2012: A Year of Extremes

Excuse me while I blow the dust off this blog like an old N64 cartridge. Speaking of which, let me go on an IMMEDIATE tangent: My friend was over the other night and said his mom was planning on throwing out some of his old videogames (NES, Sega Saturn, N64 etc.), to which me and my roommate FREAKED OUT and told him to make sure she did no such thing. I regretted trading in my N64, original GameBoy, and assorted games for basically one and half original Xbox games almost immediately after I did so. Not only because I didn’t think I would ever want to play them again (What I would give to play Banjo Kazooie, GoldenEye, Diddy Kong Racing, any of the San Francisco Rush games, or Perfect Dark right now…) but also because I could have gotten a thousand times more for them on eBay versus the pittance I got from GameStop when I originally sold them. We assured him that if he didn’t want to keep them, we would gladly take them off his hands, or if he did want to keep them he could probably make a good chunk of change selling all that old school gamer swag on eBay. So here’s a lesson for all you cash strapped kiddies out there: If you’re desperate for the new Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, Dance Dance Revolution, or whatever you’re all playing nowadays, sell a kidney but don’t sell your classic games to GameStop for a fraction of what they’re worth. Throw those gaming treasures on eBay > ??? > profit. You can thank me later.

It’s been a casual five months since my last blog post and clearly that “post every other week” thing didn’t work out so well. Like I hypothesized in August, the last thing I want to do after staring at two computer screens all day is come home and stare at my laptop screen for another hour or two. Pretty much all I want to do when I get home from work is drink, sleep, play videogames, or go to the gym. Oh and remember that blog post where I was super excited about getting Fallout 3 for $10? I just finished it and it’s DLC on Sunday…76 in-game hours later. Oh the problems of being a videogame completionist… Now onto Batman: Arkham Asylum, Fallout: New Vegas, Halo 4, & Black Ops II…eventually. Not a lot of time for videogames now that I’m (sort of) a grown up.

Anyway… Now that 2012 has come and gone, I figured I should sort of wrap up how ridiculous of a year it has been for me. I’ve gone from being more broke than I’ve ever been, to having more money than I’ve ever known in my life, to buried under a pile of student debt from which I may never recover; from being so depressed that I didn’t even want to leave my apartment, to being happier than I’ve ever been in my life; and from working as an Economic Development & GIS Consultant and attending graduate school for City & Regional Planning to working as a Social Media Manager and Consultant. I bought…well, financed…my (realistic) dream car, a 2004 Infiniti G35, moved into a new apartment with two of my pals, posted back up in the gym for the first time in a year and a half (EAT BIG TO GET BIG), started going to grown up bars, and thanks to Don Draper and Roger Sterling graduated from boxed wine, Captain Morgan, and Four Lokos, to scotch, bourbon, and martinis. 2012 was a year of self improvement and refinement, and all in all my life is considerably better than it was a year ago. But although I’m thankful, I’m certainly not complacent.

“The only thing worse than not getting what you want is someone else getting it.”
– Roger Sterling, Mad Men

Exactly six months ago today, when I started at my current position, I was thrilled at the opportunity to build my company’s social media presence from scratch. I developed our accounts, I collaborate with our graphic designer on our branding, manage our social advertising, campaigns and engagement strategy. Very few social media managers have full reign over their company’s accounts. But being a one man social media team at a company where few, if anyone else even knows what Twitter is can be pretty lonely, and the environment can be creatively stifling. Without saying too much about my company, let’s just say the industry is very slow to embrace new technology and media. I feel like I haven’t even begun to tap my potential as a Social Media/Community/Account Manager, and my New Year’s Resolution is to move into a role that will both challenge me and help me learn from the people around me. I know this term is played out, but hustle is the word of the year for 2013. I’ve also had the fortunate opportunity to gather a few social media consulting clients, and if I find out the agency route isn’t for me, a small business social media consulting venture might be another possible career path.

Oh and wow 2012 was an unreal year for movies. And since I love ranking things, let me rank the ones I saw:

1. Moonrise Kingdom
2. Skyfall
3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
4. Lincoln
5. The Dark Knight Rises
6. Silver Linings Playbook
7. Looper
8. Django Unchained
9. Argo
10. The Avengers
11. Taken 2
12. Cloud Atlas
13. The Grey
14. Total Recall

Any year where a Christopher Nolan Batman movie is released and it isn’t my favorite movie means it must have been an outrageous year for movies. Daniel Day-Lewis deserves to win Best Actor for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, Moonrise Kingdom might have been Wes Anderson’s best offering yet, and after Silver Linings Playbook I now have a full blown celebrity crush on Jennifer Lawrence (ugh and Bradley Cooper).

I also think I went to more professional sporting events in one year than I’ve ever been to as well. In 2012 I attended a Yankees – Tigers game, Jets – Panthers pre-season game, the U.S. Open, and an Eagles – Panthers game. Hopefully I’ll have the means to attend even more in 2013, but only time will tell.

Hey…you know, this felt kind of good to blog again, but maybe that’s the scotch talking? Anyway, I’ll try to do at least a post a month going forward to keep you all on your toes. Oh, and Kevin Youkilis is dead to me.

The Coug abides.

Holy Guacamole!

Before I dive into this blog post head first, let me just apologize to all my loyal blog post readers. I kind of spoiled everyone while I was unemployed. During my job search I had plenty of time to churn out a post every other day, but since I started working that seems pretty unsustainable. In addition, after sitting in front of two computer screens for 8+ hours a day, the first thing I want to do when I get home doesn’t usually involve a computer. Going forward I might end up posting a blog post every week or two.

