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May Reviews (2007) June 11, 2007

Posted by Tim in Reviews.
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Wow can’t believe I forgot to post this! And that no one reminded me!

Spiderman 3

I wonder if Kirsten Dunst is tired of spending the latter part of Spiderman movies screaming and screaming. At least she didn’t have to get wet this time round (good for her, I mean).

But I have to admit the action was mind-blowing; all the fight scenes looked good. And the overall story was passable. Didn’t think that much of the “archvillian with heart” stuff, but thought the whole overconfident Peter plot was done well (how many times have you said “Yes, I understand” when you really don’t?). Didn’t find Peter making a fool of himself all that funny.

The Peter-Harry teamup was cool enough, but though you could see Harry’s death coming a mile away it was still cheeesy. Especially with the sunset.

Pirates of the Carribean 3

Couldn’t wait to get out of the cinema while watching this one. Convulted, insanely long plot. And what are all the gazillion white crabs supposed to signify? Didn’t get it at all.

The evolution of Pirates 3 is pretty similar to Dragonball if you think about it. First you have a nice simple story about people going off to find lost dragon balls medallions. Simple plot, manageable cast.

Then you revisit the story and go off again finding lost uncles fathers with more action, more plot.

But people want more! So you kill off a hero, go off to faraway planets the other side, make some of the bad guys the good guys, and stuff it with even more action and characters.

And what was with the whole arc with Calypso? I didn’t see any point in it. And Elizabeth’s “freedom” speech had me gagging. I hope we won’t be seeing more calls for “freedom” in Transformers too.

Lost Season 3 Finale

Lost had me worried this season. Some cast members were even commenting on the lack of screen time they were getting. And while love triangles are always fun for the fans, it was getting way too draggy.

But the finale (and the episodes leading up to it) just blew my mind. The writers did a perfect job of weaving together the myriad subplots. My heart was literally thumping hard every second; one of the (increasingly rare) times when you have a total suspension of disbelief and you absolutely have no idea what’s going to happen next. In fact, it was so good, I’m not going to spoil it for you!

Watching the Lost finale before the House, MD season finale was a bad bad idea. It made House seem dull by comparison (which is saying a lot, since I love House). And House‘s “twist” at the end had nothing on the one Lost had…

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Discovers Social Bookmarking May 15, 2007

Posted by Tim in Personal, Reviews, Science/Tech, Trends.
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Ok, ok I’m a little late to the party. But for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, think Friendster except instead of sharing friends you share inane bookmarks.

Useful for me because I’ve been piling up a lot of bookmarks and need a place to organize them. Trying to decide between Del.icio.us and BlinkList atm.

Del.icio.us has a (much) larger userbase, useful for finding sites related to your interests. It was also acquired by Yahoo! recently so there’s no chance of it going under, and you can expect updates and features to come regularly.

I like BlinkList’s interface though – more personal. When you add a page to BlinkList, you don’t have to open a new window, and you can view the tags you already have. That’s a nice implementation of AJAX. It also lets you rate and “star” bookmarks so they stand out. If you’re looking for the Boleh spirit, MindValley, the company behind it, is partly based in Malaysia; could also be a reason why BlinkList feels faster for me. Drawback is the smaller userbase.

[Edit] If you want the stats, Del.icio.us has 1,000,000 US visitors and BlinkList about 200,000.

What’s impressive about both is they support Opera well. Kudos! What’s bad is that both don’t let you mass edit bookmarks to say, delete them or make them private. There are several other options that I didn’t try: Furl (ugly GUI), Magnolia (GUI too good, maybe if I had a better connection..), BlueDot (too MySpace-y), etc.

[Update] You can read a more detailed review here.

Surprisingly, Google Bookmarks is pretty lame.

[Update]I’ve settled on BlinkList. You can view my BlinkList here. I’ve also added it to the bottom of my sidebar.

On the subject of socializing, wth is wrong with the BN “bocor” clowns? You don’t need a PR agent to realize a simple, unconditional “sorry” is what’s needed here. Meanwhile, DAP and PKR are happily milking the issue for all it’s worth.

