February 27, 2006
Read or Die
Going in reverse order, I just watched the R.O.D three-episode OVA. This storyline stars Yomiko Readman and Nancy Makuhari, with other British Library characters as well. Since this story is much shorter than the TV series, there is less character development and more focus on action, although each of the characters is given a thorough personality and behaves accordingly.
The artwork is quite good, and the action is smooth and well done. The music is similar to James Bond, which is good. I think some of the voice actors are different in the OVA, and certainly some personalities are very different, which can be explained by the backstory revealed in the TV series that bridges the two animes.
I'm a little confused about Nancy though. I'm not sure about the sister part, which is briefly mentioned but not explained in this OVA, and later built upon in the TV series. It's not clear to me what really happened to Nancy in the OVA, and then how that maps onto the things revealed about her life in the TV series.
February 26, 2006
R.O.D the TV
When I saw the trailers for R.O.D the TV, I blew it off as a childrens action film. It sounded very "magical-girl" to me, with so-called Paper Masters who could control paper. But it turns out this anime is not at all childish and in fact extremely well done. Unfortunately, the TV series is the last of the R.O.D productions, but I have ended up watching it first. The four-volume manga comes first, then a three-episode OVA (referred to as the movie in the U.S.), and finally the 26-episode TV series. So as I've got the OVA on disc downstairs, I'm going to end up going through this whole thing backwards.
The first few episodes introduce the three sisters, Michelle, Anita, and Maggie, as bodyguards for Nenene. For some reason, Nenene's become the center of danger. Eventually, it is revealed that more sinister motives are at work in this elseworld where books play a vital role. At times, the mood is lighthearted and amusing. In fact quite amusing sometimes. But things also become dark at other times. Much more serious than I was expecting. There are a few cliché episodes thrown in, but they're well done and not overdone.
Overall, I have to say the series was very gripping and I felt a connection with the characters involved. Each of them has a unique personality that is not as simple as one might expect from the stereotypes they draw upon. The music has an action quality to it, that is a little reminiscent of the James Bond movies. And the story is well developed, and also executed pretty well, although I do think there were a few hiccups around disc two or three. Possibly due to my ignorance of the earlier productions.
February 25, 2006
Time Enough for Love
I seem to be in a bit of a Heinlein streak right now, and just finished reading Time Enough for Love, one of the books in the Future History series. This novel sort of tells the story of Lazarus Long's past, although you can't really fit 2,000 years of living into a few hundred pages. So instead it contains some stories of his past and also the story of his current life.
It is really a great set of connected stories, that in part further expands upon the role and ideas of the Howard Foundation, and also upon Heinlein's personal opinions on love, sex, marriage, and family. Whether or not you agree with his opinions, the stories are engaging and enjoyable to read. Central to Lazarus Long's life is the title of the book: Time Enough for Love. Living so long, there comes a time when a person might grow weary of the world. But Heinlein shows why love makes life something new and grand, no matter the person's age or the age he is living in.
Venus Hum - Big Beautiful Sky
I heard the voice of Annette Strean, singer of Venus Hum on the Blue Man Group's The Complex Rock Tour Live DVD. And I really liked it. So I picked up their album Big Beautiful Sky and it is an amazing album. Her vocals are unique and wonderful to listen to, and set against a panoply of music that covers everything from guitars and drums to synth sequences I've never heard anything like before. Each track has its own distinctive flavor, but at the same time a characteristic feeling of Venus Hum.
February 23, 2006
I had some friends over for a movie night tonight. Alla, Zhao, Dantam, Samir, and Jamie showed up. A bunch of other people couldn't show up because Stephen had bible study, Bryant had hockey, Thomas was studying biblical hockey, and Mike was studying Thomas studying biblical hockey. We ordered pizza, the usual deal although I haven't had a movie night in a long time, and ended up picking Monsoon Wedding as the movie to watch.
It's a pretty good movie, and everyone liked it quite a bit. Zhao said it was the best movie he's seen at a movie night, although he hasn't been to a whole lot. Alla had to leave early though, so she might come over tomorrow to watch the ending. Samir and Jamie said the behavior and dialogue and everything was very authentic. I have to agree, that it is a really detailed and well done film. It has a lot of emotion and drama, as well as comedic elements. And it seems very realistic and full.
February 20, 2006
I've wanted to see Corpse Bride for a while now. I'm a big fan of Tim Burton's movies, and he brought along some of his usual suspects to make this movie (i.e. Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman). He also did a good job of matching Helena Bonham Carter as Corpse Bride. I've noticed more people are taking the approach of casting voice actors who physically match in real life the characters of the movie. And it tends to pay off quite well. Corpse Bride contains some amusing musical numbers, and also Tim Burton's characteristic dark vision that I enjoy.
