June 28, 2007
Movie Night: Breach
Had some different people over for a movie night tonight. Tintin and Ken came again, but Greg and Angelika are new attendees. Both of them work at Netflix with me, although Angelika just started. I wasn't sure if Julie was going to show up, and she ended up not coming, but I'd ordered Round Table pizza this time at her suggestion. There was some communication issues about the movie, and it ended up that no one put anything on the queue. So Tintin and Ken brought some movies that they'd had at home, and we ended up watching Breach.
Breach is a dramatization of the capture of a U.S. operative, Robert Hanssen, who delivered intelligence to the KGB over many years while working in Russia. Chris Cooper plays this double-agent, and Ryan Phillippe plays the young and ambitious FBI rookie who befriends and then exposes Hanssen. The rest of the cast is filled out with other excellent actors like Laura Linney and Dennis Haysbert. And the acting is superb.
The plot and dramatization is pretty intense and interesting. Although Hanssen is introduced as the bad guy, he really doesn't seem like one. Even if you disagree with his very conservative and religious morals, you can't help admiring him for his integrity. Which makes it all the more difficult to accept him as a traitor. I think that dichotomy is really the films strongest point.
I'm Brain Damaged?
I came across an interesting brain teaser about cognitive science titled When Brain Damage Helps. Apparently, a 2005 study concluded that problems involving insight could be more quickly and easily solved by patients who had suffered damage to their lateral frontal cortex. There are some differences between the simple test on this web page and the testing that was done in the study, of course, but it's still an interesting experiment.
So I was able to solve the first problem on the web page fairly quickly. And then I solved the second problem in about 10-15 seconds. It took one of my other coworkers about a minute to figure out the second one, and another one of my coworkers didn't come to the right answer.
I guess I need to get my lateral frontal cortex checked out now.
June 24, 2007
The End of Evangelion
I've been resisting watching The End of Evangelion, because I really like the original ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion and thought any attempt at remaking it to satisfy the people who felt let down or confused b the original attempt would be something of a corruption. But I decided to give it a go after seeing that it has been welcomed by many, and also after Tintin said she was going to watch it. While I do really like how it turned out because it's pretty exciting, I don't think it's as good as the original ending, and in fact I felt let down by this version.
There are some real answers in End of Evangelion, such as the real goal of SEELE and how the human instrumentality project is of interest to them. And the level of action and excitement is pretty high, providing a traditional sort of climax instead of the completely philosophical and psychological exploration of the original ending. The ending provided by End of Evangelion is similar in some ways to that of the original, but spelled out in a much clearer manner. But deep thinkers will still be happy to find so much available for interpreation.
However, I really felt like these were not the real characters. Their behavior and attitudes were exaggerated and did not match what I remember taking away from the series. Asuka's complete reversal is especially disturbing. It really made me feel like this was not Asuka, and that her performance was forced. There was also much more overt sexuality throughout the two episodes. I think this might be in part just pandering the fantasies of fans, although there is some merit to how its used.
One thing I didn't like was the use of real life shots. I understand some people really liked them, and it does add a certain dimension to the film which can be considered important and meaningful. But I didn't like the discontinuity.
June 23, 2007
Little Britain: Season Two
Season two of Little Britain brought the skits and characters much closer to those that I liked in season three. It's still not as good as season three though, and comes in a little short at only six episodes. The second disc is actually a big compilation of outtakes and interviews and special features. There's a documentary on it as well, but I didn't bother to watch much of the second disc. Luna watched a little more. The included image is from of one of the better skits from season two: "bitty"!
June 21, 2007
More on Diesel
I found another resource about the problems with diesel powered transportation from the Clear Air Task Force Diesel project. They have maps and estimates of health risks due to diesel exposure in various parts of the country. They also document how installation of diesel particulate filters and ultra-low sulfur gas can reduce emissions significantly. However, all current diesel cars don't meet the necessary EPA standards. This will change as manufacterers start releasing new diesel cars that do. Matching one of these new cars with biodiesel should be very environmentally friendly.