If you’re like Dr. Steve, you know a thing or two about shushi sandwiches. And if you don’t then you’ve been seriously missing out. I, like most former non-foodies, was a little skeptical when I first heard about sushi when it became super popular about a decade ago (based on the prevalence of avocado in this cuisine, I’m wondering if sushi was the precursor to the current avocado craze). But then I tried it for the first time. I still remember it. Back in 2005 when I was still at Boston University, my dad took my friend Kyle and I to FuGaKyu in Brookline (I’m still convinced this place is run by the Yakuza). At the time I didn’t realize how lucky I was, since it’s been consistently rated as one of the best sushi restaurants in Boston and on the east coast. Very rarely does eating a food change your life. But I truly believe that the moment I tried sushi for the first time my entire palate changed. Prior to that I had been a bit of a finicky eater, but since then I’ve been willing to try just about anything. At first, like most sushi n00bs, I would stick to basic rolls like Shrimp Tempura, California Rolls, Philadephia Rolls, etc. but as my experience with sushi and sashimi has grown, I now opt for the most exotic and intriguing combinations on the menu.

Over the past few years since living in both Hunterdon County and New Brunswick, I have tried to explore the limited but fairly high quality Japanese restaurant options in Central Jersey. Some of my favorites include Hotoke and Sushi Room in New Brunswick, Fujiyama in Hackettstown (really Mansfield, but whatever), Jo Sho in Somerset, and one that I’ve learned most people have never heard about: Wasabi Sushi in Clinton. And you know what? That’s a damn shame, because while it’s not the best sushi I’ve ever had, the experience, atmosphere, specials, and reasonable prices make it one of the best sushi restaurants I’ve ever frequented.

Photo Credit: Oliver Lopena, 2008 via Flikr

This is Jay, a true sushi master. Together with wife Sue and son Rich, the family has been running Wasabi Sushi at 5 Main Street in Clinton, NJ for over a decade now. According to trusted sushi source, David “Zhangsley” Zhang, Wasabi opened during our freshman year of high school, which would have been either 2001 or 2002. It doesn’t have a big sign or a fancy storefront, but nestled between the Clinton Hallmark and what used to be Dani and Jonny’s (I think it’s a travel agency now? Why the hell would people still use travel agencies anyway? Haven’t they heard of the internet?) you might not look twice at it, even though it’s been there for ten years.

Spicy Calamari Salad

As soon as you walk in, you’ll notice how small it is, which isn’t really a problem. With about eight tables and a sushi bar, I’ve never once had a problem getting seated, regardless of whether I go on a Wednesday or a Saturday. Then you’ll notice the tasteful, Japanese-inspired decor, and while you’re basking in the ambiance Jay and Sue will no doubt greet you with a warm welcome, as they do with every guest (as long as you aren’t being an obnoxious jagaloon). Sue plays both gracious hostess and server, always taking your order with a genuine smile and doing her best to remember your name and favorite rolls. The menu is pretty varied, with a wide selection of fresh sushi, sashimi, creative salads and great (let me stress, GREAT) lunch specials. They have all the familiar rolls for the faint of heart, and for the adventurous they have a long list of house rolls and specials that never disappoint. However, for die-hard fans, such as Zhangsley and myself, you might be rewarded with complimentary edamame, miso soup, or even your own personal roll. Next time you’re there ask for the Zhang Roll (Super Dragon Roll with Spicy Sauce) or the Devin Roll (White Tuna, Cucumber, Eel & Avocado Roll with Spicy Sauce), your taste buds will not be disappointed. I highly recommend the Spicy Calamari Salad, while the tako (baby octopus) appetizer is also pretty scrumptious. Plus you can never go wrong with the Crunch Roll.

Devin Roll

Another huge plus is that it’s BYOB, so definitely bring a bottle of wine or some craft beer to enjoy along with your meal. In addition to a nice compliment to the fresh fish, it really cuts down on the price, which is already pretty low. It’s tough to leave there spending more than $30, plus when you bring a bottle of wine you get to impress your lady with your fancy wine knowledge. But you’ll probably have to end up opening your own bottle if you have Rich as your server, since Rich has yet to successfully open a bottle for me (lolz). One of the reasons I (and I suspect many people) love Japanese cuisine is the beautiful presentation, and as you can see from my “Devin Roll” photo, Wasabi Sushi delivers in that department as well.

If you’re one of those people who simply can’t get behind eating seafood, then I’m so very sorry for you since you’re missing out on, in my opinion, the most decadent, delicious, and flavorful food group. But if that’s the case then I can understand your aversion to sushi. If you’re merely hesitant to try it (maybe the concept seems weird to you) then I would suggest trying some mainstream or tempura options first to ease into it. Shrimp tempura is usually a solid choice for sushi beginners, as I venture to say that’s where most sushi lovers began. Hell, I still order shrimp tempura because it’s so damn delicious. But for me, it’s all about confusing my taste buds with different textures, flavors, and temperatures. That’s what makes sushi so great. When I see a roll that involves some sort of tempura, raw fish, and fruit, I simply can’t pass it up. Those are usually the most delicious, and if you ever venture to Hotoke in New Brunswick, try the Godzilla Roll (think macadamia nuts and strawberries), I assure you it’s worth the $18. Maybe the best roll I’ve ever eaten.

