November 30, 2006
Had a bunch of new people show up tonight to watch Cars, Pixar's newest feature film. Dantam came after not being here in a long time, and Julie showed up again. Kristen and her fiance (or husband) showed up also. As did Wendy and Reza. Unfortunately Brian had to work late and couldn't make it. Originally even more people were coming but there were a number of last minute cancellations. We ordered Round Table pizza this time, which turns out to be much more expensive pizza, although also more food and toppings. Kristen brought salad and wine.
Kristen is supposedly allergic to cats. She showed up and had forgotten to take her allergy pill, but wasn't so bad. A few sniffles maybe. I vacuumed a lot the day before so that probably helped. I didn't open the windows though because it's too cold these days. Reza and Kristen's fiance seemed to have some interest in car subwoofers. And Reza seems to know a lot about cars. He recognized a lot of the cars in the movie right away.
Cars is one of Pixar's best films yet. There are a lot of subtle and little jokes, that show an extreme attention to detail and overall fun. The credits were filled with lots of fun stuff too. And I especially liked the John Ratzenberger sequence. The story is excellent and while not the most original, the execution was superb.
I think the new technology featured in Cars is lighting and motion blur. Anyone familiar with 3D rendering knows that one of the reasons you need high frame rates is because there isn't any natural motion blur when you render a scene. It's a static image. So if you only show 24fps of a static image, the brain won't be able to fill in the missing frames and you'll see jerky motion. But in Cars, motion looked real. Absolutely necessary for something as fast paced as car racing.
The special deal with the lighting was in the reflection, gloss, and refraction. Cars have a very reflective surface, and many things both in nature and man-made have certain lighting behavior. Dealing with things like mirrors and bending of the light to match the material requires enormous computation time because each individual light ray needs to be traced as it bounces around the scene. But Pixar got it, and it's all over the place in this film. The car reflections look right, and so does the lighting from headlamps on the pavement and the ambient look of highway signs.
Although the sport of car racing doesn't interest me, I think Cars is an amazing movie and wonderful story.
November 25, 2006
Giant Robo: The Animation
Although highly recommended, and praised as an epic and powerful anime, Giant Robo: The Animation couldn't hold my attention very well. I felt like things were sometimes too silly for its serious tone (seeing the army of Dr. Wily is a bit too comical), like things were sometimes stupid in their approach (Giant Robo destroys town to save citizens, a la Power Rangers), and also like the producers felt their audience needed to be smashed in the face with explanations. I like epic shows to have depth and complexity, rather than shallow motives and extensive dialogue explaining things in an unrealistic manner.
November 24, 2006
Thanksgiving with Alla
Thanksgiving 2006 is over, and I spent the majority of the day working and continuing to spray paint my DIY subwoofer endcaps. I've found that the best results come from painting, letting it dry, then sanding, and then painting again to cover the exposed or roughened parts. Then repeat. You can use successively finer grit sandpaper and in this way end up with a very smooth (visually and physically) finished product. Then just cover with sealer. For dinner, I went to Alla's house in Fremont. I spent most of my time helping her with her business school applications, when we weren't eating. The food was really good. I had some mashed potatoes, two kinds of stuffing, turkey, potato salad, some purplish beats salad thing, and bread.
November 21, 2006
Heretics of Dune
Heretics of Dune marks the full transition of Frank Herbert's writing from the more dry and objective style found in his earlier works to an emotional narrative that includes characters with raw humanity. It also, however, represents a work that seems less polished in some of the word choices. This is the first novel where I noticed sentences and sayings that you might easily find in other stories. The complexity and depth of the novel remains on par with what you expect and demand of Herbert, but Heretics of Dune also manages to grip you more strongly than his earlier novels. It's more of a "page-turner".
One thing I find interesting is that although the Golden Path has changed things in many significant and subtle ways, and that this is visible in the novel, the plots and machinations of the various power groups still remain. It is as if the human race, and these organizations maintained through ritual and extreme religious loyalty, are somehow stagnant in terms of social progress. I'm not really sure what that says about the world of Dune, or if it is really just saying something about Herbert.
