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    Film Review: Inception

    Inception's a movie that I'd keep forgetting about, only to be occasionally reminded when a new trailer or bit of news would be released. I'm a big fan of Chris Nolan (Memento ranks up there as one of my all-time favorites, and as a comic book fan, Dark Knight's obviously near and dear), so I'm not sure why it was always off my radar, but here we are - it's done, it's out, and I've seen it.

    If you're not acquainted with the premise, Inception stars Leo DiCaprio as Dom Cobbs, a thief who specializes in the art of extraction (stealing information from a person's subconscious via constructed dream worlds in which the victim doesn't know they're dreaming and the thief is able to break through their mental defenses). When a job goes south, Dom's offered a way out (along with another incentive he's been after for quite a while): performing inception. Whereas extraction is all about attaining information, inception is about planting information - an idea that grows and spreads once the victim wakes up. Supposedly no one's been able to pull it off, but Dom takes the job anyway.

    Along the way, he assembles a crack team: Arthur the Point Man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), in charge of researching the target and providing pre-mission intelligence, Earnes the Forger (Tom Hardy), a master thief in his own right who can pose as different people in the dream world to fool and manipulate the victim, Saito the Tourist (Ken Watanable), the employer who's bankrolling the operation, and Ariadne the Architect (Ellen Page), who lives up to her namesake by designing "levels" for the dream world to manifest as. They also pick up Yusuf the Chemist (Dileep Rao), who's there in more of a support role as the person supplying the compounds that allow shared dreaming to take place.

    The job's fairly simple: they need to put Robert Fischer, Jr., (Cillian Murphy) under with these compounds, get deep into his subconscious and plant Saito's idea. Things get complicated when visions associated with Cobb's dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) start interfering with the mission, and improvisations begin shaking apart the plan.

    So if you want to know if I liked the movie, I'll just go ahead and say it: I liked the movie. It was great, and I can easily recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good thinking man's thriller. Everyone delivers an at-least solid performance, and a few actors (Tom Hardy in particular) honestly surprised the hell out of me. In typical Chris Nolan fashion, the film's gorgeous to look at, and as with his previous collaborations with Nolan, Hans Zimmer provides excellent accents with a booming score.

    If that's all you needed, there you go. Having said that, I'd like to go into a few specific points.

    As I said earlier, Tom Hardy really shocked the crap out of me. Up until this point, I'd only really known him as Shinzon from that awful Star Trek: Nemesis flick and as the titular character in Bronson, which was suitably tense, but ultimately just kind of disjointed and unsatisfying. But here in Inception, he really steals the movie, whether it's with his buddy cop-like arguments with Arthur or his dynamite action choreography. It's not hard at all to see why he was cast as the lead in the upcoming Mad Max 4.

    Equally impressive was Ellen Page, who's always bordered right on the edge of annoying for me. She played things down with Ariadne, though, and it's with that subtlety that she's able to succeed at being the window into the world of Inception (being the newbie to the group, most of the exposition is brought on by her asking questions).

    As for Leo, there wasn't necessarily anything to complain about, but I can't help but feel like he's been turning in the same kinds of performances for some time. There's even a point in the movie where Dom splashes water onto his face that looks like it could've been right out of Shutter Island. DiCaprio's been picking these tortured, humorless leading-man parts for years, and it's starting to take it's toll. On the bright side, he delivered on some great action set-pieces - especially a chase scene almost reminiscent from the parkour scene from Casino Royale.

    And speaking of the action choreography, I really have to hand it to Noaln - he's come a long way. The Bourne-like fight scenes from Batman Begins were all kinds of nauseating, but he improved a greet deal with Dark Knight's practical effect set pieces, and Inception just takes it up another notch. There's one scene in particular where Arthur has to navigate a hotel while the point of gravity keeps shifting, and it's handled masterfully. It effortlessly handles the feeling of dreamlike disorientation without it being confusing or uncomfortable for the viewer.

