Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Tolkien

Posted by Benson

So the next installment of the Hobbit trilogy is hitting theaters this holiday season.  I wasn't a particularly big fan of the first one, and I expect that I will really dislike The Desolation of Smaug.

Now, before you think I am just a movie curmudgeon, I really do like movies.  I like a lot of movies.  I also enjoy very many film adaptations of my favorite books.  I absolutely love the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and although creative choices had to be made in order to adapt the books, I think those choices were understandable, made sense, and made for good movies.  I did not agree with all of them, but no one can really say those those were not good movies and beautiful adaptations of Tolkien's work.  And my wife says that the new Hunger Games movie is a wonderful adaptation.

I also think The Hobbit is great material for a film adaptation, and Warner Brothers did an excellent job of it with its The Hobbit animated film adaptation back in 1977.  The Hobbit has a trim, focused story told with a brevity that allows plenty of room for artistic interpretation.  It is a clean story for children with sophisticated subject matter that captures the imagination of adults as well.

The Hobbit can be a light children's movie, a dark and chilling film, or a swords and sorcery adventure tale, depending on how you want to treat the material, and you can easily do any of that with a faithful adaptation that preserves the essence and character of the story.

Without going into much detail, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey failed to deliver, and it looks  like The Desolation of Smaug will be even worse.  Why you ask?  Well when I saw the trailer I noticed something that encapsulates the essence of why these movies are terrible adaptations.

You see that?  Look closely.  Why are there arrows in that barrel?  Forget that the dwarves are sticking out of the barrels for a minute.  Why are there arrows in that barrel?

Apparently the arrows are the reason why Thorin is also rising out of his barrel swinging his sword like a madman.  Chapter 9 of The Hobbit is titled Barrels out of Bond.  It describes how Thorin and company escape from the clutches of the elf king of Mirkwood by hiding themselves in empty barrels and floating down the river to the men of Laketown.

Now, when I saw the trailer I hoped that maybe what I saw was just some creative editing to make it look like a cool fight scene.  But today I saw Games Workshop's December product list, which has a box set called Barrels out of Bond.  Games Workshop makes wargames and releases products that allows you to recreate the 'iconic' battle scenes from the Tolkien movies.  In other words, not only is Barrels Out of Bond a fight scene in The Desolation of Smaug, it is a long, drawn out, iconic, and probably climatic battle scene...

You can read the text of the relevant chapter from The Hobbit here.  In a race against time, Bilbo collects all thirteen of the dwarves from separate prison cells scattered around the elf king's palace, sneaks round and round about the palace all the while his train of grumpy and incredulous dwarves grows louder and more difficult to manage, and stuffs them all into empty barrels just barely before a bunch of servants come down to toss the barrels into the river.  Bilbo, being the one doing the stuffing, has no barrel himself, and nearly drowns trying to stay afloat as the barrels bob, spin, roll, bounce about and crash together as they course down the river.  The dwarves are bashed, bruised, tossed about, nearly drowned, and finally emerge from the barrels sodden, shivering, aching, bedraggled, and destitute.

Now that could be a scene packed with suspense, humor, and action aplenty without having to throw in anything that doesn't fit with the story. Three paragraphs of text could easily become 20 minutes of romping fun screen time with nary an arrow loosed nor sword drawn.

Instead, they decided to go with this:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mardi Gras 2014 - Same Week as the Crawfish Boil!

Posted by Benson

The 7th annual DGA Crawfish boil is Saturday, March 8th.  That's the second Saturday in March.  The crawfish boil is on the second Saturday of March every year, for those of you who like to plan ahead.

Easter, and consequently Lent, also has a moving date, though it has to do with theoretical lunar cycles based on inaccurate calculations made hundreds of years ago, as opposed to March Madness.  As a result, Ash Wednesday can be as late as March 10th, so sometimes, just sometimes, Mardi Gras falls late the same year that the Crawfish Boil is early.