I watched this movie with Shannon and her friend Joyce. Joyce talks a lot during movies. It was a little hard to watch and hear what was going on because we had to watch on the laptop with some un-powered speakers. Mei-Ling had a big dinner party and so it was pretty loud. I ended up playing with Shannon most of the time, as Yvonne was her usual self interested in the computer until the baby showed up with one of the guests. Then she paid a lot of attention to the baby.
It's funny that Yvonne looks like her mom now, from behind. They're about the same height now, and have the same hair cut and body shape, although Yvonne is a little slimmer. Shannon told me that she got them confused from behind too, and one time hugged Yvonne thinking that she was their mom. So of course Yvonne bopped her on the head.
February 19, 2006
A Very Long Engagement
Audrey Tautou might be the most recognized French actress in the United States. One of her relatively recent movies is Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles. The narrative style and whimsical nature of the movie is somewhat similar to Amélie, which is a movie I like. After seeing that the two movies share a director and writing influences, that's not too surprising. I also liked this movie a lot. The topic is more serious, however, as it concerns love that was torn apart by the circumstances of World War I.
Audrey Tautou delivers her usual unique and amazing performance. The film also stars some other French actors that are familiar to me and their performances are also good. I was surprised to see Jodie Foster as one of the supporting cast. I wasn't aware she was doing any non-English movies, and her role was not small. The plot is gripping, and the characters have a depth that fills out the story and the events that unfold. These characters matter to the story and are not simply there to move things forward.
Escape from New York
I thought Escape from New York might be a decent action movie. And some people think so, but I found it to be average at best. The premise is one that is common but contains promise: someone important needs to be rescued from a location of extreme danger by a single man. But the acting wasn't that great, and the action wasn't either. For this type of movie, only the action can save it because there wasn't any real intelligence behind the story.
War of the Worlds
I watched the original 1953 War of the Worlds movie adaptation because I figured I should watch the original before I watch the Stephen Spielberg remake. The original is also rated higher. But really it is just a stereotypical science-fiction film from that time period. The acting is about what you would expect, with stereotypical characters. I was a little surprised at the superficial religious overtones. The special effects were a bit disappointing because I could see the wires. And the scientific information presented was inaccurate and pointless.
February 18, 2006
I just finished watching the first season of Slayers. It is a famous anime series, but after watching it, I think it is more famous for the same reason some cartoons in the U.S. are famous: Saturday morning. That is really the level of quality this anime series has. The drawing is average, the dialogue is simple, and the plot and action is fairly straightforward.
February 15, 2006
Abu Ghraib Abuse Photos
More photos of prisioner abuse in Iraq by U.S. soldiers have been published by the media, although only by the non-U.S. media as no mainstream news corporation in the U.S. is willing to go against the Bush administration's media control efforts. These photos are in addition to the photos previously leaked in 2004, but the source of these photos has not been made known. Perhaps if these photos had been released to the U.S. public earlier, the anti-torture bill put forth by Senator John McCain might have passed through without being watered-down.
February 11, 2006
Boogiepop Phantom seems to have the acclaim of many anime fans that enjoy horror, suspense, and complicated thought productions. But I thought it was horrible. It contains a fair share of horror and gore, so if that's all you care about then you should be okay with this title. And the plot is well detailed and consistent among the episodes, although presented in a non-linear and sometimes very disjoint manner, like a puzzle. The visuals are also very atmospheric.
But I didn't like it because it just wasn't enjoyable to watch, and I don't feel like I got anything out of it, nor that anything was accomplished as a result of the story. The writers seem to have tried really hard to put in "deep thoughts" that really aren't very deep because they lack any substance beyond the surface. Just stating a deep thought means nothing if the previous twenty minutes barely explored that thought.
It's also the case that none of the characters in the story really matter. The supernatural players are given brief backgrounds to explain their motivations, and then once they're done with, you don't really hear from them again. Many people also take on two characters, like split personalities and that makes it even harder to keep track of characters. Somehow you are also supposed to care about all of these schoolgirls, even though you never actually get to know them. Unless they're getting exposed to supernatural baddies or acting not-themself, they don't even bother to make an appearance.
February 10, 2006
I wasn't planning to watch Samurai Champloo but Luna watched it and said it was nothing special, but that I should probably watch it. In fact, the majority of the series is spent on random crazy happenings, that mix Japanese history from the Edo period with contemporary culture to create a mixture where you cannot separate truth from fiction. Thus, the spinning metaphor.
The episodes do get better on the last two discs, although the final episode really just doesn't make any sense in terms of human mortality at all. It's in the last episodes that any real information is revealed as to what's going on and why they're on this journey. There were a few times earlier that this sort of information was inserted into the plot, but they were kind of lost in the rest because of their brief and sparse existence.