    Finally, there's the script itself. As the first film Chris Nolan's written on his own since his debut with Following, I think he's shown us exactly what his strengths and weaknesses are. He's obviously adept with high concepts and constructing intense moments, but Inception definitely has moments where it lags, and I can't help but feel like Nolan's brother Jonathan would've been an asset in reigning it in and giving the movie a much tighter feel, as he did with Dark Knight, The Prestige, and Memento.

    So that's Inception. I don't feel like I'll be ready to truly rate it until I've seen it a few more times (it's definitely a film that seems like it'll reward repeat viewings), but I had a great time with it last night, and if you're looking for a sci-fi/thriller epic, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything better this year.


    Found Material: SCUM

    So I was looking through my Documents folder earlier trying to find something (unfortuantely, I think I accidentally deleted it, which really fucking sucks), and I noticed an old short essay I wrote from back when I was living in Tallahassee. For a period of time, I worked as a Phone Surveyor at this hole-in-the-wall office right around Downtown (if Tallahassee even has a Downtown). Anyone who knows me knows that I consider that job to be the low point of my time in Tally, if not my life. It really did suck the soul right out of my body. In any case, I thought it'd be fun to share - this was back when my writing was tinged with overbearing cynicism and a tendency to get kind of vulgar. If that's not your kind of thing, you should probably just avoid it.



    A Matter-o-Fact Confessional by Karl Castaneda

    It’s about half-past 3 P.M. when I walk in the door and say hello to the awkwardly kind middle-aged woman who’s always there before me, no matter how ridiculously early I show up. I think she might have the shift before me in addition to the one I work. I’d ask her, but I think we talk enough as is. She’s one of those “Hi there, baby, how’s your day been? That bad, huh? Well, you tell me all about it so I can give you a lecture, because even though we’re at the same station in life, my several extra decades of existence has granted me near-infinite wisdom” types. I wish there was a shorter way of saying that.

    I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself, though. I work as a telemarketer. Well, no. I’m not a telemarketer, per se. I’m a phone surveyor, a job much like a telemarketer, only one in which there’s no actual product to sell. Instead I – you guessed it – skillfully fool people into completing mundane and often confusingly irrelevant surveys. Though when we complete one, we’ve got to log it in as a “sale,” so I don’t know whom it is they’re trying to fool.

    I’m pretty sure we’re classified as phone surveyors to bypass the National Do Not Call List. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s that giant list of people who’ve gotten fed up with being interrupted during dinner / bathing time / depression-filled masturbation, and have filed to be taken off the call list for timeshare salesmen and such. That list doesn’t apply to us, though, since we, again, “aren’t actually selling anything and, therefore, aren’t actually telemarketers, ma’am, so if you’d kindly shut your dumb fucking mouth for a second, I’d like to ask you how you’d rate your current cable provider. Oh, and let me remind you how much we appreciate your time today.”

    Jumping back to the present, my shift doesn’t actually start until half-past 4 P.M. I’ve really got no reason to be there, but my rides to work are often ruled by my car-owning roommate, and thus, sometimes my ETAs are a little off. Sure, I could take the bus, and sometimes I do, but I also occasionally browse Craigslist’s local prostitute gallery to amuse myself with maliciously groomed vaginas, so I’d say my quota for bad habits is about full.

    In the intervening time between the minute I punch in for the afternoon (So what if I’m not working for another two hours? I’m still stuck there, aren’t I? Let’s see if I can fool them into giving me more money) and the moment I lethargically drag myself over to my desk to start making calls, I fill my time with a healthy blend of jack shit and fuck-all. Sometimes I sleep, as well. There’s a lot to be said for actively interrupting the flow of the office with your thunderous snoring coming from the break room. It’s a merit I’m quite proud of.

    When it’s finally time to get to business, I strap on the Dollar Store-grade headset they’ve set aside for me at my assigned desk for the day, type in my employee info at the computer terminal, sit back, get reasonably un-comfy, and let the magic roll. And by magic, I of course mean dozens of hang-ups, usually in quick succession of the ones preceding it.

