Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Holy shit did I ever love this series to death. I pretty much binged the entire season in one night, and when I got to the end, I just wanted more. It begins with that theme song, that I love to bits – certainly one of the best TV theme songs ever. For the rest, it’s just fun as hell, and feels so much like a Tina Fey joint, with that manic cadence and silly humor. Really can’t wait for a second season.

Interstellar

I remember that when this movie came out a lot of people were criticizing it for a few things, including the presence of Matt Damon, and the ending. I finally got around to watching it, and I have to say I really, really enjoyed it, including those two aspects (Damon plays a frustrating character, but that’s the point, humans are very often like that). My initial worry was that the opening part (on Earth) was going to take too long, but I found the setup to be interesting, so it didn’t bother me. Once in space though, I was glued to the screen, and loved so many of the theories and experiences going on. I know it’s silly to say this, but they’ve created such an interesting setting for this, that I would love to see a continuation of where humanity evolves, how space is further explored, etc.

Pausing PauseTalk

The final PauseTalk (Vol. 85) was held on Monday, March 2, 2015. The end, my friends.

“Final” is a big word, and you may be wondering why I decided to put an end to the series, instead of getting someone else to continue running it – and there was indeed interest in doing that.

Let me start from the beginning.

The very first PauseTalk was held 9 years ago, on Monday, June 5, 2006. The running joke is that I started the series as a way of getting interesting and creative people to come over to my hood and hang out with me – at the time I lived just around the corner from Cafe Pause, where the series has always been held, and where I took the name from. In reality, it’s not a joke, it was a good part of the reason I did it.

And guess what? It worked.

I was inspired by PechaKucha Night, but I wanted to do something where I could actually have a discussion with these creative people, not just take part in a one-way presentation. We did experiment early on with using a projector at the cafe, so that a person could share images or videos of what they were working on, but it didn’t last long. I felt that these events shouldn’t be about showing off things, but rather be about asking questions, offering solutions, discussing topics – in other words, about talking. And talk we did.

For 9 years, I held 10 events a year – I’d skip January and August, because of the holidays – on the first Monday of the month, with the very occasional exceptions due to scheduling issues. Only one edition of PauseTalk was not held at Cafe Pause, and that was a special edition that I did as part of a “Magazine Library” event I took part in, at a venue in Daikanyama.

Oh the people I’ve met.

The most amazing thing to come out of hosting PauseTalk for all this time is of course all of the amazing people I’ve met. A lot of these people ended up becoming close friends. Even better, a lot of people tell me that they also met a lot of their friends at PauseTalk, and I also loved seeing people end up collaborating together on projects after meeting there. 

PauseTalk was a great connector, a great network, and a plain ol’ fun night once a month.

For those who never attended, the format was quite simple. I loosely MCed the evening, and by that I mean that I kicked things off by having everyone do a simple introduction (name, what you do) to give everyone an idea of who everyone is (and where they are coming from when they are commenting on something), and then I just made sure that the discussion lasted for the entirety of the “official session,” which went from 20:00 to 21:00-21:30. To do this, I would ask questions, either asking someone directly about a project I heard they were doing, or just bringing up general topics, to try and get people to chime in. It was pretty easy to do, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a situation where things weren’t moving along naturally.

It was also important for me that the “official session” not last more than about an hour or so, as I think that the hanging out after was also an important part of the evening, and in fact, you could say that the talk session was just a prelude to everyone then being comfortable with each other, and getting to know each other better.

How many people came to the events? Because of the loss of my server early last year, I’ve unfortunately lost most of the site archives so you can’t go and check all of the participants lists (and I do hope to rescue this somehow, someday), but it usually averaged 15-20 people, with the occasional tiny group, and the occasional giant group of 30+, which although great for my ego, was a bit hard to manage in terms of trying to get everyone involved in the discussion.

The final PauseTalk was pretty fantastic, and I was amazed to see 60+ in attendance – I didn’t have an attendance sheet like I usually do, so didn’t keep track, but I had prepared special badges for those who came, and all 60 were given out. Instead of the regular edition, it was more of a party to mark the end of both the series and my putting an end to my life in Japan. I wanted to give a short speech, and so didn’t prepare anything, but ended up talking for quite a while I think (30-45 minute), and so I thank everyone for their patience.

So why put an end to it? What I explained to everyone was that, the way I see it, in order to run something like this for such a long period of time and without any payment involved, it has to be because it’s your baby. I would love for someone to create something similar, as there does always seem to be a need for something like PauseTalk, but I’d like it to be something that the organizer feels like is his/her own thing. At the penultimate edition, there was a lot of talk about what to do after, and there seemed to be a lot of people interested in doing something, and not just as a series, but also as an online project – a proper creatives database, to help people connect and find each other.

