January 28, 2008
The original Rollerball film is one of those science-fiction classics that starred an out-of-place movie star in an interesting and thoughtful social commentary. I'm sure I watched it on television when I was younger, and something about it made me remember the name although not the content. This movie is about Jonathan, the star of a violent sport named Rollerball who is asked to retire despite an unprecedented performance. In this world, the lives of the populace are tightly controlled by multi-nationals that dictate everything from public knowledge to families. The multi-nats fear Jonathan's influence on the public, because the game was designed to create violent failures but Jonathan never loses.
This movie is about the growing influence of corporations and a subconscious fear of a dystopian future society. There is no more war, or poverty, or global conflict. Everyone has what they need to survive, but not what they want or desire. This is kept in check a great deal by preventing people from having any idea that there might be more to life than what the companies give them. And Rollerball is the blood sport that allows them to vicariously unleash their tension while reinforcing the idea that in the end you always lose. Jonathan struggles to break out of this mental prison and take control of his own life.
January 27, 2008
Luc Besson's created another high-energy action thrill ride with Banlieue 13. District B13 is a run down slum that's been walled off by the French government. The people behind lack simple public services such as garbage collection or public schooling, and the district is run by criminal organizations and smaller gangs. Leïto's a sort of vigilante trying to take down the local power Taha, but runs into trouble with the authorities allowing Taha to enslave Leïto's sister, Lola. The remainder of the film follows Leïto's attempts to free his sister while working with an undercover cop named Damien to prevent the detonation of a nuclear warhead.
With only that simple plot and its over-the-top likable characters, this movie wouldn't be worth mentioning much. But Luc Besson really knows how to create a great ride and District B13 certainly doesn't disappoint. Leïto is actually played by David Belle who is famous for the parkour movement. This film is an amazing showcase of that physical art form, with extended sequences of parkour throughout. The action is swift, tight, and filmed very well so the audience can clearly follow everything. Many times a director will use quick cuts and jerky motion to create a false sense of excitement and activity, but that's not the case here.
All in all an excellent action film that's a lot of fun to watch, and fun to watch a second time.
Dragon's World: A Fantasy Made Real
I'm not even sure what you should call Dragon's World: A Fantasy Made Real. It's presented as a documentary, but it's pure fantasy. In a nutshell, an aspiring paleontologist (who happens to want to believe in fire-breathing dragons) comes across a frozen dinosaur. As the ice preserved tissue, he has more to work with than fossilized bone and discovers gas sacks and trace residue of metals capable of creating a spark. (Don't ask me how evolution results in a defense mechanism that requires eating rocks.) This researcher also theorizes about derivations of the dragon, accounting for the mythology found in different cultures around the world.
I guess if you already believe in dragons then you might be interested in watching this. But if you don't or are looking for something with actual scientific foundations then this is probably a waste of your time. At best, it's one person's extremely simple ramblings on what might have been, based on the human imagination.
January 24, 2008
Luna's First Day of Classes
Luna had her first day of classes today. She's started taking a graphic design course at the Central County Occupational Center which is part of Santa Clara County's public continuing education system. We had looked at a program at Western Career College earlier, but it really wasn't going to provide her with what she wanted. They spent about a week each on various software packages or basic design concepts rather than going in depth, and Jamie told us later they aren't very good. They're also much more expensive. The course provided by CCOC looks much better, with focused work on actual graphic design for the duration of the course.
January 21, 2008
24: Season 6
I really like 24, but I was disappointed by season 6. I feel like this is where the show has finally Jumped the Shark. Previous seasons have always brought something new to the series. New characters, political discussion, and plot mechanisms are part of the special sauce for this show. But as long as there's excitement and tension, I really felt compelled to watch. Admittedly the blatant sell-out to Cisco in the previous season was a little annoying, but I tried to ignore that as it was only in one episode.
But season six is the first season where I felt like everything has been recycled. The plot lines, the technologies, the threats, and the core character types are all remixes of the previous seasons. There's certainly a good level of current events pulled in, but that can't get rid of the unbelievable aspects of the show, which I won't discuss in depth at risk of ruining it for others. Cisco does make another blatant appearance, and the terrorist threats are now on the order of every three or four hours. They really need to stop trying to outdo themselves based solely on quantity.
The only saving grace of this season is the clearer focus on the characters. That's always been one of the most important parts of this series, and I think the writers realized that needed to be given some extra attention this time around, since the plot was weaker and less realistic than it needed to be. I'm really not sure where season seven will take us; it's a bit difficult for me to expect something great.
