Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Link to Someone New, Part 3
Time is short and it's been a while since I've done this, so here are three posts from blogs I've never linked before:
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Vandread: Initial Thoughts
So I've seen the first 8 episodes of Vandread, and I should be finishing the first series early this week. So far, it's pretty good. I'm holding off on pronouncing any final verdict until I reach the end, but I have to admit that I'm enjoying myself so far and I'm kinda looking forward to a long-term story that has an actual ending.
American TV has recently experienced an explosion of the sprawling, multi-season story. This has been bolstered by the emergence of the TV DVD market, which makes it possible to catch up with a series really quickly. The problem is that I honestly think this Writers of Lost parody is a fairly accurate representation of what goes on in the writing office for some of these series. I gave up on Lost after watching the first season on DVD and I won't watch another episode until someone tells me there's a definite ending and that it's a good ending that actually makes sense. I actually enjoyed watching the first batch of Heroes episodes, but I get that same sorta feeling that the writers are just screwing around and making it up as they go along. As Dalton Ross writes in a recent editorial in Entertainment Weekly, "As much as I love all the drawn-out mysteries and soap opera shenanigans, there's something I crave even more -- closure."
This is one of the things about Anime that really appeals to me. I'm sure there are a bunch of ongoing series, but it seems like a lot of the series have definite ends, and thus have good, long yet concise character arcs, etc...
Vandread has its share of mysteries and open questions (especially in the first couple of episodes), but the series has progressed nicely, and I'm looking forward to the ending. Indeed, I already put Vandread: Second Stage in my Netflix queue. If the ending of the first series stinks, I can always remove it, but I don't anticipate any major issues.
As usual, I'm noticing little bits and pieces of culture that I'm not familiar with. For instance, when Dita first encounters Hibiki, she makes some sort of greeting gesture with her hand (I added screenshots in the extended entry below). Dita appears to be a UFO nut, so maybe that gesture is some sort of universal greeting or something (like the lights and tones at the end of Close Encounters). Hibiki returns the gesture (further supporting the universal greeting theory), and then promptly runs away. Did I mention that in the Vandread universe, men and women have segregated themselves to different planets and are pretty much at war with one another? I thought this was a little strange, but it makes for some interesting dynamics (and I'm sure it will play a role in the progression of the series).
Dita chases Hibiki
More screenshots & comments in the extended entry below... When Dita first encounters Hibiki, she makes a greeting gesture with her hand, like so (the small pictures are kinda hard to make out, but if you click on the image you can get a bigger version):
A stunned Hibiki then returns the gesture:
Again, I'm assuming this is some sort greeting, though I've never seen it before.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Roy says that Fridays are list day, but I'm not sure I believe him. I figure I should do it anyway, just in case.
Random 10 Songs
Aside from the obvious and overt ones.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Thermopylae is a wedge issue!
It's All Geek to Me by Neal Stephenson: After a lengthy absence, Stephenson returns with an oped in the NY Times. He tackles the film 300 from various geeky angles, and in the process, he hits on a few ideas that I've been thinking about recently.
Critics at a festival in Berlin walked out, and accused its director of being on the Bush payroll.This seems to be happening more and more these days. Somebody makes a movie without any intention of making a political statement, and then liberals and conservatives fall all over themelves in an attempt to spin the movie in their favor. This isn't limited to movies or other forms of art either (nor is it limited to politics, for that matter - people often spin things in subjective ways). For instance, talk to anyone who has strong opinions about politics and they'll tell you that the media is biased against them. It's amusing, really.
When I saw 300, the thought that this might be applicable to our current political situation occurred to me, but I dismissed it pretty quickly. I'm sick of politics and have been for a while now, which brings me to another point Stephenson makes:
When science fiction tackles classical themes, the results may look a bit odd to some, but the audience - which is increasingly the mainstream audience - is sufficiently hungry for this kind of material (and, perhaps, suspicious of anything that's overly polished) that it is willing to overlook the occasional mistake, or make up for it by shouting hilarious things from the balcony. These people don't need irony or campiness self-consciously pointed out to them, any more than they need a laugh track to enjoy "The Simpsons."I've been thinking a lot about politics in art, and I don't think it's as influential as it once was. The modern world is so saturated with politics and hyperbolic outrage that yet another movie or album that decries war or globalization or secularization or whatever is just, well, lame. You look at someone like George Orwell and you can see why he wrote what he did and why he wrote how he wrote. If he were writing today, I bet it would seem gimmicky and lame.