So if you’re thinking about venturing into the sushi world for the first time (or even if you’re a sushi connoisseur) and you’re ever in Central NJ, then I implore you to visit Jay and Sue at Wasabi Sushi in Clinton. They really care about their customers and have a passion for what they do. It’s super apparent and I felt as though more people need to know how great they are. Order the Spicy Calamari Salad, Zhang Roll, Devin Roll, and tell Sue that I sent you. You won’t be disappointed. Oh and I’m sure there are tons of other fabulous sushi places around here that I haven’t had the opportunity to frequent yet. Wasabi 31 in Flemington is pretty good as well, plus its an incredible value. If there are some other spots you think I should know about, don’t hesitate to let me know. Shit, let’s go together! But yeah, make sure Wasabi Sushi is on your to-do list and needless to say, I’m damn proud to be the mayor on foursquare.

The Dark Knight Rises: A Delayed Reaction

“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits, you’re going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” Well, the storm hit. The wait is over and The Dark Knight Rises is finally out after four long years. Although it’s been out since July 20th and although I saw the trilogy at midnight, I wanted to give it a second viewing and allow a little time to gather my thoughts before writing a review. Plus, the first time I saw it was amidst a nine hour marathon, and immediately following The Dark Knight and Batman Begins.  So instead of two times, I’ve now watched it three times since it came out, and I think I can give it a more unbiased reaction.

Let me just say that the first time I saw TDKR, I didn’t like it. I thought it was absolutely the worst of the three. But I was unfairly comparing it to The Dark Knight, having just seen it. Having now watched it separately from the other two installments, I like it a lot more. I also realized that Christopher Nolan was constrained by the fact that this was the end of his trilogy. With BB and TDK, he basically had free reign over the story arc and character development. With TDKR, he was boxed into putting a definitive end to the trilogy. Additionally, Nolan had wanted to have Heath Ledger reprise his role as The Joker, but his untimely death made that impossible. TDKR was a perfect end to the trilogy. Nolan handled it with the class and skillful direction we expected him to. It wasn’t perfect, but by no means was it a disappointment.

WARNING! | THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!

If you haven’t seen the movie yet you should probably stop reading because the rest of this will be riddled with spoilers. Also this is probably going to be really really long. Deal with it.

First, the good. A lot of people voiced concern about Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman and to that I simply replied: “In Nolan We Trust.” I think I can safely say that
those fears have been put to rest. Nolan has an excellent casting director and typically never works with actors who are in the habit of giving sub par performances. Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle was maybe the nicest surprise of TDKR. She was sexy, stylish, and pretty kick ass. Plus her reveal at Wayne’s charity event was classic. “Oops. Nobody told me it was…uncrackable.” The banter between Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne, and between Bruce’s “powerful friend” and Catwoman was perfect, even if she somehow didn’t realize that Bruce and his “powerful friend” were the same person. Additionally, the scene on the roof where Batman turns around to look at the Bat (which was also really awesome to all the doubting Douglas-es out there), then turns around to find that she had disappeared was great. Plus that answers the question if Batman still talks to himself in the deep gravelly voice when he’s alone. Finally, I really loved that at no point was she referred to as “Catwoman.” Simply Selina Kyle, a jewel thief, or cat burglar. Bravo, Nolan. (Also, her piano-based theme is AMAZING. The best piece of the soundtrack I thought. Oh and when she steals Bruce’s Lamborghini? One of my favorite scenes.)

Another character that I really liked was John Blake, the Gotham beat cop turned detective turned hero turned vigilante, played by the always terrific Joseph Gordon Levitt. I figured he would be in this, since after his masterful role in Inception, Nolan would most likely want to use him. He was actually one of the people I thought would be pretty good as The Riddler. But, amazingly as almost all of my predictions were pretty accurate, he turned out to be another integral character in the Batman universe. After Blake visits Wayne Manor and reveals that he knew who Bruce Wayne’s alter ego was, I figured he would be a Robin, since one of them figures this secret out in the series (and especially after Batman suggests he wear a mask to protect those he cares about). Although I predicted that John Blake would turn out to be either the next commissioner, or Batman’s successor, I was hoping he would be a Terry McGinnis/Batman Beyond type character, and not Robin. Nolan had said that he would never have Robin in his movies, but technically since TDKR ended with a Batman Begins-esque Robin scene, and not with him donning a mask, Robin was never technically in the movie. Plus since Batman “died,” it could be assumed that Blake would become more of a Nightwing character, and not a sidekick. Regardless, like with the rest of the movie, it was handled as well as could be expected and was the first set up to the upcoming DC Comics Justice League movie.

Batman & Nightwing

Keeping with the reveals and my previous predictions, I pretty much expected Talia al Ghul to be in TDKR since I saw on IMDB that there was someone cast as a young Ra’s. I figured it would be Marion Cotillard (man Nolan loves to recycle actors) since ‘Miranda Tate” seemed like it would be an alias a la Henri Ducard. Also, she’s Batman’s major love interest through most of the series and hadn’t even been touched upon despite having Ra’s al Ghul as a character in Begins. However, it took so long to reveal her true character and role in Bane’s master plan that I was second guessing what I thought to be a sure thing. So although I kind of knew already, I was still surprised. Only a little though, because I knew that there was no way Bane was Ra’s’ son.

While I thought that Catwoman, Robin, and Talia’s reveals were pretty well done, I really didn’t like the way Bruce revealed himself to Gordon at the end of the movie. I get that it was supposed to mirror the scene with Rachel in Begins, where she says: “Wait. You could die! At least tell me your name!” To which Batman replies with a quote Rachel had said to him earlier in the movie: “It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.” However I thought this really crucial moment was too awkward. The line he used about draping a coat over a young boy’s shoulders was way too long and a little cheesy. This should have been handled better. Plus I always thought Gordon sort of knew after Bruce crashed his Lamborghini to save Coleman Reese in TDK. Adding to that, there were WAY too many people who knew who Batman was by the end of the movie. Just off the top of my head: Alfred, Lucius, Talia, Bane, Selina, Blake, Gordon, Alfred’s sister’s mailman, the DPW guy who never showed up, etc. Come on. I know he faked his death, but it was getting a little out of hand.

