December 30, 2005
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Tim Burton's remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is amazing. I've loved all of his films, and watching this remake lends his dark sense of humor to the story without removing any of the charm that the original film starring Gene Wilder had. And Johnny Depp portrays an amazing Willy Wonka; I can't imagine a better actor for the role.
The new Oompa Loompa songs are great, and executed on the grand scale that everyone would have liked to have seen in the first version. They're voiced by Danny Elfman, who I think also did the score, and has been a staple of Tim Burton films. I like Danny Elfman's scores in general, and the music for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was also great.
Plus, all of the latest technological advances are taken advantage of here, so that Oompa Loompas are really tiny, and the factory really is huge, and all of the little strange things that take place look real instead of faked. It is really funny to see Deep Roy show up dozens of times side-by-side as the Oompa Loompas, and the glass elevator gag is amazingly classic.
The trailer for The Island immediately reminded me of Logan's Run. And that shouldn't be surprising, as the movie is basically a remake of Logan's Run with more action and less thinking (thanks to Michael Bay) with a different premise. Unfortunately, I think Michael Bay's involvement is what ruins this film's chances at becoming an important science-fiction movie.
The new premise in this movie is that for insurance purposes, human clones are created so that people in the "real world" have a ready set of replacement parts in case of an emergency, or simply to prolong life. This is based on a current issue, but to polarize the subject the clones in this movie are given real lives instead of kept grown without consciousness. That immediately removes one of the possibilities of ethical discussion.
The idea of genetic memory, which has scientific basis, is also used. But used incorrectly. Instead of this genetic memory being there at birth to tell the clones how to perform basic tasks, the memory introduced is experiential rather than behavioral. And it involves memories that have absolutely nothing to do with survival.
It's too bad so much time was spent on action sequences instead of on exploring the social, ethical, and scientific issues involved. There was a lot of potential here. Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, and Sean Bean are excellent actors who play major roles. Auxiliary actors like Michael Clarke Duncan and Steve Buscemi are also great. This really ends up being an action film instead of a science-fiction one.
December 29, 2005
My friend Tintin, who works at IBM in Poughkeepsie, sent me a copy of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller as a Christmas present. She says it is one of her favorite books. After reading the book, I can understand why, as it matches with her sense of humor perfectly. I found it entertaining to the same degree as Me Talk Pretty One Day. Each chapter of Catch-22 focuses on one character, and the irony and futility of things in life that the phrase Catch-22 has come to represent. Sometimes I found this repetitive, but at least Heller kept the ideas flowing. I should probably send her a copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day if she hasn't already read it.
December 28, 2005
I decided to watch The Warriors after reading about the upcoming video game of the same name from Rockstar Games. The Warriors is a movie about stylized gang warfare in New York City, but the situation is more like a land of city-states that are governed by a loose set of unwritten rules. The Warriors are wrongly accused of assassination at a gathering of delegates, and have to fight their way back home.
The story itself is very Homeric in many aspects, including the journey home, run-ins with the Lizzies, and punishment for being weak of character. There is also a unique approach to the scene transistions, which used comic-book style drawing and lettering. This lends a certain mood to the whole film that prevents it from becoming too dark and emphasizes the character personalities as well.
Heat is a criminal versus cop thriller, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, with other excellent actors in supporting roles. There are two aspects to this movie. The first is the conflict between these two. They are both extremely intelligent and constantly in a game trying to outwit the other. The second is what makes this more than your typical thriller, and that is the time spent showing the motiviations of everyone involved, and the collateral damage resulting from their actions.
There are some memorable quotes in this film, which take on particular meaning in the lives of the people involved. For the criminals, the police officers, and the people their lives are entwined with. I was also very impressed with the gunfight sequence that took place in the middle of Las Angeles streets, which involved heavy firepower like AR-47 machine guns and the coordinated movements of the criminal crew.
The only thing which I think may be a problem is the length of the movie. That time is used to illustrate everything that the director wanted to convey to the audience, but it was somewhat slow moving as a result. The tension is kept high throughout, however, so the majority of viewers should be fine with it.
December 27, 2005
I just watched Wu jian dao and I think it is an excellent movie. It is only 101 minutes long, but the tension and pacing of the film makes it seem like much longer. Which is a good thing, because everything is fully realized. The only thing missing is an explanation of Yan's daughter. What gives this movie so much excitement and tension is the game of cat and mouse played between Yan and Lau, and you are never sure where a person's loyalties really lie.
The two stars of the film are Tony Leung and Andy Lau. Both extremely prolific and famous Chinese actors, who are excellent in this movie. Kelly Chen and Sammi Cheng make brief appearances, but are not important to the story. Now that I've seen this one, I want to get a copy for myself, along with the two other movies in the series.
Luke just IMed me to tell me some bad news. Adam Greenberg died from what seems like complications from hip surgery last week. This is such sad news. Adam had been fighting what I think was Hodgkin's Disease for several years now. But I thought, and so did Luke, that he was better and doing fine. He was still finishing school too. He was one of my best friends growing up. I think I met him in third grade, and I even saw him once or twice after leaving for Berkeley.
Adam's house was the first place I saw Saturday Night Live. He used to really like watching it, and I slept over a few times and we would watch it downstairs then fall asleep there. I also remember the time he stuck his tongue to a DC adapter and got shocked, and the time we tricked Sean into getting stuck outside the back door and pretended to order pizza. Sean also once pretended to Alyssa that he could speak in "tongues". Adam told me as a kid he drank some beer one time without his dad knowing and woke up in the closet.
