Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I borrowed Baldur's Gate 2 from Tim last night, and I already like it a little better than the first one. For the most part, it's exactly the same--same interface, similar graphics, and several of the same characters. But the dialogue has been slightly better so far, and the characters seem to interact more. And although the NPC portrait art is slightly better than the images of oily people from 1, I was still very happy I was able to replace them with custom portraits.

For my own character, I found an antique drawing of Blackbeard the pirate on Wikipedia. I named the character "Goodbeard", deciding he was the pirate's reincarnation, out to redeem himself.

There were too many kids bouncing around at the Starbucks yesterday. Gods, I hate kids. Children ought to be pinned to cardboard backings in giant glass jars and not heard.

Still, I miss the presence of children in Oblivion. The Elder Scrolls games have been impressive endeavours to create big, functioning, beautiful worlds for your characters to explore, but they've gotten increasingly family-friendly, and as a consequence they feel less credible, even as the environments and A.I. grow more sophisticated.

How I miss Fallout 2. Not only were there children roaming the streets--including barefoot, homeless, pickpocket children--they were even killable. And there were drunks, and drug pushers, and crazy people who'd jabber at you senselessly. There were prostitutes you could not only hire for yourself, but also for your NPCs. And gambling and cussing and exploding bodies and yakuza . . . Gods, I hope Bethesda doesn't fuck up Fallout 3.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Life imitates comedy. Who the fuck are you, John McCain?

To-day I spent time at Starbucks working on a comics project. And I haven't done much else, except I read a little of Sirenia Digest.

I also discovered my current favourite anime series, Top o Nerae 2, is viewable on YouTube. The image quality is less than the series deserves, but considering it may well never be released in the U.S., I realise it's probably the best way some of you would be able to see it.

Here's the first half of the first episode.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Supposedly, a new DVD edition of Double Indemnity came out about a week ago, but you wouldn't know it if you, like me, checked Best Buy, Target, Fry's, Suncoast, and even Wal Mart. Last night I finally asked a guy at Tower Records.

"Double Indemnity? With Barbara Stanwyck?" he asked. Checking his computer, he found that four copies had been on order for over a week but still hadn't arrived. So instead, I picked up a ten dollar copy of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which I hadn't seen before, but which reliable sources had recommended.

It's John Ford, John Wayne, and James Stewart, so already you've got plenty of quality to make it more than worth seeing. And for the first 90% of its running time, it's well written and held my attention with interesting characters and a surprising, fascinating plot. The black and white photography is great--under Ford's sure hand, he made it beautiful and equal to any colour movie of 1962. It's elegant and has an antiquated quality, like moving daguerreotypes.

Unfortunately, the movie has a preposterous ending that felt extremely forced, as though the filmmakers suddenly looked at the clock and decided to wrap things up, pronto. Still, the above reasons made it a very worthwhile viewing.

I can see what the idea was--Stewart, as "pilgrim" attorney from the east, is meant to symbolise the approaching order and peace of civilisation, while Wayne's professional hero character, enforcing justice with a pistol and authoritative charisma, is part of the romanticised, raucous Old West. The movie's meant to be the rise of the former at the cost of the latter's inevitable demise. And it all works quite well until a political convention late in the film and a scene where Wayne's character confronts Stewart's about the shooting of Liberty Valance.

Those who've seen the movie know what I'm talking about. I ask you; considering Tom's social status in town, his somewhat erratic behaviour, and the changes he'd undergone since the event--would Ransom really have believed his story so whole-heartedly? Especially considering there was no reason at all for Tom to keep the secret?

Although, maybe the idea was that Tom had just made the whole thing up, and Ransom went along with it because it made a poetic sense. I didn't get the slightest impression the movie meant this, but I rather wish it had. I mean, I was absolutely loving the scene where Tom's house burned down . . .

Last week, I went with family to see an Andy Warhol exhibit at the art museum. I think there is something to be gained in seeing the soup cans and Mao Tse-Tung pictures in their natural, huge size. There were also a couple of Warhol's films playing, and I stood transfixed by Lupe, quite contented to watch Edie Sedgwick eating breakfast and floundering about a pretty room for about a half hour before dying with her head in a toilet. I only wish the tourists around me hadn't been so noisy. When they weren't all but heckling the movie from their ignorant and quaintly cynical perspective, they were staring at me, or walking between me and the screen. The place was loaded with people more interested in being able to say they'd been there than they were in actually being there.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The new Boschen and Nesuko's up. No special guest stars this time, just an old fashioned Boschen and Nesuko chapter.

