I am taking a sick leave from writing this, so there won’t be too many more posts in the next few days. However, from the stats, it doesn’t seem like very many people are reading it anyway, so no great loss. I will be back soon, hopefully.
Archive for November, 2007
I read this book over the course of three or four years. I started it four years ago, and slowly worked my way about halfway through, and then forgot about it. I recently picked it up again, and finished it in about a week. I think the reason I couldn’t finish it the first time is also my main problem with this relatively good novel. The book has hardly any continuity. Now, it is the point, some would say, of this novel, that it has no continuity, but regardless of that fact, it did not add to the reading experience. It is a novel of beginnings, 10 in fact, held together loosely with the story of a Reader (told amusingly in the second person) who wants to read one book, there is an error, and he reads another instead, and another, and another, and so on. The books don’t really have anything to do with each other, which annoys the Reader. And the reader. I read this book expecting some grand revelation at the end, tying everything together, and it was there to a degree, but really not enough to be satisfying. It ends happily, which is good, but not satisfactorily. Rather than wanting the main narrative of the Reader to end, I wanted to read more from each of the individual stories (each with its own characteristic style, which is very impressive), just like the Reader.
This is a book about reading. Which is nice. Calvino really understands the joys of opening a new book, and leafing through the pages, devouring each word as soon as it shows up. The hero, as I have mentioned, is a typical Reader, who falls in love with another Reader, and they end up married. However, this reading about reading was a little too meta for my tastes.
I have only read one other Italo Calvino book, which I loved. It was “Invisible Cities,” which I actually read for a class, but it became one of my favorite books. Alas, this one did not stand up to measure. Calvino is one for strange, out there novels, and unfortunately his experiment with this one was not a success. However, as you can see from my somewhat favorable rating, a failure for Calvino is still much better than many books I have read. So, I recommend Calvino fully. But read “Invisible Cities,” and leave the “traveler” alone on his winter night.
Ok, so 3D is pretty cool, especially when you don’t have to pay extra for it. However, it should not substitute for good screen-writing and good art direction. The same goes for computer graphic imaging. This, unfortunately, is what has happened with Robert Zemeckis’ latest picture. The movie’s cast is amazing, with Anthony Hopkins as Hrothgar, John Malkovich as Unferth, and the ridiculously attractive (even in CGI) Angelina Jolie as… Grendel’s mother?
My first quarrel with this movie is its plot. Rather than Beowulf being a basically godly hero, he is largely flawed and basically dooms himself and his country in a way that I won’t go into here, for fear of spoiling the plot, but needless to say it is not part of the ancient tale. Things are added in, IMHO things that are completely unnecessary, as the story would stand very well on its own without the additions. But, if I had not read the tale, I probably would have enjoyed the plot, but alterations from the original always have bothered me.
The second is basically small scenes and parts of scenes that really add up to bad art direction. For instance, during the confrontation with Grendel, Beowulf decides to strip off all of his armor and fight him man to …man. This is in the tale. However, the director decided to have him strip off all of his clothes, and to be completely nude. Which would be fine on its own, however this was a (reasonably) family-friendly film, so the groin area was never actually shown. Which was the problem. What was supposed to be an exciting, scary scene turned into a comic one. There was always a candlestick, or a sword, or someone’s arm, or a severed head in front of Beowulf’s crotch. And this really detracted from the scene. Had they just decided to put him in a loincloth or something, I would have been more able to get in to the action, rather than wondering what long, slender object would Beowulf be standing behind next.
It was also unnecessarily violent, in my opinion. I guess it fits the story, but not really the medium. Blood and gore are still not perfected in CGI, and I was expecting less since Zemeckis’ last realistic CGI picture was the kid’s movie “The Polar Express.” Partially because of the violence, I felt badly for Grendel, which I don’t think I was supposed to. He had his eardrum punched out, his crotch slashed, and finally his arm ripped off. And rather than feeling triumphant, I felt sad and uncomfortable when he was hurt. He was just trying to get some peace and quiet, and these humans were destroying him for it. I never got this feeling when reading the book.
However, there were some cool things about it. Grendel spoke in Anglo-Saxon, which was fun to listen to. As I said, Angelina Jolie was incredibly attractive. And the 3D was pretty fun to look at, although I have to say that it sort of underwhelmed me by the end; I almost forgot that the movie was not just flat. Of course, that bodes well for the comfortableness (is that a word?) of the 3D glasses, which were basically just kind of geeky sunglasses.
So, see it at your own risk. If you’ve read a translation of Beowulf, I would shy away, but if you haven’t, I bet you would enjoy most of this film.