To be honest though, I didn’t like Gordon anywhere near as much as I did in BB or TDK, and I’m still unsure whether it was supposed to be that way. I don’t know if Nolan tried to change the character’s motives, or if Gary Oldman just came at the role in a different manner, but he was extremely un-likeable in this. In the other films he was sort of a hapless, loveable, goofy hero and in TDK he was an emotional force, but he came off very blunt and disconnected in TDKR. If it was meant to be this way, I assume it was meant to reflect the turmoil associated with keeping the Harvey Dent secret for eight years. Propping him up to be a fallen hero, when it was really Batman who saved Gotham. Then that whole rift between him and Blake after Bane reads the speech. (“Your hands look pretty dirty to me.”) Even when he helped save the day at the end of the movie I still didn’t really like him, which is unfortunate because he was one of my favorite characters throughout the first two installments. I just didn’t like him being portrayed as a dirty cop or a tragic character. It didn’t work and it made all the scenes with him seem weird.

Now. On to Bane. I don’t know if it was just the theater sound system, but I was really frustrated the first time I watched TDKR, because I had an extremely tough time understanding Bane’s lines. The second and third times through it seemed a lot less muffled, but that might have just been because I knew his lines better. Either way it was doubly frustrating because other than Bruce Wayne’s witty lines (which I thought were the best of the three), Bane’s dialogue was the best of the movie. I loved Tom Hardy’s delivery, and the accent (which I hope was actually his). It sounded almost Scottish, as if Captain Jean Luc Picard did a voice over for him. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Tom Hardy, who must have gained about 50 lbs of muscle for this role, and who’s acting was probably constrained by how hard it was to speak through the mask (You have to enunciate!). The whole role seemed very Shakespearean, even if his motives were a little hackneyed and the underlying theme was quite obviously a statement about the 99%. (“We take Gotham back from the corrupt…the oppressors  The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests and cast out into the cold.”) But if it was about the 99%, the overall message is muddled since if the League of Shadows were portraying the 99%, they’d be the enemy. Woo go one percenters! Get a job hippies!

The fight scenes between him and Batman (especially the first one) were perfect. In true gritty brawler style. Also, his fur lined coat is awesome and I want one. Clearly I plan on being Bane for Halloween this year, though it’ll make it pretty tough to drink with that mask on… (“If I take that off, will you die?” “It would be very painful.”) In the series, Bane is not only Batman’s most physically formidable foe, he is also a genius. Unfortunately this wasn’t really portrayed in TDKR. He was more of a one sided villain. Merely a foe for Batman, and a new leader for The League of Shadows. However his backstory and connection to Talia were very cool. A thousand times better than the Poison Ivy / Bane storyline in the Batman & Robin travesty.

I really disliked the fact that there was a “doomsday device.” Yes, I realize this is a superhero movie and I should suspend some level of disbelief. But I feel like I was forced to suspend my level of disbelief a lot more in TDKR than in BB or TDK. A doomsday device seems way too campy for a Nolan Batman film, which are typically more grounded in reality. Also, the idea that Bane said he would give the bomb trigger to an “ordinary citizen” is preposterous. Why would that person ever blow up a neutron bomb!? Plus I hated the stadium scene because Ben Roethlisberger’s stupid rapist face was in it, though I guess we have to assume he died. Also, I only just noticed in my third viewing that Bane blew up the box with the Mayor in it. Why wasn’t that highlighted better? Isn’t that kind of a big deal?

The idea that Bane could hold an entire city hostage, and that the world would watch for five months as it’s greatest city descended into anarchy, as Blake says, “like some failed (African) state” is also pretty absurd. There is NO WAY that the United States, United Nations, NATO, whatever, would look on and allow this to happen, with the only response being to send in a disguised band of inept special forces. And alright Nolan, we get that you like to re-use your actors and that you pretty much had the entire cast of Inception in this other than Ken Watanabe and Leo, but the Scarecrow cameos needed to stop. Those court room scenes were unbearably bad. “Death…by exile!” Really?

Two more things that I meant to add when I published this. There was no way The Bat would have made it six miles into the “bay” (aka the Atlantic Ocean) in a minute and thirty seconds. Additionally, I say aka the Atlantic Ocean because after about halfway through the movie there was little effort made to disguise the fact that the majority of this movie was filmed in Manhattan. Nolan had said after TDK that he wanted to do a better job to disguise what city the movie was filmed in because it was too obvious that it had been filmed in Chicago. Gotham, while originally meant to represent New York, is a fictional city. There are blatant shots of the Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, World Trade Center site, and Saks Fifth Avenue. At least the scenes filmed in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh were a little less recognizable. If you’re giving up trying to make Gotham seem like a nondescript place, at least be consistent and keep it in The Windy City.

Finally, I didn’t like that the ending was so different than the first two. I think it would have been great to have ended this one with another Gordon – Batman (or maybe Bruce) scene. Maybe that would have made me dislike Gordon a little less. The final rooftop scene in Batman Begins is my second favorite scene in all three movies, save for the Batman – Joker interrogation scene in TDK (“Look at you go!”). The “Wait. I never got to thank you.” “…and you’ll never have to” final lines give me chills every time. Plus, I wish Gordon would thank Batman (or Bruce), who would finally accept it. However I liked that they do a play on this in all three movies. In TDK Gordon thanks Batman at the end, who replies with “You don’t have to thank me.” To which Gordon graciously states “Yes! I do!” Now while it was a little more subtle than the previous two, there is a point in TDKR where Blake thanks Batman for coming back to help them, and Batman goes: “Don’t thank me yet.” I enjoyed that little tongue in cheek reference. There were a couple subtle allusions like this throughout TDKR, which I definitely appreciated. Another I picked up was when the stock broker was getting his shoes shined in the stock exchange, the one guy asks how he chose what stock to buy or something and he says “I flipped a coin” in reference to Harvey Dent.

