further thanks to this and other strengths. Even if you're not crazy about films with romantic plots and are put off by foreign language movies, I'd still encourage this film because of how easy it is to enjoy the story and characters.

After Hours: I wouldn't be surprised if you haven't heard of this film, it's a lesser known effort by Martin Scorsese that he did after The Last Temptation of Christ. A bit of a black comedy in some ways, but also crude in other means, After Hours is the kind of film you watch to be reminded how your night could be so much worse. While I've only seen four of Scorsese's movies (including this one) and find one to be among the most overrated films of all time, this was a fun and crazy experience that I'd definitely recommend.

Angel Heart: Okay, most of the movies up to this point have been recommendations, so let's tackle something different. Angel Heart is another under-the-radar film nowadays but back when it was released, it drew quite a bit of controversy over a scene with Lisa Bonet, which was altered to avoid an X rating. The film stars a young, almost unrecognizable Mickey Rourke and an appropriately cast Robert De Niro. Conceptually, it seems like a good recipe, but it's completely predictable and, because of it, even the absurd scenes only seem to make the film more (needlessly) convoluted in attempt to distort what most viewers should be able to figure out early on. While De Niro turns out a good performance as Louis Cyphre, I feel that, aside from some great lines, Angel Heart is little more than an absurd yet predictable drag.

Should've taken my offer on that egg, Johnny.

Bellflower: Here's an indie film that was released earlier this year and, despite gaining some acclaim, turned out to be another viewing I can't say I particularly enjoyed. If there's anything I took away from this film, it's that you could use it as proof that we need authority. The film essentially has increasingly hectic events occurring, all courtesy of people who probably aren't even 25 years old. Things get twisted around as the rising action begins to reach a climax, but it's around this point that things just fall apart and the film itself seems unsure what to do for a resolution.

The Docks of New York: This movie was an interesting experience for one reason: it was the first time I saw a silent film. Despite being a sharp divergence from what I'm used to, this didn't offset my chance to take things as they should be. There are some great shots in the movie that would probably give many directors nowadays a turnaround. The film's lead actor got me and other members of the film club thinking of Robert De Niro and Alec Baldwin a lot, but we leaned towards the latter because of their mannerisms. If you happen to stumble across this movie, I'd suggest checking it out, there's some good comedy and fun to have with solid directing to boot.

It's funny how this probably constitutes a lengthy blog when I've probably only mentioned about half of the movies I've seen recently. Though I'd like to talk about many others, I'll save the space for now and mention other movies I've watched along with what I'd rate each:

Thank You For Smoking: 3.75/5

Harry Brown: 3/5

The Princess and the Frog: 3.75/5

Broadcast News: 3.5/5

The Magnificent Ambersons: 3.75/5

Dances with Wolves: 4.5/5

Stardust Memories: 3.75/5

Collateral: 4/5

Charlie Wilson's War: 3.75/5

Blade Runner (The Final Cut): 3.5/5

Bowling for Columbine: 5/5

K-PAX: 3/5

Friday: 1.5/5

The Girl Cut in Two: 2.5/5

Battle: Los Angeles: 3.5/5

Hannibal: 2.5/5

The Majestic: 3.75/5

If you'd like to know specifically what I thought of any of the above films, just let me know in a comment and I'll get back to you.

What Do I Look Like, a Botanist?

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Perhaps giving a major (catch-up) blog is irrelevant when my last major posting was back in July, but hey, when you're a year from finishing college and have a full schedule of upper level (English) classes, freedom doesn't tend to hand itself over. Now that the semester has ended, however, I can let everyone know what's been going on with me and the good ol' MGM's (movies, games and music).

Not Quite on the Front

I remember being in high school, back when I had far more time (and money) to spend on most upcoming videogames. Now it's a vastly different situation, with only a few games compelling me to purchase (or try) them. In fact, the only game released this year that I've purchased is Forza Motorsport 4. Even though I can't tell you how a car truly runs or the what little details really mean, I'd still consider myself one who knows more about cars than the average dealership consumer. This, combined with my love of the first three Forza Motorsport games, should make my interest in the fourth iteration all the more obvious.

Having gradually worked my way through the World Tour, messing around with a couple car designs, taking part in the occasional car tunes and owning about 1/4 the game's total car roster, I'd say I've had my fair share of time dedicated to this release. Though most of the changes made to the game are minor, they're generally appreciated and, in the case of the car handling/physics, actually makes a great difference. The AutoVista mode is a bit of a novelty, but it's still enjoyable to mess around in--I'm just disappointed there aren't any muscle cars or DLC AutoVista vehicles yet (unless you count the Ford GT as muscle instead of exotic). Some visual details are very welcome too, thanks to the enhanced lighting engine (I was ready to cry when I saw the reflections off my cars in the Maple Valley bridge).