This is one of those years.  Mardi Gras 2014 is on Tuesday, March 4th, which is fantastic news because it means that Fat Tuesday is the same week as the crawfish boil!

So those of you planning on coming to the crawfish boil can get a chance to see Mardi Gras in New Orleans if you extend the trip just a bit. It also means that if you're not looking to go to Mardi Gras, travel should be relatively easy as the city tends to empty out of tourists on or immediately after Fat Tuesday.

If you want to come to carnival, think about making your travel plans early because Mardi Gras week is the most hopping time in New Orleans.  Take a look at some of our hotel suggestions to get you started.  The city tends to book pretty solid during Mardi Gras, but we have suggested some nice places to stay on the Northshore, like Annadele Plantation, where it might be easier to find a good room.  If you are just coming for the boil, you should not have much trouble finding a hotel room in the city.

If you have never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it really is an amazing experience and I can't recommend it enough.  Most of us are going to be enjoying the carnival festivities ourselves, but that means we will be on hand to help you get the most out of the Mardi Gras experience.  We can give you the inside info on how to experience Mardi Gras like a real New Orleanian from choice spots on parade routes to pointers on how to navigate the city when the krewes are rolling.

This is an excellent opportunity to really soak in New Orleans culture and have an absolutely fantastic time in the crescent city!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Get Ready for the 2014 Crawfish Boil!

Posted by Benson

It's that time again!  The DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil is right around the corner!

The 7th Annual 
DGA Family and Friends Crawfish Boil 

Will be held on
Saturday, March 8th, 2014
Winos and Tacos
321 North Columbia Street
Covington, LA

Winos and Tacos is a relatively new tequila, taqueria, and wine bar in Covington, Louisiana, right in the charming, artsy heart of the city.  Covington is an older city, founded back in 1813, which predates the Faubourg Marigny for you NOLA aficionados, and the city center is an eclectic mix of art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, and specialty shops, amongst which Winos and Tacos has sprung up.

Covington has been taking steps in recent years to refurbish what locals refer to as old Covington in an effort to reinvigorate this historic Northshore neighborhood and turn it into a cultural hotspot similar to the French Quarter.  While old Covington will never be the French Quarter, the city's efforts have met with great success, and today old Covington is one of the more interesting neighborhoods on the Northshore.

Old Covington is home to the Heiner Brau microbrewery, a slew of antique shops and art galleries, and some of my favorite restaurants on the Northshore including Toad Hollow Cafe and Lola.  

We recently went over to Winos and Tacos during one of Covington's monthly block parties and really enjoyed ourselves.  We also discovered that the restaurant has a back patio area that is absolutely perfect for the crawfish boil.  Needless to say, we are very excited about being able to do the crawfish boil at Winos and Tacos this year, and I think it will be one of the best boils yet!

In addition to live boiled crawfish and all the fixin's, we are going to have a full open bar and Winos and Tacos will be preparing a menu of some of its fantastic tacos and small plates that will be prepared for y'all by the chef on demand, right on the spot.

Stay tuned to the blog over the next month or so as we will be posting updates about the event.  We are in the process of booking the bands now, and we'll let you know as soon as we make our final decisions about the lineup. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Go Go Garrett Hartley!

Posted by Benson

Some of you may know that I am a big Jimmy Graham fan, but so are a lot of people.  Jimmy is an awesome player, and one of if not the best tight ends in the NFL.  It is easy to like Jimmy Graham.

But I don't have a Jimmy Graham jersey.  I have a Garrett Hartley jersey.  I wear it every game, too.  Garrett Hartley is the Saints placekicker.  Thomas Morstead is our KOS and punter, and generally sees a lot more action in a game than Garrett.  Like Jimmy, Morstead is down and out one of the best players in the NFL in his position.  Apparently Hartley is no good at kicking off.