The majority of episodes take an idea and mix it up with Mugen, Jin, and Fu in some crazy manner to bring out a preposterous plot. Those ideas range from slave trading to tagging to counterfeiting to baseball. The writers certainly didn't hold back much when expanding on these ideas. Anyway, I'm sure many people will find Samurai Champloo fun to watch. I just don't think it has anything unique or special compared to other options.
I picked up a uncrippled screener for Bleak House, which is currently airing on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre, sometime last week. Since I've been sick, and somewhat bored, I ended up watching it. It was longer than I expected, and a little slow, but I liked it more than I usually like Victorian dramas. Probably because it was less proper and more gritty than most.
Rather than a dry and whimsy narrative filled with people who don't do anything except ride back and forth between the city and country, picnicking and spreading gossip, Bleak House has real people who have day jobs and personalities that range from goody two-shoes to mean old Mr. Scrooge. And it's not a clean place at all. Alcoholism, drug use, poverty, and just plain meanness are everywhere.
The plot is complex but drives forward at a good pace, well focused for the most part. There's some excellent acting although the only name or face I recognize is that of Gillian Anderson. Unfortunately, the final explanation of the murder, while providing a plot twist, does not entirely make sense. I find it difficult to fathom why inspector Bucket, being the thorough and cunning person he is, would fail to have a person watched at any hour, rather than only during the daytime.
The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
It's either the second or third time I've read The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. This is one of Heinlein's better novels, and like any good Heinlein novel, it contains some interesting ideas. One idea that appears in a few of his books, including this one, is the World as Myth. Which basically means that the multiverse consists of worlds created by imagination. In that vein, there is to some extent no such thing as coincidence.
This novel might be considered by some to be a sequel to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, because it begins on Luna about hundred or so years after the revolution. That is partially true, but it also contains plot points from other Heinlein novels that are not on the same timeline, due to the multiverse idea. Although, these characters and storylines play a much smaller role.
Regardless, I think it does help to have read or be aware of Heinlein's other novels and short stories, as the characters and timelines presented there serve as a background to the characters and their history in this novel.
February 7, 2006
I watched Soldier's Girl because it seemed to have an interesting story. Well, the story was interesting and the acting was very good, but it also seemed to be more about how a schizophrenic soldier and a psychotic soldier ended up making life hell for Barry Winchell, eventually killing him. At least, that's how it looks if the portrayal of those people is accurate in the movie. It is based on a true story, so I wonder how much artistic liberty was taken, and how much of the facts are really known.
February 5, 2006
I celebrated my birthday last night with some of my friends. I had the party last night instead of today because today is once again Superbowl Sunday, just like last year. The attendees were: Alla, Ellen, Sasha, Dantam, Spencer, Julie, Samir, Jamie, and Jeannie. I was surprised that so many people ended up showing up. I made some salad, bread + cheese, stir fry, pizza, and ham, and ordered Chinese food also. We basically ended up sitting around and talking.
Jamie kept her boots on though. At least they were new boots, so I'm guessing not particularly dirty. Jeannie and Alla are of the opinion that shoes should be worn inside the house, regardless of their outside status. Jamie really didn't want to take off her boots because she was wearing white socks. She said her socks didn't match; I thought she meant they were two different colors, but really it only meant that they didn't match the rest of her clothes. She will know better now that next time she needs to dress for non-shoe wearing.
Samir and Jamie got me a little box of cat toys, which is great because the cats don't have that many toys to play with, and have sort of gotten bored with their existing ones. A bunch of other people chipped in to get me something organized by Alla, but it hasn't arrived yet so I'll get it later.
Most people left by around 10pm. But Alla and Sasha stayed later and we watched D.E.B.S.. I think Sasha enjoyed it, but Alla thought it was a little dumb at first because she didn't realize it wasn't supposed to be taken seriously. I think she would have enjoyed some other movie better, but she wasn't really good at picking something from the shelf.
Emotiva Hum Fixed
I mentioned earlier that I was having some difficulty with hum between the Emotiva DMC-1 and MPS-1. I tried all the usual ground loop hum tests and solutions I could think of, as well as trying individual channels over balanced XLR. None of this worked, until I tried something a bit more drastic.
I removed all of the unbalanced RCA interconnects between the DMC-1 and MPS-1. Then used a single XLR cable to connect only one channel between the two. And there was no hum. So I went and bought a Hosa XLR-803 snake. Using balanced XLR for all the channels has greatly reduced the hum, although it is not completely gone.
Swapping amp modules, interconnects, channels, and speakers didn't solve the hum problem. In fact, the hum seems to be a result of interference between amplifier modules, mostly in amp banks 5, 6, and 7, that goes away for a single channel if there is no RCA input to that module, and decreases for a single channel if the neighboring module has its RCA connection removed.
Moving to a fully balanced audio path has solved the problem, although the hum is still there. The DMC-1 and MPS-1 support a fully balanced path, according to the manuals, as the balanced and unbalanced stages are kept separate.