So, after having enough time to absorb the movie and write an unbiased review, I have to say that I ended up really liking it. To be fair though people jumped all over me when I said I thought it was the worst of the three after my first viewing. That wasn’t meant to be a slight to TDKR in any way. It’s not like I’m calling it The Godfather III. The other two installments are SO good that this being the worst of the three by no means makes it a bad movie. It definitely felt a little too over the top and un-Nolan-like at times. Some parts came across too much like an Avengers style superhero movie and less like a gritty crime action/drama. Loved Bane and the epic showdown. Disliked the anarchy/doomsday concept. The Ra’s and Talia backstory was really cool, and the her reveal even had me a little fooled. I really enjoyed JGL as John Blake and Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle. They both did outstanding jobs. I particularly liked how Nolan pretty much stuck to his guns about not doing Robin, but still set up the character (hopefully Nightwing) in a classy manner.

After three viewings, I have to say that I still think The Dark Knight is the best, but that The Dark Knight Rises is slightly (only slightly) better than Batman Begins. I give The Dark Knight Rises a solid 8/10 and the Coug stamp of approval. Flame shield activated. Do your worst, trolls.

Four Years In The Making

Tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day. Twenty four hours from now I will be sitting in a movie theater at the Franklin Mills Mall in Philadelphia, two hours into my nine hour Batman Trilogy experience. During this marathon I will witness Bruce Wayne’s transformation into the caped crusader, his fall from Gotham’s good graces and his return from seclusion to triumph over a new foe. Or maybe, just maybe, his tragic death. Only time will tell.

The Coug Nook

I apologize for the recent lack of posts. It looks like I’ll be doing about a post a week instead of one every other day. I just don’t seem have the spare time due to my recent employment! Yup, that’s right. I’m a working Coug now. Last Monday I began my career in social media and honestly, I couldn’t be happier. Originally I was frustrated, thinking that my social media manager duties would take a back seat as I learned the ins and outs of the coin business. But seeing that I was basically given free reign over whatever accounts I would run for them, I actually haven’t even had enough time to get everything accomplished. You’d be surprised how much time building community bases and driving engagement takes up out of an 8(+) hour day. In less than two weeks I already have our Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts up and running, with a modest follower base. I even launched our first social media campaign yesterday, trading a free coin submission for a Facebook like, Twitter follow, or Google+ add. And a big thank you to all my friends who have followed our accounts. I can’t give you any rare coins, but I can give you a kick ass high five.

I love the feeling of being productive all day and actually getting paid to do something I love. The idea still blows my mind. I’m getting paid to do this! I’ve already become a regular at the Bedminster Starbucks and Bedminster Pizza and Subs (and foursquare Mayor of course haha). I’ve always wanted to go to a place so often that I can just order “the usual.” Because, you know, I’m a nerd.

I was hoping this post title would have a dual meaning so I could make some awesome link between The Dark Knight Rises being four years in the making since The Dark Knight and my love of social media also being four years in the making, but then I realized that I created my Twitter account in 2009 and not 2008. Oh well. This post is more about Batman anyway. There was only a three year gap between 2005’s Batman Begins and 2008’s The Dark Knight (both of which I saw in theaters multiple times), while The Dark Knight Rises has been four years in the making due to the filming of Inception (seriously though, I don’t think Nolan could make a bad film even if he tried. Insomnia was his worst and even that wasn’t that bad.)

As I give Hans Zimmer’s masterful The Dark Knight Rises Soundtrack a listen while writing this (leading up to another
screening of The Dark Knight later), I get hints of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, as well as a little Sherlock Holmes and even The Rock, which was also scored by Hans Zimmer. My favorite tracks so far are “Mind If I Cut In?”, “The Fire Rises”, “Nothing Out There”, and “No Stone Unturned” from the Bonus Digital Edition…which I….paid…for……. Overall this might be my second favorite of the three Hans Zimmer Batman scores, with Batman Begins being the undisputed masterpiece. I still owe this one a few more listens, but it looks like The Dark Knight will be a close third. The Batman Begins soundtrack was just so much more orchestral. It flowed together like a sweeping symphony that could easily be listened to on its own. TDK and TDKR are very obviously tied to individual scenes. Still Batman. Still Zimmer. Still amazing. No complaints.

So, after learning a bit more about The Dark Knight Rises’ plot since my last post. I think I can safely say that most of my predictions were way off base (though I’m sticking with my R’as & Talia ones). But I caught flak for not even mentioning Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character. The reason for this was that I just don’t think he’s going to be anything mindblowing or some big reveal. I actually thought he’d make a pretty good Riddler when we were all speculating about who the villains would be. After watching the previews over and over, I’m thinking that because Commissioner Gordon is tagged as a “War Time Hero” and “this is peace time,” that JGL’s character, John Blake, might be the choice to supplant Gordon as commish. Also while he does seem like a good fit for Robin, Nolan has said numerous times that there would be no Robin in his Batman films.

But here’s what I’m thinking. On Nolan’s IMDB page, it had previously said he was on board as producer for an untitled Batman reboot project. Do you remember the WB series Batman Beyond? Where an elderly Bruce Wayne mentors the next Batman? Well it was freaking awesome and you should check it out if you’ve never seen it. But either way, I believe Bruce is going to be riddled with injuries through most of this film and probably even more so after he takes down Bane (if he doesn’t die). The possibility is there for Bruce Wayne to hang up his cape and cowl and pass them on to a younger successor, John Blake.