Garrett Hartley was down at number 29 on the list of field goal kickers last season.  Before we played San Francisco last week, Garrett was the third worst kicker in the league this season.
What? Come on, man...
But those are just numbers, right?  Whoever cared about the numbers?  Since when were sports all about numbers...

Garrett has a bad habit of shanking 30 yard field goals in his own dome, which tends to draw the ire and frustration of Saints fans.  He missed two field goals against the Bills this year, and one against the Cowboys, both in home games, and both games in which Garrett didn't make a single field goal.
Maybe it was the wind...
But if you look at the all-time records of NFL kickers, Garrett sits comfortably at number 23 with an impressive 82.292% accuracy in his 2008-2013 career thus far.  I daresay this percentage might startle more than a few Saints fans.  And according to Siri, the Saints "clobbered" the Bills 35 to 17 and "had their way with" the Cowboys with a final score of 49 to 17.

In short, we kicked the ever-living crap out of those teams, so it didn't matter one bit whether Garrett made his field goals or not.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when poor Garrett runs into trouble. Maybe it's a confidence issue.  If you watch him before a kick, it always looks like he's got the weight of the world on his shoulders.  It almost looks like he'd rather be anywhere else on Earth, and the sense of relief on his face after a good kick is palpable.

There's no place like home, there's no place like home

But in the maddening, nail-biting game against the 49ers last week, we clawed victory away from the jaws of defeat with a final score of 23 to 20 with our final 6 points delivered affirmatively by none other than Garrett Hartley!  In fact, the game came down to the last two seconds, resting on Garrett alone, every Saints fan gripping their seats willing Hartley to give us the big W.

Holy crap! Did you see that?!? I made one!
In 2010, Hartley took us to the Superbowl with a 40 yard field goal in overtime against the Vikings, and then became the first kicker in NFL history to convert 3 field goals of 40 yards or more in a Superbowl game with field goals of 46, 40, and 47 yards against the Colts!
Y'all can't fire me now, right?
In short, Garrett brings it when he has to, and Saints fans everywhere need to believe in him!  Garrett is an awesome kicker that will be there for us when we need him to be.  He'll kick a 55 yard field goal if he has to (and if we put him on the right hash mark), and it doesn't matter how many times he shanks a routine kick in a game in which Brees, Jimmy, Colston, Thomas, and the rest of our guys are shredding the defense.

There's the game face! Suck it 9ers, Hartley's on the job!

I wear my Hartley jersey because I believe in Garrett Hartley.  I clap my hands whenever he kicks so that somehow, someway he knows that we all have confidence in him.  Like a storybook fairy, Hartley can perform magic, but only if you believe that it's real!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pinball Addiction: The Lord of the Rings

Posted by Benson

In writing this post I discovered that I have just sunk down another few inches into the quicksand of pinball addiction.  I found myself actually downloading and pondering over the shot map for the Lord of the Rings machine.  I suppose even lightweight pinball enthusiasts would probably consider studying a shot map to be par for the course, but I actually didn't know they existed!  This has been a major revelation. 

One of the things that is troublesome about pinball is that I do not get to play very often on an actual machine.  I do not (yet) own my own machine and I have a huge pile of other hobbies that occupy a great deal of my free time.  Consequently, I mostly play pinball when I am on the road.  The availability of machines can often be scanty, and I love to try out new machines, so I don't spend very much time playing the same machine, even if there are machines available that I have played before.  Pinball machines also tend to be in bars, so I usually only play for about an hour in a state of near total sobriety.
Something you don't always notice with all of the glitz is how nice the playfiled artwork can be

Pinball machines are glitzy, noisy, fast-paced, and confusing, which is a huge part of why they are fun, but I have discovered that playing well is a lot easier if you really understand how a machine works.  Dedicated pinball players can typically approach a machine and immediately recognize what "type" of machine it is, even if they haven't played it dozens of times already.  There are only so many ways to skin a cat, and a lot of pinball design (as I have discovered) builds on the successes of previous designs. 