Not all the changes made are welcome, however. For one, I hate how you need to have Xbox Live Gold in order to receive gift cars, even if, like me, you bought the LCE for VIP status. Between college and finding out a couple people I know have had their Xbox Live accounts hacked and banned (with horrible customer service from Microsoft), I've had little incentive to upgrade my account. And given how cheap everyone was online when I raced during the free weekend over Thanksgiving, I'm even less compelled to pay for a feature I'll seldom use. Even worse: Microsoft love to make it annoying to cancel auto-renewal unless you buy a card in stores. Tsk tsk.

Other games have caught my attention this year as well, especially after the distinct lack of interesting titles from last year. I managed to rent and beat Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary since, given the unfaithful multiplayer component, even a $40 price tag feels rather steep. I'll say that the audio/visual presentation is a welcome touch and, thankfully, framerate drops were far less prominent (as I was hoping). Some of the levels were a bit easier to see and navigate through, such as The Flood and Keyes. But even for all the nice visual improvements, I still found some quibbles in the presentation. Many of the cutscenes are given different slightly different shots, angles and animations. While this is certainly understandable and, in the case of the latter, meant to make them appear more natural, many weren't too appeasing to me. Not to mention the lip-syncing is absolutely horrible (there was a point I said "this is worse than Metal Gear Solid 3").

While these aren't significant faults in and of themselves, there was one problem I encountered that ultimately left a very bitter final impression. During the last cutscene, the audio and visuals were about 3 seconds out of sync, so music and effects (like Halo blowing up and falling apart) came before it actually occurred on-screen. And yet the dialogue still matched what was happening during the cutscene. Not good, not good. And if you're wondering, I did find and check out all of the terminals, most of which I didn't think much of, though there were a couple I appreciated (one where Guilty Spark goes into detail about all the Halos and the one on the level Keyes come to mind).

One of my friends is also letting me borrow a couple of his games: Skyrim and Saints Row: The Third. I haven't gotten around to the former yet, but I've been playing Saints Row and am about 40% through the game. Being a fan of the previous two iterations, I must say that this latest entry has been a bittersweet experience. While some of the fundamentals are still here like some hectic activities with easygoing, pick-up-and-play gameplay, I feel like much of what made the previous two games so fun is now lost. The city doesn't look or feel as interesting, several activities have been eliminated or cut back (while the awful Escort and paparazzi missions return intact--working for an annoying pimp speaking in autotune nonetheless). And while the game is still fun, it's one that I can only tackle in small bursts because most of the main missions essentially consist of you shooting through the same repetitive enemies and confrontations. As a result, I've been going through the game more for the sake of completion rather than an honest desire to actually finish the game.

There are other recently released games I'm hoping to try out. Gears of War is a series I'm hoping to finish, since I'm in the minority who actually feel some sort of a connection to the storyline (namely thanks to the second game). And even though I didn't bother with its predecessor, I'm interested to try out Arkham City, though I'd rather play Arkham Asylum first. Then there's the craze over Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3, which I'd encourage any possible readers to watch Ben Croshaw's review of Modern Warfare 3 to get my thoughts on both (despite not having played either specific entry). One release I'd like to purchase that seems to have a limited supply is the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection since I'm a huge fan of Snake Eater and would like to actually finish MGS2 (long story to why I never did).

Where's the Orchestra?

I haven't been particularly attentive to music for the second half of this year either, but there have been some recent and slightly older albums I've gotten around to hearing. To be honest, many of my favorite bands seem to be going downhill with subsequent releases, which is a shame, as their recent efforts definitely had potential. One of the immediate indications was Iconoclast by Symphony X, which only had 2 memorable tracks (Iconoclast and Heretic). Similar could be said for Amorphis' most recent studio effort, The Beginning of Times. Both have their moments and are functional albums, but are remarkably stale for bands who can at least provide a few strong tracks amidst less-than-stellar works.

Even worse, I recently listened to Imaginaerum by Nightwish and I have to say that they're only heading further downhill. The interesting part is that, like Dark Passion Play, this has less to do with Annette being an inferior (though still good) singer compared to Tarja, but with how the album tries to cover so much ground without taking initiative. What's equally curious is that with an album like Century Child, the runtime felt way too short while both Dark Passion Play and Imaginaerum, conversely, feel like overkill on the runtime. I think this says a lot, coming from someone who still holds Nostradamus (by Judas Priest) in high regards.

On a more positive note, I think Dream Theater followed up Black Clouds & Silver Lining pretty well with the misleading A Dramatic Turn of Events. It's still very much the same Dream Theater that fans and haters have come to know, so it's a conveniently safe release. Whether it matches its predecessor is debatable, but I'm just glad they still avoided making another slump a la Systematic Chaos. Were it not for college, I could have seen the band live too, but slightly higher ticket prices than what I normally pay and assignments didn't make it too feasible at the time. Fortunately, I did manage to see Symphony X back in May (shame that Soilwork and Nevermore dropped the show, but we got to hear all of the 24-minute epic The Odyssey) and also saw Opeth and Katatonia in September, which was a great show. Unfortunately, I still haven't gotten around to hearing Heritage.