The only exception, as I mentioned earlier, is that biodiesel produces more NOx than fossil diesel fuel. It may be more than outweighed by the reduction in other emissions, but NOx still has serious environmental and health impact.
I did find a presentation from the Department of Energy titled DPF Performance with Biodiesel Blends though. This presentation states two things of interest: NOx emissions are not significantly greater and there is a decent decrease in particulate matter exhaust with a 20% biodiesel blend. So even if you're using a diesel car right now, it really does make sense to start using a biodiesel blend for all the health and environmental benefits.
I suppose we'll have to wait until sometime in 2008 before we should buy a newer diesel car to run on biodiesel we make from vegetable oil. That timeframe isn't too bad though, since Luna still needs to learn to drive and would need a couple of years of driving experience with an old car before we get a better car.
June 19, 2007
Luna's Green Card
Luna's Green Card arrived yesterday. It's not green, just like Alla said. It's a fancy ID card with special colors and flashy things on it, and a big metallic-looking area on the back. It looks way hard to forge. Basically, there's a photo, birthdate, country of birth, and also an expiration date. It expires two years from now, which is when we have to go through the next part of the process. With this, Luna is all set and can get her driver's learner's permit and look for a job.
Prius or Hummer and the Biodiesel Question
A coworker mentioned something yesterday that I found extremely hard to believe. Apparently, it all started with a sort of grassroots publication effort, one example of which is Prius Outdoes Hummer in Environmental Damage. From there, the claim spread like wildfire. But I just couldn't believe that claim. It goes against everything my brain says would make sense. So I did some digging, and there's a lot of stuff out there contradicting that claim.
Apparently, everything started with a Dust to Dust comparison of the total energy costs of various cars over their entire life-cycle. (Note that their 450+ page paper isn't really a study or research paper. It's more of the sort of presentation you might find in a sales pitch or marketing meeting. So take it as such.) Their conclusion, which is based on a lot of seemingly thorough number crunching but no actual scientific measurements, states that hybrid cars are actually relatively expensive in terms of energy cost per mile compared to some conventional combustion engine cars.
A quick Google search for the other side of the coin will find a fairly balanced exploration into those claims in Prius Versus HUMMER: Exploding the Myth. One of the biggest counter arguments is the CNW claim of a Hummer lasting 35 years and Prius only 10 years. The Pacific Institute takes another look at the CNW report in their Hummer versus Prius:
"Dust to Dust" Report Misleads the Media and Public with Bad Science. Although they don't provide evidence to the contrary, the Pacific Institute does illustrate a lot of reasons why you cannot trust the Dust to Dust report in their reanalysis.
I also mentioned to my coworker my desire to run our next car on biodiesel, and to make our own gas. This would give me better mileage, save money, and have a better impact on the environment. Those are my operating assumptions, of course, based on what I've read. But he responded by stating even biodiesel's soot (i.e. carbon emissions) would be extremely high, and result in a bigger environmental impact than unleaded gasoline.
So I did some more digging and found A Comprehensive Analysis of Biodiesel Impacts on Exhaust Emissions published by the EPA back in 2002. The study only included heavy-duty engines, which I'm guessing are those of 18-wheelers and their ilk, but the basic conclusion is overall emissions are radically reduced in proportion to the percentage of biodiesel in the fuel, except for NOx which increased slightly in proportion. Overall CO2 emissions remain about the same, but CO emissions do decrease.
I do need to find some hard numbers for comparision against regular unleaded fuel emissions, but this information at least is very promising. Especially when you consider the advances in engine and exhaust technology that would still apply to diesel engines (sort of) that were more recently manufactured.
I just finished watching Dead Leaves, a crazy psychadelic action comedy anime about a pair of mutants who stage a wacky shoot-em-up beat-em-down prison break that is non-stop visual and aural excitement. And that's about it. Sure, it doesn't have the best plot or any character development or any redeeming social value. But neither do most music videos. And I really think that's the best way to characterize this movie. Watch it with your brain turned off, just absorb the wonderful visuals and music, and you'll really enjoy it.