When I read about a machine, I often read things like, "Players will immediately notice that it has a playfield very similar to Medieval Madness," or in the case of the Lord of the Rings machine, that the Balrog is mounted like the bank door in Monopoly.  Sadly, I do not have the experience to approach a machine and immediately ascertain how the playfield works, although I am getting better, and the shot map has really helped!

Yea, I don't look at that and think much more than, "I hope the Balrog's light still works!"

A shot map is a visual representation of the specific shots that you will need to make during gameplay.  In other words, it is a map of where you need to send the ball in order to accomplish various tasks.  Pinball games are built around building up a "flow" of different shots, activating different gameplay modes, accruing various bonus multipliers, and generally proceeding through various layers of gameplay.  Certainly, most casual players do not wind up utilizing even a third of what a game can do, and are often far more concerned with making sure they don't lose the ball than in hitting specific targets, let alone hitting them in a specific sequence for maximum numerical advantage. 

Compared to the shot map, this is confusing enough, add in a ball...
When you are staring at a brightly flashing machine in a smoky bar with music blaring in your ears and a metal ball zipping around like a chrome-colored meteor, it can be a challenge to focus on where the ball needs to go, much less how you can get it to go there.  Some machines are easier to read than others, and this is generally a big factor in terms of quality, but even the easiest machines can be difficult to read in the moment!  This is where the shot map comes in. 

 The shot map lets you see where the ball needs to go, and even better, once you've played a game, it gives you a very good idea about where the ball will end up once you hit the target you are aiming for.  Will the ball get pulled into a magnetized saucer and kicked up to a ramp that feeds the right inlane?  Will the ball zip around an orbit and come screaming down towards the left flipper?  What if you've lit the multiball?

Lord of the Rings, a very fun game designed by Stern, happens to be a pinball machine I have played a great deal more than others, and I got the chance to spend several hours with a Lord of the Rings machine in fantastic condition when I was in Salt Lake City recently.  The machine was in a seriously seedy bar called X Wifes Place (yea, that was the name) with an interior that seemed wholly out of place in the otherwise clean, manicured surroundings of downtown SLC.  I went down to the bar around 5 p.m. on a Monday, and the few patrons there did not seem to be at all interested in pinball, so I pretty much had the whole area to myself.  As an added bonus, the Saints game was on, so I got to play one of my favorite machines and watch the game in absolute peace (so long as I didn't look at the floor too much...).

One machine to rule them all, one machine to find them, one machine to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them!

I had a great time playing, but even though I had played this machine plenty of times before in various locations, I was still having trouble getting into a good groove (the tense Saints game and plenty of beer didn't help).  Don't get me wrong, the game is engaging, fun, and smooth even if you don't really know what you are doing, but at this point I don't just want to play games, I want to play them well.  I want to play them deliberately.  I want to set a goal and achieve it.  I want to put the ball where I want it to go to do something that is part of a deeper strategy than hitting targets during a game mode or keeping the ball from dropping.

I thought it smelled bad on the outside...

I had plenty of fun, but when I got home and started doing some research into the game, I came across the shot map on Stern's website.  Immediately, everything clicked!  I know the ramps, lanes, orbits, toys, and switches from playing the game, but the shot map has taken what is sometimes so hard to see while the game is in progress and brought it into perfect clarity.  I think I really understand this game now, and the next time I have an opportunity to play it, I think I can tackle it with deliberation.  And from now on, I am going to track down the shot map for any game I plan on going out to play!  As Obi-wan said, I believe I have taken my first step into a larger world, though maybe a Gandalf quote would have been more apropos...let's see...

It is in the Shot Map that we must place our, that's not it...

I looked everywhere for the creature Gollum, but the enemy found him first. I don't know how long they tortured him, but through the endless screams and inane babble, they discerned two words: SHOT MAP!, that's even worse...

Oh, it's quite simple.  You use the Shot Map, and the doors will open.  Close...but no cigar...

I think there's more to this game than meets the eye...  That's the one!