Obviously this is all speculation, but I think it’d be pretty damn cool. But for those of you seeing The Dark Knight Rises tomorrow at midnight, you and your friends better batten down the hatches, because there’s a storm coming Mr. Wayne.

The Dark Knight Rises: Speculations

I was hoping to get this post done during work today, but I couldn’t find enough time to give it my undivided attention. Oh yeah. If you didn’t know, I actually got a job…in social media…with no formal marketing/advertising/social media background. I’m the social media manager for a small company in Bedminster, NJ and will be working towards growing their brand and social media presence. So to all the agencies, brands, and start-ups who didn’t want to take a chance on me: your loss. Coug is on the prowl big time and you’re going to wish you snapped me up when you had the chance. #kanyeshrug

Anyway, on to the real post.

In exactly nine days I will be knee deep in a nine hour Christopher Nolan Batman extravaganza with a couple of the biggest Batman fans I know. It’s a little over a week until The Dark Knight Rises premiere and I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a movie in my life (other than Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2), and I plan on watching both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight more times than I care to admit before next Thursday. As I said in my Avengers/Batman Rant post, if you plan on seeing The Dark Knight Rises and you haven’t watched either of the first two installments, you…you just have to. I’ll personally screen them for you. Seriously, come over to the Coug Den and we’ll crack some brews, eat some snack packs, and watch them.

The only reason I haven’t seemed more excited about TDKR is that I’ve been so busy with my job search. The fact is, I am unfathomably excited. As I said before, I’ve always been a big Batman fan and have read the comics and watched the WB animated series since I was a little tyke. More than that, I have enormous respect for Christopher Nolan as a director. Memento, Inception, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Prestige speak for themselves. I love the dark, cerebral style of his films, his passion for realism (even with superheroes) and how he digs deep into his characters’ psyches. The man is a visionary and one of the greatest directors of our generation. As I’ve been accustomed to saying when any of my friends express doubt about TDKR: In Nolan We Trust.

WARNING! | THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD!

For anyone who has been trying to steer clear of any TDKR gossip (or if you still haven’t seen Begins), you might not want to read this. Save it til after you watch it…like a time capsule. I’ve basically been doing research on TDKR from the moment it was announced. I’ve watched every trailer about fifty times and delved deep into the rumor mills and IMDB to see if I could gather any clues. Speculating about who the main villains would be, who would play them, etc. The only big teaser I didn’t watch was that opening scene that was played in front of select IMAX screenings of Mission Impossible 4. It’s since leaked on the internet but I didn’t want it to be ruined by shaky cam.

As disappointed as I was that Nolan didn’t choose The Riddler, Batman’s most cerebral foe (and imagine Daniel Day Lewis playing him), I’m still very happy with Bane and with the choice of Tom Hardy, who Nolan also worked with on Inception and got JACKED UP for this role. The 1997 abomination Batman & Robin (“You won’t put me in de coola!”) completely misrepresented Bane, who in addition to being freakishly strong is also one of Batman’s most intelligent adversaries.

In the comics, Bane is the only villain that can truly match Batman in hand-to-hand combat, in addition to breaking his back in an epic showdown. It’s my prediction that this will also happen in TDKR. In various photos you can see Bruce Wayne with a cane and scraggly beard. Additionally, on IMDB there are actors cast as Young Bruce Wayne, Young R’as al Ghul, and Young Talia al Ghul (I’ll get to her soon). I’m thinking Batman and Bane will have a scuffle early on, in which Bane will break Batman’s back. After this, Batman will be crippled and have to recover, allowing for a number of flashbacks, in which his early love interest, Talia al Ghul will be introduced.

Throughout most of the comics and cartoons Batman’s flame was always Talia al Ghul, the daughter of his mentor and friend R’as al Ghul. Although Marion Cotillard, also of Inception fame, is listed as playing someone named Miranda Tate, that’s most likely an alias for Talia, as Henri Ducard was for R’as al Ghul in Batman Begins. Speaking of which, Liam Neeson is listed on IMDB as playing R’as again, but it’s unclear whether it’s in a flashback or a return from the grave (“But is R’as al Ghul immortal?”). I actually think R’as comes back, perhaps to aid Bane’s terrorist campaign against Gotham.

“Your punishment must be more severe.”

Finally, in typical Nolan fashion, I’m predicting that Batman will actually die. I think after he recovers, he and Bane meet again in a final showdown and Batman is forced to kill Bane in order to save himself, which he has sworn to never do. Just imagine how heart wrenching it would be to reach the end of Nolan’s Batman saga with the death of the Dark Knight. The story comes full circle from Batman Begins, and once again Batman isn’t prepared to do what is necessary to defeat evil, paying for it with his life. As sad as it would be, I really hope Nolan went this route. “You don’t owe these people anymore. You’ve given them everything.” “Not everything…not yet.”

Also, I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about the inclusion of The Bat-Wing (just called The Bat in TDKR). It’s gonna be awesome. Just get over it. Oh and I guess Catwoman will be alright. I’m meh over Anne Hathaway, but the addition of Selina Kyle as another vigilante/Bruce Wayne love interest is pretty cool.

So when all is said and done, The Dark Knight Rises is going to be batshit awesome (ha!), and while it might not dethrone The Dark Knight as the greatest superhero movie of all time, it will still be a cinematic masterpiece and a perfect conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy. So go watch Batman Begins. Now. Then watch The Dark Knight. Over and over again.

Wait. Here’s another trailer just for good measure.

