Sunday, December 30, 2007
I've been remiss in my anime watching of late. After I finished Cowboy Bebop, I immediately bumped Banner of the Stars to the top of my Netflix queue. Unfortunately, it was marked as having a "Very Long Wait." Two months later, and it's availablity still hadn't changed... so I looked into it, and it turns out that by "Very Long Wait," Netflix actually meant "unavailable." Since the DVDs don't appear to be out of print, I suppose there's a possibility that Netflix will buy a new set, but for my purposes, I'll need to move on to another series.
Looking back at my Anime recommendations post, I've made it through most of the strong recommendations, but there are still a few series left there that interest me, and even some that didn't fit my original requirements, but which also interest me. Here's the list, including series I've already watched
Posted by Mark on December 30, 2007 at 03:23 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Aliens vs. Predator
It's actually a clever concept. Setting aside the atrocious movie made a couple years ago, there have actually been a few genuinely good AvP stories.
The original Dark Horse comic tops it all, of course, and it deserves most of the credit for the clever concept of the series. Basically, the Predators are a race of hunters who like to hunt challenging and dangerous game. Now, the Alien is indeed a challenging opponent, so the ever-resourceful Predators actually manage to capture an Alien queen. They lock it up and restrain it, but the also force it to lay eggs. Each egg is inspected, and if the egg contains another Alien queen, that egg is destroyed. Regular alien eggs are then put onto small spaceship probes which are then sent out to habitable planets - sorta like they're stocking the planets with game (and since there's no queens, there's finite number of prey). Predator hunting expeditions then go out to the stocked planet and hunt the Aliens. Again, the Aliens are dangerous, so it's not unheard of for a Predator to lose it's life in the process - but usually the group of Predators still emerge victorious. Now, the comic books up the ante a little. The Alien queen isn't completely helpless, it seems, and manages to trick the automated Predator machinery into allowing an Alien queen egg to be sent out. Of course, those eggs are sent to a planet that also contains... humans! The series goes into some detail on the social habits of Predators, and even manage to establish an individual Predator (who has a chipped mandible) character that we can relate to (he's an honorable guy) and some humans that we care about as well. In the end, the story worked really well, and lots of other projects were kicked off.
The original comic book series was followed by a slew of other Predator crossovers: Batman versus Predator, Superman vs. Predator, and Aliens vs. Predator vs. The Terminator (of course!) are just a few examples. Naturally, none of those series captured the imagination of audiences quite as much as the original. The clever thing about AvP was that the Alien just fits much better into the role of prey, and the writers were able to play around with that concept in new and interesting ways. I've only read the Batman vs. Predator series (which was mildly lame), but it seems like all the other Predator spinoffs were basically reliant on the same premise: Predator wants to hunt something challenging, and Superman/Batman/Judge Dredd/whoever is much deadlier than your average human.
There was a series of video games based on the AvP universe. I've only ever played Aliens versus Predator 2, but it was a great first person shooter - among the tensest games I've played, it constantly had me on the edge of my seet or jumping as an Alien pounces. You also get to play the game as a human, Predator, or Alien, and the game's story (which isn't anything special, but not actively bad either, and playing from different perspectives is actually pretty cool, because you get to fill in some of the blanks). The video games capture the feel of the AvP universe and create a wonderful sense of atmosphere (when you're the Colonial Marine, for instance, you've got the motion tracker pinging away at you, which can be just excruciating at times). The games are quite effective.