Have a great day, everyone!
So people had been raving about Ratatouille ever since it came out in early summer. Unfortunately I had never had time to watch it, either in theaters or on DVD. Until now. And I am so glad that I did. I thought it was an incredible movie: its script, its visuals, its music, even its morals. The last is really hard to avoid in a Disney movie, but often it’s very heavy-handed, and this was not, by any means. But more on that later. The movie, to start, was beautiful. There were scenes in every sort of weather — fog, rain, sun, etc. — and they all looked perfectly real. I noticed the fog especially, as the play of light on the main characters, or from the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame, looked both accurate and very pleasing to the eye. There were so many zooming shots of Paris, and it just made me want to go back there again (although, whether that’s an affect of the movie or just the city is hard to tell).
The plot was great, too. I mean, a rat cooking? Very weird, but awesome, nonetheless. And things don’t quite work out the way you think they are going to, it’s really not formulaic at all. I don’t really want to give away too much of the story, but there are certain scenes that I think are worth the price of admission (or rental, or internet download time). For example, twice in the movie, Rémy (the french rat chef) is describing tastes, and sounds and color patterns surround him, equivalent to the tastes he is talking about. It actually reminded me a lot of some Jim Henson animations I had seen earlier (which I unfortunately can’t find a link to online), with synchronised color and sound. This added another sense—taste. The script as well was very clever and entertaining, well-written enough for a 20-year old at least (and the world knows we are hard to please). So many jokes, references, it was one of the best animated movies I’ve seen in a long time.
And now for the morals. The main lesson of this movie is said by its villain, actually, near the end. “But I realise only now that I truly understand what [Chef Gusteau] meant [by the motto "Anyone can cook"]. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” I really like this, for personal reasons that I’m not going to go into in this blog, but also as it stands on its own. It doesn’t give anyone illusions like movies so often do — it’s not “You can do anything you put your mind to” or anything like that — but it’s really just saying that expectations aren’t everything. Just because someone doesn’t come from a certain background, or have certain experience, doesn’t mean they can’t do something (in this case, cook). And I think that’s really meaningful. And again, it doesn’t drive it into you, but rather says it in a soft, comforting voice, and you completely agree with the movie.
So go rent this movie. I loved it, and hopefully you will too.
(This review will be archived on the Reviews section of my blog, for future reference.)
I preface this entry with the fact that I am a college student. That is going to be where many ideas for this blog are going to come from, I’m sure.
Anyways, I was sitting in lecture the other day, and an interesting thought occurred to me. In terms of the environment, is it better to take notes in a notebook, or on a computer? It clearly takes up a lot more energy to power a computer than it does to write with a pen. But then again, every sheet of paper used is another tree cut down (well, that’s clearly an exaggeration, but you know what I mean). And the notebooks could be made out of recycled paper. Then again, the computer could be running from a renewable energy source (college campuses are trying to mek themselves greener every year, and that includes getting more electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar).
I personally split the difference by using a notebook about half the time, and using my computer the other half. This is not on an ecological basis but rather just that sometimes it’s easier to use one, and sometimes another.
So this doesn’t really have an answer, that I can think of. What about you? Which do you use most often? And which would you think is better in the long run for the environment? Comment with your answers!
Just a little more about me, spawned from the release today of Mac OS X 10.5.1. I’m sort of a macaholic. I got Leopard basically the day it came out (although, to be fair, I actually installed it using my roommates install disc) and I’ve always been a proponent of Macs over PCs. This has stretched into many other avenues — as a young teenager getting my first video game system that hooked up to my TV, I chose a Gamecube over an Xbox purely because the latter was made by Microsoft, and I refused to buy anything created by that hellish company.
But seriously. Macs are amazing. I guess it really depends on what you grew up with. I grew up with Macs, and that’s what I love. Actually, my first computer (which still exists and functions) was a green and black screened computer made by that famous manufacturer of personal computers, AT&T. I had no idea they ever did anything other than telecommunications… But this computer was amazing. Oregon Trail, ThinkQuest, all these old games that are just amazing, regardless of their crappy graphics. They had to rely on interesting narratives, ideas, etc. We had so many of those text adventures — Zork, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and so on. The other thing about this computer was it was so easy to program. GWBasic was the main language, and me and my brother made all sorts of things with it, from a rodeo program to a simple greeting program, in which you entered your name, and it responded with a personalized response. This last one started with the names of our family and friends, and soon expanded onto stranger characters, such as the muppets, cartoon characters, books, etc.