Also, the more I think about this series, the more I wonder why it falls into the category of science fiction. In seems to be lacking the scientific basis for many of the differences between its world and ours. Perhaps you could say those details have been overlooked, but I think if you replaced the physical elements with antiquities, the books would have instead been classified as fantasy.
November 18, 2006
Impromptu Movie Night
I originally invited some people over tonight for a game night, because Luna was supposed to have French class today. But people ended up being more interested in having a movie night instead. So I ordered some pizza and Wendy, Brian, Christian, Tintin, and two of Wendy's friends, Jennifer and Thomas, showed up. We watched Shiri first, and then 2LDK.
Shiri was Wendy's pick, because it looked interesting to her as a Korean combination of action and romance. But it turned out she'd already seen it. She just didn't remember. She only remembered the original poster, with Hyun/Hee on the front, which is not on my version of the DVD because I have a special edition from Korea.
2LDK was a sort of group pick, between Wendy, Thomas, and Jennifer. Brian didn't watch it because he had something he needed to work on. Everyone really liked it, although Wendy thought the end went too extreme and gory for her taste.
November 16, 2006
So I've started watching Genshiken and it is so extraordinarily good. It's smart, funny, insightful, thought-provoking or goofy depending on your mood, and introspective all at the same time. This is an anime, based off a manga, that goes into the otaku subculture with a critical and appraising eye. It's also a perspective that I can really relate to, because these sorts of things are exactly what I go through myself. All I can say is that I'm super lucky to have found someone like Luna who is the same as me.
The only crappy thing (and thus the reason for the :_( in the title) is that Netflix doesn't have the third disc! That's crappy because now I'm stuck wanting to find out what happens next and I can't. I'm probably going to have to see if some place like Hollywood Video, Blockbuster, or the library has it. But I really doubt it. None of the searches are turning it up either.
November 15, 2006
Kiddy Grade turned out to be more entertaining than I thought, primarily because of the character personalities. They are solid personalities and also extreme, but without overwhelming stereotypes or excessive repetition. The plot and pacing is standard fare, and there's some fan service. The world presented is interesting. Overall I found the premise and characters engaging and fun to watch, although I wouldn't say this series is anything special.
November 13, 2006
Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
I didn't feel like playing video games as much tonight, so I ended up watching Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. I just really like these movies because they're fun, exciting, and entertaining action movies with fairly interesting plots that aren't simple or dumbed-down. The action sequences are good, and visuals of many places around the world and of exotic locations makes things more surreal while at the same time establishing the type of world the movie takes place in.
November 12, 2006
I don't remember when I first saw The Saint, but I remember really liking it. Simon Templar was intriguing because he moves between personas so fluidly and easily. And the plot and action was well developed and gripping. Although not a whole lot of time was spent talking about cold fusion, the concept was presented quickly, without obviousness, and as part of the overall whole. I just watched the film again, and I still like it just as much.
November 11, 2006
I picked up some 20" diameter Sonotube round concrete forms, in 4' lengths, from Westside Concrete Materials today. They are one of the few concrete supply companies in the area that is open on Saturday, although they're only open for a few hours. I'd originally tried arranging for purchase and delivery with Muller Construction Supply, but after two days where they twice promised to return my call but did not, I decided to look for a different supplier. The two guys I talked to at Westside were very friendly and helpful, and I was able to fit both sections in the Beetle although it was a tight fit.
I'm going to use these round forms for the enclosures of the subwoofers I am going to be building over the next couple of months. Sonotube, or one of the comparable products made by other companies, provides a rigid enclosure without extensive bracing or many layers of MDF. MDF is very heavy, and requires you to build a box, so it's a lot of effort to build something that then becomes very hard to move around. The downsides to Sonotube are that you can only place drivers or anything else at the ends, and it has to be round or you don't get the rigid behavior.