A pretty good movie script which basically adapts the AvP comic series was written, but apparently shelved in favor of this crap. This really baffled me at the time (and I guess it still does). I know, I know, what was I expecting? "Versus" movies don't exactly have a high quality ratio and so most people expected dumb action (which the movie barely manages to deliver). Indeed, when I recently saw the Hitman movie, I had appropriately low expectations for the film and was thus not dissapointed (incidentally, that movie was much better than the first AvP movie, which, granted, isn't saying much, but still). However, the Hitman movie was based off a series of video games that had no real plot (you play a hitman who must, you know, kill people), so it would make sense for the movie to be complete crap. AvP, on the other hand, had compelling source material with a proven track record. Not only that, but comic books are notably easier to adapt than literature or video games. The biggest issue with adapting a comic book is knowing which story arc to pick, but AvP was a 4 issue series (i.e. it's not like Spider Man, which has been churning out story after story for decades) so that problem is non-existant. So, to recap, you've got compelling source material with a proven track record that will be really easy to adapt (heck, the comic books are basically a set of storyboards!). I suppose you could be worried that the comic book audience would be bored by a simple rehashing of the original story (which I don't agree with), but you've got to realize that the audience for a new Aliens or Predator movie is much larger than the audience of the comic book ever could be.
So whatever, the filmmakers decide to go another route. Fine. So what do they do? The change the setting to be the polar ice caps of Earth, put a Predator pyramid under all the ice, and put the whole Alien queen contraption in that pyramid. They somehow feel the need to tie this movie in with the Alien series by employing the services of Lance Henriksen (who is not playing an android, but rather the human that the android is based on), but then they get crap talent for everything else. It's just an awful, awful movie. I've already rambled enough, so I won't bore you with all the things this movie gets wrong, but I do want to call out one thing: the Predators are absolute wimps in this movie. In the comic, the Aliens get the better of most of the Predator hunting party, but only because of sheer numbers (because there was an Alien queen on the planet, there were way more Aliens running around than expected). And even then, you've got Broken Tusk (the good guy Predator), who's just an absolute badass and manages just fine despite the numerical disadvantage (with a little help from a human). I dunno, maybe people like the Aliens enough that they want to see them win all the time, but personally, I can relate much more to the Predators. They at least have some concept of honor and personality, and I enjoyed seeing them team up with the humans in the AvP comic books. I mean, they've got the technology, the smarts, and they've obviously been hunting Aliens for a very long time, so why does the movie consistently portray the Predator as being a helpless weenie when faced with even just a single Alien? I really don't get it.
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem just came out yesterday, and from initial reports, it seems that the new movie is just as bad as if not worse than the original. How this is possible, I do not know. Do I have the guts to actually find out? I'm not sure. I'm usually up for bad movies like this, but I just don't know if I can take another round of this crap.
Posted by Mark on December 26, 2007 at 09:54 PM .: link :.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
A few screenshots for your enjoyment:
Oh no, Robot Santa! Hide!
Hitman Santa? That's just confusing.
Hibiki Claus says Merry Anime Day!
Posted by Mark on December 25, 2007 at 10:38 AM .: link :.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The Two Days of Christmas
I suppose I could have done a 12 days of Christmas post in the vein of the 4 weeks of Halloween posts, but there's obviously no time left. So here are a few things I've watched, read, or listened to recently in preparation for Christmas.
Posted by Mark on December 23, 2007 at 09:25 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Some Quick Movie Notes
Just a few notes:
Posted by Mark on December 19, 2007 at 09:51 PM .: link :.
Posted by Mark on December 19, 2007 at 09:38 PM .: link :.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Critics and Introspection
As we near the end of 2007, some top 10 lists are beginning to appear. By January, most movie critics will have published their top 10, and most regular folks will scratch their head for at least half of the movies on an average top 10 list. When Oscar season rolls around and the best film nominations are announced, more head scratching occurs as people realize they haven't seen any of the nominated films. Part of this has to do with distribution - of the lists I've seen so far, several movies haven't even come out yet (even in limited release) and many never got much of a theatrical bow. I live near a pretty good city for movies, but due to a hectic schedule, I didn't get much of a chance to make the trek into the city to see several of the leading favorite films. Even if I did, though, I'd bet that I still wouldn't have seen a significant number of the critics' best films of the year.
