October 13, 2012

Evangelion Mini Cooper S Clubman

evacar-passenger.jpgYesterday the Evangelion Mini Cooper S Clubman was born. For the past several months I'd been planning to turn my new car into an 痛車 or a car with fan images on it. I'd already been gradually leaning towards Neon Genesis Evangelion with my iPod case and a small sticker I purchased off eBay a while back. I was originally planning to order the stickers from Japan, but that fell through and I was able to find a great local company, Mission City Signs, who could print for a comparable price as well as professionally apply the stickers onto the car. I still have tire air valve caps and license bolts on order, but those are minor details.

Making the images took quite a bit of time, and taxed my iMac for the first time since I last did some serious graphic design work. The images needed to be high quality actual size at 150dpi for a good print result. It took me a while to find source images large enough to work with, and there wasn't a lot of images that large. Luckily the recent Evangelion reboot has come with some excellent high quality artwork. I needed to extract Asuka, Rei, and Mari from the background and then composite them actual size onto an actual size image of my Mini. I would say doing all this took at least a couple dozen hours. The resulting source and final image files take up about 2.8GB and prompted me to ensure I was using GigE for my network connection.

evacar-driver.jpgI'm super happy with the results! There are a few blemishes in the application but they're only noticeable up close. From start to finish, this project took me about two months of research and work. The stickers should last about 5 years, maybe longer if I keep my car out of the sun and away from harsh weather.

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June 28, 2010

Asian Tour

Cable Car FogI recently went on something of a whirlwind business trip through three countries as part of a project we've been working on at Netflix for a short time now. My trip started off in Hong Kong, then Shenzhen, China, followed by Seoul, Korea and finally Osaka and Tokyo in Japan. It had been almost ten years since I was last in Hong Kong, and it was my first time visiting Japan. I was in Korea last year for business but not in Seoul that time.

Things were pretty hectic in the beginning. We had one day in Hong Kong to acclimate to the time change, but Shenzhen and Seoul were completely filled each day with meetings and travel so there wasn't any free time at all. Mitch and I extended our stay in Tokyo, Japan a little extra though, so we could do some things that we wanted to. I was especially excited about Tokyo because I've wanted to visit Akihabara and Shibuya for a very long time.

In Hong Kong, we went to Lantau Island via the Ngong Ping Cable Car to see the Tian Tan Buddha tourist attraction. I say tourist attraction because when I was there ten years ago the site wasn't so commercialized. The clouds were very low that day, which meant our cable car went right through some dense fog, and walking around at the peak meant walking around through clouds.

Interactive Subway MapCrossing from Hong Kong into Shenzhen meant going through the China border inspections. It wasn't a big deal, but it is like crossing between countries. (Returning into Hong Kong took much longer.) Shenzhen is pretty much what I expected with small towns, usually containing an obvious main street, based around industrial areas. The factories are what brings workers into Shenzhen and keeps money flowing into that area.

Both Hong Kong and Shenzhen were very hot and humid. My body is not at all accustomed to that sort of environment so I was constantly sweating. I think one day the humidity was listed as 90%, and the temperature was always above 30°C.

After China we flew into Seoul, Korea. I like visiting Korea because I have a friend there that works at Samsung. His English is quite good and we get along well. It happened to be his daughter's 100-day celebration when we were there, and he gave me a cute little rice cake treat. I was also hoping to meet up with someone in Seoul whom I just recently met at Can Jam 2010 when I was exhibiting, but a schedule conflict prevented us from doing so.

Interactive Mall MapOne thing that I really liked in Seoul were the interactive maps. Both the subway and shopping mall had an interactive map. Using the touchscreen, you could select where you wanted to go, or search for where you wanted to go, and it would provide detailed animated directions on the map itself for how to get there. This is so much better than the static maps used here in the United States. Although I suspect there would be some hesitation of installing expensive maps in U.S. subway systems out of fear of graffiti or vandalism. People, and police officers, appear to be so much nicer, polite, and courteous in Korea than in the U.S. (Obviously this is even more true in Japan, where manners are extremely important.)

Osaka Police BoxAfter Korea, we flew into Osaka, Japan for our last business engagement. This is where it first hit me how expensive things are in Japan. I'd heard and read about things being expensive there, but a fruit plate in the hotel restaurant was more than USD $40, and I found out the waitresses at that restaurant were probably only making about USD $10/hr. I thought at least food should be about the same price as in big U.S. cities if the pay scale is about the same, but since it is more expensive and going out to dinners and drinks are such a big part of Japanese culture people must spend a significant portion of their income on food. The pre-packaged meals at 7-11 are priced around what I usually spend if I'm eating out to lunch at home.

Kitties for Sale in OsakaAlso really expensive are pets. We stopped in a pet store in Osaka, and kittens and puppies are regularly priced over USD $1000 and often close to USD $1500. Some of them were even around USD $3000-$4000. The pet stores were pretty small, and probably had about a dozen or so of kittens and puppies. There was one store that also had some monkeys. No prices were listed on the monkeys; I imagine they might be considered a luxury where if you have to ask, you can't afford it. A Puppy for Sale in Osaka One thing I noticed though was that all the kittens and puppies were very young. It's a lot easier to sell cute kittens and puppies, and I saw a bunch of girls watching and saying kawaii a lot, but it also makes me wonder what happens to the ones not adopted. If they only keep young ones in the store, the others might be discarded. T_T

After Osaka we went to Tokyo. For a few hours one day Mitch and I took the train to Hakone and went to the Kappa Tengoku onsen. It took about two hours each way by train, and we spent about two hours at the onsen itself. The soaking pool water was very hot. So hot that I immediately started sweating like crazy and my body began tingling all over. I had to get out and shower in cold water once, and also sit mostly out of the pool, in order to cool down. I also got over a dozen bug bites right away. Most of them got bigger and only just started disappearing a couple days ago.

Akihabara MaidsBut by far I spent the most time in Akihabara and Shibuya. Akihabara was very exciting for me because of all the shops and the culture. Maid cafés have gotten very popular and there were dozens of maids on the streets handing out flyers and trying to convince customers to enter their shops. We didn't end up going into a maid café though. Which was fine by me since I was spending all my time shopping anyway. Although I would have liked to go to one. As well as check out some of the other crazy theme restaurants; I'm not sure where they are though since they're not in Akihabara. I didn't get a chance to check out a love hotel or capsule hotel either.

White Album PosterThere are a bunch of otaku-stores in Akihabara, unsurprisingly. The stores tend to be thin and tall. Only the stores that sell electronics or are like department stores have enough floor space that things don't seem cramped. There was tons of manga, anime, movies and TV shows, figures, video games, and pink stuff. Although when it came to figures and trinkets only the most recent stuff was getting shelf space. I can't read Japanese so manga and anime was pretty much out. Plus, music and videos are super expensive over there. A new release movie on DVD or Blu-ray might be over USD $50. PC and console games are only slightly more expensive than in the U.S. And there is a ton more selection. I picked up a few video games that are only available in Japan including Atelier Rorona, Record of Agarest War, and Agarest Senki Zero; I need to learn how to read Japanese before I can play them though. I would have also gotten Atelier Totori but it was releasing a couple of days after our return flight. Angel Beats Poster I only picked up a couple of music CDs, because at those prices I couldn't just grab stuff that might be good. I did find a Final Fantasy XIII collectors music set though which I immediately purchased. (Have yet to buy the game though.) Mostly I bought figures to add to my collection: I got some Mari Makinami figures from the new Evangelion 2.0 rebuild; Nagi and Tsugumi from Crazy Shrine Maidens; Ein from Phantom, a couple of Vocaloid Hatsune Miku wind-up music toys; a distorted Rei; and Chocobo and Moogle plushies.

The other thing I spent a lot of money on is clothing. I really like Japanese casual street fashion. The sort of interesting stuff you can't find in the U.S. and gets featured in some video games. Most recently in The World Ends With You, a Nintendo DS game that deals heavily with fashion and takes place in Shibuya, although the store names were changed. (The game itself gets a bit repetitive and collecting all the items would take several play-throughs.) To find the better stuff, I ended up shopping mostly at Jeans Mate in Akihabara and Parco in Shibuya. Individual stores in Parco are relatively small and devoted to a single brand, the clothing selection is limited, and there is usually only a handful of specific styles per brand. Prices at Jeans Mate and some of the stores at Parco tended to start at around USD $30 for a T-shirt. But some of the really high-end stores in Parco sold a single T-shirt for USD $300. Some of the stores had more complex clothing, like jackets, that sold for USD $1000. This despite being something that could be made for a few dollars in material and labor. I limited myself to things that were priced at the lower end, but even then I think I spent more on clothing this one time than I've spent on clothing my entire life so far.

WiMAX KittiesThere were two things that made it more difficult to buy clothing in Japan. First was the extreme leaning towards girls' clothing. There are entire mall buildings that only contain girl clothes. I would say only about 10% of the stores sold boys' clothing. The two types of stores were also physically segregated in many cases. Only the larger non-boutique stores carried both male and female clothing.

Secondly, the clothes in Japan aren't sized for me. I had to purchase size XL / LL or size 4 (for shirts) and even then it is a tight fit. My shoes are 2cm larger than the largest they stock in shoes and socks. On many occasions I simply couldn't buy the clothes because they didn't sell it in my size. I guess there are a couple of stores that do sell larger clothing, but you have to go find them specially.

I think I could have spent a whole lot more money in Tokyo, both on toys and clothes. And there are still a lot of other things to do and see just in Tokyo itself, never mind the rest of Japan. I'm not much into sight-seeing, but I can imagine myself spending weeks more exploring just Tokyo.

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March 28, 2010

FUTURESTATES

FUTURESTATES is a miniseries of science-fiction webispodes that look at future social possibilities. The ideas aren't particularly ground-breaking, but the execution is excellent. I highly suggest spending some time to watch through them.

Some of the topics explored include the environment, over-population, virtual reality, economics, and social divide.

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April 13, 2008

Visiting Karen

Karen will be leaving to Switzerland soon. I have to remember it's Switzerland and not Sweden by remembering it's the neutral place. She and Sebastian are moving there, because Sebastian got a professorship at the University. It's going to be a big change for her, and this'll probably be the last time I get to see her for a few years.

We drove up and then took BART into San Francisco to meet up with some of her other friends. Ended up going around to a few bars and just hanging out. One place was really tiny and crowded and the music was really loud. The other place was larger and so we had more room. Played one of those cheap video game kiosks and some darts. A bunch of people were playing beer pong in the back room. Looked kind of gross considering everywhere the ping pong ball was going.

Anyway, Karen had a lot of fun so that's good. It'll give her a good memory before leaving.

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March 8, 2008

Bloodrayne

Shortly after BloodRayne came out, I read all sorts of horrible reviews about it. People condemned Uwe Boll as worst director of all time and wondered how he could get funding in the face of his failure, and who in their right mind was willing to fund his future directorial works. When you read things like this, you can't be entirely sure if people are just being too hard on something or someone, or if it's sort of just a bandwagon sort of thing. But in this case, everything you'll read is right.

Cast a handful of excellent actors in character roles that are completely shallow, mix with a composer who doesn't realize the music must follow the movie, throw in one version of every scene you thought was cool when you were 10-years-old, and then cut corners on anything that will cost money. And don't forget the obligatory sex scene since your star is considered a sex symbol. That's pretty much what you'll experience with this movie. Oh, and the plot sucks too.

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March 7, 2008

Desert Punk

Sunabozu: The GangSunabozu is an anime that is crude and unapologetic about it. In the Kanto desert, life is harsh and cheap. A catastrophe from long ago left the world barren and lifeless. Knowledge of the old technologies has been lost, and great metropolises are ruins. The Sunabozu, or Desert Punk, is the greatest handyman in the Kanto desert. Handymen are basically people you can hire to do just about whatever you want. His extreme cunning and skill with the shotgun has created a legend. But he's also an extremely horny and selfish boy; any beautiful girl turns him into a drooling idiot, especially if she has big ones.

Sunabozu's nemesis is Asagiri Junko, a skilled beauty who Sunabozu lusts after but who always seems to get the best of him. His sidekick is the Kosuna, a 14-year-old girl who desires to become the Kanto desert's most skilled beauty. She has some work cut out for her, dealing with Sunabozu and Junko. A number of other regular characters show up along the way.

The series is sort of split into halves. The first half is a bunch of random handyman missions that establishes the setting and the characters. These episodes stand alone and their primary entertainment value is on the humor, which is often crude and leaning towards the fantastical or slapstick. The second half launches into a political struggle between two different factions who have differing opinions on the direction things should be taken. It's during these episodes that a plot forms and the characters begin having to face more serious issues.

Sunabozu: KosunaMy favorite character would have to be Kosuna. And I really like her seiyu, Chiwa Saito. Her voice is young, energetic, and fits Kosuna perfectly. Plus, she is able to pull of a really cool monkey laugh that is a huge part of Kosuna's personality.

The artwork is very nice as well. Although I don't really like when they draw male faces all scrunched up and weirded out in order to show strange and extreme expressions. They never end up doing that on the female faces—they always look nice.

Unfortunately, Luna tells me that the series was forced to end early because it wasn't popular enough. I did feel a little disappointed by the ending because just as lines were being drawn and a story of epic conflict being built up, it comes to a conclusion. The future is left open and you never find out what will really happen. Still, seeing Kosuna grow up and watching the interplay of her, Sunabozu, and Junko is interesting.

One word of warning: the English ADR is completely changed from the original Japanese. So you'll be hearing a whole different set of conversations if you watch it dubbed.

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March 2, 2008

Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society

Ghost in the Shell: Solid State SocietyGhost in the Shell: Solid State Society takes place in the story line created in the Stand Alone Complex television series featuring Section 9. In those two years since The Laughing Man and The Individual Eleven incidents, Section 9 has changed. Motoko has left and is pursuing her own goals, and Section 9 is expanding which puts Togusa and Batou into teaching roles for a number of new recruits. The movie begins with a series of suicides somehow linked to a terrorist organization. All signs point to a hacker who is causing these suicides and has some overarching plan concealed by these inexplicable suicides. Motoko's role in these events is unclear, as she shows up at opportune times without providing an explanation.

This film appears to be commenting on social issues possibly facing Japan today, and the world as a whole to some degree. There is a growing class of elderly who require care but are not productive member of society. The birth rate in developed countries is declining as people focus on careers and couples decide not to have children. It can be very difficult to address these issues, because in a lot of cases the solutions run counter to individual desires or current socially acceptable policies and moral ideas.

The question is really whether or not doing the right thing is really what's best for us all in the long run.

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Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Ghost in the Shell 2: InnocenceGhost in the Shell 2: Innocence continues the story line that began in the original Ghost in the Shell and was also directed by Mamoru Oshii. You do need to have watched the first movie to fully appreciate the second, as it provides background into the characters and establishes the backstory. There are a lot of parallels in the presentation between the two films as well.

This time the story's primary character is Batou, as Motoko is unavailable after the events of the first movie (trying to avoid a spoiler). He and his partner Togusa are investigating a case of gynoids, or human-like robots with AI, that are murdering their owners. Their investigation leads them to a criminal operation or horrific proportions.

If you liked the first film, you should like this one. However there is a heavier requirement on thinking and deductive reasoning this time. In the first film, a lot of the ideas and questions were discussed outright. In Innocence, the ideas are presented through the plot, like in the first film, but not as much time is spent actually speaking out the implications of those ideas. And for some of them you'll really need to try and figure it out on your own; waiting for the explanation will cause you to miss the significance of what you just saw.

The visual capabilities have greatly improved in the past several years, giving Innocence a more polished look. The animation itself is also more fluid and animated than before, as it was done using cel shaded models rather than hand drawings. I think the same composer came back to do the score, and the sound is very similar to the first film although this time 5.1 was the original production goal. I don't like it as much as Yoko Kanno's work, but it's still good.

Unfortunately, it seems like the disc copy I picked up is of an older release that contains closed-captions style English subtitles.

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Avalon

Avalon is interesting, but it's slow. Directed by Mamoru Oshii, it's no surprise that there are a lot of deep thoughts and questions about life, reality, and ones perception of the world. However it requires the viewer to work hard at paying attention, as it can't keep you there on its own.

The world is in some sort of post apocalyptic era, where fresh food and studio apartments are considered a luxury. It's not really clear what the world is like, as everything in the film focuses on the game, which is a VR first-person-shooter of incredible reality. Ash, the protagonist, is exceptionally good at this game, and is trying to find some way to finish it; to get to the final level. Over time it becomes clear there's something unique about getting that far, and that only makes her want it even more.

Oshii is an excellent director, and there is a lot to take in from the film. The environments, backgrounds, and every detail contributes in some small way. Near the climax, I really found myself anticipating what would happen next, hoping to find an answer. And in that sense it was satisfying. However I wish the journey had been a little more enjoyable.

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Ultraviolet

UltravioletI didn't hear good things about Ultraviolet, even though I tend to like movies starring Milla Jovovich. It was written and directed by Kurt Wimmer, who also wrote and directed the amazing Equilibrium, and knowing that now I find it disappointing that Ultraviolet is in almost every way a the same story of Equilibrium, except without the emotional strength, inner conflict, and excellent choreography.

A lot of the same symbolism is used throughout, with the church and religion and big brother. The same scenes are used as well, with very similar rooms and types of action sequences. But the action sequences are horrible. In Equilibrium people with guns could actually aim. In Ultraviolet, the police don't seem to know how to point a gun at something a dozen feet away, and are so stupid they don't shoot even when Violet's basically harmless. I do like the overall feel of the movie, and its imagery, style, and use of color. There were some nice special effects as well.

But it's still a rehash of Equilibrium, which is a movie better by orders of magnitude.

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February 28, 2008

Luna's Birthday

It is Luna's birthday today. We didn't do much of anything special, but Silke did come over and gave her a potted flower as a gift. They were watching The Animatrix when I got home, because Silke came over earlier. For dinner we ate Chinese take out and Luna cooked some vegetables. Then we had a Sogo Bakery cake that we bought from 99 Ranch this past weekend. Later on we spent some time just sitting on the floor talking about random things, before it got a little late and Silke left.

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February 26, 2008

Night at the Museum

Night at the MuseumNight at the Museum, starring Ben Stiller, is pretty much your run-of-the-mill family movie. Ben Stiller is a down-on-his-luck dad who is now divorced and not exactly the greatest role model for his son because he can't keep a stable job. He finds a job as night watchman at the Museum of American History in New York City, where he's surprised to discover everything in the museum comes to life at night. What follows are pretty much what you expect: having to impress his son, deal with his job and overcome his personal desire to give up, foiling a plot, and getting the girl.

There are some pretty big time actors in the film, including Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Dick Van Dyke, and Mickey Rooney, but it's not like this is a film requiring any great acting. Just lots of antics and continual comic relief mixed with simple action. It would be interesting to know if attendance at the museum actually went up following the release of this movie. Things like that usually happen, and I suspect attendance did increase for a short time.

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February 24, 2008

28 Weeks Later

28 Weeks LaterI really liked 28 Days Later, and thought 28 Weeks Later should be pretty good too since it was supposed to closely follow the original timeline and looked very similar in style and visuals. I didn't know it was directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo instead of Danny Boyle though. Perhaps if I had known, or I'd read a little bit more about the film, I wouldn't have been so excited to watch it. I'd heard generally good things after it was released in theaters, but the two films are very different in purpose.

Whereas I liked to call 28 Days Later a movie with zombies in it (specifically a science-fiction movie), 28 Weeks Later is decidedly a zombie movie and nothing else. It's so much a zombie movie that it really doesn't make sense at time, when it was convenient for adding to the chaos. There's no reason behind the plot, and the character development is extremely slim. I think there were some attempts at putting in things to think about, but they are pretty simple thoughts and aren't presented in a strong or unique way. Might as well ignore them.

If you're just looking for a zombie movie, 28 Weeks Later might be perfect for you, although I personally like the Resident Evil movies better for that.

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The Lone Gunmen

The Lone GunmenI happened to notice that the DVD box set of The Lone Gunmen was on sale and picked it up, completing our collection. I thought this was a great spin-off show and was disappointed when it got cancelled, although I can understand it had limited appeal to the hardcore techies who watched The X-Files. The show's much more technical and focused on conspiracies, without the background that the general public can relate to. I sort of wonder what people thought about the show after 9/11, as the pilot episode was actually a government conspiracy to crash an airplane into the World Trade Center, and this episode was shown in March of that year.

I also knew that Luna would like watching The Lone Gunmen. She liked many episodes of The X-Files and especially those that were funny. The Lone Gunmen tends to have funny things in every episode, just because the characters are funny and they have absurd ideas about how to go about things. She especially likes Frohike because he acts so kawaii and looks moe.

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February 21, 2008

Patlabor: The TV Series

So whereas the Patlabor OVA was a little disappointing, the full length television series Patlabor: The TV Series isn't so bad. It's not great, but it's about what you'd expect from a Saturday morning cartoon. A bit of action, some laughs, and outrageous but likable characters. It's a little on the long side, at 47 episodes, but they go by fairly quickly and there are some interesting, although simple, stories.

Despite the franchise's tremendous success in general, I'm not really sure what it has going for it. I suspect it's more of a mecha action sort of appeal to younger audiences. Having recently watched You're Under Arrest! I have to say YUA is a much better show overall with more lasting appeal than Patlabor: TV.

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February 17, 2008

The Holiday

The HolidayWhen Luna first saw the trailer for The Holiday she laughed and then punched me in the face. Cameron Diaz's character had found out her boyfriend slept with his secretary and walked out the front door and punched him twice. I don't think Luna put it on her queue right away, but we saw the trailer again and that's probably when she did.

There's really nothing special about The Holiday in terms of plot, but it does have some very good actors and a little gimmick which thankfully isn't overused. Amanda (Cameron Diaz) happens to be a movie trailer director/editor/something and every once in a while imagines hearing voiceovers describing the drama in her life. That's the gimmick, and it's used a few times. Otherwise, it's your typical people in bad relationship find other people and everything works out in the end. Simple, straightforward, and it'll be the characters that make you like the movie or not.

I did kind of like Miles (Jack Black) because his view on the world is a little kooky. He sees a theatrical score in just about everything and that's a fun and cool way of seeing things. He's a composer in the movie, of course.

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February 4, 2008

Infernal Affairs 2 & 3

Infernal Affairs 2 and Infernal Affairs 3 are the sequels to a great movie I watched a few years ago, Infernal Affairs. This first one was recently remade in the U.S. but I haven't seen it. The primary reason I liked Infernal Affairs was because of the competing tension between Yan and Lau both working for the other team while still trying to defeat each other. It's an excellent game of chess.

Infernal Affairs IIWu jian dao 2 is different. This movie actually takes place before the first Wu jian dao, and focuses more on the relationship between the gangster Sam and police officer Wong, who are the leaders of the gang and police in Wu jian dao. We see their history, and what led them to who they became in the first movie. Yan and Lau are also there, but in their younger selves. The lack of tension and a somewhat confusing chain of events made it harder to like Wu jian dao 2. I felt the strength of focus found in the first movie was lost, even though the acting and characters were just as good and the story well tied into the series as a whole. (Brief glimpses into Yan's thing with watches and Lau's love of music are nice touches.)

Infernal Affairs IIIWu jian dao 3 is even more confusing than 2. This takes place some time after the first movie, as the police try to uncover who else might be gang moles. Lau is now a big time police officer, and involved in the investigation. However, things aren't exactly right. There are problems at home with his wife Mary, and his investigation seems to take odd turns. There are lots of flashbacks to new events that show more background on Yan and Lau. The psychiatrist played by Kelly Chen makes are reappearance. In the end, things make sense but you will have to piece things together. Unfortunately, the ending is disappointing but fitting with the whole series' idea of continuous hell.

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January 28, 2008

Rollerball

RollerballThe 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.

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January 27, 2008

District B13

District B13Luc 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.

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Dragon's World: A Fantasy Made Real

Dragon's World: A Fantasy Made RealI'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.

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January 21, 2008

24: Season 6

24: Season 6I 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.

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January 14, 2008

Eagle vs. Shark

Eagle vs. SharkIris 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.

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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.

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January 7, 2008

Ed Wood

Ed WoodI'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.

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January 3, 2008

Shrek the Third

Shrek the ThirdI 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.

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December 30, 2007

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire SlayerLuna rented the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie because she's been watching through the entire new TV series and really likes it. I guess she wanted to see where it all started. I remember reading this book after getting it through one of the school's book orders.

I was actually surprised to see so many actors in the film that have either become famous or at least had serious careers. It's also a little different than I remembered, with more parody and self-deprecating humor; I remembered a lot of fighting in the book which I guess was an adaptation of the movie. It also surprised me to learn that Joss Whedon also wrote and directed the movie. He's a very highly regarded person in the television industry and by the general public, and I don't remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer having been considered a critical success.

Anyway, the movie wasn't anything special but I found it entertaining at times. Pretty short and straight forward. I can't find any faults in the film, but I think it's standard television movie fare.

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You're Under Arrest! The Motion Picture

You're Under Arrest! The Motion Picture takes place a few months after the OVA just as Natsumi and Miyuki are finishing up their training away from Bokuto station. The same cast of characters are there, and you really have to have seen the OVA to appreciate the movie because no time is spent on character development or back story. The movie really is a feature film with Bokuto station up against a band of terrorists and heavy on action and plot instead of humor.

In terms of production, it's obvious that a lot more time and money was put into the movie than into the OVA. The picture is clearer and there is a lot more detail in every scene. There is surround sound, although it's a little too discretely mixed. I liked seeing Natsumi and Miyuki in action again, and it was cool to see them in a slightly more grown up version of the television series.

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December 28, 2007

Home from Christmas

Luna and I just got back from spending Christmas at my parents house in New York. We were there for four days, not including the two days spent flying. Dennis and Iris were there until the 24th, after which they went to Iris' parents' place. Calvin took the same flights that we did.

Luna was really excited to see so much snow, and the first day she wanted to go outside and play in it. But it was raining at that time and she hadn't packed the right clothing for us. In fact, she only packed me one pair of pants and the wrong shirts, so I ended up having to go buy some pants and wash the clothes often. Luna also bought some boots and a bag while we were out. We never got around to actually playing in the snow afterwards.

HeroesAnd I actually spent two days just watching season one of Heroes on my mom's laptop. Luna watched season one just before we flew out, without me. Heroes has excellent characters and a great plot. That's really what's so good about the show. There is a pretty large cast of people, some with super powers and some without, who find themselves bound together through taut strings of destiny to save the world. As things are revealed and you try to piece together the puzzle of motivations and challenges, so are they doing the same thing.

Unfortunately, while there's a really strong cast and excellent plot, the execution itself is plagued with sloppiness. That's a real turn off for me, and Luna didn't like it either after I started pointing them out to her. There are scenes that show up in one episode, and then you see them again in the following episode but the dialog, action, and even the set have changed. Part of me thinks this must have become a deliberate choice, if it didn't already start out that way. There's even one character who shows up and then mysteriously disappears without explanation. And some Ando-paradoxes are never answered.

Still, it's a great show and I can understand why people really like it. There's a whole lot of inside jokes and little gestures as well, such as George Takei's license plate or Stan Lee's cameo. I did appreciate those, although I suspect the vast majority of viewers didn't even notice.

Christmas day Luna and I spent sleeping. She wanted to wake up early to get presents, but then after that we both went back to sleep and ended up spending a lot of the night actually awake instead of sleeping. I got a new pair of sneakers which I really needed because mine are so old; I was actually looking at some when we went out earlier to buy the pants, but ended up not buying any. I also got socks and some money. Luna got a coat and a pair of warm socks. Calvin got me Transmission and Luna a scarf. Dennis and Iris gave us Genki Hats of Luna and Artemis.

Statue of LibertyThe day after Christmas Luna and I took Amtrak to New York City. She wanted to see the Statue of Liberty and ground zero. The train ride was about 2.5 hours each direction, and was convenient because once in the city we could just take the subway and walk. Unfortunately the actual Statue of Liberty ferries and stops took four whole hours to do. We had to wait in line for a long time to get onto the ferry, which has airport-like security screening, and then again on the way to Ellis Island and back to Manhattan. We couldn't get into the Statue of Liberty itself though because all of the time passes had been given out; you need to reserve well in advance it seems. So other than some quick pictures it wasn't very fruitful. It's also a lot smaller than I thought it would be. The tickets are sold out of Castle Clinton though, and the whole thing brought back memories of Deus Ex.

Afterwards we went to ground zero but didn't enter the special memorial thing they have set up while construction is going on. Luna just snapped some quick pictures through holes in the fence they set up around the hole. When we saw some local cemeteries she thought the people that died there had been buried right there, but of course those are just regular cemeteries next to churches.

Dinner was at Roxy's Delicatessen which is pricey but nice. I probably wouldn't go back again though. Service was a little slow and I saw one of the wrapped muffins fall on the floor and then get put back onto the shelf (it was wrapped, so not really a big deal, but still feels weird). We walked around Times Square for a long time, visiting places like the M&M store and Hershey store until it was time for our train back.

It's the flight back to San Jose that was really annoying. Our plane at Albany arrived late, so there was no airplane for us to take to Detroit even though we could have left if a plane and crew had been available. As a result, we missed our connection in Detroit and ended up taking a later flight to Minneapolis/St. Paul on standby. And since we were late arriving there, our flight to San Jose had already left and we would have to stay overnight if we wanted to catch the next one. Instead, we got on standby for a flight to San Francisco, and arrived at SFO around 12:30am without any of our luggage. We had to wait a long time for a shuttle that would take us to where Luna and I parked at SJC, and finally arrived home at 3am. Northwest needs to find our luggage and somehow get it back to California to deliver to our home.

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December 21, 2007

My Neighbor Totoro

My Neighbor TotoroMy Neighbor Totoro is probably Hayao Miyazaki's most famous film, although it's from 1988 and not as fascinating as his contemporary works. There's less action, less visual and aural spectacle, and a much simpler and shallow story. But it's also an amazing children's tale that you can still enjoy as an adult and it contains universal appeal. Basically it's a great movie that everyone will like and be willing to watch multiple times.

The film centers around 11-year-old Satsuki and her younger sister Mei after moving to the countryside with their father. Their mother is in the hospital with some sort of chronic illness that is never fully explained. The entire film is presented from the viewpoint of someone of Satsuki and Mei's ages, which means the world appears simple in some ways, grand in others, and magical but overwhelming. Totoro is a forest spirit that appears to Mei and then Satsuki. He lives in the enormous tree at the nearby temple.

I really liked this film. It's endearing, fun, and magical just like Satsuki and Mei. The songs have a sing-along quality to them, and the art is colorful and vibrant. The English ADR is pretty good as well since it was done by Disney. There aren't any deep thoughts or epic conflicts here; it's more like the type of movie you'd watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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December 19, 2007

You're Under Arrest!

You're Under Arrest!You're Under Arrest! is an OVA of the manga of the same name written by Kosuke Fujishima. The two main characters are Miyuki and Natsumi, who are partners in the traffic division of Bokuto Police Station. They meet for the first time in the first episode and become quick friends and close partners. There are a number of supporting characters, including the love interests of both Miyuki and Natsumi. Every character has a very distinct personality which all together work very well. I particularly like the character of Natsumi. She's super strong, aggressive, and rough-and-tumble. Miyuki is the quiet intelligent one, with a not-so-secret love of machines and guns.

I would describe the series as a really good Saturday-morning cartoon. Each episode is pretty standalone with a few stories spanning two episodes. Of course there's a real progression of character development and plot over the entire series, unlike U.S. cartoons which are never intended to end or change. It's suitable for very young children as well as adults. In fact, I'd say young children and teens are the prime audience. I found Bokuto's police force very inspirational and I can imagine children wanting to grow up to become policemen and policewomen (there's even a girl that does that in the show).

I enjoyed You're Under Arrest! because of the characters, decent stories, and overall fun attitude with a nice splash of action. There aren't any annoying issues like reused cels or evident budget problems. Very solid production, but not particularly remarkable.

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December 11, 2007

All Over the Guy

All Over the GuyAll Over the Guy is a movie from a few years back that I found a promotional copy for at Netflix. Sounded a little interesting from the tagline: 4 friends, 3 guys, 2 couples &emdash; You Do The Math. (I guess it ended up with a different tagline later on.) It's a simple story about love and relationships, but with very complicated characters. The characters are what makes this movie worth anything, but I suppose anyone interested in this type of movie would already be looking at it from that angle. So while I found it interesting to watch, I don't think it's particularly great.

The four friends in the movie are played by Dan Bucatinsky, Richard Ruccolo, Sasha Alexander, and Adam Goldberg. Richard's character, Tom, is the one that I found most engaging and as a result felt the film focused most on, even though the screen time is probably fairly equally distributed with Dan's character, Eli. Eli's sort of messed up but in a sort of wishy-washy way. Tom's character is messed up in a weird mental-complex sort of way, which is what makes him unpredictable and frustrating but someone you want to see turn out okay and happy.

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December 8, 2007

The Day of the Triffids

The Day of the TriffidsBBC's 1981 television adaptation of The Day of the Triffids was available as a freebie at Netflix so I picked it up. I really didn't know anything about it, but I knew that it falls under the category of sci-fi cult classic. I figured it would look old, but still be interesting and worth watching for its cultural value.

Triffids are a plant-animal that sting animals and then eat them, much like spiders or insect-eating plants do in reality. Only Triffids seem to possess some mediocre level of intelligence and can move around. When an unexplained astral phenomenon leaves most of the human race blind, the Triffids start having a free lunch. Conveniently, there's no explanation for where Triffids came from (they are a magically introduced new species) or the astral phenomenon either.

The statements I later saw comparing it to 28 Days Later are apt. However, I really liked 28 Days Later and felt let down by The Day of the Triffids. What I didn't like about this TV series was that there wasn't a whole lot of direction. I've been led to understand that is how the novel was as well, but I felt for the time involved something more should be accomplished. The ending left things a little too open as well. The screeching music could be very annoying too.

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November 30, 2007

Ratatouille

RatatouilleLuna and I have both wanted to watch Ratatouille since we first saw the trailer. This is Pixar's latest film, and was directed by Brad Bird. We watched it with my parents because they were here helping us fix up the backyard.

I really liked it. There was a lot of fun stuff in there, and of course it's a movie that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Although the main character of the story is a rat, the human characters also play a large role and look very similar to the style used in The Incredibles. I was sort of hoping the people would look more realistic, or have some more texture to them.

I always like to try and find the new technological advances that Pixar put into their films. Each film usually adds something new but subtle. I think there were two things they worked on specifically for Ratatouille: reflections and crowds. A lot of action takes place in the restaurant kitchen, and that means pots and pans and lots of shiny surfaces reflecting all over the place. It was not focused on, but I think a lot of attention went into making sure those reflections looked real and were accurate. And a lot of action involves lots and lots of rats. In previous films, the crowds were composed of individuals that pretty much did the same thing (e.g. A Bug's Life or Finding Nemo). In Ratatouille, each individual is doing something unique and independent. There was one scene that was particularly nice involving all of the rats in the kitchen.

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November 25, 2007

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

High-energy excitement. That's how I would explain the contemporary film adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Unlike the earlier BBC attempt, which may go down in history as one of the most disappointing adaptations of all time, this version comes with good actors, a good screenplay, and the budget and production quality this book deserves. Complete with rodent overlords.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThe movie captures very well the characters created by Douglas Adams. I thought the actor choices were apt, especially for Marvin who truly comes across as a depressed robot. Alan Rickman is just the perfect voice for that role. The only thing I found a little disappointing was the way Zephod's twin heads was done. It's certainly a lot better than a fake rubber head perched on the actor's shoulder, but it didn't play that much of a role in the film; you could have simply ignored that aspect of his character for the most part.

I did feel a little weird that the story and plot elements of the film didn't match up with how I remembered the book, and Wikipedia points out that I wasn't just imagining things. I think the movie is very good, but I wonder if I would have liked it better if it held closer to the original story. It's hard to say, because on its own this version of the movie is very strong.

The visuals and costumes were very good. I particularly liked the construction of Earth. That visual sequence was vast and contained some of the best exhibitions of natural beauty found on Earth. And the way it was put together looked believable, even if at the time I was thinking to myself how it wouldn't hold up to scientific analysis. :p

THGttG is considered an excellent subwoofer test, and I have to agree. The sound production is great. Very immersive and unique with great sound effects that are fun but fit right in. And completely full spectrum without holding anything back. The grilles on the top of my subwoofers got pushed off by the driver excursion which tells me this is the first movie that has actually driving my subs close to their limit. I plan to address that problem soon.

I'm sure real fans of Douglas Adams works are going to find a number of nits to pick about the movie, but I really enjoyed it and would watch it again.

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Herman USA

Herman USA is a quaint film inspired by the true story of a sort of dating-event that was organized by the town of Herman, Minnesota. I haven't looked into the actual events, but in the film Herman is dying out because women are leaving and the men that stay behind are getting older and more desperate for love. One of the town leaders has the idea of hosting a festival with the specific intent of attracting women looking for love. The media attention predictably launches the event to unexpected heights and thousands of women descend upon Herman.

From there, the movie becomes a story about finding real love during and after a crazy weekend and a showcase of the human side of things. These are believable characters, in a situation that will easily resonate with many people. However, it's not a movie that's going to leave you feeling like you've just finished watching a work or art or like you are witness to an amazing event. It is in the end a simple story with a simple but heart-felt meaning to it, and will be an enjoyable experience for people who like that kind of movie.

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November 23, 2007

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle - Sophie and CalciferHowl's Moving Castle is Studio Ghibli's latest production directed by Hayao Miyazaki, although based off the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. It's a great movie, and Miyazaki's movies generally are, but I didn't think it was as good as some of his previous works.

From a visual and aural perspective, Howl's is very well done. It's detailed and lush and there are really great themes running throughout the film. But it is not the visual feast of Spirited Away, or the aural feast of Princess Mononoke. And the story is a little simpler than either of those. It focuses upon Sophie, a young girl who doesn't really know what why she is there or what she means to herself, and her relationship with Howl, a wizard who reputedly eats young girls' hearts as he travels around in his giant steampunk walking castle. Over time, Sophie finds purpose and love in herself and her relationship with Howl.

I guess Howl is a little more of a pure children's story than the Miyazaki other movies I mentioned above. Perhaps that is why I don't like it as much, even though it is a great film. It lacks the layers and emotional intensity I really love.

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November 22, 2007

Macross

Macross, or The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, is one of the most famous anime series of all time. There are several television seasons and movies produced in this universe, and it is the inspiration for Robotech. It is one of the first examples of anime mecha shows, and a fan favorite for many reasons.

I'd never watched it before, but as one of the anime classics I thought I should. After watching the series, I can see why it resonated so strongly with children and fans of anime at the time, but in truth I found it to be disappointing in more than a few ways. Macross certainly has a very interesting story revolving around war and love, in a very complicated and all too human manner. That part I think was very well written. Unfortunately a combination of insufficient funding, poorly done or rushed animation, and dated character designs marred the production. There were two whole episodes that consisted of flashback material, which is usually an indication of funding or time problems, and certainly unwelcome distractions when watching the series. A number of times the animation was actually quite bad, with unnatural character movement or inconsistent drawing. And it's quite clear exactly what time period the characters come from, despite the science-fiction setting, because of their clothing and hair styles. This was also reflected in the opening theme song.