April Reviews (2007) May 8, 2007

Posted by Tim in Reviews.
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The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert
Stephen Colbert is the king. Of parody, of comedy; of the Colbert Nation. We don’t get it here, but The Colbert Report, where he plays a rabidly conservative buffoon, is now one show I can’t do without.

In his maiden episode Colbert gave us the word “truthiness” – later selected as Word of the Year by Merriam Webster and the American Dialect Society. It’s a word that describes the sentiments of many people today perfectly: A claim to know the truth by “feeling” it, without the need for proof.

Pak Lah of course subscribes to this philosophy. When he visited Sudan recently – a region which has seen hundreds of thousands killed in Darfur because of religious and ethnic violence, and whose government is being criticized for their role in it – he told us the situation there was “not as bad as the western media portrays”. To quote him:

“I did not see it that way when I visited the place because I am told food supply was sufficient.

“But I did see their houses are in terrible condition,” said Badawi to reporters who are accompanying him on his official visit here.

Thanks to Colbert, we know the correct term for quotes like this: truthiness. Colbert also shot to fame when he gave an in-character speech at the 2006 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, lampooning the President who was sitting barely ten feet away from him.

…I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message: that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound — with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.

The Colbert Report pokes fun at the absurdities in current events, as well as news shows. In a recent segment:

A tip o’ the hat to Shrek, who has teamed up with the US department of Health and Human Services for a PSA promoting more exercise for kids.

[Cue for clip of advert with Shrek saying “Get up and play an hour a day” ]

Bravo, Shrek; for encouraging our kids to do more than sit around the house all day watching Shrek DVDs.

But in their infinite wisdom, the Department is pulling the ad during the run of Shrek III because they are, quote: “Not in the business of promoting movies”.

That’s why Shrek gets an additional tip of my hat for finding alternate ways to spread his message of health – through joint ventures with Snickers, Pop Tarts, Skittles, Cheetos, McDonald’s, Pez, M&Ms, Eggo Waffles, Frosted Flakes, Sierra Mist, ELFudge Double Stomps, and Berry Berry Banana Yogo Bits!

My favourite part is “The Word”, where Colbert talks indignantly about an issue of choice while sarcastic and often contradictory bullet points appear next to him. The interviews which end every episode are also usually hilarious, starting with Colbert enthusiatically accepting applause from the audience, the camera panning to the guest only at the last minute. He then employs fallacious arguments or loaded questions to “corner” his interviewee if they don’t agree on a point (“Is Bush a great President, or is he the greatest President?”).

I recall a discussion on his Wikipedia entry where it was asked why there was no critcism about Colbert on the page. The reply was “there is no criticism because there’s nothing to criticize”. So true.

Super Size Me

Super Size Me
The most memorable scene in this semi-documentary is one where several kids, about 6-7 years old, are asked to identify pictures of famous figures. None of them know who George Washington is, nor do they recognize a portrait of Jesus. But when they are shown a picture of Ronald McDonald, all their faces lighted up immediately.

There’s also a scene where a group of people near the White House are asked to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and couldn’t. But asked to recite the recipe for the Big Mac (which turned into an advertising jingle) – they did it perfectly.

Super Size Me was inspired by a recent case in the US where two obese girls sued McDonald’s for its role in making them overweight. At first glance one could simply shrug this off as another case of people out to make a quick buck, but after watching the documentary, you just might rethink your views.

Morgan Spurlock decided to go on a 30-day diet comprising nothing but food from McDonald’s. The film documents his progress from a healthy 185-pound vegan to an overweight 210 lbs guy with a craving for sugar and lessened sex-drive. The title itself comes from Super Sizing, a trademarked term and marketing tactic used by McDonald’s to encourage customers to increase the size of their meals.

I don’t agree completely with his methodology – he insisted on eating only items on the McDonald’s menu for that month, and gave up physical activity in order to “be like the average American”. However, the flood of imitators who went on the diet to try and prove his results wrong miss the point.