Alas, at the end of the article, it didn't mention that Stephenson would be releasing a new book anytime soon. I know he's working on the Diamond Age Miniseries, but I'm still impatient for his next book, whatever it may be. These NY Times opeds are nice and all, but they seem too short for Stephenson. I like it better when he rambles on for a few hundred pages.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Every couple of years, someone gets the bright idea to adapt Alan Moore's classic graphic novel Watchmen into a movie. Some work is done, then the project falls flat. To get an idea for how long this has been going on, I wrote about it on this blog over five years ago, and at that point, it had already been stuck in "development hell" for over a decade.
For a long time, Terry Gilliam was attached to direct. He was a big name, but he was also quite ambitious and known for getting mired in long, failed productions. By the end, he wanted to make a 12 hour film (or mini-series) out of the comic. One would have to applaud that sort of ambitious thinking, but it's easy to see how Gilliam didn't get anywhere. In any case, he eventually fell off the map, and in one of the more retarded Hollywood moves of recent history, screenwriter David Hayter was brought on not only to revise the existing Sam Hamm script (which was good, except for the changed ending) but also to direct. Hayter had achieved some clout because of his involvement with the X-Men films, but handing such a complex story to a first-time director seemed quite foolish. Luckily, that period didn't last long, and a few years later, up-and-coming indie director Darren Aronofsky attached himself to the project. This was all kinds of cool and the film geek community was delighted. Actors started clamoring for roles, including Jude Law, who's apparently quite the fanboy. Alas, it was not to be. Aronofsky left the production to focus on his dream project, The Fountain.
Paramount was still anxious to get the film started, so they sought out a replacement and eventually settled on Paul Greengrass. Though not as well-known as Gilliam and not as hip and trendy as Aronofsky, the choice of Greengrass was inspired and of all the directors who've expressed interest in Watchmen, I think he would have been my favorite. Like Aronofsky, Greengrass is an up-and-coming director. However, unlike anyone else attached to the project, Greengrass has also proven to be quite adept at making movies with a political element that doesn't suck (United 93, Bloody Sunday), while at the same time being able to direct a decent character-based action movie (The Bourne Supremacy). Watchmen would involve interweaving elements of both, among other thematic material. Unfortunately, an executive shuffle at Paramount meant that Watchmen would again get the boot. This is understandable. When a major studio undergoes a change in leadership, all greenlit projects are scrutinized. Watchmen had a long history of false-starts, a big budget, and a story that was... not family friendly (to put it nicely). Put yourself in the position of a newly appointed studio head, and then ask yourself if you'd really want to start off by attempting to make what many consider an unfilmable movie?
So the plug was pulled yet again, and Greengrass went on to make United 93 instead (and it's a masterpiece, imhbco). The movie sat in limbo until about a year ago, when director Zack Snyder, who was in post-production for the now-released hit 300 (an adaptation of Frank Miller's classic comic), was tasked with bringing Watchmen to the screen. 300 was released last week and ground it's way to an astounding $70 million opening weekend. I saw it, and while I enjoyed it, I have to admit that I'm not sure he's going to be able to handle Watchmen's complex themes. He's certainly talented, and I'm not counting him out, but his previous work simply doesn't tackle anything as ambitious as Watchmen. He directed a spirited remake of Dawn of the Dead that was quite entertaining (certainly among the best of the recent spate of horror movie remakes) but not exactly challenging. Ditto for the cliched but gorgeous and action-packed 300. I have to admit that I'm intrigued by the possibility of a Watchmen movie, and Snyder isn't a bad choice. Indeed, the unexpected success of 300 augurs well for the Watchmen production, which is now slated to start shooting this summer. For that alone, Snyder deserves some credit, as he might be the one who will finally bring it to the screen.
Indeed, Snyder appears to have begun some early concept work on his new project. Last summer, at the San Diego Comic-Con, Snyder and Miller showed some footage from 300 and did a Q and A. The footage was too bloody for an official widespread release, but of course, you can't stop the signal. It appeared on You Tube shortly after the comic-con and has supposedly played an important role in the marketing of 300. However, just a few weeks ago, someone discovered a little secret burried in the footage. Hidden between warring Spartans and Persians is a single frame of what appears to be Rorschach (perhaps the most recognizeable character from the Watchmen comic):
Well, it's a little dark (click the image for a much higher resolution image), but it's definitely Rorschach. The high resolution image was released by Harry Knowles, who also confirms that it is an official "test shot" that Snyder worked on (i.e. it won't be a part of the final film, it's just a concept shot).