A lot of people do like the art style of Macross, which you can find in many other animes. I've never been a particular fan of this style myself, but at least usually it doesn't come across as a negative. This time it did though, because of all the problems with how it was drawn and how I kept thinking the people look like they're from the 70's or early 80's.

The idea of the Zentradi and how the human must combat this threat is quite interesting. The contrast between these two races provided a lot of fertile ground for the plot and philosophical ideas about men and women, social mores, and attitudes about war and the enemy. This story arc, and that of the love interests during the course of the series, are easily the most enjoyable aspects of the series.

Overall, I found some parts of the series enjoyable but at times the poor quality made me feel pretty disappointed in it. So there was sort of a roller coaster ride between disappointment and enjoyment throughout. In the end, I'm not particularly wanting to watch more in the series, although I sort of wonder exactly what will happen to the characters.

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November 19, 2007

Transformers

TransformersTransformers is excellent, even if it was directed by Michael Bay. Possibly because he poked some fun at himself and displayed some restraint for sappy clichés and relationship scenes. Instead, we've got awesome Transformer-esque lines like "there's more than meets the eye to you" and Bumblebee playing back songs that are really amusing for what he's trying to convey. I guess if you've got all of that material to work with and can leave out the relationship scenes that take over the screen, you've got gold. "This is easily a hundred times cooler than Armageddon... I swear to god!"

There are really only two human characters that have large roles: Sam Witwickey played by Shia LaBeouf and Mikaela Banes played by Megan Fox. They both give excellent performances, but it's also very important that they're the only human characters that matter, because you can follow them very closely throughout the story and they're of an age group that just about everyone can identify with. Old enough for young kids to look forward to those days, and young enough for everyone else to remember and appreciate who they are.

The rest of the human characters are really supporting cast for Sam, Mikaela, the Autobots and Decepticons. And of course it's really the Transformers that steal the show. They've got the four that really matter: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron, and Starscream. I can't remember the others, so they're not important. :p Truthfully, though, most of the Transformers don't have significant roles. The only exception is Bumblebee, and he can't actually talk until much later in the movie so his role is primarily used to facilitate the plot. What the Transformers are great at is being giant robots and are just super cool to watch.

The amount of detail and special effects that went into the Transformers is excellent. They've preserved the original transformation sound of the cartoon, and made the actual transformation process really amazing, with lots of detail and exposed lines and components. Technically, while there appears to be a lot of movement to their transformations, I think that's more an artifact of the complexity of the models, rather than the complexity of the transformation animations. But sometimes those animations are given extra attention when they're going to be the focus on screen. If you're going to do giant transforming robots that fight, you can't do much better than this.

With excellent visuals you need excellent aural support. And Transformers doesn't disappoint there either. There are full-range sound effects that are excellent with a really well done score and songs that keep your blood pumping and the pace quick and engaging. This isn't a movie where watching it a second time you might be tempted to skip over some parts, hoping to get to the next cool scene. (Well, there might be a few, but even then there's enough going on to keep your eyes happy that you won't want to.) Of course the audio track includes massive bass lines, for all those ground-smashing action sequences, but it also includes amazing use of the upper octaves to create a really full sound.

If there is one complaint I have about the film, it's the editing. There were a few cuts where it didn't really look like the different takes were meant to sit next to each other. Either that there was something in-between missing, or the two sides of the scene or conversation took place at different times, or with different people, and were then slapped together. Still, that's a small complaint and not one that detracts a whole lot from the movie.

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Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3Spider-Man 3 is just as good as the other Spidey movies, in my opinion. I know some people were disappointed with it, and with Venom, but I really liked it. I don't really remember what role Venom played in the comics; it was a long time ago when I read the ones with Venom. But from what I can remember it is relatively faithful to the original characteristics, although of course the plot is changed for the purpose of the movie.

Tobey Maguire portrayed his descent into hedonism very well, although I am not really sure how that all worked out in the end without him going into real details on the situation with Mary Jane. That part was conveniently left out of the movie. I do think some of the criticism over the shallowness of Sandman's story is valid though. His character is given a backstory and personal motivations which are never brought to conclusion. But Topher Grace as Eddie Brock, Peter Parker's rival at the Daily Bugle, was an inspired choice. Not only does he bear a disconcerting physical resemblance to Tobey Maguire, but he carries the same sort of personality as well. I thought this really helped place him opposite Peter Parker.

The cool things about Spider-Man 3 are the action sequences and special effects, and I was not disappointed in either of those areas. There are some really cool aerial fight sequences, and the special effects for Venom and the Sandman are spectacular. Another aspect that might be easily overlooked is the makeup for Peter Parker. As he falls farther and farther from grace, the ugliness of his inner self begins to reflect itself upon his outer self. It's subtle, but very effective and well done.

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November 18, 2007

Gattaca: Today

Gem DNA by Paul ThiessenI just came across a Wired article about 23andMe, who will decode your genetic sequence for a mere $1000. After submitting a sample of your saliva, your genotype data will be available for you to view on their web site. This isn't exactly the same as the early scene in Gattaca where upon being born, Jerome is given specific probabilities for certain diseases and health problems, but it's close. Based on the latest research into genetic influence on physical, mental, and health characteristics, you can see if there is some likelihood you might want to pay attention to certain things. You can also see how genetically similar you might be to other people in general.

deCODEme is another service that does the same thing, for about the same price. I'm not particularly sure if there is any difference in these services. Technically, they should be able to deduce and tell you the same thing, at which point it just comes down to price, but more than that privacy and the user experience. Privacy is going to be the most important, because as seen in Gattaca, it will all be about the protections in place and attitudes we adopt that determine what happens with this new capability.

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November 12, 2007

Apocalypto

ApocalyptoApocalypto is Mel Gibson's latest film, about a tribe that finds themselves hunted by Mayans. Many are killed. The women are raped. The children are left to die. And the rest are tied up and led to a fate unknown at forced march. The movie then follows the efforts of Jaguar Paw, one of the villagers who was captured, as he witnesses the cruelty and viciousness of his captors on their journey, and then his escape and revenge.

A lot of the movie is cliché or at least predictable: the repetition of a "wise" saying, the replay of some activity or behavior that was seen earlier, or the fulfillment of prophecy told by one who is afflicted. I found myself being disappointed whenever these simple-minded behaviors or plot devices were used because they distracted from the beautiful setting of the film.

The film was shot in lush forests full of life and amazing sounds and sights. The actors were chosen to closely resemble what people of that ethnicity and time probably looked like. And all dialogue is in the native language, which adds to its authenticity and really helps convey the time, the culture, and the people. I think that's probably what I really liked most about the film; it transported me to a place in history.

However, I found the violence in Apocalypto a little harder to stomach. It wasn't that things were particularly cruel, like what I've seen in some other films. It's mostly that instead of people being wounded or dying by a sword through the gut, or an arrow in the back, people died by having parts of their skull scraped off, or being bludgeoned to death, or arrows through the back of their head. There was a lot of it, and it was graphic and blasé at the same time.

It's a little hard to watch a movie like this and forget that it was made by Mel Gibson. Recent events have made it clear what his personal feelings are about certain things, and one can't help but wonder if there are ulterior or subconscious motives at work in the portrayal of the Mayans. Still, this is an exciting action movie, as long as you're not looking for a deep plot.

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November 11, 2007

Settlers of Catan and The Crazy Stone

Crazy StoneTonight was originally a movie night, but Mitch and Tintin had to cancel which prompted Wendy to ask if we could have a game night instead; she said she was movied-out. So it ended up Wendy, Brian, Matt, Ling, and Thomas showed up, but I was a little annoyed because everything came together so haphazardly. For starters, Brian asked if we had any coupons to get food after I IM'ed him that morning, and I thought we had confirmed going to King Buffet at 7pm; that Matt and Ling would be carpooling with Wendy and Brian; and that Thomas was not coming because he never replied to the mailing list and Brian said not to count him in. Brian did say he would call back if that changed, but I missed his calls and didn't see any of Wendy's IMs (which ended up on my work computer).

With me, things aren't going to go very well with last minute changes or decisions because I am not easy to reach when I am home. I also rarely like to do things on short notice. Anyway, what happened is Luna and I drove to King Buffet and it was only after we were there for a while that I discovered Wendy's voice mail. We ended up ordering from Golden House Chinese and picked up on the way home to meet Wendy and Brian to eat. Matt and Ling would show up later, because they already ate, and I didn't even know Thomas was coming until later.

Regardless, we played a Seafarers scenario of Settlers of Catan. Wendy and Brian played as a team. I ended up getting trapped into a corner very early in the game because I took a risk on more resources rather than ensuring I could not get trapped. So it became a very tough game for me to enjoy. Luna had a lot of fun though, because she kept exploring. The rest of the players thought she was far ahead because she explored so far, but she wasn't building anything which would hurt her later. Wendy and Brian ended up having enough room to build a little on the mainland while maintaining the resources needed to explore out and establish themselves on another island. That, with their development card victory points, won them the game.

Afterwards, we watched Crazy Stone because Luna really wanted to watch it and kept talking about it all night. Wendy and Brian ended up staying, I think, just because Luna was so enthusiastic about it. They were really tired though, and left before it finished because Wendy was falling asleep. I thought it was okay; I don't like that kind of humor so much and found the way it was cut a little disorienting. Matt thought it was very funny though.

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October 30, 2007

The Warrior

I don't really recall what prompted me to put The Warrior onto my queue, but it does star Ziyi Zhang which is a good sign. Unfortunately, I found the movie to be a bit boring. It tells the tale of a group of Korean soldiers who are trying to find their way back home from China through the desert, during a time when the Mongols in the North are fighting the Emperor of China (I think). Ziyi Zhang plays a princess who the Mongols have captured, and the Korean soldiers take it upon themselves to try and rescue her. What follows is a bloody battle where hundreds of soldiers on both sides die for the sake of the princess, who is understandably upset about this fact. "The Warrior" is one of the Korean soldiers who she finds herself attracted to, because of his skill and strength of character.

You can tell a lot of money was spent creating this film, with sets in the desert and other remote locations, costumes, the somewhat large-scale battles, and all of the sets. There are decent characters among the Korean soldiers, but Ziyi's character is probably the most interesting of them all because she changes over time, and plays such an active and important role in what happens and the actions of the soldiers that have rescued her.

Despite all that, I don't feel like I really got anything out of the movie, and the ending leaves a lot to be desired. It almost feels like a lost cause, where despite everything that has been done, the losses greatly outweigh the gains.

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October 28, 2007

Nurse Betty

Nurse BettyNurse Betty isn't the kind of movie I'd pay to see in a theater (not that I'd really pay to see things in the theater) or spend money on in general, but another Hollywood Video was closing and it was only $2.50. I knew enough about the movie to think it would be funny, especially since Renée Zellweger is such a good actress. And I figured it would be the type of movie Luna would like, because it would be a little whimsical sort of dark comedy.

Well, Renée Zellweger did a great job acting in this film. She came across as a totally believable and clueless woman in search of her true (imaginary) love. It really helps to approach this film without knowing anything about the story or what to expect, because it takes interesting little turns liberally sprinkled with doses of comedic gold. Luna and I both laughed out loud many times during the movie.

I could see myself watching this movie again, next time I want to see something funny or someone asks to watch something funny. We don't have many comedies on our shelf, and this is one of the better ones you could choose to have in your collection.

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The Craft

The CraftI really like The Craft. I've seen it before, and the image of Fairuza Balk's character has always been with me since then. She's so purely goth. The other characters don't really interest me as much, although it's Sarah, played by Rachel True, who is the main character and good witch in the film. The basic story shows the four girls, outcasts at school, forming a coven and invoking the spirit but then abusing the power. Sarah must do something to escape the wrath of her cohorts when she tries to leave the coven.

It's really the characters that I like best about this film. They're dark, sexy, and fiercely independent. They're the outcasts, who don't let the world get to them and find companionship and support in each other to overcome the things that oppose them. Unfortunately, Nancy (Fairuza Balk's character) has lived with pain in her heart for so long that the pain consumes her, and she lashes out. But that's why she's so interesting, and alluring. Rachel is very plain, and simple in comparison.

Overall it's a fairly straight-forward and formulaic in some sense, but I still find it entertaining to watch and a slightly thrilling ride.

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October 22, 2007

1408: Theatrical Version

14081408 is the film adaptation of a Stephen King story about a ghost debunker who finally meets his match when he stays one night in room 1408 of the Dolphin hotel in New York City. Played by John Cusack, the main character Mike Enslin gets trapped in this room, where paranormal activity starts torturing him. The room is clearly out to drive him crazy or to suicide, and there's a one hour countdown to it. The movie follows Cusack's attempts to escape and survive, physically as well as mentally, the impossible things that the room throws at him.

And I think that's actually where I was left behind. I'm not so interested in seeing how the character deals with situations that are obviously not real. You might say he's in a parallel universe, or what happens in that room doesn't extend beyond the walls, or Enslin is just going crazy. But it's just one thing after another shown to the audience in a discomforting and disconcerting way. I think Cusack did a great job acting, but in this movie I didn't really care about that, although it was necessary otherwise the events would not be as believable. He is basically the only actor in the film, as the majority of time is spent inside the room.

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The Devil's Backbone

The Devil's BackboneThe Devil's Backbone is a ghost story by the same director as Pan's Labyrinth. Set some time during the Spanish Civil War (Guillermo del Toro must like that time period), it tells the story of a ghost that is haunting a boy's orphanage far from the nearest town. The opening scene shows that a boy somehow died a violent death, and now his ghost appears to want something from the other boys at the orphanage. The adult characters are in slightly dysfunctional relationships, and strange things begin to unfold as one of them makes a play for money.

The beginning of the movie was a little creepy, because there were a number of times when the ghost appeared to be hunting the other boys. However, later one it's not as creepy as the main focus shifts onto the actions of the living, and the ghost starts playing a minor role. I found myself interested in seeing what would happen next, but not by much.

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October 20, 2007

Night Watch and Vampire Effect (The Twins Effect)

We hosted a pretty big movie night tonight, and as it turned out it was sort of good that Wendy and Brian had to cancel at the last minute because we used up all the seats as is. Matt and Ling showed up a little late, and Mitch and his wife showed up for the first time. Tintin, Thomas, and Greg filled the rest of it out. We had two XL pizzas from Round Table because I had some coupons from the raffle I entered for Anthony's son's school Halloween party.

Night WatchThe first movie we watched was picked in a sort of democratic fashion. Even though it was supposed to be a scary movie night, a lot of people didn't really want to watch something that scary. So our first movie was Night Watch, a Russian film about good vampires versus evil vampires. It's a strange film, because the world of these vampires is a little kooky, rather than dramatic and beautiful. Their cars have jet engines on them and the bad guy boss plays video games while directing his minions. It looked a little low budget as well, and the storyline wasn't all that deep. Tintin liked it, but I thought it was just okay.

Vampire EffectGreg, and Mitch and his wife left at that point, because they all had things to do the next morning. But the rest of us watched a second movie, Chin Gei Bin, which is primarily sold as starring the pop duo of Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung, with a cameo of Jackie Chan. Jackie Chan actually shows up for more than a cameo, and Karen Mok also makes an appearance which was pretty cool. I liked this film because it didn't take itself too seriously and was just a lot of fun. The action scenes are over the top but cool and exciting. The jokes flow freely and they aren't afraid to poke fun at themselves. And there's a odd-couple love story that makes things interesting. Ling told us afterwards that all of the subtitles were completely made up though. I've put the sequel, The Twins Effect 2, onto my queue. :)

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October 19, 2007

Interlude

InterludeInterlude is an amazing science fiction three-episode OVA about a high school boy who finds himself falling into a parallel world involving shadow creatures and where the people he knows don't seem to exist. A mysterious girl appears to him in this parallel world, and seeing her is the catalyst that causes him to question his sanity and his existence. He is tormented by dreams and visions of tragedy, where his oldest and best friend, Tama, lies dying in his arms.

The three episodes break the story down into three parts. I don't want to go into detail, because that would ruin the mental exploration that you are forced to go through as the story unfolds and things are revealed, but I found the journey and its conclusion to be immensely satisfying. It's a story about oneself and the obligations, guilt, and love that we all internally demand of ourselves. In the end, it's up to each person to find his or her own peace and the ability to move forward with hope despite the overwhelming despair that we perceive around us.

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October 18, 2007

The Dark Crystal

The Dark CrystalSamir's mentioned The Dark Crystal several times as a great fantasy adventure movie. It was released in 1982 and created by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, perhaps the most famous of all puppeteers, as an unprecedented collaborative work. It tells the story about the crystal, which cracked 1000 years ago, plunging the land into chaos. The Gelfling Jen must go on a journey to return the shard to the crystal before the three suns are in convergence, or the land will forever remain in darkness.

The thing that struck me right away is the way the puppets do not move like puppets, much, and the shots (some of which involve blue-screening) do not hide parts of the puppets. Normally the bottom half of the puppets are hidden if they are being manipulated by stiff wires from below, or there are strings from above that make them move in a floppy manner. Even the facial movements seem to be like that of claymation, although not as expressive as it would have been if that was true.

The Dark Crystal is a great fantasy tale, but it's very simple as well. The simplicity and lack of real story development is what disappointed me. This would be a great film for children under the age of ten, but if you're looking for a fantasy story that is really engaging and challenges the mental processes of the protagonist and the viewer, you might want to look elsewhere.

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October 16, 2007

Rendition

RenditionI got tickets to a pre-release screening of Rendition from Samit who couldn't make it. Rendition releases nationwide this Friday, and is a movie about the U.S. practice of extraordinary rendition with an all-star cast. Unfortunately, although I think the story is there, it doesn't have enough time to really explore the subject and its political agenda is blatantly clear, rather than one that forms in the mind of the viewer through the story and characters. I think it could have done more justice to the topic if the movie was an hour longer, and if the director had not chosen to create a "smart" ending that pushes aside the real point of the film and also happens to make the plot nonsensical.

The negative consequences of the practice of rendition are only exposed through the actions of Khalid El-Emin and Fatima Fawal but the movie depicts the horrors of rendition through the character of Anwar El-Ibrahimi. This presents a real disconnect, because Anwar is the one who the audience identifies with as the innocent and tortured, and as an American. Khalid is a foreigner who displays anger at the world he is living in. The consequences and long-term impact upon Anwar, his family, and the people involved in his detention, are not explored. Yet those are some of the most important political and moral problems associated with this practice.

I also don't think this movie is going to be able to change anyone's existing opinions on the practice of extraordinary rendition. It was fairly clear that the audience majority at the theater was against the practice. Despite this, I felt it was not always an emotional opposition, but for some only an objective opposition; the movie includes some attempts at lightening the mood (which I think is a mistake) and the laughter is something I could not participate in. Luna did not particularly like the movie because it is just a reminder to her of the bad things that are going on, which she doesn't want to see.

Anyone that agrees with the argument of necessity will attack the movie for having such a clear agenda and declare the film a fictional story that is not representative of the truth. And even if they can get past there, the movie does not require such a person to reach an internal conflict in their thought processes to force them to question their own beliefs. That's an extremely hard thing to do, and you can't do it with rhetoric as the movie attempts to do.

Lastly, I was disappointed with the ending. You go through the film being constantly subjected to the dilemmas of extraordinary rendition, and then the ending suddenly requires you to shift gears and try and figure out exactly what happened. And in doing so, you are forced to leave the theater thinking about that, instead of thinking about the real subject matter. Plus, if you actually think it through, the plot as presented is not congruent with the ending, and to some degree it would appear the consequences no longer torment those involved.

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October 13, 2007

Battle Royale II

Battle Royale III wasn't planning to watch it, because I'd heard it wasn't much of a movie, but Luna rented Battle Royale II because she wanted to watch it. I thought the first movie was brilliant. Unfortunately, the sequel really doesn't make any sense and has no purpose to it. It's just a violent mash-up of teens with guns and insane adults with guns, justified by superficial motivations and excuses. There's a lame attempt at a political message, but it's completely an afterthought that doesn't actually have much influence on the plot.

In Battle Royale II, Shuya Nanahara leads a terrorist organization called The Wild Seven from an island off the coast of Japan (which for some reason the Japanese government does not want to simply bomb to oblivion). This time the students are kidnapped for a new Battle Royale where the purpose is to storm the island and kill Nanahara. Their landing looks like a small reenactment of World War II. About a third of the students die before you even recognize their faces. The Wild Seven claims to be fighting all adults, for having created a world where children cannot live in happiness and specifically Japanese children. Apparently blowing up downtown Tokyo is the method by which this will be accomplished, despite there being lots of Japanese children in Tokyo.

The Battle Royale II Wikipedia entry has a little bit of analysis of the political message that is supposed to be conveyed by the film. But the contrived plot (Nanahara has heavy artillery, why didn't he shoot down the helicopter instead of trying to swat flies on the beach?) and lack of character development makes it pointless. And in the end, nothing was accomplished other than a lot of people died for no good reason. Only this time, it was because of Shuya they died. The corrupt government and adults of the world are certainly doing bad things but Shuya hasn't done anything better.

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October 12, 2007

The Pursuit of Happyness

The Pursuit of HappynessI remember seeing a trailer for The Pursuit of Happyness a while back, and thinking it must be an excellent film. Will Smith is an amazing actor who happens to be a real person and who has the ability to portray a real person, unlike many other actors. The story sounded inspirational, and very well done. That turned out to be true, and I really liked this movie.

Although not entirely accurate, the film is extremely close to the real life story of Christopher Gardner, who transformed his life from that of a homeless single father to that of financial security and independence, by pursuing his dream while never giving up on his son. Twenty years later, the real Chris Gardner is an extremely successful man, who pursued and obtained happiness, and is enjoying life.

The two main characters of the film are Chris Gardner and his son, Christopher, played by Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith respectively. Both of them give outstanding performances, although Jaden probably didn't have to act as anything other than himself for most scenes. I thought it was an amazing display of ability how Will Smith portrays such a devoted and caring father who sometimes loses it when he's faced with the loss of his son, or the inability to care for his family, and the stress and uncertainty of it all gets to him. When frantic, he can't help but lash out at those around him, even at his son. Jaden has a few great acting scenes at those times, which I'm sure must have been very strange to him since I'm sure his father doesn't act that way in real life.

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October 9, 2007

Vandread

VandreadVandread is a two season anime series (the second season is called The Second Stage) of 13 episodes each. Despite being two seasons, the plot takes places across the two evenly, so it's really like one season of 26 episodes. The initial premise is very amusing: a world of men at war with a world of women. Each side has no realistic concept of the other sex, and reproduces artificially. In fact, men are indoctrinated to see women as barbaric ugly monsters that will eat their insides, and women to see men as disgusting egotistical creatures. When they are forced to meet, because some female pirates captured a male battleship, they don't even want to touch each other.

That initial conflict begins a very interesting and fun tale of gender exploration and adventure, with a healthy dose of symbolism. Over time, the three male characters and several primary female characters learn to live together, understand each other on an individual level (losing stereotypes and conquering their conditioned fear), and also to complement each other. The symbolism exposes itself through the ways by which the cast finds their lives better and their abilities strengthened when the men and women come together to overcome their problems.

Some of the best parts of the series are the space battles. This is exciting and fast-paced space combat with hundreds of ships on the screen at the time. They really went all out to make it look great both visually and mechanically. I was very glad to see the CG work here does not look sterile; the cel shading is well done. Each battle introduces new twists and challenges, as their enemy adopts new attack vectors. The final battle is immense and really brings things to a climax. I also liked the a number of the regularly repeated melodies. They fit well and helped form the mood and emotions of the scenes.

The only thing I didn't like so much was the regular monologuing of Hibiki, the main male character, about proving his existence. It's a nice idea and one that is central to the thought processes of this series, but I'd rather not get hit over the head with it. Especially since it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be wasting time over that when looking down the barrel of a laser.

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September 29, 2007

Phantom: The Animation

Phantom: The AnimationLuna put Phantom: The Animation onto her queue; I'd never heard about it. It's a three-episode OVA from a few years ago, that's very similar to the storyline of La Femme Nikita, only this time there are two of them. Ein is a young girl who has been brainwashed and now serves as an assassin for someone named Scythe. Zwei was given a choice to become train and become an assassin as well, after having his memories erased.

With nothing else in their lives, Ein and Zwei find meaning in their work and in each other. The chance for redemption and escape is always there, but it's one thing to do that, and another altogether to live a normal life when your talent and mental state is one of murder.

I liked how the emotional aspects of the characters were approached, although there were a few times things were a little too whiny or exaggerated. At least the writers did not make Ein and Zwei crazy-talented gunslingers; their methods of assassination and how they shoot are pretty close to reality, but the enemies are strangely slow to the trigger.

The artwork and CG of Phantom is very good. It's a perfect mixture of clean lines, bold colors, and moody atmosphere. The movements of people and the physics of the environment are excellent. The characters were designed by Koji Watanabe, and I really liked the character design in Phantom.

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September 28, 2007

Blade Runner: The Final Cut Coming Soon

Wired is running an interview with Ridley Scott about a new version of one of the most famous Science Fiction films of all time. Blade Runner: The Final Cut will be released in theaters this October, and on DVD this December (finally someone understands long windows before DVD suck, although I'm sure this time it's motivated by sales research). Scott answers some interesting questions that have been batted around by fans of the film for decades, and talks about why he's been working on The Final Cut.

Superficially it seems like something similar to George Lucas' desire to refresh the original Star Wars Episodes IV-VI, but it looks like Scott's motivation is just to clean it up, so we don't have to worry about stupid changes to the plot or scenes. Wired writes about Scott's efforts:

As the millennium turned, he continued polishing: erasing stray f/x wires, trimming shots originally extended to accommodate the voice-over, even rebuilding a scene in which the stunt double was obvious.

I'm definitely looking forward to this. Blade Runner is one of my favorite films of all time, and was very influential to me growing up. It really defined an entire genre of books, movies, and even video games. I just hope the DVD won't be particularly expensive, and perhaps I'll even be motivated to purchase it in a high-definition format, although that really depends on where things are in the marketplace and DRM as the new year comes around.

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Misaki Chronicles

Misaki ChroniclesI would have watched Misaki Chronicles earlier, having ordered it right after finishing Divergence Eve, but I don't like to watch more than one thing at a time. Misaki Chronicles continues the story of Divergence Eve where it left off, and the first few episodes slowly reveal exactly what is going on, and why. Once the mystery is understood by both the audience and the characters involved (Kiri, Lyar, and later Misaki) then the plot shifts towards trying to solve the mystery, and save themselves and the universe from annihilation.

A lot of Misaki Chronicles is spent revealing Misaki's past and her motivations for joining Watcher's Nest. The plot is really driven forward by Lyar though, which is a little unusual but very effective. You will see a little bit of her background as well, and get to know her character better as she goes on missions to defeat the Ghouls on Earth itself. Suzanna is also brought back into the show, after having become a supporting character in the first season. Some of the questions about Pris and LeBlanc are also answered.

I really liked how Misaki Chronicles took things to a conclusion. As a whole, the two series tell a very interesting story, with a nice mixture of character development and science fiction. Once you learn what's going on, you need to go back and re-examine exactly what you thought you'd seen and learned about Misaki's past and the pasts of the other characters. The end is satisfying, if a little sad, but also with just the right amount of hope. Hope for the future, and for the memory of Misaki too.

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September 26, 2007

Goblin Cat

Bake NekoIt's hard to find a good reference of the three-episode short story Luna and I watched tonight, Bake Neko (Japanese pronunciation). Which is unfortunate because this is an amazing grown up ghost story, done in a very unique and visually appealing manner. It's hard to envision it correctly, from the screen capture shown here, but the art style looks like pencil on paper, with the grain and flat coloring found in some types of older art. This shader caught my attention right away.

Bake Neko is the third story in a series of three, bundled together as a three-disc set titled Ayakashi Japanese Classic Horror. We only watched Bake Neko though; Luna did not put the other two on her queue because she said they're not as good. Bake Neko is about a demon cat (thus the name) who is killing the members of a family with questionable moral fortitude. A travelling medicine peddler happens to be there when the bake neko strikes, and takes on the task of defending the family against the bake neko, while forcing the explanation of why this spirit is holding a grudge.

I think this is a perfect ghost story tale, but not suitable for little children. The nature of the grudge and the events that led up to it, along with the visual depictions, are much closer to authentic Snow White than the Disney Snow White. But I think this is the sort of movie that you will want to share, and watch again with different people.

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September 23, 2007

Madlax

MadlaxMadlax is a more recent anime done by Bee Train, the same people who did Noir. I guess as their sophomore work in this genre, Madlax certainly shows that they've matured. But I think there's still a long way for them to go.

Madlax suffers from some of the same problems that Noir did, such as close-quarters gunfights with unrealistic dramatic emphasis, and a soundtrack that is better but misused. This time the music was pleasing, but it repeated so often and was not used as character themes but instead mood music, that it became tiring. Although you'll probably walk away with it stuck in your head. There is extensive recycling of content again, including as the series comes to a conclusion, which is disappointing.

What Bee Train got right this time, though, is the character development and plot. Madlax is told in a manner similar to some excellent novels, where in the beginning you move back-and-forth between different players whose threads are then brought together as their relationships and roles in the plot are revealed. Sometimes I think this approach works very well, and other times I think it makes you get lost. In Madlax, I think they used the approach successfully. However, I also think they moved too slowly in the beginning. A viewer will need patience and the will to try and piece things together for the first several episodes, otherwise boredom is likely to set in.

I did feel that the ending was a little disappointing. The nature of the conclusion and the connection between Madlax, Margaret, and Laetitia were fulfilling and met my expectations and suspicions, based on things that had been hinted at or revealed before. But I felt the end result was a little bit too close to taking the easy way out, in terms of writing an ending. There was an opportunity to really expose Margaret's innermost desires, and the opportunity wasn't exercised to its fullest potential.

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September 22, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan's LabyrinthWow. Pan's Labyrinth is not what I was expecting. I was thinking some magical fairy tale where a young boy or girl has to overcome personal adversity and go on a journey of self-exploration and wonder, with some nice ending when the quest is accomplished. But that's not what this is. There is magic and personal adversity and a journey of self-exploration and wonder, but it ends with a cruelty that surprised me. It may not surprise you if you come into this film with different expectations. It probably won't shock you, because there is a significant level of cruelty and disillusionment throughout the film.

That is actually part of why this film is a masterpiece. This fantastical tale is not for children. There are two plots running parallel, with the little girl Ofelia trapped between them. On one side, a cruel and vicious captain commands a military occupation while hunting rebels in the woods. This captain is the new step-father of Ofelia, but there is no love between them, and his presence is as a poison to Ofelia and her mother. On the other side is Ofelia's quest to reclaim her crown as princess of the underworld. She must acquire treasures at great personal risk and with great bravery, in order to do so and escape from her unfortunate circumstance. This dichotomy drives everything forward, and produces such a wonderful contrast between hope and despair, innocence and sin.

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September 13, 2007

Origin: Spirits of the Past

Origin: Spirits of the Past DVD CoverI think I got a promo seed packet for Origin: Spirits of the Past from this year's Fanime. I don't know where that seed packet went though. It's a little strange, because I guess Origin was published in the U.S. at the end of last year. But I suppose Fanime is exactly the right place to advertise for a movie like this.

Origin takes place in the future, after mutated plants in a lunar research lab erupted and attacked Earth. Most of the initial damage was due to large chunks of rock that flew off but then the forest began taking over. This isn't explained right at the beginning, but knowing this is not a spoiler. From there, it starts looking like one of the central themes will be man having to choose between cooperation or control over nature.

I really liked this film because it mixes some good, basic ideas, with a decent dose of action and science fiction. It reminded me in a lot of ways of some of the thematic and action films produced by Studio Ghibli, although Origin was produced by Gonzo and according to Luna a lot of the artists were outsourced to a Chinese firm. It doesn't have as many layers or subtleties as some, but it's got enough for the whole family to enjoy.

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September 10, 2007

Firefly

The Cast of FireflyAfter watching Serenity, I thought I should give the Firefly TV series a second chance, as I liked Serenity but didn't have the full back story. When Firefly first started airing, I didn't get into it because I felt it lacked meaning. I don't think that's why it didn't do very well and ended up getting cancelled, but I've come to look for TV series that are leading somewhere and are designed to have a definite ending rather than an ongoing open plot. And while there is an overarcing plot to Firefly, about River and the men with blue hands, the individual episodes of Firefly are designed to stand alone. So plot-wise, it doesn't really matter if you had seen a previous episode, for the most part.

What Firefly is is an amazing character study. There is a depth to the characters which is very rare in most television shows, and significant character development both within an episode and across episodes. In a lot of ways, it is the kind of character exploration you find in those books that become best sellers or classics. A great deal of attention was given to ensuring the people and world of Firefly seem real and human. And I think they did an excellent job at it.

It also doesn't look like they skimped on any part of the show's production. The costumes and sets and outdoor scenes were completely filled out and felt whole. The feel of things, the dirtiness, and the consistency of environments all fit together perfectly. It's unfortunate the series did not pull in enough viewers and was cancelled prematurely. The unexpected cancellation also means the series did not really come to a conclusion, which Serenity tries to provide.

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September 9, 2007

Tintin & Bottle Rocket

Bottle RocketTintin came over yesterday evening to play a game of Settlers of Catan. We played the basic version, just Tintin, Luna, and me. Tintin didn't pick very good starting locations, which ended up making it very difficult for her to do well. Luna got really lucky with a bunch of rolled elevens and ended up winning by a pretty good margin.

As it happens, Tintin's movie also arrived yesterday and so we ended up watching it after the game. She got Bottle Rocket, a Wes Anderson film starring Owen and Luke Wilson as a couple of reckless friends who don't really know what to do with themselves and end up holding up a bookstore. This is followed by escaping to a motel where the maid becomes a love interest, and then returning to try and pull off one more heist that couldn't have gone more wrong.

If you're familiar with Wes Anderson's quirky sense of humor and movie style, and you like it, then you'll probably like Bottle Rocket. If his movies don't really appeal to you, then it's more of a 50/50 chance as to whether or not you'll think this movie is something special. This was his directorial debut, as well as the acting debut of the two Wilson brothers.

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September 5, 2007

Divergence Eve

Divergence EveGary gave me a $5 coupon to Best Buy the other day, and I had a couple of $2 gift cards from when Luna and I went to one of their special events and filled out a survey. Most of the time, it doesn't make any sense to buy something from brick-and-mortar stores because it's cheaper to order them online, but with $9 in credit I decided it was worth stopping by to take a look at what they had. After talking to Tintin for a while on the phone, comparing prices in the store against prices online, I chose to get Divergence Eve. As it turns out, the price I paid after the coupon and gift cards is about the same as what I would have paid if I ordered online.

But I think it was a pretty decent choice. Superficially the series is about massive fan service, but to be honest I don't think it spends an abnormal amount of time on that. It's more like something that just is, rather than something the storyboarders went out of their way to focus on instead of other things. Of course many people are likely to disagree on that. What I liked about the series is how well thought out the overall plot is, as things are revealed with hints and little backstories, with the protagonist Misaki figuring out what's going on and her role in things. Plus, the series doesn't shy from consequences of the situation or the indifference of some of the players involved.

Misaki and three other cadets, Luxandra, Kiri, and Suzanna, arrive at a some sort of research facility named Watcher's Nest that has been set up around a strange orbital body. Faster-than-light travel is somehow connected with the phenomenon that is occuring at this location, and the four of them are joining the defense forces there to fight an "enemy", the nature of which is classified. Each of them has their own different reasons for leaving Earth behind and pursuing this career, but unfortunately it won't end happily for most of them.

There is extensive use of amateurish-CG for the 3D space craft and outer space visuals. It's amateurish because it has the budget look-and-feel of older 3D CG work, rather than more sophisticated work that is available. As a result, the space structures and ships look flat and fake, and plastic rather than organic and gritty. CG is also used for some of the 2D visuals, which work fine since those are mostly console interfaces or visual displays and not supposed to be physical objects. This sort of cheap mashup of CG and drawn or cel-shaded art always disappoints me. Over time I got used to it, but it's still a let down.

The biggest disappointment, however, was the ending. Throughout the first twelve episodes, things move at a fair pace, although not quickly. During this time, things are slowly revealed. The motivations and different loyalties, and the opening scenes showing backstory, give depth to the plot. Even though there isn't a whole lot of character development other than for Misaki; the time spent on other characters is too little, although not insignificant in their meaning. But in the last episode, everything is suddenly explained outright when it really could have used a few more episodes to try and actually illustrate the situation instead of dictating it, and the ending is conveniently short and without any exploration of the repurcussions.

The only thing I can think of is that Divergence Eve is not supposed to be considered complete. There is a second thirteen-episode series, Misaki Chronicles, which looks like it explores the consequences of Divergence Eve's ending. But in a fun and entertaining way.

Regardless, I enjoyed watching Divergence Eve and have ordered Misaki Chronicles because I want to see what happens next. The series kept me interested in the plot, and I found myself attached to Misaki and really trying to understand how she could get out of this okay, considering what has happened to everyone else. There's also a lot of deeper subtext going on throughout the series which isn't focused on and doesn't need to be picked up in order to understand or enjoy things, but its presence does provide a little more depth.

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September 2, 2007

Paycheck

PaycheckPaycheck is a full-length movie based off a Philip K. Dick short story by the same name. Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite authors, and many of his stories get turned into movies that I like. Paycheck isn't the greatest movie, but I still like the premise and the ideas involved, even if I think the writers failed to create a logically consistent plot. Philip K. Dick might have been a little crazy, but his stories always made sense. The reason the movie's plot doesn't work is because you are shown enough information to know how and why the protagonist, Michael Jennings, comes to his decisions, but that information is inconsistent with what he ends up doing. If you can get past that, then this is a decent action-thriller.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, but the Paycheck movie basically takes the simple and interesting science fiction premise of the short story and builds a longer plot around it. The premise is really something that can be presented in a much shorter time frame, which is why most of the movie is John Woo action. At least it wasn't crazy over-the-top action like some of the other movies he's directed, although there are a few times when things are just a little too convenient. And I won't say Ben Affleck's acting is very good, but I always like seeing Uma Thurman act.

We also discovered something interesting while watching this movie, though. Kiba seemed to really like it. He watched most of it, and the ending, and sat comfortably the whole time to do so. At the climax, when there were lots of explosions with loud noises and bright flashes on the screen, he even got down and went closer to the front, instead of running away like the other cats would do.

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September 1, 2007

Rome: Season Two

Rome: Season TwoWell, season two of Rome is finished. Luna actually watched the last disc without me while I was at work today, so she had to watch it again with me when I got home. There's not a whole lot more to say about this series that I didn't cover in my entry for Rome: Season One. The two series comprise a whole, and it is not as though things change much in the manner, style, or quality between the two. It's unfortunate that the series will not continue; I suppose there wasn't enough viewership of season two in the U.S. to cover the exorbitant costs of its production. Which is a shame since it is such a well done drama.