This is one of those chapters that took loads of work but reads really quickly.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Last night, I finished with pencil and ink at around 8:30pm, so I decided to go out and do something, since it was Saturday, or such was my feeble rationale. While drawing, I'd been listening to NPR and I tuned into Ebert and Roeper (a series of guest hosts have been filling in for hospitalised Ebert--this week was a guy named John Ridley--last week was Kevin Smith. You can still listen to audio of the Smith episode here), and all sources were talking about this movie The Illusionist.

I hadn't even heard of this movie until about a week ago, and it seemed like a Johnny-come-lately to cash in on The Prestige's hype. But I was generally hearing good things about it, so I decided to give it a shot. It turns out to be a pretty good movie. Not perfect, but a long way from bad.

The movie's about a magician named Eisenheim(Edward Norton) in 19th century Vienna, trying to win the love of his childhood sweetheart, Sophie (Jessica Biel), despite the fact that the crown prince (Rufus Sewell) is engaged to marry her.

As many reviews point out, though, the central character is really the police inspector Uhl, played by Paul Giamatti, whose task to find out for the movie audience what's actually going on betwixt the above mentioned characters.

I had only two significant problems with the movie; (1) everyone's speaking English with these annoying posh British/German accents. I guess it's supposed to give you the flavour of the language without forcing the filmmakers to actually learn German and take the box office hit of releasing a Hollywood movie in German with subtitles. But I think they would have been better served by having the actors--especially Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti--speak in their natural accents. To me, this accent thing just seems to suggest that nobody in Vienna can speak German properly.

(2)Edward Norton was horribly miscast. This is another attempt by him to convince everyone he wasn't perfectly cast in Fight Club as the wimpy loser. Here he tries to be a dark and mysterious romantic lead which, coupled with the gorgeous cinematography, is often times unintentionally very funny. I felt a little embarrassed for Norton and for everyone involved in the movie, particularly during the passionate candlelit love scene, which wasn't helped by drawing on clichéd devices like the close-ups of flesh moving against flesh, and annoying in vogue devices like the drowsily focusing camera to simulate afterglow. I was reminded of a criticism Bernard Herrmann had for Vertigo--that the male lead ought to've been Charles Boyer. I liked Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, but I found myself lying awake at one point to-day thinking of actors who'd have been better suited for the part in The Illusionist. Whenever I think "male romantic lead", Cary Grant instantly pops into my head, so it took a few moments to brush him aside. The illusionist needed to be fiercely, ravishingly handsome, maybe a little frightening, and definitely elegant. It would also help if he was slender and good at seeming dextrous. This obviously ought to've been Johnny Depp. He'd be my number 1 pick, with my dark horse number 2 being Jim Carrey.

Onto what I liked about the movie;

Wonderful cinematography by Dick Pope. In one of the reviews I'd heard, it was mentioned how Pope enjoyed simulating early 20th century film, and this was evidenced in the movie by mild flickering and slow, seemingly hand-operated iris wipes during flashbacks that actually reminded me a lot of Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. But lighting and colour choices were quite good all the way through, mostly without falling into the so-perfect-it's-lustreless problem seen in films like Henry and June.

There was a problem early in the movie, during a flashback of Eisenheim as a boy wandering through a grassy field. The scene looked like it was ripped whole from The Fellowship of the Ring, with young Eisenheim looking exactly like Frodo, from his clothes to his hair to his complexion. And then he meets an old magician in a broad-brimmed hat, and I was fully expecting to hear, "You're late!" "A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins . . ."

I think if I were in a much more tolerant mood, I might be able to appreciate the love story in the first half of the movie. But things really pick up when it becomes a murder mystery, and there's a fairly satisfying twist at the end. It's a twist you see coming rather early on (at least I did), but it's fun to have it all explained like a magician explaining his trick, many of the details of which were surprising and interesting. There were one or two cheats, and there was, in my opinion, an over-reliance on cgi, but on the whole, I didn't feel like a sucker for suspending my disbelief.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

It seems the people at a nearby Starbucks don't know what a cappuccino is. I heard them puzzling over it behind the counter; "Do you know what a cappuccino is?" the manager asked one of her subordinates. When the guy finally served my drink, he announced it as a "triple grande . . . grande . . . [mumble mumble]."

I can't really blame them, though. Customers in the know will order a latte over a cappuccino since the drinks are very similar, only a cappuccino means a layer of foam you can't drink through the lid. I have no idea why I was in the mood for one to-day. What I ended up getting tastes like a triple grande latte. The notation on the cup, for those who follow such things, looks like a botched ¢.