The DVD features both stereo and 5.1 surround sound for both the Japanese and English audio tracks. The film itself isn't drawn with a huge amount of detail, although it certainly does have a crazy amount of movement in its short 50 minutes, so I suspect it compresses very well. Which allowed them to fit a lot of extras on the disc. If you're into watching typical, and some not-so-typical, Japanese post-production interviews then you should definitely check out the extras.
June 18, 2007
Little Britain: Season One
After enjoying the third season and live production of Little Britain so much, Luna and I watched the first season, which is eight episodes long. We both really liked the third season and live DVD, and Luna was laughing out loud non-stop. But the first season wasn't all that good. There were a few real funny gems, but a lot of the skits weren't all that entertaining. It felt more like watching some completely random characterization, which would only be funny if you knew someone that was just like that. But since the characters tend to be completely fictional exaggerations, that's not very likely. Unless maybe you live in Britain.
June 17, 2007
Shannon & Yvonne for Dinner
Shannon & Yvonne and Mei-Ling came over for dinner last night. It's been so long since Luna and I last saw them, which was when we went over to their house shortly after Luna arrived. Luna made a bunch of Chinese dishes for them to eat, and a fruit plate. They brought some leftover ice cream for dessert, even though we'd bought ice cream before, and orange juice too. Of course the first thing they all wanted to do was find the kitties. They all ran under the bed at first, but after a while Niea and then Asuka came out. Yvonne managed to scare Chie out later on, and after I held him for a long time he calmed down and Yvonne and Mei-Ling could also hold him.
After dinner, Luna started playing her PSP, and Yvonne looked for a movie to watch. Since Shannon wanted to play a board game, Yvonne could watch whatever she wanted and she and Mei-Ling watched Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Shannon and I played Scrabble, and I won by a few dozen points. Shannon kept trying to make up words so she could use her high-point letters. After a while Luna sat next to us to watch.
It was after the movie ended that Yvonne actually scared Chie out. And Shannon petted Shelly while I held him out of the aquarium. Shelly wasn't too scared. Probably since he'd spent a lot of time around Luna and me while I was trying to grow the plants and Ellie was having disinfectant put on every day. I put Blue Man Group's The Complex Rock Tour Live on to play in the background during this time. After they all left, Luna and I watched it for a short time, before going to bed.
June 15, 2007
Kingdom Hearts II
I'm more than a little late to the game, but I just finished playing through Kingdom Hearts 2, although I'm not entirely sure if I'm ever going to get around to going for 100% with this one. In terms of gameplay, technical features, and the visuals, Kingdom Hearts 2 is the same as Kingdom Hearts. They kept the same voice actors, which really would be a requirement for something like this, and the story continues where Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories ended. It's not required to have played KH:CoM, but it will help.
The world situation is a little different in KH2. While the worlds in KH tended to be more "dungeon-like" with many passages and places to explore as you tried to find your way around, the worlds of KH2 (some of which also appeared in KH) are more natural. You'll go through hallways and foyers or through mountain paths and towns, but for the most part there aren't any extra halls or rooms created just as something to go through. This also means finding treasures isn't a puzzle; they're all laid out in front of you as you move forward.
You also end up visiting each world multiple times. Each visit is a little shorter than they would be otherwise, but as the storyline progresses, things change on the worlds and you have to come back to find out what's going on and advance the plot. At first, I felt like there wasn't enough meat in each world's episodes. Too short and very straightforward. But after a while it felt more like a book, where the chapters aren't too long and you can read one chapter at a time, letting you then choose if you wanted to stop or continue.
I do seem to vaguely recall the storylines of the movies each world is based upon, being followed to some degree in KH. But it seems odd that coming back to those worlds in KH2, the storyline of the movie is played back again, but with some different angles. I'm not sure though, because I can't remember very well exactly what happened in each world of KH in terms of story.
There were some interesting worlds presented in KH2, which I wasn't expecting. The world of Tron makes an appearance, which was pretty cool. I was pleasantly surprised to find a world based on Steamboat Willie (I think the boat is referred to as Willy in KH2) and they really went out of their way to make it feel right. Luna was excited to see Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, and Beauty and the Beast (I still think there are real problems with that film) and Chicken Little.
