Archive for November, 2007

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Urp.

29 November, 2007

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.

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Review: “If on a winter’s night a traveler” – Italo Calvino (RATING:6/10)

28 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.

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Review: Beowulf 3D (RATING:5/10)

27 November, 2007

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.

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Monday Roundup 2!

26 November, 2007

It’s that time of week again, folks. Time to bring together the good, the bad, and the ugly from the past week, with no clear organizing principle. Some of these are holiday related, others are just, well, themselves. Read on, and enjoy! (I’m giving up on rating, by the way.)

[Random] 10 Great Snake-Oil Gadgets: This is just a list of various fun things that have been sold recently, with no real value, but claiming to have almost supernatural powers of recovery, healing, etc., etc.

[Entertainment] Purple Violets: The first full-length movie to have its debut on the iTunes Music Store. Actually looks pretty cool on its own; I would want to see it if it didn’t have such a high price tag. Still, it’s the thought that counts, right?

[Geeky] “Don’t Give Up on Vista” Web Ad: Funny.

[Humor] Talking Kitties: Weird, but funny.

[Science] Man-sized sea scorpion claw found: Ah, aren’t we glad that things this big don’t exist anymore…

[Science] Scientists coax skin cells to mimic stem cells: This is awesome. From a scientific perspective, an ethical one, and a political one as well. Hopefully the Bush administration (although on its way out) and other conservative governments will be able to allow research done on these stem cells. There are no worries about destroying an embryo, or anything like that, and with some more research and testing, they are basically equivalently useful. With luck.

[Random] Tesla Coil Tetris: This has nothing to do with Tetris. Rather, it’s from the Nutcracker, and pretty cool. I don’t understand the title, either.

[Geeky] Wired Puts Your Thanksgiving Feast Under a Microscope: This is exactly what it sounds like.

[Science] Mankind “shortening the universe’s life”: I preface this link with the fact that I do not understand this at all. If you do, please comment and explain. Nevertheless, it’s pretty creepy.

[Geeky] Piano PC mod strikes an unusual key: This is just entertaining.

That’s it for this week! If you enjoyed them, let me know, and I can try to find more of the same in later weeks. As usual, this will be archived on the “Roundup Roundup!” page.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

22 November, 2007

Have a great day, everyone!

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Review: Ratatouille (RATING:10/10)

20 November, 2007

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.)

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Monday Roundup 1!

19 November, 2007

So I’m going to start something today that should hopefully last forever. Every Monday I’m going to post a bunch of links to interesting things I’ve found on the internet over the past week, be they Youtube movies, articles from other blogs, free computer programs, etc. etc. There is probably going to be no organizing principle other than that, except if maybe there is a holiday nearby. Using that logic, this should be Thanksgiving themed, but it’s not. Nobody’s perfect. And I think I’ll add a general theme, and maybe a rating of how much you really should look at it. So without further ado, the first Knight’s Trike Monday Roundup!

[Humor] 7/10 The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation: On November 19th, 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most memorable speeches in United States history. This is how would look at a business conference.

[Random] 9/10 Actor and “Science Guy” in Enviro-Smackdown: So, Ed Begley, Jr. and one of my personal heroes from childhood, Bill Nye the Science Guy are basically fighting to have a lower carbon footprint at their home. They live down the street from each other. Keeping up with the Joneses, except much nerdier and better for the environment. Awesome.

[Current] 8/10 Strike or No Strike, for a Select Few, Saturday Night Was Live: Basically the writers and actors of Saturday Night Live, both the current cast as well as old favorites such as Darrel Hammond got together at a theater in Chelsea on Saturday and performed Saturday Night Live. They used some new skits, and more importantly performed may skits that NBC rejected as too racy or offensive. Which presumably means they were hilarious. And, it was hosted by Michael Cera, George Michael on the wonderful Arrested Development (may it rest in peace). The performance was to raise money for the SNL crew that had been laid off because of the writer’s strike. And of course, it was not broadcast, due to the terms of the strike. I wish I had been there.

[Science] 7/10 23AndMe Will Decode Your DNA for $1,000. Welcome to the Age of Genomics: This is really cool. Basically the cost of DNA sequencing has gone down so much that private enterprises have started doing it for surprisingly low cost. They will tell you your ancestry, your family, as well as talents you may have and your risks for developing certain diseases. Raises a lot of interesting ethical questions, but I’m still amazed. [N.B.: The site of the company is, fairly obviously, 23AndMe.com]

So that’s it for this week. I only had the idea a couple days ago, so in general there will probably be a few more links. I’ve also realised that there may be a problem with my rating system, as everything I post will probably be at least 5/10, considering that I think they are cool enough to post. Perhaps I’ll work up something better later (suggestions welcome!). Finally, I’m going to archive these on another page of my blog (currently entitled “Roundup Roundup!“), by category and then by date, so you will always be able to find one you are looking for.