Season two is slightly shorter than season one at ten episodes instead of tweleve, and follows the rise of Octavian to "first citizen" and the fall of his political rival, Marc Antony. Lucius Vorenus remains cursed after the death of Niobe, but tries to find redemption by his children and meaning in his principles. Titus Pullo's life becomes a tragedy of love, betrayal, and bittersweet conclusion. All in all, and excellent ending to an outstanding series.

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August 31, 2007

M:I:III

Mission: Impossible IIIMission: Impossible III isn't too bad. I really liked the first movie, but the second wasn't particularly great. However M:I:III is a great action movie with a lot of the gadgets that made the first movie fun. It is not as much an espionage movie like the first one though, which is a little disappointing, but if you just want a really exciting action movie then this has you covered. The film was directed by J.J. Abrams who also did one of my favorite TV series, Alias and Ethan Hunt's activities are a lot like those of Sydney Bristow, but with a little more James Bond and a little less Marshall Flinkman. Ving Rhames is back again, and the villian is played by the very villainous Philip Seymour Hoffman. But most of the actors take a back seat to Tom Cruise, except perhaps for Hoffman.

There's nothing particularly amazing about the special effects, action sequences, visuals, or score. Although there are a few times where things were pretty cool, like the helicopter chase or building jump. But J.J. Abrams does what he does best, which is to create a heightened sense of tension and emergency throughout the entire film, with downtime used to forward the plot.

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August 29, 2007

Scary Movie 4

Scary Movie 4And, now Scary Movie 4, which Luna put on her queue. This installment of the parody series takes much of its content from Saw, The Grudge, The Village, and War of the Worlds. Much of the same cast returns for this film directed by David Zucker, including Brenda who mysteriously is alive after having died in a very obvious manner in Scary Movie 3. There are also a couple of self-deprecating cameos by Dr. Phil and Shaquille O'Neal in the beginning which are actually quite good. Still, it is another Scary Movie which means Luna liked it a lot but I didn't so much.

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August 28, 2007

300

300300 was not exactly what I was expecting. I was expecting a historical retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, full of drama, action, historical accuracy, and realism. I guess I should have done a little more reading up on what the movie was, because it was something completely different. It's my own fault though, because anyone who'd bothered to check would have known this. 300 is the movie adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel of the same name, and a very good adapation of it at that. But because it is a very good adaptation, it oozes the Frank Miller style, and is more of a tall tale account of the battle, with outrageous creatuers and larger than life characters.

The movie is quite good, but you should not go into this expecting much of a story or a lot of drama. Characters are archetypical, from King Leonidis to the description of the Spartans to the traitor and Xerces the Great. If you leave this movie thinking those are accurate depictions of the characters and Spartan society, you'll be fooling yourself. (Not that everything described about Sparta was incorrect.) The basic facts about the actual battle, however, are fairly accurate. You can compare the events of the film with those described in the Wikipedia article about the Battle of Thermopylae.

Overall, a very enjoyable movie with outstanding if fantastical visuals and stylized combat and an excellent score. I didn't really like the metal that played a few times as a sort of theme song, but I'm sure most people found it worked very well.

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August 27, 2007

Scary Movie 3

Scary Movie 3After watching Scary Movie 2, Luna wanted us to watch Scary Movie 3 which stars many of the same actors in returning roles and spoofs again many contemporary films like The Matrix, The Ring, and 8 Mile. The thing is, while I know and enjoy pretty much all of the films spoofed in the movie, I didn't laugh out loud while watching it. There were one or two chuckles, but that's about it. It could be that I was super tired, but I still don't think many of the jokes are that funny. They're goofy and slapstick which Luna really liked, but I found myself watching and waiting for something more interesting to happen.

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August 25, 2007

Scary Movie 2

Scary Movie 2Luna watched Scary Movie back in Shanghai, and she thought it was super funny. So we watched Scary Movie 2 tonight. This one in the series spoofs a whole lot of movies, although many of them are short spoofs. The one long-running spoof is of them trapped in the haunted mansion, trying to defeat the ghosts that are sort of trying to kill them but not really. I kind of felt like there were too many little spoofs without anything really funny about the spoofing of those movies. Luna really liked it though. She found some parts really hilarious, and other parts entertaining if they weren't hilarious.

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August 24, 2007

All About Lily Chou-Chou

I'm not going to write a lot about the film All About Lily Chou Chou. I didn't bother to watch the whole thing. Luna picked this movie because it's supposed to be famous and she likes the people in it or something. But the movie just isn't good. The story is boring and slow and it was shot on such a low budget I think a mass-market camcorder was used without anyone in charge of the lighting or anything else. As far as I can tell, the story is about a 14-year-old boy who starts liking the music of some pop star Lily Chou Chou, and starts participating in a fan site. But he's also an idiot who lets a bunch of bullies abuse him all the time.

The only good thing about the film is the music. It's not great, because either it wasn't recorded very well or something else about how the movie was made decreased the quality. You can tell it's missing something that you'd find or a CD. But there are some pieces where I liked it more to close my eyes and listen than to be distracted by the blurry picture on screen.

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Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Wallace & Grommit: Curse of the Were-RabbitMaybe it's because I'd already seen the ending on the airplane, but Wallace & Grommit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit seemed to lack humor. I don't actually think it is because I'd seen the ending. Movies like this, when funny, are supposed to be funny no matter how many times you've watched it. I think it's kind of like how the Mr. Bean shorts are really funny when he's not talking, but then his movie wasn't. It seemed something like that. So I was disappointed that it wasn't as funny as I hoped it would be. Luna didn't like it at all, and even fell asleep in the middle.

If I were to pick the most amusing part of the movie, I'd say it was the little bunnies. Unfortunately, they don't play a large part in the film. Neither, in fact, do Wallace's contraptions. There are contraptions, but they don't actually matter that much and their "contraptionism" doesn't matter that much. There are little jokes and funny things here and there, but I want antics. And there aren't enough antics to go around this time.

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August 23, 2007

You've Got Mail

You've Got MailLuna decided to watch You've Got Mail because the English language lessons she is listening to these days talked about the movie. I guess she wanted to know a little more about what they were referencing so we watched it. To be honest, it was better than I expected it to be, but that's not really saying all that much. I think to a large extent the movie was put together to make money, since it put Tom Hanks back with Meg Ryan for another romantic-comedy-in-the-big-city-between-two-people-who-are-far-apart-but-come-together. In other words, Sleepless in Seattle, also starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. This time, they're both in New York and instead of the radio and snail mail, they exchange email over AOL. The movie was made in 1998, just as AOL was starting to fall apart.

The one thing I did kind of like was how the story captured the difference in personalities a person has in RL as opposed to online. The manner of speaking when you write an email, or communicate in a chat room, is very different than how you would speak to others that you meet in person. Both Hanks and Ryan exhibit this behavior in the film.

If you do watch this movie, the only thing I'd say is be prepared for it to be as realistic as any other romantic comedy. In the end, everything works out romantically, but all the other details are ignored.

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August 22, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than FictionI think Samir is the one that recommended I put Stranger Than Fiction onto my queue. I'm glad I did, because it turned out to be a really wonderful movie. It's intelligent, witty, unique, and kept my attention the entire time. In an interesting way, this film about a book made me really think the way reading a book would, and is a "page turner" in that respect. The film works on a lot of different levels because of how its put together the same way a story would be. Most movies or books of this type are supposed to have some meaning because of the depth of its characters or the plot. But this time the slice of life is presented as an interesting idea by placing you outside the story. And just like Harold Crick, I didn't know if this was going to end up being a tragedy or a comedy.

The beginning of the movie is pretty interesting in its own way. Harold Crick works for the IRS as an auditor. He's probably in his late thirties, and is obsessed with numbers in an autistic sort of way. He counts his steps. He counts the number of tiles on the floor. He always does the same thing, each day, at the exact same time. All of this is explained by the narrator as Harold is introduced to you. But suddenly, Harold can hear the narrator too. And so as Harold's day-to-day routine unravels because he thinks he's gone insane, he meets a woman Ana Pascal who is going to change the way he thinks about life.

Harold is played by Will Ferrell, but this is not a comedic role. It's a serious character, who quite literally belives himself to be a character it someone else's work of literature. It's interesting to imagine how one's life may just be a plot device. A character who was created for a specific purpose, and then discarded once that purpose has been fulfilled. Ferrell does an excellent job, in my opinion, which shows that he can do more than be the goofball.

Ana Pascal is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and I think this is the first time I've seen her in anything. She also does an excellent job with her character. You can really tell what she is thinking, or trying to convey, through the quality of her words and body language. I think she's an intriguing actress, because she doesn't seem to be the kind of woman that gets cast into a leading role. It's almost like she's the person that isn't an actor or actress. She doesn't really look like one, and it doesn't really seem like she's acting. But I suppose that's what it would mean to actually be a great actress.

Anyway, I liked everything about this movie. The story, acting, ideas, music (not remarkable but still very nice), and the precise balance by which you, the audience, is both outside the story and part of it at the same time.

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The Emperor's New Groove

The Emperor's New GrooveThe Emperor's New Groove is several years old, and I've never found it appealing enough to watch. Luna thinks it is funny though, and so we watched it tonight. I just don't think there's a whole lot to the film. It just seems too simple for me. I'm sure it's great for kids though, because it plays just like a Saturday morning cartoon (only longer) and has action, excitement, bad guys who lose and good guys who learn a valuable life lesson in friendship. And I'll admit I did find one or two spots funny, but overall it didn't do anything to surprise me or make me laugh out loud. Too straightforward and the plot predictable. And I also had a really hard time getting the voices of David Spade and Wendie Malick out of my head, having watched them on Just Shoot Me! for so long.

In fact, I didn't think the voice actors were well chosen. David Spade didn't sound right as the Emperor. Something about his voice didn't fit the body. And Wendie Malick doesn't actually sound as young and lively as Chicha looks. Even John Goodman doesn't really fit the body of Pacha; Pacha's more fit than the voice sounds, I think.

The other main attraction of a film like this is the songs. And there really isn't a memorable song during the movie, and I can only vaguely remember two or three songs with singing in them. Other movies of this type, especially Disney movies, have timeless songs that children and adults will remember, even after they've forgotten other things about the movie. Nothing of that sort here.

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August 20, 2007

Robin Hood: Season One

Well, I started watching the first season of BBC's Robin Hood with "modern sensibilities" and I immediately didn't like it. Luna agreed with me that the show was pretty stupid and poorly made. How can you like a show where in the first episode a troope of horses sneak up to within a few meters of a person in the forest, Robin Hood has a sword fight where the primary goal seems to be to perform as many ineffective but flashy moves, and the castle archers can't hit people that are ten feet away? Well, I suppose you could if you really didn't care about any of that. The appeal of these modern sensibilities appears to be mostly a failed attempt at making Old English sound hip. But if you give it a little longer, things actually get better after the fourth or fifth episode.

Although things do get better, that's not to say they become great. Each episode pretty much stands alone with some sort of idea or lesson to be told or illustrated through the actions of Robin Hood and the peasants involved. The badly choreographed fight sequences and focus on flashy presentation are slowly replaced by actual plot and drama, although the plot and drama isn't all that deep or complicated. Still, once that happens the show becomes an acceptable diversion. It won't win any awards for acting, or costumes, or plot, or pretty much anything though. It also becomes a little tiring to see how many excuses the writers have to come up with so the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisborne don't just die, even though Robin Hood has more than ample opportunity to do so.

I do have to say that the first season finale is somewhat satisfying. The situation does actually move forward in the final episodes, with the conflict really coming to a head under the public eye. However, in the last fifteen minutes everything gets fixed up and the world is back to normal (and there's one last incredibly stupid bow and arrow trick just to make you feel dumb again) and ready for another pointless episode when season two begins.

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August 19, 2007

Cypher

CypherI ended up liking the science-fiction thriller Cypher more than I thought I would when it first started out. I think the reason I liked it so much is because the film keeps you guessing, and Jeremy Northam does such a good job at playing a character that has to keep guessing too. The movie opens with Morgan Sullivan, Northam's character, going through a job interview to become an industrial spy. His personality is strange: willful but subdued. As things move forward, it becomes less clear exactly what is going on, who is in control, and who to trust. Sullivan bounces between startling revelations that threaten his life, and somehow has to find a way out.

While the majority of the film focuses on Sullivan, his life-line, so to speak, is his contact Rita Foster, played by Lucy Liu. Sullivan wants to trust Rita, because she's the only one that doesn't seem to be trying to use him. But she's secretive and reportedly works for someone that no one trusts. I think Lucy Liu was a great choice for this role, because she has a certain flair and pulls off the role of secret agent very convincingly.

The CG in this film isn't perfect. It's not bad or poorly done, but it's also not seamless. When CG is used, it's somewhat obvious and I always feel that reflects poorly upon a film. CG should be used to create a reality that is part of the whole, instead of single-shot special effects that suddenly don't fit with the rest of the environment or movie. While my complaint does not apply to every use of CG in the film, I still think it could have been done better.

Still, overall the directing is pretty good and I also think the score works pretty well. This movie isn't a blockbuster and won't become a cult classic either. It lacks a truly unique vision or something new and exciting. It's just a really good thriller.

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Death Trance

Another movie that isn't very good. Death Trance is a no-story, no-sense, beat-em-up action movie that doesn't actually have much to do with death or trances. The premise is simple: there is a coffin which will grant its owner any wish and a few different people who try to get this wish. Of course, the real result of opening the coffin is a little different. Because this film doesn't even try to have any purpose beyond the fighting, there's nothing else to talk about. The combat is highly choreographed stylistic violence, with an emphasis on "coolness" without making sense. The hordes of fist-fodder don't even fight back. There are three really good fighters in the film, and the only time things aren't a one-way beating is when they're fighting each other.

Two little tidbits of note. This is the acting debut of Kentaro Seagal, the son of action star Stephen Seagal, who happens to be asking the FBI for an apology these days. The film features music by Dir en grey, a famous "J-rock" band that seems more heavy metal and industrial than rock to me.

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Midori Days

Midori in her I Love Seiji (for Life) ShirtWhile not great, the anime Midori no Hibi is fun to watch and is in many ways your typial shonen anime with decent amounts of fan service and subtle jokes. Of course, the most obvious joke is the basis of the story: a 17-year-old boy wakes up to find his right hand (which is his fighting hand) has turned into a 16-year-old girl who has had a crush on him for the past three years. Seiji has to learn how to cope with a cheerful girl stuck to him 24/7, when his place in life has so far been very isolated and somber. He has a reputation for being a violent and delinquent punk and portrays that character in public, while inside he secretly longs for a more normal high school life (and a girlfriend). Midori also has two public and private sides to herself. In public, she is extremely shy and unsure of herself. In private, and as Seiji's right hand girl, she's loud, bold, and full of energy.

Midori spinning in her KimonoThere are a few other characters who play important parts during the anime. Seiji's 10-year-old neighbor also has a crush on him, and seems to know more about male and female relationships than should be appropriate. The class president, Ayase, is a super-serious and head-strong student, but tries to show her softer side after finding out what Seiji is really like. Seiji's older sister, Rin, is even "tougher" than Seiji and occassionally has fun beating him up and in general causing him grief.

Midori in Police Woman CosplayI feel like the anime is split into three parts. The first third is probably the funniest, with both Seiji and Midori having to try and figure out how to continue living this way and all of the crazy things they have to do to try and hide the truth from others while discovering truths about each other. The second part is not as fun or interesting to watch though. Some of those episodes felt a little like filler, although in another sense it shows just how familiar Seiji and Midori have become. It's more of a normal part of life at that point. And of course the third part brings everything to conclusion, forcing Seiji and Midori to make their own decisions and grow as a character.

From a technical standpoint, Midori Days is done very well. The art and sound is excellent, which isn't too surprising considering it is only a few years old. There's a certain vibrancy and engaging pace that makes it very easy to watch and keep your attention. Luna watched it too, but doesn't find it interesting except for the funny parts. She doesn't really care about characters or plot, only if there is something hilarious going on. I thought the Japanese voice acting was very good too, and somehow the voice of Midori seems very familiar, but checking the history of Mai Nakahara I haven't seen any of the others. The English ADR is not good though. I wouldn't recommend watching this dubbed.

I suspect if you like the anime, you might like the manga as well. I'm considering whether or not I should get it. Although this really isn't my type of anime or manga, it does seem like it would be an amusing read and one that I might read through more than once.

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August 18, 2007

Kazuo Umezz's Horror Theater

Next in Luna's series of Japanese horror films is the 6-episode Kazuo Umezz's Horror Theater. Each episode is its own short story, about an hour long, and generally focuses on one particular psychological fear or disorder of some sort. If you like a sort of supernatural bent to an issue like that (e.g. dealing with the loss of a loved one, obsession, fear) then you might like this series. However I didn't like it at all. The stories moved slowly, and the scenes were often longer than they should be, ruining the pace of things. The directing appeared amateurish in many cases, resulting in disjoint scene cuts that did not maintain the correct perspective or cheap ways of achieving something. The special effects were pretty cheaply done; you can tell when something is fake because of the stilted movements and unrealistic appearance. The acting was also very inconsistent, but mostly on the low end. And there was no good mood music. A good score could have helped support the stories and compensate a little for the other flaws, but most of the time there was no music. When there was, it was usually wrong.

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August 15, 2007

Whisper of the Heart

Shizuku Tsukishima by Tatsuno HiroyukiWhisper of the Heart, or Mimi wo Sumaseba, is a Studio Ghibli film produced by Hayao Miyazaki (he also wrote the screenplay), but it was directed by Yoshifumi Kondo and is based off a one-volume manga by Aoi Hiiragi. The anime is about a young girl and boy who end up falling in love, with the focus on the girl, Tsukishima, learning things about herself and love. I really liked this film a lot. The story and characters are endearing and fun to watch, and will put a smile on your face.

Tsukishima has an adventurous and bold personality, with just a bit of soft little-girl-femininity. She has a quiet determination, and looks at the world with her own unique perspective. It's a perspective that includes the sort of magic and imagination a young child has, coupled with moving into the world of adolescence. This lets things serve a purpose in many different levels. For example, the Baron could be alive and just pretending to be a statue, and then later on takes on a much deeper meaning for both Tsukishima and Shiro Nishi.

I was a little surprised at the score used during the film, the first time it popped up. It's not conventional. It has some electronic influences, in a film that doesn't really have that mood. But it works, and after a while it feels right. I think that has a lot to do with the colorful and lively attitude of exploration and excitement than Tsukishima's character portrays.

Among the other Studio Ghibli films, I think Whisper of the Heart is closest in feel to Kiki's Delivery Service. I just thought I would mention that, because this film did remind me of Kiki in a lot of ways.

There's also a nice little reveal during the closing credits, if you watch closely. I thought it was a really nice touch that showed just how much the people involved care about the characters.

(The image is from Tatsuno Hiroyuki's web site, which no longer appears to be available. I pulled it off the Wingsee art page.)

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One Missed Call

One Missed CallLuna's entered another one of her horror movie phases, which means Japanese horror movies. One of her favorites is One Missed Call by famed director Takashi Miike. This movie follows the familiar plot line of a sort of death curse that moves from one person to another, as each person dies. It's up to the one girl who has seen her friends die one by one to figure out how to stop the curse from continuing. In this movie, the victims receive a voicemail from the future, from themselves with a recording of their death. The curse moves onto the next person by following a call from the victim's mobile phone address book.

I didn't like the movie, but for the reasons that fans of the genre would like it. It's creepy without being just one big gore-fest. It features pretty girls trying to escape from their imminent death. You have to try and figure it out as it goes along, and in true Japanese fashion there is some sort of horrible background that is the source of the curse. (American horror films are usually just the result of a psycho.) It moves a little slowly though. Overall it's just not my taste.

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August 13, 2007

Casino Royale

Casino RoyaleCasino Royale is good. Much better than the couple of Bond movies that came before, this film was directed by Martin Campbell who also did Goldeneye, the last really good Bond film in my opinion. This movie, and Daniel Craig as the new James Bond, is very different from the more recent movies. The overall tone is much darker, and Craig does not play a womanizer or flippant jet-setting secret agent but instead a ruthless agent on a mission. This carries over into everything, and Bond's life really is in danger, unlike previous films where Bond is cool and collected even as sharks or lasers are bearing down. The action is also very exciting. I think the first foot chase of the film might be the best I've ever seen.

Although this film is a remake of Ian Flemming's first Bond novel, it takes place in the year 2006 with all of the technology and political issues of the contemporary world. There is even a direct reference to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The villians in this film are not uber-evil maniacs with enormous but unexplainable financial resources, but instead just "organizations" with interests in something or another that involves violence and things of similar ilk. There are in fact four different plots strung together, with the main one providing the bulk of the movie, but each of which involves a different criminal activity. Although the movie does refer to all of them as terrorist activities, they really aren't by definition.

I did notice something interesting about this Bond film though. There really aren't many women involved, and there is a distinct lack of sexual overtness. The opening theme song is sung by a man and the accompanying sequence does not have any female forms in it. Bond never has sex with a woman as a strategy to turn her or gather information, or even just as recreational movie entertainment. Not to say he doesn't engage in similar tactics, but in this movie his actions are only until the point he has what he wants, and it does not at all appear to be something done out of pleasure. It's just his job.

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August 11, 2007

Rome: Season One

Rome (HBO)HBO has created an amazing historical drama: Rome. Whatever they're doing to figure out how to make original content, they're doing it right. Season one of Rome follows the fall of the Roman republic and rise and then sudden fall of Gaius Julius Caesar, as well as the lives of two soldiers of the 13th legion during that same time. With characters from both the aristocracy and plebian classes, the series presents a really vibrant and wonderfully accurate picture of Roman civilization at the time. Of course many of the specifics of things are pure speculation and dramatization, but I don't think most people are in danger of taking those things at their face value. The only exception being the close relationship between Caesar and the two soldiers, Vorenus and Pullo, when there is no historical knowledge of such a relationship from what I know.

What is amazing is that no expense was spared in the production of this series. The sets are lavishly constructed to exacting detail on such a grand scale. The costumes, dirt, props, clothing, and everything else is realistically rebuilt as well as can be from historical documents. The designers and writers really did their homework, as can be seen from the situations and people and little things in every scene throughout each episode. The full religious influence and social and cultural aspects of Roman civilization reveal themselves all the time. And the actors are outstanding in their portrayal of the same.

It's important to keep in mind that means this show does not flinch from depicting many things that contemporary people would find offensive, disgusting, or even simply foolish. But ridding oneself of an ethnocentric view towards things is one of the best things a person can do. The DVDs come with a special feature "Roads to Rome" which changes the angle and will overlay informational tidbits in a pretty decorative box throughout the show, explaining words, phrases, situations, and other values of the time. Watching with this turned on can be very educational, and maybe even necessary for people who don't already have a background in Roman civilization. I say necessary because otherwise it could be very easy to dismiss things as there for the sake of drama or creative license, or to regard Roman civilization as barbarous when it was one of the most civilized.

I think that's what I really like about the series. It isn't shy about immersing the viewer in true Roman society while giving life to history in a facinating and entertaining way. I'd recommend taking a look at HBO's Rome Revealed presentations which are short introductions to some things Roman. A good starting point, but not really much in depth.

Of course, not everything is covered and there is argument over how Rome presents things. One of the things Luna picked up on was the contradiction between how people in the show seem to engage in sex all the time. Homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, and the nudity of performers and slaves don't match up with the severe stigma associated with adultery. There's also a history of incest in the families of some famous Romans like Caligula and in Rome between Octavian (later the first emperor Augustus) and his sister Octavia. Yet incest was very much taboo back then as it is today. But I think the show does a decent job of depicting how things really were behind closed doors, when the public face of things was very different. It's just that most of the time things are taking place behind closed doors, so it's harder to pick up on those aspects that represent how one must carry themself in public.

For more historical inaccuracies and errors, check out the extensive documentation on the individual episodes listed on Wikipedia. Click on the actual episode title for the information.

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August 6, 2007

Serenity

Serenity Movie Poster (German)I watched the first few episodes of Firefly when it was airing on television, and never really got into it. Sure, it was a decent cowboy space opera, but it didn't seem to be going anywhere in particular. I was never interested in Cowboy Bebop either though. Anyway, there was a ton of hype and excitement about Serenity, especially among the hard-core Firefly fans. And it looked like the kind of movie I would enjoy, so Luna and I watched it last night. I think the movie can be summed up as a really good episode of Firefly with some answers revealed and larger risks exercised. But just like the show, you're still sort of in the same place you started.

If you liked Firefly, I'm sure you'll like Serenity a lot. The movie is very well done, and the only criticism I have is the one I mentioned above where it feels like one episode of an ongoing storyline, only you know the storyline isn't going to reach any real conclusion. The special effects and combat choreography are top notch and blend seamlessly into the overall weave so you never feel like something is there just to show off. Sometimes those things are either focused on too long, or the only thing to look at, which makes the movie suffer. But not here. There also aren't any cheap camera tricks or scene cuts to try and up the excitement artificially.

I should also briefly comment on the sound. The score and sound effects are also very well done, but there isn't anything really memorable here. Some movies will leave you with a theme song or chorus melody that is unforgettable, while others will really impress upon you a aural feeling that will make you remember the movie's audio, even if you can't really explain why. Serenity's sound blends into the movie perfectly as a mood enhancer, but it doesn't do anything else.

Joss Whedon is known for the quality of his screenwriting, and Serenity is no exception. The story is interesting, moves at a good pace, with little twists here and there but also a healthy amount of things being obvious or expected to the viewer, so the casual viewer won't feel like you he doesn't know what's going on. There are two different science-fiction themes running through the movie. The first is the centralized government versus the outer-rim colonies. The second has to do with conspiracy and cover-up of a scientific accident, which is already giving away more than I should but the movie's been out for a while now. These are decent additions to the story, but I would have liked more exploration of them than they could fit into the two hours.

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August 2, 2007

The Prestige

Christian Bale in The PrestigeThe Prestige had some success when it came out, although I think it ran into a little trouble from sounding a lot like The Illusionist which came out at the same time. Regardless, I decided I'd give it a shot since it looked a little interesting. And turns out that it was pretty good. The story revolves around the rivalry of two magicians during the 19th century (looks like to me) who each wants to be the better magician, but whose rivalry is obsessive and dirty after the wife of one dies during a stage accident.

The entire movie works as a magic trick itself, described in the film as three stages: the pledge where the ordinary is shown, the turn where the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and the prestige when the everything is shown to be all right. During the course of the film, you are presented with that same problem. Things are happening which don't really make sense, yet without any explaination for how. Then the how is slowly revealed, and at the very end what you thought happened is shown to not have happened. At least superficially, because just like with a magic trick getting to the last part is where all the real magic is.

This film stars some excellent actors. I've always like Michael Caine, and I think he does an excellent job here as well. Hugh Jackman also does a good job, but I like Christian Bale's performance more. Bale has been acting longer and from a younger age, so perhaps that's not so surprising. I'm also sure a lot of people are happy to see Scarlett Johansson, but I think she's much better in some other films.

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I, Claudius

I, ClaudiusWatching the television series I, Claudius is one of my most memorable moments from high school. Our Latin teacher, Mrs. Stark if I recall correctly, showed us this series as a way of teaching us about both the historical facts as well as the culture and society of the Roman Empire. Luna likes learning about history, so I thought this would be a good thing for her to watch. At first she found it a little boring, because it is a little old and somewhat dry, but after a while she really got into it. The intrigue and drama is very interesting.

The 13-episode series tells the story of the first emperors of Rome, starting with Augustus, then Tiberius, Caligula, and ending with the death of Claudius. It is Claudius who is the narrator of this long story, as the one person who manages to survive the political assassinations during all three of the previous emperors' rule.

Even though Rome was ruled by men, it is really the women and the ability for women to control their emperor that moved the political landscape. Livia, the wife of Augustus, is probably the finest example of this because of her cold heart and calculating nature. One by one, without care for who it is, she removes obstacles from the path of her son Tiberius becoming emperor. But many other women, such as Livilla and Messalina, are just as cruel and conniving.

Of course, there is some dramatic license used in the telling of this story, especially since so many things are not known for sure. But from an educational and historical perspective, I think this is an excellent series. The quality of actors and the sordid facts really brings this part of history to life.

(As a bonus, you can see Patrick Stewart when he still had hair.)

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July 29, 2007

The Great Yokai War

I'm not really sure why Yôkai daisensô was recommended to me, although it does fall into the genre of childrens' fantasy. The story is a very simple stop-the-bad-guy and save-the-world situation, featuring a young boy who has greatness bestowed upon him as the Kirin Rider, defender of the people (although he kind of looks like a girl sometimes). But other than the fantastical costumes, there's not much going for this movie. In fact, the protagonist doesn't even really fight that much; he just holds onto the sword as the sword fights.

The movie does star Luna's favorite Japanese actress, Chiaki Kuriyama, as the servant of the evil guy, but she doesn't do a whole lot in the movie. There's brief fighting, but not a lot of material for her to work with. Sometimes I wonder how she picks which films or television series to star in, as she's very recognizable (at least in the United States) and has a very long filmography, yet doesn't seem to ever play an outstanding role.

The movie is supposed to be a little goofy, and is probably geared towards younger children despite having a MPAA rating of PG-13. This is the sort of stuff I think children would watch when they're ten years old or possibly younger. This is despite being directed by Takashi Miike, who is more well known for his gory, scary films.

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July 22, 2007

Ah! My Goddess

BelldandyThe full 26-episode version of Aa! Megami-sama is a lot better than the stripped down OVA which removes a lot of the plot and character development. The relationship between Keiichi and Belldandy evolves more slowly and naturally, and the supporting cast is introduced slowly and really only as support for the two of them. Whereas I thought the OVA was rushed and incomplete, the TV series was fully fleshed out although later on I felt like things were dragging along in their relationship.

One thing I noticed right away was the improved art quality of the anime. It was produced a few years after the OVA, and recent advancements have been significant, but it was still extremely clean and nice to watch. I did not notice any tearing from deinterlacing artifacts, and the coloring was bright and lively. The opening and closing animations and songs were not that catchy or entertaining though.

Overall I think this is an anime series that well represents the genre. The characters are memorable and the goddess costumes are very distinctive. There are plans for a second season of the series. I'm not entirely sure I will decide to watch it, as this genre of anime doesn't appeal to me that much, but I do think this series falls into the classics category.

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July 16, 2007

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is an independent documentary that looks at how the Motion Picture Association of America rates movies for theatrical release. They have a secret review board whose job it is to evaluate submitted films and make an "average parent" judgement as to its rating. The creater of the documentary, Kirby Dick, makes a pretty good case that the MPAA is applying the personal morals of the people in charge to films, in ways which are sure to please some particular groups, but also hurt the public at large. And because of how those ratings are used, the morals of those individuals really do dictate what can be made and what cannot.

I think really that this film is a good start at exposing how movies (as well as television and video games) are not considered equal intellectual pursuits as books. The same sort of judgemental activity applied towards books is the motivation for Banned Books Week. People seem to recognize that you can't just classify violence as categorically bad, or sex as categorically bad, or even pedophilia as categorically bad. Yet the same intellectual truth disappears when applied to other "relatively young" media.

One great example of this, as pointed out in the film, is the movie Boys Don't Cry. The original submitted version received an NC-17 rating for the sex scene between Brandon Teena and Lara Tisdel. However, the film as a whole is an extremely important film that portrays a real story and discusses a sensitive but timely subject in a very grown up and intellectual way.

Another example is the documentary Gunner Palace, which is a documentary about the soldiers in Baghdad that uses real footage taken as interviews with soldiers and as operational documentation. Of course, given the subject matter, violence, language, and other realities of life and war are fully exposed. This film was given an NC-17 as well, but really is exactly the sort of thing the American public, including children as they are paying attention to world events and politics, should see. The director made a very lucid comment about the silliness of trying to put a rating on reality.

In fact, one thing critics of violence and sex in popular media never allow for is the difference between fantasy and reality. It's always a blanket statement that all children cannot distinguish between the two, when of course it's all individual. Plus, there is the argument that fantasy violence desensitizes people towards real violence. But there are ten-year-olds who can go on gory and realistic frag-fests for hours a day, then get grossed out by a dead rat. While there are fourty-year-olds who can't tell the difference between the two (i.e. they find the fantasy frag-fest as disgusting as the dead rat).

I guess my overal rant is simply about individuals, or groups of people, trying to impose their personal morality upon others. This applies not only toward movie ratings, but also towards other personal moral beliefs like homosexuality or polygamy/polyandry or even less controversial things like social mores. And just as much towards fantasy (as a depiction) violence and sex, the two big flags when it comes time for the MPAA to assign a rating to a movie.

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July 12, 2007

Invader Zim

GazInvader Zim is an amazing Nickelodeon series by comic author Jhonen Vasquez. It's funny, off-the-wall, exciting, and as exaggerated as any children's show full of satirical imagination can be. Pictured here is Gaz, who is the most awesome angsty goth girl you'll ever find. Luna and I laughed a lot. Enough to make you hurt. The show isn't perfect; there are a few times when an episode or sequence lacked that extra spiciness, but overall its excellent.

Zim is an Invader of the Irken military, at least in his mind. As an Invader, he's maniacal, insane, and while technically competent, about as likely to conquer a planet as a shoelace. Havoc is very easily possible, its just conquering that's a problem for him. His sidekick is GIR, a dysfunctional robot slave who has more interest in TV and junk food than in fulfilling their mission.

Zim's archnemesis is Dib, a super-intelligent dweeb who sees Zim as the Invader he is, but lacks the ability to convince anyone else of this fact, despite Zim's inhuman behavior and physical appearance. As the lone defender of Earth against Zim's incompetent invasion, Dib struggles mightily against Zim without once receiving acknowledgement by anyone else. Dib's sister Gaz is the only other person who knows of Zim's true nature, but she's intelligent enough to know Zim's doomed to doom to fail with doom, his doom, and would rather spend time playing video games.

Some episodes are short at about 10 minutes, while others span a couple of episodes clocking in around 40 minutes. There's usually some simple social situation or human characteristic that an episode explodes into a comic force, like teenage acne or avoiding late fees at your local video store. The hilarity of a water balloon the size of Greenland, with a big stylized smiley face on it, is genius.

Besides all of the wonderful content, Zim is outstanding in two other categories as well that aren't often so special for an afternoon television show: art and music.

The majority of artwork is CG and its amazingly good. Lines are bold; figures are animated and vibrant; movement is smooth and appears like what you might expect from a hand-drawn character. The shapes and colors are basic, but filled out to provide depth and texture. The only ugly is the poor deinterlacing or cadence flags that was done during the transfer to DVD.

The music is amazing. This is music you'll want to buy on CD and use as background music or personal theme songs all the time. It's heavily influenced by techno, although extremely well matched to the mood and action, and full of awesome little surprises like the choir of piggies. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the tracks (which are not recycled) are available for purchase.

Lastly, although extremely important, the voice acting is excellent. The tone, pacing, and speech patterns are perfect for each character, sounding realistic but exaggerated enough to make the characters really unique. Zim, in particular, must have been extremely difficult to voice because of his constant tonal and pacing changes. But Richard Horvitz pulled it off amazingly.

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July 3, 2007

MirrorMask

MirrorMaskLuna and I watched MirrorMask last night. Samir had recommended it to me, and I like Neil Gaiman's The Sandman graphic novels (although I didn't like so much his Anansi Boys). MirrorMask is a really fun and interesting fantasy movie about a young girl in England who visits a world of her own creation in a dream, after being forced to deal with the possible loss of her mother who is undergoing surgery that same night. The allegorical aspects of that crisis and her personal desires for a different life extend directly into the dream world, giving her quest and trials personal meaning. However, I wish it could have been treated as a real fantasy world, rather than a dream one.

The protagonist Helena is played by a young actress named Stephanie Leonidas. While I don't think the acting was that great, I think she did a decent job. There were a few times where body language and emotional displays seemed too choreographed and scripted. Unfortunately, that did detract a little from the mood.

The special effects are pretty good though. Not amazing, but very convincing and imaginative in a dreamy way. Overall I really liked it as a fairy tale story about a quest. I don't think it's as good as some other movies in this genre though, because some things just felt a little lacking. I don't like how it was a dream, or how certain things that happened in the dream world were a little too convenient.

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July 2, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End with Karen

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's EndKaren came down to visit us today. It's been a long time since we've seen her. We introduced Nami and Kiba to her, and she had fun playing with them even though she's allergic. Because she played with them, she started sneezing a lot. We'd vacuumed a lot before she came over, so she wouldn't be uncomfortable, but playing with them kind of defeated the purpose. She brought over a couple of movies, but we decided to head out to see Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

We got the to theater a little early. It turns out we were able to use those $5 vouchers I got back from a Century Theaters in North Carolina, even though that was three years ago. Since we were there early, we played around in the arcade. Luna and I tried some shooting games. Karen tried a shooting game one time, but then moved onto pinball.

There weren't a lot of people in the theater. Probably about twenty or thirty. This third intallment of PotC didn't feel as good as the first, or even the second. It's basically a straight continutation of Dead Man's Chest, which was sort of a problem for Karen since she didn't remember the previous movies. The first half of the movie was a little boring to me. I thought they could have done more there to make it a little more exciting. And while I found the climax very exciting, it did leave a lot of unanswered questions. It seemed that all of the pirate ships were destroyed, yet afterwards they weren't. And the issues between Will and Elizabeth aren't really resolved, they just sort of get ignored.

After the movie, it was pretty late so we drove to a Vietnamese place on Capitol Expressway near the Target. They stay open a little later, and have good food for a good price. Apparently Karen's never eaten that kind of Vietnamese food before.

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July 1, 2007

Happy Lesson

Mom-ageddonHappy Lesson that advertised itself into my queue. It's not the type of anime that appeals to me, but after seeing its trailer run on so many DVD previews, and wanting to find something funny to watch, I decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, my initial assessment of this series turned out dead on. The best part about Happy Lesson? The chibi closing animation. I love those chibis.

The basic premise of Happy Lesson is a lesson in happiness for troublemaker student Chitose by five of his teachers who become his self-appointed moms. Chitose's parents died when he was very young, and he grew up in an orphanage. For whatever reason, he returns to his parents home, the only thing left to him, when he enters high school.

The five moms each have very distinct and exaggerated personalities and quirky behavior which is what makes the series fun and endearing. Each episode tends to focus on one mom, or later on one of the other girls who enters Chitose's life, with antics galore. There isn't really any over-arcing storyline, which does mean it ends a little weakly. It doesn't really feel like an ending at all. Of course, there's the second season, Happy Lesson Advance, but that's not available yet. I might decide to check it out, just to see how things go.

