Archive for July, 2004

A Tale of Two Couches

Posted by Arlo on Jul 27, 2004 under Life of Arlo

2 x couch = < ft^2Who would have thought that replacing one sectional couch with another would be such a hassle?

Oksana and I have been looking for a fancy new couch for a while now. After researching prices online, at local furniture stores, and in the daily want-ads we rapidly came to the conclusion that we couldn’t yet afford a new one with all the most desirable features. It seems that things like recliners, cup holders, and hidden compartments for remotes add up to a healthy price tag. We never even got into the vibrating cushions and built-in mini-‘fridges.

Not that our old couch is all that bad off. In fact, for the $70 we paid for it a couple years ago, it’s outstanding! Unfortunately it only comfortably seats about 5 people and for the last year and a half we’ve had at least 8 people over every Friday evening. Good hosts don’t make their friends sit on the floor – or at least they feel guilty when they do.
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Movie Review: Fahrenheit 9/11

Posted by Arlo on Jul 26, 2004 under Movie Reviews

Fahrenheit 9/11 Movie PosterI’m apolitical. I don’t vote, and I try not to bitch. Politics have always been outside my realm of interest. They just seem to get people so worked up out about things that, often, they feel powerless to do anything about. I don’t need that kind of stress in my life.

It’s not that I don’t believe in this little democracy experiment that we call America – in fact, I trust it so completely that I’ve never seen the need to vote. I’m fully confident that, collectively, the voting population of our country has my best interest at heart. I’ve always told myself that I would register to vote if and when something important enough comes up on the ballot, but the truth of the matter is that I have yet to see any significant change to my lifestyle based on who’s holding office.

Despite having had a politically-motivated girlfriend years ago, I still managed to shy away from political discussions (much to her exasperation!) In retrospect, that was probably due more to my lack of information than anything else – in college I didn’t read the newspaper, listen to the radio, or even watch much TV (except for, of course, Star Trek, The Simpsons, and the X-Files!) Ignorance is bliss.

A few years ago, I realized how horrible our music stations are in Juneau and I began tuning my car radio to our local AM talk station, instead. My commute time is roughly 3 minutes, though, so this new window to the world of current events was relatively small. Each day I learned a little bit more about politics from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Regan, and Laura Ingram on longer drives to the store or on my lunch break. Eventually I discovered that talk radio is very heavily conservatively biased. I’m almost ashamed to say how long it took me to realize that – having had no political background to speak of, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you Conservative:Republican :: Liberal:Democrat. All I knew was that I didn’t often agree with the sentiments I heard on the AM band. (Yes, I’m aware of NPR. But both sources are strongly biased and I believe that an open mind can and will see through both sides. In that sense, I guess it doesn’t matter who you listen to.)

Crap. This was supposed to a short movie review for Fahrenheit 9/11.
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Movie Review: I, Robot

Posted by Arlo on Jul 19, 2004 under Movie Reviews

I, Robot Movie PosterI have seen the future and it is gray. The buildings, the cars, the robots. All gray. In the future, everything will be faster, too. Freeways will be crowded with cars traveling at absurd speeds and elevators will actually propel themselves downward faster than gravity would otherwise let them descend. Baring some leap in psychological evolution, you would expect the average human to scream in abject terror when faced with the prospect of actually traveling somewhere. Or when standing next to the low, ineffectual glass railings of the buildings’ balconies, 40-or-so stories above the ground.

I’m talking, of course, about the world of I, Robot. Judging from the movie, Chicago will be a very different place just 31 years from now.

I went in to I, Robot expecting to hate it. I’ve got nothing against Will Smith (except, perhaps, Wild Wild West), but I rarely trust Hollywood to handle a science fiction book adaptation well. Either because I had such low expectations, or perhaps because I’ve never read the Asimov robot books, I found myself thoroughly this movie! (Not reading Asimov’s works ahead of time might be the only way to enjoy it – it was listed in the credits only as “Suggested by an Isaac Asimov book!”)

It took me awhile to warm up to it, though. At first I couldn’t get over Will Smith’s hat. Throughout the first third of the movie, he insisted on wearing a tight leather toque, pulled down to the eyebrows, consistently covering only one of his two ears. That sort of thing drives me nuts. Would you do that with a baseball cap? A 10-gallon hat? I don’t care how cool you think it makes you look, we’re symmetrical for Pete’s sake – Wearing your hat over only one ear is like getting an extended foot massage on only one of your feet; it’s bound to mess up your balance somehow!

Okay, admittedly that was a minor quibble. Trying to look past the protagonist’s hat, I began to evaluate the character himself. Police officer, hates robots, of course. I suppose that later, when the shit hits the fan and the robots start going crazy, no one’s going to believe him because of his well-known, bigoted viewpoint. How lame. I can’t imagine that the characters in the book were this shal… hey now, waitaminute. Could I be wrong?

