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Random Notes

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I was about to sit down and write a post about Nintendo’s recently announced Revolution controller, but I didn’t really have anything original or insightful to say. I think it’s an incredible idea, I really hope they make it work, and I have no doubt that if I end up buying any of the new generation of consoles, I’ll be buying a Revolution first. Because Nintendo, you see, makes interesting games. I will grant you that they don’t make many, and they don’t make them fast. But, examining the Gamecube and Xbox from a position that’s pretty close to the end of their product cycles, let me observe that the Xbox still has not one single game which is proprietary to that system that I have any interest in playing, where the Gamecube has a sizable library. You will not find Pikmin on the Xbox, and despite being backed by a behemoth like Sony the PSP is not the most popular handheld in the world; the DS is. If you want to read an extremely interesting and lucid commentary on Nintendo’s role in the gaming industry, you should check out this article.

On a completely unrelated note, and because I don’t have anything more interesting to talk about, here are a couple of things I’ve run across recently that are cool:

Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs is the newest album from Andrew Bird, violin virtuoso formerly (nominally) of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The new album is a long way from the hot jazz-style stuff of his first couple of solo albums. It is kind of folksy, very chill, and extremely good.

Sin City in movie form is out on DVD. Sin City is a series of comic books by Frank Miller that was recently adapted into a movie. It is certainly very violent, though like so many films its detractors don’t seem to notice that the vast majority of the violence occurs offscreen. However, it is extremely graphic in its implications, and if you don’t like violent movies you won’t like this one. But, if you have ever read and enjoyed noir, or seen and enjoyed film noir, then Sin City is highly recommended. It is noir to the maxx.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is my lord and savior.

(That was sarcasm. If you are an actual, honest-to-God creationist or intelligent-designist, don’t tell me, because we can’t be friends anymore.)

I have no idea how many people have already heard of Mitch Hedberg, but the man is amazingly funny. You should definitely download yourself a copy of one of his standups from that thar inter-net.

Written by Daniel Grady

September 5, 2005 at 09:43

Posted in Movies, Music

Blood and gore

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Right now I’m at Duke, being a dork and doing math during the summer. The whole end of the semester, beginning of the summer period has been pretty non-stop, and it’s not going to ease up any. When this is over, I’ll have one day at home before leaving for Germany and six weeks of ‘study’ abroad. But, before I left W&M, my friend and I didn’t have anything better to do one evening, so I made her watch Titus with me. (The movie, not the play. Although I have no doubt that watching a book would be quite gripping, if you’re in to that sort of thing.)

The play Titus Andronicus was written by Shakespeare, but in recent years, Julie Taymor directed a big screen adaptation of it, which starred Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. The critics weren’t too fond of it; in fact, it turns out that the critics aren’t too fond of the original play, either. It’s apparently viewed as the closest Shakespeare ever got to hack work, written to do nothing but please the crowd. As you might expect, it’s got tons of blood. All kinds of body parts get cut off, people get baked into pastries… it’s great. Sadly, most people today look at the horrific violence of the play and dismiss it as Shakespeare’s shallowest work, making the claim that it’s the lowest type of dramatic work: that degenerate play written merely to please the audience and make money.

That’s something I’m not going to try to refute, because I’m not an English major, but people who hold this view of Titus Andronicus are, I think, missing the larger point. Every play Shakespeare wrote was intended merely to please the audience and make money; they were, after all, his job. The fact that he happened to be supremely gifted in writing plays with deep and powerful themes was just history’s luck. Titus Andronicus may not be Shakespeare’s most ‘literary’ work, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wholly without merit. As with all his plays, there’s quite a lot to recommend it besides the bloody plot, from memorable, well-developed characters to the witty dialogue.

I have a hard time understanding Shakespeare purists; people who insist on re-enacting his plays in Elizabethean garb are, I think, forgetting that his plays are entertainment in the same way that Hollywood films are entertainment. They are not holy writ, and they are meant to dazzle, shock, and surprise.

In the case of Titus Andronicus, I think that the generally negative feeling towards it that I have seen among critics is misplaced. When you get down to brass tacks, the direction is fantastic, the reinterpretation of the setting is quirky and interesting, and every single actor across the board has an outstanding grasp of the material. Two thumbs up.

And all of that aside, Aaron gets the best line in any play ever: “Villian, I have done thy mother.”