I do hope that all of this happens, and as for me, who knows if I’ll again have the urge to start a PauseTalk or something similar in whatever city I end up in. But in terms of this version of the series, I’m happy to see it have a proper end, a final edition.

I will never be able to properly express my gratitude to everyone who has supported the series over the years by attending and talking about it with others. PauseTalk was for you, for me, for everyone.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

As much as I’ve loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy (I’ve re-watched it countless times), I just haven’t felt that love for The Hobbit. Initially, I didn’t much like the first film – I still really don’t like the entire 45 minute intro – but upon re-watching it during the holidays I found more to like in the latter parts of the film. The second film was a bit better, and I’ll say that I was at least looking forward to the last film because it promised a big battle, and, well, I like big battles. A big battle is what I got, and it did not disappoint. This was a really thrilling film to watch for me – despite the slow start – and I dug most of it, especially once Thorin returned to normal and lead the charge. I do still feel like the Eagles continue to be a bit too deus ex machina, and here it’s especially unsatisfying, in terms of narrative, but it doesn’t stop that I dug all the action and large scale troupe movements. 

Better Call Saul

Well this sure is a lot better than I was expecting. Saul was never one of my favorite characters in Breaking Bad, and although I was happy to hear that a spinoff series was going to get made with him, that was basically because I knew that the same creative team would be behind it, and I wanted to spend more time in that world. Well, what we have here is truly a series that feels like it’s part of the Breaking Bad universe, told and shot in the same way, and I do really feel like I’m just watching more Breaking Bad, which is what I wanted. Also, the fantastic cameos and inclusion of Breaking Bad characters that we’ve seen so far have been pretty great – the whole desert scene in episode 2 was just beyond satisfying. Thank you, Vince Gilligan.

Utopia

This is a series I’ve heard nothing but good things about for what seems like forever, and it has been on my watch list for quite a while. It finally popped up on Hulu JP, and so I’ve been watching it with my wife (3 episodes so far), and yes, it’s indeed quite good. It starts with the way it’s shot, which is really all about great angles and extreme coloring, but then you also have some standout characters – not just in terms of personality or writing, but also because they are physically interesting – and a mystery that you want to know more about. I’m very happy that there is also a second season I’ll get to watch, and that a 3rd season is on the way.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

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As I’ve stated a great many times, The Legend of Zelda series has always been and continues to be my favorite series in games. There is a weird hole in my history with the series though (outside of all the portable titles) and that’s Majora’s Mask. I did own it and play it when it first came out on N64, but for some reason never got very far in it. I can’t really remember why that is, whether it was because of something in the game that pushed me away, or if it was just that I was at a point in my life where it wasn’t the right time to be playing it (it was around the time that the Dreamcast was out, which was a console I loved dearly). So here we are, with this new 3D version, and I got really excited to finally give it another try. And wow, how did I ever put it down back in the day, this is such a smart and innovative game. I do know that they’ve done quite a few things to make it a friendlier experience – more control over the time, more save points, etc. – and that may have something to do with it. I’m getting close to the end (I’m in the middle of the Stone Tower Temple right now) and I’m still giddy at how much fun I’ve been having playing it. I also think it looks fantastic on 3DS, and when I do finish it, I now want to go back and play Ocarina of Time 3D as well – I wasn’t particularly interested in revisiting that game before, but I now feel the urge. 

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move

Another game I grabbed with my Club Nintendo points (after Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D) was Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move for the 3DS. I was always curious about these “Minis” games but for some reason never got around to playing any of them, and so decided to finally take the jump, and I’m glad I did. It’s a fun little platform/puzzler, and although I’m still early in it – still just playing the basic Mario stages – I do like how it gradually ramps up, adding new elements at a pace that doesn’t overwhelm you. I imagine I’ll then want to play the new one that is coming out this month, cross-platform on Wii U and 3DS.

CounterSpy

Yet another PS+ free game I was happy to get, I’m having a lot of fun with CounterSpy so far. I remember that it got so-so reviews when it came out, but I was always really attracted to the stylish art direction, 2D gameplay, and, well, I just really like spy stuff. I’ve only had a chance to play a couple of levels so far, but I liked what I experienced. I also like that the 2D gameplay changes up a bit when you go into cover (becomes close to 3rd person perspective). I may end up noticing more flaws as I play more, but so far I’m happy to be playing it.

Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty

Yet another great PS+ release this month, this time the updated version of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, called New ‘n’ Tasty. Abe’s Oddysee was one of my favorite PS1 games, and I even played it again 3-4 years ago on PSP. How’s this update? Fantastic. This is more than just a simple HD upgrade, as it looks like everything was rebuilt from the ground up, and the visuals are stunning. It’s the same gameplay I remember, and I’m still having fun playing it, so that’s all good. I did notice that the voice acting was redone, as it does feel like Abe’s “hello” is a bit different, but we’ll let that slide. A definite must-play title, especially if you’re new to it.