That’s the thing that got me in I, Robot. The writer and/or director did a great job of leading me down the wrong path. At times (and certainly by the look of the previews), I believed that I was in for an action flick, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover a decent suspense movie instead. Once the story got rolling, I had a hard time guessing what kink would pop up next. I was surprised to learn the robots’ motivations, and I misjudged who the main antagonist was at several turns. Those are good things, by the way. Hollywood can be so formulaic sometimes that I enjoy the occasional, unexpected twist.

Besides the story unfolding to my enjoyment, I also loved watching the special effects. Alan Tudyk, who I knew from Firefly, was fun to watch as the robot, Sonny. In fact, all the robots in this particular movie looked pretty darn good. Although obviously CGI, they seemed very there. They were animated to walk very much like humans with realistic weight and balance, but when it was time to get their groove on, they took advantage of their superior speed and power to pump out superhuman jam. Well, all except for the older robot models. They plodded along jerkily, but that was also pretty cool in its contrast.

I’ll bet one of my favorite effects in the movie, though, was one that probably escaped most people’s attention. There’s a scene where Will Smith is trying to get out of a house being demolished by a huge robot. The hallway’s crumbling under his feet, walls and ceiling are being absolutely pulverized as he’s sprinting for the door. In the middle of all this mayhem, the camera view switches to his pumping feet as he reaches down to scoop up the housecat racing along beside him.

Can you imaging how difficult it must have been to get that shot?

Trivial Thought: Poor cat. Left to die in a car trunk. (UPDATE: I have been informed that Grandma got the cat. Hmm. Guess I missed that.)
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? Surprisingly, er, surprising plotline. Plus, with the exception of the very last pull-away, I thought that the SFX were quite good (if a little too high octane for the script.)
Would I recommend the movie? Yes, except maybe if you’re a big Asimov fan. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that you’ll be disappointed.
Will I buy it on DVD? Tough one, but there’s a good chance, yeah. Especially if it comes with some good extras.

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Spider-man 2
Shrek 2
I, Robot
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Van Helsing
The Stepford Wives

Wonderful Weather

Posted by Arlo on Jul 16, 2004 under Life of Arlo

A smoky haze in the distanceWhat’s up with me? The weather outside is stunning and I haven’t been aprovechandolo for my ‘blog writing. I’ve been respectfully busy since getting back from my vacation, but not that busy. I don’t know what it is. I really would rather be outside on days like this, but for some reason it just feels like it would be taxing…

Maybe it’s because of the smoky haze. Mike and I were talking about it the other day and he mentioned that even though it was sunny and warm, he was having a hard time thinking about it as such. Truthfully, at the height of the Yukon fires, it did seem rather overcast all day. Me? I kinda liked it. Funny that it took a firestorm to remind me how clear the air is up here, too. On a normal day in Southeast Alaska you can see all the way to the horizon (if you can find a view without a mountain in the way). Florida? Too humid/hazy. Los Angeles? Nice sunsets, but oh, so brown! During this brief week, the combination of sunny weather and ash-ridden air has shown us all how wonderfully depthful a mountain range can be when its distant peaks are desaturated into grey.

I heard on the news today that we could be in for another thunderstorm!
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RSS Feeds

Posted by Arlo on Jul 14, 2004 under Website

What does RSS stand for? Hell if I know! Trying to figure that out may be harder than just explaining what it does. RSS or RDF links are syndication feeds for dynamic websites in the XML format. Sound complicated? Okay, well, yeah – it is a bit, I guess. Think of it this way: When I set up an RSS feed on my ‘blog, you can install that feed in your news aggregator so that you can be notified “ticker-style” whenever I add a new entry.

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Movie Review: Spider-Man 2

Posted by Arlo on Jul 8, 2004 under Movie Reviews

Spider-man 2 Movie PosterFor the most part, I enjoyed Spider-Man (the first movie.) Toby Maguire, who I didn’t know before he was cast in it, played a great Peter Parker, Sam Raimi turned in a restrained performance as director, and while I didn’t thrill to the Green Goblin’s character, William Dafoe did a decent job playing him. My only real complaint had to do with the special effects. Once scene in particular (Pajama-man climbing his first wall) almost ruined the movie for me.

My biggest hope for the second movie was for them to make the effects more believable. I’d heard somewhere that Raimi liked the original’s “comic bookish” quality of effects, but that just doesn’t hold water with me. If you’re going to make a live-action movie out of a comic book character, do what you can to make it look realistic – if you want it to look like a cartoon, animate it. Sounds to me like they just ran out of money/time/talent.

I went into Spider-Man 2 having already heard some critical praise which bordered on hype. Normally, that’s a bad sign – when my expectations are high, movies have an annoying tendency of falling short of the mark. And it didn’t help any that I read my fair share of Spider-man comic books back in high school… If anything, they just made me harder to please.