There is also a Happy Lesson OVA, which is on the fourth disc. The first episode of the OVA is the same as the first episode of the 13-episode series. So you can skip it. But the second and third episodes are new, and somewhat worth watching. However, the relationships between Chitose and his adopted sisters is completely different, and doesn't match the series. The fourth and fifth episodes are not available in the U.S.

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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.

BreachBreach 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.

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June 24, 2007

The End of Evangelion

End of Evangelion Theatrical PosterI'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.

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June 23, 2007

Little Britain: Season Two

BittySeason 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"!

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June 19, 2007

Dead Leaves

Pandy and RetroI 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.

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June 18, 2007

Little Britain: Season One

The Prime Minister and SebastianAfter 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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June 9, 2007

Wolf's Rain

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.

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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.

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June 5, 2007

100 Girls

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.

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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.

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June 1, 2007

Pulse

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.

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May 29, 2007

Final Yamato

I've been a fan of Leiji Matsumoto's drawing style for his heroines, even though I've never really watched any of his work. The one exception being his work on Interstella 5555, because I picked that up a while ago. I just watched Final Yamato (spoilers), and while I did really like how Yuki was drawn, I don't think the movie was that great. Maybe having watched the last chapter first was the wrong way to approach things, but I think Final Yamato is designed to stand alone while carrying more value for people who have seen the earlier episodes.

Some people really love the Yamato franchise. And it is certainly a grand and epic space opera, from one perspective. But I felt the movie lacked any real purpose. There's a basic plot and the characters feel like fully developed people, although I think there is not a whole lot of actual character development in the film. But it's kind of simple. There are bad guys and the good guys have to stop them from destroying the Earth.

Perhaps for someone who was really into the entire Yamato series, this movie would be a satisfying and proper conclusion. But I couldn't feel anything special about the characters or the final mission of Yamato.

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Napoleon Dynamite

So I've finally gotten around to watching the cult comedy, Napoleon Dynamite. The opening sequence where Napoleon has a little fun with He-Man on the school bus really sets the overall tone of the movie. It's inane yet somehow strangely rewarding. Despite Napoleon's grand loser status, everything works out just fine the way he is. And I think it's great how never once during the movie does Napoleon try to be someone he isn't.

Luna really liked watching Napoleon Dynamite because it's just so silly and full of stupidness. She really likes those kinds of comedies and laughed a lot during the entire movie. Something as simple as getting hit in the face with a piece of steak can have a lot of comedic value, and the actors in this movie can really pull that sort of stuff off. I think primarily because they can play the part of loser so well.

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Zeiram 2

I just watched Zeiramu 2, which I ended up deciding to watch after seeing Iria: Zeiram the Animation. For some reason though, I failed to put the first Zeiramu movie on my queue first. I have to say the live action movies are similar to the animation in almost every way. Meaning it's fine on action but has absolutely no real plot.

In this movie, Iria needs to retrieve some sort of teleporter energy source, and is partnered up with a robot to do so. Although the partnering only lasts for a few minutes and was sort of without Iria's approval. However, the robot goes crazy and ends up targeting Iria and her friends for destruction. The rest of the movie involves fighting off the robot and trying to retrieve the teleporter energy source so they can escape.

Nothing really special about the movie, but some mind find it enjoyable as a dumb, but sort of fun, action movie featuring intergalactic bounty hunter, Iria.

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May 24, 2007

This Ugly Yet Beautiful World

I just finished watching This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, and ended up liking it more than I thought I would as the series originally progressed. Things start out a little like you might expect of a relationship anime set during high school, and about half way through I sort of decided it was a standard relationship series with a stupid monster attack gimmick. But once things were explained, things got a lot more interesting.

This anime is really about finding something for yourself, but then having to deal with the loss of something precious. Takeru begins the story as an apathetic teenage boy, who has ended up the way he is due to abandonment issues as a young child. He and his friend end up meeting Hikari (and later Akari) and suddenly things are different. Takeru starts growing up and coming out of his shell, because Hikari needs him and he has found something he needs just as much.

Unfortunately, things are not going to end up as everyone would wish they could. Ultimately, different people have to make different choices. And making one choice means giving up something else. This is not one of those stories where a boy is surrounded by many girls and he has to pick one (or be friends with them all, at least). This are a little less perfect in This Ugly Yet Beautiful World. But Takeru is going to learn to deal with it.

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May 20, 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Luna and I just watched the second movie in the trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. While there's a good amount of action and the running gags involving Captain Jack Sparrow can be very funny, the overall movie was lacking a really good plot. There are some basic motivations, without much exploration into the characters owning those motivations, to aquire a certain artifact. And then random action and hilarity ensues. So while this is a pretty fun movie to watch, I don't think it is as good as the first one.

There are a couple of subtle jokes, playing off the Pirates of the Caribbean Disney theme park attraction and the first movie, which I thought were nice to have included. But a couple of times I felt a lot more like it was the theme park attraction as a set, instead of a realistic environment. Not because of how things looked, but because of little behaviors that aren't really how people would act. I found that a little distracting.

I also didn't particularly like the way the crew of The Flying Dutchman was put together. I guess they wanted to do something different than just skeletons from the first movie, but I found the costume design to be a little far-fetched. If the crew is supposed to be composed of sailors, they should at least look like sailors in some fashion.

Despite that, the audio and video quality was very good. I really did feel immersed in the movie while watching, and that things looked very real. Including the special effects which can sometimes look too fake in some movies. Here, it was done very well and seamlessly integrated into film.

I am interested in watching the final installment, which will be coming out this year. Dead Man's Chest ends without a real conclusion, and I hope things get wrapped up in the third movie. In that way, I may decide the two movies should actually be together as one, and taken as a whole be a much better movie.

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May 14, 2007

Calvin's Birthday

Luna and I celebrated Calvin's birthday today. We went over to his place in the afternoon to watch Children of Men with some of his friends, and then went to have dinner at A&J Restaurant in Cupertino Village. The food was good, although Luna thinks it was just okay since it wasn't really anything special. There were about eight of us total at dinner. I think most of them are friends Calvin met through work.

Children of Men is a movie that I had heard a little about and was slightly interested in seeing, but not really wanting to see it a lot. I feel a little funny about Clive Owen as an actor. He's good, but for some reason I don't really like his personality or something as an actor.

Anyway, the movie is about a police-state near-future variation of Britain where crackdowns on terrorism and illegal immigration have become both everyday background noise and also the political movement. The rest of the world has fallen into chaos, supposedly, with refugees trying to get into mainstream British society to live a better life. Of course, there is a political movement against these draconian policies. But the core of the plot is that humans are no longer able to conceive. The opening sequence is about the murder of an 18-year-old who is a celebrity only because he is the youngest person in the world.

Supposedly the movie is changed from the book in many ways to make it a political and social criticism of the current state of affairs. And I actually found that part of the film to be the most interesting. There isn't a lot of focus on the science, or reasons, or social changes that would result from a world without children. Although there is brief attention given to the violence that would arise from an entire species without hope of the future.

Unfortunately, I don't think there was anything that revolutionary or really special about how the film went about it. It kind of feels like the world situations and ideas are put together in a collage, but without any real thought about what that means. As someone that already knows about what goes on in the world, I don't feel like I got a whole lot out of it. And if someone doesn't know what's going on in the world, there's nothing in this film that would help them make the connection.

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May 13, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

I finally got around to watching An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary about global warming focusing on the personal crusade of former Vice-President Al Gore to educate people about this "climate crisis". A real quick presentation about the issue was given at the 2006 TED conference, which you might want to check out. I greatly respect Gore as one of the very few really educated and contemporarily-savvy politicians of our time. And the global warming problem is one that I have believed in for a long time now.

I think one of the primary reasons I really liked this documentary is because it feels less like an opinionated exposé or personal agenda and much more like the sort of presentation or lecture you might find in academia. Of course, due to the nature of the presentation, the actual research and science involved is glossed over, but it's important to note that the scientific results and their projected impact on our world are presented. Which is where things change from opinion and subjective points of view or conjecture into real scientific data, interpreted in a scientific manner, and presented for public consumption.

One thing of note about the DVD is there's a 30 minute extension in the extras that half rehashes the existing talking points of the presentation in the documentary, and half brings in new information about the topic that is related to those talking points that have come out of research since the movie was produced. It's probably of interest to some people, but if you've already accepted the situation then it's probably not worth the time. Might be better to find newer information on the web.

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Gunbuster

Gunbuster, or Aim for the Top!, is a facinating anime from 1988 that, for lack of a better description, contains a whole lot of heart. I approached this series thinking it was a simple "spacegirls in mecha" anime, but in fact I believe this is one of the best science fiction stories you could find. There is a little bit too much 80's flavor in the beginning and for the commercial intermission, but otherwise it's almost perfect. It seems like it could have been perfect if budgeted for a longer run (perhaps originally four episodes then extended to six).

Gunbuster follows a young girl who becomes one of the elite pilots of giant mecha to defend Earth against invasion by some sort of space monsters. In the beginning, it almost feels like an adaptation of Rocky with its focus on working out and training to make it into the space corps. Thankfully that soon ends, although the phrase "hard work and guts" continues to pop-up in the post-show science explanations.

But hard science is used for the physics of space travel (with some theoretical liberties, of course), and so suddenly the film starts taking on aspects of one of my favorite novels, The Forever War. It's a concept that was also very nicely explored in Voices of a Distant Star. The character and world situations are also very similar to those from Ender's Game. Irrespective of my comparisons, Gunbuster is a sum greater than its parts and an outstanding science fiction drama.

The thing that really makes this series shine is the character development and the viewer's personal involvement with those characters. The protagonist, Noriko, goes through real growth and transformation that is necessary, difficult, and also tragic. This series doesn't pull any punches. The situation and plot may be overwhelming for some, despite this series being approachable by both children and adults. In fact, I think this is one of those stories that can really be appreciated as a child, yet have even greater worth when you come back to it as an adult.

I also think that the seiyuu for Noriko, Noriko Hidaka (they share the same given name), did an outstanding job. I really felt like her character came across in a lot of ways through the voice work. Amano and Jung also have great voice actors behind them, although it was really Noriko that stood out to me. I didn't much like how Coach, voiced by Norio Wakamoto, sounded though.

One interesting thing of note is that each DVD has a short sequence available in 5.1 audio in the extras section. The sequence actually belongs in the plot of one of the episodes on the DVD, but is not part of the actual episode. So it's a little strange, watching something that provides a little more meat to the series but only after you've already gotten past that part of the story.

Apparently Gunbuster 2 will be coming soon, and I'm looking forward to it. It's been licensed by Bandai Visual.

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May 10, 2007

My Beautiful Girl Mari

Mari Iyagi is a Korean film about a young boy who is going through a period of time where people are coming and going outside of his control. He finds a "sheep-girl" that becomes an alternate reality for him, allowing him to escape to a simple and beautiful world. While there is a lot to be said about the depth and emotional meaning carried by this anime's story, what I really enjoyed about it is its artisitic quality. To me, that was its most valuable aspect.

The film has a very interesting and unique artistic style to it. The environments are incredibly detailed, although not in terms of realism but rather in terms of existence. That's not exactly clear, but what I mean is so much effort was put into building out the landscapes and buildings and trees and grass, on a grand scale. As the characters move around, they are going into new places and each place has individual blades of grass and pieces of this or that all over the place. Things are not glossed over by painting large swathes of a single color.

Plus, it seems like everything was done in CG with a cel shader that I've not seen used anywhere else. Surfaces are actually flat, like you might see in a two-dimensional rendering done in a vector drawing program. (There's a subtle plug for Adobe in the opening sequence.) I really liked the look, and found it very pleasing to watch.

The art by itself is complimented by an exceptional score and foley work. You will want better quality audio gear to appreciate it, and surround sound. I could easily see people picking up soundtracks of this film because the individual tracks are excellent. I do think, though, that to fully appreciate the music you either need to be remembering the scenes associated with the music or watching the animation sequences while you listen.

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May 7, 2007

Little Miss Sunshine

I watched Little Miss Sunshine because it was one of the most popular Sundance Film Festival choices last year. Both Dantam and Samir liked it a lot. In fact Dantam loves the characters and the story and the jokes and just about everything. But I wasn't that entertained by it. The acting and everything is top notch, and it's probably one of the best dark comedies every made, but that's just not my preference. I need a movie like this to be more amusing throughout the duration, which it wasn't. Amusement started to kick in when grandpa died, and then I laughed out loud during the beauty pageant ending. But otherwise I was just watching a dysfunctional family on a road trip.

If I were to give points, Little Miss Sunshine would win a lot for the acting. Everyone does a really great job. Olive, played by Abigail Breslin, feels like such a natural and real little girl, and not at all like a character or an actor. There are some really excellent scenes where you can see the body language coming across as if unconscious behavior. But the caliber of acting really carries over into all of the characters. The father and mother are played by Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette who are not moviestar characters but stressed-out and honest people. Alan Arkin plays an over-the-top grandpa who only has sex on the mind and speaks his mind quite loudly, which is a somewhat unrealistic character premise but one that really works and fits in with the family. Paul Dano plays the rebellious, gangly, sloppy, overall discontent teenager who feels stuck with his dysfunctional family. And he plays the part perfectly. Steve Carroll as the uncle kind of fits into the same odd place as the grandpa because of his mannerisms and personality, but in a strange yet insightful way it works out considering he tried to commit suicide at the beginning of the film.

It's possible I would have enjoyed the movie more if I could have watched it straight through without interruption. But Luna kept interrupting me to do things or ask me things or something. The upstairs computer crashed because she turned off the air conditioner even though I intentionally left it on, and she kept bugging me until I restarted it. At one point she even unplugged the projector which initiated a ground loop hum and instantly cut out the fan and bulb, possibly shortening the bulb life because it would have overheated a little at that point.

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May 6, 2007

Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure

I found Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure to be a sometimes entertaining 13-episode anime series (the 14th episode is sort of an extra) which seems to be a play on Evangelion, but done in a fun way. The character parallels are obvious, as is the connection between their endings. Anyway, I liked the first half of the series better than the second, because most of the funny stuff happens in the beginning. Things become more plot-oriented after that. From a technical standpoint, I don't think there's much to remark upon. It's sort of your average fare all around. I wasn't particularly impressed by anything, but there's nothing lacking either.

The basic plot is that due to a choice made in the past, two possible universes branched out. In one, things are pretty ordinary by realistic standards. In the other, alien technology has allowed for the creation of massive mecha. Two factions, led by researchers who used to work together, have control of this technology. One is attempting to take over the world while the other is trying to defend against global conquest. But this war is approached a little differently than you'd expect. I won't reveal that difference here, since it actually plays well to discover it while watching.

This is also one of those anime series where a bunch of girls end up all liking the same boy, who isn't doing anything to try and make them like him, and doesn't really know how to handle all the attention. In fact, because there are two parallel universes, it turns out the same girl likes him twice (counterparts from each universe). Conveniently there isn't a counterpart for himself, as then there would be two boys involved in the storyline which wouldn't work right.

Despite that angle, you won't find a lot of fan service in this series. It has more of a good-natured feeling to it. Unfortunately, the series is not particularly deep or revealing because of its mood. This might be perfect for some people, but I do like there to be a little more to things. Some things just aren't really answered fully, and the characters are pretty basic in their attitudes and actions. With the expected changes taking place at the expected times.

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April 29, 2007

Kamichu!

I just finished watching the four-disc series Kamichu!, which is an anime about a junior high school girl who overnight becomes a god. She doesn't know what kind of god though (this is traditional Japanese gods, where there are gods for everything from soy beans to rice to wind and boats, see Shinto), and she has two close friends who end up leading her on fun godly antics. I liked the earlier episodes more than the later ones, because things were more exploratory and oriented around discovery in the beginning. Later on, it becomes more about learning life lessons and stuff like that.

There are a few things which I think really worth mentioning about this anime. First is the artwork. I really liked the art, and the character designs. In fact, some of the more detailed artist renderings are illustrations I'd be happy to pick up and frame. I've never heard of the artist before though. Unfortunately I can't find a reference to him or her right now. The backgrounds and environments are also very detailed. It does not at all feel like a simple or rush job, and everything's wonderful to watch.

The second thing I really liked was the music. Both the opening and closing songs, but in particular the closing song. It's sung by Mako of the Japanese pop group Bon-Bon Blanco, who plays the maracas in the group. The song itself isn't written by her or Bon-Bon Blanco though. The closing animation is particularly fun to watch because it has Yurie dancing with the maracas along with Matsuri on taiko drum and Mitsue on guitar, all to the tune of the song. Yurie is voiced by Mako, and this is a little tribute to that.

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April 23, 2007

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Boksuneun Naui Geot is another movie by the maker of Lady Vengeance and Oldboy. It's actually the first one of the three that was made. I don't think this film is as good as the others, and in fact the newest one, Lady Vengeance, is the best of the three in my opinion. However, if you like Chan-wook Park's films you'll probably appreciate this one.

All of his films are punctuated by a certain gruesome mentality which is certainly present here, as well as a sort of desperate and emotional motivation that drives each of the normal personalities towards cruel and vindictive extremes. Many more people are victims of that situation in this film than the others, though. Unfortunately, I found parts of this movie a little slow moving and therefore sometimes boring. The intensity was less focused and interrupted on occassion, which actually prompted me to playback at 2x right near the end.

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April 19, 2007

Thank You For Smoking

I watched Thank You For Smoking, and tried to get Luna to watch it as well but it did not hold her interest. Before starting to watch this movie, I had some preconceptions about its subject matter. I knew it was a comedy, and figured it was a story that would poke fun at the cigarette industry and all of the things it does to try and increase its market share. But, it turned out to be a much more interesting discourse about the right to persuade, cajole, and argue either side of an argument and pokes fun at everyone involved.

I think the acting is very good in this film, and Aaron Eckhart does a great job as the protagonist whom you are sort of rooting for since he's just a normal guy and decent father, but at the same time represents an industry that the vast majority of people dislike. This presents a very interesting dichotomy which allows for a lot of fun conversation and character interaction, such as bragging rights about who is a target for murder or how many people a product is responsible for killing.

The central theme of the movie seems to be taking personal responsibility for personal decisions, with a "moral flexibility" which is not exactly admirable but is certainly relatable. But one thing many of the advocates of legalization of controlled substances for personal use do not address is the impact of such use on our society's overall health and the economic consequences. Unfortunately, that's not directly addressed in this movie either, but it certainly does argue that as a society we've decided to allow that burden to exist as the trade-off for personal vices.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film and would recommend anyone to see it. It's rated R for language and sexual content, but I think this is an R-rated films which parents should be willing to take their children to see.

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April 15, 2007

The Grudge & The Grudge 2

Luna keeps putting scary movies onto her queue, so we watched The Grudge and then right afterwards The Grudge 2, both American remakes of the original Ju-On Japanese horror series. I'm easily scared by these kind of films because of my imagination, and these two movies are no exception.

The first film is more Japanese-like in how it approaches horror, and closely follows the original Ju-On. There is a mystery about why there is this woman killing people, which is gradually unravelled as the story progresses. Things are logical and realistic, other than the supernatural aspect (arguably), which heightens the suspense.

The second film is a little different. Although a little bit more about the characters pasts are revealed, the viewer already knows what's going on and to a fair extent why. The plot jumps around a little more than it should, so the seemingly simultaneous "hauntings" in Japan and Chicago are a little confusing until you piece together the puzzle. But overall this chapter is more about showing Kayoko in action a lot.

I think the creepiest part of the two movies is the audio mix. The dynamic range is very large for a movie, which means regardless of your listening volume the heart-pounding sequences are going to surprise and intensify. Plus, the surround channels are put to extremely good use, with seamless movement and precise location. Which is somewhat disturbing since you don't have eyes in the back of your head, and that's exactly how things are going to get you in the movie.

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April 14, 2007

HellHoles

I stumbled across a series of shorts called HellHoles today. There are four episodes. Each is about four and half minutes long. I actually watched the fourth and final episode first, but it's entertaining enough that I ended up watching the first three as well. Despite being a web short, the production quality is very high and I think I recognize the actors. It's not really scary so much as interesting and amusing.

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April 13, 2007

Genshiken: Cosplay Confessions

I finally got a chance to watch the final volume of Genshiken. I ordered the three disc set because I like the show so much (I've also been reading the manga) and even though I'd seen the first two discs already, I watched the three discs through again. The TV series follows the manga closely, which is good. I think both the manga and anime have their own good points and are very complimentary to each other, since the presentation formats are each used to their full potential.

There's some narration at the end of episode 11 that hints at the anime being cancelled prematurely. It was a 12-episode run, which is not the 13-episodes of a half-season, and far short of the normal 26-episode season. So the last episode ends when Sasahara becomes chairman of Genshiken and right before Ogiue shows up. Despite this, the anime ends well without feeling forced or incomplete.

It seems that a Genshiken OVA has started showing in Japan. I'm not entirely clear yet on if I will have to purchase the Kujibiki Unbalance OVA to get three Genshiken episodes, in a format flipped from the Genshiken series having three Kujiun episodes.

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April 12, 2007

Mail

Luna rented another Japanese horror film, Mail, which also stars Chiaki Kuriyama. This time, the main character is a ghost hunter who recites some special mantra and then shoots ghosts who are tormenting the living. The show is a series of nine short episodes, some only a few minutes long while others are much longer depending on what needs to be revealed. Chiaki shows up as his sidekick after a couple of episodes.

Unfortunately, I think the split purpose is a weakness. Some of the episodes are just little ghost hunts that don't have anything to do with the main plotline. They're there to illustrate his job more than anything, and at least they show up in the beginning rather than continually splitting up the real story. But later on it really doesn't matter because the important episodes are the long ones at the end that reveal how he came to be in this situation.

The twist is a little predictable though, and the ending is supposed to be very emotional and smart, but it also happens to conflict with one of the earlier ghost hunting episodes. So having remembered that, suddenly the ending becomes a little disappointing. The story itself is decently written, but nothing great. Chiaki's performance is also okay, but not great. At least the special effects are consistent and the overal production quality isn't lacking.

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April 11, 2007

Kids Return

I just finished watching Kizzu Ritan with Luna and although it's a critically acclaimed movie, which Luna likes a lot both for its content and its soundtrack, from a famous Japanese directory, I didn't like it much. At times, it held my interest because I wanted to know what was going to happen next, but most of the time I couldn't even tell what was happening to whom and how much time has elapsed between scenes.

In terms of flavor, this movie feels a lot like those 80's movies I remember of a somewhat stupid but good-looking guy in his mid-20's trying to accomplish something like become the best boxer or fighting champion. But it does actually have a lot more meaning and depth than any of those crappy movies. I think if I could actually figure out what was going on most of the time, I would have liked it better.

The problem is that although the movie succeeds at following a group of boys trying to find their place in life following high school graduation, I wasn't really sure what each of the boys was actually doing. I can tell you where they've ended up, but for example I don't think the shy boy with the doll ended up marrying the waitress Sachiko, even though it seems like it at one point. I also thought Masaru was killed, but then he wasn't, and I still don't know how he became a major Yakuza player. There's also some time spent on other supporting characters which I think resulted in some loss of focus.

Anyway, Luna thinks it's a good film, and a lot of people out there do too. I do like some of the music, and I think Luna likes it too because some tracks have a video game flavor to it.

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April 9, 2007

RahXephon (TV series and The Motion Picture)

Some people recommend watching RahXephon: The Motion Picture as a cap to the TV series. I, however, recommend only the TV series if you choose to watch this work, and even then it's not all that amazing. The problem is that RahXephon is someone's attempt to remake Neon Genesis Evangelion in a manner that makes more sense. The RahXephon movie does a better job of that than the TV series, but it's also a chopped up that the plot doesn't make sense. And in both cases the depth and emotional meaning of Evangelion is lost.

It is a little disappointing to be watching something only to think very often "that's from Evangelion". It ruins the whole idea of watching something new. The angels are replaced by Mulians, and Unit 01 by the RahXephon. Ayato even goes through the same sequence of internal conflict and realization that Shinji does. Instead of some complex character dynamics, things are pretty standard fare with the protagonist having multiple love interests, so to speak, and predictable character development.

There are some pretty nice visuals, but the art quality is a little inconsistent. At times, I thought the artist had changed because of the difference in visual depth afforded to characters, and also line quality of character faces. The larger, more complicated sequences tended to look better than the simple conversations with characters in profile. The music is okay for the most part. I found the choral aspect of combat and "tuning" interesting at first, but then a little boring.

The movie makes things a little clearer because it starts out with some explanations of what's going on, rather than revealing them over time as the protagonist Kamina Ayato discovers them. And the ending narrates exactly what's going on rather quickly and concisely, whereas the TV series prolongs the explanation and forces the viewer to figure things out as they unfold. It should be noted that although the meaning remains the same between the TV series and movie, there are significant differences in the plot and the ending itself.

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April 7, 2007

MPD Psycho

Multiple Personality Detective Psycho is a six-episode TV series that Luna wanted to watch because she really liked the manga. She likes this kind of genre a lot; where there's some sort of supernatural death going on and a detective. But MPD Psycho turned out to be really boring, slow, disconnected and strangely pointless, with really poor production quality. Even Luna admits that the television adaptation is boring and not something worth watching.

For starters, most of the time things really don't make any sense. Somehow, things are supposed to be connected and the multiple personality disorder of the detective is a big part of this. But each episode something new happens which doesn't have any logical connection to where things have gone so far, such as deciding to put flowers into the brains of random girls, but then deciding to set fire to a bunch of people. Throughout, there's one antagonist who has the ability to transfer between people, but even then the transfer protocol changes without explanation.

On top of that, the picture quality is bad with poor lighting. It looks a lot like someone filmed things on a consumer-grade camcorder and then used random special effects they found in some cheap video editing software. There were a number of times when it was blatantly obvious the rain was added in post-production even with such low picture quality. Later on they had real water, coming out of a sprinkler. And in the last episode, the fire special effects were just horrible since there wasn't any smoke and the things that were on fire weren't actually burning.

In the end, the motivations are revealed and the big questions are answered, although unlike a good detective story the viewer really has no way of piecing together the answers for themselves. In large part because none of the little questions can be answered since they don't make any sense at all. It's simply too random, illogical, and disconnected.

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April 6, 2007

Shinobi

Luna and I watched Shinobi today. I'd saved it on my queue for a while now, because Tintin said it would be a good movie to see. I thought that while it doesn't have anything particularly special about it, the action sequences are very entertaining and the plot satisfying. Luna was disappoinnted though because she's seen the original and prefers that. A good way of describing Shinobi is as a ninja version of the classic Romeo and Juliet.

Visually, Shinobi is very rich and vibrant. Since it's a modern film, there are a lot of special effects that are well integrated, on a picture that is enjoyable to see. A lot of the movie takes place in various natural settings, such as in the forest, desert, or rocky areas. The audio production is also pretty good, with music and sound effects that accentuate the situation and action sequences.

Unfortunately, Shinobi lacks the depth of story that would really take this movie to the next level. I would watch Shinobi again as a fun movie, but it's not one that I would recommend as there are better choices that are also as visually satisfying and of the same caliber action.

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April 4, 2007

Shikoku

Luna and I watched Shikoku, a Japanese horror film made in 1999 that features one of Luna's favorite actresses, Kuriyama Shiaki. The story takes place on the island of Shikoku and is about the island's name being "Four Lands" but the pronunciation the same as "Death Lands". I won't go into how the two are related because that would give away too much, but if you like those kinds of Japanese horror films you'll like Shikoku.

Despite being filmed in 1999, the picture looks a little outdated. As if it was made in the 80's. It does have something of a low-budget feel to it, and there certainly aren't any amazing special effects. Everything you see is realistic and contemporary, which heightens the level of tension.

It's also probably better to watch it in stereo, despite the DVD having a DTS 5.1 track, because the surround mixing was not done correctly. There are times when you think something should be in the background but it only comes out the mains, and other times when something comes out of the surrounds but actually occurs in front of you.

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March 25, 2007

The X-Files

Luna and I just went through all nine seasons of The X-Files, and the movie. The X-Files is one of my favorite television series, so I grabbed all of the DVDs when they went on sale a while ago. Luna likes some of the episodes more than others. She finds the more action-oriented creature features or the comedy ones most to her liking. I like those, but its the conspiracy episodes I like best. One thing Luna didn't like when we started watching was the opening theme song, because she thought it was creepy. Later on, though, she didn't mind.

There were a couple of interesting things I noticed, watching through everything in one go. One example is the transition from fullscreen to widescreen, where some of the middle seasons actually stretch the picture on occasion to achieve widescreen aspect ratios. But the later seasons are really widescreen. I also found there was one season which overall seemed like a bad transfer. I think it was either the second or third seasons.

I also realized that the series really wasn't as good once Mulder left, and Agents Doggett and Reyes became the main characters. It also sounded a little weird hearing Scully take on the more imaginative character once Mulder wasn't there. Doggett became her foil as the skeptic, which was her previous role beside Mulder. The creature features became less creative and more of what you might expect on a typical horror film.

Another aspect that I initially found a little strange was watching episodes one after another. Most of the episodes are not continuations, and expect to take place in time with their airdates. In other words, there really is supposed to be a week of time between episodes, or even an entire summer (two or three months). Skipping over that elapsed time is a little strange.

Now we just need to wait until December 22, 2012.

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March 3, 2007

Half Nelson

Tonight's movie night featured Half Nelson, a Sundance film selection that Tintin brought. Ken came with her, and Wendy and Brian showed up and brought along two new people: Ling and Matt. Thomas and Julie also showed up. Half Nelson was okay, in my opinion, although it has gotten excellent reviews from critics. It's a very intelligent and interesting character study, but not very entertaining or thought provoking in my opinion. The acting is certainly very good, and the plot and environment are both believable and well developed. I think the film has a firm basis in reality.

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February 15, 2007

Galaxy Angel

I finally finished watching the four-disc set of Galaxy Angel. It took so long to finish because I started watching Battlestar Galactica with Luna. Not really a problem since I thought the series was okay but not great. Each standalone episode is short and contains what might be considered typical bishoujo comedy but I don't find those recycled antics that amusing.

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February 1, 2007

Battlestar Galactica Season 2.0 + 2.5

Whereas season one of Battlestar Galactica dealt primarily with survival and escape, I think season two deals more with the politics and economics of the new fleet civilization. Now that they've managed to escape the constant fear of Cylon attack, things turn inward. Episodes in season two deal with the political landscape, economics and morals in a time of war, and internal military conflict. This season also goes in depth into the Cylon civilization, way of thinking, and also culture (to some extent). I think the most interesting issue dealt with here is also the idea of Cylons as individuals instead of a collective.

In terms of production quality, season two is of the same high caliber as the previous season. Unfortunately, I ended up originally purchasing on season two point five because I assumed it was sort of like season two with some extras, notably the extended version of the Pegasus episode. But in fact the full second season must be purchased in two disc-sets. Which is both pricy and annoying. Because we finished season one, and didn't have season two, we ended up buying it from the store for about $10 more than if we'd ordered it online.

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January 24, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Season One

I've been saving Battlestar Galactica to watch with Luna. It's a really good space drama, and we just finished going through season one. Most of season one focuses on recovery of the fleet after fleeing the Cylon attack. Each episode tends to deal with a particular aspect or issue that is likely to arise in the sort of situation they're in, such as dealing with the Cylon spies, finding resources, and the revelations of new information about different people. The episodes maintain the primary plot arc while developing the characters and exploring the issues of survival.

The production values of the series are extremely high. The sound, picture, story, and acting are all top-notch. Episodes, although individually dealing with something new and separate each time, flow together very well and keep the viewer engaged and thinking. I also think every episode challenges the actors and the production crew.

Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of the television series proper is the slower pace. Whereas the miniseries was one epic and fast moving storyline, like a really well developed and deep movie, the television series does feel more like a television series that is not as tight and drawn out simply because each episode is written after the previous, rather than all at once as a single longer unit.

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January 21, 2007

Dish Network

Luna's been a little homesick lately, and she really wanted to have some Chinese television programming to watch. So we looked around at some satellite dish services and found a package and channel she wanted from Dish Network. We ordered only the Chinese package, and the installer showed up today to get everything set up. He was quiet but did a good job and wore booties over his shoes while inside the house. It took a while to get the dish pointed correctly, with me inside reporting on the signal test results.

Installation required drilling a hole through the exterior wall and running a coax cable. So, the satellite dish is really only available from one location right now: the bedroom. Moving the TV would require running coax through the floor or walls or something, and I'm not going to do that anytime soon.

Another issue is the set-top box itself. It's a Dish 381 unit, and it's hot even when turned off. No components can be placed on top of it, even with some breathing room. I had the Playstation 2 on top of it for a short time and that caused it to shut down while I was playing a game, even though the Dish 381 was off.

The Chinese picture and audio quality isn't that great. You can see compression artifiacts, and most of the time the picture looks worse than local channels. But it's real Chinese television so Luna is happy.

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January 18, 2007

XX/XY

We had a fair number of people over yesterday as a sort of "meet-Luna" movie night. Dantam showed up, but Alla couldn't make it (we stopped by to see her before though), as well as the Wendy-gang: Wendy, Brian, Thomas, Anh, and Kristina. Samir also showed up for the first time in a long time, but Jamie couldn't make it because she was up in San Francisco. Tintin and one of her coworkers, Ken, also showed up.

We had pizza for dinner, and spent some time talking about random things. Dantam wore a pair of Luna's Keroro-Gunso slippers (I think Dororo).

When it came time to pick a movie, no one was sure what to watch and we ended up watching XX/XY, which Anh brought from his Blockbuster subscription. Luna didn't understand a lot of it other than the main character, Coles, was basically having sex with everyone else. The beginning was strange in an artsy way, but then basically it got a little boring. It's supposed to be a look into relationships and a man who really doesn't know what he wants or what he's doing, but it just wasn't very fun to watch. The only person who seemed to like it was Ken. And we'd never met him before. :p

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January 12, 2007

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig

I just finished watching the 2nd gig of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I think the second season takes what they accomplished in the first season and improves upon it in all ways. The artwork and CG is better than before; it's more refined than in the first season. Yoko Kanno takes the music and soundtrack even farther, and I really like how every episode has its own audio production instead of recycling the music. Perhaps the best part of 2nd gig is how there is more character involvement. Motoko's past and emotions play a larger role this time.

The ending is a little sad, but very well done. Unfortunately Motoko and Section 9 are not able to prevent the last assassination, because they learn about it too late. Although I'm not entirely sure exactly what motivated the last part, as there are two characters involved whom I did not recognize although it seems they should have appeared earlier. I particularly appreciated the last scene which plays homage to the original manga.

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January 7, 2007

Galaxy Angel Z

Galaxy Angel Z happens to be the second season of the Galaxy Angel series, but I ended up watching it first by mistake. Each episode is approximately 15 minutes long and both designed and suitable for younger children. The jokes are blatant, episodes are stand-alone, pacing is fast, and the plot is simple. I'm sure many adults will still find the show funny to watch, but I wasn't interested most of the time. A few moments of amusement, but that's about it. I did enjoy the opening and ending songs though.

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January 4, 2007

Material Girls

Material Girls is another movie that Alla put on her queue. It's a movie I would consider targeted at pre-teen and early teen girls, because it stars Hilary Duff and also her sister Haylie. The plot's pretty simple and predictable, so nothing special there, and the acting is pretty bad. The only good actors involved are Brent Spiner and Angelica Houston, but their characters are so simple they could have played the parts in their sleep. There were a few little in-jokes which you might appreciate, but overall nothing worth watching.

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January 3, 2007

Hostage

Alla put Hostage on her queue, but hasn't taken it home yet. The story is extremely cliché: police negotiator makes a mistake, causing him to be full of guilt, and have a messed up family as a result. Then ends up being in a situation that brings back memories of that mistake, and he has to deal with it and overcome the guilt to save the day. Overall, the acting is not so great, and the plot convenient and exaggerated and unimportant. Perhaps the worst thing is that the ending is incomplete. The real reasons behind what's been going on are barely revealed, and after what happens at the end, you expect that things are not going to be okay. But instead, they are okay. Which doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

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January 1, 2007

War of the Worlds

I put War of the Worlds on my queue mainly because it's a movie that has caused many a subwoofer to bottom out. And I wanted to put my new subwoofers to the test. If I'd done everything right, I'd be able to listen to this movie at reference levels and my subwoofers should not bottom out and instead capture the earth-shaking intent of the sound mix. I was very pleased to discover that my subwoofers were up to the task.

There are many sequences in the film where the characters are experiencing what are essentially mini-earthquakes. I played the movie at perhaps -5dB from reference, not entirely sure, but those times the subwoofers really did recreate the earthquake experience in my primary listening position. It felt like an actual earthquake, although not as high on the richter scale as if I was actually in the movie (which would be bad, if my house collapsed), still something that would have been recorded and felt by seismologists.

Anyway, with regards to the movie, it was a decent action movie but there isn't much of a plot or anything really going on except for mass hysteria and a general fleeing from the aliens by the public. The acting is okay, but it's not like any of them have to do much except be really scared and run away a lot. Nothing else happens, since all of humanity's efforts are in vain, and the audience is not involved with any plans to fight back.

But it's an excellent movie for exercising your subwoofers, as long as they can handle it instead of breaking.

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December 31, 2006

Koi Kaze

Koi Kaze was not what I expected. Based on the cover art I was thinking it was a shoujo anime, but it's actually very complicated and serious. And the topic it deals with is not one that most people will find themselves comfortable with. In Koi Kaze, a 27-year-old man, Koshiro, and a 15-year-old girl, Nanoka, end up meeting each other, and by circumstance going on something of a date at an amusement park. Mostly because they didn't have anything better to do. They end up finding themselves somewhat attracted to each other, but then learn that they are in fact brother and sister who have not seen each other since their parents' divorce.

Koshiro finds himself attracted to Nanoka despite his best efforts to fight it, and so acts in a very gruff and arrogant manner towards her. But it's clear he really cares about her and is actually very protective and treats her somewhat badly because he doesn't know of any other way to deal with it. Nanoka, on the other hand, finds herself with growing feelings towards Koshiro even though she has some suitors at school.

Eventually, Koshiro and Nanoka need to figure out how they are going to deal with their mutual attraction and love for each other, despite the cultural taboo against incest and also their significant age difference. In many ways, all of the same feelings and social pressures they are subject to can be seen in what homosexuals have to deal with, in certain cultures and communities.

These ideas create a gut reaction of disgust or perversion in many people, even though there is not necessarily a real reason for it. If you mention incest, or an age difference like that, the majority of people will immediately come to certain conclusions about the two people involved. But this is more of a learned behavior and prejudice than anything else. Being able to overcome that is a very difficult thing to do. Koshiro remarks on this when he asks who else but he and Nanoka has the right to decide if this will make their lives miserable.

I found the artwork of the series very interesting. It's drawn in a style almost like watercolor or crayon, that has a sort of nostalgic feel to it. I think this is the first time I've seen that art style, but I don't watch a lot of shoujo anime.