What the documentary succeeded in conveying was just how much the fast-food industry is a part of Americana, and the industry’s practices. Their mascots are instantly recognizable (as the example above showed). Grade school cafeterias are packed with chips, cookies, and fries – one little girl even told him that fries were her “vegetables” for that meal. Soda has replaced water; some think drinking a gallon a day is completely normal. Portion sizes of fast food meals have increased over time. No one knows what a calorie is.

An argument the fast food industry has been using is that customers have a choice. A segment from the movie shows a school health official insisting the same thing – that the children can make their own informed choices. But as the movie also showed – merely having a choice isn’t enough, especially when you are bombarded by advertising (the fast food giants spend billions on it every year) and when schools don’t prevent children from getting hooked on junk food. When you catch them early, you’ve got them for life.

Does it cost that much money to put more tomatoes and lettuces on their burgers, or offer salads, fruit and plain water? After Super Size Me gained acclaim, McDonald’s did start offering salads – but not in international markets, at least not in Malaysia.

Granted, the recent suggestion by the Malaysian government to ban all fast-food advertising may be a little overboard, but (for once) I can understand where they are coming from. For us though, it may apply more to hawker food…

In the Mood for Love


I have to say up front that I can see why the In the Mood for Love has been well-received. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung conveyed the emotions of their moody, lovelorn characters perfectly (and have also mastered the art of standing around looking pensive). I also like the way the film “fast forwards” time and repetitive actions by setting up multiple shots of the actors doing the same things in the same scene, but in different outfits.

Both their spouses are cheating on them, which leaves them plenty of time to meet up. They insist on being “not like them”, and rehearse scenes where their spouses confess to them. To prevent anyone from suspecting an affair (although there isn’t one, technically), they leave taxis seperately, and at one point when their neighbours suddenly start an all-night mahjong session, she stays the night with him rather than let herself be seen leaving his room. Did I mention they fall in love?

I like subtlety but the film might have brought it too far. You’re expecting some emotional climax in the movie but there isn’t any. Maybe I’ll find it in 2046? It could be that after being used to watching Hollywoord-style dramas – even documentaries are dramatic nowadays – you’re no longer able to get in the mood, to relate to characters who don’t rely on sarcasm or melodrama, to sense the frustrations in not always having that happy ending.

Vista – Character Characteristics May 3, 2007

Posted by Tim in Reviews, Science/Tech.
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Warning: techie/artsy territory ahead.

I said in my previous post that despite all its shortcomings, Vista does look good (at least compared to XP) and not just because of pretty glass. Microsoft Typography has been busy, and they’ve come up with ten new fonts for Office 2007 and Vista. You can get a look at all of them here, and more importantly you can download them here.

It’s actually been ages since Windows had decent new fonts – the only one I can remember was the introduction of Tahoma in WinXP.

The Sans Serifs

You’ll probably remember Arial – the default Windows san-serif font in older versions (all article examples taken from Wikipedia):

Easy to read, very no-nonsense, but boring to look at after more than a decade.

Tahoma was the default font for Windows XP, specially designed for computer screens. It’s a cousin to Verdana, also specially designed for screens and meant to be legible even at small sizes (I’m showing Verdana at a smaller size).

Tahoma

Verdana

Now enter the new Office default font, Calibri. Calibri has a slightly rounded, modern feel. Compare its lowercase a with the other fonts’ for example, Calibri’s is more “laid-back”. Its lowercase g is also unique for a font that’s officially san-serif; it uses the “double-storey” version. Like Verdana, it was designed for the screen in mind, being highly readable at small sizes, but it also looks good in print. I printed a 50-page report with Calibri as the body font and can already smell an uppercase A :). [Update: Yep, top marks!]

Calibri

There’s also Segoe UI, the new UI (user interface) font, which means you’ll be seeing it in every MS product. It’s rounded, tall, and widely spaced. Decent enough at small sizes but shines in captions, titles, and the like. I’m not a big fan of the stylized tails though (see the lowercase g, y, j, etc).