Adam's dad also liked to get a lot of gadget things. I think he was the first person I knew to have a Palm and then a Windows CE handheld for his work. Adam's dad also introduced Adam to the real Internet, and not a BBS. Adam then showed me how to get on too.
I had just talked to Adam on AIM a month or two ago. He always has strange buddy icons, like a Martha Stewart one while she was being prosecuted. I know his parents always wanted him to get better grades, and Adam was always scared for them to find out what his report card was. But he was also one of the most knowledgeable persons I know when it comes to politics and current events. Probably because of his dad.
I normally never say bye to anyone. There is that Japanese saying which goes something like "one meeting, one lifetime". I always kind of felt that way but it didn't really matter if it really was one meeting or not. Luna tells me that I should think of it as him just going travelling, but not returning to here. But I have a hard time with that because I don't believe in anything outside of this. So I'm saying bye to Adam now.
Saying Bye to Kitties
My parents and Dennis left today. My mom insisted on me going to the airport, even though I was supposed to get to Mei-Ling's house at noon and so my car was filled with the cats and turtles and all of their things. So it was a waste of gas and time, and a little dangerous for me to go to the airport. My mom rode in the passenger seat. Once I got to the airport, I just let her out really quick because I did not want to risk the cats escaping at the busy airport, then I left and drove to Mei-Ling's house.
Mei-Ling had cooked a lot of food because she was expecting everyone else to show up, but instead only I did. Arthur and David and their mom came over for lunch. I spent some time setting up the Playstation 2 they borrowed for playing DDR, and then also installed the BenQ DW1610 DVD burner for Yvonne. Turns out this drive does not like all DVD-R media, so later we went to Fry's to try and find a replacement DVD player (they were sold out of the $20 ones) and to buy some DVD+R media. The DVD+R media worked fine.
We later went to Hometown Buffet for dinner because Shannon had a coupon for her to eat free there. I stuffed myself with way too much food.
After dinner I spent a lot of time with the kitties, trying to make Chie and Asuka feel better, and playing with Niea. They were all acting strange. Asuka did not like getting hugged, and was very frightened of something. Chie was hiding as normal, but I managed to get him into Shannon's cave. Niea was acting funny because she seemed way too energetic.
Anyway, I am really missing the cats. This will be the first time I am away from them for so long, and the first time I will be sleeping in my bed without them next to me. When I hear the cabinets close, it reminds me of them. I hope they will be okay while I am gone.
Iris' Departure Day
So Iris left yesterday at noon time. I took her and Dennis and my parents to the airport, dropped them off, then circled around to pick everyone back up except for her. Afterwards, we came home and I took a three hour nap because I was so tired. My leg also felt better after the nap, but my mom woke me up before I was done sleeping because she wanted to go out to eat with everyone.
We drove to pick up Calvin and then looked for a place to eat. Since it was Christmas day, everything was closed. Dennis didn't want Chinese food, but the only thing open was King Buffet which serves Chinese, Japanese, and other stuff like seafood and steak. So we ate that. My dad likes buffets because they are all-you-can-eat. I thought I had a coupon for it but I couldn't find it. Turns out it was in my wallet, which my mom started going through when I wasn't looking.
Later that night, my mom played some DDR and I played a little bit too. Then we watched Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which I think both Dennis and my dad really liked. And then after that, Dennis and I watched Black Hawk Down.
December 25, 2005
Xingfu Shiguang is a sort of funny movie about an old man desperate for a wife, and thus willing to marry a really fat and mean woman. But what happens instead is that she dumps her blind step-daughter onto him and it's really the daughter that becomes the center of the story. The old man, Zhao, goes to crazy lengths to try and make both the fat woman and the blind girl believe that he is rich, although later on it is to try and keep the girl happy instead of to impress anyone. But it should be said that Zhao does act pretty cranky until the very end.
Christmas Eve Presents
Since Iris has to leave tomorrow, we opened all our presents tonight. I got a digital camera from my mom and dad, which has 10x optical zoom. That's much better than the current digital camera I have. I also got some clothes from someone. Hsiuli got me fancy bathroom soap. Calvin got me a couple of books and also the Battlestar Galactica SciFi miniseries. Iris and Dennis eventually got me stuff I like: a stuffed Chococat and Batman Begins. Shannon and Yvonne got me the Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi DVD collection.
I got my mom some perfume, my dad some noise cancellation headphones, Hsiuli a picture frame, Spencer a GameBoy Advance game, Calvin the Ghost World comic and Diana Krall's Love Scenes album, Dennis a drumming DVD, and Iris two CDs: Tori Amos' Tales of a Librarian and Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing.
Christmas Eve Shopping
Today was less busy than yesterday, but I was feeling kind of exhausted. Dennis and Iris still needed to buy me a Christmas present, so I took them to Oakridge. They had a hard time finding what to get me, but eventually bought some stuff from Borders. I bought a cheap second dance pad for DDR. While we were doing this, my mom went with Hsiuli and Spencer to buy food. My brother and dad disappeared somewhere else.
When we got back, my mom and Hsiuli started cooking. Dennis went to sleep. Iris, Spencer, and I started playing DDR. But Spencer kept smashing the floor way too hard; I don't think I'll let him play at my house again. Iris is extremely good at DDR, and can handle standard difficulty just fine, and even move onto heavy. I think she did a song on heavy just to impress me. Spencer's ego continued to get artificial boosting, which probably isn't a good thing since he hasn't learned humility yet.
Spencer also kept walking around on my carpet and into the kitchen with his shoes on.
December 24, 2005
After fifteen volumes, Tuxedo Gin has finally come to its conclusion. And it's a nice ending to the touching story of Ginji and Minako's unfortunate situation. Ginji and Minako fell in love but he was murdered by a bad gang leader before their first date. Since then, Ginji has been looking over Minako as a penguin. The penguin is the reason I originally bought the first book.