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December 30, 2006

Dark City Movie Night

I had a bunch of new people show up to tonight's movie night, since Wendy and Brian have too many friends and so always have more people to bring. Although all of their friends do happen to be Asian. Anyway, Alla also showed up, and so did Thomas. New people Anh, Kristina, Roger, and Naomi showed up as well. Alla didn't stay for the movie though. This was the first movie night I've held with the new subwoofers, and I played back the Irene scene from Black Hawk Down as a demo. I'm not sure they felt as much as they could, because everyone was sitting in the second row during the demo.

We ended up watching Dark City, in large part because Kristina thinks Keifer Sutherland is really attractive from his role in 24. He plays a completely different kind of character in Dark City though, so I don't know if that worked out for her. Naomi actually only showed up shortly before the movie started, and left right after.

Most people left after the movie, but Wendy, Brian, and Thomas stayed longer. We decided to watch another movie, and Wendy picked The Avengers. She found it amusing in the beginning, but both she and Brian fell asleep pretty early into the movie, since it was so late. I was pretty tired too, but I stayed up to watch the whole thing.

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December 29, 2006

24: Season 5

The fifth season of 24 was exceptionally good. I was very pleased to see the writers were able to take things to the next level, rather that simply trying to pile on more terrorist threats. I also felt this season held a much more balanced view of politics than season four, while still trying to make the viewers think about things for themselves. I think it was a good choice to include a more international flavor as well. The drama and tension of the series remained high throughout, and it was unfortunate that a number of good characters were killed off.

The acting I was most impressed by was that of President Charles Logan. I can't believe that was just acting. It really feels like his personality and behavior. He has facial tics, body language that matches up with his thoughts, emotions, and personality very well, and a character that really captures a lot of ideas and complexity seemingly without effort.

There is still a little in-show advertising going on though, which I don't really like because of how blatant it can be, and thus revealing of the artificial nature of the show. Both Sprint (I think, I didn't notice the phone brand much) and Cisco got way too much air-time, and the extensive use of texting was yucky and didn't make sense most of the time.

I also think 24 needs to get some real technical advisors, both for technology and other procedural things. But the thing that really got to me was inserting random technobabble whenever they want to make something sound complicated. Using the term "data mine" five times each episode does not make those people sound like they know what they're talking about. You'd think the writers feel you could data mine your grandma.

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December 24, 2006

The Place Promised in Our Early Days

I didn't know it until watching through some of the seiyu interviews afterwards, but Kumo no Muko, Yakusoku no Basho was also created and directed by Makoto Shinkai who created by himself Hoshi no Koe. This followup work had full financial backing and a full production crew, and as a result could be much longer and fully realized. And like the predecessor, this work is also a masterpiece in all aspects.

Visually, the anime is stunning. CG and an extremely high level of perfection with the cel shading and animation, plus absolutely beautiful environments full of emotion make this film a joy to watch. The character designs are wonderful and full-bodied. The music is also amazing and was composed by Tenmon. There are some choice string pieces featuring violins (which play an important role in the film) and a piano, as well as a beautiful ending song, Kimi no Koe, performed by Ai Kawashima.

There are some parallels in the storylines of Kumo no Muko, Yakusoku no Basho and Hoshi no Koe. Both deal with a boy and girl who become separated from each other due to events outside their control, living with that separation over an extended period of time, and feelings of profound loss. There are several situations of separation and then reunion that play across the span of the story. They also both have interesting technological aspects that play an integral part in these emotions. But this film leaves the viewer with more hope for the future than Hoshi no Koe does.

One interesting twist to the setting is that post-WWII, Japan is split into the North and South by what appear to be Russia and the U.S.A. In a manner very much like Germany was. A sort of cold war exists between the two halves, which are separated by water instead of a man-made wall. And there is a constant threat of further war between the two sides.

Although I watched the film in Japanese with English subtitles, there are a number of English voice actors that were cast for the English ADR which I really like. I suspect the English dub is pretty good. There is actually a short period of English dialogue between to American military officials in the original Japanese, which sounds very wooden and strange.

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Alla's Final Essays

I spent most of today over at Alla's place, going over her MBA application essays. Got there around 11:30am and left around 6:30pm. I'd say we probably spent about four or five hours with me reading and offering suggestions for improvement. But these should be her final drafts, pretty much. She's getting some feedback from Ellen and Tomer as well. She also hired a professional review service for $300, but wasn't entirely happy with the results. I think I've probably spent a couple dozen hours working with her on her essays over the past few months.

We also exchanged Christmas gifts. I knew what she was getting for me because she told me not to order "anything". She gave me season five of 24. I also gave her present to her, although I'd had it ready a while ago. She didn't want it before. I got her the board game Puerto Rico. She wasn't very surprised. But I haven't played a board game with her in a long time. This might be the last board game I get her, since it's hard to find really good games and you don't want too many since you won't play them that often.

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December 23, 2006

Kakurenbo

Kakurenbo is a short film done entirely in CG but with cel shaders to look like traditional animation. It's a creepy story, the kind you'd consider campfire fare, about kids who play hide and seek in an old city but never return once they enter. The rendering, atmosphere (both visual and aural) are excellent and chilling. The story is a little short; I think a longer version could build more suspense and pull the viewer in deeper. But otherwise it's great.

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December 22, 2006

Trigun

Trigun is one of the most famous anime series, which originally aired in 1998. If you go to a convention, you'll definitely see a Vash or two. Easily recognizable and well known. I think the storyline, concept, and episodes are pretty good. Entertaining and meaninful at the same time. The only thing I didn't particularly like is the revelation of Vash's true nature and how things came to be on the desert planet. I feel like things would be more meaningful if that wasn't the case.

The real focus of the story is on what is the right thing to do. Unfortunately, it also asks and answers the extremely hard question of sacrifice or sin for the greater good. And while I think the message that Naito-sama is trying to convey is a good and important one, I don't know if I can agree with it. I feel like my opinions are closer to those of Wolfwood, rather than those of Vash. Because the truth is, all of the suffering could have been lessened if Vash had been willing to punish Knives to begin with. Even if the truth is that he has no right to do so. I do think it's more important to do the right thing than the thing that serves the greater good, but you also have to be able to do what's necessary to protect others. I believe that protecting others is the right thing even if it doesn't necessarily serve the greater good or requires you to do something which you really shouldn't.

That's why I thought the ending was a bit of a let-down. I really don't think things will necessarily get any better. But the whole point of the series is to make it clear that you have to try. And many times it won't make things better, but sometimes it does. And maybe that's the best you can do, and that's really the right thing to do.

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December 20, 2006

Luna Was Approved

Luna's K-1 visa application was officially approved today. :D She had her interview at the U.S. Consulate in Guanghzou, which is about a day's train ride away from Shanghai. The interview was about ten minutes long, although she didn't get in to see the interviewer until maybe an hour and a half or two hours after her scheduled time. She was asked how we met, a few basic factual questions about me, and some simple things like that. Nothing tricky. She had to hand over all of the information about both of us for their records.

The only bad thing that happened was sometime before or during the interview she lost her Keroro wallet. Nothing important in it, only some cash. But Luna says that it's okay because the good thing balances out with the bad thing. And she can try to buy the wallet again from the store in Shanghai near her workplace. She thinks it might have been stolen when she wasn't paying attention, because Guangzhou is so crowded and busy, and people visiting the consulate might be convenient and good targets.

Anyway, she has to go to the Guangzhou post office on Friday to pick up the visa packet, along with her passport. I'm not really sure why the packet is sent to the Guangzhou post office to get picked up, and not just picked up at the consulate or actually mailed from the Guangzhou post office to the Shanghai post office or her home. It's probably a good idea for it to be kept very safe so the visa couldn't be intercepted and used by someone else. But still seems strange. So she's staying in Guangzhou until she can pick up the visa there.

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Alias: Season 5

Season five marks the conclusion of Alias, one of my favorite television series. The viewership had been dropping off, and I think the supernatural turn taken in season four may have contributed to that. Regardless, I still think it's a great series in all seasons, full of intensity and drama and intrigue. And knowing that the show was coming to an end, they produced an unbelievably good conclusion, that really feels like an ending and not a cancellation.

Season five brings back more of the original cast which helped make the series great, like Sark and Will, with some cameos in flashbacks for characters like Francie and Marshall's wife. Everything comes to a head with Sydney's mom, Irina, finally revealing her endgame in a manner which really makes you wonder what her feels are for Sydney, both in this series and in everything that she did previously. Sloane's quest is resolved, and all the questions about Rambaldi are answered.

Some new characters are introduced, and I think Rachel does an excellent job acting, although sometimes the lines seemed a bit corny or convenient. Not just for her, but also for other characters like Will, a handful of times in different episodes. I also really liked Renée Rienne, and it was kind of interesting to see a few people from the first season of 24 show up, all together, and all for the bad guys.

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December 19, 2006

Sealed Sonotube Subwoofers

In my quest for the ultimate subwoofer (restriction being no infinite baffle) flat to 5Hz, I purchased four 15" TC-2000 single voice coil drivers. After going through WinISD Pro and forums and gathering information and advice from many sources over a few months, these are the drivers I ended up with and the enclosure design would be to use sonotubes. I decided to use a sealed enclosure rather than a ported one because the port volume would be too great and a passive radiator would have too much group delay and somewhat extreme mass requirements for reaching 5Hz. I've put up photos of the construction process.

The sonotubes are approximately 4' in length, and 20" in diameter. Each endcap is three layers of 3/4" MDF, with two layers inside and one layer outside. Having three layers for the endcaps posted a problem because you cannot purchase binding posts long enough to go through that far. So what I did is run brass bolts in from the inside to meet with short binding posts run in from the outside. The end caps, dowels, and protective grille over the top driver brings the total height of each subwoofer to approximately 4.5'.

Most people cover their sonotubes with a black fabric "sock". I wanted something that would look a little nicer, so I covered mine with cherry veneer. Unfortunately, due to bumps in the outside of the tubes, there are some ridges in the veneer. And Alla and I had some issues with the glue, so there are some glue marks on the outside near one of the endcaps. We also had glue on our hands for a few days afterwards. So overall the finished look is not commercial quality when seen up close, but from a distance they look very nice.

The project as a whole took a few weekends to complete. A lot of time was spent waiting on the endcap paint to dry, and sand, and recoat. I purchased a high quality mask to protect myself while cutting the MDF, as MDF creates a very fine sawdust when it is cut, and contains carcinogens. It's really best to cut MDF outside in the open air, rather than in the garage. I wish I'd found and purchased a larger circle jig though, because my makeshift one was not perfectly accurate.

I am driving the finished subwoofers with a Behringer EP2500 subwoofer and giving it low-pass boost and equalization to mimic a Linkwitz-Transform using a Behringer DCX2496. You can accomplish the same thing with a cheaper unit, but the DCX2496 provides some additional flexibility. The cables were cut from a spool of Impact Acoustics 14/4 (four runs of 14awg in the sleeve) I won in a contest a while back. I'm doubling up the runs so the signal path is 14/2 each. Each channel of the EP2500 is driving two drivers in parallel, for a ~2Ω load.

Using a Behringer ECM8000 microphone with an M-Audio MobilePre, I calibrated and equalized the subwoofer response flat down to somewhere below 5Hz, possibly even 2Hz, because of room gain benefits. The subwoofer can be driven to reference levels without clipping.

With the flat response, you have to bump up Black Hawk Down pretty high to feel the 5-7Hz 0dB signal from the Irene scene. I've included a copy of the waterfall chart posted by MingL here:

At reference levels, it's a tiny bit noticeable. It's possible to increase the low-pass filter to boost those frequencies several more dB, in which case it really feels like there is a rotor passing over you. I'm not really sure what the dB level is supposed to be; 0dB implies 115dB to me, which I don't necessarily think I can reach at 5Hz, but at ~105dB it's already vibrating the entire house. The whole movie plays way loud at reference levels though, since it's all gunshots and explosions.

Regardless, at this point I feel like I've accomplished building the ultimate traditional subwoofer, and can reproduce all the infrasonics I might need. Now I just need to get much better speakers that have flatter overall response and can reproduce high frequencies well. :)

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December 12, 2006

Gungrave

Luna tells me that Gungrave is considered by some to be too commercialized, but that she thinks it's really good. I also think it's pretty good, however I like the first half of the storyline much more than the second. Basically, it tells the story of two street punks who have been together since growing up in an orphanage and how they transition into the mafia. At a particular point in time, events drove them to decide upon what it means to have power and control and the purpose of such things. But their decisions are split, which leads into the second half of the series. But I think the second half is too action oriented and supernatural. I liked a lot more the first half which deals with the characters and ideas.

From a technical standpoint, the animation is very good. I particularly liked how well the artists were able to convey the aging of each character as they grow older. The story takes place over a few decades, and seeing characters faces as they age is probably a distinctive quality of this series. The music is also pretty good, but sometimes I felt it a little odd. Styles change depending on the mood and setting, in ways which seem appropriate for those changes, but which sometimes don't mix together in the right way, in my opinion.

There are some ideas, ideals, and questions posed in this series. I think that some of those are very well represented and presented. However I'm not sure if a viewer can just accept those at face value. Because, unfortunately, it seems like each character's beliefs are strict rules, rather than circumstantial. And ultimately, the things they were striving for may have been achieved more easily and in a better manner had they taken a different path in life. Given that, I can't say I'd agree with the choices most of them made. Although taking that other path may have been a very difficult thing to do.

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December 11, 2006

Christmas Presents w/Shannon and Yvonne

Yesterday I went to visit Shannon and Yvonne having not seen them in a long time. I brought them their Christmas presents, but also had to show them how to order things online to order my own Christmas present. :p They both wanted to get me Kingdom Hearts 2 because they want to see it. Hopefully they know how to use a shopping cart and go through the checkout process now and can do it again in the future. During dinner we talked a little bit about things like the video game controversery and the different attitudes towards sex and violence seen in the United States and Europe.

Afterwards, we decided to go to rent some movies. Wasn't sure what to pick. It's hard to find good movies at the store because the selection is so small. Shannon wanted something funny. Yvonne kept picking weird movies like the black and white Robin Hood. We settled on Beetlejuice, The Princess Bride (again), and Back to the Future. Beetlejuice is too creepy for Shannon, so only Yvonne and I watched it. Yvonne got creeped out too though. They both really liked Back to the Future and we need to rent the sequels next time. Back to the Future gave Yvonne a chance to make fun of me for being old. XD I'm just going to have to get them a copy of The Princess Bride rather than keep renting it.

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December 9, 2006

Blade Trinity

Blade Trinity is a movie I mostly got because I enjoy the series in general. While I think this film lives up to expectations in terms of action, I think the plot is a little weak because it relies a bit too much on cliché and style instead of substance. I also did not particularly like the attempt at mythology introduced both with the villian and the conclusion. It didn't fit with the previous mythology. And for some reason humans are able to compete with the vampires. That doesn't fit either. Anyway, as a pure action movie it's fine as long as you don't think too hard.

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December 8, 2006

Ice Age: The Meltdown

Ice Age: The Meltdown is the sequel to the very entertaining and creative Ice Age. I really like the first one. It's funny, has great characters and character development, a somewhat simple but well executed story, and great visuals and audio. Unfortunately, I don't think the sequel lives up to the name.

The sequel seems short with a recycled storyline and a lot of filler. It's just not as exciting because the build-up isn't there, nor the character exploration. There are several Scrat shorts interspersed within the film, and they really have nothing to do with the storyline. Instead, they eat up time and distract by acting as frequent and hollow intermissions. I also felt a lot of the jokes fell a little flat.

I did really like the sloth music sequence, but I think it could have gone a little farther. It's similar to the dodo music sequence from the first movie, but slightly less amusing.

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December 4, 2006

Ellen's Indecisive Birthday

So this year I've christened Ellen's annual event as her "Indecisive Birthday". Because we spent like two hours just figuring out what to do after dinner. Alla and I got her a gift certificate to some dance studio she likes, but Alla wasn't able to make it to the party. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant named Fiorillo's. Nice atmosphere and food, but fancy-pricey. Huong and Marty were there, along with Rita and her boyfriend, Ryne, whom I'd never met before, and Karissa and Brian, plus the usual Ellen-birthday-regulars that I don't remember names of. The original plan was to go roller skating afterwards. But things got all weird after dinner.

So after dinner the group of us were going to Cal Skate Milpitas. I'd brought my rollerblades, and it was Huong and Marty, Ellen, Rita and Ryne, and I think and Justin and a Brian. But when we got there, a few of them got spooked by the atmosphere and some people they say, so we decided to go to the Dave & Buster's at the Great Mall.

D&B's seemed so much more like a Las Vegas casino than it did when I went to one with the IBM Extreme Blue team over in New York maybe four years ago. People were getting carded to get in, and if you didn't realize you were looking at arcade games, you'd think it was a casino floor. Anyway, once we got in, people weren't sure what to do and started thinking about going to a movie. Or to the miniature golf place also at the mall. Justin didn't even really want to see a movie.

Anyway, I gave up trying to figure out what we were going to do at some point during the discussion and we ended up going to see the movie Deja Vu. The movie was okay. It got some of the technical details right, and there are lots of interesting clues along the way. And I really liked how they approached the terrorism subject and that it was not overly focused upon as anything more than a crime. But parts of it were predictable and other parts were just scienfically convenient/irreconcilable.

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November 30, 2006

Cars

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.

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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.

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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.

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November 16, 2006

Genshiken! :_(

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.

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November 15, 2006

Kiddy Grade

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.

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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.

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November 12, 2006

The Saint

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.

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November 10, 2006

The Rundown

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.

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November 6, 2006

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.

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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.

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November 4, 2006

THX 1138

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.

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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.

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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.

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November 1, 2006

Gladiator

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.

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October 30, 2006

Maburaho

Maburaho is one of those silly romantic comedy anime series where a bunch of girls chase after a boy for some reason or another and hilarity and silliness ensues. I do think Maburaho delivers pretty well in that regard, and I really liked the characters. There are some really great plot devices, but I didn't find it as consistently funny as some other series'. Still, I think if you go for this kind of series, Maburaho is probably exactly what you're looking for.

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October 29, 2006

Gundress

Gundress has the name Masamune Shirow attached, and that somewhat attracted me to this film because I really like his work. But that public relations gimmick is about all this movie has going for it. It's a very simple and unoriginal action movie with some basic characters and a bit of excitement. There's really nothing special about this movie.

There are a couple things to note regarding the linked review. Nudity while navigating the mind or cyberspace is signature Shirow because it represents the inner view of oneself. A person's own view of himself or herself doesn't really have anything to do with external trappings like clothes. The nudity is symbolic. And the reason the male representation does not have any genitalia is because it is illegal to depict those things in Japan (or at least it was—I'm not entirely sure of the current law). Alissa didn't have any genitalia depicted either.

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October 28, 2006

Silent Hill

I had some people over last night to watch Silent Hill, the movie adaptation of the first game of the series. It's close to Halloween, and so Wendy said a scary movie might be a good choice. Silent Hill isn't a gory or slasher movie. It's a creepy movie. And I thought it did a very good job of being creepy, although the acting and dialogue wasn't wonderful and the plot seemed a little rushed near the climax. But everyone agreed it was creepy.

Wendy's husband, Brian, also came. As did Alla and Christian and Tintin whom I hadn't seen in a long time. Alla had some trouble understanding what was going on, I think because the movie progressed somewhat like the game would in revealing clues over time and making it so things were confusing and disorienting. This does heighten the creepiness in my opinion. But she didn't like it because it wasn't realistic to her.

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October 23, 2006

A View to a Kill

I watched A View to a Kill, Roger Moore's last James Bond film, just now, and I'm starting to think overall it's not worth going through the entire Bond catalog. The past few James Bond movies I've watched I've rated only three stars on Netflix, and I can't really think of any that I enjoyed as much as Goldeneye. What I did really like about this film though, was Christopher Walken. He's a great villian in this film.

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October 22, 2006

Killer Bunnies

I gave Killer Bunnies to Shannon for her birthday, and got to play it with her and Yvonne this weekend. It turns out to be a very fun game, as recommended by the owner of the Legends store at Oakridge. The rules are a little bit complicated, which made Shannon give up on reading them, but once you understand them the gameplay is very simple and relatively fast moving. What's great is that strategy, planning, and competition are strong elements while not being overwhelmingly complex. And it's just plain fun. It would be even more fun with more players.

One drawback is that winning is to some extent luck. You can do a great job of dominating the game by killing off the other players bunnies efficiently and quickly, but if you don't happen to end up with the correct carrot, you can still lose. So even though you are the better player, you aren't guaranteed to win despite winning everything along the way. I suspect this was done to make things a little less annoying for younger children where poor players might just give up completely. It also makes it so the game can continue even though one player has gathered a plurality of the carrots.

Another issue is that you can keep buying expansion packs to get stranger cards and more wacky behavior. I do think they took a less money-grubbing approach than other collectable card games, since you just buy specific expansion packs in a certain order that provide specific cards. And that certainly allows the game to stay fresh for longer. But there are a lot of expansion packs and you probably do want to get them all.

After we played Killer Bunnies, we watched The Chronicles of Narnia. Shannon and Yvonne both remembered the books much better than I do, and were able to point out some minor inconsistencies that seemed to have crept in as a way to meet the film's time limits and make things a little simplier to absorb. I think they both liked it, and Yvonne did agree the women in the film weren't exactly the greatest. Mei-Ling kept getting scared for no real good reason. She said the music was very erie and that was making her get scared, even though the rest of us didn't feel that way.

Before I left, I helped Yvonne with her chemistry homework. I hope she understands better the shells and energy levels and concepts about atomic geometry a little better now. But mostly she just tries to find the answer and write it down without thinking much about why that's the right answer. We found the Atomic orbital entry on Wikipedia quite useful. Especially for visualizing the orbital shapes.

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October 16, 2006

Lady Vengeance

Chinjeolhan Geumjassi, which for some reason seems to have two English web sites (1, 2), is the final installment in director Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy. The second in the series is Oldboy, but I haven't seen the first one yet. That's okay, because it's not necessary to view these in order. The thing about Lady Vengeance is that it really hits you in the gut with a powerful fist of raw, primal emotion.

This film deals with kidnapping, which can automatically invoke extreme feelings in just about all directions, if well done. And Park doesn't hold anything back. Lady Vengeance is "The Witch", a woman who can appear kind-hearted and full of love while at the same time so cold and calculating against people who have wronged her. She is sent to prison at the age of 19 for kidnapping and smothering a 5-year-old boy to death. When she is released thirteen years later and offered a tofu cake by a priest, she tips the cake onto the ground. This sets the mood of the entire film.

I found myself gripped by the characters, which are portrayed by outstanding actors, the story, which is intelligent and complex, and the emotions which are so basic you cannot avoid a vicarious experience. As with Oldboy, be prepared for anything, because everything is going to be put before you.

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Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko is a cult classic that happens to include an amazing cast set in an amazing premise. This is not a film that reveals the truth. It's a film that posits and explores the potential in humankind's experience of life. At times it's thrilling. Other times scary. It's definitely thought-provoking, and completely captivating. It's very hard to explain, but the most important requirement when watching this film is to try and believe.

There are lots of ways to look at the content of this film. This is one of those movies that if it was a book, you'd find English teachers trying to get you to come up with interpretations and explanations and themes, all of which could be right but are probably more a reflection of the viewer than the author.

I think the best thing about this film is that you have to figure out for yourself, along with Donnie, exactly what must happen. There are people who contribute to the solution, but unravelling the situation is a rewarding puzzle both for the audience and for Donnie as his character comes to a realization.

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October 15, 2006

Voices of a Distant Star

Hoshi no Koe was an amazingly good short film. It's only 25 minutes but it's exciting, emotional, and poignant all at the same time. There have been some comparisons to The Forever War but they're really very different. In Hoshi no Koe, two friends are separated by the limitations of light speed. One has no connection with normalcy except through the SMS line, and the other is tethered by that line.

Human lives are short. It used to take weeks to send a letter by mail. And as the film alludes, your world can be measured in how far you can send a message to someone else. Today, you can easily send a message to someone anywhere else on Earth and it will arrive in less than a second. But once there are people away from Earth, the time to send a message will become measured in light seconds. In this particular case, the messages are taking much longer than that.

As a soldier on a battleship, traversing through the stars, you leave behind everything that is Earth. You also leave behind the people who represent humanity. And sending a message will take a very long time. Years may pass between replies. But that is your link to everything else.

For someone on Earth, to receive those messages, is like hearing from a ghost, but at the same time is someone whom you know to be real and familiar. That person is not gone, but by the time you've received the message, what was said is long past. And the world continued around you, as this message travelled through time to reach you in the future. And so you're trapped by your past. But it's not a trap you can simply escape from because doing so means abandoning something precious.

The worst part about it all is that there's always the chance someone you saw yesterday really died years ago.

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October 14, 2006

Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight

Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight is considered an anime sequel to Record of Lodoss War, but it is actually a more lengthly adaptation of the original manga. As a result, if you watch both of the series, the first disc of the sequel won't seem to make sense given the events of the first. But if you only watch the sequel, you won't understand everything that took place in the first have of the first series. Basically, you're stuck.

As with what I wrote about the first series, I wasn't too impressed with this series. On the first disc I saw a number of production flaws. The remaining three discs cover the longer second story arc revolving around the knight in training Spark, rather than free knight Parn. There's some decent character development here but no real depth to anything. Visuals are okay for the time, music could have been better, but the rest of the execution is amateur. The basic plot is still there, it's just not used very well.

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October 10, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada

On my flight over to Philadelphia, the movie shown was The Devil Wears Prada, which I actually first heard about from a blog posting The Devil Wears Prada Theater Uniforms. It's a movie that delivers pretty much exactly what you would expect, although there seems to be a tiny argument saying the fashion industry is important because of its impact on everyday life (so does the candy industry--that doesn't mean candy is actually so very important).

Meryl Streep is of course excellent in her role, which can be both cruel and heart-wrenching at the same time. But I was surprised by how well Anne Hathaway performed in this more grown up role, even if she wasn't amazing. The only thing I felt a little unfulfilling was the ease with which everything worked out for her in the end. It was too simple, too under-developed, and her boyfriend didn't ask any questions.

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September 27, 2006

Record of Lodoss War

Record of Lodoss War is a famous anime. Considered one of the archetypes of the fantasy genre. And it does follow very closely the sorts of things developed in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and also Dungeons & Dragons (original). But I didn't think it was that great. The art and music was fine, especially considering the 1990 date. And the basic plot was there. But it was just very simple and straightforward, without much depth. I also felt the dialogue could have been better; conversations were very convenient at times.

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September 22, 2006

Noir

Noir looked very appealing to me because it featured some female assassins and claimed stylized gunfights and good action. But I was really disappointed by how it turned out. It's 26 episodes, but because of the heavy use of flashbacks as a plot device and to recap the previous episode, I think it could have been done a lot better as a 13 episode series. If anything, the word I would use to describe this series is inconsistent.

The action sequences are inconsistent. Sometimes, especially in the first episodes, Kirika and Mireille do some really cool things, both physically and strategically. But at other times they just walk up and stand there for a while pointing their gun, then shoot. In fact, I think they should have died within the first few episodes and the only reason they didn't is because the bad guys completely suck. Even the special bad guys are stupid and suck. How can they be surrounded by a dozen enemies, who are standing within a dozen feet, and not get riddled with bullets because they don't even move. They don't even turn their body to provide a smaller target.

The music was inconsistent too. Sometimes it sounded really good, but other times it was all messed up. For example, I don't know how it could be considered a good idea to mix a regular beat with choir singing when that singing isn't scored at the same tempo. Someone needs to go back to music school or at least the director or mixer needs to get their ears fixed.

Now that it's over, I'm not sure what happened at the end.

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September 16, 2006

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Movie is a two-hour sequel to the series that picks up a while after the series ended. You cannot appreciate this film unless you have watched the entire series, so that is something to keep in mind. The story background and character development heavily depends upon the series, although there is a weak attempt in the beginning at giving new viewers some context. I found the pacing of the movie to be much better than the series, while still maintaining a quality story.

The villian of this movie doesn't have the greatest amount of screen time, but her character and role doesn't feel rushed either. Probably because she is involved in things from the beginning and her plan unravels slowly but steadily. Unfortunately, the movie does suffer a bit from trying to hit you over the head with its message regarding war and conflict and fear and hate.

What was interesting is the movie draws explicit parallels between the persecution that it is depicting now, in this parallel world, with the persecution that was a focal point of the series. And the gypsies are dealt with as the primary target, rather than the Jews, which is very uncommon but actually closer to history. It's probably that there's never been a large community clamoring about what happened to the gypsies, compared to the Jews, at that time in Germany.

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September 14, 2006

Fullmetal Alchemist

Luna really liked Fullmetal Alchemist and told me I should watch it. She liked the story, and the ending, and the opening and closing music. I also liked the ending, which was surprising and also very well done, but found the story too drawn out and the rock music isn't my taste. The artwork is pretty decent and a lot of the action was pretty good too.

I liked the characters and the overall plot arc, but it just took too long and I felt like things repeated themselves too often. I guess a lot of things were sort of building up over time, in a detailed manner, but it wasn't until the episodes near the end that I thought anything was really getting accomplished. At that point, the extended character development does pay off a bit, but not a whole lot.

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September 11, 2006

Thunderball

Turns out Thunderball is another James Bond movie that I've seen but didn't recognize by the name. This Bond movie was okay, but not that special I don't think. The best part about it were the underwater scenes, which were done very well and also somewhat exciting. But the villian wasn't particularly evil, although the cat-and-mouse dance between him and Bond did keep things a little interesting.

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September 6, 2006

Mom over Labor Day

My mom visited this past weekend because it was Labor Day weekend. She arrived Saturday night and left early on Tuesday morning. She did bring me the pluge router I wanted. She also brought me two small albums of the wedding photos Luna and I had done last time I was in Shanghai. The photos look good, but the albums are a little crappy if fancy looking. They have the name of the studio on the front, instead of our names, and the veneer is missing from the back of one of them. My favorite picture is the one where Luna looks angry and is holding the Hello Kitty dolls.

Sunday morning my mom and I went to a Church in Fremont because Calvin went there to say a few words about Labor Day. He really only talked for about 5 minutes, and I had to sit through all the sermon stuff and preaching. I wonder if preachers recognize some of the hypocricy they spout. In this particular sermon, the only reason you might not consider it hypocritical is if you aren't willing to question your own faith. Which is the point, I guess.

The rest of the time I watched Full Metal Alchemist and played Radiata Stories.

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August 21, 2006

Shaun of the Dead

I just watched Shaun of the Dead, a movie that Anthony from work said was really good and funny. It's an odd sort of movie, mixing zombies with a sort of casual attitude and British humor. For example, instead of running away from the zombies, Shaun and his friend decide to sit on the couch and figure things out. I enjoyed it, and it was fairly amusing at times although yucky at other times.

One unfortunate thing I discovered is that one of the Plus 12.3 drivers I received from SVSound is defective. It rattles sometimes, and I found it even rattled when out of the subwoofer just from the initial turn-on thump. I thought this was due to a loose screw or loose fastening before, but turns out it's a defect in the driver itself. So SVSound is shipping me a replacement. They do have some of the best customer service I've experienced.

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August 19, 2006

FLCL

I actually saw parts of FLCL for the first time on Adult Swim while at a hotel somewhere. It was extremely strange and didn't make any sense. And actually, that turns out to be pretty much true even if you watch the series from beginning to end rather than in pieces. The main character, Naota, gets beat up by guitars and robots erupt from his head on a regular basis. And just about every other scene makes fun or something or other, or is done in a comedic fashion. But I have to say I actually enjoyed it as a whole.

FLCL just has some strange amount of extreme energy throughout the entire series. It shows up even during the end credits, which are longer than usual but captivating in its own way. The sound of the show is rock, and it sounds like pure Japanese rock to me—not Western-adapted rock. And it fits and fills the show perfectly.

I guess never knowing what will happen next, coupled with great artwork and visual sequences, energetic music, and crazy memorable characters just makes the series work in a strange way. It's like seeing some artwork that shouldn't make sense but has an unnatural attraction to it anyway.

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August 14, 2006

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

Amazing. That's the one word that came to my mind almost immediately after beginning to watch Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. I've been waiting to see this for a while now, and finally managed to find the DVD for a decent price. I think the story was a little too action-focused, but not in a bad way. The visuals were amazing, and the amount of detail and effort they put into the world and sequences is amazing. The soundtrack was very evocative, and the movie brought back so many memories and emotions.

The reapperance of Sephiroth gave me goosebumps. Even though I knew he was coming, seeing him again and feeling the evil with his theme music was very tense and dramatic. It felt like a resurrection of evil. Sephiroth really does epitomize hatred so well, and knowing the background behind him and Cloud and what Sephiroth has done and seeks truly makes him a fearsome character. I do still think Kefka is still a better antagonist than Sephiroth, but Sephiroth has the emotion whereas Kefka is more of a villain.

It does help a lot if you have played Final Fantasy VII, because a lot of the characters and the world and plot depends upon the development of things in the game. While the DVD does include a decent synopsis of events from the game, it doesn't capture everything. But, it would be a good idea to watch the synopsis before watching Advent Children if you've never played FFVII or if it's been a while since you have. Even then, there are things about the film you will not fully understand unless you have played the game.

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August 13, 2006

Underworld: Evolution

I really liked the first movie, but the sequel Underworld: Evolution lost just about all of the original's culture and is a pure action movie. The action sequences are pretty intense and exciting, and the creature effects are great this time as they were in the first movie. I think the sexuality of both Beckinsale and Speedman are over exploited though. I wish the sophistication of the first movie had remained though.

There was an opportunity here to continue the exploration of the culture, the politics, and the infighting but instead all of those chances are skipped so as to move from one fight scene to the next. What happened to all of the other lycans and death dealers? It's like they've simply disappeared from the conflict, when we know they're still there and should be intimately involved in the chaos. I did like the scenes involving the historian though, as that brought back some of the wonderful sense of mythology found in the first movie.

Instead the majority of non-fight time involves Selene remembering more of her past. This is somewhat important, because it reveals back-story that further enriches her character, but it's also a little convenient in that it's history that wasn't necessary for the character development. And I think the extensive use of flashbacks was a poor choice of directing. Flashbacks in the first movie served real purpose for revealing truths and moving the plot forward. This time, they're more of a gimmick and contain very little information.

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So Close

So Close is a Hong Kong action movie that looked pretty entertaining from just what I saw and read on the DVD case. And the action part is certainly very entertaining. I think this movie is a good example of Hong Kong martial arts movies, and all three actresses are very good at acting and the choreographed martial arts. Unfortunately, the movie lacks focus because the writers tried to cram too much into it and the sequence of events is not always clear.

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Banner of the Stars I & II

It seems I forgot to write an entry for Banner of the Stars, so I'll combine it with my entry for Banner of the Stars II, as they are really too closely tied to be considered sequels instead of the same series. Unfortunately, I still have to see Banner of the Stars III but it isn't yet licensed in the U.S. The story as a whole is what really gives this anime value, so I am really looking forward to watching the next chapter.

As I mentioned earlier in my review of Crest of the Stars, there isn't anything particularly special about the series. Banner of the Stars has the same look, characters, and continues the story. But taken as a whole, the story becomes exceptionally motivating because of the characters. Since so much time and effort is put on developing the characters and also revealing the characters to the audience, I think anyone would start to care for them. And so although superficially there isn't anything special about the series, the normal story and normal characters do create something special which is very complex and takes time to appreciate.

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August 11, 2006

V for Vendetta

A few friends came over tonight to watch V for Vendetta. Jeannie, Gary, and Dantam showed up and Bryant was supposed to be he never did and we couldn't reach him by phone. The movie turned out enormously better than I was expecting. Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving were excellent, and I was especially impressed by how well the personality and emotion of V could be portrayed even from behind the mask. The visuals, action sequences, and sound were also very good.

One aspect I particularly liked was the basis in reality that the world of V exists within. Although this is a comic book adaptation, the people are not supers and do not have any abnormal powers. There aren't any strange guns or weapons, and the characters are human in their normality and emotion. This is extremely important because the ideals and morality of this film is built upon the idea of you and I, and not the idea of something supernatural or larger than the individual.

There really is too much to say about the ideals and morality present in this film, and they come directly from the comic. The original work is sometimes said to be a satire and criticism of the UK government when Margaret Thatcher served as prime minister, because the comic features the opposing views of anarchism and fascism. The movie was modified to some degree to feature the opposing views of liberalism and (religious) conservatism, to some degree. It's taken a little farther than simple left-wing/right-wing politics.

Unfortunately, the thing that really made this movie have an impact upon me is because it captures so well exactly how I feel about certain things today. I think it's been such a long time since a movie that does this has been produced, where the current political, social, and economic situations are the real focus rather than an intellectual side-note. And it's certainly the first one that takes it as far as this one does for something that I am living through.

I do hope people will understand when it is said "artists use lies to tell the truth" that the statement is as much about the movie itself as it is about what's going on in the movie.

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August 8, 2006

The Law of Ueki

I found the first disc of The Law of Ueki for free at work, and watched it shortly thereafter. Nothing special, but I figured it was only one more disc so I might as well finish it. Well, I watched the second disc yesterday and discovered that there are in fact over fifty episodes, and many more discs to come (but not entered into Netflix). So I've decided not to continue watching. It's just not worth it.

The story has a strange and potentially promising premise, here gods are battling for the supreme title, and humans are given a single power to act as their proxies in battle. Ueki is given the power to turn trash into trees. And from that you can figure out the basis of every episode. Each episode involves Ueki meeting one or more combatants and of course defeating them.

There is an extremely weak attempt at creating some background or personality for each combatant. I think it'd have been better to just completely skip that as it doesn't make much sense to have flashbacks during battle and there's no value resulting from the backstory. There's also a relatively weak attempt at justifying the reasons for fighting this way.

There are a few funny points, but not enough of them that are funny enough to save the series. Many attempts at humor were simply lost on me. The voice acting is not that great either. The voices do match the personalities, but don't seem that refined.

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August 7, 2006

Tomb Raider

I ended up watching Tomb Raider again. It's not a particularly great movie, but I like it for the action sequences, electronic soundtrack, and overall high level of energy. There are of course things that just don't seem to fit because the movie seems much more real than the video game, but if you can overlook those then there's no issue. And Angelina Jolie's attitude as Lara Croft is excellent.

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August 6, 2006

The Fifth Element

I got a little tired of playing video games, so decided to watch another movie. I hadn't watched The Fifth Element in a while so I decided to pop it in. The Fifth Element is one of my favorite films because of the action, music, visual sequences, and mostly because it's just a lot of fun. Crazy things are always happening with crazy characters. So as usual, I enjoyed it a lot.

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August 5, 2006

The Incredibles

I watched The Incredibles again today. That's probably the fifth time I've watched it. I would have continued watching the anime series I started, except Netflix is taking too long to deliver them. Anyway, The Incredibles has some incredible bass sequences and gave the new Plus 12.3 drivers a workout. One of the drivers wasn't screwed in tight enough, which resulted in some problems during high excursion, so I had to pause the film and fix that.