I think it looks great, though it's a little difficult to tell with a static image how they're really going to do the mask (in the comic, the ink blot pattern changes from frame to frame, though there are some duplicates and consistency at work).
My guess is that after all this time, Watchmen is finally on its way to the big screen. Will it be good? The talent is certainly there, from the producers to the screenwriters to the director (though I really wanted to see what Greengrass would do with it, I'm sure Snyder will do fine and may even surprise me), but I'll believe it when I see it. I have to admit that I'm a little hesitant about how this film will turn out though, and I worry that it will fall into the same traps that V for Vendetta did. Watchmen seems to be very much a product of its time, for instance, and I'd worry that the filmmakers will want to update it. To be fair, I have not heard that this will be happening, though I was mildly disapointed by the change to the ending that I read in Sam Hamm's original script (however, I read that script a long time ago -- Hayter has supposedly revised the script to be more faithful to the source material, but time will tell). Adaptations in general are challenging, as some of the things that make a piece of art work in one medium don't necessarily translate well to another medium. In the end, I'll still be excited to see this finally reach the screen... and for the first time in many years, it looks like there's a fair chance that it's going to happen.
Unrelated to Watchmen, but pretty funny, is that the tendency to sneak a single frame into a trailer is apparently becoming somewhat common: see the hidden frame in Mel Gibson's Apocalypto trailer. Hilarious.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Friday Is List Day, Again
Let's try this again.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
As I waded through dozens of recommendations for Anime series (thanks again to everyone who contributed), I began to wonder about a few things. Anime seems to be a pretty vast subject and while I had touched the tip of the iceberg in the past, I really didn't have a good feel for what was available. So I asked for recommendations, and now I'm on my way. But it's not like I just realized that I wanted to watch more Anime. I've wanted to do that for a little while, but I've only recently acted on it. What took so long? Why is it so hard to get started?
This isn't something that's limited to deciding what to watch either. I find that just getting started is often the most difficult part of a task (or, at least, the part I seem to get stuck on the most). Sometimes it's difficult to deal with the novelty of a thing, other times a project seems completely overwhelming. But after I've begun, things don't seem so novel or overwhelming anymore. I occasionally find myself hesitant to start a new book or load up a new video game, but once I do, things flow pretty easily (unless the book or game is a really bad one). I have a bunch of ideas for blog posts that I never get around to attacking, but usually once I start writing, ideas flow much more readily. At work, I'll sometimes find myself struggling to get started on a task, but once I get past that initial push, I'm fine. Sure, there are excuses for all of these (interruptions, email, and meetings, for instance), but while they are sometimes true obstacles, they often strike me as rationalizations. Just getting started is the problem, but once I get into the flow, it's easy to keep going.
Joel Spolsky wrote an excellent essay on the subject called Fire and Motion:
Many of my days go like this: (1) get into work (2) check email, read the web, etc. (3) decide that I might as well have lunch before getting to work (4) get back from lunch (5) check email, read the web, etc. (6) finally decide that I've got to get started (7) check email, read the web, etc. (8) decide again that I really have to get started (9) launch the damn editor and (10) write code nonstop until I don't realize that it's already 7:30 pm.It's an excellent point, and there does seem to be some sort of mental inertia at work here. But why? Why is it so difficult to get started?
When I think about this, I realize that this is a relatively new phenomenon for me. I don't remember having this sort of difficulty ten years ago. What's different? Well, I'm ten years older. The conventional wisdom is that it becomes more difficult to learn new things (i.e. to start something new) as you get older. There is some supporting evidence having to do with how the human brain becomes less malleable with time, but I'm not sure that paints the full picture. I think a big part of the problem is that as I got older, my standards rose.