All Star Game time. Coug out.

Power to the Players

Full disclosure: I’m a huge nerd. I used to be really ashamed of it in middle school & high school, and pretended I didn’t play videogames all the time and wait in line for the midnight release of Star Wars: Episode III. Then I cut my hair, got contacts, started socializing and going to the gym, and I realized that I could still be a nerd and have a life at the same time. It was quite the epiphany. In fact, I even realized that plenty of fine ladies are just as nerdy as I was (and some even play videogames too!). Now I proudly proclaim my love for videogames, movie & videogame soundtracks, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Batman without fear of persecution. Yeah, I paid $25 to watch nine hours of Christopher Nolan Batman perfection for The Dark Knight Rises premiere. What of it? In fact, my recent Star Wars: The Old Republic guild leadership probably helped me get a bunch of social media interviews. Say what you will Ogre…

There are still some aspects of my nerditude that I’m a little sheepish about putting out there. Not that I read Star Wars fan fiction or run a Star Wars: The Old Republic guild called The Nerf Herders or anything. Psh…who does that? Anyyyyyway, I went on another totally hetero lunch date with my pal Kenny today. This time at Quiznos, my old stomping grounds (Toastmaster, Quiznos University Class of 2005).  He had a luxurious one hour lunch break so we hit up GameStop afterwards to nerd out for a little bit. I’ve had a long list of videogames on my “to play” and “still to finish” lists. I still have to finish Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, The Ballad of Gay Tony GTA:IV DLC, Forza III, Halo 3: ODST (still never finished the campaign), The Force Unleashed and the first Mass Effect. He also reminded me that Tribes: Ascend, a sequel in one of my favorite PC series, Starsiege, was now completely free to play on Steam. So I’m also in the process of downloading that.

My issue is that I’m both a completionist and an Xbox 360 achievement hound, so starting a new game is a huge undertaking. For instance, I try to beat every Rockstar game to 100%, which I’ve been able to do with GTA: Vice City and Red Dead Redemption (one of the greatest games I have ever played). When I first heard that BioWare (makers of my favorite Star Wars games, Knights of the Old Republic I & II) was starting a new RPG series called Mass Effect, I was super excited and I made sure it was one of my first 360 purchases. However, I was so compelled to finish everything and get every achievement that the game started to really drag as I got bogged down exploring every planet for new missions. Because of that I never ended up finishing it, but from what I heard they really stripped down and refocused in Mass Effect 2.

There are also a bunch of games on my to play list. Halo Anniversary, The Force Unleashed II, L.A. Noire, Max Payne 3, SkyrimAssassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, Revelations and eventually AC3 when it comes out later this year. I loved the first Assassin’s Creed and even as a completionist, the open world was manageable enough to finish most of the game and it’s achievements. Needless to say I’m ready to jump into the rest of that series head first. Every time I see commercials for AC3 I typically stare wide-eyed, mouth open, with drool dripping from the corner. However the one game on the top of my “to play” list has been Fallout 3, an open world FPS RPG which won Game of the Year in 2008. From what I’ve heard it’s right up my alley, but I just haven’t had the time to undertake such an epic game, plus my life had been pretty much been dictated by SWTOR until recently.

The best thing about GameStop is their huge collection of used games, and since most 360 games are $60 when they’re first released, buying pre-owned is a great deal. After browsing through the used games bin I came across Fallout 3 for $10, which obviously I jumped at. But then, after checking out I saw that they buy used Apple products. Since I’ve had my barely functioning, 30 GB iPod click wheel sitting in my car’s center console for two years I figured why not get some cash for it. After determining that it actually turned on, the kid said he could give me $26 store credit for it, which I wished I knew before I bought Fallout 3. But he said he could easily refund the money to my debit card and apply the credit. He also said that he had the Fallout 3 Game of the Year Edition complete with all DLC, new for $20. I couldn’t turn that down, so I applied the store credit and still have $6 left over. Considering buying a Batman shirt to wear to TDKR premiere. Clearly the best use of the remaining store credit. Either way, this was quite a fortuitous visit to GameStop. Power to the players indeed.

Now I’ve heard some rumors about the next generation Xbox, which right now is still called Xbox 720 (not really a fan of that name but I guess the ad wizards at Microsoft know better than me), and that they might include a means to block players from using pre-owned games. This would really kill companies like Gamefly and doom Blockbuster’s videogame rentals (which has to be the only reason anyone would still visit a Blockbuster). Plus, it would take away one of the most redeeming factors of GameStop, trade-ins and buying used games. If Microsoft actually does that with the 720, today’s wonderful experience could never happen for their next gen console. Maybe Microsoft plans to corner the market on used games, and only allow for games to be rented through Xbox Live, which would be really smart for them, but also a total dick move. And since I know that a lot of Microsoft bigwigs clearly read this blog on the reg, I have a message for them: Come on bro, don’t be like that. Also your Microsoft Points system is awful. Get rid of it.

Anywho, I’m about to mow the lawn then rip into Fallout 3 like an eight year old on Christmas morning. Coug out.

Another Day, Another Groupie

This is going to be one of those multitasking posts, since I’m also attempting to DJ and watch Djokovic cruise to yet another Wimbledon final…  Are you sitting at work right now listening to Spotify, Pandora, or Songza for your daily music fix? Well guess what? I have something even better. Sure, Spotify is the bee’s knees because of it’s ability to share playlists, as well as what you’re jamming out to, but imagine if you could take Spotify to another level. Imagine creating a set list of songs in a genre of your choice with four other people all for an audience of other digital listeners. Spotify was the next step up from Pandora, but if you want a truly social music experience, you need to check out turntable.fm. Coincidentally, it just went down as I was writing this post, but thankfully they put up adorable kitten videos on their homepage as they sort out any bugs. They also use Amazon Web Services, and went down along with Instagram and Pinterest after those storms took out the AWS Virginia server, so they might still be recovering.