The remaining volumes are spent building the bond between Gin-Chan (penguin-form Ginji) and Minako, with lots of little things happening along the way that are usually half fun and half Gin-Chan saving the day. Sometimes it felt a little bit like filler, but overall it was fun to read. Unfortunately, the last volume seems a little rushed, as if pages that would normally have been included to keep the plot moving smoothly and clearly were left out.
Today I drove about 150 miles, mostly in parking lots, and spent around nine hours at various stores in preparation for Christmas because my mom didn't finish her shopping. First I had to go to The UPS Store to finally return Alla's defective jewelry armoire for a refund. Then my dad and I went to Home Depot to buy a Christmas tree. We put it up, and then immediately I drove off to Valley Fair with my mom, Dennis, and Iris.
While at Valley Fair, the only thing I bought was the final volume of Tuxedo Gin which I am glad is finally over in volume fifteen. Dennis didn't buy anything, and Iris only bought some mascara. My mom bought a bunch of presents. Suncoast is at that mall, but I never buy anything from there because all of their retail prices are way over what they should be. In other words, MSRP. We spent about two hours at this mall total.
I took a pit stop at home to drop off Dennis and Iris before taking my mom to the post office to send out a package. Expensive for express mail delivery on Sunday. Then we went to Oakridge so I could buy Iris' presents and my mom could buy presents for Shannon, Yvonne, and their mom. I told her not to get Mei-Ling a sweater this year, and so she bought her something useful instead. This whole process took another couple of hours.
Once we got back home, it was immediately time to go out to dinner. I took Dennis and Iris with me, and my mom and dad went with Calvin, up to the Mayflower restaurant in Milpitas Square. The food there was okay. A little expensive because it is a more fancy Chinese restaurant. At least eating there meant we could walk around afterwards to see if there was anything interesting in the stores. None of us bought anything from those stores, but we did stop at 99 Ranch to get some food.
Then we were finally going to get home around 9pm, but instead my mom wanted us to go visit them in their hotel room. Iris wanted to go, but Dennis and I didn't want to. We ended up going because my mom kept saying so and didn't want to come back to my place. Everyone just sat around watching some TV show where Sarah Jessica Parker was being interviewed. I was really bored and started reading the comics and doing the puzzles. My dad was also bored and just reading the newspaper.
We finally got home around 10pm and I am really tired. I don't want to go anywhere tomorrow.
December 23, 2005
My parents and Dennis and Iris arrived tonight. Since there were so many of them, and lots of luggage, they wouldn't all fit in my car. Calvin couldn't come pick them up because he was working, so I ended up calling Ellen. I thought I could borrow her SUV to pick them up, but she didn't want me to drive it so instead she came to the airport with Rita and drove my parents back to their hotel. Dennis and Iris are staying at my place.
My mom and dad wanted to go eat Chinese food, but everything was closed by the time we got home at around 9pm. And they also wanted to treat Ellen and Rita. So we went to Chili's for dinner. I wasn't very hungry, but I figured I should just eat something. I noticed that Iris says "exciting" and "intense" a lot.
December 22, 2005
World on Fire
I ran across the url for World on Fire, which is a web site that presents one of Sarah McLachlan's music videos. What's special about this video is that instead of spending tons of money to produce something flashy (at some outrageous prices due to how things are) that money was instead donated to many different causes around the world.
Pac-Man at UMich
A couple of students dressed up as Pac-Man and Blinky and ran around through the library and the computer lab. Waka waka waka.
December Gas Usage
I've got my next Pacific Gas & Electric bill today, and I used 2.2 therms/day this year compared with 4.0 therms/day last year. My electricity usage is up, however, at 20.2 Kwh/day this year compared with 17.7 Kwh/day last year. According to Weather Underground, last year had 427 heating degree days and this year only 277 heating degree days. My uneducated calculations would imply a 20% savings cost due to the insulation.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone shows just how much those characters and actors have grown in only a few years, and also how well they have matured as actors. I do really like all of the Harry Potter movies. What I liked best about the first movie was the snobbish performance of Emma Watson's Hermione. It's really funny watching her enunciate with exaggerated mouth movements and tell Ron and Harry exactly what is what. I also like when Hagrid keeps saying "I shouldn't have said that".
December 20, 2005
Intelligent Design Ruling
U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III has ruled against the Dover school board on both counts of the very important intelligent design court case. This is an important ruling because it establishes two facts. First, that the school board's motives were clearly to push religious ideology into the classroom, and second that intelligent design is unscientific and a religious concept. The latter is most important in that it sets legal precedent that would prevent other attempts at introducing ID into public schools. Yay for intelligent judges!
Well, the half-pan approach didn't work. For the past day, none of the kitties wanted to poop into the toilet. They peed into it just fine, although I'm not sure if Chie did. This morning, there were a few pieces of poop in the litter area, but someone had pooped a bunch onto the floor next to the toilet. Then, to cover it up, Asuka or Niea knocked over the litter bag onto the poop. So I've gone back to a full-pan.
Half Litter Pan
I'm trying something new now, to see if I can get the kitties to go directly into the toilet. I purchased a square baking pan and folded in one of the edges. So now only the back half of the toilet has a pan and litter in it. The front half is completely open, making it easy for a cat to aim for the hole. Since the back half still has litter, hopefully none of them will look for alternate bathroom locations. I'm also now using World's Best Cat Litter because the cats don't track it as much and it clumps better. It does smell a bit more than Swheat Scoop though.