Corbel doesn’t look good in large sizes, but IMO it is indisputably one of the best fonts in small sizes (the picture below is in font size 9), retaining legibility and looks cool as well. I like how Corbel plays with the baseline of numbers to make them more prominent. The only quibble is that because of this, the (lowercase) letter o is indistinguishable from the number 0.

corbel.png
Corbel numbers

The Serifs

Times New Roman (and its variants) is the first font that comes to mind when it comes to the serif class – not only in Windows, but in most print media. For good reasons, actually: it’s the epitome of readability, and has a decent style. There’s such a thing as overexposure though…

Times New Roman

There are also old stalwarts like Garamond, which doesn’t look good on screens but lends an elegant, medieval feel to print media (it’s used in hardcover editions of Harry Potter). I’ve also always been a fan of its italic variant.

Garamond

Georgia, like Verdana, is a font designed specifically for screens, emphasizing contrast. The drawback is that it doesn’t look as good in print as its other serif brethren.

Georgia

The newcomer to the serif stable is Cambria. It looks like a cross between Times and Georgia: renders well on screens with decent contrast, but not too wide; elegant enough for print.

Cambria

The Monospacies

The letters in fixed width or monospaced fonts all have the same width, which is important in plaintext emails and coding so that the text can be laid out in tabular form. Courier New has been the de facto standard for ages, with a retro, typewriter feel.

Courier New

Microsoft’s new alternative, Consolas, is well designed. It’s compact without sacrificing readability at small sizes. Zeroes are prominent; common programming symbols like the semicolon, dollar sign, question mark, etc are easy to pick out.

Consolas

That’s it

Whew, that took a while. If you missed the link above, you can download most of the new Vista fonts here.

March Reviews (2007) April 3, 2007

Posted by Tim in Reviews.
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Will and Grace

Will and Grace

Will and Grace ended its eight-season run with two bittersweet episodes that captured the essence of the show – friendships – magnificently. It’s a cliched description, but watching the last episode end was like saying goodbye to friends (which could also mean Friends the sitcom, this show is as good).

W&G has one of the most quirky but lovable ensembles ever: Will (Eric McCormack), an insecure gay lawyer obsessed with neatness; his best friend since high school Grace (Debra Messing), a Jewish interior designer with good looks but nonexistent manners and fashion sense; her secretary, Karen Walker (Megan Mullaly), a self-absorbed wealthy lady of undetermined age who works for fun and is perpetually drunk and/or high; and Jack (Sean Hayes), an oblivious and usually unemployed actor who is the embodiment of gay.

Looking back on that paragraph, my description probably has those who haven’t watched the show recoiling in horror (IMMORAL!! BAD INFLUENCE!). And the show does include copious amounts of physical and crude humour. Karen and Jack’s antics especially have made me laugh out loud more times than I can count. They’re the best comic duo I’ve seen in any sitcom. Nearly all the leads can sing as well, and the show made the most of it. The scene where Grace belts out a shrill Sound of Music medley to a group of hapless children will always be etched into my mind.

But if you look past the humour Will and Grace was a story of friends, and acceptance of both yourself and others. I wonder at times whether it paints a picture of friendships that’s too idealistic; would people put so much effort in platonic, close friendships? Maybe the point is you can.

Heroes

Heroes

Heroes is a relatively new hit series that revolves around a group of people who discover they have super powers. I balked at first – after all, superhero movies are a dime a dozen nowadays since CGI became believable: we have Spiderman, Superman, Punisher, X-Men, Daredevil, Hulk; the studios even recruited more obscure supes like Ghost Rider and Hellboy.

The show gave me a pleasant surprise though. It uses to full potential the character-driven formula that has proven so effective in recent shows. I hear that the writers write actually down scenes for individual characters first, and then see how they can string them together. In the Heroes universe, evolution and mutation have gone to the next level in producing people with special abilities, and the diversity of the cast makes up for it, coming in yellow, black, brown, and white. You don’t end up feeling that there are any token foreigners just to level out the cast, like Sun and Jin from Lost; in fact Hiro Nakamura, a wide-eyed, plump Japanese with the power to control spacetime is one of the most popular characters. At the same time, Heroes attempts to show how humans are interconnected – interracial relationships are frequently shown, and many of the characters are unknowingly related.

