Posted February 19, 2011 at 09:35 pm
So, I've always been a big fan of classic animation. Heck, it was the first kind of motion picture in the form of flipbooks and Zoetropes long before cameras were invented. Getting in touch with my love of cartoons and cartooning, I've made a lot of friends over in the Artist's Corner in the forums. One friend in particular introduced me to a film called Les Triplettes de Belleville. It's this really neat French animated film with wonderful characters and attractive environments. You don't even need subtitles, because there are only a few uttered sentences in the movie, and really you can figure it out without them.

It was then my fiery love for animated films was reignited, with a new-found endearment with the medium. Since I had already seen nearly every classically animated Disney film, there weren't a whole lot of other choices on this side of the ocean. So I decided to move to the hard stuff.


More precisely, Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli (the production company.) I used to quite enjoy anime. I think it's really neat, though I do wish they'd draw every other frame rather than every third frame (that's what I'm told, anyway). It's too jumpy for me sometimes.

So, friends said "You haven't seen Princess Mononoke?!" I thought "Yeah, why don't you start me off on the most anime anime of all times. I can't wait to be anime'd to death on my first recent foray into the world of Japanese animated film." But I watched it, and it was surprisingly enjoyable! I wouldn't call it the best, but it was enough to get me interested.

I then went on to sample the filmography of Miyazaki. First it was Princess Nausicaa, a film I liked okay, but it was hard for me to identify with the people in it. No one really seemed real, and it was on an Earth I didn't recognize. Its environmentalist message kind of punches you in the gut, too. It was still better than 90% of modern American film, so I wasn't complaining. And if you prefer dubs (English voice acting) over subs (English subtitles with Japanese voice acting) this one's for you. Patrick Stewart. Uma Thurman. Chris Sarandon. Shia LaBeouf. Edward James Olmos. Whether or not you like any of those people, those are some darn professional names for a film dub. A lot of Miyazaki's films get this treatment.

Next was My Neighbor Totoro.

Great, just great. Nothing more to say. You have to see this to believe it. Dakota Fanning does the lead on this one, though I watched them subtitled anyway.

Kiki's Delivery Service. This was a fun movie that didn't have much of a plot, but it had extremely lovable characters. It was more of something where you enjoy the world they've put in front of you more than the story you're being told. I liked this one more than Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa, but not as much as My Neighbor Totoro. English voice actors include Kirsten Dunst, Phil Hartman, Janeane Garofalo  and others.

Porco Rosso. Very decent plot, extremely lovable characters again. Everyone is believable, and most of all, human. They all have flaws, they make mistakes, they have unrequited love, enemies they don't really understand who aren't really evil, just desperate. It's a fun film, but it's still deep. I'd put this above Kiki's Delivery Service. Still doesn't beat Totoro! The always lovable Michael Keaton leads the English voice acting on this one as the titular character.

Spirited Away. Oh, my lord. I knew about this movie for years, but I don't know why I never saw it. I think I went through a phase where I was scared of anime, so when I saw this, I was extremely wary. The over-sized head of the antagonist bothered me to no end. That said, this movie was the definition of epic. I don't mean that in the funny internet trope kind of way. But it was a massive scale of beauty and brilliance in the form of animated film. It's art of the highest quality. The characters were all believable and lovable. I don't recognize anyone on the English voice acting cast, however. Not that it matters.

Ponyo. Another brilliantly gorgeous film, but very funny and very endearing. I think my description of this would be similar to Spirited Away. English voice actors include Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Betty White and more.

So, that's all I'm going to say about it, other than it has reignited my love of animation, and right now, Japan is putting out the best classical animation. America continues to pump out CGI films which is fine if that's what you like, but I just don't care for the style.

Now to sample the Studio Ghibli films other than those directed by Hayao Miyazaki. See you when I'm dead of cell shading some how!
Posted February 4, 2011 at 04:29 pm
So, the most recent iteration of Wolfenstein. I only recently learned that this was a thing. It was a big flop, and I'll tell you why. I ONLY RECENTLY LEARNED THAT THIS WAS A THING.

How bad is your marketing that I, a guy who plays video games every day and enjoyed Return to Castle Wolfenstein profusely, have no knowledge of the existence of this game? Sure I don't read many gaming websites, but who does? I knew about all of the other top games way before they came out. I know about the new Bioshock that's like 2 years away, Mass Effect 3, every new iteration of Kingdom Hearts, etc. I don't pursue knowledge of these titles, but they make themselves known to me. This is good marketing. But whatever you did for Wolfenstein just screwed up, and not because it's a bad game, because it's not!

In fact, I very much enjoyed Wolfenstein (This article is about the PC version, single player campaign). I liked it so much that I played it all the way through. Lately, for me, that's rare. One complaint I noticed on the web right away was that the mouse was screwed up, and they're right. But there's a setting to fix that, thankfully. If you're having trouble with up/down being much slower than left/right for mouse look, there's a config file that will let you fix this. Search your computer for wolf.cfg. For me it's in "C:\Documents and Settings\USER\Local Settings\Application Data\id Software\WolfSP\base".  Just open that file and change seta m_pitch to "-40.0".

