Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Post Thanksgiving Thanks

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone I thought it a good time to sit down and list some of the things I'm thankful for. Lists like this tend to be overwrought and maudlin. I'll avoid that as much as possible and try to keep this brief.

  • My wife. I couldn't be more thankful for her in my life.

  • My friends. Without them I'd be able to pursue a lifetime as a hermit. I'm thankful they distract me from that ambition.

  • Puppies. Really, puppies make the world a better place.

  • My dog. He makes me feel needed, if only because he lacks an opposable digit.

  • Chili powder. Without which making my chili would be next to impossible.

  • My watch still works. I wear a Fossil “Blue” that is water resistant to 50 meters. It was a birthday or Christmas gift from my sister from well before my wife and I were ever married, and it still works.

  • Altoids. The curiously strong mint.

  • Neil Gaiman. His books rock!

  • Jim Butcher. His books rock!

  • Terry Pratchett. His books rock!

  • I'm no longer a kid, but I'm still young enough to enjoy myself.

  • The cooler weather that comes with winter. Los Angeles summer heat sucks.

  • I can walk to work. I'm saving a fortune in gas, but I'm wearing the hell out of my shoes.

That's probably enough. If I try to go any further I'll start saying things like “I'm thankful for my health, because without that you really don't have anything.” If it's at all avoidable I'd like to not be dragged out into the street and stoned for being maudlin and gushy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanish Bad-Assedness

So this last weekend and the weekend before I had the pleasure of seeing Beowulf in 3D at the AMC 16 in Burbank and the Arclight in Hollywood, respectively. I've really been looking forward to this movie as I'm somewhat familiar with the epic poem, and I've recently become a fan of Neil Gaiman. Beowulf is also the first movie that I've seen in 3D. A fact which surprised my movie-going compatriots.

"Thou hast never partaken of the cinema of dimensions three? ...Philistine..."

Overall I really like this movie. Really like it. Being something of a sucker for animated movies anyway, it was pretty much a guarantee that I would be going to see this movie. Let's start with the good stuff shall we.

Visually the movie is a feast for the eyes. I'm really only talking about the 3D version of the film, because that's the only one I've seen. Even so, the look and composition of the film is never tired, pedantic, or boring. Each shot is carefully composed for maximum impact and effect, and the story flows well from shot to shot start to finish. The film is colorful, regardless of the winterly setting, but not so much so as to be like looking at Lord of the Rings through a kaleidescope.

The script is rock solid. It's co-written by Neil Gaiman. 'Nuff said.

The soundtrack is breathtaking. Even the pop-version of a song featured in the movie that rolls over the credits is well done and doesn't take away from the experience.

This is an animated movie for adults. HUZZAH! Such a thing in the U.S. is long, long overdue. Animation is a beautiful and flexible (if expensive) story telling medium that has long been under-utilized by western film companies. Disney has made some great films, and some not so great, but animation in the U.S. has long been considered 'kid's stuff' and not really explored beyond the animated musicals or 'family friendly' movies.

Here is some of the bad:
There is some cheese ball dialog. This was a little hard on my pallet until I remembered that the movie is based on an epic poem written sometime in the eighth to eleventh century. The language may seem cheesy, but this was how stories were told and news was passed in those days. When I pulled my head out of my modern complacency and remembered I was watching a period piece, some of the cheesier dialog was easier to bear.

Crispin Glover as Grendel talks in Old English. On one hand, Old English is much prettier than what passes for the English language now. His lines are beautiful to listen to (especially those responses in dialogue that are given by Angelina Jolie). On the other hand he's not subtitled and it's damn near impossible to figure out what he's saying except in context with the rest of the lines. I don't know if it was in the script this way, if it was a director's decision, or if it's just Crispin Glover being his slightly oddball, entirely over-educated, avant-garde self. Whatever the reason, the difficulty of understanding Grendel was pretty distracting, even on a second viewing.

The ugly
The biggest complaint I have about this movie is that it really could have been, and probably would have been better served by being, an R-rated film. It's violent, bloody, bawdy, and pretty heavy hitting. Even so, I spent most of the movie feeling like it was holding back somewhat. It showed in quick cut-aways during fight scenes with Grendel, clever ways of suggesting but not actually giving voice to especially bawdy lines. Most distractingly is the period leading up to the fight with Grendel, the fight itself, and the immediate afterward in which our hero, Beowulf, is nude. Throughout this sequence and shortly after there are lots of conveniently placed articles to hide his Geat-bits. It gets to be a little like the end of the first Austin Powers movie, which is not a compliment. It would have been better to swallow the R rating and show us Beowulf's Thanish glory, or to cover him somehow.

Water-demon Angelina strolling across the top of her watery lair in...sigh (I can't believe I'm actually saying this)...demon stiletto heels. Not shoes, her heels extend down to a point like physiological stripper gear. Yikes. Most guys just have to worry about their lover's cold feet. Her bedtime play things have to worry about freaking stab wounds.

On the whole I really like this movie. What criticisms I have in no way detract from my enjoyment of the movie. It's worth it just to see an animated Geat warrior come on to a Thanish honey with the oh-so-suave "How about a quick gobble".

Sony Bailing Like Mad to Rescue Sinking Ship

Sony announced they would halve the cost of the development kit for the ailing PS3 in order to boost developer interest, and (hopefully) start turning out games. This is an ill sign for the ill-fated console. Much like the similarly ill-fated Sega Dreamcast and a number of start-up consoles the PS3 suffers from some bad decisions on the part of the producing company. Here is the deadly mix:
  1. Forcing adoption of new technology, in this case the Blu-Ray media format.
  2. Lack of titles. This is the biggest killer of any game console. You get a game console to play games a shortage in this department means a disappointing Christmas bonus for your front line developers and employees.
  3. Ridiculously high price point. This was a major killer of Dreamcast, Neo-Geo, and 3D-O, among others. Your high price point may tell the consuming public that your console has the latest greatest technologies, but if they can't afford it they won't buy it. In this case, when the PS3 first came out it was possible to purchase the XBox 360 and the Nintendo Wii for the cost of one PS3. Way to alienate your public, Sony.
Sales of the PS3 of lagged behind the other two major consoles since the launch of the system. This is due in part to a lack of support by game developers and the afore mentioned high price. Recent numbers show XBox and Wii each with over a half-million sales for the month of September and PS3 with under 200 thousand. More telling is the fact that the previous generation console, the PS2, has consistently outsold its high-tech successor.

I don't want this to sound like a flame on Sony. I genuinely feel they produce good, solid products. Truthfully, they've just had a difficult year. My feeling is I would like to see them ditch the PS3 and steal a page from both Microsoft and Nintendo. Make a console whose format doesn't force adoption of new technology, has a reasonable price point, great online support, and games that are genuinely fun to play. With the technology that's available there's no reason Sony couldn't build a game console that plays top of the line games, has a good sized hard drive, plays HD movies, provides online support, and costs less than $400.

If you build it, they will buy.