I finished my first run of the game in about 55 hours. That included several hours playing through the Gummi sections, trying to find everything. But since it's so hard to know what you need to do to get some Gummi blocks, I ended up with about 95% completion there. I also didn't complete all of the Jiminy journal entries at this time, because it looked like that would take a long time to do. And it did.
I wasn't bothering to use my Drive forms or Summons for most of the game (I also didn't actually know how to initiate a Summon for a long time) and leveling all of those up, and completing the Moogle synthesis stuff, probably took another 10 hours. At this point I reached level 99 and could fight Sephiroth without dying in a few seconds. That battle is one of my favorites, both in KH2 and KH. I'm at about 70 hours now, and the only thing I have left open, besides the Gummi blocks, is the final Paradox Cup tournament. Apparently finishing that cup takes about an hour straight through.
June 14, 2007
Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid
Full Metal Panic!: The Second Raid is the second storyline in the Full Metal Panic! series. The second series, FUMOFFU!, doesn't really continue the storyline. TSR picks up about three months after the end of the first series, with the Viper-class ARM slave showing up again to cause trouble. TSR feels just like the first series, but with the characters growing up a little bit. There is not as much focus on action this time, and with only 13 episodes most of the time is spent on the non-action parts that make this series great.
In fact, the final battle isn't all that interesting. The best part about it is Kaname, and she's not fighting so much as giving Sosuke a scolding, in her own special way. In a lot of ways it felt really good to hear the voices of Kaname, Sosuke, and Testarossa again. Sosuke and Testarossa have the most distinctive and excellent English voice actors of Chris Patton and Hilary Haag, respectively. I think they're absolutely perfect choices for those two characters. Luci Christian's voice is not as distinctive, but it still felt good and familiar.
The final episode does close with a very open ending, which explictly points to a third production to continue the storyline. But given the time difference between FMP! and FMP!TSR, it might be a couple of years before we see it.
There are two things of note. First, make sure you watch the bonus OVA located in the extras on the fourth disc. You should watch this after watching TSR, since it takes place afterwards. It's a nice little thirty-minute episode that follows Tessa while they are docked and everyone has the day off to relax. I found it very enjoyable.
The second thing of note is that these DVDs were mastered such that you cannot skip over a bunch of logos and trailers in the beginning. Doing things like that really annoys me, and so again I wouldn't recommend purchasing the DVDs. It is incredibly annoying to have to watch some trailers or logos when you just want to get to the next episode, or to have to sit there for a few minutes when you really want to get started with what you want to watch.
June 11, 2007
Mac OS X: Leopard
The new features of Leopard were presented today at the WWDC up in San Francisco. The new features and changes are very exciting. A lot of applications have been revamped and improved, and there's even greater network and application integration that I'll find very useful. But the biggest improvements are those related to file management. I think those features will fundamentally change how some things are done on a day-to-day basis.
Some of the new stuff is just eye candy, like the dock reflections and additional transparency. But some of the eye candy is actually useful, like how the new document stacks are animated (probably using Core Animation). Document stacks are sort of like popup collections of files available in the dock. This is a little like keeping a folder shortcut in your dock's document section, but not as restrictive since there's no filesystem boundary required; the files can be from anywhere.
I really like Quick Look too. A lot of times I open things like TextEdit or Preview just to take a look at something quick, only to close the application again or leave it open. But with Quick Look, that's no longer necessary. Document rendering filters that are plugins for the Finder will allow you to read entire documents without having to open any additional applications. Of course, I expect there to be a computational and memory hit associated with the running Finder. But from a usability standpoint, Quick Look looks great.
I am also really looking forward to using Time Machine. Basically, this is a continuous incremental backup system, but with hooks for the Finder to actually get to the backed up documents quickly and make use of them. You need a second hard disk to serve as your backup repository, and probably the bigger the better. I suspect it'd be best to get an enclosure so you can continually replace the hard disk with something bigger. A feature like this also makes a Leopard server even more attractive. I've already been contemplating moving to a Mac OS X server to take advantage of its groupware support. BTW, this idea isn't new; I first read about it with the Elephant filesystem. Also, in comparison to Windows Vista's System Restore, Time Machine is much more comprehensive, easy to use on a regular basis instead of as a special case, and works on individual files and is integrated with search.