If you're getting crashes like I was near the end of the game, install Patch 1.2. Worked beautifully for me.

Now, as for actual gameplay, if you're looking for a clone of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, this isn't that game. It still deals with the paranormal division of the SS, but it manifests itself extremely early, and half of your tools are of the paranormal/sci-fi variety. It's a lot like Bioshock in that you mix otherworldly power with conventional weapons. It's offputting at first, as it seems so ridiculous, but once you start to roll with it, you really find yourself enjoying it. In fact, I find it more ridiculous that a normal guy with normal weapons is somehow plowing down an entire Nazi army. At least with paranormal powers, you have less suspension-of-disbelief in that manner and are solidly in the realm of sci-fi/supernatural.

The guns feel good. I guess not much more to say about that. No pistols or regular melee weapons this time around. You start with a submachine gun and go up from there.  I don't want to spoil anything.

There was only one portion of the gameplay I didn't like, but it seems all major first-person shooters are doing it these days. In old Wolfensteins, when you got shot, you lost health, and that health was lost until you found something to heal yourself. In this one, your screen becomes continually bloodier until you stop getting shot at, then your health quickly returns to normal. That's one of those things that I just don't care for. With the veil powers they introduced, they could have done a lot with regenerative powers and the like. But I guess you could cop out and say that the veil powers are always regenerating you (even though you don't get powers until the second or third area.)

Another complaint others had was how you were in one or two major city areas and you back-tracked a lot to all of the level locations. That was actually my favorite part. It almost gave it an open-world feel, but really it just let me do some mindless shooting of Nazis and playing with powers between levels. There were a couple extra missions lying around (they should have added dozens more. They missed out on the opportunity of reusing old levels) and you could find extra gold, intel and magic tomes in these areas. I think my favorite part of the game was just shooting through familiar areas that had enemies that kept changing with my advancement in the story.

The gold (as well as the intel and tomes) has a use now. I know we've kind of become spoiled with needing anything we collect to serve a goal, but really, if I get gold, I want to spend it.  Here you can purchase weapon or power upgrades. I really enjoy this, as it adds a little bit of an RPG element, though I know that's not for everyone. I would like to see this game go full RPG shooter, but Borderlands got such mixed reception, I know not everyone is into that sort of thing.

The atmosphere was different from RTCW. RTCW seemed very serious and sometimes scary (especially in the catacombs). This one was more like a Saturday morning cartoon based off of the original movie. The hero was very action-hero-like, the Germans all spoke English in German accents, even when talking to each other, and the colors were very vibrant, not like the typical shooter fare these days. I found it amusing, and instead of scoffing, I laughed. I like to think that was the intention.

In the end, it wasn't the best game, and not all games can be the best. I can see why people would be upset with it, but if they had called it "Wolfenstein'd" as a semi-joke, it might have gotten a better reception because people would have a better idea of what to expect. It suffers from a joke being taken seriously, or maybe it really does take itself seriously. Either way, the gameplay was solid, I kinda followed the story but not really, and in the end, I got a lot of pleasure from it.
Posted January 12, 2011 at 10:49 pm
I made this typographer's nightmare to stress how much I want you to hire me to kick butt. (This is real. So do everything it says.)

Posted December 31, 2010 at 04:37 pm
I got this in an e-mail (rather, my spam filter caught it.) I can't believe my good fortune! (This is real and verbatim other than my editor's notes.)

Assalam Alaikoum,

Dear Sir,

Permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business relationship with you, I know this message will sounds very strange to you, but I have no choice than to risk my life to choose a stranger like you I have never seen before. We leave in a global world today [My favorite Bond film is 'Leave And Let Die' - Ed.], and with the help of internet technology one can easily communicate with one another all around the world without knowing him or she in person, what matters will be the trust and the  Information’s you got about the person[??? - Ed.]. In this case we can understand our self and work like one family.

Please, I don’t want you to feel embrace by receiving such message from someone you have not seen before, but my dear[Oh, my. Is it getting hot in here? - Ed.], such is life some time in life things works in a way we never expected.

I will go ahead by informing you that in my account department of the African Development Bank (ADB) Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso I discovered an abandoned sum of US$18 Million Dollars only in an account that belongs to one of the foreign customer here in my bank that died in a plane crash that almost took the whole life of the passengers on board.

Right now as I am sending this message to you, my bank is expecting any of his family member who will come for the claim of this fund, but since then all proved abortive[They must take pro-choice pretty seriously. - Ed.]. And that’s my reason of contacting you. I need your total cooperation to execute this deal. You’re in good position to claim this fund because I will furnish you with the accurate information’s concerning the decease and the fund. You may decide to claim this fund by bank transfer as well as claiming it in case, that is to say coming down here after you have applied to the bank as the next of kin to the deceased fund.

Please my dear I assure you that this transaction is 100% free risk [! - Ed.], as long as you will follow my instructions, do not allow   this great opportunity to skip away from us because of your ignorance when you receive this message. You will have 30% of the fund while 60% will be for me and 10% will be for any expenses that may occur during the time of transfering the fund into your bank account in your country.