I went to a different Michael's than usual yesterday and got another pad of tracing paper--it was a gamble, but it paid off; it's the old kind, and my pen strokes are back to normal, at least for now. I'm worried the fucked up waxy version is the new standard, and once the old stock at that Michael's is depleted, I'll never see the like again.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I woke up early, even for a Thursday, to-day. This follows yesterday, when the neighbours made noises like a leaf blower war outside my window early in the day. I managed to write the new Boschen and Nesuko script in spite of that, and I'm fairly happy with it.

To-day the maids just decided to come early and, apparently, rearrange my things in maddening little ways. It's baffling how they manage to put everything they pick up in the wrong place, even after all these years. Stuff I think I could've learned in an hour, tops . . .

I was glad to see there were actually some early movies playing, so I went to see Little Miss Sunshine. It's a film that belongs to what you might call the "Precious Ennui" genre Wes Anderson pioneered, and it's not as strong as Rushmore or The Royal Tennenbaums, but it isn't a complete misstep like I Heart Huckabees. Really, Little Miss Sunshine only occasionally treads too far into gooey, and most of the time it sets the right tone.

The movie's about a family of misfits, each one what could be described as a "loser" in his or her own way. It's a movie about not being defined by how much you win, I guess . . . It also seems to just noticeably be an allegory for the current socio-political climate in the U.S. This is best shown in a scene in a hotel--Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette, the parents, are in one room while next door are Steve Carrell, as the uncle, and Paul Dano, as the son. Carrell and Dano can hear them fighting through the wall and Carrell says gently, "You don't have to listen to that," and switches on the television before going back to the bathroom to brush his teeth. On the television is President Bush, fumbling through his latest dull excuse. Dano switches off the television, smiling contentedly to again only hear his parents yelling at each other.

The movie has a number of nice performances, but best of all is Steve Carrell as the suicidal Proust scholar. That man continues to amaze me by how much he's able to do by doing almost nothing. It's what made him my favourite correspondent on The Daily Show--he'd say things that weren't necessarily funny but still make me laugh, by sheer will. It's exciting to see that he can do it with dramatic material, too. I really hope he gets attached to a really great production at some point.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I found myself surprisingly interested in the new developments in the Jon Benet Ramsey case to-day. Maybe because when I was doing image searches for reference while working on the latest Boschen and Nesuko, I stumbled across Ramsey's autopsy photos. That's some seriously disturbing imagery. I didn't even realise who it was at first--the image search was for "garrotte" and I was mainly paying attention to how the skin and blood clots had reacted to the trauma. Then I noticed it was some cute little girl's mouth just above those ghastly details and I started reading the captions.

It was strange to see Keith Olbermann covering the story about an hour after I woke up to-day. But I must admit I was more interested in latest instalment of Olbermann's ongoing series about the "Nexus of Politics and Terror" which explores the many instances where the Bush administration has apparently used phoney terror threats and unrelated attacks as political leverage to combat the political successes--usually during campaigns--of the administration's adversaries.

At Sonya's prodding, I last night watched Yankee Doodle Dandy, and was reminded of a time when someone could be both a Democrat and considered extremely patriotic.

As Roger Ebert said in his review, the movie is "bio by the numbers." It has the more upbeat quality of biopics from the 30s and 40s, and has about the same flavour of others I've seen, like Sister Kenny and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. As Ebert points out, though, Cagney's electricity really opens the movie up. Once again, Cagney's complete investment in the role elevates the material beyond what it might deserve. Apparently, Fred Astaire was offered the role originally but turned it down. Cagney wasn't half the dancer Astaire was, but fascinatingly makes you believe he's sort of great. Astaire wouldn't have been right for the role anyway, judging by his somewhat misfired attempt at playing a working class Joe in Follow the Fleet. Cagney and director Michael Curtiz give the film that Warner Brothers slightly rough-house style, although Cagney's big arms don't actually deliver any punches this time.

Walter Huston has a small role in the movie--and I was a lot more surprised to see him singing than I was to see Cagney. He wasn't very great at it, and he was a bit overqualified for the dramatic aspects of the role, though it wasn't as much a step down as The Outlaw. His presence is not a bad thing, but it the movie's quality is almost totally in Cagney, the goodness of George M. Cohen's tunes, and Michael Curtiz's lean and enthusiastic direction.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Two new crêpe restaurants have suddenly appeared at the nearby mall. One of them replaced a Greek restaurant that'd been there forever, and which made my favourite spanakopita in town. However, I must admit that Voila Crêpe's spinach quiche is about the same thing, maybe a little better, for about a dollar less.

