Who Watches The WangWatchmen?

V is for Very Funny
A friend invited me out to see Watchmen tonight and, in brief, it was a good way to spend a couple of hours on a Friday night.
The film hews very closely to the graphiccomicnovelbook (as noted on GeekDad) and is hugely indebted to the work put in by its original creators. I firmly believe that the solid foundation of the DC comic built by Moore/Gibbons is a (the?) chief reason the movie works. A weaker script would have doomed this movie.
As GeekDad also notes, it is most assuredly not one for the kids. It’s rated “R” and earns it — crude language and sexual situations abound, as do violence and disturbing scenes. A sex scene set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is vastly overlong — and am I alone in liking Jeff Buckley’s version of the song better? Also, there is far (far, far, far) more screen time devoted to Doctor Manhattan’s, errrm, Junior Doctor Manhattan than I would have necessarily wanted to see. Ever.
Digitized electric blue Wang-Dang-Crudup-Doodles aside, I would definitely put it beside Zack Snyder’s other recent work, 300 in terms of both its thought-provoking nature and its visual artistry. Well worth seeing, if only to support the notion that loud, visually-stunning movies based on comic books can be complex, compelling and more than just over-muscled dudes in spandex prancing about.
Oh, and before I leave off for the night, two Watchmen-related earwigs to toss at you:
Continue reading “Who Watches The WangWatchmen?”

The Dark Knight Always Triumphs! Have At You!

I got a chance to see The Dark Knight Saturday night with a couple of friends. Here’s my quick take: go see it in the theater, now. While it’s 2:20 long and has enough plot lines for 2-2.5 movies (so much so that it makes it difficult to explain the overarching plot to family members…), the time practically flies by. It is, in many respects, the single best villain-driven comic book-based movie yet produced. (I am undecided as to whether Iron Man is the better overall comic book movie; it certainly was a better hero-driven effort.)
Christian Bale is merely “meh” in his portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman, as the scriptwriters, unaware of just how annoying Bale’s Batman growl is, give the star long soliloquies to deliver in said annoying undertones.
Heath Ledger, however, is transcendent in his portrayal of the Joker. With the exception of Gary Oldman’s Lieutenant Gordon, the underlying actors are visible in all roles (including Michael Caine’s Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox), by which I simply mean that I found myself looking at the screen and thinking “Oh, Michael Caine makes an excellent Alfred. Well chosen, lads, but I can still see Caine peeking through.” There is almost no Ledger allowed to peek through, so completely does (did, I guess?) he own the role. The psychoses, the bouts of extreme violence, the depravity and, yes, even the humor inherent in the Joker’s character are all portrayed stunningly by Ledger. I do not think the whispers of a posthumous Oscar nomination for Ledger are completely unfounded.
So run, do not walk, to your local cinema and check out The Dark Knight.

Thunderbird 2.0: An Upgrade Well Worth Your Time

The Mozilla Foundation released Thunderbird 2.0 yesterday and, based upon my first 24 hours with it, I’d give it an unconditional thumbs-up.
Overall, it’s a much nicer experience than the previous version (1.5). It is faster, the interface is cleaner, it handles IMAP mailboxes far faster than before and it has a few nice new touches like:

  • Tags for categorizing your messages
  • Viewed message history and corresponding buttons allowing you to move back and forth between your recently-viewed messages just like you move between browser pages.

…and a ton more that I’m sure I’m forgetting at this point.
Needless to say, if you’re not slaving away under the fierce whip of one of the various flavors of Outlook, you need to start using Thunderbird 2.0. Stat.