    Before taking this job, I can confidently say I wasn’t a huge fan of telemarketers / phone surveyors / what have you. I wasn’t actively against them, it’s just that I, like most of the population, never saw the point in wasting up to a half-hour of your life on answering questions that are just going to be compiled into a giant data report that, ultimately, will only help corporations screw you over with more subtlety. Having worked as “one of them,” though, that mild dislike has morphed into mild sympathy with a hint of sadness and a side of wistfulness. Likely with an appetizer consisting of those breadsticks with melted cheddar poured over them, but that has more to do with me than them, if you want to get right down to it.

    You see, there are three types of telemarketers / phone surveyors / career-challenged folk:

    1. The Robot: Having been worn down by multiple hours of working as a headset-jockey, their soul has been totally eroded, leaving only the paper-thin husk of a monotone voice, slightly irritated inflection, and an overall hopeless demeanor. Most of the callers you encounter are these types. Do not fear for them. They are already dead.
    2. The Uppity Bitch: These guys and gals are the douchebags and cunts, respectively, who just couldn’t be more psyched to find out whether your dental floss is green, blue, or Do Not Know / No Answer. Constantly surrounded by Robots, they’ve decided to hold onto their sanity by fooling themselves into loving this colossal waste of time. These are the people you have to worry about. It’s only a matter of time before their miserable hope-bubble bursts and they unload a lead factory on the dude at McDonalds who gives them incorrect change.
    3. People Like Me / The Normals / New Hires: As the multiple titles might suggest, these are the people who’re only working this gig until they can find a proper job. Or the people who haven’t caught wise to the fact that just because the job is easy doesn’t mean it isn’t damaging to your psyche. These are the people applying at that bookstore or comic shop you run. Please hire them.

    On most days I’m surrounded by Robots, but on this day, I’m lucky enough to be placed in a cluster of Uppity Bitches. Today’s UB newbie (Ew-bie?) looks about 16, a hundred or so pounds overweight, and a fan of comics, apparently. I look over his shoulder to see that he’s reading a trade paperback of Preacher (Also known in some circles as The Only Thing Texas Ever Contributed To Society). The dude’s automatically up a couple notches in my book, because that’s a damn quality series. I consider complimenting him on his purchase, but I’m interrupted by an incoming call.

    Well, it’s actually an outgoing call. Nobody actually calls us, but the system we log into automatically queues up several numbers, which we then take care of in the order they’re dialed out. In any case, this incoming-outgoing is afoot, so I launch into my spiel:

    “Hi, this is Karl, calling on behalf of [Company Name Withheld], how’re you today?”

    Once they awkwardly sigh out a “Fine,” the game is afoot:

    “Well, we’re conducting a VERY BRIEF survey about TV among consumers in your area, and I’d love to get your opinion, if that’s alright.”

    A couple notes, to begin. First of all, every caller you’ve ever spoken to has a long-ass script that tells him or her exactly what to say. The script in question tells me that once I hear “Hello” on the other end, I’m supposed to launch into a two-paragraph diatribe on how I’m not trying to sell anything, that the survey is oh-so-short, that we’d very much appreciate their opinion, that I’m really not trying to sell them anything, that they’re being given a great opportunity to voice concern and praise, and I SWEAR TO THE LORD IN HEAVEN THAT I’M NOT SELLING ANYTHING PLEASE DON’T HANG UP ON ME. Oddly enough, I think keeping people on the line and Republican National Convention-style speeches are often at odds with each other, so I keep things short.

    Also take notice that I’m very aloof as to getting them to take the survey. I mean, I’d totally like to hear what they have to say. But only, like, if they’re into that kind of thing or whatever. I could go either way, to be honest. I’ve got tons of people to call, so it’s not like I need them to say yes. If they happened to say yes, though, that would be fuck-awesome. Please say yes.

    This song and dance has been mildly effective, and as such, it’s a staple among my call tactics, among my other faves, “I’m telling you, ma’am, there are only a few more questions, so if you’ll just stay on the line for a few more moments, I’ll have you on your way in no time at all,” and the ever-classic, “No, sir, I didn’t realize that I’m a total pain in the ass. Would you care to rate your internet speed on a scale of 1 to 10?”