But I digress. Macs. Yes, Macs are superior. They are more expensive, but the hardware and software is advancing faster than it appears to be in PCs (I have nothing to base this on, so correct me if I’m wrong). And, well, already film and photo and other artsy projects are much better on macs, so if the software manufacturers catch on and start making more programs for macs — which they are, more all the time —, the Mac could conceivable take over the market from the PC. Because that’s the main thing they have that we don’t — software. In fact, the takeover has already happened some places. Just recently, it was revealed that in Japan, Apple received 53% of the market share (of software operating systems, that is, not computers in general), beating out PCs for the first time. Which is pretty cool. And they always say that Japan is more advanced, that future technologies come out of Japan. Let’s hope that that future tech has a nice big apple on it.
So, I have a big thing for zombies. Not in a kinky kind of way, but in a “movies and other media about zombies are really cool” kind of way. This has gone as far as an unfinished zombie movie that I still plan to film with a bunch of my friends, even though it’s set in the summer after graduating highschool (which is getting further away every year).
But there are many people who have accomplished more than I have about zombies. George A. Romero, for instance, is still working on his “Living Dead” series, which I believe now includes the original “Night of the Living Dead” and four sequels, as well as a remake each of the first three. (After “Night” comes “Dawn,” “Day,” “Land,” and “Diary” [all "of the Dead"]). Now this is impressive. Interestingly enough, “Night of the Living Dead” is public domain, which allowed me to see it for the first time on a collection of 50 Horror Classics, most of which were not famous at all — most for good reason. This box set had such gems as “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die,” and “Attack of the Killer Shrews” (which, incidentally, ranks in my reference book of the worst movies ever made [The Golden Turkey Awards] which is a hilarious read if you can get your hands on a copy). But among these flops, there was George Romero’s masterpiece. And it really is one. The movie, although low budget and poor film quality, is exciting, scary, and the viewer does not know what to expect. Add to this the fact that it defined a genre — zombies on film didn’t really exist before 1968, and it is an incredible film. Now we are used to the shambling corpses lusting for brains, but back then it was new.
Newer directors have pushed the zombie medium in another, slightly more realistic, direction. More recent zombie flicks are caused not by an asteroid, but by a virus, or another type of disease. “Resident Evil” and “28 Days Later” are two that come to mind immediately. Some might say that these are not true zombie movies, as the evil attackers are not actually dead, but diseased. However, regardless of this, in my opinion, “28 Days Later” is the best zombie movie made so far (with the caveat that it is not actually a zombie movie). Filmed on handheld cameras with a documentary type feel (that is so common nowadays), the movie pulls viewers in immediately with its great camera work and clever script. It was also followed by a sequel, “28 Weeks Later,” which was a great disappointment. It turned the moving, personal narrative of the first movie into an action movie with stupid people acting stupidly, and a lot of explosions. Which is rather typical for a relatively low-budget movie being catapulted into the mainstream.
But zombies are not always scary. The “comedy” “Shaun of the Dead” had the promising tagline “A romantic comedy. With zombies.” From the director and writer team that later produced “Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun” was unfortunately too much of a zombie movie and not enough of a comedy. Sure, there were a few puns thrown in here and there, but that didn’t stop all but one (correct me if I’m wrong) of the characters being disemboweled or turned into flesh-eating monsters. Other movies have given zombies a comedic role, such as “Fido,” which stars Billy Connolly as a zombie slave captured after the war against the walking dead(often termed World War Z) was won by humans.
Other formats, too, lead to zombie works. “The Zombie Survival Guide,” by Max Brooks is an entertaining read, with stories of supposed historic zombie attacks as well as strategies to evade the creatures when they inevitably appear. Even the Archaeological Institute of America has recently taken to heart Max Brooks’ lessons, publishing an article “proving” the evidence of a zombie attack in the ancient city of Hierakonopolis. This article appeared around Halloween, which I’m sure is purely a coincidence.
Finally, zombies have even broached the music industry. A song created by Jonathan Coulton (who is writing a song a week as part of the Creative Commons project) entitled “re: Your Brains” is the saga of a zombie office worker attempting to coax his co-worker to let him in to eat his brains (“We’re not unreasonable, I mean, no one’s gonna eat your eyes…”)
There are of course many other movies and so forth that involve zombies. But the above are choice tidbits of cerebellum (if you forgive me for the metaphor) that anyone interested in the undead should check out.
So that’s it for my first entry. Please comment with suggestions on the format: should the links be in the text, for example, or at the end? Should I link more? Or less? Should the entries be shorter?
Thanks for reading!