Even so, I didn’t come away from the theater disappointed! In fact, I’ll say that Spider-man 2 is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Without giving away any spoilers (not already seen in the trailer), here’s why:

• The fight scenes were absolutely amazing. Frenetic, fluid, and very believable (as much as a radioactive-spider-infected man fighting a neuro-interfaced-man-robot-thing can be believable, anyway.) The visual effects were much improved.
• Tobey Maguire is Peter Parker. Even behind the mask, his voice comes across as that of a nerdy college kid (contrast this with the way actors typically voice Bruce Wayne differently than his alter ego, Batman.)
• Alfred Molina was perfectly cast as Doc Ock (awesome villain!), J.K. Simmons completely nails the role of J. Jonah Jamison, and James Franco is quite believable in his intentions as Harry Osborn.
• Aunt May being on Spider-man’s side was a nice twist on the comic book’s portrayal of her character. Peter Parker had enough to worry about in this movie without her unintentional guilt trip added in.
• Now that Sam Raimi has an honest-to-God blockbuster under his belt, it’s nice to see the big studios’ rein on him loosen up a bit. Witness the Evil Dead homage in the operating room!
• Raimi fans (like me) also have fun looking for cameos in his films. It was great to see Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, and even his… car in Spider-man 2 (not to mention Stan Lee!)

Despite all the good stuff, there were a few things that bothered me:

• I don’t know how the comic book versions went down, but Doc Ock’s and the Green Goblins’ origin stories were far too similar. Someone should really crack down on Oscorp.
• Kristen Dunst didn’t sell me on the Mary Jane character. She didn’t do a bad job, but she definitely wasn’t as perfectly matched to the roll as Tobey Maguire was to Peter Parker.
• Is it just me, or is Spider-man much more resilient in this movie? The subway scene in particular portrayed his human body as practically indestructible. Judging from my experience, spiders are not especially invulnerable – where did he gain those powers?
• Must every villain in the Spider-man movie franchise communicate their motivations through insane ramblings with themselves? I think it’s time we had a villain that’s not certifiably crazy, just, you know, motivated by evil!
• J. Jonah Jamison’s son was completely unnecessary. Boooooring.

All the bad things I listed above are just nit-picking. For what it’s worth, I only came up with most of them after the movie was over – they certainly didn’t detract from the film. Because I’ve already decided that I want to see it again (at $9 a pop!) Spider-man 2 is definitely going to the top of my list for summer movies.

Trivial Thought: One of the reasons I want to go back and see Spider-man 2 again was because I saw it the first time from the 3rd row. Maybe those special effects weren’t as good as I thought…
What did I find worthwhile about the movie? It’s another great sequel that continues the all-important character development right where it left off (see Shrek 2). We all know how easy it is for Hollywood to cash in and screw up movie franchises – fortunately, this movie is probably even better than the first one!
Would I recommend the movie? Even to people that have never owned over 4000 comic books!
Will I buy it on DVD? Yes, first day it’s out.

Overall Summer Movie Ranking
Spider-man 2
Shrek 2
The Day After Tomorrow
The Terminal
The Chronicles of Riddick
Van Helsing
The Stepford Wives


July 4th, 2004

Posted by Arlo on Jul 5, 2004 under Life of Arlo

Juneau gets nuked on the 4th of July (25k image)My 4-day 4th of July weekend has come and gone, and I spent most of it planted squarely in front of my computer monitor. Part of it was futzing with my cable modem and GCI’s tech support (only to have them tell me after a house call that “it must be network problems”), but most of it was playing computer games. Every once in awhile I rediscover the catharsis in casting aside my responsibilities and losing myself in frag-filled entertainment.

The weekend wasn’t a total creative loss, though. I pried myself away from the keyboard long enough to show up at a friend’s fireworks-watching party on the night of the 3rd. Years ago I admitted to myself that I didn’t find the festivities on the 4th very exciting. The parade, fireworks, street events and parties, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em, but I do enjoy hanging out with my friends. The house we were visiting was high up on a hill downtown, too, and it offered the perfect vantage point to try to capture the fireworks show.

I’ve been looking for years for a good place to rig up a time-lapse of the Juneau traffic after the fireworks display. Thousands upon thousands of people drive downtown for the show at midnight and before the last explosion finishes echoing off the mountainsides, the mass exodus along the only road out to the valley has already begun. For the next hour (at least!) you can see mile after mile of red taillights filling the north-bound lane contrasted with only the occasional pair of headlights going south. Seeing wave after wave of red running lights turning to redder brake lights at each stoplight’s intersection has always entranced me, and although I’ve recorded it to videotape twice, I’ve yet to do it from a really good spot.

Location, in photography as well as in real estate, is everything. I know that I should be scouting the best vantage point weeks in advance for pre-planned events like this. Photos and video could soar from good to great just by having the right foreground or background element. Why then do I rarely make the effort?

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