Better Than Chocolate
A few decades from now, Better Than Chocolate won't be considered anything special. But today, it can be considered a landmark film for the GLBT community. Mix every type of *-sexual you can and you have the characters of this film, all trying to find love, acceptance, and liberation with the people around them. It's that mix, combined with excellent wit and spontaneous fun that makes an otherwise typical story come alive. This is a great movie.
December 19, 2005
Crash Test is one of the worst movies I've seen. The premise is interesting on the surface but comes across as contrived in execution. The dialogue is completely cliché, the acting is totally amateur, and most of the film is boring. I think the only people who might enjoy it are those that are into watching artsy films just for the snobbish factor.
I've had the soundtrack to Go for a few years now. And the music is probably the best part of the movie. That's not to say the movie is bad, but just that I personally find it the most enjoyable aspect. It is a wild ride filled with energy and crazy events in one night for a group of people who are connected to each other. I did find it a little off-putting to see another movie that tells the story from multiple character viewpoints and then ties them together at the end though.
December 18, 2005
The City of Lost Children
I saw a trailer for La Cite des Enfants Perdus somewhere and thought the imagery looked wonderful. And watching the movie that turned out to be exactly the case. This movie takes the people you would find in a circus freak show, turns them into the normal type of character, and builds a fantastic story in an amazingly rendered world. This world is one of machina and and rusted steel and rivets. I loved the world that was precisely built down to the smallest detail.
The story could do with a little more fleshing out, but the characters were lots of fun to watch. Ron Perlman portrays the oafish strongman very well, and I thought Judith Vittet was great as the little girl Miette. Dominique Pinon is crazy as six clones and one original. I can't think of any other movie where a non-anthropomorphized flea can become the focal point of a scene without being a piece of artsy rubbish.
Ellen invited me to Huong's potluck tonight. Mei-Ling and Yvonne went to her company holiday dinner, so around 5pm Shannon and I went to Huong's house and brought an apple pie from Bakers Square. A lot of people were there; much more than Ellen said were going to be there. Besides Huong and her boyfriend, there were Ellen and Rita, Alla and Georges, Brian, Karissa, and some other random people that I don't know.
Besides food, I played a round of DDR. Then Rita and Karissa started playing Karaoke Revolution. Shannon wouldn't do either of them in front of anyone. So we ended up playing Cranium Turbo. Shannon and I were on one team. Karissa ended up joining our team when she helped me cheat. But people started to lose interest and instead wanted to go play poker or watch Karaoke Revolution singers. We were winning when we had to leave though.
Shannon and I had to leave at 9pm to get back to my place at 9:30pm because that's when Mei-Ling and Yvonne would be done and they needed to go home. Their dinner ran a little late so Shannon and I started playing DDR at my place.
Only when I got home, I found that there was a really long line of ants going from near the fireplace to the sink, because the ham stew pot had been sitting in the sink all day.
I just finished watching Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran which something of a coming-of-age story, but without the approach typical of those types of films. Momo is a boy living in the shadow of an older brother, abandoned by his family, and so he finds a father figure in the shopkeeper that lives on his street. And so Momo learns from this man how to believe in himself and how to enjoy life. Many will find this a touching film, but I was a little bored by it and I can't say I found any part of it particularly memorable.
December 17, 2005
I just finished reading Dune. I wanted to re-read it after watching the miniseries, just to see what had been omitted or changed. I was pleased to see that while some artistic liberties were taken for the miniseries (mostly for dramatic effect) the majority of the content remained the same. There were some moments in the miniseries that are not as clear without the background from the novel though.
As a story, Dune is still one of the best science-fiction novels or series ever. What really makes it unique is the intricate political structure that was created. While there is a lot of imaginative concepts and technology in the stories, ultimately the content is one of politics and intrigue in a world of depth and fully-developed characters. That makes it very fun to read, although I don't think many people would find it fun to live in the world of Dune.
Walk on Water
Walk on Water is a contemporary film about growing up with, and having one's world view shaped by, the ghosts of World War II and the violent shadow between Israelis and Palestinians. This is a story of an Israeli who kills Nazis that escaped "justice" and the German brother and sister he ends up with as a result of his current mission. The two of them are able to teach him what it is like to live with the sins of their fathers, and how to overcome that. He teaches them what it is like to live in a place filled with hatred and violence.
There is a lot to be gotten out of this movie. By itself, the story and characters are simple enjoyable. Lior Ashkenazi provides an outstanding performance as the Israeli assassin Eyal. Knut Berger also does an excellent job as the German brother Axel Himmelman. And there is some great music and intrigue going on throughout that makes this a fun and gripping movie to watch.
But there is a whole layer of subtext that runs through every scene as well. It is important to take these ideas and commentary as a whole, because what you see at one time is related to what you will see at another time. One such example is the conflict between Eval and an Arab named Rafik, which is later on related to the conflict between some drag queens and some guys that try to beat them up.
I think in a lot of ways this film is about finding a way to heal the wounds that have been inflicted, and wounds that people continue to inflict upon themselves because they cannot find a way to move forward. Understanding what it takes to walk on water and then being able to get to that point of enlightenment is something special.
Need New Vacuum Cleaner
Looks like I need a new vacuum cleaner. About two years ago I bought the cheapest bare floor and carpet vacuum I could find at Sears. But the belt broke a couple of times on the motor. The friction burned through the rubber belt. The other day I bought a replacement belt and I put it in tonight. As soon as I switched to bare floor mode, the belt burned through. I think there is too much dried gunk on the spindle and that is generating extra friction with any new belts I put in.