I've lately been re-watching Top o Nerae 2. I continue to be absolutely blown away by the animation and lush sound design. It's a goofy series at times, yet it somehow manages to carry a huge visceral punch in its enormous action sequence. I still have not seen another movie or television series that conveys the sort of terrible scope of space battles among giant robots and ships.

Although the main characters are female, for some reason the series is rife with phallic imagery. It's almost over the top--but it sort of makes me smile.

Obviously a cockpit.

Obviously a spaceship. And nothing else.

But there is a lot more to the series than that. Here are a few images from the first episode;

This is the Martian city where the story begins.

Nono, who dreams of being a space pilot, is forced to work as a waitress. She's not so good at it, as she's discovered she has an uncanny ability to split solid objects in half without meaning to.

The first space monster of the series is found by this poor grunt.

Top o Nerae 2 is a six episode OVA series, and the final episode's supposed to be out in a couple weeks. I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Last night I watched 1955's Love Me or Leave Me, an interesting Musical/Gangster movie hybrid starring James Cagney and Doris Day. It's based on the true story of singer Ruth Etting's rise to fame and her fractious marriage to gangster Marty Snyder. I should've known it was a true story pic just from its structure as a barely fleshed out outline of dutifully hit plot points. The deliveries of which feel as though they were long debated by publicists. A tradition continued to this day by films like Walk the Line, ensuring a glorious future of films that tidily synopsise the messy lives of our favourite stars, breezily mentioning the bad spots to put them into a "was it really so bad?" context.

Actually, Day and Cagney are constantly fighting in the movie. In fact, Day never actually displays any affection for Cagney, making it perplexing that the movie skips past their marriage--it's revealed by a newspaper headline in a scene following one where it's suggested Snyder violently raped Etting. Meanwhile, Day showers a loving smile on dull as dirt Cameron Mitchell as piano player Johnny Alderman. Well, not only is he dull, but also obnoxious, continuingly telling Etting how she feels and getting into a snit when she doesn't actually feel that way. And yet it's clear the movie wants us to want them to get together in the end.

But the movie has some good things. There are several full length musical numbers of Day singing songs Etting popularised in the 20s and 30s. And Cagney's performance as Snyder easily makes him the most interesting character in the movie. It's broadly written, and really just a stereotypical blowhard gangster, but Cagney invests in it totally, and perhaps the resonance of Cagney's many great gangster roles of the 30s helped, too. He comes out seeming like the only real person in a movie full of puppets.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Good day. There are no coffee filters around here . . . So I'm having green tea. It's the cheapest I could find at Mitsuwa, the Japanese market. I'm kind of proud of how I managed money the past week. I spent thirty dollars to fill up my gas tank, and around thirty dollars on art supplies, and still I managed to live comfortably thereafter.

Though the tracing paper turned out to be a disappointment, I did get one new thing to make me happy--a flat surface. No more having my pencils and pens getting caught in the canals of old drawings.

And I beat Oblivion last night, by the way, or at least the main plot of Oblivion. I'm sure there're hundreds of subquests I've not yet played. It took four years for me to get tired of Morrowind, Oblivion's predecessor. I suspect it'll take less time for Oblivion, but there still ought to be a substantial amount of afterglow.

"What?" you say, "Less time for you to tire of Oblivion?! But why? But how?! Upon my word, blulalloolalooohah!"

Well, it's true the landscape in Oblivion is far more impressive. You can see for great distances, and it looks like real forest and mountains. The radiant A.I. is fascinating and amusing. And I like that it's a little harder to level up in Oblivion. But for all that, Oblivion still feels smaller than Morrowind. Perhaps it's the smaller variety of weapons and armour. It's the fewer segments of armour--to make a full suit in Morrowind, you need collect helmet, cuirass, left pauldron, right pauldron, left gauntlet (or bracer), right gauntlet (or bracer), greaves, and boots. In Oblivion, the pauldrons have become part of the cuirass, and the gauntlets have been put together as a single unit. In some cases, the whole suit of armour is a single piece--from boots, greaves, cuirass, to gauntlets. This is the case with the arena armour and the special armour you get from the Dark Brotherhood Assassins Guild. Also, you're no longer able to wear clothing under your armour.

What this means is that you can put together less interesting combinations. In Morrowind, I'd sometimes just put pauldron and gauntlet on a single arm, making for a nice asymmetrical look, looking sort of like Ivy in Soul Calibre. Or I might do something like what I did here, with one of my favourite characters, Paelwynna;

She's wearing a High Ordinator cuirass over a shirt--which provides the plumbed sleeves--and daedric gauntlets. You can't do something like that in Oblivion.