The success of the show will depend on how the producers develop the plotline as it progresses. Character-driven dramas tend to be more interesting at first when you are discovering the characters and their backstories. Heroes hasn’t made the mistake Lost did when it focused too much on a small group of the cast, and alienated viewers by splitting the entire group up later. In fact, some of the leads don’t even have super powers (yet).

Today, on X-Play
Extended Play first caught my eye when it was airing on ASTRO channel 13 with Adam Sessler as its sole host. A show that reviewed games? A match made in heaven. It later moved to ASTRO TVIQ (Channel 14), and by then had been renamed X-Play with Morgan Webb joining Adam as co-host. It was a great time, seeing as it was slotted with other shows from TechTV/G4, e.g. Cinematech and Icons, the former comprised entirely of cutscenes from computer games, and the latter doing features on prominent figures in the gaming industry. The problem was that those only showed at night (and the wee hours of the morning); in the afternoons TVIQ aired lame, outdated educational programs. The bigger problem was that sometime last year ASTRO corrected the imbalanced programming by cutting all TechTV/G4 syndicated shows! Does any one even watch TVIQ any more?

Of course, there are other means to get X-Play :). I love the show. The battle-weary, irreverent pair of Sessler and Webb (who apparently does play games) mock the deluge of WWII and movie-based games, nitpick at sloppy AI, and provide a unique brand of self-depreciating humour. The show also features hilarious skits and characters from time to time.

But you can check it out yourself:

Sure I don’t always agree with X-Play‘s reviews, but it’s still a shining beacon in a sea of bad games (and boring shows).

February Reviews (2007) March 10, 2007

Posted by Tim in Reviews.
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An Inconvenient Truth

I nearly passed over An Inconvenient Truth [wiki] [imdb] thinking it would be another Fahrenheit 9/11, full of dubious “facts”, showy out-of-context clips, and unsubstantiated claims. But Al Gore’s documentary on global warming and its disastrous effects on the world really left a deep impression on me. The main reason is the sheer amount of data he uses to support his claims. The photos taken of various places where ice is melting and water evaporating was also shocking. It’s something everyone has to see.

If you’ve been following the papers you’ll also know that Malaysia placed second-last out of 56 countries in an index that monitors efforts to reduce carbon emission efforts. Ugh. The past weeks have also seen news reports of temperatures rising in Malaysia’s highlands and major cities. The Government is planning a Monorail in Penang under the 9MP though, at least that’s something.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

I downloaded the first episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip out of curiousity – it had Matthew Perry (of Friends) in it. The “dramedy” revolves around what goes on behind a weekly comedy sketch show – a show about a show. Perry is Matt Albie, who together with Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford), is asked to return to produce a show they once resigned from.

Studio 60

The first few episodes didn’t go down that well. The dialogue was a little too “smart”, everyone always had something clever to say, and there was a lot of “walk and talk” which people just don’t do in real life. Amanda Peet wasn’t very believable as the president of a national television network – too pretty, too witty.

It started to grow on me though (Hey I’m a smart guy, aren’t I?). I liked the skirmishes between the religious right and the show, and how it affected Harriet, the only devout Christian on the cast and Matt’s ex-girlfriend. Also surprise, surprise, Matthew Perry can act.

Sadly, the show (the real-life one) was abruptly cancelled after 16 episodes, just when it was kicking into high gear. Studio 60‘s impeccable pedigree (it was created by Andy Sorkins of The West Wing) meant it everyone had high expectations of it – maybe too high. Technically it wasn’t cancelled, just “postponed” – we know what that usually means, don’t we. Still, it’s replacement show isn’t doing too well in America either, so who knows…

Time Crisis 4 in Midlands! July 22, 2006

Posted by Tim in Reviews, Uncategorized.
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Some people I know from KL came down to Penang today and I was supposed to meet them for dinner. Thing is I was going there straight from work, and on the way I got a call telling me they were still on Penang Hill – which left me stranded for an hour or two.