Complete text of Titus Andronicus, courtesy of Project Gutenberg

Written by Daniel Grady

May 24, 2005 at 22:55

Posted in Movies

Star Wars: The Next One

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Episode III is reviewed at Bigfanboy.com. Verdict? Better than the first two, still not great.

This is actually heartening news. If Lucas is able to continue this linear improvement, then the 4th, 5th, and 6th movies should be pretty amazing. Oh, wait.

I can’t make fun, though. I already know I’m going to shell out my seven bucks and see it in the theatre as soon as it comes out.

Written by Daniel Grady

May 8, 2005 at 01:10

Posted in Movies

Howl’s Moving Castle

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You should check out this trailer for a movie called Howl’s Moving Castle. True, it’s all anime-ish, but good lord! I’d put up with just about anything for those visuals. The movie is apparently based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones, who writes clever, fun fantasy for the young adult crowd. The guy directing the movie is the same guy who did Spirited Away, which won a best animated film award from any number of groups, including the Academy, and was a really imaginative, wonderfully drawn movie. The fact that Disney is brining in some big names to dub Howl in English could be good or bad, but either way this new film looks very promising. The only problem is that I’ll be in Germany when it comes out, along with Batman Begins and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. Doch schade.

UPDATE

The book and the movie are both fun and charming. In fact, this is my favorite of all of the Studio Ghibli films I’ve seen. I won’t tell you how many others I’ve seen, because it’s more than one, and that’s embarassing enough.

Also, Batman Begins was awesome, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, not so much.

Written by Daniel Grady

April 30, 2005 at 13:37

Posted in Books, Movies

Yay for innovation

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So that comment below about the semester going pretty well was a load of crap. This semester has been ridiculous, nonstop work. In fact, I should be working now, but instead I’m slacking off to bring you these wholly unelucidating comments.

Here, here, and this big old list all talk about Will Wright’s latest game, called Spore. It’s pretty crazy, and I’m gonna talk at you about it for a bit.

May I first just say how relieved I am to see that Wright has actually been working on something other than the damn Sims for the past little while.

May I next say that Wright has hit upon a problem that has been looming on the horizon for video games for some time. The next few generations of video cards and console systems are going to bring us to a point where we can render in realtime what are essentially photorealistic scenes. It takes only a cursory glance at the technology available today, however, to see that, while these environments might have ludicrously high resolutions and brilliant lighting effects, they will not look convincingly real because they will not behave in the manner in which we know the world works. They will not look convincingly realistic because no matter how many polygons or light sources or bump maps we add, we have not spent enough time developing the rules for how these worlds should move, and they will consequently always appear artificial.

By way of example, take the first two movies in the Alien series. In the first movie, suspense was created largely through atmosphere, and the fact that you only rarely saw the alien itself only added to the effect. By contrast, in the sequel, Aliens, we see the creatures much more frequently, and they are, at least to my mind, noticeably more frightening. Cameron pulled this off not by making the alien suit more detailed, but rather by spending months with the actors developing a convincingly scary way for the aliens to move. The costumes in Aliens are actually much simpler and toned down from the costume from the first movie; what makes them scary in the sequel is that they do not move like humans.

Game developers have yet to take Cameron’s lesson to heart. It does not matter if you have a perfectly rendered character; if they move like a blind drunk then the player will not be drawn into the world. At this point in time, it is the development of realistic physics and realistic character animation that should be paramount. The clarity of the picture makes no difference without these fundamental building blocks.

This actually is not the specific problem that Wright was addressing, although it is related. Wright pointed out that, as video technology develops, the cost of creating suitable content goes up exponentially. Creating a modern first person shooter requires a veritable army of artists and animators to paint the world, despite the fact that the gameplay is not fundamentally different that Doom’s. Wright points out that the relative value to gamers does not increase as the amount of work that goes into the game increases; in the words of someone else, “A game whose characters have 20,000 frames of animation isn’t twice as good as a game whose characters have only 10,000 frames.” As time goes on and graphics processors continue to become more and more powerful, the cost of producing even simple games will skyrocket, with no certain commensurate increase in quality. Wright’s solution to this problem is ingenious, and you should check out the above articles.

I think I’m about finished with my semi-drunken ramblings. Hope you have an excellent evening.

Written by Daniel Grady

March 18, 2005 at 00:19

Posted in Games, Movies, Rants