I while back I ordered a Jewelry Armoire for Alla's birthday present off Overstock.com. The first one arrived broken. The second one, after an exchange process that took over a month, arrived broken also. In fact broken worse than the first one. The second one is sitting downstairs right now waiting to get returned for a refund. So finally, we bought the same thing at Mervyns for even less (holiday sale) and this one was not broken when we inspected it in the store. With the remaining money saved from the sale, Alla wants to get a poker set. This should be the end of the most annoying present ever.
December 16, 2005
Bush iPod Transcript
At the end of an interview by Brit Hume, George Bush talked about his iPod playlist and comes off as a little stupid.
Bush : Beach Boys, Beatles, let's see, Alan Jackson, Alan Jackson, Alejandro, Alison Krauss, the Angels, the Archies, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Dan McLean. Remember him?
Hume: Don McLean.
Bush: I mean, Don McLean.
Hume: Does "American Pie," right?
Bush: Great song.
Hume: Yes, yes, great song.
Unidentified male: . . . which ones do you play?
Bush: All of these. I put it on shuffle. Dwight Yoakam. I've got the Shuffle, the, what is it called? The little.
Bush: It looks like.
Hume: The Shuffle. That is the name of one of the models.
Bush: Yes, the Shuffle.
Hume: Called the Shuffle.
Bush: Lightweight, and crank it on, and you shuffle the Shuffle.
Hume: So you -- it plays . . .
Bush: Put it in my pocket, got the ear things on.
Hume: So it plays them in a random order.
Hume: So you don't know what you're going to going to get.
Hume: But you know --
Bush: And if you don't like it, you have got your little advance button. It's pretty high-tech stuff.
Hume: . . . be good to have one of those at home, wouldn't it?
Hume: Yes, hit the button and whatever it is that's in your head -- gone.
Bush: . . . it's a bad day, just say, get out of here.
Hume: Well, that probably is pretty . . .
Bush: That works, too. ( Laughter )
Hume: Yes, right.
Senate Rejects Patriot Renewal
Excellent news was reported today: the U.S. Senate voted to reject renewal of the Patriot Act! Calling my senators and congresswoman, and continually emailing them to lobby against the renewal has paid off. Or, perhaps it was the idea of 1984 abuses that changed many minds. Details on the renewal rejection are in this AP article. Now we just need to get past the end of the year, when the clauses finally expire.
I thought Trainspotting was about homeless addicts who lived on a train and the lifestyle they had, as a result of their addiction. Instead, this film is more of a sick look at the horrible effects of heroin addiction in combination with the criminal silliness of a Guy Ritchie movie. And it is quite well done for what it is. There a lot more value here than you might expect.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover the main character was played by Ewan McGregor, and to see Kelly MacDonald show up because I really liked her performance in an episode from season four of Alias. I went through the whole movie thinking Jonny Lee Miller was actually Moritz Bleibtreu though. There is some excellent cinematography, although at times it is quite disgusting. I also liked some of the music tracks used throughout.
Say NO to Torture
Senator McCain has succeeded in bucking the Bush Administration's attempts to legalize prisoner torture and gained White House support for the ban against torture, although that support has been given as a last resort. McCain was able to pull so many representatives over to his side that the statement by the Bush Administration is seen as a measure to save face. The expressions on McCain's and Bush's faces in this photo are excellent.
Cute Overload! ;)
Cute Overload is a blog that has the sole purpose of posting photos of things that are simply kawaii! Categories include your typical bunnies, kittens, and puppies, as well as the rules of cuteness.
December 15, 2005
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso had a synopsis that suggested to me a very tight connection with movies and being a projectionist. But it is actually a love story about a lower-class boy who works as a projectionist and an upper-class girl, along with the old man who is like a father to that boy. The events that take place revolve around the boy's job as a projectionist, but that is merely the setting into which events unfold.
This is a great movie, with great characters and an enveloping story. The story turns out to be wonderful but sad. That bittersweet truth is something of the appeal to this movie, but if you are looking for a happy ending you won't find it here. The actors portraying three stages of Salvatore's life give excellent performances, as does Philippe Noriet as the old wise man Alfredo.
December 14, 2005
The Magdalene Sisters
The Magdalene Sisters is a historical fiction based on the accounts of women who spent time in the Magdalene institution. A lot of people think this is a criticism of Catholics. Those people are finding meaning where there is none. The movie is about the corruption and cruelty of the Magdalene institution and the tacit approval of the situation by the community.
The unfortunate truth is that this institution survived until 1996, and that some of the abuses that took place there were much worse than those depicted in the film. At times during the movie I wished the women there would organize a revolt and simply kill off all the nuns and priests so they could escape and be free again.
If you want to see a documentary instead of a dramatization, take a look at Sex in a Cold Climate. It was a Channel 4 documentary and features interviews with some women who lived through a Magdalene asylum in Ireland.
December 13, 2005
30,000 Iraqis or 2,000 Americans
There's been a lot of debate over the loss of mroe than 2000 U.S. soldiers in the ongoing military action in Iraq. U.S. mothers protest against these losses were symbolized by Cindy Sheehan's vigil. But rarely does anyone ask or even care about the Iraqi civilians that have died (military losses are of course expected). President Bush has finally acknowledged the count of 30,000 Iraqi deaths as a result of the invasion and subsequent military activities. Only ~4000 of those 30,000 have been military or government personnel. The Iraqi Coalition Casualty Count keeps track of the deaths in Iraq for both sides.
Secret CIA Prisons
European investigators into the allegations of secret CIA prisons in European countries have found preliminary support for those allegations, and claim that those prisoners were moved into Northern Africa shortly after the initial accusations were raised. Interesting support for these claims also comes from a planespotter, who apparently photographed and logged the flight of a plane involved in the CIA transport of an individual claiming he was abducted and interrogated. A photo of the plane has been posted as well. This is a lot like the episode of 24 involving the secret detention of Victor Drazen.