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August 3, 2006

Crest of the Stars

Crest of the Stars is the first series of a string of anime based off the works of Morioka Hiroyuki. On its own, this series is an interesting but simple story involving two unlikely teenage companions thrust into the misfortune of war. At times it's touching and exciting, but overall nothing too spectacular. However, I have hopes that following these two through all of the series will result in a sum that is greater than its parts.

I do think the artwork, both 2D and CG, is very good and well integrated with each other. I think they did a good job of spending the time and effort to produce each episode without cheating by reusing scenes too much, although that may be because a lot more of it is CG than I suspect. The background music was also decent, with what looks to be a full orchestral score.

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July 30, 2006

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

I watched Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 for maybe the fourth time. Although this time it was the Essential Anime edition which features a 5.1 remix of the English soundtrack and some special features like VA commentary. In almost all respects this edition is the same, and I don't think the surround channels were used to their fullest potential. Unfortunately the Japanese soundtrack was not remixed as well. I did also notice a few transfer errors on maybe the 4th disc. Regardless, this is one of my favorite series and always enjoyable to watch.

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July 16, 2006

March of the Penguins

The best thing about March of the Penguins are the visuals. You get to see Emperor Penguins up close because the cameras were right in with them. This docu-drama chronicles the mating ritual of the Emperor Penguin from the time they leave the ocean until the babies enter the ocean for the first time. It's a very moving film, but I got the impression that things were so difficult for the penguins I'm not sure how they keep up their population.

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July 10, 2006

But I'm a Cheerleader

But I'm a Cheerleader is supposed to be a really funny satire on "fixing" homosexuals. And I do think they put a great deal of effort into that, with both the obvious and the little things in the background contributing to the overall effect. Unfortunately it wasn't super funny. Perhaps because no matter what happens along the way, you have to end up with the expected ending. Or maybe the comedy is a little too dry.

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July 9, 2006

Mezzo

Mezzo is a hard-hitting action TV series involving the Danger Service Agency, your for-hire danger team. Each episode involves the DSA being hired to perform some sort of dangerous activity like delivery of volatile goods or acting as bodyguards. I really liked it as a fun action series, but there really isn't any encompassing story arc so don't expect much there. The artwork is nice as I do like Yasuomi Umetsu's work. I also really enjoyed the rock music by BARNABYS.

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July 7, 2006

The Professional

The Professional is one of those strange films that leaves a lasting impression on you. Written and Directed by Luc Besson, this is one of his earlier films before he went all out in action. The story is interesting in an outrageous way, but the best thing about this film are the characters and how well they are portrayed by the actors.

The three main characters of this film are played by Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, and a very young Natalie Portman. And the acting is superb. Jean Reno carries out the portrayal of a hitman who is completely dumbfounded by the 12-year-old Portman with amazing believability. Natalie Portman is also amazing in her role. Her character is at times strong despite wounds, and at other times emotional and immature. Gary Oldman's character is intense, psychotic, and realistic in a combination that makes him a formidable antagonist.

One thing I found a little disconcerting was the score by Eric Serra. It sounded too close to the compositions used in The Fifth Element, also scored by Eric Serra and by Luc Besson (and also with Gary Oldman in a great role).

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July 5, 2006

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom was the only Indiana Jones movie I hadn't seen. So I watched it tonight and it's another fun Indiana Jones movie full of action, light comedy, and crazy villians involving an unbelievable plot. And as a light action film, it's great. There's not much else to it, but that's okay because this movie isn't trying to do or say anything special.

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July 4, 2006

Full Metal Panic? FUMOFFU!

Full Metal Panic? FUMOFFU! is a completely hilarious follow-up to Full Metal Panic! and the title hints at the attitude of this series. Whereas Full Metal Panic! was a comedic, but serious, storyline involving terrorists and some sort of bio-technological secret, FUMOFFU! is a tongue-in-cheek romp across everything Full Metal Panic! and I couldn't help laughing out loud throughout the show. Warning: spoilers below.

My favorite part of the show was the appearance and antics of Sousuke inside his custom designed Bonta-Kun A.S., which he later developed as a combat suit for sale on the arms market. It is just too funny to see a theme park mascot, who happens to look much cuter than anything from Disney, running around beating up the bad guys and protecting Kaname while only being able to say "fumo".

There are lots of other comedic elements throughout the series, many of which depend on shock surprise for its impact. So unfortunately, I think there are many comedy sequences which won't be as fun to watch a second time around, although anticipating those sequences might be part of the fun too, depending on the sequence and your personality.

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July 3, 2006

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Platinum

Neon Genesis Evangelion has always been one of my favorite anime series. It has a little bit of everything, and does it with an incredible level of emotional and thought-provoking impact. It's also one of the most confusing anime, with a great amount of freedom of interpretation. If there is any anime which will survive as an epic classical work, this is it.

Recently released was the Platinum Edition of Eva, which remixed the audio in 5.1 and also included quite a bit of cel clean-up. The audio is much nicer and the 5.1 channels are used to excellent effect, although I did hear a few glitches. The major cel transfer problems have been corrected, although I did still see one segment which had some alignment jitter.

Also included in the Platinum Edition are director's cut versions of episodes 21-24. These director's cuts include a few minutes per episode of additional background story or revealing secrets. This additional footage can help one understand a little bit more of what the conclusion is leading up to and what the characters went through to become who they are. But sometimes it also results in more questions. Some of the footage is different as well, such as the Eva graveyard or elevator.

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June 29, 2006

Full Metal Panic!

Full Metal Panic! turned out to be an entertaining anime, although in a lot of ways it's a typical mecha show without much else. What is great about it is the constant level of excitement and comedy. The characters all have very extreme personalities that are amusing on their own, and when combined with each other and crazy situations the entertainment value rises pretty fast. There wasn't anything special other than that.

There were a few nice songs during the series, but not many which means most of the songs were played back quite often. So in some ways the songs worked as a theme for certain situations, but in other ways it just felt like you were hearing the same thing again. However, the opening and ending songs and video sequences changed a few times, and that was actually interesting.

One thing I found annoying was the voice-over done by the voice actors during the FBI copyright warning at the beginning of each disc. That sort of thing alone would make me not want to purchase the series. It's an in-your-face reminder of how some executives and industry people think of their customers. Especially since this anime featured one of my favorite voice actors, Hillary Haag, as well as others I recognize.

A few things about the story and situation were not revealed at any time during the series. I suspect those questions might be answered in the sequel.

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June 28, 2006

Queen of the Damned

Today I held a small movie night, with only Dantam and Alla attending. I moved it from tomorrow to today because Alla has something else planned for tomorrow night. So I cooked some food at home, which seemed to impress Dantam for some strange reason. And then we watched Queen of the Damned. Unfortunately, I think this is a movie that sort of gets more content for having read the book, and also loses some of its appeal for having read the book.

Stuart Townsend does a very good job at portraying the Vampire Lestat, but I really think casting Aliyah as Akasha was messed up, or at least what the director had her act out was just wrong. It doesn't fit the role of Akasha very well at all, and I also recall the physical description of Akasha being different in the book. Townsend matches Lestat very well, on the other hand.

I also thought there was way too much emphasis on the rock music and also messed up special effects. Blurring people to make them seem faster doesn't accomplish that effect. It only makes things look messed up. And then there were some sequences with crazy visuals that really didn't make sense either. Some aspects of the plot were inconsistent with the mood and emotional aspects that I think Anne Rice tries to convey in her stories.

I think the most memorable part of the evening was Dantam's opinion on Stuart Townsend.

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June 22, 2006

Pulp Fiction

I'm not really sure why people like Pulp Fiction so much. I remember it was one of Jessica's favorite movies when it came out. So I finally watched it, and while it was somewhat unique in its storytelling approach, Chungking Express came out the same year and shares a similar storytelling approach. I suppose it's no coincidence Quentin Tarantino brought Chungking Express over for a U.S. release given his statement of being a huge fan of Won Kar Wai. The only difference is that I'm not really sure what the point of Pulp Fiction is. There's some speculation about religion being a factor, and maybe that's true, but I don't think that's really clear or prominent.

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June 20, 2006

Steamboy

Steamboy was an amazing film. Everything about it was excellent. The visuals were extremely detailed to an extent I'd never seen before. The CG work was almost seamless, and artistically done. The audio was immersive and explosive and the score wonderful. The story itself has meaning without weighing down the pure action of the film. And the characters have depth, in a very focused but not really one-dimensional way. Throughout the entire movie I was totally engrossed in the film and fully enjoying it.

Sony got some amazing voice talent for the show, including Patrick Stewart who has become more popular for anime voice acting, and he is very good at it, and also Alfred Molina and Anna Paquin who did a great job. The distinctive voice of Kari Wahlgren is also there, who it turns out has been in many shows and video games that I am familiar with. Because this movie takes place in England, watching it with the English voice actors is actually a much better choice than watching it with the Japanese voice actors.

Steamboy has some incredible audio as well. There is a constant amount of background audio in the movie, as many scenes take place in areas containing heavy machinery. And the massive action sequences involving steam engines and other steam-powered war machines are filled with the noise that will accompany such action and machinery. This film also has a large number of low-frequency effects that require a bottom-feeding subwoofer, and accurate reproduction of machinery that will stress good high-frequency reproduction as well.

Watching the special features, the artists and animators talk about how this was the one anime where there was no deadline on the artwork. And so they could spend as much time as they wanted to draw the images Katsuhiro Otomo envisioned and put down on paper. And that is an incredible amount of detail. This is one anime that would really benefit from a high-definition video transfer. And the images are beautiful as well.

Underlying the story is a cautionary exploration of how technology is a cold, powerful, and raw tool that must be tempered with morality and the human heart. Ray's father and grandfather represent the extremes of this spectrum, and he is torn between them as he tries to find for himself an answer that he can live by. But of course this isn't an easy question, and it does't have a simple answer, and it is still one of those ideas which is something a person can only provide an answer for from their gut and their heart. Otomo will not give you an answer.

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June 19, 2006

Fruits Basket

Fruits Basket was recommended to me by Netflix, and it seems to be a highly regarded series. This is true, to some extent. The characters are well developed but one-dimensional in their complexity (which drives the meaning of the series). And the animation work is very good for most of the episodes. But while the series does make a valiant attempt at humor and poking fun at anime in general, it doesn't pull it off as well as I had hoped. Instead most of the humor was lost on me. Ultimately, the theme of the movie is intelligent, but something that I've already heard many times so while the episodes do very well at discussing the theme, I found them somewhat boring and simple.

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June 15, 2006

Must Love Dogs

A bunch of people were going to show up for movie night tonight, but at the last minute the roster got shuffled. So Alla, Dantam, Zhao, Sasha, Femi, and then at the last minute Kristie, showed up. Originally the girl-to-boy ratio was going to be higher, but regardless we watched Must Love Dogs which has a very clichéd and predictable plot, but some really funny points which is what made the movie enjoyable. Otherwise, it would have been just another typical romantic comedy.

MySpace became a big topic of discussion at this movie night for some reason. I'm not a member and don't plan to be, but everyone else attending has at least an empty profile on there, and some are actively using the site. The discussion about MySpace, and also other things, seems to reinforce the idea that the universe is actively working against Dantam when it comes to certain things.

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June 12, 2006

Downfall

Karen recommended Downfall to me a few weeks ago. It's gotten very good reviews, and I can understand why. The movie tells the story of the last days within Hitler's bunker from a few different viewpoints, and is partially based off a book by Hitler's secretary during that time. The re-creation is very realistic, although a lot of it was dramatized for theatrical effect, and I suspect miscellaneous plot additions were made to enhance the viewing experience. The acting is very good, and I think the real value in this film is how it makes the all of the people come to life as people and not just as villains.

I was impressed by the attention to detail in this movie. Everything from the rubble to the uniforms, and maybe even behavioral characteristics (although I can't be sure about that) seemed very auhentic. I'm certain that a great deal of effort was put forth in making all of that as close to the original as possible. I also really liked the sound production values. The surround mix is used to good effect both within the bunker and outside when Berlin was being shelled. Underground, low frequency information made it possible to somewhat experience the effects of artillery landing above.

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June 11, 2006

No Way Out

No Way Out is a decent thriller, starring Kevin Costner with an important but relatively short role by Sean Young. There's nothing really special about this movie, but if you like thrillers I think this one will satisfy. The basic storyline is one where an accidental death and the potential for scandal result in a coverup investigation. Costner's character knows what really happened, but needs to find a safe way to expose the truth.

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Iria: Zeiram the Animation

I didn't know this until after the film, but Iria: Zeiram the Animation is the prequel OVA to two live-action movies starring the same character. While I enjoyed this anime, it really is just an action movie without much more going for it. But as an action anime, it was very well done with really no repeat frames and a fast pace without the artists cheating out by showing barely moving images. There really isn't much story or purpose to it though.

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June 9, 2006

24 - Season 4

The fourth season of 24 was not as good as the previous three seasons. While I think the story was as well developed and still very dramatic and intense, I also think the writing changed in three bad ways. First off, sometimes the dialogue sounded a little silly. The relationship discussions didn't fit in as well as before. Second, there was one episode that looked like a giant Cisco commercial. That ruined things a bit. Lastly, this episode took a very one-sided approach towards recent events, when it used to take a more objective view that at least included a balance of both sides.

That third aspect did bother me a bit. The entire season argued heavily in favor of being able to do whatever it takes to achieve your end. There were a few times when things were presented in the other light, where principles and law have to be upheld, but the arguments were weak and the plot and counter-arguments always won over. In previous seasons, the line between good and bad, the right thing to do and the wrong thing to do, were always a little fuzzy. In this season, the line was razor sharp.

Another thing I noticed that just about all of the technical details, and the terms they used to describe them, were just plain wrong. Someone made things up and just assumes the audience has no idea that it's all fake. That's not really a bad assumption, but it did make some things just wrong for me when I watched it. Interestingly, when uber-hacker Chloe actually said things or did things, it did make sense and was accurate. It's almost like she rewrote her lines to be correct or something. Although that seems extremely unlikely.

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Stellvia

Stellvia turned out to be better than I thought it would be, although not as good as it could have been. The series starts out a little slow, and I felt like there wasn't enough content in many of the episodes. The character Shima Katase also stays a little too long in the unconfident crybaby mode, although I don't necessarily think that's unrealistic. Despite this, the story got more interesting in the second half and contains some good moments, especially dealing with relationships and sometimes human nature, although it didn't focus too hard on any one aspect.

Stellvia has some good music, and also pretty good graphics. I liked the character designs a lot, for the most part, although I felt they didn't get the CG work right for the ships because they didn't take into acceleration. So the movements were too stiff and visibly wrong.

I did really enjoy some of the jokes and joke sound effects, but they started to occur less often as the show became more serious. I would have liked it if they included more of them, but that could have detracted some from the seriousness of the ideas and topics later on. So I can understand leaving it out.

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May 31, 2006

License to Kill

I watched License to Kill not knowing that I'd already seen the ending to it before. I like this James Bond film because it has an interesting plot and pretty good action sequences. Supporting actress Carey Lowell has been one of my favorite Bond girls since I first saw this film, and Q's more active role as a field agent is also memorable.

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May 29, 2006

Gunslinger Girl

Superficially, Gunslinger Girl is a story about pre-adolescent and adolescent girls who are trained as efficient killers as part of a government special operations team. But if you approach this anime with that mindset, you will be extremely surprised at what this extremely tight and intelligent series really offers. The characters, story, and emotional aspects explored by the writers are some of the best I have ever experienced. What this series is really about are young girls who are trying to understand what life means for them in respect to their father-figure handlers.

You might think it cruel for these girls to have been brain-washed and forced to live in such a controlled and violent environment. But on the surface, all of these young girls were saved from horrible situations and the conditioning serves both to help them forget about what happened to them and to perform their duties more effectively. It might be hard to say whether or not they are better off with their new lives, or if it would have been best to leave them to die or live with their physical and mental scars. I certainly would not wish any young girl to live the way they do, but I think given the choice that this is a better option.

What really drives this series forward are the relationships that each girl has with her handler. Although they are not biologically related, the pair of handler and girl is referred to as a fratello, and their relationship is very much like that of a father and daughter. But as with reality, some girls will suffer tragedy or emotional hurt due to events outside of their control or from how their handler views them. Some handlers look at their cyborgs as tools to be used and nothing more. While others treat their girl as their own daughter. And because the girls and handlers are human, they come with all of the flaws and complexity that you would expect to find in real life. Regardless of if you like how a handler treats his girl, you have to understand that they are a fratello, and the girls would never accept a different handler.

I think that the depth of these characters and the realistic complexity of their relationships would actually provide more than enough detail for a much longer storyline or for greater focus on individual girls. But this series is extremely focused and so there is a great deal to pull out of each episode. The ending is so bittersweet and should really strike a chord within you because you've grown to understand and feel for the girls.

Two things that were really great with this production were the CG and music. The animators made great use of 3-D models and cel shading to create wonderful characters movements that looked absolutely great. It has an energy and fullness to it that you cannot find in traditional hand drawn animation. The music was heavy on the piano and stringed arrangements, partially because the series takes place in Italy, but also because it suits the mood of things very well.

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FanimeCon 2006

Today Shannon and I went to FanimeCon 2006. I woke up early at 7:40am because I had to go pick up Shannon from her house. Then we came back and got the usual orange juice and bagel sandwiches before taking the VTA light rail from my house up to the San Jose Convention Center. We got there around 10am, and it was actually very quiet. Lots more people showed up around lunch time.

The only thing that really interests either me or Shannon is the dealer room. Finding hard to find items at lower than usual prices (if you shop smart and have a knack for bargaining) to make up for the registration fee is what we're both interested in. The first thing we did is find gifts for the people we wanted to get stuff for. I found a set of Keroro dolls for Luna, some Sailor Moon figures and accessories for Dantam, because I missed her birthday, and a Bleach plushie for Yvonne. Shannon bought some Inuyasha figures for her friends and a Bleach plushie for Yvonne.

Afterwards, we went around and bought stuff for ourselves. Shannon got some Pokémon plushies, and a Yu-Gi-Oh! booster pack. I think she should have bought something else too at least. I found a bunch of good stuff, including Range Murata's Robot Vol. 2, a bunch of Ghost in the Shell figures, some of which I got real cheap because the dealer wanted to unload them, and a really cute Tonberry plushie.

We met up with Alla's brother, Sasha, for a few minutes and his friend Simon shortly before we left. But then came home as soon as we'd finished shopping. Shannon was a little tired from all the walking and standing, and she wanted to visit the kitties and and I wanted to play video games with her.

I challenged her to a two-player battle in Pikmin 2 where I thoroughly stomped her even though I tried to help. She didn't really want to play that anymore. I thought it was fun. So we switched over to The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures which I specifically bought so we could play together. This was lots of fun, and Shannon really liked it too. Although she has trouble defeating enemies efficiently sometimes.

We got to Death Mountain before I had to take her to meet her mom and Yvonne at some place for them to go have dinner with someone they know. Today was a long but really fun day.

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May 26, 2006

Octopussy

I watched Octopussy tonight and I was unfortunately a little disappointed by it. While the action sequences were pretty exciting, and probably very advanced for the time, I felt the story was a bit disjointed and maybe too convenient. The way the Russians as a whole and the military officer specifically are pulled into the film was unbelievable. And they could have at least gotten native Russian speakers to play the Russian characters. There were a few laughs, but overall I thought the puns and one-liners were way overdone, and that a lot of the movie was too goofy.

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May 25, 2006

Now and Then, Here and There

For some reason, I'd heard of Now and Then, Here and There and decided to watch it. I'm glad I ended up doing so, because it turns out to be an epic but tragic and harsh story. It has intense action, flawed characters that you will really care about, and a dramatic plot. The English dub is okay, but the Japanese voice acting is better. The drawing style is a little on the older style, but it grows on you. And the music is a first class soundtrack, with songs that really enhance the mood without becoming the focus of your attention.

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May 21, 2006

Scrapped Princess

I just finished Scrapped Princess and it turned out better than I thought. I expected it to be a somewhat silly show geared towards general amusement. But there's actually a lot more to be found in it. The series begins by dropping you into the middle of the action, so it starts out a little confusing, but things are quickly explained in a natural and unhurried way. It turns out that the appearances of the situation are deceiving, and there is a great deal going on underneath the surface that has resulted in this crisis for the three main characters and the people they interact with.

That is one of the good things about this series. The character development is thorough without being forced and not at all stereotypical. It's a serious anime, with just the right amount of light-hearted humor interspersed with a slightly more than necessary amount of emotionally revealing dialogue. But at least they don't spend crazy amounts of time talking or explaining when no one would act that way in real life.

It's also good that there is no filler in this story. Every moment is used to further develop characters and drive the plot in a way that is necessary for the story, but not in a manner that is obviously wasted time to get out another episode. I think the writers really took the time to figure out what should happen, when it should happen, and how much each character needs to be involved in those events. And then they started working on the anime.

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May 15, 2006

Karen Visited

Karen visited me today, and we went out to eat at Mimi's Chinese Kitchen. I still think it's one of the best Chinese restaurants in the area, perhaps because it is a small family-owned and family-run restaurant. Unfortunately, there wasn't as much vegetarian choice for Karen, but they can of course provide custom orders so we were able to get stuff that Karen would eat. Afterwards, we came back to my place and watched Elizabeth. Karen enjoyed the film, and it's probably the fourth time or so that I've watched it.

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Brazil

I really didn't have any idea what Brazil (Terry Gilliam's version) was about, but I'd heard it was a very good and influencial movie, and when I decided to watch it I had thought I might like Terry Gilliam films. The movie is good, but I think what may have been seen as a comedic satire of the growing military-industrial complex and the possible extremes of situation is now unfortunately too close to reality. Rather than being able to laugh and speculate on what's presented in the movie, I felt like it was a realistic satire of the current situation in the United States.

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May 14, 2006

Lord of War

Lord of War was an excellent movie. Everything I was hoping it would be, both in terms of the subject matter, the acting, and the plot. The story takes place over the course of a few decades, following the political events that shaped the arms trade that we currently live with. I'm glad the real focus is on the lifestyle and circle of people that an arms dealer has, and not heavily focused on the individual events that occur. That way, this movie really can be about the arms trade, and not about a person who just happens to be an arms dealer.

Nicholas Cage plays his role extremely well, and I think the supporting cast is very good as well. The production values that went into this film are high and I believe attempt to be as authentic to the spirit of the film and the realities of the situation as possible. Locales like war torn Sierra Leone and the post-cold war former Soviet Union states are as commonly the backdrop for this story as New York City. And it is all presented in a very matter-of-fact manner, which both helps provide a more objective view and to be an informative movie.

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May 13, 2006

Witch Hunter Robin

I just finished watching Witch Hunter Robin. Stephen watched it when it first came out, and he seemed to like it. It wasn't as appealing to me, but I've been running low on choices so I decided to watch it. And actually, it wasn't that great after all.

In the beginning, each episode sort of stood alone, so there wasn't much continuity pushing it forward. Kind of like single episodes in a TV series. Which isn't necessarily bad, but then things switch completely over and a plot beings. Only the plot moves very slowly, without any reason for doing so, and the events that occurred before seem to have become both inconsequential and they just don't happen anymore. As it turns out, the series only became really interesting for maybe the last three episodes.

I did like most of the drawing though. I thought that was well done. One thing that bugged me in the beginning was the slight mismatch between CG and painted/drawn environments. But eventually things got better. Either I became accustomed to it or they got better at integrating the two.

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May 10, 2006

Rumor Has It

Rumor Has It is an unique movie. While poking a little fun at the community of Pasadena, California, the story is loosely built around the idea that The Graduate was based on an actual family and actual events. This only serves as the basis of the plot, which is good, because the writers and actors were able to do a lot on top of that. But, this is another one of those movies where what happens is okay for a woman to have done, but switched around it never would have worked. That always ends up bothering me for some reason.

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Aeon Flux

More style than substance. That's unfortunately how I would describe the Aeon Flux movie. Which is too bad since it has a lot of potential given the current political climate and its intelligent premise, as well as featuring the talent of Charlize Theron. Like the animated series, the movie is primarily driven by action. But the plot and mysteries of the world are too easily revealed through narration and simple conversation. The background behind the Monicans is never explored, and some things like re-surfacing memories are never explained.

I did happen to watch this on the flight over to Shanghai, so perhaps I would have enjoyed it more on the big screen with a real sound-system. Because ultimately, it is the action, special effects, and audio production that would have made this movie worth anything. Still, I think the story is very lacking.

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May 8, 2006

Cheaper by the Dozen 2

On the flight back to San Francisco, I got a chance to watch Cheaper by the Dozen 2, although I haven't seen the first movie. What I did like about this film was Steve Martin, but that's about it. The story is predictable and simple, and the events nothing new to see. So while I can't recommend this movie as a comedy, it wasn't bad and I could appreciate the humor for what it was.

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Eight Below

Luna and I wanted to watch a movie while I was visiting. Instead of going to the Peace Cinema at Raffles City, which is new and tends to show the newer blockbuster releases, we went to a different, smaller cinema which seemed to have been recently renovated, and saw Eight Below. This movie claims to be inspired by a true story, but I would consider that a lie. There also weren't any English subtitles, but that's okay because dogs don't talk and it was extremely easy to figure out what people were saying since the dialogue was so simple and predictable.

I consider the idea of this movie being based on a true story to be a lie because from what I can tell, the only thing based on a true story is the idea of Antarctic scientists/explorers getting beaten up by the elements and having sled dogs. I don't think any significant sequence of events that occurred in the storyline of the movie has any relation to a sequence of events that took place in reality.

I also didn't really like how personalities were given to each of the dogs by having them act certain ways on command and the use of camera angles and sound effects (dog noises). I suppose giving the dogs personalities is essential to the film, because the story is in large part about how the dogs survive on their own for so long. But their personalities were too artificial for me.

While I don't think the length of time the dogs are left down to survive, without water, is realistic at all, I do think this is a decent "Disney" movie and can be enjoyed in that respect. I just don't have much interest in that sort of movie these days.

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May 1, 2006

Fantastic Four

I had heard that Fantastic Four (what happened to the "The"? guess I was remembering the old issues) wasn't that great a superhero movie. I got a chance to watch it on the flight over to Shanghai, and yeah, it isn't that great a superhero movie.

The plot is very simple and the sequence of events and character development formulaic. There isn't a whole lot of villiany, even though the villian (not necessarily a person) should be what drives a superhero story forward. Instead, it's like a huge chunk of the movie is used to "create" the Fantastic Four, and then they just fight a bad guy at the end.

The acting also wasn't very interesting. A lot of the behavior, dialogue, and body language seemed canned. You can't get a whole lot of human expression out of Thing, but the rest really did look a lot like something from the silver age of comic books.

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April 28, 2006

Chrono Crusade

Chrono Crusade is another series I wasn't planning to watch, but since I'm running out of things to watch and it's free, I decided to give it a try. Luna told me about half-way through that she doesn't think it is that great, and I agree. On the one hand the mythology of the bible is well incorporated with artistic liberties taken, and some interesting questions are posed without any concrete answers, of course. But at other times, the dialogue is corny, the action sequences are childish, and it is sometimes hard to empathize with the characters.

I did like the artwork very much, although the men were a little too bishonen for my taste. I think the artists may have temporarily changed for a short period of time in the middle of the series, as there was an obvious change in character drawing at one point. But it later reverted back to the original.

There was also some good music at times, although sometimes it wasn't anything special either. The first episode on disc five had some strange crackly noise throughout, which I found quite annoying, but I have no idea if that was a mixing/mastering problem or due to some other problem.

Two bonuses were the English dub including Hillary Haag and Jessica Boone. Both particular favorites of mine. I also recognized Laura Chapman and Tiffany Grant from the credits, although their voices are not as unique.

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April 24, 2006

Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006

I've become even more unhappy with the current administration after the appointment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. John Ashcroft was bad, but he typically went after big brother surveillence type stuff. Which the rest of the administration was already doing anyway. Gonzales is going further and bringing the war of IP-terrorism into our homes. The Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006 will make it extremely easy for law enforcement to lock you up and confiscate all of your personal property if you decide to exercise your fair use rights. Because 13-year-old girls are funding terrorists by sharing music they like with their friends.

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April 16, 2006

Farewell, My Concubine

Ba Wang Bie Ji is another Chinese movie that includes Gong Li in its cast. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy this movie as much. It was fine as far as the story, production, and acting is concerned, but I didn't really care about the characters and just about every scene involved unhappiness. In fact, the only character I thought worth anything is the one played by Gong Li, and she ends up dead a little more than half way through. Plus, she is constantly at odds with Dieyi, who remains a child throughout the movie.

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April 15, 2006

The Emperor and The Assassin

Jing Ke ci Qin Wang tells the story of the first emperor's conquest of the six kingdoms, during the time leading up to when the assassin Jing Ke attempts to take the life of Qin Wang (King of Qin). The role of Lady Zhao, played by Gong Li, is prominently featured. The acting could have been better, and the king's descent into madness if not as glaring as some might consider it should have been. Regardless, the story is interesting both for its content and for the perspective used to tell it.

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April 13, 2006

Fun with Dick and Jane

Just watched Fun with Dick and Jane with an unusually large number attendees. A total of nine people showed up, including a few people I wasn't expecting such as Christa and Vince, and also Mike Liu because he was back in town. Although he didn't stay for the movie, just to talk. Samir and Jamie were there, and also Zhao. Ellen showed up as well, although she caused some trouble earlier with refusing to eat Chinese food. Dantam was a last minute attendee so I ended up cooking extra food because I thought Mike and Dantam would need more food than what Jamie bought. But ended up that Jamie had bought enough food without my extras.

Unfortunately I didn't get to talk with Christa that much because she arrived much later than everyone else. Although she socialized with others a bit. She also washed her dishes, even though she shouldn't have.

The movie was pretty entertaining. This was one role where I was very amused by Jim Carrey, as well as his character's wife played by Tea Leoni. The premise is also pretty fun, in a timely way, as it goes through some extreme comedic relief associated with the recent financial scandals involving high-ranking corporate officials. They poked fun at those people a few times.

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April 10, 2006

2046

2046 is another film by Wong Kar Wai, and stars some of the best Chinese actors and actresses, including Tony Leung, Gong Li, Zhang Ziyi, Maggie Cheung, and Faye Wong also showed up. With that sort of cast, the acting was excellent. The movie also has what I consider to be Wong Kar Wai's directorial style from both a cinematic and plot point of view. I did find the pacing a little slow and sometimes disjointed, but the characters are interesting and full-bodied. Ultimately, this movie requires you to pay attention and think about exactly what is going on and what is being said. But if you take the time to do this, I think you'll find some interesting throughts going through your head.

One important aspect to the movie is the music. A great deal of effort was put into including music that enhances the mood and emotions being presented, and to fully appreciate this film you need to also appreciate the music. Some of the music was taken from old recordings though, or purposefully played back on older equipment (as the story takes place in the late 1960's) because you can hear noise and vinyl artifacts quite clearly. But I'm sure that was done intentionally.

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April 9, 2006

Taken

I just watched the miniseries Taken, which has Spielberg's name attached to it, but is in fact directed by someone else. However, I felt as though there was a heavy Spielberg influence on the film's direction and production. The story was written by Leslie Bohem. The driving force behind this miniseries, which is pretty good, are the characters. The plot follows three families, one of abductees, one of hybrids, and one of the military investigators, through three generations in a culminating finale.

That aspect is the main strength of the series. The special effects are a little subduded but well done, and the science and exploration/speculation is very interesting (and what I would have preferred to see more of), but following three generations of people really gives a depth to the characters as to their motivations and fears and the family that shaped who they've become. Unfortunately, I think the best actors and characters are those from the first generation, but maybe that is only because I found that time period and their behavior more interesting.

I do think there are some great actors and some not-so-great actors in this series. Sometimes I felt like the characters came alive, while at other times things seemed fake or forced to me. The only real exception to that is the little girl, who acts as a narrator from the beginning and later one becomes a focal point. I believe she is supposed to be unnerving in her behavior and mannerisms, as her grandfather was before, because of who she is.

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April 6, 2006

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

We watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe tonight. Jamie and Samir showed up, as well as Dantam and Zhao. Lin showed up for the first time today. I turned the volume way up on the movie so that the low frequencies would create the proper visceral feeling. Of course this made the movie really loud in general, and I also ended up increasing the center channel volume a little because I had a hard time making out the dialogue. But it paid off on some critical scenes and everyone really enjoyed it. Lin screamed and jumped a couple of times.

The movie was very enjoyable from an action and basic plot point of view. The visuals were pretty spectacular, as was the audio. But as a story, it is a little simplistic. More so, I think, than some other childrens movies that are spectacular in the same way. It's all very straight-forward and you're not really trying to discover anything or come to any sort of realization. Things are presented at face value, although the symbolism is high.

One thing I did notice very clearly was the inferior attitude towards women. Susan is given a bow, and Lucy a dagger, but neither of them ever use them in any serious manner. Instead, they only call for help and heal others (think motherly). The evil white witch is a woman, while the good Aslan is a man. There are only a handful of female warriors shown, and they stay far back and only fire a few arrows. In contrast, there are hundreds of male warriors who engage in direct combat. And in a very obvious presentation, Aslan is shaved to look like a woman before being killed on the stone table. So in total, there are only a handful of extremely useless women, women are evil, and Aslan is insulted by being dressed like a woman.

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April 3, 2006

Anti-Chevy Advertisements

Seems as though Chevrolet has put together some sort of advertisment-creation contest for their new Chevy Tahoe SUV. Clever interactive marketing ploy, with television show tie-in? Or incredibly stupid marketing idea because of viral videos? I think the latter.

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Eat Drink Man Woman

Just finished watching Yin Shi Nan Nu, and unlike the other movie I recently watched that approached life with a cooking theme, this movie really delivered. Chef Chu and his three daughters give really great performances as a series of events leads to finding love and also truth about themselves and their relationship with each other. There's no comedy involved, but the drama seems very realistic and it's nice to see everyone's lives turn out good, despite the turbulence surrounding them.

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April 1, 2006

Like Water For Chocolate

I just watched Como Agua Para Chocolate, a Mexican film based on the book of the same name. Perhaps the book is more enjoyable to read, because I found the movie a little uninvolving. There is supposed to be a lot of passion, emotion, and color portrayed by the characters involved, but I didn't feel it. I felt like much of it was subdued, and the third-party narration took a little away from things. It would have been more powerful to see and hear the characters thoughts rather than hear them from the narrator.

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March 31, 2006

Tsukihime Lunar Legend

Tsukihime Lunar Legend is a little short and yet still has a slightly higher amount of static time in it than I would have liked. The existing content could have been done more concisely, with less staring or silent conversations taking place. Luna tells me it is based on an H-game, and truthfully there is a bit of this portrayed in the storyline. Regardless, it maintains a high degree of tension and mystery that kept me wanting to see what would happen next and to discover exactly what happened to the characters in the past.

The action was carefully done, without any crazy sequences or anything annoying or drawn out. In fact there isn't a whole lot of it, as the majority of the time is spent on character development. The artwork is pretty good, although they used static art in about the amounts you would expect for some anime, but things have gotten better than that so I was expecting more. There was also some very pleasing string instrumentation for the background music and at other times.

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Movie Night - Saved

I had the usual crowd over last night for a movie night. This time, Alla brought a guest, César, one of the coops working for IBM at the SVL lab. Dantam, Zhao, Jamie, and Samir all showed up. Because of last time, this was supposed to be a night when Samir would be free to exercise his opinion. But he didn't really exercise anything. We ordered Chinese food instead of pizza, and I also bought some hot sauce and red pepper for Dantam and Samir since they like spicy food.

For the movie, we watched Saved. I think everyone really enjoyed it, and it was a much more light-hearted movie than our previous movie night. Dantam pointed out that Mandy Moore plays evil very well. I think everyone did a pretty good job in the movie.

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March 25, 2006

Not One Less

I just watched Yi Ge Dou Bu Neng Shao, another film by Yimou Zhang from a few years ago. It tells the story of a 13-year-old substitute teacher named Wei Minzhi in the village of Shuiquan who struggles to find one of her students who went to the city in search of work. The movie is really about two things. The first is the teacher's determination and courage in going after her student with almost no money and absolutely no idea of what she will face. The other is the poverty in China that forces children to drop out of school and find work. Both of these aspects are very well done.

I vaguely recall reading that Yimou Zhang prefers to work with non-actors, although I may be confusing him with someone else. While the story Not One Less is fictional, he pulled real people from villages in China and filmed in real locations. Wei Minzhi is actually a 13-year-old student in a village named Wei Minzhi, and some of the other people who played themselves are Zhang Huike, the boy she chases after, and the television employees and restaurant and store owners. A few other characters are also played by non-actors from villages in roles that aren't really what they do in real life, but still roles that are very close to their own lives.

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March 23, 2006

Les Comperes

Alla put Les Compéres on her queue, and left the disc at my place so I could watch it. I decided I'd take a look tonight, although it didn't look that appealing to me. It's sort of a comedy movie, with two men being told by a woman that they are the father of her runaway son, so that they will go look for him in Nice. The two men are complete opposites, and there's a side-story involving the mob, so some interesting things happen. It was an okay movie, not that great to me.

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March 22, 2006

To Live

Luna told me that Huo Zhe is the only movie by Yimou Zhang to have been banned in China. I can understand why, as it paints the rise and social condition of Communism under Chairman Mao in a less than flattering light. In fact, I believe there are hints of "disappearances" but this is not obviously stated. Regardless, it is an excellent movie about how a husband and wife continue with their lives, finding happiness and meaning in family no matter all the hardships they have to go through.

I did really like the way things changed over the years, as the movie spans about three decades. The acting by Li Gong and You Ge is really good, and it was interesting to see how they have to adapt to the changing times when the people they've known all their lives are affected by the revolution. There are some really tragic situations, and a constant condition of tension that is still present in China today.

Unfortunately, I see the United States falling into that same situation today, with ultra-conservative religious and big brother observation/control becoming more common. Hopefully the Constitutional protections will eventually revert the damage done so far. However, I'm not too optimistic based on how the judicial branch at all levels is starting to involve personal opinions more instead of relying upon the Constitution and law.

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March 21, 2006

Just Like Heaven

I hadn't seen Alla in a while, so we decided to meet up tonight. She is on her eating-healthy kick right now so she didn't want to go out to eat at any restaurants. I ended up buying some fresh vegetables and cooking that with some chicken. She liked the black vinegar chicken and deep-cooked onions (with too much soy sauce), but not the boiled vegetables. Afterwards, we watched Just Like Heaven, a movie she's already seen but liked. We watched it in French with English subtitles.

Just Like Heaven is a decent movie, but it follows a typical romantic comedy storyline. Nothing really new here except that Reese Witherspoon can really act out spunk instead of just saying things, and she is a good actress. I don't really like Mark Ruffalo as much. What I did really like about the movie were the funny parts involving Reese's interactions with Mark. Otherwise, there's nothing much here.