I think Spaces is an excellent addition, although one I won't use that much. I may use it more frequently at work, where I have more limited screen estate and will often keep different application sets and window sets open for multitasking.
There are also a bunch of important UNIX-layer improvements: official POSIX compliance; a new version of Terminal that claims to be more Unicode friendly which might be helpful for Luna since she deals with so many Japanese and Chinese files; Kerberos NFS authentication that has long been lacking. The new Directory Utility looks like there might finally be a GUI for managing network mounts.
Luna is a Resident
I got an email today from the USCIS because I signed up for case status notifications. Luna has officially been accepted as a permanent resident. The email says her card may take up to 60 days to arrive, although the official we spoke to at our interview said it should take about two weeks. I'm not sure yet if we should make an appointment to get her passport stamped with the approval, since then she can do things that require resident status before her card arrives. The official notice should arrive in the mail within a few days.
June 10, 2007
Waking the Dead
I picked up a copy of the pilot and first season of Waking the Dead from Netflix. Looked a little interesting, and a lot of BBC stuff is pretty good. I didn't like the pilot that much. It felt a little too convenient and the acting and characters too forced. As if things needed to be specially dramatic and personalities extremely apparent and well defined. But the following episodes felt more natural and I enjoyed them more.
Waking the Dead is another one of those crime dramas where a team of investigators go through forensics, psychology, and plain old detective work to solve a murder. Where this series is a little different, and I think better, is that each story is given two full hours rather than one, and the clues and revealed such that the audience can really try to figure things out themselves. Since the camera isn't always on the investigators, but also on the other players, the audience has an opportunity to see the whole story, from all the characters' perspectives.
Another strength is given the full two hours, a lot more time can be spent on the actual motives, characters, and things don't have to be rushed. Things can progress more naturally, and the clues and detective work can go down some interesting avenues that don't actually involve the murder itself.
I also think the forensic work is a little more realistic. Although in one of the earlier episodes it was almost like Frankie, who leads the forensic team, had committed the murder herself considering how she examined a murder scene. But otherwise it doesn't seem as though they have magic computers or tests or anything like that, for the most part.
Still, overall its just about what you'd expect and very similar in flavor and subject matter to the other shows of this type.
June 9, 2007
I bought a bag of Science Diet Indoor Cat Adult cat food several weeks ago because there was a sales rep at Pet Club giving out coupons. I figured I'd give it a try, since it seems to be a highly regarded brand of cat food. But Asuka, Niea, and Chie didn't like it that much. In fact, Chie almost treated it like the food of last resort; he constantly asked me to put their normal Nutro Natural Choice Complete Care Indoor food in the bowl, even if the bowl was full of the Science Diet food. Asuka and Niea both clearly preferred the Nutro food as well.
I'm also not as sure about how well the Science Diet cat food affects their teeth. I think Chie's breath got a little worse while we were using the Science Diet, which I usually mixed in with the Nutro food because that made it more likely they'd eat some of the Science Diet food. We'll see how Chie's breath smells after he's been back on the Nutro food for a while. He usually has the worst breath of the three. I try to check his gums and teeth and don't see any signs of tooth problems, but I'm not a cat dentist either. Keeping them on dry food shaped to prevent food stuck in their teeth and gums, and to scrape away tartar, should help keep their teeth healthier.
I think I will try giving the cats some Innova brand dry food next time though. It seems to have the best ingredients, better in comparison to Nutro, including real pieces of fruit, vegetables, and no fillers like corn.
We finished watching the final disc of Wolf's Rain last night, and Luna really likes it. It's very different from the manga, which I haven't read but she has, and apparently disc seven was an extra four episodes added after fans complained about the lack of closure from the original ending which is on disc six. Personally, I think it ended better and also made more sense on disc six, rather than disc seven. Plus, disc four is entirely recaps which I skipped completely. So it's not that long a series, but I think it's really a story about the journey. In a lot of ways it feels like one of those epic travel stories, where it's really the trials and struggles along the way that give it meaning.