300 - Leonidas.
[This review contains spoilers, at least for those that have not read Miller’s 300 or are completely unfamiliar with the Battle of Thermopylae. Tread lightly in reading it if you wish to remain in suspense. -ed.]
One of the criticisms that has been leveled against 300 is that it is “pro-war”, a critique shared by those on the left as well as those on the right, unfortunately. I am afraid that I must buck the trend in reviews and call these reviewers out on this point: 300 is in no way “pro-war”; rather, it is manifestly pro-soldier and pro-sacrifice, a great distinction indeed. It is easy to see how some might come to think of the piece as such – the warrior ethos held to by the Spartans, the achingly-operatic pace of the battle scenes, the nigh-Marine-ish “Oooooah!” the Spartans use as a battle cry glorify a warrior culture and tradition. This, however, is a far cry from glorying in actual war. While the artists and director painted wonderful pictures in bleached sepia tones, Frank Miller’s original work (and therefore, the screenwriters’ work as well) paints the story in stark black and white terms. There are no shades of gray, no shadows for nuances to hide in. To give one’s life in the cause of freedom, to sacrifice your own betterment for the safety of others is held in highest regard.
This Spartan warrior culture is not without its evident downsides, however. The cruel examination newborn boys are subjected to is shown in a harsh light, as is the vicious and rigorous training that Spartan (citizen) males undertook from the age of 7. It is not a glorious system nor an easy one and, at least as the movie’s premise would have it, the irony of the system is that its demand for perfection produces not only the brave and noble Leonidas but also the misshapen and traitorous Ephialtes.
On to the movie itself.
Leaving the plot and ideological concerns aside for a moment, it must be said that the movie itself is visually arresting. The specials effects are exceedingly well done, striking just the right balance between a necessary realism and the conceits carried in the original comic bookgraphic novel. This point bears further consideration, as it forms the basis for the entire style of the movie. I was initially slightly put off by the “slow-quick-slow” camera speeds employed throughout the film, although used primarily in scenes of battle (see one of the many trailers for an idea of what I am talking about) until it occurred to me: what the audience experiences in 300 is a sort of meta-tweening with the panels of the comic book acting as the key frames. Each speed-up is essentially a real life concession to the comic book form – the film advances between comic book panels and slows down when each panel is reached in order to stamp the iconic imagery into the viewers’ minds. As I said, it’s distracting at first, but then your mind adjusts to the flow and it begins to make a good deal of cognitive sense.
The dialog itself is fairly corny, which is to be expected in a movie based on a comic book which in turn was based upon the words and deeds of the Spartans, a people with no tradition of song, poetry or art. In fact, many of the lines that should have had the most emotional impact were in fact ruined by the countless previews and trailers that ran on T.V. (“Madness!?! This! Is! Sparta!”, etc.). On a positive note, two of the key speeches of the film were left unmolested by traileritis: that given by Queen Gorgo (Leonidas’ wife) to the Council of Sparta and that given by Dilios to the assembled Greek army prior to the battle at Plataea.
300 - Dilios.
Speaking of Dilios, he was portrayed by David Wenham, aka Faramir in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. As the overall narrator of the story, I felt that he did a great job at conveying the mythic aspect of the tale in both tone and tenor.
The rest of the cast was comprised of lesser-known actors with Gerard Butler taking the lead role of King Leonidas. While his Scottish brogue occasionally broke through and caused me to involuntarily think of Braveheart, his acting throughout was generally quite good, as were the rest of the cast. I suppose the single best thing to say about the entire cast is that none of them got in the way of the story, they delivered stilted dialog the best they could and they looked good in doing so. Just about the best one could hope for in a movie of this type, I suppose.
The special effects were incredible all around – the sight of Xerxes’ army arrayed before the pass at Thermopylae was truly impressive and almost worth the price of admission alone. The fight scenes were well-choreographed and visually arresting throughout. The sound was well done as well and the tone of the piece was well summed up by the soundtrack composed by Tyler Bates. For instance, the following clip “To Victory” opened and closed the movie. Give a listen to get a feel for the driving, Eastern-influenced score:


A remix of the song was played during the closing credits which were well worth sitting through. They were done in a style that could only be described as a “hyper-violent version of the closing credits to The Incredibles“: the entire story was re-conveyed through simplistic line drawings evoking a very comic book-ish feel.
Content-wise, the movie definitely deserved its ‘R’ rating. While the violence wasn’t quite as graphic as last year’s Sin City, it was over the top and plentiful. Additionally, there were four sex/sexually-charged scenes that pushed the limits a bit. Two felt exploitative (Leonidas at the Oracle and Ephialtes meeting Xerxes), one was rather violent (Gorgo and Theron) and one felt fairly invasive of an otherwise happily-married couple (Leonidas and Gorgo). Each scene, however, had a point and illustrated said points with the sexual imagery.
Ultimately, I believe this movie represents a return to an old form where the good guys were easily distinguishable from the bad and felt no compunction in standing up for what is good and right in this world. 300‘s full package makes it an easy recommendation for anyone over the age of 17 – here’s to hoping that the rest of Hollywood catches on to the wonders of positive storytelling.