Will It Have a Happy Ending?

If there's any field I've still managed to set time aside for this year, it's that of film (despite 2011 being an incredibly lackluster year). Though I'm majoring in English/Creative Writing and have never tried my hand at a screenplay, I'd like to imagine myself being involved with films for a career. Over the past year I've seen several movies which I could delve into with plentiful details, but I feel it would be best suited for a separate blog because of how many I've seen and would like to talk about to some degree.

Until then, I'll let De Niro and Rourke maintain your attention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQfiuHK_U84

So, I Heard There's a Trailer for GTA 5...

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...hearing led to viewing and, if one were to ask my general and initial thoughts, I'd say it looks nice; clean, colorful and detailed.

Ask my full, honest reaction, and I'll tell you my excitement spiked as much as the creativity on display through the entire trailer.

Of course, Rockstar aren't the only culprit.

What I'm Dreading About My Smartphone Upgrade

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As I expressed in my previous list, there are quite a few things that are making me exciting and anticipating my upgrade to a smartphone. However, like several things out in the harsh world, there are downsides to owning such a small yet advanced device. And most, if not all of these points are potential dealbreakers for several people (and who can blame them?). Although I'm about ready to face what will come, this doesn't make them seem any less malignant.

High Monthly Payments

Even in my other list, I indicated reluctance towards upgrading when I made note of the data plans available to my family member and I. The option we'll be going for costs $150 per month before taxes, which will likely bring it close to or around $180 per month. I've set most of my summer-time paychecks aside to pay what I can of the plan, since we currently pay $100 a month for three lines. Granted, Sprint are still one of the less-expensive phone carriers, and even with unlimited texting and data sharing, it's tough to feel content about shelling out the equivalent to a smartphone every month for those services on. This is especially tough to justify if you live in an area that has no 4G coverage, which seems to defeat the $10-$20 "Premium Data" charge included in the aforementioned monthly payments.

Hand them Franklins over

Extra Charges

Again, this is something I've alluded to already. My family and friends have had our share of extra charges being added to some montly bills, though other than extra text messages mine have been kept under control. Regardless, companies are only bound to try and find a way to make you pay more; whether once in a while or for each month. It's a real hassle and only adds to the compromise of "new, advanced technology for less-than-satisfactory costs." Just like the man Steve Martin pays to get a cab at the beginning of Planes, Trains & Automobiles (only to be "robbed"), their mentality essentially amounts to "oh, if you're willing to pay that, then surely you can pay this." Hopefully this won't come to be a huge presence for us, but it's practically an inevitability.

Upgrade Wait--The Obsolete Factor

Although this is applicable to ANY phone contract scenario, it applies more after you buy what might be considered a technologically advanced product. Of course, we all know the phrase about how a computer/device is obsolete the day after you buy it. Companies love to push out newer versions of what are already considered new products altogether, so frequently so that it becomes bewildering (I'm pointing at you, Apple, just look at the announcement of the MacBook Air replacing the original MacBook). This very point could provide the basis for a blog on its own (which I direct people to the Human CentiPad episode of South Park), but I must refrain and digress. It only takes a few short months after you buy a certain product for its upgraded version or replacement to come along, and by then yours feels obsolete. And of course, when locked into a (two-year) contract, you're left waiting even longer to get a "new" device (for a reasonable price). There is one advantage to this, however: the high cost of upgrading early makes doing so that much more discouraging and unlikely, and means you'd technically spend less money in the long run. I'll just have to retain what I've always tried: get the most mileage possible out of my purchases before ditching them.

Not exactly a reassuring sight

Damage Done

One of the top reasons I wasn't very fond of the iPhone at first was because having the device be big and touchscreen-centered made me think (drop it once, your screen is done). And while the reports of dropping/damaging phones haven't been nearly as frequent as I thought, they've still popped up. I generally consider myself a safe and stable individual, but I still try to buy cases for my portable devices to keep them secured. I have my iPod clas sic in a very bare-bones plastic case that covers all but the screen and click-wheel, which I've dropped once or twice. The case came apart (it's two pieces) but protected the device and wasn't cracked, so I still was able to use it. One advantage to having a basic cell phone is that they tend to be very well built; only beginning to fall apart after much use and abuse. But I'm skeptical about how well a smartphone can hold up with what I only assume to be a delicate touchscreen. I've already ordered a case for my Evo 3D, but there's still the possibility of dropping or damaging it, which, if it coming to occur, then it'd be another hefty fine to face. Oh, and ten points to whoever gets the (musical) pun above.