January 14, 2008
Eagle vs. Shark
Iris said she's been wanting to see Eagle vs. Shark ever since its debut at Sundance. That alone should give you some idea of what type of film it is, and personally I didn't like it a whole lot. However, there is a large group of people who do like this sort of humor, so I'm not surprised it was received so well as an indie romantic comedy.
The film focuses around two "social losers". Lily, who works at a burger joint, has a crush on Jarrod, who works in the same mall at a video game store. Neither of them fits into the mainstream, and Jarrod seems to live in a strange fantasy version of himself where he's macho and envied by others although he knows deep down this isn't true. Through a strange set of events, Lily and Jarrod find out just how well they fit together, while making fools of themselves the whole time. Which makes it so their foolishness really doesn't matter.
I found parts of the film amusing, but overall I don't think the film was that great. It's got a nice message and the acting is good in its own quirky way, but it's also sort of pointless and boring. Iris really liked it, I think, but I think Luna might have fallen asleep during the middle.
Patlabor: The Mobile Police OVA
Patlabor: The Mobile Police OVA is three discs of compressed story line and action starring Section 2, a group of special police officers whose job it is to handle Patlabor crime, or crime committed by people while in mecha. It's basically a police action-comedy. It's also what kicked off the entire Patlabor series of TV shows and films and was directed by Mamoru Oshii.
Despite all that I can't really recommend it. It's short at only a handful of episodes and as a result all of the character development and story is very compressed. The OVA itself doesn't really end, and you need to watch the movie to pick up where it left off.
January 9, 2008
Wii with Karen + Sebastian
Luna, Iris, and I went up to visit Karen and Sebastian tonight because Sebastian will be leaving to Switzerland soon to start working there as a professor. Karen won't be joining him until after she graduates from Stanford, which should be sometime this summer. We went out to Thai food, which was good and reasonably priced, and I think I spent most of the time talking to Sebastian and Karen about the Presidential candidates and public policy ideas. Karen thinks it is unfair that people are fined based on their income in Switzerland, for example, while Sebastian and I think it makes sense because fines are supposed to be punishments rather than to be fees or to reflect any particular costs.
Afterwards we went back to Karen's place and played Wii Sports. It's the first time Luna or I had played a Wii; Iris had played before. I was okay at Wii Tennis, but I couldn't do well at Wii Boxing or Wii Bowling. Boxing seemed to have a very heavy delay between movement of the remote and nunchuck, and the most effective techniques really didn't look anything like what the characters on screen were doing. I don't really know what was wrong with bowling though, because I just couldn't get it to swing the arm and release the ball correctly.
Lastly we played a round of Pictionary. The teams were Karen, Luna, and me versus Sebastian and Iris. Our team pulled ahead early on very quickly, but then we got hit by a short period of losses and they caught up. In the end we got to the finish first though, and won the game. A couple of times it was easier to guess off the other team's artist, but that's okay because Sebastian likes to do that and so it's acceptable strategy. :)
January 7, 2008
I'm not really sure why Luna decided to rent Ed Wood, but I vaguely recall seeing it before. It's not exactly your typical Tim Burton film, as it's a biography of the real director Ed Wood's attempts to make it big in Hollywood. It has an amazing cast, starring Johnny Depp of course but also Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray, and a number of other great actors in supporting roles. The best performance being given by Martin Landau for his portrayal of Bela Legosi. Every once in a while an actor really pulls off a real person, and Landau does that here.
The movie itself isn't all that interesting though. Most people these days have never heard of Ed Wood, and none of his movies are actually good (which is part of the point). Without anything real to connect oneself to the movie, there needs to be something special about it that will entertain, or fascinate, or emotionally grab the viewer. This movie really doesn't do that because it's just the life of Ed Wood, dramatized by Tim Burton in the same manner Ed Wood dramatized his own movies.
January 3, 2008
Shrek the Third
I really didn't have any desire to watch Shrek the Third, but Luna wanted to so we did. I'm not a fan of the Shrek series since I think they're all very unoriginal and simple. Shrek the Third didn't disappoint in that regard; in fact I think it's the most cliché-ridden and predictable of all three. Particularly annoying to me was the whole baby sequence sometime in the middle of the film, especially since they didn't put a lot of effort into making the babies move realistically and instead it looked like a bunch of rubber toys.
I did like some of the nice little homages they put into the film, like the coconut horses joke from Monty Python and the voices of John Cleese and Eric Idle or the Charlie's Angels reference. But that doesn't really make up for the film as a whole. If you liked the first two Shrek movies, I suspect you might enjoy watching the third although perhaps not as much. I thought the first two were okay, and I didn't have any problem watching the third, but I wouldn't choose to spend my time watching it again.