Let me back up for a moment. A few years ago, a friend attempted to teach me how to drive a stick. I'd driven a automatic transmission my whole life up until that point, so the process of learning a manual transmission proved to be a challenging one. The actual mechanics of it are pretty straightforward and easily internalized. Sitting down and actually doing it, though, was another story. Intellectually, I knew what was going on, but it can be a little difficult to overcome muscle memory. I had a lot of trouble at first (and since I haven't driven a stick since then, I'd probably still have a lot of trouble today) and got extremely frustrated. My friend (who had gone through the same thing herself) laughed at it, making my lack of success even more infuriating. Eventually she explained to me that it wasn't that I was doing a bad job. It was that I was so used to being able to pick up something new and run with it, that when I had to do something extra challenging that took a little longer to pick up, I became frustrated. In short, I had higher standards for myself than I should have.
I think, perhaps, that's why it's difficult to start something new. It's not that learning has become harder, it's that I've become less tolerant of failure. My standards are higher, and that will sometimes make it hard to start something. This post, for example, has been brewing in my head for a while, but I had trouble getting started. This happens all the time, and I've actually got a bunch of ideas for posts stashed away somewhere. I've even written about this before, though only in a tangential way:
This weblog has come a long way over the three and a half years since I started it, and at this point, it barely resembles what it used to be. I started out somewhat slowly, just to get an understanding of what this blogging thing was and how to work it (remember, this was almost four years ago and blogs weren't nearly as common as they are now), but I eventually worked up into posting about once a day, on average. At that time, a post consisted mainly of a link and maybe a summary or some short commentary. Then a funny thing happened, I noticed that my blog was identical to any number of other blogs, and thus wasn't very compelling. So I got serious about it, and started really seeking out new and unusual things. I tried to shift focus away from the beaten path and started to make more substantial contributions. I think I did well at this, but it couldn't really last. It was difficult to find the offbeat stuff, even as I poured through massive quantities of blogs, articles and other information (which caused problems of it's own). I slowed down, eventually falling into an extremely irregular posting schedule on the order of once a month, which I have since attempted to correct, with, I hope, some success. I recently noticed that I have been slumping somewhat, though I'm still technically keeping to my schedule.Part of the reason I was slumping back then was that my standards were rising again. The problem is that I want what I write to turn out good, and my standards are high (relatively speaking - this is only a blog, after all). So when I sit down to write, I wonder if I'll actually be able to do the subject justice. At a certain point, though, you just have to pull the trigger and get started. The rest comes naturally. Is this post better than I had imagined? Probably not, but then, if I waited until it was perfect, I'd never post anything (and plus, that sorta defeats the purpose of blogging).
One of the things I've noticed since changing my schedule to post at least twice a week is that it forces me to lower my standards a bit, just so that I can get something out on time. Back when I started the one post a week schedule, I found that those posts were getting pretty long. I thought they were pretty good too, but as time went on, I wasn't able to keep up with my rising expectations. There's nothing inherently wrong with high expectations, but I've found it's good every now and again to adjust course. Even a well made clock drifts and must be calibrated from time to time, and so we must calibrate ourselves from time to time as well.
Update 3.15.07: It occurs to me that this post is overly-serious and may give you the wrong idea. In the comments, Pete notes that watching Anime is supposed to be fun. I agree wholeheartedly, and I didn't mean to imply differently. The same goes for blogging - I wrote a decent amount in this post about how blogging is difficult for me, but that's not really the right way to put it. I enjoy blogging too, that's why I do it. Sometimes I overthink things, and that's probably what I was doing in this post, but I think the main point holds. Learning can be impaired by high standards.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
In case you can't tell, I like movies. A lot. I'll watch just about anything, and indeed, I've spent a fair amount of time seeking out the strange and offbeat films that most of my friends have never heard of. When it comes to this sort of thing, I tend to go into phases. Hong Kong Action, Italian Horror, and Japanese Yakuza films (among many other genres) have captured my attention for a time. As such, it shouldn't be surprising that I've seen my fair share of Japanese animation. For the most part, my exposure has been limited to films, but I've seen a few series as well.
Now, I've consumed enough anime, and I read enough blogs in the Otakusphere, to know what I'm getting into here. I recently played along with the Filmspotting podcast's Animation Marathon, which contained a bunch of anime films (several of which I'd already seen, but welcomed the chance to revisit). The marathon is over, but I feel like I'm just getting started. The only problem is that I'm not sure where to go from here. So, in an attempt to figure this out, I'm going to list out what I've seen, what I'm looking for, and some series I know about but haven't seen yet. If you have any recommendations, feel free to drop a comment, but I've been cautioned to take recommendations with a grain of salt (which you kinda have to do for anything subjective like this).