Reasons I Suddenly Want a Smartphone

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I can remember when the iPhone was first announced and released; how I sulked at it in various ways. The idea of a phone that was used (almost) completely via touchscreen just sounded like a recipe for inconvenience and defects. Applications and features were but a shrug-aside to me as well. Having a $500-$600 price tag (yes, I remember their original cost) didn't help me dig into the hype either.

Fast-forward four years and now I can't wait to upgrade my beyond-minimalist cell phone to a smartphone (my eye is on the HTC Evo 3D, though the Photon 4G has also caught my attention). It's a bit funny that something I held with such maligned thoughts is now the latest thing I'm looking forward to incorporating. A family member and myself will be upgrading, hopefully some time shortly into August. I'm still asked by some of my other relatives why I really feel the "need" (I prefer the term "strong desire") for such a feature-ridden device when I essentially get most of them between a regular phone and my MacBook. Well, I'm going to give a list of reasons that have made me succumb to the smartphone hype. Conversely, I might also do a list of things I'm not looking forward to with the upgrade to a fancy new device.

Device Price

This point is more than what it seems, I'll be the first to admit (data plans), but for the sake of this list, I'm focusing on the cost of the phone itself. As I mentioned above, the iPhone wasn't the cheapest price upon release. And while you can technically buy pretty much any phone without a carrier, the cost essentially rivals the iPhone's original cost. But when the time comes for an eligible upgrade at listed price, smartphones are actually at a decent price point. $200 for a recently released Evo 3D or the upcoming Photon 4G really isn't that bad of a deal for the phone itself. It's generally best to wait for new technology to become accepted before jumping on the bandwagon. Smartphones are all the rage now, resulting in more competitive pricing, which starts on the phone itself. I'm fine waiting a few years to get a more full-fledged device for a better deal.

Just about anything is an upgrade from this (my current phone)

Several Available Options

When the iPhone was released, one could essentially call it the start to the smartphone craze. It's continued to be a good enough device (reliability proving my skepticisms wrong), but I don't like giving into a(n expansion to a) field that has limited options. Although, now that other companies have jumped on the bandwagon and are continually providing more options, enticements have begun peaking my interest. As I said, I like the iPhone more now than originally. However, I still regard it as a basic and underwhelming device; one that would probably disappoint me with everyday use. But there are far more choices out there, many of which I consider better. Since I have larger hands/thumbs, a big screen is practically a necessity for me, and that's something devices like the Evo offer. And while I no longer deem it a necessary feature, the inclusion of a physical keyboard is something I'm fond of. Each carrier has options with that, but if I looked around two to three years ago, I'd have a tough time finding a satisfying device. Now, however, it's tough to choose between two devices...or four. But it's always better to struggle choosing from more options than to scratch your head at justifying the purchase of something there's a limited selection for.

Easier (and Better) Organization

As a college student (even with only a year left before graduating), it does well to stay on top of things. This can become challenging and cluttered, with the organization of papers, dates and other things (not just for clas ses). Something I faced on an almost daily basis was writing down little bits on my (physical) calendar and pieces of paper to remind myself of what to do. Needless to say, convenience wasn't the first word to come to mind. With a smartphone at my hands, I'd be able to better manage keeping track of what I need to put down. As any other college student can testify, there are still professors who don't allow or look fondly on the use of laptops in clas s even with the dominance of technology in our lives. My next best option? Try something a little more inconspicuous with the use of a smartphone. Even if I were to wait to put something in my digital calendar until after clas s for example, it'd still be more fresh in my memory than it would be after a 20-30 minute walk back to my apartment. Not to mention the lack of handwriting would make editing information WAY easier (because we can all attest to instructors changing due dates, some more frequently than others). And silly as it might sound for a guy to say, but this could come in handy when I do grocery shopping (side note: data > paper for short bits, paper > data for longer material aka books).

Sometimes all it takes are nice looks

Finally Have a Real Camera/Camcorder

I'm the kind of person who loves to capture things that catch their eye. Unfortunately, I've only owned one regular camera/camcorder and, because of how poorly designed the battery tray was, it ran its course before having an ideal lifespan. Since then, I've had not but the abysmal camera on my less-than-minimalist cell phone. As a result, I couldn't tell you how many times I've said "oh, I wish I had a camera/camcorder to see this again." While I'm fully aware that a smartphone camera/camcorder is bare-bones compared to higher end capture devices, I just need something that will be "good," not top-of-the-line. If you gave me a $600+ camera I wouldn't know what to do with it. While I try to take the best photos possible, I think having even 5-8 megapixels with up to 720p camera/camcorder would be more than sufficient for what I desire. And while I still view the 3D craze as a gimmick, having the option for photos and videos on the Evo 3D still makes for a nice addition and twist, as the 3D effects won't be limited to what others (filmmakers) provide.