It's that feeling that is the greatest strength of this series. The character development is very good, and the changing attitudes and personal decisions made by the characters as they journey together, come to rely upon each other, and discover different truths about themselves and the world around them, is what really makes it interesting to watch.
Flags of Our Fathers
Flags of Our Fathers is the companion film to Letters from Iwo Jima, told from the U.S. side. This film came out a year before Letters from Iwo Jima, and has a very different feeling to it. Whereas Letters from Iwo Jima focuses more upon the Japanese soldiers and the battle itself, Flags of Our Fathers spends relatively little time on the battlefield, choosing instead of explore how three soldiers coming back from the fighting deal with their celebrity status and then the remainder of their lives. It jumps back and forth a lot, between the war, time after the war, and the present day to tell their stories.
I didn't like Flags as much as Letters. There isn't as much excitement and it doesn't feel particularly extraordinary the majority of the time. It's much more like a memoir, or character study, of those three soldiers as they go through their lives during that time. But it lacks something. I'm not really sure what it lacks, but I wasn't engrossed in the film and it didn't feel like if I missed a portion that it would matter later on. Maybe it is the discontinuity of things that makes it that way.
The visual and audio quality is very high though. Both during the scenes on Iwo Jima and the ordinary settings back in the United States. You can tell that a lot went into making this film authentic at home, because it never feels wrong or staged or artificial. And the sound really is full range and makes you feel like you're there. I don't think the music was as good in this film though. I sort of feel like there were times when the mood could have been heightened, but wasn't. That's really an artistic choice though, in this kind of film, since realistically we don't walk around with background music. And it felt like a documentary or biography in that respect.
The acting is pretty good, overall, and Ryan Phillippe is an excellent actor. However I really felt like the one outstanding performance was that of Adam Beach, who played a Native American soldier and no one let him forget it. In a lot of ways, his character is the most tragic, because for everything he tried to do, it feels a lot like life left him behind and also that he could not find a way to move forward. Watching him, it really feels like he's carrying a heavy burden or is surrounded by ghosts. Even though it's Ryan Phillippe's character that seems to witness the most death and gore in the movie.
June 7, 2007
Plant Gro CO2 System
I ordered a cheapo CO2 system for the aquarium, to try and help the plants grow faster. It's called the Plant-Gro CO2 Natural System, and works by allowing CO2 bubbles generated by a mixture of sugar and some chemicals (yeast?) to flow through a little zig-zag path and diffuse some CO2 into the water. It's not particularly efficient, but it's cheap. We'll see how the plants react. The unit also came with some plant nutrient liquid, which I dumped into the tank.
You do have to be careful about the canister though. If it tips over, some of the solution will escape into the aquarium. I think one of the cats knocked it over sometime during the night, and now the aquarium water is cloudy. Perhaps filled with sugar, but I'm not sure. The fish seem okay though, so I'm not that worried.
June 5, 2007
We have power again! After speaking with the supervisor, Diane, at the PG&E service planning office things moved forward pretty well. I'd previously had problems being shuttled back and forth between various people, and having a hard time getting people to call me back. Around 8:45am, one of the field technicians came out and took the meter off the panel, cutting power to the panel. Our electrician came out and replaced the bad breakers, and then in the afternoon a different technician came out to reattach the meter. Everything is working again, so we can cook, do laundry, use the garage, and turn on the lights at night.
This is just a temporary solution. The breakers are going to get worn down again because the current draw is too high. Using two or more major appliances, like the stove and the dryer, at the same time pushes current draw very close to 100A. Plus, we have other things on like lights, and the aquarium, and computers. So for now we are only using one major appliance at a time. We'll do laundry at night. That should help prevent drawing more than 100A, and keep the breakers going a little longer.