I seem to be going through something of a Brazilian movie series, probably due to the grouping on Netflix recommendations. Tonight's movie was Central do Brasil, which stars an excellent actress Fernanda Montenegro. Her performance was the highlight of the film. And the plot itself was well executed. Still, I only thought the movie was okay. The story was just not that interesting to me. But for people who enjoy this type of story, this is probably one of the best movies they could watch.
December 12, 2005
The Girl From Monday
The Girl From Monday needs someone else to do a remake. It has an excellent premise and is an insightful commentary on contemporary consumerism. But it uses narrative to move the story forward due to a weak plot and confusing non-linear storytelling mixed with linear storytelling. It also seemed at times like they didn't have enough film to shoot at normal speeds; there's too much blur and choppy cuts. If someone could flesh out the plot and redo the film with better production values then this could be a great movie.
All About My Mother
All About My Mother is a Spanish film that has earned critical reviews and won many awards. But I thought it was only okay. The acting of the young Estéban and his mother Manuela (played by Cecilia Roth) was not very good in my opinion. Although most people would probably disagree. Her posture and body language at times seemed artificial or exaggerated. The story itself is somewhat interesting but I didn't think the plot was anything special.
Kolya is a Czech film about an old man who is dedicated to his music, heavily in debt, and a womanizer. Through a friend, he is convinced to enter a fake marriage in return for a large payment. But what ends up happening is his new wife emigrates into West Germany, leaving behind her five-year-old son, whom he ends up having to care for. Over the course of the remaining hour, his previous life is turned around as he comes to care for the boy. I enjoyed the movie, mostly for its charm than for anything specific or unique.
December 11, 2005
Subwoofer Phase Adjustment
A few nights ago, I noticed that the bass on the 4 Strings Turn It Around album was not synchronized with the higher frequencies. And today, while playing DDR, it was sometimes hard to keep the beat. So I decided to investigate.
As it turns out, Kodo's Ibuki album is an excellent source of material for determining subwoofer phase. With my previous subwoofer phase setting of 0°, a fair portion of this album seemed muddied. It sounded like there were a lot more drums than there actually are. During busy sections, it became hard to distinguish individual drumbeats. Switching my subwoofer phase to 180° immediately cleared up the entire album.
It was a lot harder to use AVIA to determine the correct phase, even though it can be done with very careful attention to the subwoofer phase calibration tone and corresponding description. The beats on Turn It Around are much better aligned now as well.
I found an excellent Flash-based adventure game called Samorost2. It's a lot like the original Myst, which was one of the most important and influential games of all time, and one of my favorites. Samorost2 is a much simpler though, as the gameplay is very linear and the puzzles are essentially solved by clicking in the correct sequence. So it's not as great because you don't actually have to solve things with your brain. I do like the artwork very much though.
I had a potluck today with a bunch of people. I picked up Shannon early, and she helped me to make the plomeek soup (various recipes are available online) and also to plan the tribble trap. Georges was the first to show up, with Alla's tiramisu. Alla arrived a little later and then Sasha. Ellen and Rita arrived around 6pm, and Yvonne and Mei-Ling around 7pm.
Besides plomeek soup, I also made durani lizard skins, and a ham with vegetables. Sasha brought bananas and pasta. Alla showed up with some white wine that Mei-Ling ended up taking the rest of. Ellen and Rita brought pasta and mashed potatoes. Szu-Huey brought a pumpkin cheesecake that she made. There was also chips, crackers, cheese, pepperoni, drinks, and a few other things to eat.
After making the food, which Georges also helped out with a little since he arrived first, people seemed a little bored so we put on The Incredibles. It was after the movie ended that Shannon asked Rita to get something for her from the cabinet, and the tribble trap was sprung. Unfortunately, my photo timing was a little off so I did not get the tribbles actually falling on her, only her running away a second later.
We started playing Scrabble afterwards. Alla had to leave to a birthday party, so she and Georges and Sasha left around then. Ellen and Rita were not very good at making words and scoring a lot of points. It was them on one team versus me and Shannon. They challenged "raze" and then also tried to put down "coe" so Shannon and I ended up two turns ahead. We more than doubled their score very quickly. Rita also tried to find music to play that she recognized (not much since she only listens to the radio and is Clear Channel brainwashed). So Shannon called her the useless one.
Yvonne and Mei-Ling arrived while we were playing, and Rita and Ellen left before the game ended, but they had no chance of winning. Yvonne finished up on their side and scored the two highest turns for their team. We ended up using every single letter, but of course Shannon and I won. Yvonne and Mei-Ling started using the computer to look at random things then while Shannon and I went upstairs to play DDRMAX2. Later Mei-Ling started playing too but she was really bad. Yvonne just watched. We stopped when Shannon got an A score. Mei-Ling couldn't even get a B on beginner.
December 10, 2005
Fantastic Voyage / Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Fantastic Voyage was a great film when it came out for its special effects and imaginative set construction of the inside of a human body. The story is interesting because it takes the audience through a tour of the human body, and explains a little bit of how things work and are connected without being overbearing. It's too bad Raquel Welch wasn't given more lines though; the few lines she did have were well done. Instead she was put on as eye candy.
On the other side of the disc was Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. This movie, on the other hand, was not very good at all. It had a bunch of clichés and it seems like the writers decided to throw every predictable conflict into the movie. The only good part of the film was the tension that remained constant as you tried to determine if Admiral Nelson was insane or the only hope for survival. Joan Fontaine and Barbara Eden were given equal opportunity as well.