The biggest problem with Oblivion, though, is by far the interface, with its big, preschool font, lack of imagery, and cumbersome means of navigation. How I miss the ability in Morrowind to drag and drop any item to anywhere. And I miss how conversations were laid out like web sites, with hotlinks to topics of conversation.

I was able to download mods to fix some of these problems, including a problem (though I'm sure the designers would tell you it's an improvement) Oblivion has with its third person mode, which gives the camera an annoying "elastic" effect. It's essentially as though the camera following you is attached to your character by a rubber band, making it difficult to manoeuvre in battle and keep aim.

It is nice in Oblivion how everyone's got voice actors now and that you're able to overhear conversations between other characters. And I like how all the characters have houses in towns and routines.

Oblivion's physics engine is an improvement, too, giving objects weight and realistic reactions to stimuli. But there seems to be less variety of objects.

Anyway, a lot of these problems will probably be solved by mods eventually.

The end of the game itself was sort of interesting. There's a character voiced by Sean Bean, which was nice. I made sure to ask him about every topic in his dialogue tree, just to hear Sean Bean extolling endless bits of extraneous trivia in that tremulous, casually passionate voice of his.

And a character voiced by Terrance Stamp provides the closest thing to an end boss of the game, though the best thing about fighting him was how amusingly easy he was. Of course, the game was designed to be beaten by characters at level seven and I was at level forty three.

"Beaten at level seven?!" you say, "Bloulblaboollooghbloo!!"

Yes, you see, many of the game's problems are related to its being aimed at console systems, where apparently people consider a game bad if it can't be beaten in a weekend. But I, enthralled by Oblivion's massive landscape, ignored the stupid "map travel" function and ran out into the wilds, plundering every tomb, shrine, and ancient ruins I came across. By the end of the game, I had much of the best enchanted daedric armour, like Boots of the Taskmaster, Cuirass of the Undefeated, and an ebony helmet I enchanted myself, naming it Skull Cosy of the Motherfucker.

What else have I to say this Sunday? I watched Blue Velvet on Friday. There's a movie I love more and more as I grow older. I wonder, though, if David Lynch is going to do his own DVD release of it. This latest one has excellent picture, and nice special features, but the sound mix is a little odd. One thing that's amusing about it is that Frank Booth's voice is the only audible voice at regular volumes, forcing you to turn it up so Frank's really loud when he shows up to say, "Shut up! It's 'Daddy' you shithead. Where's my bourbon?"

Friday, August 11, 2006

The new Boschen and Nesuko's up. Caitlín and Robyn appear again (though no Sofa Fay, I'm afraid). I also put Arina in this chapter.

I got a bunch of new art supplies a couple days ago and the new tracing paper I got reacts to ink in an irritating manner. It's to all appearances precisely the same tracing paper I usually buy, but for some reason it made the lines thinner than usual. I'm out of time and money to hunt a proper pad of tracing paper, though. Hopefully the last three pages won't bother people as much as they bother me.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Thursday's unexpectedly decided to start even earlier than usual. But before I get out of here, I ought to point out this post by Caitlín R. Kiernan wherein she talks of how Penguin have been a pack of asses to her. In violation of their contract with her, they decided to remainder two of her books. So if you've ever thought of buying Caitlín R. Kiernan stuff, now's a time to help a lady out.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I bought a copy of Munich last night at Target--it's down to only ten dollars. It went down from twenty pretty quick, which I suppose isn't too surprising as it's hardly a blockbuster.

The only special feature on the disk is an introduction by Steven Spielberg. It made me wish Israel had paid more attention to the movie;

"I am not attacking Israel with this film . . . This film is an attempt to look at policies Israel shares with the rest of the world and why a country feels its best defence against a certain kind of violence is counter-violence. And we try to understand this as filmmakers through empathy. Because that's what you do--you extend empathy in every single direction because you can't understand the human motivation without empathy. This movie is not an argument for non-response and, on the contrary, what this movie is showing is that a response, that may be the right response, is still one that confronts you with some very difficult issues. And when we have to respond to terror to-day, what's relevant is the need to go through a careful process. Not to paralyse ourselves, not to prevent us from acting, but to try to ensure that the results that we produce are the ones we really intend.

"I mean it's the unintended, you know, results that are probably some of the worst and that are ultimately gonna bedevil us. What you see in this movie is not an attempt to answer whether there should be targeted killings or not. What I'm doing with this movie is highlighting some of the dilemmas and highlighting some of the issues that need to be discussed. I'm not trying to answer them. But the movie, in a sense, apart from being a human drama that explores what these guys went through, will hopefully stir that discussion."