Why is it that the critics seem to be so different than audiences? I've always thought it had something to do with the amount of movies watched. After all, if you want most of the films released in a year, the typical Hollywood formulas probably start to become predictable and boring. When you only head out to the theater once a month, that doesn't happen. Perhaps there's also a feeling of smug superiority that a critic gets when they pick a non-mainstram or foreign movie. In a lot of cases, the movies picked are very somber affairs. Not the sort of thing you'd want to rewatch. I'm sure a lot of people see movies as a form of escapist entertainment, and those folks obviously don't want to waste their time on something that will put them through a ringer. A professional critic has no qualms about seeing such a movie, while your average Joe might wonder why it's worth the expense to see a pretentious, depressing movie.
This is all just speculation, of course, and I should note that I'm not immune to any of the things I mentioned above. While I don't hold the typical Hollywood formula movies in as much disdain as the critics, I also don't tend to see those films as being "great" either. If I ever get around to compiling a top 10 list, I'm probably going to include at least some non-mainstraim or foreign picks. And I watch enough movies that weighty stuff doesn't scare me away.
I was thinking about this recently, and I remembered an anecdote from a Malcolm Gladwell talk a while ago. I listened to that talk when it came out, so my memory of it was a little hazy - it didn't quite fit exactly into my thoughts on movie critics the way I thought, but it's still relevant.
Asking people to think about what they want causes them to change their opinion of what they want. In fact, it screws up their ability to recognize what they want. This problem in Psychology is called the Peril of Introspection Problem - a lot of the research has been done by a guy named Tim Wilson at UVA and he once did this very simple experiment called, the Poster Test. And the poster test is that you've got a bunch of posters in the room and you bring some college students in and you say "pick any poster you want, take it home." They do that. The second group is brought in and you say, "pick any poster you want, tell me why you want it, and then go home"Now, I remembered this incorrectly. I thought that the people who were required to explain their choices chose the impressionist paintings. If that was the case, the parallels with movie critics are obvious - their job is to explain what they're seeing, so it would make sense that they chose more complex films, and it would be interesting to see if they'd like the movies they chose six months later. However, it was the other way around - the people who had to explain themselves picked the least sophisticated choice.
What this would seem to imply is that most people would prefer the arty films, but gravitate towards the more mainstream fare because they have to explain themselves (since most people see movies in groups, they need to convince others to see it, and thus that changes the dynamic). I would suspect that people who go to the movies alone would be less likely to see mainstream stuff and more likely to watch stuff off the beaten path.
But wait, if explaining why you like a movie or why you want to see a movie makes you want to see more conservative, less sophisticated movies, why do critics often go in the opposite direction? The answer is in Gladwell's book, Blink. In short, the reason is that critics are experts, and experts aren't a susceptible to this sort of thing. Gladwell references a study regarding jam. A bunch of experts ranked 44 different brands of strawberry jam according to very specific measures of taste and texture. A psychologst then took 5 divergent jams (the ones ranked 1, 11, 24, 32, and 44) and gave them to a group of college students. It turns out that the students' ratings were rather close to the experts' ratings. The correllation was 0.55, which is apparently very high for this sort of study.
What this says, in other words, is that our jam reactions are quite good: even those of us who aren't jam experts know good jam when we taste it.When the students were asked to explain their preferences, they ranked the #1 jam second to last. Why do we do this?
It's that we simply don't have any way of explaining our feelings about jam. We know unconsciously what good jam is: it's Knott's Berry Farm. But suddenly, we're asked to stipulate, according to a list of terms, why we think that, and the terms are meaningless to us. Texture, for instance. What does that mean? We may never have thought about the texture of any jam before, and we certainly don't understand what texture means, and texture may be something that we actually, on a deep level, don't particularly care much about. But now the iea of texture has been planted in our mind, and we think about it and decide that, well, the texture does seem a little strange, and in fact maybe we don't like this jam after all. ... what happens is that we come up with a plausible-sounding reason for why we might like or dislike something, and then we adjust our true preference to be in line with that plausible-sounding reason.I'd love to see a study on this subject that actually tackled movies. Is viewing a movie more or less subjective than tasting jam? Who knows? There is certainly a very specific vocabularly about film, and critics are generally well versed in this. I wouldn't be surprised if you got similar results on a study that focused on film. I'd also be really interested to see how writing reviews impacts a critic's feelings on a film. Gladwell's book suggests that a critic wouldn't be as affected by this as a regular fella, but he's also talking about jam experts. Movies have a specific vocabulary, but perhaps not a explicit as that of jam (Gladwell goes into excruciating detail in the book).