One thing I found interesting was that in both movies, there was a time at which religion is juxtaposed with scientific thinking. In both cases, the discussion is extremely short-lived and left without any opinion one way or the other. Seeing the intelligent design versus evolution debate pop up for a few seconds in Fantastic Voyage is rather amusing given the current climate on that subject.
The passenger side headlamp in my car went out the other day. I originally scheduled an appointment for tomorrow morning at Bob Lewis Volkswagen, and was told it'd take about forty-five minutes to an hour, and cost about $55. But I then called the Kragen Auto Parts that is near me and they said they had the replacement bulb in stock for $10, and could show me how to replace it.
I got to Kragen and bought the bulb, but the guy who said he could show me how to replace it wasn't there anymore. So I also bought a the Chilton New Beetle Repair Manual. Total cost was about $30. It took me some doing, but I was able to replace the bulb myself. It was a little tricky because it didn't move super smoothly, and a lot of the black sealant gunk came off in my hands. But it's all done now and my headlamp is working again.
December 9, 2005
Patriot Renewal Moving Forward
The White House and Republican representatives have reached an agreement that lets the Patriot Act renewal process move forward. Since things are moving towards the possibility of making those provisions permanent and extending them for another four years, I called my representatives Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Zoe Lofgren to let them know I am opposed to the renewal.
Narnia instead of the Bible?
A lot of Christian people and groups are getting very excited about the movie release of Narnia. Many of them view it as a Christian film that can be used to convert non-believers to the faith or to positively influence people who have questioned their faith. But what I'm wondering is how it can be considered good when the converting takes place as described in Talking Narnia to Your Neighbors.
Why should a person be more likely to accept, understand, or cope with God when He is presented in the Chronicles of Narnia rather than in the Bible? If a person can accept the God in those books, but not in the teachings of the church or the Bible, then are the two God characters different? Does this mean that if the Bible was more enjoyable to read, then more people would be Christian? And if all that is true, then what does that really say about believing in Christianity? This makes Christianity looks a whole lot more like a Jedi mind trick.
Reading about how easily influenced and weak-minded some people are makes the institution of Christianity seem much closer to Scientology.
Came across an interesting new video game for the Nintendo DS tentatively called Lapis. It's a little like Nintendogs but with a bunny instead of dogs, and the gameplay is different. The interesting thing is what activity the game was modeled after, and its target audience. Anyway, the game is still in the prototype phase at Ubisoft, but it looks like something that should be finished and published. As long as the Protect the Children™ groups don't have their usual zealot way with things.
City of God
Cidade de Deus is a Brazilian film about the growth of gangs, drugs, and violence in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. It's very brutal, truthful, and realistic. That is why I found it a little hard to watch, as the realism makes the acts of violence disturbing. It's not glorified or vilified, which gives it a neutral documentary type of feeling. The movie moves follows the progression of things over the course of a few decades, and it is extremely important that you discard your ethnocentricity if you are to understand and appreciate what is going on.
After watching the two hour film, make sure you watch the one hour special feature documentary of the current situation in the Rio de Janeiro slums. There is a real war going on between the police and the drug dealers. Both sides have weapons, soldiers, and guerilla tactics that keep things at a stalemate in the slums. And more importantly, both sides have their good points and their bad points. There is no distinction between right and wrong. If anything, the dealers are Robin Hoods that rule with an iron fist and the police are the corrupt Sheriffs of Nottingham who protect the interests of the middle- and upper-class.
After seeing how so many conflicts of this nature drag on for so long, I've started to believe that when taken to this level of personal interest, the only way for things to get resolved is for one side to completely wipe out the other side. This seems to be the state of Rio de Janeiro, as it is between Israel and Palestine and as it was between the Hutu and Tutsi.
December 8, 2005
Clean is a French or Canadian film (it's not clear to me which) but I happen to own a Korean copy of the film. It doesn't seem to be available in a region one release. Nick Nolte and Maggie Chung give excellent performances, and I suppose the movie is supposed to be very moving. But I found it somewhat uninteresting. This is another one of those movies that is about someone's everyday life struggles, and that doesn't appeal to me a whole lot. I also found the transitions between locales, and also the ending, to be somewhat abrupt.
December 7, 2005
Natural Born Killers
Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis were amazing as mass murderers in Natural Born Killers. The first quarter of the movie was not as appealing to me, because of its random but stylized approach towards explaining where the Knox's came from. Then things moved into a more agreeable view of the random and tumultuous lives of Mickey and Mallory. I could appreciate this, even if it left me disoriented. It's the final third of the movie where things really come together and the ideas are cemented into a tangible form.
Is there really anything unnatural or wrong in being natural born killers? In the natural order of things, the rabbits breed at an explosive rate. And the other creatures above those rabbits in the food chain benefit. But mankind puts some sort of special meaning onto the rabbits of its own species. It's a nihilistic view when taken as a whole, but one that makes sense when analyzed locally.
At the same time, sex and violence are the two things which will draw the crowds like nothing else. Rubbernecking at an automobile accident isn't much different than watching the news to find out about a murder. And then people gather around to talk about how awful it was for someone to have been killed, just like they talk about the Clinton sex scandal. It's addictive gossip.
Maybe in the end, all you should really care about is yourself. It's not as though you can count on the rest of the rabbits to protect you when the wolf comes.
Raising Arizona wasn't exactly what I expected. I can understand why some people find this movie super funny, but it just didn't do it for me. There just wasn't much of a point to the whole thing. The acting was definitely crazy and very good, but I need more to a movie than just zany antics to keep me entertained.