November 10, 2006
Tonight's movie night featured The Rundown, an action comedy starring The Rock, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, and one of my favorites, Christopher Walken, as the bad guy. I ordered food from Buca di Beppo because I had a $10 off coupon. But it turned out more expensive than I wanted even with that coupon. At one point, up to ten people were going to be here, so I cooked a lot of spaghetti and meatballs, but there ended up being only six of us. Wendy and Brian came, and so did Christian and Alla, and one of Wendy's friends who is a new attendee, Julie.
This was a pretty hectic movie night since I had to cook spaghetti and meatballs, and stop at Albertsons to get French bread. I also picked up Christian from his place and dropped him off afterwards, but he lives close. I picked up Julie from nearby as she took public transportation. Alla left at 10pm right after the movie because she had to do some other things, and sort of started the exodus. Which was probably a good thing because it took me about an hour to clean up everything. One of the kitties had tasted some spaghetti and meatball which resulted in some vomit.
The Rundown was fun, funny, and exciting. All of the primary actors acted in the way you would expect, if you're familiar with them, and as always Christopher Walken was great as himself. The bullet dodging was a little extreme, but nothing you wouldn't expect from this sort of movie. I do think the director cheated a lot of the action sequences by using fast cuts and extreme angles to make things more exciting than they actually were. But it was still cool to watch. Julie was exploding with laughter throughout the movie.
November 7, 2006
I just fiinished playing Chrono Cross, the sequel to the extremely enjoyable Chrono Trigger, although it's a sequel in terms of world and events, rather than characters and timeline. Chrono Cross has everything that was great about the first game, in terms of characters, plot, and time interest. But for some reason I found myself sometimes having trouble coming back to the game to continue forward. Still, there are lots of interesting aspects to the game and once I got into it I tended to keep going.
I found the combat sometimes on the boring side. Most battles were very easy, unless you cared about trying to set element traps or get special items. You can pretty much just do whatever to win most battles. This isn't true for bosses or other certain battles, where elements come into play. The element system is simple but effective and inserts a level of strategy that can make battles interesting and fun. When the elements would make a difference. For the vast majority of normal encounters, selecting melee attacks over and over worked.
The plot is very good and twisting though, and certainly held my interest. Although as things neared the end, I felt like everything was being revealed through narration rather than exploration or discovery. People tended to start monologuing and the whole of things would be revealed through information databases or other access terminals.
As far as sound and music goes, I wish the regular combat music was more interesting, or would change more often. I didn't like it that much and found it repetitive. Special battles and other environmental music was pretty good though. At those times, the music was good at conveying a mood or invoking certain emotions complementary to what was occurring on screen.
November 6, 2006
God Emperor of Dune
The fourth novel in the Dune saga is God Emperor of Dune. The story continues, four thousand years after the ascension of Leto II, and at the end (or beginning, depending on your viewpoint) of the Golden Path. The economics, politics, culture, and social behavior of the entire species has changed as a result of those four thousand years of specific and controlled totalitarianism. God Emperor of Dune has a lot of ideas with regard to social orders, rather than political ones, and also some interesting personal revelations.
God Emperor of Dune brings back the open conflict of the first novel, pitting an Atreides descendant against the tyranny of Leto II, who is now almost entirely sand worm, maintaining only his human mind. I found the characters of Siona, Duncan, and Hwi very interesting and captivating because of their viewpoints and interactions with Leto II.
Ah! My Goddess! The Movie
Aa! Megamisama! The Movie takes place a short time after the end of the five episode OVA. The storyline is not a continuation of the OVA, and instead of much more action and plot driven. There is an antagonist, from Belldandy's past, who fights against the wrongs of heaven. Overall, the production is much nicer for this big-screen feature, and it's exciting to watch. Building upon the character development from the OVA makes for a richer experience.
The only thing I wish hadn't occurred is the final revelation when the antagonist is defeated. There is a long and good build up of his reasons for trying to change the celestial order, and at the beginning these reasons can be considered valid and also make his fight desireable. But then at the end, when it is revealed how he will bring about change, it all goes bad. His means are not acceptable or desireable, although his goal is. I wish they could have kept the two in sync, which would have made the climax more interesting and made either outcome possible.