At first I was going to go to kill time in Gurney. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a fan of arcade light-gun games, and Gurney has the newest machines in Penang, with House of the Dead 3 and 4. But as I was going there I remembered the massive jam that plugs Kelawai road and Gurney drive during the weekends… so I opted for Midlands (1-Stop) instead. Midlands’ arcade is ageing, but they have a good deal which lets you play unlimited games for 4 bucks an hour.

But low and behold as I walked into the Midlands arcade… a spanking new Time Crisis 4 machine! How new is TC4, you might ask? It’s so new that I can’t even find a review for it, let alone an FAQ! So let me be the first:

Time Crisis 4

Namco’s original Time Crisis revolutionized the shooter genre with it’s hide-and-shoot gameplay. Time Crisis II was pretty bad. It didn’t add anything new other than multiplayer capability, which games like Virtua Cop and House of the Dead already had, and TC II was also much easier, with generous time allotments (taking the “crisis” out of the name), as well as a horrible case layout which positioned the player way too near the screen.

The series then took a detour with Crisis Zone, another forgettable shooter which a machine-gun instead of the standard pistol. Time Crisis III then brought the franchise back to the forefront with a weapon-switching system and PS2-standard graphics.

Crisis Critique

However with other competing shooters like House of the Dead 3/4 featuring more frenzied gameplay and much better graphics, or the underplayed (but good) Virtua Cop 3 which sported Max-Payne style bullet time, it was high time Namco shipped a new Time Crisis. How does it measure up?

My first impression wasn’t good: the graphics weren’t noticeably much better than TC III and definitely not on par with House of the Dead. It didn’t help either that Midlands opted for the small-screen cabinet. I started the game, and noticed it still had the same weapon choices. Didn’t look good!

But the complaints pretty much ended there. For one thing the story is slightly better, and the NPCs actually do take part in the action – this adds more challenge, since you have to take care not to hit them. The game also suggests the guns to use at key points (much needed, it was hilarious seeing people trying to take down choppers with a pistol in TC III).

While the graphics aren’t absolutely cutting edge, the game makes the most of them. Smoke, glass shards, sprinkler systems, and even bugs sometimes block your field of vision, and there wasn’t any lag, unlike certain scenes in TC III.

Some of the best improvements were the features and scenes adapted from other games. NPCs communicate to you via radio like in Virtua Cop, and the sound even comes through the individual gun stands, not through the screen. There was a scene straight out of the classic LA Machineguns, which placed you in a helicopter raining down rockets on helicopters and anti-air vehicles below. There was a short sniper portion a la the Silent Scope games, and in the beginning of second stage there was even a tribute to Doom III, placing you in a dark cave and attaching a flashlight to your gun to spot the enemies! Coupled with the well-scripted shootouts, TC 4 definitely had the most memorable scenes compared to its predecessors – typically had one or two good ones per game and then turning into a mindless shoot-fest at the end.

Multitasking Your Shooting

The newest feature that has everyone talking is the multi-screen battle. At many points in the game you need to hold and defend a certain position, during which enemies will come at you from all directions. By pointing your gun to the edge of your current screen, you “scroll” to a different screen, with a different set of enemies. Very challenging, especially in solo mode, but also very innovative.

Gameplay-wise, it’s definitely the best of the series. Accuracy is worth many more points now (1000 for each percentile), and the bullet combo system is much less brainless – there’s a gauge on top which increases as you hit enemies, but quickly goes down as you start missing. Although the weapon selection is the same, they are more balanced – the shotgun has a cooldown between each shot, and the machine gun does much less damage, making it unsuitable for bosses. Reloading seems slightly stricter, no more “duck-and-shoot” techniques. Much more challenge now, for better or worse. I couldn’t get past the first stage on one credit!

Anyone reading this who’s a fan or whose name is Benjamin or Khay Soon, I need kaki for TC 4 !!