Turntable.fm, founded in May 2011 by Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein (previously of StickyBits startup fame), allows you to get on stage with anywhere from one to four other digital DJs and play songs from your playlist in thousands of different rooms for up to 200 listeners at a time. Rooms cover the gamut of genres, and you can find one playing anything from Indie to JPop to movie soundtracks. Other listeners can give you e-props for your spins by either “Awesoming” or “Laming” your song. Awesomes grant you a DJ Point, which unlock cooler avatars at various point thresholds. Turntable provides a huge database of music for you to meticulously craft your playlist from, or if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can upload tracks from your computer. As far as I know you can have thousands of songs in your queue at once. Love a song so much you want to download it, or add it to your own song queue? Turntable gives you the option to buy the song on Amazon or iTunes (lol.), or add it to your turntable, Spotify, Rdio, or Last.fm. Awesome, right?

I’ve been faithfully using turntable.fm since last June when I first heard about it, so DJ Coug is a pretty big deal as far as digital DJs go. Despite being over a year old, and launching both iOS and Android app versions of the site, it’s technically still in beta phase. You can’t create an account without linking it to your Facebook or Twitter, but over the past year they’ve been able to iron out a lot of issues that could make DJing pretty frustrating at times. It’s really apparent that the iPhone app, which released last September, had an enormous amount of love put into it and after a few updates, I’d have to say it looks amazing and operates nearly as effortlessly as the web version. Turntable also released an Android version earlier this year.

What if you can’t find a room you like? What if you want to play some Swedish Death Metal and everyone keeps laming your Opeth tracks in the normal metal rooms!? All you have to do is create your own room. Name it whatever you want, set some simple rules, and you’ll have it up and running in a matter of seconds. Turntable also gives you the option to share where and what you’re DJing on Facebook and Twitter, so all your pals can come DJ with you! I was having a similar issue last summer when I was DJing mostly in Rap & Hip-Hop rooms. Every time I tried to play a more popular rap song from the last five years, I’d get booed off the stage (if your song dips below a certain Lame/Awesome percentage, you’ll get skipped). What I’ve found is that a lot of turntable users (especially Hip-Hop fans) tend to be obnoxiously snobbish. “Oh you’re not playing Gang Starr or Jedi Mind Tricks? Ugh. Get off the stage!” I said to hell with Rap & Hip-Hop snobs and created my own room, where I can be free to play 2 Chainz, Young Jeezy, G-Unit, or even OJ Da Juiceman (AYE! OKAY!) with the full support of all my adoring fans.

Rap While You Work | Coug Lounge

So since last June, I’ve been spending most of my turntable time DJing in my own room, “Rap While You Work – Coug Lounge“, the name of which is a play on one of the more popular rooms “Indie While You Work”. Over that time I’ve accumulated almost 6,000 DJ Points (only 4,000 more DJ Points til the space monkey!) and 250 fans, who are people that track which room you’re in, and when you start DJing. Since last year I’ve been able to craft my own brand of room, focusing on playing mostly new, popular, and Dirty South rap, which is often shunned in the more popular Hip-Hop rooms. Last summer, there were times when my room would have nearly 50 listeners during work hours, but since I took a short hiatus over the winter, the room lost a majority of it’s fan base. Recently I’ve noticed that a lot of rooms are imposing awful new rules that go against what turntable.fm is all about. Some rooms enforce strict “No Laming” rules, or ones that force all DJs on the stage to awesome every song. Not in the Coug Lounge. The lame button is there for a reason, and if the room isn’t feeling a specific song, let the DJ know about it! Over the past few months, mostly during my job search, I’ve made a serious effort to resurrect the room. This has been difficult, since a lot of last year’s daily listeners have stopped using turntable. A handful have come back, and a lot of new fans have surfaced. Plus I’ve tried to make my room into a real community, adding a “bot” (CougBot) to moderate the room and keep a DJ queue, and a Facebook page to keep fans abreast of turntable news, new music from artists we typically play, and the room’s status. It’s actually been pretty successful, and thanks to some dedicated moderators and friends (MikeJules & BlowinStankE shout out!), the room gets up and running even when I’m not there.

However, I don’t know if it’s the type of fan that typically listens to rap music, or the addition of a lot of listeners on iPhone and Android apps (which makes reading welcome messages, room rules, understanding a DJ queue, and maintaining a consistent connection much more difficult), but a lot of people have an extremely hard time using the queue or bot commands. Additionally, a lot of listeners don’t have any patience to wait a song or two to DJ, or will only stick around for one of their own plays. This is much different than it was last summer. Plus, with the addition of services like BotCavalry, and Google Chrome plug-ins like TT+, people can create and run their own rooms with ease. I’ve noticed that this causes a lot of more reliable room listeners to go off on their own to create similar rooms. This not only causes the Coug Lounge to lose a reliable listener/moderator, but it splits potential listeners into several much smaller Rap & Hip-Hop rooms.

So if you’re using Spotify/Pandora/Songza at work, I encourage you to check out turntable.fm. And if DJing takes up too much of your attention during the daily grind, find a room that plays awesome music and just chill in the crowd! But if Rap & Hip-Hop is your scene, please check out Rap While You Work | Coug Lounge or like the Facebook page! Who knows, you might discover some swelly new music, collect some DJ Points, or even get discovered as the next great DJ. So until next time, keep your top let back and your beat down low. DJ Coug out.