November 5, 2006
Children of Dune
It's been a while since I watched the Sci-Fi version of Dune, and I've been wanting to see Children of Dune ever since. I just finished watching the two disc miniseries, and found it very enjoyable, but not as much so as the first.
Children of Dune doesn't have the same amount of intensity I felt in Dune. I think it's partly a result of the somewhat rushed pacing of the first part, which does admittedly mirror the book in that manner. Parts two and three are actually the story told in Dune Messiah, and more captivating.
The most intriguing character this time was Alia. I think her character was the most interesting and difficult to portray. Unfortunately, I don't think the acting was that great overall.
The special effects were pretty good, when they weren't obvious. There were a few times where things didn't look very well done. But there were dozens of times when it was very well done. The audio production and music was very good as well.
November 4, 2006
I was intrigued by the poster and brief description of THX 1138 when it was rereleased a few years ago. I found the film very interesting. It's a very strange film, with a plot and ending that I feel leaves a lot of room for interpretation; if it even makes sense to do so. The movie shares a lot of themes with other dystopian and Orwellian movies, but also has some unclear elements that made me wonder about the reality of THX 1138's existence. A reality further put into question as other things are revealed.
I found it surprising high quality in terms of visuals, special effects, and audio for a film made in 1969. But it turns out George Lucas reworked scenes to improve them when it was re-mastered for DVD release, and apparently redid some scenes in their entirety, only inserting the actors into the rendered environments. So I guess that's not too amazing after all. But I think the final product is very good as a result.
November 3, 2006
Oh My Goddess!
Oh My Goddess! is one of the more famous anime series, based off a popular manga. I watched the first OVA, which is only five episodes. I really liked the characters, and the short length of the series means the character faults are not overdone. But at the end of the fifth episode, I was left feeling as if the series wasn't over. I would have liked it to keep going. Perhaps I'll grab the full season TV series.
One thing I noticed right away about the OVA is the catchy and recognizable songs. There are a few songs which for some reason just seem familiar, including the ending theme. Despite being played over and over, I never got tired of them. There are also some really cool animation sequences. I especially like the crayon-looking drawing of Skuld chasing after some bugs.
November 2, 2006
And Now for Something Completely Different
And Now For Something Completely Different is a collection of skits by the Monty Python troupe. I like the majority of their films, and this collection has some really great skits with some of their most famous lines. But it also had a lot of random filler that I felt wasn't particularly funny and pointless. So it kept feeling like I was going back and forth between funniness and boredom. I think a much shorter version with a smaller selection of skits would have made for a tighter and better film.
November 1, 2006
If you're going to do historical fiction, at least make it historically correct. That's really what ruined the movie Gladiator for me. I can accept that this is a dramatization and fiction, so characters play different roles and you could consider this an elseworld, but at least get the culture and civilization correct.
The opening combat was just wrong, which started things off the wrong way, and every time I saw incoherent lettering or the thumbs-up I just got distracted. I also don't think the correct landscape was used for the city of Rome; I could not identify the seven hills I was expecting nor any aqueduct waterways. And for some reason, the contemporary speech patterns and emphasis tones just didn't sound right for a culture that spoke and wrote Latin.
Although overall the score was well done, there was significant influence in some of the compositions from Mars: Bringer of War. So much so that I kept thinking of that instead of the movie.
I also thought that while a lot of effort was put into generating the CG landscapes and city population and buildings, the fact that it was so obviously CG detracted from the effect. It is still extremely important to composite the CG and non-CG elements together, and I don't think they succeeded as much as they needed to here.
If there is any overly redeeming quality to the film, it's the acting. I think everyone involved gave exceptional performances. Some of that was unfortunately offset by poor dramatizations, especially at the end. I think the truth is much more moving than a choreographed tribute, but that doesn't seem to be the style of big-budget action films.