Superman Returns (fanboy review) July 2, 2006

Posted by Tim in Reviews.
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Superman ReturnsSpiderman, X-Men, Dardevil, Catwoman, Batman, Punisher, Fantastic Four, Hulk – superhero movies are a dime a dozen nowadays. Which is certainly not a bad thing, since with advances in filming techniques, CG effects, and passable plots (for some of them at least), filmmakers and directors can now do justice to the comics.

But there was a time when superhero movies were invariably campy, with cheap effects and corny scripts featuring actors running around in tights they didn’t fit in. In 1978 Superman: The Movie changed all that. Christopher Reeve gave an amazing performance , not only looking good as Superman, but playing his “mild-mannered” alter ego Clark Kent perfectly. Add in a majestic soundtrack by John Williams, a faithful adaptation of Metropolis, – and of course, the flying! – and you had a movie that redefined the genre.

Nearly three decades later we now have Superman Returns, directed by Bryan Singer of X-Men . Meant to be a sequel to Superman: The Movie and Superman II (III and IV were so bad they were effectively disowned by Reeve himself), the movie was preceded by the requisite mountain of hype: leaked plot details, pictures, interviews, and rumours of Brandon Routh’s lunchbox .

AP compares Superman with Jesus. The Star saw a personification of American culture and ambition. Well, I just saw another Superman movie.

I knew it from the first scene. The familiar “Superman March” plays as Krypton explodes and a tiny capsule escapes, the opening credits fly across the screen, and we “travel” across the planets before finally arriving on Earth in an impeccable tribute to the first film, where the credits took place in reverse, finishing at Krypton for Marlon Brando’s introduction.

Who Needs A Plot?

Superman arrives on Earth after a five-year disappearance, discovering that Lois has moved on and is engaged, has a child, and won a Pulitzer for an article titled “Why The World Doesn’t Need Superman”. And Lex Luthor, who escaped a double life sentence after Superman didn’t show for his trial, has a new diabolical plan.

BRKentCRKent
How does it all play out? To cut to the chase, Brandon Routh is no Mr. Reeve, although they sure look alike and he does a decent job. His Superman portrayal is decent, but he looked too pretty to be a convincing Clark Kent and relied a lot on stutters to depict “mild-mannered”.

Kevin Spacey plays Luthor well, charming but still has no qualms killing billions of people. Kate Bosworth is the only major cast member who doesn’t look like her counterpart in the original movies. Which is actually a good thing – Bosworth pulls off the “pushy-and-outgoing, but hot” Lois act well, much better than Margot Kidder’s whiny, irritating version.

The plot is uncannily similar to the first two movies (read: bad). Without giving it away, I’ll just say Lex Luthor is pretty consistent about what he wants throughout the films, still has problems picking evil accomplices who don’t suffer reverse-Stockholm syndrome, and Superman never fails to come up with an out-of-this-world solution to the problem at hand.

Still Super

Returns shines however at the exact same thing as its predecessors: its setting. Seeing Superman swoop down to stop everyday crimes is still a guilty pleasure, as is watching people react to him, as well as the workings of the “Daily Planet”. Bryan Singer lost no opportunities to insert funny moments as well. There are also philosophical references about responsibility, godhood, heroism, etc but hey, when was the last time you got your philosophies from a superhero film?

Where Returns starts to deviate is also where it gets shaky. Come on, children complicate things! The last scenes, which draw a little from the Death of Superman comic storyline, are also really cheesy.

Effects-wise, Superman Returns has the falling objects, heat-vision, and freeze-breath down pat, and you’ll still “believe a man can fly”. What it lacks in however is action. In a time when we have flicks like Spiderman, X-Men, or The Matrix, Superman fights look really boring – the fights are either one-sided in favour of Supes, or he’s whimpering after being hit with Kryptonite. I don’t think I’d want to know what Kryptonian Kung-Fu would look like though…

If you’re new to the whole Superman thing you probably won’t be more impressed with Superman Returns than with any other comic book adaptation. But if you’re a fan of the old series, you won’t want to miss this tribute. Watch out for the sequel in 2009!