What I've seen: (in rough chronological order)
What I'm looking for: For the next series I watch, I'm going to impose a few somewhat strict guidelines. I want to watch a series, but not something too long. I don't want to have to wade through 18 DVDs or anything absurd like that. A 13 or 26 episode series would be fine. At some point, I'm sure I'll move on to longer series, but for now, let's keep it relatively short. Sort of related, I'd like the story to be complete (or at least, the arc should be complete). I don't want to have to wait for new DVDs to come out before I can finish the series! I'd like something that has a good story arc (i.e. a character or plot based narrative), and preferably one that doesn't have a downer ending (I've had my fill with Grave of the Fireflies, thank you). I'm also looking for something that's a little more action-packed and fun than what I've been watching recently (i.e. not something like Serial Experiments Lain). I don't mind kid's shows, but that's not exactly what I'm looking for (I'm flexible on this one though). All recommendations are welcome, as I'll certainly need something after this... but this is what I'm looking for at the moment. Oh, one last requirement, the series needs to be available on Netflix.
What I'm currently considering: I seem to have fallen into reading a significant portion of the Otakusphere (SDB, Fledge, Shamus, Pixy, Alex, Pete, and a couple of others), and even if I have no idea what they're talking about most of the time, I'll occasionally notice a title here or there, so I have some ideas as to what could come next. Two pages I've been referring to while writing this post are Steven's reviews and Steve Yegge's Anime post. Unfortunately, I've already had to nix a couple of series, but I haven't looked real hard at most of these.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Friday is Apparently List Day
After several years of blogging, I've finally figured out that Friday is list day. So here are a few lists:
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
A System of Warnings
Josh Porter recently wrote about some design principles he uses. As Josh notes, people often confuse design with art. Art is a form of personal expression, while design is about use.
The designer needs someone to use (not only appreciate) what they create. Design doesn't serve its purpose without people to use it. Design helps solve human problems. The highest accolade we can bestow on a design is not that it is beautiful, as we do in Art, but that it is well-used.I think one of the most recognized and perhaps important designs of the past twenty years or so is the Nutrition Facts label. Instantly recognizable and packed with information, yet concise and easy to read and use. It's not glamorous, but it works so well that we barely even notice it. It's great design.
While nutrition is certainly an important subject worthy of a thoughtful design, I recently stumbled upon a design project that is intriguing, difficult and important. In the desert of Southeastern New Mexico lies the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), an undeground radioactive waste repository. Not a pleasant place. During the planning stages of the facility, a panel of experts were tasked with designing a 10,000-year marking system. It's an intriguing design problem. The resulting report is an astounding, powerful and oddly poignant document (excerpts here, huge .pdf version of the full report here). They developed an interesting system here; note, they didn't just create signs, the entire site (from the physical layout to the words and imagery used) was designed to communicate a message across multiple levels, with a high level of redundancy. It's not just a warning, it's a system of interconnected and reinforced warnings. The authors also attempted to anticipate a variety of potential attacks as well. What is the message they wanted to convey? Here's a brief summary:
Sunday, March 04, 2007
To wrap up the animation marathon (which should have taken six weeks, but took around four months instead), the Filmspotting podcast gave out some awards. I'll do the same, and I'll make some other closing comments.
The one thing that bothers me about the list of films in the marathon was that the Anime portion was almost criminally short. While I think the Anime films in the marathon are all sorta landmark achievements, they are really only touching the surface of the genre, and a few of them are, well, difficult films (especially Fireflies). If I were to introduce someone to the genre, I'd probably start with Spirited Away. In any case, this will not be the last you hear about Anime on the blog, though I'm not sure where I'm headed next. I think at some point, I'll have to list out all the Anime that I've seen and solicit some suggestions... but for now, I've got several live-action films in my Netflix queue that I've been neglecting.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in March 2007.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
12 Days of Christmas
2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
2008 Movie Awards
2009 Movie Awards
2010 Movie Awards
2011 Fantastic Fest
2011 Movie Awards
6 Weeks of Halloween
Arts & Letters
Computers & Internet
Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Film Festival 2010
Science & Technology
Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Movie of the Week
Copyright © 1999 - 2012 by Mark Ciocco.