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March 20, 2006

Elfen Lied

At only a half-season long, Elfen Lied is shorter than most but it is extremely dense in its content. I liked everything about this series, from the artwork to the audio to the story, but especially the characters. This is a very well planned production, without any gaps and with a very deep emotional connection between the characters as well as with the audience. Although some of the basic elements could be considered cliché, it is the execution that makes it excel. This is an anime where you will care what happens to whom, and unfortunately not everyone comes out the way they should in an ideal world.

I did recognize a few things that were unexpectedly nice. The first was the artwork. I really like the character design style, but I don't know whose style it is. Recognizing the voice talent of Kira Vincent-Davis was also interesting, and now that I've looked her up she has been in many animes that I like. I also recognized Jessica Boone and Tiffany Grant. I mistook Cynthia Martinez's voice for Hillary Haag.

It should be noted that this series is extremely graphic. The nudity is not really out of place, and I don't consider nudity to be a problem in general, but the method by which people are killed is extreme and shown in full detail.

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March 19, 2006

Shannon Visits

Today Shannon finally came to visit me at my place, although Mei-Ling and Yvonne didn't come. I think Shannon's the only one that's actually interested in coming to my place, and I don't think Mei-Ling likes the long drive. So I picked Shannon up from her house around 3:30pm. They had all gone to the dentist today, and Shannon got one of her teeth pulled out because she says the dentist said it would have crowded her mouth. We stopped at Target on the way back so she could buy birthday gifts for Winnie and someone I don't know named Samuel.

The first thing we she when we got to my place was to look for the kitties. Asuka and Niea were around just fine, but Chie was hiding. I'm not really sure why he hides whenever Shannon comes over, but he does. I think Shannon needs to visit more often so he will remember her better. Then I taught Shannon how to play Settlers of Catan. She liked this game, and it was pretty close; she almost won except I built some roads and stole the longest roads points from her.

Then we talked to Luna for a little bit on the webcam. This was the first time Luna got a chance to see Shannon. Her mom and dad also saw Shannon. For dinner Shannon wanted a bread bowl, so I put some soup in the cut ends of some fresh French bread I bought this morning. I also made some spaghetti and fish, but Shannon was full off the soup and bread bowl so didn't eat much of that. We watched Bruce Almighty while eating.

We played a couple of games of Magic: The Gathering. I let Shannon use my old deck, which my mom brought over when she visited for Christmas. She had some problems with the deck though, and lost both times. I think my old deck has better cards and is better balanced for a wide variety of opponents, but my new white deck does have a much more aggressive creature approach which Shannon was unable to defend against. Plus, new cards often have effects that can only be efficiently countered using cards from that same series.

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March 17, 2006

North Country

I had another movie night today, which Zhao, Dantam, Jamie, and Samir attended. People brought movies to watch, and from the selection we ended up choosing North Country, which was contributed by Samir and Jamie. The movie is based on real events, but presents a fictional dramatization of those events with different people and companies involved. Josey Aimes got a job working as a miner at a corporate environment that encouraged and hid a culture of sexual abuse towards women. The best thing about the movie was the acting. I think the story and other aspects of the film was about average.

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March 16, 2006

Karas Preview

I got a preview disc of Karas today. Unfortunately, the disc cuts off thirty minutes in, rather than containing the entire movie. So it gets some negative points right there. It also gets negative points for bad voice acting and poor facial expression and body language when it comes to the 2-D art. Plus, the plot is not very clear and other than some basic facts I have no idea what is really going on. It can stand as a pure action movie, but that's about it.

There are some redeeming qualities though. The 3-D art is quite impressive, as are the action sequences. I think they pushed the envelope a bit when putting together the 3-D sequences, although there is still a slight timing issue as I don't think they handled minute blur as well as they needed to. The heavy action is very stylistic and quick, so it doesn't need to appear as realistic. I also think the audio quality is high.

One other thing I did like about the thirty minutes I did see was the surreal aspect. There appears to be two worlds laid on top of each other, and looking into the "other" world is interesting and amusing at the same time. It's much more whimsical and seems to be more energetic and colorful.

I doubt I'll purchase Karas, although I might rent it and see if it's actually worth something once you've seen the entire picture.

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March 13, 2006

Tron

I just watched Tron, one of the best movies Disney has made. Part of it has to do with not trying to use the special effects or buzzwords to push the movie, and instead to use ideas and a storyline. Bonus points for not doing anything that seems to defy the laws of physics. The acting is not that great, but the audio is quite a bit above average for the type of movie (science-fiction): no harsh dissonant chords. The underlying questions about users, the afterlife, self-awareness, and behavior are interesting although not heavily presented.

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March 12, 2006

Ray

I've had an inclination to watch Ray once I saw how well Jamie Foxx imitated the mannerisms of Ray Charles. Now that I've seen the movie, it's pretty clear that his performance is the highlight of the film. In fact, the story is a little shallow although I've never much liked biographies. But I did learn a few new things about Ray Charles, such as his beginnings and drug addiction. Overall it was a very good film, but I wouldn't be interested in watching it a second time.

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March 11, 2006

Flightplan

I just watched Flightplan, which is actually a movie off Alla's queue. Samir and Jamie both said it wasn't good, and I wasn't really looking forward to it. But it actually turned out pretty good. Mostly because Jodie Foster did a great job acting and you couldn't be at all sure of her mental state until the very end. And the tension remained throughout, without any lapses for people with short attention spans. The only thing I didn't like was some of the editing and foley work that was put in to blatantly support things that should have remained subdued.

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The IT Crowd

I don't watch television, but I've been hearing a bit about The IT Crowd on some blogs. It's a show only available in the UK, but many people have posted it on video sites so I've been able to watch the first five episodes off YouTube. It's actually very funny, mostly because everyone on it is extremely stupid or mental in at least one way.

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March 10, 2006

Star Wars: Clone Wars

Star Wars: Clone Wars is a two hour animation production by CartoonNetwork that bridges the storylines of Episode II and Episode III. This installment of the series is done very well, although it doesn't use the original actors for voiceovers and is a little lacking in the audio quality as the new music was not done by John Williams or performed with a full orchestra (from what I can tell).

Still, as a purely entertaining movie, it's good. It's heavily action driven, with much less storyline or character development than the movies, but the action is focused and epic. The majority of the animation work was done via CG, and that allows for some great scenes. But the character designs were too caricature-like for my taste. There are some nice inside jokes and tributes to the feature films, and overall I really enjoyed it.

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March 7, 2006

Vampire Hunter D

I don't understand why Vampire Hunter D is rated so highly. Unless all of the raters are young boys who like pointless action and gore. The drawing was old style, but I think cheaply done. Animation frames were repeated, and sometimes scenes pointless. Other films from the same time period have better animation. The story was very superficial and simple, and it was mostly sequences of pointless fighting, with what passed as gore back then. At least the movie continued to move forward.

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March 6, 2006

Tae Guk Gi

Taegukgi Hwinalrimyeo is amazing in its horribleness. The story is something that's been done before, but I've never seen it done in such a human and horrific way. Two brothers are drafted into the South Korean army in 1950, and forced to fight against the North Koreans. One of the two loses his humanity, and the criminal behavior of him as well as both the North Koreans and South Koreans is very upsetting. I was very surprised to see this depicted as it goes against the type of Korean pride I'm used to.

Unfortunately, the ending is very bittersweet. But extremely human and real in that respect. Instead of focusing on the horror of war, this movie puts great effort into showing the horror of humanity at some of its worst, but perhaps most understandable or appreciated, moments.

The acting was extremely good, by all of the people involved. The principal actors include Dong-Kun Jang, whom I've seen in a few Korean movies, and Bin Won who is new to me, but very good. But all of the actors were very good.

I'm wondering about the special effects, because it all looked very realistic to me. And they did not cut between when people were wounded or destroyed. Not only the typical sort of pyrotechnics for bullet holes, but also fire, explosions, and dismemberment. I know of at least one time when I gasped in surprise and horror. Possibly there were more, but I was so engrossed by the film that I wasn't paying much attention to anything else. The impressive sound work helped with that; it was very immersive.

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March 5, 2006

The Bridge on the River Kwai

I just watched the long (some would say epic, although I don't really think of it that way), Bridge on the River Kwai. It's a pretty decent film, set in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. The focus of the film is really on an American soldier and a British officer, though, with the Japanese and Siamese playing a smaller part, with the Siamese actually being little more than decoration. These two characters each have their own idea of correct behavior and morality, which is at odds.

The acting is decent, but stereotypical of the time. The locale is fairly exotic though, and I'm sure it wasn't easy to film things there and that seeing that on the big screen was a treat back then. The Japanese roles are not demeaning or stereotypical though, which is good. There is an loose implication that the British way, or Western way, is somehow superior. But at the same time, it's made clear that the British officer is a little messed up in his beliefs.

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March 4, 2006

Time Bandits

Time Bandits is a strange comedy with a fantastic story line. It was a bit entertaining. It has the sort of wit that I like in British humor, although not as funny as I would have liked. Instead, it was too dry, to the point that it is more like antics rather than humor. But it was something fun, and I'm sure younger audiences would really enjoy it. Unfortunately, the disc was letter-boxed 4:3 and only featured stereo sound.

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March 1, 2006

Gia

Gia is a movie that is somewhere between documentary and drama. It depicts the rise and fall of Gia Marie Carangi, a supermodel during the late 70's and early 80's. It's a somewhat rollercoaster life, which is mirrored in the movie's plot. Gia is "discovered" as a rebellious teen and shoved into the modeling world. She has a fear of abandonment, which the film implies stems from her childhood. And she starts hitting the drug scene quite hard. Which eventually leads to her fall.

The role of Gia is played by Angelina Jolie, and she gives an outstanding performance. She's able to portray a wide range of emotions and a very unique personality that will captivate you. It seems effortless, as if she fits the role of this other person perfectly. Although, one can't really say what the real Gia was like in real life, so it may very well be inaccurte. Regardless, it's a great performance, and the supporting cast is also very good.

I'm not sure either how accurate the movie portrays Gia's world. It certainly fits the rumor and stereotypes associated with the high fame and decadent wealth of models and rock stars during the 80's. Even if it is not accurate, it is a world that seems real and has an impact.

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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.

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February 23, 2006

Monsoon Wedding

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.

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February 20, 2006

Corpse Bride

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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February 18, 2006

Slayers

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.

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February 11, 2006

Boogiepop Phantom

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.

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February 10, 2006

Samurai Champloo

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.

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Bleak House

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.

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February 7, 2006

Soldier's Girl

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.

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February 1, 2006

Figure 17

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.

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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.

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January 23, 2006

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi

I don't recall where I saw a trailer for Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, but I decided that I really wanted it. Today I sat down for about six hours and watched the series through. And it was hilarious but also had a lot of heart and an amazingly well thought-out storyline.

This is one of those animes that actually has a purpose to it and is not putting in extra fluff just to keep you entertained. And the entire storyline is consistent, makes progress each episode, and comes to a conclusion that makes sense given what has been happening. It is a conclusion that is very satisfying.

This series is very funny. Each episode has a theme, like war, or film noir. And then a whole lot of crazy ideas consistent with that theme are mashed together in a crazy way to poke fun. But instead of simply parodying the original, the parodies are incorporated into the new crazy plot. Sometimes it is shocking, sometimes disturbing, but always funny. I think this is also the first anime which has a lot of fan service, but also included a full frontal shot of the boy.

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January 22, 2006

Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries

I just watched the miniseries recreation of Battlestar Galactica and I'm thinking that the SCIFI channel has got to be one of the best producers of original content today. It was a great three hours, that played more like a movie than a miniseries. But it is a lead-in for the series that is currently running on SCIFI.

Everything about the miniseries was great. The acting was excellent, the special effects did not look fake at all, something I never liked about Babylon 5, and the video and audio quality on the DVD was first rate. Plus, they delivered a widescreen experience with full surround sound. And they did not skimp on the audio. Dynamic range was pretty good, and it contained some really high SPL low-frequency data which I wasn't expecting for a television production.

The creators also played close attention to accurate spaceflight. The space craft used both primary and manuevering thrusters, obeyed the laws of physics like conservation of momentum, and didn't have any fancy magical technology. The only thing that wasn't obeyed was the sound effects. Ships made swooshing sounds as they flew past, as did ammunition. This added a lot to dramatic effect, but is unrealistic since there's no fluid medium available to produce that pressure, except maybe in the gaseous areas.

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January 21, 2006

Batman Begins

Batman Begins is an outstanding movie that pays tribute to both the mythology and the movies that came before it. Some liberties have been taken in the story of this film, to provide a background similar to but compressed enough to fit within the shortened time frame of a movie. But it remains very close to the true mythology and I was very impressed by that.

It's clear that the writer is a Batman fan, and two of the best villains were brought to life in this movie. The previous movies had much more comedic characters, but this rendition captures the gothic atmosphere and dark mood of Legends of the Dark Knight, which is also my favorite publication line. The first two contemporary Batman movies also were along this vein, but with a more mischievous approach since they were done by Tim Burton.

The movie features some great actors. Christian Bale has been a favorite of mine since Equilibrium and I think a good choice for Batman. Gary Oldman was not exactly what I was expecting to see for Jim Gordon, but now I see how well he pulled off the young commissioner. Recognizing the future Batgirl in this movie was also a nice thing to include. The inclusion of Lucius Fox was nice, but not exactly in line with the mythology.

With advances in filmmaking technology, this Batman also includes some amazing special effects that never look fake. The older movies had no chance of producing the sort of realistic stunts and visual sequences that this movie had, regardless of budget. In particular, the bats would have been infeasible. The sound effects and background music were also extremely well done. Mixing was perfect and everything sounded very realistic. I think this is a movie that could have benefited from incorporating the rear channel as well as the larger dynamic range of DTS, so it's too bad the DVD only includes Dolby Digital.

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Netflix Used Movies

Sometime last year, Netflix made it possible to purchase used movies off their web site, but for members only. I ordered three used movies Wednesday night, and they shipped out yesterday to arrive today. All three of the movies came in their original cases with original cover art, and amazingly two of them have discs that look brand new. The third movie is clearly used, but nowhere near as bad as I expected it to be based on my used purchases from Blockbuster. And of course the cases are in perfect condition since they were stored while the movies were circulated. The pricing is also very competitive, otherwise I wouldn't have ordered them.

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January 18, 2006

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Jin-Roh is an amazing movie. The story is intense and powerful, with excellent characters and a great plot. Which is not that surprising given it was written by Mamoru Oshii. The ending is immensely satisfying, if unfortunately not the one you were expecting or hoping for. Although this looks at first blush to be an action film, it is actually more of a stylized fairy tale wrapped around a love story.

The sound production was as good as it gets. The sound mixing was perfect, although tailored for a theatrical speaker arrangement, and the background music features some famous musicians as well as a full symphony. However, the music is not really anything special. It fits the movie, but I don't think it is particularly memorable. The sound effects were also very faithful, and I particularly liked the impact of explosions, sub-sonic rumble for the heavy guns, the raindrops, and other little details like that.

The only bad thing about the movie was the flat animation style of the characters. There was very little depth through shadow or coloration in their clothing or their body. This is a little surprising, given that a lot of attention was given to the other areas. Perhaps that is the drawing style that the original artist used, but it doesn't work as well given the many dark and directionally lighted scenes, or the painted backgrounds. Still, the rest of the movie more than makes up for this shortcoming and you'll probably forget about it once you're into the storyline.

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January 17, 2006

Dracula

If I were younger, perhaps I'd enjoy Dracula more. Perhaps not. But aside from some intense scenes and the occassional good acting (courtesy Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, and Anthony Hopkins), I didn't much like the movie at all. Francis Ford Coppola is supposed to be a favorite director, especially of males, but looking at his list, I can't say I particularly like any of them. This movie also makes use of more traditional vampire mythology which doesn't appeal to me as much.

The surround sound mix was pretty messed up. So much so that instead of making me feel like I was in the movie, I felt like I wasn't. Some of the camera work was quite annoying when it was supposed to mimic the viewpoint of Dracula. And I think some of the editing was botched once in a while. Plus, the special effects seemed like something out of 1970 rather than the early 90's, although the makeup and some of the other special effects were very stylistic and advanced for the time.

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January 16, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

I took Yvonne and two of her friends, Cecilia (Floopy) and Ying, to see Brokeback Mountain today. Yvonne really wanted to see it, although I'm not sure how much Cecilia or Ying wanted to see it. It was a good movie, although the love story in it was not really that special. Ang Lee did a great job directing, and all of the actors performed excellently, especially Heath Ledger and also Anne Hathaway, the two of whom you might not expect to be good actors. I think this movie is getting some extra credit for its subject matter, which is handled honestly and brilliantly by the film.

After the movie, we were all really hungry, and went to Fresh Choice to eat since it was right outside the theater. I ate a lot, since I hadn't eaten any breakfast or lunch, and so did Floopy even though she kept saying how full she is. And then she would go get more food anyway. I think she said she was full like ten times, and kept eating more soup and went back for seconds on the salad, and then said she was full some more while eating the ice cream on the way back. She failed at her attempts to kiss her full stomach.

We got lost on the way back though, because I took the wrong exit off I-880 and ended up driving a lot of extra miles before I found a familiar road and got back onto Paseo Padre. I took Floopy straight home but Ying came back to Yvonne's house to play flag stuff and also the piano. Which she was annoyed at for being out of tune and kind of extra-resonant.

And then we had to eat again, because Yvonne told me after we were already eating at Fresh Choice that her mom told her not to go eat anything after the movie before coming home.

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January 15, 2006

Yahoo! Messenger w/Shannon & Yvonne

Tonight I went over to Shannon and Yvonne's house and installed Yahoo! Messenger on Soujiro so that I could do voice and video to Luna in Shanghai. Yvonne asked her how to translate some things from Chinese to English, but Shannon had the most fun because she kept saying "bloopy" to Luna and telling Luna to make funny faces. Mei-ling doesn't have a webcam though, and the microphone in the laptop is not that good, so Luna couldn't hear us very well or see us at all. Luna thinks Shannon acts and sounds really cute though.

Later on, Shannon and I watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Ron is the most useless in this one, and this is also the movie where all of them appear to have hit puberty. This is actually my least favorite of the movies so far. The story isn't as interesting as the others, I think, and there wasn't really anything new and amazing to see. And most of the important characters had very small roles.

Their DVD player is still having lots of problems. It froze in the middle of the movie, and we ended up having to skip over a couple of chapters to continue watching. The first time, Shannon thought that the first disc ended in the middle of the movie and it was continued on the second disc. Most likely because that's how their VCDs are. But the second disc, which contains all the special features, won't even play. They need to buy a new DVD player sometime soon.

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January 13, 2006

Scarface

Scarface has everything an excellent movie should have, but for myself, I found it a bit boring to watch. Al Pacino gives an unbelievable performance, as do the supporting cast like Michelle Pfeiffer. The story and ideas are complex, extremely detailed, and contain a depth that explains the longer length of the movie. Gladly, that length is not trying on one's patience. It seems that no expense was spared in making the movie as realistic as possible.

Despite all that, I just didn't seem to find the story that interesting. Al Pacino's character goes through some amazing stages and there is a whole lot to the movie. And I certainly appreciate all of that, and normally I would rate this film highly. I can't really explain why I was a little bored while watching it either. I found myself somewhat bored watching The Godfather too.

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January 12, 2006

The Twilight Samurai

Tasogare Seibei is a contemporary samurai film about a poor samurai named Seibei Iguchi at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration. Although poor, Seibei is content because he lives with his two daughters and senile mother. His colleagues make fun of him because he is poor and cannot afford to keep himself clean and must always work to support his family. By chance, Seibei is reunited with his childhood friend who has now grown into a young woman.

This movie is narrated by one of Seibei's daughters after she has grown old herself, and tells the story about how happiness and love came into their lives because of a turning point in Seibei's career as a samurai and his reunion with the woman, Tomoe. It is a great story, and although slow moving it kept my attention throughout the film.

Unfortunately, the DVD production quality on the U.S. release I saw was pretty poor. I think the movie could have been much more enjoyable to watch if more money had been put into the U.S. release. The video quality was not very good, and the audio quality seemed like that of an old film. I find it hard to believe the movie was made in 2002.

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January 11, 2006

Nine Queens

Nueve Reinas is a con-artist movie from Buenos Aires. The two main characters are played by Gastón Pauls and Ricardo Darín, and they give excellent performances, as do the majority of the actors. There are a few street cons presented early on, but that eventually moves into a major con job filled with twists and unexpected players. The story is engrossing and the con is both complicated and intriguing. The only problem with this movie is that there are a few slow parts, and once the con goes through, there are several events and motivations that don't entirely match up. If you don't think about it too much, then the movie is just fine.

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January 10, 2006

The Boondock Saints

The Boondock Saints is billed as an action movie, but it's really a very funny action-comedy. Two Irish brothers in New York City become vigilantes, but they're really lucky ones who succeed by being absolutely crazy and fearless. Willem Dafoe is a very funny gay cop who has fun with the cops and with himself. You won't find a whole lot of action, and instead it is the approach and comedy that makes this movie stand out.

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Beethoven's 2nd

The sequel, Beethoven's 2nd is unfortunately not particularly funny, entertaining, or interesting. The story is extremely basic. The characters are simple and exhibit stereotypical behavior and personality. I found myself not paying attention to the film at times. There's no growth or depth to this movie, and really nothing to recommend it.

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The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm is a fantastic adventure featuring the humor of Terry Gilliam. His vision of the original brothers Grimm fairy tales is very well executed, and mixing the different fairy tales all together makes for an fun environment. But the story itself is not particularly interesting, or very funny. Although there are some highlights such as the acting of Peter Stormare. It is also interesting that just the majority of citizens were played by people who are of whatever ethnic background Gilliam was aiming for.

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Little Manhattan

Little Manhattan is a younger perspective on first love through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy. He falls in love with a girl in his class from the other side of the tracks in New York City. The story is basic, but not oversimplified and more realistic than your typical romantic movie because it does not cling to the standards of the romantic-comedy genre. Still, there isn't a whole lot special here unless you find the acting performances of Josh Hutcherson and Charlie Ray enticing.

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A Chinese Tall Story

I saw another movie with Luna this past Saturday: Ching din dai sing. It also wasn't that good, but there were some goofy entertaining parts. It seems like this movie is a mixture of traditional Chinese folklore and parodies of contemporary pop culture. And the angel flight reminded me a lot of a similar scene in Barbarella.

Also interesting was that A Chinese Tall Story also starred Nicholas Tse, who was in The Promise. In both films he played a bishonen crazy/goofy person. Except A Chinese Tall Story is deliberately a comedy, rather than an action film.

Luna noted that the composer for this movie was someone famous from Japan. But she could not remember the name. The web site lists the composer, who is indeed famous and explains why Luna really liked the music. I also like the music of Joe Hisaishi.

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January 1, 2006

The Promise

I saw Mo gik with Luna today at the Peace Cinema. There were only a few movies to choose from, and she picked that one. It was a very expensive movie to make, and apparently is shooting for awards in the foreign film category in other countries, but it was a very confusing and strange film. Even if you could understand Chinese.

A goddess gives two different people a chance to make a deal, and both of them accept. But a lot of things do not make sense, such as why one man volunteered to have himself set on fire and afterwards he becomes the servant of the evil ruler. Or why the evil ruler never just kills his enemies, but instead keeps tying them up. There is supposed to be some sort of time-manipulation aspect to the movie, but I couldn't figure it out.

Plus, there are a lot of goofy things going on, such as the funny hand staves of the evil ruler, or the corny lines that some of the actors say at times. I'm not sure if it was really meant to be campy or not, but I think it probably was because sometimes it was so blatant.

The special effects were impressive, except for when it was clear that they were fake. Which was most of the time. In that regard, the special effects were not well done at all. It was very obvious when a blue- or green-screen had been used, and the action movements of some of the superhuman powers were rendered imprecisely.

If you like the martial arts aspect but couldn't care less about the story, then this film will probably suit you just fine. There is a fair amount of combat going on, and at times it is fairly impressive since all of the main characters have superhuman abilities.

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December 30, 2005

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Tim Burton's remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is amazing. I've loved all of his films, and watching this remake lends his dark sense of humor to the story without removing any of the charm that the original film starring Gene Wilder had. And Johnny Depp portrays an amazing Willy Wonka; I can't imagine a better actor for the role.

The new Oompa Loompa songs are great, and executed on the grand scale that everyone would have liked to have seen in the first version. They're voiced by Danny Elfman, who I think also did the score, and has been a staple of Tim Burton films. I like Danny Elfman's scores in general, and the music for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was also great.

Plus, all of the latest technological advances are taken advantage of here, so that Oompa Loompas are really tiny, and the factory really is huge, and all of the little strange things that take place look real instead of faked. It is really funny to see Deep Roy show up dozens of times side-by-side as the Oompa Loompas, and the glass elevator gag is amazingly classic.

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The Island

The trailer for The Island immediately reminded me of Logan's Run. And that shouldn't be surprising, as the movie is basically a remake of Logan's Run with more action and less thinking (thanks to Michael Bay) with a different premise. Unfortunately, I think Michael Bay's involvement is what ruins this film's chances at becoming an important science-fiction movie.

The new premise in this movie is that for insurance purposes, human clones are created so that people in the "real world" have a ready set of replacement parts in case of an emergency, or simply to prolong life. This is based on a current issue, but to polarize the subject the clones in this movie are given real lives instead of kept grown without consciousness. That immediately removes one of the possibilities of ethical discussion.

The idea of genetic memory, which has scientific basis, is also used. But used incorrectly. Instead of this genetic memory being there at birth to tell the clones how to perform basic tasks, the memory introduced is experiential rather than behavioral. And it involves memories that have absolutely nothing to do with survival.

It's too bad so much time was spent on action sequences instead of on exploring the social, ethical, and scientific issues involved. There was a lot of potential here. Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, and Sean Bean are excellent actors who play major roles. Auxiliary actors like Michael Clarke Duncan and Steve Buscemi are also great. This really ends up being an action film instead of a science-fiction one.

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December 28, 2005

The Warriors

I decided to watch The Warriors after reading about the upcoming video game of the same name from Rockstar Games. The Warriors is a movie about stylized gang warfare in New York City, but the situation is more like a land of city-states that are governed by a loose set of unwritten rules. The Warriors are wrongly accused of assassination at a gathering of delegates, and have to fight their way back home.

The story itself is very Homeric in many aspects, including the journey home, run-ins with the Lizzies, and punishment for being weak of character. There is also a unique approach to the scene transistions, which used comic-book style drawing and lettering. This lends a certain mood to the whole film that prevents it from becoming too dark and emphasizes the character personalities as well.

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Heat

Heat is a criminal versus cop thriller, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, with other excellent actors in supporting roles. There are two aspects to this movie. The first is the conflict between these two. They are both extremely intelligent and constantly in a game trying to outwit the other. The second is what makes this more than your typical thriller, and that is the time spent showing the motiviations of everyone involved, and the collateral damage resulting from their actions.

There are some memorable quotes in this film, which take on particular meaning in the lives of the people involved. For the criminals, the police officers, and the people their lives are entwined with. I was also very impressed with the gunfight sequence that took place in the middle of Las Angeles streets, which involved heavy firepower like AR-47 machine guns and the coordinated movements of the criminal crew.

The only thing which I think may be a problem is the length of the movie. That time is used to illustrate everything that the director wanted to convey to the audience, but it was somewhat slow moving as a result. The tension is kept high throughout, however, so the majority of viewers should be fine with it.

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December 27, 2005

Infernal Affairs

I just watched Wu jian dao and I think it is an excellent movie. It is only 101 minutes long, but the tension and pacing of the film makes it seem like much longer. Which is a good thing, because everything is fully realized. The only thing missing is an explanation of Yan's daughter. What gives this movie so much excitement and tension is the game of cat and mouse played between Yan and Lau, and you are never sure where a person's loyalties really lie.

The two stars of the film are Tony Leung and Andy Lau. Both extremely prolific and famous Chinese actors, who are excellent in this movie. Kelly Chen and Sammi Cheng make brief appearances, but are not important to the story. Now that I've seen this one, I want to get a copy for myself, along with the two other movies in the series.

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Iris' Departure Day

So Iris left yesterday at noon time. I took her and Dennis and my parents to the airport, dropped them off, then circled around to pick everyone back up except for her. Afterwards, we came home and I took a three hour nap because I was so tired. My leg also felt better after the nap, but my mom woke me up before I was done sleeping because she wanted to go out to eat with everyone.

We drove to pick up Calvin and then looked for a place to eat. Since it was Christmas day, everything was closed. Dennis didn't want Chinese food, but the only thing open was King Buffet which serves Chinese, Japanese, and other stuff like seafood and steak. So we ate that. My dad likes buffets because they are all-you-can-eat. I thought I had a coupon for it but I couldn't find it. Turns out it was in my wallet, which my mom started going through when I wasn't looking.

Later that night, my mom played some DDR and I played a little bit too. Then we watched Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which I think both Dennis and my dad really liked. And then after that, Dennis and I watched Black Hawk Down.

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December 25, 2005

Happy Times

Xingfu Shiguang is a sort of funny movie about an old man desperate for a wife, and thus willing to marry a really fat and mean woman. But what happens instead is that she dumps her blind step-daughter onto him and it's really the daughter that becomes the center of the story. The old man, Zhao, goes to crazy lengths to try and make both the fat woman and the blind girl believe that he is rich, although later on it is to try and keep the girl happy instead of to impress anyone. But it should be said that Zhao does act pretty cranky until the very end.

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Christmas Eve Presents

Since Iris has to leave tomorrow, we opened all our presents tonight. I got a digital camera from my mom and dad, which has 10x optical zoom. That's much better than the current digital camera I have. I also got some clothes from someone. Hsiuli got me fancy bathroom soap. Calvin got me a couple of books and also the Battlestar Galactica SciFi miniseries. Iris and Dennis eventually got me stuff I like: a stuffed Chococat and Batman Begins. Shannon and Yvonne got me the Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi DVD collection.

I got my mom some perfume, my dad some noise cancellation headphones, Hsiuli a picture frame, Spencer a GameBoy Advance game, Calvin the Ghost World comic and Diana Krall's Love Scenes album, Dennis a drumming DVD, and Iris two CDs: Tori Amos' Tales of a Librarian and Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing.

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December 24, 2005

Exhausting Day

Today I drove about 150 miles, mostly in parking lots, and spent around nine hours at various stores in preparation for Christmas because my mom didn't finish her shopping. First I had to go to The UPS Store to finally return Alla's defective jewelry armoire for a refund. Then my dad and I went to Home Depot to buy a Christmas tree. We put it up, and then immediately I drove off to Valley Fair with my mom, Dennis, and Iris.

While at Valley Fair, the only thing I bought was the final volume of Tuxedo Gin which I am glad is finally over in volume fifteen. Dennis didn't buy anything, and Iris only bought some mascara. My mom bought a bunch of presents. Suncoast is at that mall, but I never buy anything from there because all of their retail prices are way over what they should be. In other words, MSRP. We spent about two hours at this mall total.

I took a pit stop at home to drop off Dennis and Iris before taking my mom to the post office to send out a package. Expensive for express mail delivery on Sunday. Then we went to Oakridge so I could buy Iris' presents and my mom could buy presents for Shannon, Yvonne, and their mom. I told her not to get Mei-Ling a sweater this year, and so she bought her something useful instead. This whole process took another couple of hours.

Once we got back home, it was immediately time to go out to dinner. I took Dennis and Iris with me, and my mom and dad went with Calvin, up to the Mayflower restaurant in Milpitas Square. The food there was okay. A little expensive because it is a more fancy Chinese restaurant. At least eating there meant we could walk around afterwards to see if there was anything interesting in the stores. None of us bought anything from those stores, but we did stop at 99 Ranch to get some food.

Then we were finally going to get home around 9pm, but instead my mom wanted us to go visit them in their hotel room. Iris wanted to go, but Dennis and I didn't want to. We ended up going because my mom kept saying so and didn't want to come back to my place. Everyone just sat around watching some TV show where Sarah Jessica Parker was being interviewed. I was really bored and started reading the comics and doing the puzzles. My dad was also bored and just reading the newspaper.

We finally got home around 10pm and I am really tired. I don't want to go anywhere tomorrow.

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December 22, 2005

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone shows just how much those characters and actors have grown in only a few years, and also how well they have matured as actors. I do really like all of the Harry Potter movies. What I liked best about the first movie was the snobbish performance of Emma Watson's Hermione. It's really funny watching her enunciate with exaggerated mouth movements and tell Ron and Harry exactly what is what. I also like when Hagrid keeps saying "I shouldn't have said that".

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December 20, 2005

Better Than Chocolate

A few decades from now, Better Than Chocolate won't be considered anything special. But today, it can be considered a landmark film for the GLBT community. Mix every type of *-sexual you can and you have the characters of this film, all trying to find love, acceptance, and liberation with the people around them. It's that mix, combined with excellent wit and spontaneous fun that makes an otherwise typical story come alive. This is a great movie.

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December 19, 2005

Crash Test

Crash Test is one of the worst movies I've seen. The premise is interesting on the surface but comes across as contrived in execution. The dialogue is completely cliché, the acting is totally amateur, and most of the film is boring. I think the only people who might enjoy it are those that are into watching artsy films just for the snobbish factor.

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Go

I've had the soundtrack to Go for a few years now. And the music is probably the best part of the movie. That's not to say the movie is bad, but just that I personally find it the most enjoyable aspect. It is a wild ride filled with energy and crazy events in one night for a group of people who are connected to each other. I did find it a little off-putting to see another movie that tells the story from multiple character viewpoints and then ties them together at the end though.

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December 18, 2005

The City of Lost Children

I saw a trailer for La Cite des Enfants Perdus somewhere and thought the imagery looked wonderful. And watching the movie that turned out to be exactly the case. This movie takes the people you would find in a circus freak show, turns them into the normal type of character, and builds a fantastic story in an amazingly rendered world. This world is one of machina and and rusted steel and rivets. I loved the world that was precisely built down to the smallest detail.

The story could do with a little more fleshing out, but the characters were lots of fun to watch. Ron Perlman portrays the oafish strongman very well, and I thought Judith Vittet was great as the little girl Miette. Dominique Pinon is crazy as six clones and one original. I can't think of any other movie where a non-anthropomorphized flea can become the focal point of a scene without being a piece of artsy rubbish.

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Monsieur Ibrahim

I just finished watching Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran which something of a coming-of-age story, but without the approach typical of those types of films. Momo is a boy living in the shadow of an older brother, abandoned by his family, and so he finds a father figure in the shopkeeper that lives on his street. And so Momo learns from this man how to believe in himself and how to enjoy life. Many will find this a touching film, but I was a little bored by it and I can't say I found any part of it particularly memorable.

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December 17, 2005

Dune

I just finished reading Dune. I wanted to re-read it after watching the miniseries, just to see what had been omitted or changed. I was pleased to see that while some artistic liberties were taken for the miniseries (mostly for dramatic effect) the majority of the content remained the same. There were some moments in the miniseries that are not as clear without the background from the novel though.

As a story, Dune is still one of the best science-fiction novels or series ever. What really makes it unique is the intricate political structure that was created. While there is a lot of imaginative concepts and technology in the stories, ultimately the content is one of politics and intrigue in a world of depth and fully-developed characters. That makes it very fun to read, although I don't think many people would find it fun to live in the world of Dune.

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Walk on Water

Walk on Water is a contemporary film about growing up with, and having one's world view shaped by, the ghosts of World War II and the violent shadow between Israelis and Palestinians. This is a story of an Israeli who kills Nazis that escaped "justice" and the German brother and sister he ends up with as a result of his current mission. The two of them are able to teach him what it is like to live with the sins of their fathers, and how to overcome that. He teaches them what it is like to live in a place filled with hatred and violence.

There is a lot to be gotten out of this movie. By itself, the story and characters are simple enjoyable. Lior Ashkenazi provides an outstanding performance as the Israeli assassin Eyal. Knut Berger also does an excellent job as the German brother Axel Himmelman. And there is some great music and intrigue going on throughout that makes this a fun and gripping movie to watch.

But there is a whole layer of subtext that runs through every scene as well. It is important to take these ideas and commentary as a whole, because what you see at one time is related to what you will see at another time. One such example is the conflict between Eval and an Arab named Rafik, which is later on related to the conflict between some drag queens and some guys that try to beat them up.

I think in a lot of ways this film is about finding a way to heal the wounds that have been inflicted, and wounds that people continue to inflict upon themselves because they cannot find a way to move forward. Understanding what it takes to walk on water and then being able to get to that point of enlightenment is something special.

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December 16, 2005

Trainspotting

I thought Trainspotting was about homeless addicts who lived on a train and the lifestyle they had, as a result of their addiction. Instead, this film is more of a sick look at the horrible effects of heroin addiction in combination with the criminal silliness of a Guy Ritchie movie. And it is quite well done for what it is. There a lot more value here than you might expect.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the main character was played by Ewan McGregor, and to see Kelly MacDonald show up because I really liked her performance in an episode from season four of Alias. I went through the whole movie thinking Jonny Lee Miller was actually Moritz Bleibtreu though. There is some excellent cinematography, although at times it is quite disgusting. I also liked some of the music tracks used throughout.

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December 15, 2005

Cinema Paradiso

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso had a synopsis that suggested to me a very tight connection with movies and being a projectionist. But it is actually a love story about a lower-class boy who works as a projectionist and an upper-class girl, along with the old man who is like a father to that boy. The events that take place revolve around the boy's job as a projectionist, but that is merely the setting into which events unfold.

This is a great movie, with great characters and an enveloping story. The story turns out to be wonderful but sad. That bittersweet truth is something of the appeal to this movie, but if you are looking for a happy ending you won't find it here. The actors portraying three stages of Salvatore's life give excellent performances, as does Philippe Noriet as the old wise man Alfredo.

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December 14, 2005

The Magdalene Sisters

The Magdalene Sisters is a historical fiction based on the accounts of women who spent time in the Magdalene institution. A lot of people think this is a criticism of Catholics. Those people are finding meaning where there is none. The movie is about the corruption and cruelty of the Magdalene institution and the tacit approval of the situation by the community.

The unfortunate truth is that this institution survived until 1996, and that some of the abuses that took place there were much worse than those depicted in the film. At times during the movie I wished the women there would organize a revolt and simply kill off all the nuns and priests so they could escape and be free again.

If you want to see a documentary instead of a dramatization, take a look at Sex in a Cold Climate. It was a Channel 4 documentary and features interviews with some women who lived through a Magdalene asylum in Ireland.

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December 13, 2005

Central Station

I seem to be going through something of a Brazilian movie series, probably due to the grouping on Netflix recommendations. Tonight's movie was Central do Brasil, which stars an excellent actress Fernanda Montenegro. Her performance was the highlight of the film. And the plot itself was well executed. Still, I only thought the movie was okay. The story was just not that interesting to me. But for people who enjoy this type of story, this is probably one of the best movies they could watch.