    To be perfectly honest, though, 95% of the people I talk to every day give me some variation of “No thanks, “ “I want you to literally fuck your own ass,” “I want to light you on fire in the worst way,” or the ever-present hang-up. Which is fine. That’s how this call ends. If you want to get specific, the lady was on her way “out the door.” I hear that one a lot, too, and a certain naïve part of me actually believes it. Maybe I’m not all grown up yet, after all.

    It’s at this point that I turn back around to see how my fellow Preacher appreciator is doing. You see, in between calls, our stats are displayed on-screen. I see that he’s already completed three surveys, and we’re only in our first hour of the shift. My next set of calls seems to be taking a while, so I decide to listen in on his next pitch. It goes as follows:

    “Well hello there, ma’am! My name is Joseph, and I hope you’re doing just fantastic today. You are? Swell! Well, you see, I’ve got this survey about television, and I’d be ever-so thrilled if you’d spare a few minutes to complete it. You will? Gee golly!”

    The fucker falls a few notches back toward The Ever-So Crowded Province of Fuckwadsville, Population: Too Many to Count. Maybe it’s his sunny disposition, or maybe it’s that he’s so far ahead of me, but for some reason, I now hate this asshole’s guts. Take your pick.

    Fate is not kind and returns me to my “work.” An Indian man answers the phone, and I launch into my usual. Every once in a while, I’ve got to admit, I get to have a little fun. This is one of those select times. The following exchange takes place:

    “Hello there, this is Karl calling on behalf of [Company Name Withheld, henceforth shortened to CNW]. How are you today?”

    “Yes? Hello? Who are you?”

    “Well, again, sir, my name is Karl and I’m calling on behalf of [CNW]. How are you today?”

    “What is it that you want with me?”

    “Well, sir, we’re conducting a VERY BRIEF survey about TV among consumers in your area, and I’d love to get your opinion if that’s alright.”

    “Give me your fucking phone number.”

    “I’m sorry?”

    “What’s your phone number?”

    “Heh, well, I’m not actually allowed to give that out, sir. Getting back to the survey-“

    “No, fuck you and fuck that. What’s your fucking phone number?”

    “Well, like I said, I’m not allowed to give that out.”

    “Oh for – are you – are you a male?”

    “I’m sorry?”

    “You. Are you a male or a female.”

    “I’m a male, sir.”

    “Then where the fuck are your balls?”

    “Would you like to take the survey, sir?”

    “Did I – did you not hear anything I said?”

    “I heard you, sir. I’m just wondering if you’d like to take the survey…”

    I’m enjoying this. Fucking sue me. I understand where the guy’s coming from. I mean, it’s not really me that he’s mad at. It’s the collective persona that is all telemarketers everywhere from any time period that he’s got a bone to pick with. I’m just that persona’s avatar. You might think that getting screamed at when I can’t raise my voice even an iota would drive me nuts, but it’s more amusing than anything else. Of course he doesn’t want to take the survey – I just want to see how deep this nut’s gonna crack:

    “Take the survey? Are you out of your head?!”

    “So… would you like to take it?”

    “I’m so tired of – I can’t believe you!”

    “Sir, if you’d just like to spare a moment of your time, I’d greatly appreciate it.”

    There’s that saying, “Kill ‘em with kindness.” In reality, all you really do is annoyingly poke them with kindness, and luckily, the latter is a lot more entertaining:

    “Listen to me now! I will never hear from you again! Do you hear me?”

    “The survey is actually very brief, sir…”

    “Never again! Fuck this and fuck you!”

    When I hear the phone hang up, I realize that I’ve finally crossed the line I’d been straddling for days between completely unobtrusive empathic and the asshole who’s more worried about getting you to admit your favorite color than the dying relative you’re on your way out to visit. I won’t lie. The dark side feels good in ways that I hadn’t imagined before. I decide it’s time for a bathroom break.