Unlimited Texting

If it isn't clear by now, I'll just come out and say it: I'm generally a late adapter. I prefer to wait and see how things unfold. Among the areas this applies to is texting my contacts. I never really jumped on to that until I had a cell phone for a couple years or so, and even then it's taken some time before I did it frequently. Unfortunatley, the current plan my family and I use only allows for the first 100 text messages to be free (it's 25 cents for each additional message, if I recall correctly). Again, I think anyone can agree that 100 text messages today is like 50 pages in a long-running book series such as Harry Potter or Dark Tower. There are a limited number of options for which data plan my family and I will decide on, but about the only restriction we'll face by taking the least expensive option is how many minutes we can talk before paying more. Text messages and data sharing are unlimited and included. In other words: it'll make conversing with my friends and other contacts that much easier. I'd still use the phone itself, obviously, but about 80% of my communications occur via text messages. They're a generally easier and cheaper option (since you can view the message when you want/need to and respond correspondingly), which is something I'll be looking forward to enjoying more freely.

Hit Up the GPS

It might be a small touch, but every little bit does contribute. The advantage to having a GPS on its own is the convenience of directions right before you. Not to mention you save paper and ink (thus trees and money). If I need to suddenly find somewhere to go (like a decent auto repair shop, since my car loves being a money sinkhole), then I have the power to conveniently find one right in my pocket. Or perhaps my friends will want to go somewhere, a place that I've no idea about. Type it into Google Maps (for example) and I'll be on my way.

Gaming Break

Another small advantage, and though I'm not crazy about the idea of smartphone gaming overall, there is some potential. The games that seem to involve physics are pretty neat and the racing games, while certainly not ideal, are designed well enough for enjoyment. Not to mention I've read and heard that games from the PlayStation and GameBoy have been emulated for release on smartphones. Come on, how can I deny my inner, nerdy kid side the chance to play Pokemon Yellow and Silver from my phone?

Lolcat says "I can has Pokemon?"

Even Better Internet Accessibility

Just like smartphones, internet has been on high emphasis these days. And portability is the way to go (desktops are just about on their way out). And while devices such as laptops are great for this, you can get the same or similar results on a smartphone. They're also smaller/more portable and, depending on your location and available internet options, can be faster. Since I'll be back in Orlando for this academic year, I should have 4G connections at my fingertips. By comparison, the internet we have at our house in my hometown is...less than ideal. Even if big brother might be watching, I like to take an "ignorance is bliss" mentality (if you can enjoy it even more, then why reject it?).

Recent & Upcoming Reviews

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With the summer under way for me, I'm trying to get back into a groove of reviewing I haven't had for a year and a half now. This past week has actually been a successful start, as I've written and posted about seven (four tech reviews and three album reviews). Since I hope to continue this through the summer, at the very least, I'll try to remember and post whatever I do. They'll mostly amount to what I write on Sputnikmusic (album reviews) and, on occasion, CNET. I try to keep what I contribute to what either hasn't been reviewed, could use a new review and/or different verdict (see my Blooddrunk review from my profile), which means those of you who know me might be surprised by what I might think of resorting to write about.

Here are the reviews I've recently provided:

CNET - Skullcandy Ink'd Ear Buds

CNET - Skullcandy Hesh Headset

CNET - Apple iPod 160

CNET - Xbox 360 Slim

Sputnikmusic - Amorphis: The Karelian Isthmus

Sputnikmusic - Thomas Newman: Road to Perdition OST

Sputnikmusic - Nightwish: End of an Era

Looks Like My Days of Plastic Instruments Are Done

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Between the ever-declining economy and a less-than-satisfying third installment in what was one of my most frequently played franchises, I've decided to try selling my Rock Band and Guitar Hero products. And it didn't take long for someone to show interest in and buy my keyboard and guitar controllers. Now all that's left are the games and my worn drum set (so much so that the red pad is flimsy now). I do still have a soft spot for the series and will miss playing downloadable content, but it's seldom that content I'm interested in is made available (and even less frequent when I feel compelled to purchase). Not to mention I really don't like the change of game engine and the effect it's left on the calibration for the series (which, combined with my recently purchased HDTV, doesn't make for ideal playing). Even Pro Keyboard couldn't keep me coming back for long, and left me saying over and over that "Rock Band 3 is motivation for the wrong reasons" (it makes me want to take up real instruments, but I'd rather learn from an actual instructor than trial-and-error of a seemingly inaccurate videogame).

Plus, how often to covers and live versions of songs actually match the exact timing of the studio version anyway?