Burnination, The Follow-Up

With apologies to Trogdor: Shortly after I posted my review of Toast, I stumbled across a comparison review of a few of the top Mac burning software packages. Toast makes an appearance, as do Burn and two others, as well as a 5th one that was suggested in the reviews’ comments (LiquidCD) which got me to thinking about other media-related downloads worth your time.
First up, Windows users looking to convert their media over to handheld-appropriate formats ought to look into Videora which handles the conversion tasks for the Microsoft-addled. Next up is Democracy, an incredible video aggregator with support for RSS “channels” and BitTorrent downloads. It’s available for Mac, Linux and Windows, so platform concerns should be nil. Mac users looking to correctly tag their iPod-ready videos so that they show up correctly in iTunes should look into Lostify, your one-stop-shop for all your video tagging needs.
Last of all, those of you looking to get caught up on TV shows you missed should check out ShareTV, a site that looks to centralize torrents for a lot of the top-flight shows currently on TV in one easily-accessible website. Be sure to give it a look.

Toast 8 Titanium: A Review In Brief

Toast 8.
To put it bluntly: Roxio’s Toast 8 Titanium rocks.
My team lead put in for a couple of copies of Toast 8 shortly after it was announced at Mac World and we have been enjoying them ever since. While it is, at base, a program for burning CDs, DVDs and now Blu Ray discs, version 8 adds a lot of functionality that makes Toast Titanium an ideal hub for all of your multimedia tasks.
Toast 8While the TiVoToGo functionality is perhaps the most ballyhooed addition, I think the video transcoding capabilities are far more exciting. You can create traditional data discs, useful for backing up data otherwise stored on hard disk or audio discs suitable for play in any CD player. You can also burn video discs from very nearly any video media type – DVDs, VideoCDs, Super VideoCDs and even DivX Discs. The transcoding engine behind these burning capabilities also allows one to convert any supported video type to one suitable for use on your video iPod, PSP or any other hand-held video player.
I have been taking full advantage of this ability, as I am sadly over a full season behind on my Battlestar Galactica and thus have been converting the unwatched DivX AVIs I have laying about into iPod-ready .m4v’s. I am then able to transfer them to my iPod and catch up on BSG at a rate of roughly two episodes per day. I should be just about caught up within 20 days or so, barring unforeseen interruptions.
Is the package worth the $80 Roxio charges for it? I’m not quite sure about that. There are ways to accomplish each and every one of Toast’s capabilities with free alternatives (Burn and Mencoder come to mind immediately…) and I could see $80 as being a very steep price for a home user. When it comes right down to it, it’s a very attractive package for managing all of your media that’s worth the money as long as someone else is doing the buying. *grin*

Firefox 2: It’s The Little Things That Count

I’ve been using the Mac version of Firefox 2.0 on my Mac Pro at work for the last few days and I have to say that it’s a pretty nice package. It remembers your session if your browser happens to crash, meaning that you won’t lose all those hard-fought tabs if FF should crap out on you. It seems to be generally faster, which is nice.
Spell check 1
But nicest of all is the integrated spell-checker. Now, forum posts, blog posts and yes, even work-related stuff benefits from an immediate “your spelling sucks”-type feedback mechanism.
Spell Check 2
Expect the quality of my posts to skyrocket, baby! I know y’all only come here for the spelling and grammar. Philistines.

Straight Outta Lynwood, Straight Into My CD Player

Straight Outta LynwoodAlbum Title: Straight Outta Lynwood
Artist: “Weird Al” Yankovic
Year: 2006
I went out and snagged a copy of Weird Al’s latest album yesterday and, after giving it a few listens, I have to say that it’s one of his better albums, although by no means his best. I think it’s actually a bit more of an indictment of the state of popular music than one of Yankovic, as his parodies of Usher, R. Kelly and Taylor Hicks (“Confessions Part III”, “Trapped in the Drive-Thru” and “Do I Creep You Out”, respectively) just fall a little flat, particularly “Trapped in…” which clocks in at an almost unlistenable 11 minutes and ranks with “Albuquerque” and “Genius in France” on my “must skip” Weird Al track list.
The rest of the album is quite good, including the obligatory polka medley “Polkarama!”:

For those keeping track, that was:

  • “The Chicken Dance” by Werner Thomas
  • “Let’s Get It Started” by The Black Eyed Peas
  • “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand
  • “The Nina Bobina Polka” by Al Yankovic
  • “Beverly Hills” by Weezer
  • “Speed Of Sound” by Coldplay
  • “Float On” by Modest Mouse
  • “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz
  • “Don’t Cha” by The Pussycat Dolls
  • “Somebody Told Me” by The Killers
  • “Slither” by Velvet Revolver
  • “Candy Shop” by 50 Cent
  • “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg
  • “Pon de Replay” by Rihanna
  • “Gold Digger” by Kanye West

…in that order.
The first single, “White & Nerdy” is quite good, although I think it is surpassed by two other tracks, original “pastiches” that lampoon/pay credit to bands’ entire catalogs. First up is “I’ll Sue Ya” which is a pretty good send-up of Rage:
Next is “Close But No Cigar” in which Al basically nails Cake’s entire catalog:
The album is actually a “Dual Disc” which means that one side is a regular CD while the flip side is a DVD featuring a 5.1 mix of the album and videos for all 6 of the original songs on the album, all of which are animated and high-quality. There’s also a small featurette composed of footage from the studio sessions that went in to producing this album. Because of the Dual Disc nature of the album, it is actually thicker than a regular CD or DVD which presents no problems for PC CD-ROM drives but did almost result in it getting stuck in the slot-loading SuperDrive on my MacBook Pro, so if you’ve got a machine or a CD/DVD player with a slot loading mechanism, you may want to be careful.
All in all, it’s an album that fans of Al should pick up and that casual listeners will most likely be able to give a pass.

It’s In The Air, Man! The Internet’s IN The AIR!

Verizon V640 menu
I’m sitting in an NTB waiting for the service techs to finish patching up a seeping flat, typing away on my MacBook Pro, posting courtesy of the mega-sweet Verizon Wireless V640 Express Card. My employer has been buying the PCMCIA “CardBus” offerings from Verizon for a little while now and, though the cards are on a check-out/check-in procedure, we have been finding that our users are extremely reticent to utilize the “check-in” portion of that equation (read: people love the cards and don’t want to give ’em back). However, we MBP users have been largely left out in the cold, since Apple oh-so-wisely decided to æschew the PCMCIA standard and offer the MBPs (and MacBooks, I believe…) with a single Express Card slot.
Well, we got our first shipment of the V640, one of Verizon’s two Express Card offerings, yesterday and I “valiantly” offered to take one home and test it out. I was amazed at how dead-simple the install was – apparently Mac OS X 10.4.7 comes with the requisite drivers already available and so setting up the card and getting on-line was literally a three click process.
The speed is pretty amazing for a wireless service running over a CDMA network. Speakeasy’s speed test has me clocking in at ~975kbps down/~130kbps up, which ain’t too shabby for browsing the web. Pulling large files would be a bear, I’d imagine (I haven’t tested it out yet). I really have to say, though, for the dedicated traveler blessed with an Intel Mac laptop, this card is a very compelling product (well, as long as you don’t have to foot the bill for the $180 card and ~$70 per month service fee, that is. Let the office pay for it).
They had me in and out in under 20 minutes and didn’t charge me a dime – apparently they usually only tip the guys in the back for fixing flat tires (turns out those hosers at Just Tires did a slipshod job and only plugged a hole last time I had the tire looked at; NTB did me up right with a full-up patch). Sweet.

“On A Clear Day”

On A Clear Day
My wife and I had seen trailers for On a Clear Day in various places and meant to see it (honestly, we did!) in theaters, but it slipped out before we were able to hit a theater. Well, as things go these days, it was released on DVD and thanks to the magic of Netflix, we were able to get the movie delivered right to our mailbox and from there right to our entertainment center, where it contentedly waited for the period of nearly a month before we actually sat down to watch it a few nights ago.
It’s a quirky, if formulaic, feel-good family movie about a Scottish shipbuilder who quits his job in a fit of conscience and then flounders about looking for a purpose to his life. Said shipbuilder regularly swims laps in his local health club’s pool along with a group of his best friends and, through a series of events, get it into his head to swim the English channel. He enters into a rigorous training regimen and enlists the skills, talents and assistance of his various friends, attempting to keep the whole affair out of the view of his wife and son. Promises are made, secrets are told, tears are shed, etc., but it is all handled with a light touch and there are some genuinely amusing moments to the whole affair. The thick Scottish brogues the actors all have/affect help, too.
I’d give it a 2.5-3/4 stars – a decent selection as an alternative to standard “chick flick” fare if your Significant Other is in the mood for such. *chuckle*