December 6, 2005
Marketing VS 2005 in Korea
Apparently, marketing in Korea is done a little differently than in the United States. Microsoft has some marketing web pages up for Visual Studio 2005 and also SQL Server 2005. The use of animation and style is a complete 180° from U.S. marketing blitzes.
For an English translation, visit the original.
Destroy All Ants
The ants have been invading my house since the rains started. I've been in a constant war with them over the kitchen and the cat food. If I leave anything out, they'll start gobbling it up. Even an empty cup or a spill on the stove might contain enough for them to start swarming. Today when I came home, there were thousands on the garbage and recycle cans. Boric acid powder isn't doing much at all. So I've put down a couple ant baits in the closet. Last I checked, there was some activity on them. Hopefully the colony will be killed.
Fire the FCC
I came across a web site today that would like to Fire the FCC. Unfortunately, at this point, I have to agree with them. So far, the only things which the FCC has been doing lately have resulted in censorship, restrictions of technological innovation, the U.S. falling behind other countries in terms of telecommunications infrastructure, entrenching monoplies that no longer have technological or economic reasons for protection, and clinging to old models that no long apply. In other words, they're wasting money and hurting our economy and technological advancement.
The Virgin Suicides
I don't really know what drew me to The Virgin Suicides. The title is certainly one filled with emotional power, and the striking image of Kirstin Dunst evokes a sense of despondency. That feeling carries over into the film very well. And it is executed so flawlessly that the dated appearance and style achieves a timeless quality. The pacing of of the story as it unravels, the music, the viewpoint of people just entering adolescence, and the honesty of the characters creates a depth which cannot be seen from a quick glance.
December 5, 2005
I was surprised to discover that eXistenZ had so many top actors in it. Although, at first I wondered as to why things seemed off. As though the director was not good or the production values were low. But the reason for that is later revealed. What I really liked about this movie was how well it captured the adventure genre of games. I was a little let down by the ending, but I'm not sure it could have been done better. Plus, the ending makes it very clear exactly what the danger is.
Sushi Factory Again
I just got back from dinner at Sushi Factory, even though I didn't really think we should go back there. But Georges wanted to go, so it was me, Alla, Georges, and Bruno. I'm stuffed on rice again, since their food is so much rice and not so much non-rice foodstuffs. When we were leaving, a couple in a booth next to us ended up leaving two or three rolls on their plate, so they got charged extra but started arguing about it. I still don't think the service is that great, or the sushi.
The Thirteenth Floor
The Thirteenth Floor turned out to be a much better film than I anticipated. Over the two hours, writer and director Josef Rusnak takes a single theme, that of simulated life and its relation with the concept of a "soul" and expands upon it without falling into any of the common pitfalls or clichés. Like any good science-fiction work, the impact of that idea is explored through its influence on the lives of the characters involved. Rusnak does have a particular message he is trying to get across, but it is woven into the story and attaches itself to the viewer carefully. There is no in-your-face attitude here.
December 4, 2005
Mei-Ling has finally started using the fireplace, but she bought some of those artificial logs. They are better for the environment, because they're cleaner burning, and also easier to get started than regular wood. But they don't seem to produce much heat at all. Yvonne brought the couch right up to the fireplace stoop, and I was sitting on the stoop itself, and I barely felt any heat hitting me. I think they just don't produce enough heat. And that was what Mei-Ling wanted to use instead of the central heat.
Other than that, I got there earlier than usual. Shannon and I went to Target so she could buy some Pokémon cards again. I told her it would be cheaper and easier to buy the entire EX Delta Species set off eBay, but she didn't want to. We stopped at the bookstore, then got a fruit smoothie, and ended up spending some time at PetSmart looking at the animals.
That night, we went to Hollywood Video to rent The Addams Family. It's a great movie, and I really like Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams. Shannon liked it just as much as the sequel. Their old Apex DVD player wouldn't read the disc though, so I had to hook up their laptop to the TV and use computer speakers. They really need a new DVD player, even though Yvonne doesn't want a new one.
December 3, 2005
Lawnmower Man was one of the first movies to feature heavy use of CG for special effects. It came out in 1992, when the idea of virtual reality was something of a hit topic. The VR CG work is pretty good, especially for the time, but the non-VR special effects seem amateurish. What's worse is that the plot is not particularly good, unless you like simple thrillers, the acting is bad, and it is scientifically inaccurate. There really isn't any reason to watch this movie unless you want to check out the VR CG work.
I Heart Huckabees
I don't really understand why people have been picking I <3 Huckabees as their favorite movie. It's certainly a unique and quirky movie, and I can see why some would find it hilariously funny. And it was a well executed cinematic portrayal of the central themes. But I didn't find the central themes to be that engaging. It's mostly a screenplay based around the ideas of a few philosophical questions, which are in some ways taken to the extreme. But I don't need a movie to make me think about these ideas or to illustrate them or provide possible answers. What I would have enjoyed more is a plot that built upon those ideas.
December 2, 2005
Death to Smoochy
I was always intrigued by the splash panel for Death to Smoochy. The idea of killing a children's show figure, and the dramatic juxtaposition of the lighting and composition appeals to my sense of humor. But I did not have a great desire to actually see the movie itself. After watching it, I think Edward Norton in particular did a wonderful acting job, and there's a lot of intelligent satire in the movie. So I found it enjoyable, but not particularly special.
Alias: Season 4
I watched through Alias: Season 4 and it was good. I liked how they brought back the original team, and the missions could take on the same black-ops feel that was present in season one. The addition of Nadia brought new dynamics to the character interactions. What I didn't like as much, though, was the thematic approach used in some of the episodes to further explore a specific character. I feel that approach is a sign of weak writers who are using a character to drive the story, instead of a story to drive a character.