February 4, 2006
Emotiva Big Dogs
I purchased the Emotiva DMC-1 and MPS-1 pair on Tuesday of this week, and all of the hardware arrived today, three days later. The DMC-1 is much better than the Yamaha RX-V1400 I was using before as my pre-amp, and the MPS-1 provides twice the power of the Outlaw Audio 7100 in a much nicer chassis.
I ran an extended test of Moulin Rouge, which is my reference audio evaluation disc. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to turn back on the subwoofers during this time. However, I was extremely pleased with the audible improvements I heard from my speakers.
For starters, sounds were much more distinct. The start and end of any audio was sharper and more clearly defined. Less blurring between sequential sounds. There appears to be better channel separation too (at least what I understand to be channel separation); it was a lot easier to localize audio than before. I also heard more detail from all speakers, which might mean the DMC-1 has a better frequency response from its pre-outs, or might just be a result of no longer having the RX-V1400's parametric equalizer, although that seems counter-intuitive. In short, performance was noticeably improved. I do need to do some more listening with my subwoofers turned on though.
The only problem I've got is a hum from the pair. Once the DMC-1 is on, the hum is audible and annoying. I need to figure out how to fix this problem.
February 1, 2006
The premise behind Figure 17 originally appealed to me. I remember reading about this anime a while back. But as it turns out, it's not really that great. The series makes for a nice after school type of show, but it doesn't bring anything unique to the table. The story revolves around a girl named Tsubasa who must learn to believe in herself. Unfortunately, that central theme remains throughout the six disc series, and while there are small steps forward, no real progress is made until the last episode.
The plotlines in each episode are very simplistic as well, and stick pretty close to clichés without a very large amount of depth. The writers did plan things out well though, as things remain connected and follow logically from the beginning through to the end. It never feels like something or someone was only introduced as an afterthought to drive the plot forward.
The music is not very interesting either. I can only remember two particular songs and they are memorable for the number of times used and because they're the only songs that have any real impact on the mood of the anime. I do think that the English voice dubbing was well done and that the choices for voice actors were good choices. Hikaru has a particularly good personality conveyed through her speaking manner and the sound of her voice.
Sometimes I felt like things were just dragging on. Especially because a great deal of time is spent on Tsubasa's everyday life. This is placed opposite the combat and double-life Tsubasa leads with Hikaru by her side. These two sides remain clearly separated though, and not doing that could have led to more interesting content. It is almost completely like two different storylines occurring in parallel. In large part because Tsubasa's importance during the combat sequences is negligible.
Sundance Film Festival 06
I got back last night from spending the weekend in Park City, Utah at the end of the Sundance Film Festival 2006. Each year, Netflix gives its employees some money to subsidize a trip to Sundance. I left Friday morning and got back late last night.
On its own, Park City is a sleepy ski resort town. For one week each year, there is an extra inrush of people and things become very crowded and busy. And the atmosphere changes a whole lot too, I imagine, with celebrities and sponsor events drawing a unique type of person. I felt like there were a lot of wannabes and phonies. At least Park City makes a bunch of money with their super-inflated prices for the week.
There is really only two things to do while you're there. You can either watch lots of films (which requires either a significant financial commitment, both for lodging and tickets, or a lot of patience to stand in line for extra seats) or go skiing (which also requires a large financial commitment since lift tickets are a bit expensive). I didn't really want to spend a lot of money, so I didn't do much of either. And as a result, I was kind of bored most of the time.
I didn't see any celebrities, but FOX hosted a party for Netflix that I went to on Saturday. Unfortunately, it was quite loud and my ears were ringing a lot afterwards. That's not good. The party was also a little boring because I didn't know many people, and since it was so loud my throat was strained whenever I spoke. I also didn't much like the music. It was standard fare, but nothing I really like to listen to.
The restaurants are supposedly also not that great, and a bit expensive. Samir and Jamie spent $50 one night on dinner, and said last year they didn't find any good restaurants. I ended up buying groceries and cooking in the hotel room. I also ended up spending time in the hotel room watching stuff on TV and also the first three discs of Samurai Champloo.
The two screenings that I did go to watch were the animation spotlight and the documentary award winner. The first featured about ten short animation films. Most of them were horrible. One guy spent six years camped outside a studio with his wife to make a two minute animated poem. And it wasn't very interesting. I did like, however, the following: Jasper Morello, Gopher Broke, Fumi and the Bad Luck Foot, and Los ABC's ¡Que Vivan Los Muertos!.
The documentary winner was God Grew Tired of Us. Apparently, a number of documentaries have been made about the Lost Boys of Sudan. Maybe they keep making documentaries until someone will pick one up for mass distribution. I remember watching some stuff about them on the news before, so about half of its content wasn't new to me. This latest one was clearly directed by a non-Sudanese person, because a large part of it contains ethnocentric humor.