PG&E tells me within a few weeks they can get the contract and other paperwork to us, so we can go ahead with upgrading the panel to 200A. I'm still a little concerned about how much it's going to cost. All they will really have to do is pull the new cable through the conduit and energize it. Cost of materials would be the cable, and then some labor costs for actually pulling the cable and attaching it. But I suspect the majority of other costs will be related to all of the paperwork and bureaucracy that was involved in just getting them to do that.
Luna and I were just looking for something relatively random but funny to watch, and ended up watching the movie 100 Girls. This is one of those cheesy sort of comedies about a boy trying to find a girl and the clash of the sexes. But it's also completely shameless when it comes to talking about that adolescent situation, sometimes in a little vulgar but foolish manner. But it's not gross or really over the top. I don't think this movie is that great, but it has amusing versions of the jokes you'd expect, with a lot of eye candy.
The basic plot can be outlined by the main character, Matthew, running into "the girl of his dreams" after a strange blackout that prevents him from actually knowing who the girl is. So he engages in various shenanigans to try and get into the girls' dormitory and identify the girl that he encountered that night. Some of what he does is funny, or crazy, but predictably over time he starts to have a certain appreciation for the other sex and how relationships are viewed differently by girls and boys.
June 2, 2007
Letters from Iwo Jima
The movie night I scheduled for tonight was cancelled because no one could show up except Samir. So we ended up with just me, Luna, and Samir to watch Letters from Iwo Jima. Jamie had gone down to Los Angeles to visit her family. Letters from Iwo Jima is a Clint Eastwood movie (as in he's the director) about the U.S. victory of Iwo Jima during World War II but told from the side of the Japanese troops that tried to hold the island despite being outnumbered and outgunned. It's a bleak film that depicts the horrors of war, but also one that portrays the Japanese soldiers as human beings who struggle despite knowing their homeland and families will be lost. This is a very good movie, but also one of those which you would not want to go through a second time.
I thought the actors were very good, and convincingly played the character roles they were given. Eastwood tries to give each of the characters some time to illustrate their basic humanity to the audience, with flashbacks and dialogue between the soldiers before the U.S. troops stormed the beachhead. I found myself a little confused though, at some times when I thought the social deference of officers was not correct.
Samir did not think it made sense for the soldiers to commit suicide, but Luna tells me that is how things were in reality, once the Japanese soldiers heard from their Emperor that they had lost the war. She says that many soldiers even killed their families and babies before killing themselves. This mental disposition continues today in Japan, and was recently discussed in a Slate article: Why are there so many suicides in Japan. But the article does not go into the real cultural and social reasons as much as arguing that public policy and social aversions towards mental illness does nothing to prevent this.
Luna and I are planning to watch the companion film, Flags of Our Fathers sometime soon. It wasn't rated as highly as Flags of Iwo Jima, although that may only be because Flags of Iwo Jima has much more of a freshness factor to it.
June 1, 2007
Luna's disc arrived damaged, so we couldn't watch what we were planning to tonight. Instead we watched a Japanese horror film named Kairo. Turns out Luna's seen it before, and she found the movie sort of boring and poorly made. It is poorly done, at least for the first half of the movie, and pretty slow paced, but I found it really creepy and scary. The music contributed to the creepiness; even Niea through it was really creepy music.
For the first half of the movie, it's not entirely clear what's going on. Something strange is happening, and people are dying or disappearing. Wherever they died there's a black blotch left behind, like their shadow but made of ash or some sort of stain. There's some connection to a web site that talks about seeing ghosts, and "the forbidden room" which is a room with the door taped over to stop people from going in, or anything from coming out.
Over time some ideas are introduced about ghosts, and lonliness, and the ethereal realm leaking into the physical world. And it's about this time that things also seem to have been done better. In the beginning, a lot of backgrounds looked fake and the editing pretty amateur. The lighting was also too dark, and lighting issues either improved or became less noticeable later on.
Overall it's not a great movie, but I thought it was pretty creepy. There's a U.S. remake also titled Pulse, but I don't plan to see it. The synopsis of the U.S. version seems to have changed the overall plot though. Possibly in an attempt to make things a little clearer and more logical.