Best Regards,

Dr.Ahmed Ibrahim.
Bill & Exchange Manager (ADB).
Tel:+226 74 39 03 16.

So, what do you guys think? I think I would be crazy to pass up a 100% free risk opportunity like this for nearly US$6 million! How couldn't you not NOT trust this guy?!
Posted December 17, 2010 at 03:27 pm
Ha ha ha ha, where's the beef. Hi-larious.

I've been a bit too into Little House on the Prairie lately because of the Hallmark channel. It's a good show if you've never seen it. Start from the original made-for-TV pilot if you do get into it. I've never read the books (which start at Little House in the Big Woods), but I have a feeling that after the pilot episode, the show and the books had very little to do with each other. But that's okay.

I may be looking at this through kid glasses, but it seems like everything made before the year 2000 was just plain better. In the 70's, we had many good television shows and films that defined their genres. Most people saw Star Wars, for example, for the first time when they were children or teenagers. I had the privilege of waiting until I had already acquired a taste for films of decent quality in my lower to mid 20's. There isn't a large number of movies I like, and I'm certainly not the type to absorb everything of a particular genre. But when I watched the trilogy for the very first time, I was extremely impressed. The quality of the effects were almost all up to par with a more modern film.

Then came the 80's. The quality of filming became about as good as it would ever get with 1985's Back to the Future. While the special effects and future history were a bit lacking in my opinion, the quality of the visual and audio were very near peak, and no better actors have come out of Hollywood since then. You could tell the difference between the visual attractiveness of this film compared to 1982's Terminator which seemed much less appealing.

But then came 1991's Terminator 2. Again we're brought to a new level of special effects that the industry has hardly seen before. We also see CGI leaping onto the scene with the one thing it's perfect at making -- a liquid metal robot (and very little else that I could see.) Couple this film with Jurassic Park, and this was a time when as much as possible was done with the use of miniatures, real sets and animatronics while using CGI only when absolutely necessary.

1999 saw a great new SF film, The Matrix. You could say it was east meets west with an anime-style kung fu story in a high-tech virtual world. While the sequels didn't live up to the novelty of the original, it did seem like one of the last great special effects films.

Maybe I'm old, but nowadays it seems like everything has been replaced with CGI. Films that use things like miniatures, real sets, animatronics, traditional animation, claymation, stuntmen and the like are few and far between. They still exist, mind you, but are outnumbered greatly by the use of computers. I really felt like The Hulk and its sequal were a very poor use of CGI. Others have claimed to me that CGI looks absolutely real, but to me, I can see its irregular cartoon-like movement in the real-world setting and the whole thing just feels like I'm watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Of course, then we come full circle to Lucas again and the new Star Wars movies. I saw Episode 1 through kid eyes and liked the character of Jar Jar when I was younger. As I got older and more crotchety, the CGI really annoyed me, how his character looked like a cartoon shoved into a real world. It's the same for Gollum of The Lord of the Rings and other characters in other films. There's a good chance they could have been portrayed more realistically using animatronics, or, heck, even puppets.

But I'm probably just crotchety.
Posted December 3, 2010 at 08:24 pm
But I'm not that excited. I have always had a head for science, but for some reason, I'm super apathetic about a life form that can use arsenic in the place of phosphorus in its genetic make-up. I guess I'm a little news-numbed from the last couple of decades or so. They always speak of things like "Ice on the moon!" and "Ice on Mars!" and "Life in asteroids maybe!" You never really know what to take seriously, or whether any of it will ever have any practical need to exist. Maybe it's how they sensationalize it all. I tried to find a news article on the matter, and half of the article was about 'Godzilla Vs The Smog Monster' and I don't care about that.

Maybe I'm selfish.

I guess I'm at the point in my life where I'm worried about my own mortality. In probably 50 years, I'll be dead and gone forever. I'd like to believe in Yahweh or Buddha or any other god that promises more life after this one, but I don't see it. I envy people who do have that belief, and I think it's as valid as my belief that I'll rot in the ground.

So when I think about things like new bacteria that may shed some light on the textbook definition of life, I think 'How can this ever possibly affect me?' Even advances towards the theories governing interstellar travel would be meaningless because I'll never set foot outside of my solar system, and probably not even on Mars.

The first thing I thought when thinking about this new form of life was my favorite (late) writer, Isaac Asimov. I've had an opportunity recently to listen to his books on tape, and I've rather been enjoying them. I've actually been reading his books for as long as I can remember. I started with Robots of Dawn and eventually tracked back and did the entire Robots series. I really love the idea of sentient robots like Daneel Olivaw (who was the template for the character Data of Star Trek) and their ability to not only be a tireless assistant, but also a friend of sorts. The reason the bacteria reminded me of Asimov is that, thanks to the audiobooks, I found time to "read" Nemesis, which featured a bacteria which was the first extra-terrestrial life ever found. So from bacteria I went to Nemesis, then to Asimov, then to robots.

So now, I want a robot. I blame you, NASA.
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