    We’re allowed two 5-minute bathroom breaks a day, with an additional 30-minute break for “lunch,” which in reality is at 7 P.M. For my first fiver of the day, I decide to quench my thirst at the water fountain, and then stroll on back to my desk to emotionlessly stare at the counter on my screen displaying how much time I have left before I’m considered late by my supervisor, God forbid a shit takes longer than the allotted period. I wouldn’t want to miss out on those precious hang-ups. I might learn some new curse words or something.

    When the counter is displaying 0:0:05 remaining, I hit Esc and I’m back to taking the incoming-outgoings. While I sneak a peak at Station 33’s well-prepared cleavage, I hear a beep through my headset, and I’m back to slowly killing myself inside. All is right in the world.

    Sometime later, I wake up from my zombie-like trance when I know it’s time for lunch break. I know this because the supervisor has sent out an instant message to everyone’s computer that shows up over our stat sheet. So everyone hits Esc, puts themselves on 30  MINUTE BREAK, and goes outside to chain-smoke several packs of cigarettes. Not being much of a smoker, I usually give a call to my brother or a friend and tell them about how people treat my telephone greetings like a harbinger of pestilence. It usually gets a laugh, though I’m still not quite sure why it’s funny. I guess it’s one of those things you have you see from the outside to enjoy.


    Rough Draught: Episode 2

    Just as promised, here's the latest episode of Rough Draught, recorded a few days ago up in Tallahassee, FL. Jon Rind and Mike Sklens are back, along with TAWK-112's Michael Casper, our buddy Antonio Siqueira, and Mike's self-proclaimed-reluctant girlfriend, Amanda Albert. Recorded on the 3rd of July, we decided to celebrate the eve of the birth of our nation with some All-American brews made and sold right here in the States. Antonio had the great idea to start including names and pictures for each beer, so here goes:

    1. Brooklyn Lager

    2. Full Sail IPA

    3. Ruination IPA

    4. Dogfish Head Midas Touch

    5. Smuttynose IPA

    6. Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar

    7. Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron

    Now that you know the drinks, it's time to hear the tastings:

    Download Here

    See you next month, folks!


    New Business: Upcoming Content

    Things have been a little quiet since we premiered Rough Draught, so I thought now would be as good a time as any to announce some upcoming content.

    When I debuted Crosstawk (to ridiculous fanfare, of course), I neglected to mention what the projected release format would be, so first things firstly, it should be known that every show in the Crosstawk family will be on a monthly publishing schedule. It's been just over 30 days, so a new Rough Draught WILL be coming out later today (it's encoding as I type this) - it's a great episode, so I hope you'll enjoy it.

    More shows are coming down the pipe soon, and while I won't be giving out any concrete details (as some things could change in the interim), I'm hoping to have the first of the new podcasts out within the next two weeks. The next new show after that is still in the beginner stages (I'm not a part of it - I'll just be fronting the hosting costs), but I'm hoping to get it out in the next three to four weeks.

    The larger plan is that we'll have four to five shows releasing once a month, giving you a new Crosstawk podcast each and every week.

    The next item I want to talk about is the feed, or lack thereof. When Rough Draught Episode 1 was done, I considered signing up with a dedicated audio storage solution (since Squarespace has an upload cap), but I wasn't sure if RD was going to actually go on, and I didn't want to start throwing down cash before I needed to. Since another episode's already in the can, I'll be launching the AAC feed within the next week. The first episode to go up will obviously be RD 1, but I don't want to flood things right away, so RD 2 won't go up on the feed for another month. You can think of it as a site exclusive or what have you. New shows will be released on the same, generic Crosstawk feed, so you won't have different feeds for different shows.

    So that's all for now. Come back later today for Rough Draught Episode 2!


    Introducing: Rough Draught

    Hey there, folks.


    So after taking a trip up to Tallahassee, Florida last weekend, I'm ready to debut the first podcast of the all-new, all-awesome Crosstawk family. It's called Rough Draught, and I'm pretty excited about it. Each month, Jon Rind, Mike Sklens and myself will pick up three to four beers and then rate them for your listening pleasure. For Episode 1, we picked up three trappist beers, also known as beers brewed by trappist monks inside monastary walls (not to be confused with abbey beers, which are also brewed by monks, but don't meet the same strict criteria). First up we'll be trying out the Chimay Bleue, followed by the extremely rare/expensive Westvleteren 12 and finally the Koningshoeven La Trappe Quadrupel. All three were really great, but you'll have to listen to find out which one was the best.