When I started this post, I thought it was a little simpler than it actually turned out to be. I think the above does help explain why critics' choices are generally different than the mainstream, but there is still something missing. Other factors should probably also be considered. For instance, there are lots of great movies that are poorly made. Such movies are usually saved by storytelling. The filmmakers tell a story that connects on some level with the audience. If you're a critic who is steeped in the technical details of filmmaking, your vocabulary requires to to say that such movies aren't that great (and conversely, it probably inflates your evaluation of a technically brilliant film that doesn't tell a good story).
There are a lot of other things that probably factor into movies (that don't affect Jam or posters). For instance, I've often talked about how expectations color your reaction to a film. Marketing no doubt plays a big role in how successful a movie is at the box office, but not how much people really like the movie. For instance, one of the highest rated movies on IMDB is The Shawshank Redemption. This movie barely made $25 million at the box office and was considered a failure at the time of it's release. But it built up a huge following on video and DVD. Everyone I know who has seen the movie has loved it. I'm sure there are lots of other factors too, like novelty or sentimentality. In the end, I don't have a specific answer to why critics diverge so much from the mainstream, but I think the above probably has something to do with it...
Posted by Mark on December 16, 2007 at 02:17 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I'm trying to diagnose a problem with my rebuild process. For some reason, the individual archive entry rebuild process isn't working. I'm able to create a new entry fine, and I'm able to delete comments from entries fine, so it's clear that Movable Type is able to build an individual entry archive file just fine. I have no idea why the rebuild process is failing though. I keep getting this error:
An error occurredFun stuff, I tells ya. Hopefully, I'll figure something out, but in the mean time, you may see some strange stuff on the individual entry pages (particularly with respect to the comments, as that seems to be where the problem is localized.)
Update: Very little progress made. The comments are definitely what's causing the problem. When I remove the code that generates the list of comments, the individual entry archives rebuild fine. When I try to add it back in, bit by bit, I start getting http 500 errors or the original error I was getting above. Somehow, the most recent 30 entries or so have had their comments restored. Beyond that, there's a lot of older entries that have comments, but those comments aren't being displayed because I can't rebuild them without manually rebuilding each entry individually. So if you're on an old entry and you see "Testing something" where the comments would normally be, don't worry. The comments are still in the system, but I can't seem to publish them...
Posted by Mark on December 12, 2007 at 09:30 PM .: link :.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
I'm a little brain dead right now, so here are a few things that have caught my eye recently:
Posted by Mark on December 09, 2007 at 06:30 PM .: link :.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Every so often, I see someone who is genuinely concerned with reaching the unreachable. Whether it be scientists who argue about how to frame their arguments, alpha-geek programmers who try to figure out how to reach typical, average programmers, or critics who try to open a dialogue with feminists. Debates tend to polarize, and when it comes to politics or religion, assumptions of bad faith on both sides tend to derail discussions pretty quickly.
How do you reach the unreachable? Naturally, the topic is much larger than a single blog entry, but I did run accross an interesting post by Jon Udell that outlines Charles Darwin's rhetorical strategy in the book, On the Origin of Species (which popularized the theory of evolution).