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December 12, 2005

The Girl From Monday

The Girl From Monday needs someone else to do a remake. It has an excellent premise and is an insightful commentary on contemporary consumerism. But it uses narrative to move the story forward due to a weak plot and confusing non-linear storytelling mixed with linear storytelling. It also seemed at times like they didn't have enough film to shoot at normal speeds; there's too much blur and choppy cuts. If someone could flesh out the plot and redo the film with better production values then this could be a great movie.

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All About My Mother

All About My Mother is a Spanish film that has earned critical reviews and won many awards. But I thought it was only okay. The acting of the young Estéban and his mother Manuela (played by Cecilia Roth) was not very good in my opinion. Although most people would probably disagree. Her posture and body language at times seemed artificial or exaggerated. The story itself is somewhat interesting but I didn't think the plot was anything special.

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Kolya

Kolya is a Czech film about an old man who is dedicated to his music, heavily in debt, and a womanizer. Through a friend, he is convinced to enter a fake marriage in return for a large payment. But what ends up happening is his new wife emigrates into West Germany, leaving behind her five-year-old son, whom he ends up having to care for. Over the course of the remaining hour, his previous life is turned around as he comes to care for the boy. I enjoyed the movie, mostly for its charm than for anything specific or unique.

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December 11, 2005

Potluck

I had a potluck today with a bunch of people. I picked up Shannon early, and she helped me to make the plomeek soup (various recipes are available online) and also to plan the tribble trap. Georges was the first to show up, with Alla's tiramisu. Alla arrived a little later and then Sasha. Ellen and Rita arrived around 6pm, and Yvonne and Mei-Ling around 7pm.

Besides plomeek soup, I also made durani lizard skins, and a ham with vegetables. Sasha brought bananas and pasta. Alla showed up with some white wine that Mei-Ling ended up taking the rest of. Ellen and Rita brought pasta and mashed potatoes. Szu-Huey brought a pumpkin cheesecake that she made. There was also chips, crackers, cheese, pepperoni, drinks, and a few other things to eat.

After making the food, which Georges also helped out with a little since he arrived first, people seemed a little bored so we put on The Incredibles. It was after the movie ended that Shannon asked Rita to get something for her from the cabinet, and the tribble trap was sprung. Unfortunately, my photo timing was a little off so I did not get the tribbles actually falling on her, only her running away a second later.

We started playing Scrabble afterwards. Alla had to leave to a birthday party, so she and Georges and Sasha left around then. Ellen and Rita were not very good at making words and scoring a lot of points. It was them on one team versus me and Shannon. They challenged "raze" and then also tried to put down "coe" so Shannon and I ended up two turns ahead. We more than doubled their score very quickly. Rita also tried to find music to play that she recognized (not much since she only listens to the radio and is Clear Channel brainwashed). So Shannon called her the useless one.

Yvonne and Mei-Ling arrived while we were playing, and Rita and Ellen left before the game ended, but they had no chance of winning. Yvonne finished up on their side and scored the two highest turns for their team. We ended up using every single letter, but of course Shannon and I won. Yvonne and Mei-Ling started using the computer to look at random things then while Shannon and I went upstairs to play DDRMAX2. Later Mei-Ling started playing too but she was really bad. Yvonne just watched. We stopped when Shannon got an A score. Mei-Ling couldn't even get a B on beginner.

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December 10, 2005

Fantastic Voyage / Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Fantastic Voyage was a great film when it came out for its special effects and imaginative set construction of the inside of a human body. The story is interesting because it takes the audience through a tour of the human body, and explains a little bit of how things work and are connected without being overbearing. It's too bad Raquel Welch wasn't given more lines though; the few lines she did have were well done. Instead she was put on as eye candy.

On the other side of the disc was Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. This movie, on the other hand, was not very good at all. It had a bunch of clichés and it seems like the writers decided to throw every predictable conflict into the movie. The only good part of the film was the tension that remained constant as you tried to determine if Admiral Nelson was insane or the only hope for survival. Joan Fontaine and Barbara Eden were given equal opportunity as well.

One thing I found interesting was that in both movies, there was a time at which religion is juxtaposed with scientific thinking. In both cases, the discussion is extremely short-lived and left without any opinion one way or the other. Seeing the intelligent design versus evolution debate pop up for a few seconds in Fantastic Voyage is rather amusing given the current climate on that subject.

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December 9, 2005

Narnia instead of the Bible?

A lot of Christian people and groups are getting very excited about the movie release of Narnia. Many of them view it as a Christian film that can be used to convert non-believers to the faith or to positively influence people who have questioned their faith. But what I'm wondering is how it can be considered good when the converting takes place as described in Talking Narnia to Your Neighbors.

Why should a person be more likely to accept, understand, or cope with God when He is presented in the Chronicles of Narnia rather than in the Bible? If a person can accept the God in those books, but not in the teachings of the church or the Bible, then are the two God characters different? Does this mean that if the Bible was more enjoyable to read, then more people would be Christian? And if all that is true, then what does that really say about believing in Christianity? This makes Christianity looks a whole lot more like a Jedi mind trick.

Reading about how easily influenced and weak-minded some people are makes the institution of Christianity seem much closer to Scientology.

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City of God

Cidade de Deus is a Brazilian film about the growth of gangs, drugs, and violence in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. It's very brutal, truthful, and realistic. That is why I found it a little hard to watch, as the realism makes the acts of violence disturbing. It's not glorified or vilified, which gives it a neutral documentary type of feeling. The movie moves follows the progression of things over the course of a few decades, and it is extremely important that you discard your ethnocentricity if you are to understand and appreciate what is going on.

After watching the two hour film, make sure you watch the one hour special feature documentary of the current situation in the Rio de Janeiro slums. There is a real war going on between the police and the drug dealers. Both sides have weapons, soldiers, and guerilla tactics that keep things at a stalemate in the slums. And more importantly, both sides have their good points and their bad points. There is no distinction between right and wrong. If anything, the dealers are Robin Hoods that rule with an iron fist and the police are the corrupt Sheriffs of Nottingham who protect the interests of the middle- and upper-class.

After seeing how so many conflicts of this nature drag on for so long, I've started to believe that when taken to this level of personal interest, the only way for things to get resolved is for one side to completely wipe out the other side. This seems to be the state of Rio de Janeiro, as it is between Israel and Palestine and as it was between the Hutu and Tutsi.

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December 8, 2005

Clean

Clean is a French or Canadian film (it's not clear to me which) but I happen to own a Korean copy of the film. It doesn't seem to be available in a region one release. Nick Nolte and Maggie Chung give excellent performances, and I suppose the movie is supposed to be very moving. But I found it somewhat uninteresting. This is another one of those movies that is about someone's everyday life struggles, and that doesn't appeal to me a whole lot. I also found the transitions between locales, and also the ending, to be somewhat abrupt.

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December 7, 2005

Natural Born Killers

Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis were amazing as mass murderers in Natural Born Killers. The first quarter of the movie was not as appealing to me, because of its random but stylized approach towards explaining where the Knox's came from. Then things moved into a more agreeable view of the random and tumultuous lives of Mickey and Mallory. I could appreciate this, even if it left me disoriented. It's the final third of the movie where things really come together and the ideas are cemented into a tangible form.

Is there really anything unnatural or wrong in being natural born killers? In the natural order of things, the rabbits breed at an explosive rate. And the other creatures above those rabbits in the food chain benefit. But mankind puts some sort of special meaning onto the rabbits of its own species. It's a nihilistic view when taken as a whole, but one that makes sense when analyzed locally.

At the same time, sex and violence are the two things which will draw the crowds like nothing else. Rubbernecking at an automobile accident isn't much different than watching the news to find out about a murder. And then people gather around to talk about how awful it was for someone to have been killed, just like they talk about the Clinton sex scandal. It's addictive gossip.

Maybe in the end, all you should really care about is yourself. It's not as though you can count on the rest of the rabbits to protect you when the wolf comes.

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Raising Arizona

Raising Arizona wasn't exactly what I expected. I can understand why some people find this movie super funny, but it just didn't do it for me. There just wasn't much of a point to the whole thing. The acting was definitely crazy and very good, but I need more to a movie than just zany antics to keep me entertained.

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December 6, 2005

The Virgin Suicides

I don't really know what drew me to The Virgin Suicides. The title is certainly one filled with emotional power, and the striking image of Kirstin Dunst evokes a sense of despondency. That feeling carries over into the film very well. And it is executed so flawlessly that the dated appearance and style achieves a timeless quality. The pacing of of the story as it unravels, the music, the viewpoint of people just entering adolescence, and the honesty of the characters creates a depth which cannot be seen from a quick glance.

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December 5, 2005

eXistenZ

I was surprised to discover that eXistenZ had so many top actors in it. Although, at first I wondered as to why things seemed off. As though the director was not good or the production values were low. But the reason for that is later revealed. What I really liked about this movie was how well it captured the adventure genre of games. I was a little let down by the ending, but I'm not sure it could have been done better. Plus, the ending makes it very clear exactly what the danger is.

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The Thirteenth Floor

The Thirteenth Floor turned out to be a much better film than I anticipated. Over the two hours, writer and director Josef Rusnak takes a single theme, that of simulated life and its relation with the concept of a "soul" and expands upon it without falling into any of the common pitfalls or clichés. Like any good science-fiction work, the impact of that idea is explored through its influence on the lives of the characters involved. Rusnak does have a particular message he is trying to get across, but it is woven into the story and attaches itself to the viewer carefully. There is no in-your-face attitude here.

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December 4, 2005

Cold Fires

Mei-Ling has finally started using the fireplace, but she bought some of those artificial logs. They are better for the environment, because they're cleaner burning, and also easier to get started than regular wood. But they don't seem to produce much heat at all. Yvonne brought the couch right up to the fireplace stoop, and I was sitting on the stoop itself, and I barely felt any heat hitting me. I think they just don't produce enough heat. And that was what Mei-Ling wanted to use instead of the central heat.

Other than that, I got there earlier than usual. Shannon and I went to Target so she could buy some Pokémon cards again. I told her it would be cheaper and easier to buy the entire EX Delta Species set off eBay, but she didn't want to. We stopped at the bookstore, then got a fruit smoothie, and ended up spending some time at PetSmart looking at the animals.

That night, we went to Hollywood Video to rent The Addams Family. It's a great movie, and I really like Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams. Shannon liked it just as much as the sequel. Their old Apex DVD player wouldn't read the disc though, so I had to hook up their laptop to the TV and use computer speakers. They really need a new DVD player, even though Yvonne doesn't want a new one.

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December 3, 2005

Lawnmower Man

Lawnmower Man was one of the first movies to feature heavy use of CG for special effects. It came out in 1992, when the idea of virtual reality was something of a hit topic. The VR CG work is pretty good, especially for the time, but the non-VR special effects seem amateurish. What's worse is that the plot is not particularly good, unless you like simple thrillers, the acting is bad, and it is scientifically inaccurate. There really isn't any reason to watch this movie unless you want to check out the VR CG work.

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I Heart Huckabees

I don't really understand why people have been picking I <3 Huckabees as their favorite movie. It's certainly a unique and quirky movie, and I can see why some would find it hilariously funny. And it was a well executed cinematic portrayal of the central themes. But I didn't find the central themes to be that engaging. It's mostly a screenplay based around the ideas of a few philosophical questions, which are in some ways taken to the extreme. But I don't need a movie to make me think about these ideas or to illustrate them or provide possible answers. What I would have enjoyed more is a plot that built upon those ideas.

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December 2, 2005

Death to Smoochy

Death to Smoochy I was always intrigued by the splash panel for Death to Smoochy. The idea of killing a children's show figure, and the dramatic juxtaposition of the lighting and composition appeals to my sense of humor. But I did not have a great desire to actually see the movie itself. After watching it, I think Edward Norton in particular did a wonderful acting job, and there's a lot of intelligent satire in the movie. So I found it enjoyable, but not particularly special.

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Alias: Season 4

I watched through Alias: Season 4 and it was good. I liked how they brought back the original team, and the missions could take on the same black-ops feel that was present in season one. The addition of Nadia brought new dynamics to the character interactions. What I didn't like as much, though, was the thematic approach used in some of the episodes to further explore a specific character. I feel that approach is a sign of weak writers who are using a character to drive the story, instead of a story to drive a character.

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November 28, 2005

Dune

A few years ago, the SciFi channel embarked on an epic miniseries: Dune. The followers of Frank Herbert's most famous novel can be considered as picky as any, and the minor disappointment of the first film was legitimate cause for concern. After watching the miniseries, I think it was expertly crafted and it brings to life the world of Arrakis and the spice beautifully. There were certainly some changes made for dramatic emphasis, but the freedom to expand upon the story within four and half hours really pays off.

There are three things this miniseries does very well. The first is the costumes and sets. A lot of effort was put forth into building a realistic and colorful world in the city of Arrakis, the desert, and in the houses of the families involved. The second are the special effects, which are very well done. The only problem I noticed was that some of the fake buildings and fires were clearly fake, if one pays close attention. The third are the sound effects, which are very immersing and of high quality.

I am looking forward to watching the SciFi sequel, Children of Dune.

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Johnny Mnemonic

I'd seen Johnny Mnemonic before, but I couldn't really remember the whole movie. Unfortunately, the movie itself suffers from horrible acting by all of the people involved (not just Keanu Reeves) and artistic liberties that tried to make this movie appeal to the lowest common denominator. The special effects and realization of the environment were very well done though.

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November 27, 2005

Sleepers

I was first interested in seeing Sleepers from seeing the trailer. Partially because it involved Brad Pitt, who I really liked in movies around that same time period. I thought it was about some boys who were locked away until they were released as adults, and took revenge upon some people for something that had happened earlier. And that is what the movie is about, but not in the way I imagined it.

Instead, this movie is actually in two parts. The first half deals with the four boys who through unfortunate circumstance and a healthy dose of bad judgement and misbehavior end up being sent to juvenile hall. But only for a year. What happens there is disturbing, and becomes the basis for the second half of the film. It's in that second half when the mood shifts, and those boys as adults come up with a plan to get back at the people who wronged them during that year a decade ago.

The boys acting is really good, although I expect they were kept away from having to act out the really challenging scenes by choice. Instead, cinematography, editing, and the audio is used to convey the situation. The second half could have been better, but I think a lot of it got cut shorter than it should have been. The movie is already almost two and a half hours, but it just feels like the second half is missing something. Maybe it didn't need to be longer, but just better executed. The first half works as a sort of extended flashback, and so it makes sense for things to be a bit more disjointed.

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La Vida que te Espera

I ended up watching La Vida que te Espera about twice, but not really paying attention to it the entire time. The story is a little odd, but it's the kind of story that people can write about and discuss after dinner. Drama unfolds in a small village setting as tension grows within a family being pulled apart by the status quo on one side and the need for excitement on the other. The acting was quite good, and I think anyone who likes realistic drama among closely knit people will appreciate this film. Hopefully the final release will have better translation for the subtitles though.

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Dias de Santiago

I thought I might enjoy watching Dias de Santiago because it won several awards and was about a young man coming home after serving as a soldier. Well, it certainly contains a powerful story, and Pietro Sibille plays his part very well. But the movie feels very disjointed and does not contain any specific direction. That is done purposely, but it does leave me feeling unsatisfied because at the end of the film, Santiago isn't in any place other than where he started.

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Grizzly Man

Grizzly Man got rave reviews as a documentary, and I certainly think that there is a lot of amazing footage taken by Timothy Treadwell. It is very cool to see him petting a fox or touching the nose of a grizzly bear. But he comes off as a little crazy and a lot of the time is spent talking about Timothy instead of learning about bears. So I found it a bit boring and I didn't really like how many of the interviews seemed to be scripted interactions or performances for the film.

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Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi

I picked up a screener of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi from Cartoon Network because they're a pretty popular rock band right now in both Japan and the U.S. They sing the intro song for Teen Titans, and are making appearances at anime conventions in the U.S. The cartoon is typical very young audience fare, with short and simple storylines. Ami and Yumi do make an appearance in person, but it's brief and the cartoon voices are done by voice actors. The cartoon is really just another marketing avenue.

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2009: Lost Memories

2009: Lost Memories is a Korean science-fiction movie that moves within a police drama. It's almost perfect, but loses points for: extremely inaccurate police protocols, overacting, scene transitions that belong in soap operas, unrealistic gun fight sequences, and staged drama. It does have an excellent story, great actors, very good audio production, and extremely thought-provoking issues run throughout the story. I also liked the use of natural lighting. What really makes this movie worth it are the ideas revealed, and how they are revealed, in a manner which forces you to appreciate the efforts of people who fought for what they believed in. With a better director, this film would have been perfect.

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The 6th Day

The 6th Day is a science fiction film starring Arnold Schwarzenger in much the same was as some of his other science fiction films. And I enjoyed this film just as much as those others. The focus of this one is human cloning, and the ethical issues involved. Appropriately, the movie does not take any side in the debate, but it does provide possibilities for contemplation. And it does this in a very smooth and intelligent manner, while still providing the action movie most people are interested in seeing.

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November 25, 2005

The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain is based on the book of the same name by Michael Crichton. While I really like the book, I wasn't that impressed with this film adaptation. It did stay very close to the original plot, but it was very slow paced and did not keep my attention very well. The acting was not very good, and the director work also not very good in my opinion. The background music and sound effects were also distracting. Perhaps it would have been more entertaining to me had I not already read the book.

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Barbarella

Barbarella is clearly a 60's film, as her space ship has a shag interior and there's the constant idea of free love and hedonism. There's a whole lot of imagination to be found in this movie, but the plot reads like a bad adventure story where the heroine asks a question, goes in that direction, gets and item, and repeat. Jane Fonda is pure eye candy without much else going for her. And there are lots of logic holes that you kind of have to ignore. They did put a lot of effort into the sets and special effects though.

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Pre-Thanksgiving Sleepover

Last night Shannon and Yvonne came over to sleep over. Yvonne didn't do much except read. She brought and finished some fantasy book by Mercedes someone, and also The Lost World. She also read my copy of Fight Club. Shannon started reading volume one of Azumanga Daioh.

In the morning, Shannon and I watched Star Wars: Episode III. She hadn't seen it before; Yvonne didn't want to stop reading to watch, even though she hasn't seen it yet. She'll have to watch it some other time. What's interesting is that if you consider President Bush as Emperor Palpatine, the movie takes on a very specific political stance. One which I happen to agree with. We also watched some of the special features, which made Mei-Ling say that she feels bad about watching pirated copies because they do so much work to make the movie.

Shannon went on a hugging rampage with Asuka and Niea. She kept trying to hug them a lot, but was usually holding them wrong so they would wriggle away. Chie kept hiding under the beds, but he did come out last night while I was sleeping, and also again around noon. I took him down so they could pet him, but he got scared and ran away back upstairs to hide inside my bed again.

After we finished watching Star Wars, Shannon and I played some Magic: The Gathering. I beat her with my deck so we swapped, and then she won with my deck. So she started to redo her deck but got annoyed at it because she picked too many cards. She doesn't know how to decide between cards, and always just tries to pick cards that are good without thinking about strategy or cost. That works in simple games like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh but doesn't work in Magic.

While we were doing that, Mei-Ling watched Hero, and Yvonne started to watch with her after she finished reading. Then they left to have Thanksgiving dinner with some people they know.

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The Iron Giant

I watched The Iron Giant last night. It's an animated film that received very little publicity, but was done by Brad Bird, who was later hired by Pixar to work on The Incredibles. The Iron Giant is a pretty good animated film. The artwork is a little basic, but it's rich with detail and there is a great story without the typical children's clichés. The jokes are funny and the story is pretty good.

About half-way through watching, Shannon and Yvonne showed up to sleep over. Shannon thinks she has seen the movie before, but she wasn't sure because she couldn't remember right. But she kept trying to tell me what was going to happen next near the end.

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November 23, 2005

Cocoon

Cocoon is a science fiction movie from the 80's that I recall knowing about back then but I never actually watched it. It's a pretty decent movie, although the 80's influence on its mood is pretty obvious. So it's not timeless in that manner. The basic plot is pretty interesting and there's some real good subtext you can read into. But I wish there had been much less feel-good type fluff put into the middle of the film. That kind of made the movie lose focus and eat up time that could have been spent exploring the ideas further.

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November 22, 2005

Blade II

I watched Blade II last night. I liked the first one, but the sequel doesn't have as much mythology going for it. Where it delivers instead is in action and special effects. The fight sequences are pretty intense, although I did notice once or twice the stupid thing where baddies hang back to attack one-by-one. And it still doesn't make any sense for Blade to use fists instead of other weapons when he has the chance.

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My Sassy Girl

October 6, 1999.

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November 21, 2005

Harry Potter Day

I promised Shannon and Yvonne I would take them to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire a while back. Well, Yvonne decided to ditch us and instead went to see it with some of her friends. So only Shannon and I went to see it. We got to the theater about five minutes before showtime because I got off at the wrong exit. It wouldn't have mattered anyway because the line for each showing started forming an hour early. So we went to the next showing and got in line right then.

I liked this Harry Potter film more than the last two. I think this one, and the first one, are the best of the four so far. Shannon liked it more than the previous one also. Unfortunately, Ron was exceptionally annoying and dumb in this movie, and the major players of the previous films had much smaller parts in this one. The latter isn't really a problem, except that it is strange to see previous characters replaced by new ones.

Afterwards, I made a deal with Shannon that she could go buy some Pokémon cards only if she ate good food. Since she never eats well enough on her own. She'd rather eat lots of bread or mashed potatoes or junk food. We went to Sweet Tomatoes and she ate a lot of good stuff, and only a little junk food. They have a really good chicken pot pie stew with biscuits for the entire month of Novemeber. Probably one of their tastiest dishes of all time. One of Shannon's friends from school showed up with her family; there were about twenty people in their dinner party total.

Then we went to Target so she could buy the Pokémon cards. I said she could only get two boosters, even though she wanted four. She also bought her mom's Christmas presents there. I ended up buying copies of Blade 2 and the Dune Miniseries.

When we got back to Shannon's house, Cecilia and Annie came over. They're sleeping over tonight. Yvonne dragged Cecilia into her room for a while, and then they turned into fangirls in front of the computer. Shannon and Annie and I played tag for a bit, then buried each other in the closet using stuffed animals and pillows and blankets. That turned into a pillow fight. We played a 3-way game of Pokémon which Shannon won. Then it was late so I came home.

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November 20, 2005

Making Tribbles

I'm hosting a potluck next month that turned into a Star Trek theme party. So I want to make it as much Star Trek-like as possible. I failed to win any tribbles, tricorders, or phasers off eBay for a reasonable price, and I wasn't able to find any Star Trek items at the mall today. I ended up buying some balloons, paper mache, and furry yarn to make my own tribbles. I'm going to shove them into a cabinet and watch when someone opens it.

I also want to have some sort of costume. I wasn't able to find any uniforms or Vulcan ears or anything like that. I ended up buying some weird RBK (or Reebok) sports clothing that is generic enough that I could pull off a Vger Probe, Binar, or one of those two-color-faced characters that I don't know the name of. Most likely I'll go with Vger Probe, as that doesn't require me to paint my face or wear a strange mask. Technically I should shave my head, but I'll just wear contacts instead.

I didn't realize the clothing was so skintight when I bought them though. So I'll also have to wear the bottom-only bathrobe that I have, over the pants. Still fits the part, although it is white instead of gray. Maybe I can find some gray fabric instead. Might be cheap enough from the fabric store.

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Waking Life

I wanted to see Waking Life when I first heard about it. Partially for its unique artistic rendering technique and partially for its subject matter. I also thought it was a film from Ethan Hawke, who is one of my favorite actors. Unfortunately, the subject matter was uninspiring and Ethan Hawke had only a very minor role.

If you're an aspiring philosopher with no ideas of your own, or an amateur philosopher looking for more fluff to pad your public ranting, then you should take a look at this film. If, however, you've already thought about things like this, then there's nothing new for you to find here. In which case, I might recommend playing the movie on mute, with some interesting music of your own as accompaniment.

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Hocus Pocus

Silke recommended I watch Hocus Pocus right before halloween. Apparently, since it is a Disney movie and I put it into my Netflix queue around Halloween, I ended up having to wait quite a bit for it to arrive. No loss, because the movie is okay but not great. The plot is kind of formulaic and predictable, but at least it was entertaining to watch. Sarah Jessica Parker does an excellent job acting as a ditz.

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November 19, 2005

Raising Victor Vargas

The first time I saw Raising Victor Vargas was when its DVD slip cover caught my attention at a Blockbuster store. I never ended up grabbing it though. The movie is kind of short, and comes up a little lacking in the directorial department. Initially the story seemed a bit stupid, but about half way in, things start to move in a new direction. What this film turns out to be is a lesson in growing up and recognizing people for who they are instead of who you think or want them to be. That this happens to all of the characters involved makes this growth all the more interesting.

While the production values were low, the acting was pretty good. Especially for relatively young and inexperienced actors. I also found it interesting to learn during the ending credits that the majority of actors involved have real names that are partially the same as their character names.

Another tidbit that may be considered interesting, but probably reflects poorly upon director and writer Peter Sollet, is that the same people were used in his previous film Five Feet High and Rising, with the same actors and names, in the same location. A brief look implies that Five Feet High and Rising is actually a prequel to Raising Victor Vargas. And, it is also about growing up as a person. Most likely, as this first film is only 29 minutes long, Raising Victor Vargas is the film Peter Sollet originally wanted to make.

Anyway, that's all conjecture.

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Ellen's Birthday Dinner

Ellen had a birthday dinner tonight at Frankie Johnnie & Luigi Too, which is actually only about ten minutes from work. So I went straight after work. A lot of the same people from her last birthday dinner were there, and it was lots of fun. I got her a Hello Kitty pop-up doll house book. She also got a yoga mat, Alias season one, the game Taboo, and some gift cards. Alla and Jeannie's present is on its way. One of her friends baked a delicious three-layer cake.

Afterwards, we thought about coming back to my place to play Taboo, but Karissa didn't want to because it was far. In the end, a few people said they were too tired to play anyway. Even though it was only around 9pm. Instead, Ellen, Rita, and eventually Karissa started badgering me to "dance techno". Alla was supposed to be on my side but instead just gave Karissa instructions. Brian tried to defend me as Ultraman. I eventually gave in and played Puppy from my car.

I accidentally put my finger next to Ellen's head as if flicking her, when she was blowing out the candles and that ended up in the photo. I didn't realize she was blowing out the candles, otherwise I wouldn't have done that. x_x

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November 18, 2005

James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach was directed by Henry Selick, who also directed the excellent The Nightmare Before Christmas. Only the former is based on the book by Roald Dahl, and the latter on was written for the screen by Tim Burton. Unfortunately, James and the Giant Peach just doesn't have anything special in it.

The claymation is quite good, and the audio production was very well done. But the songs were kind of empty and there wasn't a whole lot of appeal. I'm sure younger kids would probably enjoy its style more than I did. My favorite character is Ms. Spider, and I did appreciate the nods towards the previous film, The Nightmare Before Christmas.

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Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino's third feature film, and I really liked it. As a suspense crime thriller, this film really delivers with a great plot and excellent director work. The acting is also very good, where everyone seems to be normal, but very unique. There is a lot of characteristic Tarantino as well, with non-linear time sequences, abrupt background music changes, character soundtracks, and tributes to film and other choice icons.

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November 17, 2005

6ixtynin9

6ixtynin9, or Ruang talok 69, is I think the first Thai movie I've watched. It's a strange tongue-in-cheek comedy where several people end up getting killed in one woman's apartment because she decided to keep a noodle box of money that was supposed to be left at someone else's apartment door. In a strange series of events, one thing leads to another, with silly twists and silly characters that make it a nice ride. Lalita Panyopas stars as the protagonist and does a pretty good job acting out the part of a woman who is suddenly dumped into an ocean of conspiracy and doesn't really know what to do except tread water.

There are a few things I found a bit off-putting with the film. For some reason, most of the men in the movie sound like women. I don't know why that is, but it seems to be the case for any man who isn't over forty. I also don't really like the sound of Thai vocal music. It is also a little disconcerting to experience Tum's dreams without realizing they are dreams. Although that approach is probably quite fitting and it is definitely effective at putting you in her shoes. Also, dead people shouldn't be breathing, or start bleeding in different locations, or have facial twitches.

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November 16, 2005

Soylent Green

Soylent Green is a famous science-fiction film starring Charlton Heston, and is actually based on a Harry Harrison. Although perhaps not as recognizable as some other science-fiction writers of the recent past or present tense, he has made significant contributions as a science-fiction writer. Soylent Green is a possible future in an overpopulated world that has suffered from ecological abuse, resulting in famine as natural resources begin to die out.

What I liked about the movie is that it has an interesting plot and an interesting idea. The acting is not particularly good, although Heston seemed less amateurish in this film than some of his earlier ones. Sol Roth, played by Edward G. Robinson, does give a nice performance though. That's probably not surprising given that he had been in dozens and dozens of films before then.

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November 15, 2005

Practical Magic

I watched Practical Magic last night. I found it to be a somewhat run-of-the-mill romance, with the twist of magic being involved. I did enjoy the spookiness a bit, but there isn't a whole lot special about this movie.

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Eyes Wide Shut

Many of Stanley Kubrick's films can be hard to watch. A slow moving story and confusing imagery are the norm for his films. But Eyes Wide Shut is a different sort of Kubrick film. There remains a slow texture to the plot, but it is captivating instead of confusing. There's a deep undercurrent of suspense throughout the film. I enjoyed how Kubrick gets the ideas across without making the film weighty or artsy. You can take it as a puzzling film, or you can think about it some more and try to make your own mind up about how you need to approach life. There is also an interesting use of primary color, which I am still pondering over.

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November 14, 2005

Thirteen

I knew a little bit about Thirteen from the trailers I saw a while back. I knew I thought it would be an interesting look at the sorts of things young teenagers go through. Probably a little fun to watch, with a story based in truth but dramatized. Turns out I was wrong. This film is a very dark look at the troubled soul of a thirteen-year-old girl who doesn't know who she is or what to do. Inside, she is rotting away, and during the course of this movie, that rotten core is exposed.

At first, because of the scenes shown, I thought this was going to be a sort of typical "watch idiots act like idiots" movie involving teenage boys and girls who get drunk, high, and party without respect for anyone including each other. But the mood quickly changed about a third of the way in when the pain hidden by Tracy is revealed to the audience in her bathroom. Suddenly, you realize there's much more going on beneath the raging waters that you've been seeing on the surface.

Evan Rachel Wood, who plays the part of Tracy, provides an exceptional performance. She is raw, uninhibited, and explodes with emotion and honesty in a way you cannot be prepared for. Excellent performances are also delivered by Nikki Reed, who plays teen conspirator Evie, and Holly Hunter as Melanie, Tracy's mom.

It also turns out that Nikki, who co-wrote the script, based many of the events in the film on things that she experienced herself at that age.

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The United States of Leland

The United States of Leland is the story of a teenager who kills the retarded younger brother of his ex-girlfriend, and the at the same time the story of those around him. Unfortunately, I think many viewers will try to find a "why" as Leland puts it. Those that do, however, will be disappointed by the movie and fail to understand that this film is more about accepting that sometimes things happen and there's no acceptable reason for why.

In fact, although the title and focus of the story revolves around the boy Leland, viewers should instead absorb all of the intertwined story-lines together. Understanding and accepting what Leland did comes as much from understanding and accepting what the other characters do. And when asked, there are excuses like, "I'm only human" or "I don't know". But what Leland understands is that sometimes people do things that they know are wrong but they do it anyway. He also knows that happiness and sadness, right and wrong, are fleeting sides of the same coin.

Posted by josuah at 11:35 PM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 13, 2005

My Foot Hurts

I came over last night to visit Shannon and Yvonne, and we went to a plaza near New Park Mall to spend some time looking around a Chinese store. There were a few things I liked, but they were all more expensive than I wanted to pay. We watched the rest of Azumanga Daioh. Shannon thought the ending wasn't good enough; Yvonne thought it wasn't angsty enough. Then we watched Chungking Express. Sometime during the movie, my foot started hurting. It was late and my foot hurt so I slept over. Now my foot feels swollen and hurts a lot.

So Mei-Ling called someone she knows that is supposed to be able to fix these sorts of injuries. Whatever it is, since it just started hurting while I was sitting there. We're going to that guy soon. He is like her grandma's grand-nephew or something. If it doesn't get fixed, then I'll have to stop at Netflix on my way home to get my laptop and probably have to work from home tomorrow.

Posted by josuah at 9:44 PM UTC+00:00 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gangs of New York

Gangs of New York was critically praised, nominated for dozens of awards, and winner of some of them. But I don't think it deserves nominations other than for costumes and the sets. The acting was decent but not amazing, and the story was unfocused. It's almost certainly a dramatic inaccuracy when it comes to history. Also, I'm not exactly sure how long the movie is, as it spans two discs but is only about three hours long and the copy I received from Netflix had serious playback issues on the first disc. There is a lame attempt at constructing a moral to the story but it is tacked onto the end as an afterthought.

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November 12, 2005

Dinner and Movie

Alla IM'ed me tonight while I was still at work to ask if I wanted to go for sushi. She wasn't sure though which restaurant, but I suggested Sushi Factory because I hadn't been there. She told me we'd meet at 7pm, but 7pm came and I couldn't reach her by phone. So I ended up driving around aimlessly for a while. We ended up leaving together from her apartment, with her brother and Paul also. The service at Sushi Factory turned out to be pretty bad. We left a small tip and I could tell the waitress was disappointed. I would rather go to Sato Sushi or Todai next time.

Afterwards, Alla decided she would rather go out to a bar instead of watching a movie. So she stayed home and Paul and I came back to my place to watch a unique movie called Time Code. Instead of displaying a single scene and cutting between them, this movie displays four scenes at once, one in each corner of the screen. The events unfold in real time and the four cameras are following different people who end up all interacting with each other over the course of the day. The movie was improvised based on a loosely defined structure.

I found the approach interesting, but somewhat confusing. It's difficult to keep track of four different scenes at once, especially since at any given point in time, one specific scene is dominant. As a result, it is hard to figure out what's really going on and I think a person probably has to watch it at least twice to absorb all of the events. The acting was very good though, because some very good actors were brought in, and I suspect it is easier to act natural when you're making it all up as you go along. I do wish the earthquakes were better executed sonically though.

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November 11, 2005

The Importance of Being Earnest

Hm. The Importance of Being Earnest only came out a few years ago, but I'd already forgotten that I'd seen it before. I realized about fifteen minutes into watching it tonight, that I was watching something I'd already seen. I think the movie is okay, with a few rare moments of laughter. But it lacks any real spark. And for some reason, Frances O'Connor, Colin Firth, and Reese Witherspoon keep getting cast into these English gentry roles.

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November 10, 2005

Blow

Blow was a heavily marketed film with an excellent cast of actors and interesting story to tell. The clothes and sets were very authentic. And it's based on a true story as well. Unfortunately, I found it to be slow moving and only interesting for half the time. About an hour in, I checked the clock to see how much longer, and was surprised that it was only halfway through. I guess I really shouldn't watch biographies, as I rarely find them interesting.

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November 9, 2005

The Crying Game

I remember when The Crying Game came out that it caused a stir for the surprise revealed about the girl in the movie. But I never got around to watching it. It wasn't what I was expecting, since I was always of the impression that the twist was revealed at the end. But the movie is much better for incorporating it into the story. I found it both enjoyable and intelligent. Stephen Rae, Jaye Davidson, and also Forest Whitaker give excellent performances.

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Immortal

Immortel (ad vitam) is a dystopian science-fiction film that was beautifully rendered against a CG cityscape. The quality of the CG work is top-rate, excepting the characters. However, because of the Eugenics concept, that may in fact be deliberate, and therefore this does not detract from the film if you accept that idea. Unfortunately, the acting is not particularly good, and while there is an interesting idea to the story, there's nothing special about it.

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November 8, 2005

The Isle

Seom is a Korean film that contains the elements for critical acclaim (as evidenced by its awards) but which I really didn't think was that good. I do believe Jung Suh did an excellent job at acting, which is very important in a film that only has around a hundred words of dialogue. But there's quite a bit I found unexplained, and I think the characters' insanity, while symbolically important, is hard to swallow. Plus the metaphors are executed in a disgusting manner. Now that I've finished watching it, I'm still not sure what the ending was supposed to have revealed. This really is a film for over-analyzing-people.

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November 7, 2005

The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums is supposed to be a really funny movie. It's got great comedians like Bill Murray and Ben Stiller, plus other great actors. The story is somewhat important and interesting, and the acting performances are great. It's even got a somewhat stylish execution. But I didn't like it. It was kind of boring. It wasn't funny, in my opinion. And I like the kind of comedy that this film was supposed to be.

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The King of Masks

The King of Masks, or Bian Lian, is a a 91-minute Chinese feature film about a street performer who is in search of a grandson to whom he can pass on his art. Unfortunately, things go wrong when the boy he purchased turns out to be a girl. And that's where things become really interesting. I ended up liking this movie a whole lot because of the really great story and amazing adventures of this girl. Renying Zhou gives an amazing performance.

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Babysitting Shannon

This morning, Mei-Ling had some sort of Dalai Lama thing to go to in San Francisco. So I slept over at their place last night and took Shannon to her class in Sunnyvale this morning. Someone from Mei-Ling's workplace named Ruth also slept over because she went with Mei-Ling to the thing in San Francisco. We stayed up kind of late watching Azumanga Daioh, and for some reason Yvonne had music on kind of loud at like 4 in the morning. It woke me up so I knocked on her door and she said, "Go Away" because she was trying to sleep.

I stayed with Shannon during her class, and she is the only girl there with five other boys. Most of them were acting like whiney babies and kept talking and not paying attention. So the teacher kept having to scold them. For the first half I started reading The Green Hills of Earth, but the second half they read some chapters from The Little Prince. So I read along with them. Shannon decided to call me a nerd again because I explained why hubris is different from pride. And the teacher thought I was in high school.

Afterwards we went to Milpitas Square to eat lunch but Shannon was being picky again and kept whining for McFlurries or something. We ended up eating at a Vietnamese restaurant (of course Shannon ate almost nothing), and then looked around in the shops there. I found something for Ellen's birthday gift. When we got back, Shannon worked on her math homework and then we went outside to play hide-and-seek with McKenzie. Yvonne wasn't there because she had Chinese school.

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November 6, 2005

Snatch

Snatch is a comedic crime thriller by Guy Ritchie, that is supposed to be reminiscent of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Not surprising since both movies are by Guy Ritchie and even share some of the same actors. Unfortunately, sometimes the more chaotic style employed in this movie is a turn-off, and it just isn't as funny.

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November 5, 2005

Crash

I watched Crash last night. It's a very powerful movie, and pulling in only the best actors really produces an excellent film. I've found that the idea of mixing a bunch of random people together, who don't really know each other, but seem to run into each other, is becoming a popular scenario in movies. So that part is not really as interesting to me in this film. But what is good, is how well fear, mistrust, and other negative emotions are brought to the forefront without any apologies. Ultimately, it is each individual's responsibility to do make things change for the better.

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