Cars (review) June 14, 2006

Posted by Tim in Reviews.
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Cars was great. The trend of many cartoons animated features now is to opt for a simple plot, and stuff you full of graphical wizardry and funny characters. Only Pixar’s Monsters and the Toy Storys have had particularly original plots. The romance subplot was practically forced down our throats, although if you think about it carefully, it’s the first time Pixar has had a developing romance in their films!

Comedy is of course a must, and these films are now utilizing cultural references to get the laughs out of the older audience as well. Cow tipping, annoying headlight-flashing, excessively cute Japanese characters, a Hummer with a Schwarzenegger accent, power sliding, etc – the list goes on and on and it’s fun to spot them (it took me a while to figure out the significance of car-insect “beetles” buzzing around).

The only thing bad about the movie outing was that GSC opted to ditch Pixar’s short film “One Man Band”, a staple feature in any Pixar movie, and give us 25 minutes of adverts + trailers instead!

The February Films (review) February 28, 2006

Posted by Tim in Reviews.
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See You, Space Cowboy

Cowboy Bebop is a “space-western” set in the year 2071 . Humans have colonized the solar system, terraforming Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. Enforcing the law in the vastness of space is impossible, so it falls to “space cowboys” (bounty hunters) to track down criminals and turn them in to claim their reward.

The Bebop is a ship owned by ex-policeman-turned-cowboy Jet Black, who travels the galaxy with his partner, the charismatic ex-mobster Spike Spiegal. Early in the series they pick up Faye Valentine, a selfish and cynical woman who regularly makes off with their earnings; Ed, a young hacker who has a very odd take on life; and Ein, a corgi with human-like intelligence.

Unlike other series there is barely a “main” plotline. The 26 “sessions” of Cowboy Bebop revolve around the individual agendas and histories of the crew. It’s the deep character development that makes this show memorable, coupled with the enchanting film noir style.

House, MD

House MD is doubtless one of the most engaging drama series ever shown on TV. Dr. Gregory House suffers chronic pain due to a misdiagnosed thigh infarction that also left him a cripple – and very miserable. He’s eccentric, cynical, misanthropic; but also brilliant. Modelled after the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, House and his team of diagnosticians take on difficult cases which have stumped everyone else.

House’s take on life is what keeps you coming back every episode. The show may be formulaic, and House always abusive, but you can never manage to predict what he says.

House: You have a parasite.
Woman: Can you do anything about it?
House: Only for about a month or so. After that it becomes illegal to remove — except in a couple of states.
Woman: Illegal?
House: Don’t worry. Many women learn to embrace this parasite.

Oh yes, he does have a heart of gold beneath all that, but he’s not going to let you know.

The show itself addresses many ethical issues (all medical dramas do), particularly on the tendency of people to lie – “Everybody lies” being House’s catchphrase. But it does bring out the shades of gray in many issues and makes you think.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could have been a great movie. It’s based on a series of sci-fi comedy books of the same name. It starts off with dolphins heralding the end of the world with the song So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish! Then we have Arthur Dent, a geeky Englishman who finds out his friend Ford Prefect is actually an alien. Ford saves him from sharing the fate of Earth, which is vapourized by the Vogons to make way for a hyperspace interstate. “There’s no point acting all surprised about it, the plans and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning office in Alpha Centauri for 50 Earth years.”

Ford is also in the process of writing a handbook of the galaxy, hilarious excerpts of which are occasionally read out. They meet Trillian, the only other surviving Earthling; Zaphod, part-time President of the Galaxy; and Marvin, a manically-depressed robot.

It turns out that long ago the ultimate computer, Deep Thought, was built to answer the the meaning of life, the universe and everything. When the Ultimate Answer was returned: “42”, it was realised that its creators had neglected to define the Ultimate Question.

Oh it could have been so much fun. But in a dastardly demonstration of Hollywoodism we are treated instead to Arthur’s infatuation with Trillian and the story devolves into a cliched romance. Although admittedly, being an endangered species might alter one’s priorities in life…