    Download Here


    Enjoy, folks, and see you next month!


    The Equipment

    So I thought it might be fun to show you guys what kind of stuff I use for podcasting these days.

    Let's start with where it all begins:

    This is the H4n Zoom. I picked it up about a month ago for my trip to Boston for PAX East, and man, this thing is a beast. I brought it along, primarily, to record a panel I was on with Radio Free Nintendo. I handed it over to the audio gurus and they lined it right into their soundboard with a via one of the XLR jacks on the bottom there. I had some difficulties with the stereo recording - it picked up everything we needed it to (with great results), but when we played it back, noise only came out on the left side. I basically cloned the track to also play on the right side to fix this, but I'm anxious to use these XLR inputs again to find out what we did wrong.

    After the panel, we used the H4n for some scattered recording sessions - one at the show floor, and a couple more back at the hotel room. All in all, it performed really well, which I had to expect after dropping like $300. It was definitely worth it, though. Aside from just using it to record external microphones, it's got dual condenser microphones perched on the top. They actually record in 360 degrees, which comes in handy when you're recording with multiple people. When listening to more than three voices, people have a tendency to forget who's who. But if they're all coming from different "directions" then it's a lot easier to place exactly who's speaking. I've also been using the condensers as my default external mic for when I'm recording straight to my laptop.

    And here it is. This is the first of the first MacBooks. Well, not the first, but you get the idea. When Apple ditched the iBook/PowerBook line for the MacBook/MacBook Pro models, I jumped on the bandwagon about two months after the MBs came out. With a 2.0 Ghz Core Duo processor and a really ancient 950 GMA integrated GPU, this thing's really out of shape compared to the newer models, but it's still surprisingly sturdy and handles all of my audio editing without too much trouble. It's certainly gotten a lot smoother after I upgraded to 2 GBs of RAM, but that's not really anything to write home about these days. Within the next few months, I should be upgrading to a MacBook Pro with a Core i7 processor and a halfway decent NVidia card thrown in for good measure.

    Not much to speak of otherwise. I used to have a Samson CO1U Studio Condenser, but I gave it away to one of my old roommates to pay him back for a big favor. I also used to have a pair of really dynamite noise-canceling headphones, but they didn't survive my move to Miami. I'm pretty much using your standard set of earbuds these days.

    So that's that, folks. If you cared to know what I was recording with before, well, now you know. I really just wanted to talk about that H4n. I mean, if you dropped that much on a damn mic, wouldn't you?

    More to come soon. Stay tuned.


    Shout it loud, folks.

    There's not a whole lot I need to say right now other than to say, "Hi there," so I'll just go ahead and pull a copypasta from the About Me section. Check it:

    I'm Karl Castaneda and this is CROSS|TAWK.

    There are a lot of blogs and pocasts out there, and my goal with this website isn't to try and compete with them. If you're reading this, I appreciate it, and I hope you'll stick around. For myself, and for the people who I'll be collaberating with to make this website a success, the goal is simple: to create internet radio that we enjoy. If someone else happens to get a kick out of it along the way, well, that's pretty cool, too.

    You might be wondering about the name, so I'll go ahead and explain it. TAWK comes from a podcast I worked on with a few guys I was living with back in Tallahassee, Florida. We only released around 20 episodes, but I enjoyed that experience more than I can ever put into words. We called it TAWK-112, and it was a pretty good time.

    As for CROSS, well, most of the people who I'll be working with aren't right around the corner. We live all across America - some even further out than that. So we'll be crossing longitute and lattitude to get to each other and put together some great material. I also chose "cross," because we all have a habit of putting ourselves up on a goddamn cross when we get too passionate. So there you go. Hopefully the explanation wasn't too Web 2.0 and douchey.

    So hang around. Download a podcast, and if you'd like, read an article. I plan on having some fun, so I hope you will, too.

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