On a better note, I bought myself a new headset after my Skullcandy Hesh cracked:

I must say that these are quite comfortable and almost match the Bose and Beats headsets I've worn in that regard. The sound quality is pretty good too, though the highs feel too prominent even after letting the sound break in. So if I ever happen to listen to someone like Napalm Death they won't sound right, but I'm not a huge fan of lower tone genres so hopefully I won't be too bothered most of the time.

Top 10 Films I Like That Everyone Else Hates

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As promised, here's my list of films that I at least enjoy, but almost everyone else seems to hold with disdain or nearly abhor. Now, one thing I want to emphasize is that although there are plenty of films I happen to love which others don't hold nearly as high, there are only two films (possibly three, depending on how you view things) on this list that I like a lot, or just flat-out love (the final 2-3). The other films I mostly find entertaining with enough redeeming qualities to where I could at least enjoy them when in the mood for any ordinary, but fun film. Additionally, I'm quite aware of the similarities most of the films on this share, which is completely coincidental with regards to the fact I like the films. Anyway, onto the second of these two lists.

*As before, SPOILERS warning.

10. Christmas with the Kranks

I'll admit it's been a while since I last saw this film, but I'm a sucker for just about any Christmas-themed film. Boy did this film get torn apart by critics and casual moviegoers, and to be honest I never understood why it's been regarded as such a repulsive work. It's obviously not a great film and the premise might sound like a cop-out, especially since there's hardly any surprises to find after seeing the trailer(s). However, I think that, more times than not, what should determine whether a film can even be tolerated is whether it's entertaining or not. And for me and Christmas with the Kranks, I was entertained enough to where I felt it wasn't time wasted. I saw it once in theaters and again shortly after it came out on DVD, both times during which I felt I got what I wanted: a mildly enjoyable Christmas film with silly, but humorous moments. One pleasant surprise I found with the film was what it chose for its more heartfelt scene at the end where Tim Allen gives the cruise him and his wife were gonna take to their neighbors who they normally have a sour relationship with. The scene itself isn't a huge surprise, but one small part I liked was when the husband tells Allen this doesn't mean he'll suddenly be nice, and Allen jokingly gives him similar regards. It's a small scene that shows a nice light-hearted acceptance of two characters. I might not bother with it during Christmases as of recent, but I still think this is a perfectly decent film for some chuckles.

9. Godzilla

This film is probably a gigantic surprise given my number one choice from the previous list, but as I said there, I didn't mind Broderick until I saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off. And I had seen Godzilla (several times) before I ever got around to Bueller's tormenting escapade. Emmerich's a director I've always had negligible regards for. Though I still haven't seen Stargate or 2012, I'd regard most of his films as fair entertainment (with the glaring exception of 10,000 B.C.). But with the exception of the film in parenthesis, his more or less "Americanized" take on Godzilla seems to be his most reviled work. The key reasons behind the outrage towards this film seem to be that it's not true to its source material and that the film is too long with too little Godzilla. I can understand the latter of these two arguments to an extent, but I for one am glad that Emmerich took a far different approach. Though I haven't watched any of the Japanese Godzilla films from start to finish, I've seen bits and pieces from the King Kong vs. Godzilla film as well as a flick involving King Ghidorah (I only know the monster names since Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee is a guilty pleasure game of mine). While I can see how films like those are entertaining, I like seeing a different, if still derivative approach taken (not that I'm making a direct comparison, but just look at Batman Begins/The Dark Knight vs. Batman/Batman Returns). Godzilla is a long film, I'll admit, especially since most of it is talking but I never get bored when watching the film, especially when we get the silly but fun Baby Godzilla section. Godzilla's one of those film I'll acknowledge and accept its shortcomings, but I won't say they ruin the film to where it can't be enjoyed.

8. Wild Wild West

h boy, this film is a huge contender for most despairingly regarded film on my list. Once again, I admit it's a pretty ridiculous film, but what can I say? I suppose I'm just a sucker for the absurd and silly (part of why I didn't mind Date Movie, Epic Movie or Meet the Spartans; but not enough to put them on this list). I generally like Will Smith even if his movies themselves aren't always the best, with this being one of those instances. At the same time, however, Wild Wild West is a film I can enjoy precisely for its proclaimed preposterousness. I won't call it a good film, but I wouldn't slap the bad sticker on it either. It's a movie that fits with its name does the trick as an amusing film which I can fall back on when nothing else (that's great) is on the boob tube.

7. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

I must say that I'm surprised that I've enjoyed all of the Terminator films up to this point (keep in-mind I haven't watched the TV show and probably never will). Though it might debatably be the worst installment thus far, Rise of the Machines still seems to attract a large amount of despair. I think this is mostly for two reasons. One, it's following up on Judgment Day, one of the best film sequels to date, and two, it's essentially adding onto and trivializing what most considered a resolved plot from Terminator 2. I can understand feeling uneasy about the latter, but to be honest, I think it still fits into the plotline well enough. The action scenes are also very well directed, especially towards the end where the impending events begin to feel that much more legitimate. Given that this is by the same person who gave us the abomination that was U-571, however, it should go without saying the film does obviously have some problems. But as far as being an at least entertaining follow-up to a couple films that, quite frankly, won't ever be outdone in the same series, it's sufficient. Is it the weakest in the series? Maybe, but it's still a lot better than the dump that most film sequels fall into.

6. Bicentennial Man

Robin Williams isn't exactly one to pick the best films all the time, especially as of recent. Despite this, he has starred in some good films and provided two solid performances in Dead Poets Society along with Awakenings, which I consider a very underrated film. I remember seeing trailers for Bicentennial Man when it first came out but didn't think much of it. Then it came on the Encore channels and I decided to give it a shot and see if it was really just another mediocre film. To my surprise, it was actually a fairly good effort. Just like Terminator 3, I think there are two main reasons people didn't like Bicentennial man: it was marketed like a comedy and is a fairly long film. But I'm a sucker for longer films even if I begin to get a bit bored and I actually don't mind a film being different from what it was marketed as; what I care about in the end is if the film is any good. And with Bicentennial Man, I got what was a usually honest and occasionally emotional film that does a good enough job developing its characters with an interesting (if implausible) storyline. It's not a movie to watch from start to finish several times, but works more than well enough as a drama to watch on a nice weekend night when you don't mind putting more time into it than most other films.

5. The Matrix Revolutions

I'm sure that anyone who saw my last list is probably bewildered by my inclusion of this film, especially given that it's this high. But Revolutions is a bit of a specialty for this list since I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm a fan, but I do find it enjoyable, especially compared to the travesty that was Reloaded. For some reason people really love to pick on this installment of the Matrix trilogy, which I guess has to do with the fact that most of the movie is the battle against the machines and apparently people hate the ending. Based on the reasons I provided for hating Reloaded, a lot of you are probably wondering why Revolutions is on this list since it's technically an action film more than anything. I guess you could say that after feeling so insulted by Reloaded I wasn't expecting anything in its follow-up, but most of the scenes in this film were much more rewarding. Part of the reason I say that I'm more fulfilled by them is because the fighting is taking place OUTSIDE of the Matrix itself, which is where I felt the attention should have been focused on in Reloaded. Given the initial premise at the beginning of Reloaded, it's pretty clear that the real attention should have been paid towards the machines, but instead our main characters are seen mostly screwing around in the Matrix, resulting in an overabundance of exaggerated action. Bringing most of the film back to the more gritty (by comparison) setting of Zion made the action feel much more tense. As for the ending, I'll admit it's not great and while people might think the final battle against Smith was underwhelming compared to the clone fight in Reloaded, what else could they do? Neo was fighting hundreds of Smiths at once, were you expecting Neo split into 100 clones and fight a million Smiths? Yeah, it was over-the-top, but Reloaded wasn't exactly in short supply of absurdities either. All I can really say is that Revolutions on its own is a mediocre film, but compared to Reloaded and keeping the reception of both sequels in-mind, I think it's misjudged.

4. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I think that with the possible exception of Wild Wild West, this is the most critically revered film on my list. What's most perplexing to me is that even people who loved the first Transformers film despise Revenge of the Fallen like a creation of the Holocaust. This film is literally more of the same that we got in the first film; giant robots talking and fighting, some cheap and fairly stupid attempts at humor, a long runtime and an ending that's satisfying overall yet still leaves hunger for more. One particular criticism that I find absurd is the belief that two of the characters in the film are racist depictions. If the two clowns referred to are that stereotypical, then what about Jazz from the first film? A character who spoke silly slang and was the only Autobot who died at the end. People also hated the long runtime, which does admittedly take its toll but it doesn't by any stretch make the film unbearable. I also find it funny that there's a lot of outrage over the "Autobot Heaven" scene. Need it be pointed out that this is a film with giant, talking robots dishing things out throughout the Earth? The films are highly fictionalized, what else is there to expect? If there's an "Autobot Heaven" briefly depicted then fine, it's just a small inclusion that in no way intrudes any philosophy or argument. I might be dragging on for this one, but given all the negativity surrounding this film (especially given it got a Razzie nomination), I think someone should at least come to its defense. The film is long, but it has satisfying action sequences. Almost all the attempts at humor are embarrassing, but they don't significantly detract from the entire package. It might be another CGI-heavy film, but so many other releases are and happen to produce far worse results. I watched the film in theaters at a midnight launch and saw it again on DVD, with my verdict remaining largely unchanged and essentially the same as the first: enjoyable, best on the big-screen, take it or leave it.

3. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

I remember when I first saw the trailer for Tokyo Drift that I was already in the camp of people ready to deem it even worse than 2 Fast 2 Furious. It literally looked like an adaptation of Need for Speed Underground with no potential improvement. Then the scores and reviews which, interestingly, the non-critic reviews were actually positive while the scores were incredibly low. Out of some blind curiosity, I decided to see just how bad the film might be. Imagine how I felt not long into the film when I said "damn, this actually pretty good." I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is my favorite of the Fast and Furious films thus far, which might not sound like much but I actually do like this film quite a bit. The main reason I like it so much is because it really has the best, most well-developed story with characters who feel more down-to-earth and realistic than almost anyone else in the other three installments. I also like that CGI and shaky cam shots weren't resorted to nearly as much in this film. Instead, Justin Lin gave us some honestly good directing in and out of the cars. I also like that car tech doesn't become a part of many points of dialogue. Instead, the focus is kept on the actual plot at-hand as well as the characters. The racing is certainly a big part of the film, but it's nice to see that it actually takes a seat for the more important matters in the film, more times than not. I supposed what it really comes down to is that I think this film is enjoyable, but it's also put together very well without trying to step too far out of its proper boundaries.

2. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that I wasn't expecting much out of this film after how disappointed I was with Dead Man's Chest. But just like Curse of the Black Pearl before it, At World's End turned out to be a big surprise and has actually worked its way up into my personal favorite films list. Just like Tokyo Drift, I'm going to be honest and say this is my favorite of the POTC films released to date. What I liked about At World's End is that it reverted back to the more serious nature of the first film compared to how carelessly silly Dead Man's Chest often was. There were still some comedic moments to be had, but focus was much tighter this time around. As I've said, I tend to enjoy longer films more than most, and At World's End is one that actually maintains my interest from start to finish despite being nearly 3 hours. Another reason I hold the film in a fond light is because I absolutely love the score. Hans Zimmer really gave us some incredible pieces to hear throughout the film, and I think that many of the scenes work so effectively just because of the underscoring. A prime complaint with this film is that it's too hard to follow, which might be a legitimate complaint if you've only seen it once or twice. But even then it's not difficult to keep up with what's going on or what might happen since it unfolds in a concise matter. While there are a couple points it can be tough to keep up with the shifting conversations, it's not like learning another language. I'm sure I'm alone in holding this movie in such high regards, but I just think it's a borderline masterpiece of a film that, if I were to take a more directly involved path in film, would be one of my main inspirations.

1. Alien 3

Before I get into this film, I want to emphasize that I'm referring to the Special Edition/Extended Cut of the film found on the Alien Quadrilogy box set. I also like the theatrical cut, but I'm going to be speaking on behalf of the more fleshed out cut. Alien 3's a tough film for me to really narrow down reasons for what it is I like so much about it. One of the biggest compliments I have to give is the setting, I love the gritty look and feel of the prison planet we go around. There's a very dry and mundane atmosphere that's captured in a way that makes the film feel surprisingly interesting and different. Something else I'd say is that, overall, the more developed characters feel a bit easier to identify with than what I'd argue as the less-than-remarkable characters (overall) from the first Alien and the on/off again Marines of Aliens. Something else I want to talk about is Ripley's character. I've found it interesting that most viewers found her less likable in Alien 3, but I actually didn't feel connected to her until this film. In the first Alien I feel like she wasn't that much of a person to really place much empathy in, especially since she didn't seem to become the center of attention until near the end. Sort of an unremarkable protagonist, so to speak. As for Aliens, I actually found her rather annoying in parts. While she's obviously being developed as someone who's strong in their will and determination, there was just something about her attitude in many scenes that continues to rub me the wrong way (kind of like Kyle from South Park, he's a good character but always pisses me off). In Alien 3, her character is, admittedly, more undertoned, but I also think this makes her more interesting and realistic, which plays off the setting and unfolding events nicely. Now there are also the two key points people always point out as immediate problems with the film: Newt and Beihn's character dying immediately and the Alien egg being on-board the ship. In regards to the former, I didn't mind too much since Newt left a bittersweet effect on me similar to Ripley and while I certainly like Beihn, I feel like his character wasn't developed enough to the point where he was a pivotal concern. Not to mention neither probably would have lasted long with the Alien and prisoners on the planet; it would probably make for some unnecessary conflicts. As for the egg, I'll admit it's obviously a problem but I'm fine if a film has to make a stretch or two so it can actually get away with its plot. Alien 3 has been a personal favorite film of mine for a while, it just always manages to engross me despite what many would likely call a dull setting. It took a different direction from Aliens and even Alien (from horror, to action, to thriller), which I liked since, if following up on Aliens with more action, they'd probably resort to absurd measures like the Matrix sequels. The change of pace was welcome and helped keep things varied, which is just part of why I appreciate and defend it so much.