Darwin, says Slatkin, was like a salesman who finds lots of little ways to get you to say yes before you're asked to utter the big yes. In this case, Darwin invited people to affirm things they already knew, about a topic much more familiar in their era than in ours: domestic species. Did people observe variation in domestic species? Yes. And as Darwin piles on the examples, the reader says, yes, yes, OK, I get it, of course I see that some pigeons have longer tail feathers. Did people observe inheritance? Yes. And again, as he piles on the examples, the reader says yes, yes, OK, I get it, everyone knows that that the offspring of longer-tail-feather pigeons have longer tail feathers.I think Udell simplifies the inception and development of the idea of evolution, but I think the point generally holds. Darwin's ideas didn't come into mainstream prominence until he published his book, decades after he had begun his work. Obviously, Darwin's strategy isn't applicable in every situation, but it is an interesting place to start (I suppose we should keep in mind that evolution is still controversial amongst the mainstream)...
Posted by Mark on December 05, 2007 at 08:29 PM .: link :.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
I got a Nintendo Wiii a while ago, and once I tired of the typical Wii Sports games, I looked around for a new game. I settled on Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. It had just come out at the time, I had fond memories of the original (though I'm not sure I ever finished it), and it had great "reviews" at all the gaming sites (even user reviews hovered around 8-10 out of 10). Of course, I'm much more of a casual gamer, so what I'm looking for is typically a bit different than the hardcore gaming crowd. While I can see why the game got good reviews, I really did not enjoy this game. It's got some positive points, but there are lots of negatives that just dragged the whole experience down for me.
Again, I'm a casual gamer, and during the past few months, I haven't had a lot of time to play video games. I think this context is a big part of why I didn't enjoy this game, but I'll get into that later in this post. Another thing to keep in mind: This is my first Metroid game since the original, and though I have a pretty good opinion of that game, I don't really remember much about it either. Here are some thoughts on various aspects of the game:
I mean, honestly... If I wanted to receive orders from someone, I would have purchased Halo or Half-Life. If I wanted to be sent on a linear mission to perform some menial task, I would have bought Zelda. If I wanted to be placed alongside a team of other mercenaries, only to witness each one die on their own or fight them after they turn against me, I would have bought Metal Gear. If I wanted to play mini-games, I'd play Final Fantasy. And if I wanted to spend my time accumulating achievement points, I would have bought a 360 by now.Again, I have no idea what to say about what makes a Metroid game a Metroid game, as I've only played the original and don't remember much, but what this person is talking about sounds a lot more fun than what Metroid Prime 3 actually was.
As a casual gamer, this game comes nowhere near my standard for the adventure genre, which is God of War. I had my issues with that game as well (*cough* Hades level *cough*), but overall, I was really impressed with a lot of aspects of the game. On a completely abstract level, I actually looked forward to playing GoW, whereas, I almost dreaded playing Metroid (again, consider my context - I don't want to spend a required 2 hours playing the game when my time is at a premium).
Anyway, I traded a friend Metroid for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I like this a lot more than Metroid, but there are still issues. Just when I was getting used to the controller scheme, they up and changed my character into a wolf. The wolf level is mildy boring too, though it's still much better than Metroid. I don't anticipate Zelda frustrating me as much as Metroid, but I guess you never know. I'm much more into the Zelda universe though, so I have a little incentive to keep up with the game. As for the Wii in general, the next game I'll actually get excited about is the announced Star Wars game. Now that is something I'll be willing to dedicate a lot of time towards! Otherwise, I might just invest in a little sports game or something (Rockstar's Ping Pong maybe? Seems like a good fit for the Wii, though I gotta wonder how different it is from Wii tennis).
Posted by Mark on December 02, 2007 at 03:11 PM .: link :.
Where am I?
This page contains entries posted to the Kaedrin Weblog in December 2007.
Kaedrin Beer Blog
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2006 Movie Awards
2007 Movie Awards
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6 Weeks of Halloween
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Disgruntled, Freakish Reflections
Philadelphia Film Festival 2006
Philadelphia Film Festival 2008
Philadelphia Film Festival 2009
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Security & Intelligence
The Dark Tower
Weird Book of the Week
Weird Movie of the Week
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