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Petri Wessman's weblog

Scott Pilgrim vs the Mediocre Masses

We went to see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World yesterday, it’s been on my “must see” list for a while now – I’ve read and loved the graphic novels (ok, “comics”) it’s based on, and have heard good things about the movie.

It was awesome. Go see it now. Shoo.

It’s probably the best adaptation of a comic that I’ve ever seen (it’s based on a six-part comics series by Canadian artist Bryan Lee O’Malley). It keeps the same feel and tone near-perfectly (very tricky to do when switching between mediums), and the story flows along while staying (surprisingly) true to the source material. Michael Cera is ok as Scott… maybe not a 100% ideal casting, but totally in the “close enough” category. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is great as Ramona, and Kieran Culkin is quite awesome as Wallace, Scott’s gay housemate. It’s quirky, fun, and most importantly: refreshingly different from most movies out there. Go see it before it vanishes from the theaters.

I gather that it hasn’t done all that great at the U.S. box office. In a way I’m not surprised. Frankly, this movie is just a bit too weird, smart and quirky for the unwashed masses out there. The genre is hard to define, it throws pop culture jokes and references at you non-stop, and many parts of it probably won’t make sense if you haven’t grown up with certain types of video games. I’m squarely in the target demographic. Joe Six-Pack? Not so much. He/she probably won’t understand this, will be annoyed that it doesn’t fit into any specific movie genre, and go see Transformers N or some such crap. Oh, and the relaxed and no-nonsense attitude versus gays will probably also offend some morons out there.

…and hey, it is a weird and quirky movie. That’s part of the charm. If the best one-liners in the movie are “I’m Neil!” and “Lesbians?”, and the female lead nonchalantly skates between scenes via hyperspace gateways within dreams… it’s not standard Hollywood fare.

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Avatar and other stuff

We stayed cooped up inside for most of the New Year extended weekend; we originally intended to “do some stuff”, but the extra-chilly weather and general laziness put a stop to that. It was nice to just cozy up inside for days, don’t get me wrong. Anyway, yesterday we felt like doing something, so we decided to go see Avatar since a) it’s by Cameron who is generally awesome and b) it had been getting generally positive though slightly mixed reviews.

Well, it was very much worth seeing. It’s not a perfect movie; the plot is more than a tad predicable and follows the classic “boy meets girl and becomes hero” pattern a bit too much by-the-numbers. Maybe the most fitting thing to say about the plot is that it was serviceable; while it could have been (a lot) more original, it didn’t get in the way. But the visuals. Damn, they were jaw-dropping, especially when seen on the large screen with 3d. This is the best visualization of a science fiction world and native culture that I recall even seeing. Even though I knew that most of what I was seeing was computer-generated, my eyes were telling me the stuff was real. During the whole 3-hour span, there was only one short clip where the CGI was obviously CGI in a way that jarred me. That’s damn well done.

So. The complaints about the plot do have merit. But it’s not that bad, and this is one movie that is worth seeing for the visuals alone. They are just that good. The star of this movie is the planet Pandora.

(Added later: here is a hilarious plot summary. Spoiler alert, you might want to skip until you’ve seen the movie!)

Apart from that, I actually spent a large part of the mini-vacation coding and watching “TV” – coding in one window with a video player running in another. I’m working a hobby-project Exalted character generator web thingy. I’m not sure when if ever it will be ready, let alone ready for general use, but it’s one of those things – a way to learn lots of new tech while building something useful. I’m using a lot of bleeding-edge stuff, and Ruby on Rails of course. Among the toys are: authlogic, declarative_authorization, formtastic, css_dryer, jQuery & jQuery-UI, AJAX (with dynamic jQuery/Javascript generation via Rails views), and rspec test cases for all models and controllers. Fun stuff, and complicated enough to keep it interesting.

On the TV side, I managed to watch:

  • True Blood season two. Good stuff, and very interesting “bad guy”. Still among the best of the current crop of series. Not for the prudish, though.

  • Californication season two. Very good and very funny. Also not for the prudish, and I mean it: this show is mostly about sex. And about how people deal with it. I really like this show, because the characters are excellent and it somehow manages to be lewd & irreverent and warm & understanding at the same time. The characters screw up (and just screw) all the time, but you can’t help understanding and liking them at the same time.

  • The Doctor Who “specials” Waters of Mars and End of Time (parts 1 & 2). Watchable but nothing all that special. Will be interesting to see how the new Doctor works out, since these were the final ones with the (great!) David Tennant.

  • Some other bits and pieces… some Heroes (meh, but at least getting a bit better), Sanctuary (meh), etc. Nothing much worth commenting on.

Coraline

Went to see Coraline yesterday. It’s been a while since I’ve been to the movies, and forever since I’ve been to a “3D” film. My memories of the things weren’t too positive, since my other eye doesn’t see all that well and the older tech didn’t produce much of an effect for me.

Well, tech has improved. Even with my limited stereo eyesight the 3d effects worked fine, and the movie was also pretty good by itself. I must confess I hadn’t read the book previously (somehow missed reading it when it came out), so I didn’t know what to except other than “Gaiman” and “puppets”… and can’t compare to the book, obviously. Janka told me after the movie that the book is quite different in tone and a bit better, but she also liked the movie.

The tale is… typical Gaiman, I guess. It’s a children’s tale about a young girl who moves into a ramshackle house and discovers secrets within, not all of which are what they initially seem. Don’t want to spoil much here, since it’s possible there’s someone else out there who hasn’t read the book and has yet to see the movie. If you like Gaiman and/or like stuff like Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas, you’ll like this.

The 3d effects weren’t overdone and were used to enhance the story, not just slapped all over the place for “look, we can do THIS!” effects. Points for that.

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Star Trek: unexpectedly, it rocks

This one was a bit of a surprise. I used to be a huge Star Trek fan when I was young, but in a weird way – we didn’t have TV in Ethiopia, so my exposure to the show (the original show, of course) was via books. I read all the episodes (including the animated series and the “fotonovels”) and loved them rabidly. It was only much later that I actually saw the things (and yes, still liked them). By the time TNG rolled around I had partially lost interest, being much more interested in (at that time) new stuff like Babylon 5 and such. I did watch some TNG, though, and found it “ok”. Deep Space 9 was actually more interesting to me generally, though the episode quality was very uneven. Then we got Voyager, which was utter, unfiltered crap. I actually found the dreary Enterprise follow-up to be more watchable than Voyager, which is saying a lot.

Then there were the Star Trek movies. The first one was slow…. but I did like it, in many ways. I’ve only seen some of the later ones and found them to be a very mixed bag, and the things just seemed a bit tired, somehow. Later, when the ill-fitting Enterprise finally dropped off the air, I concluded that Star Trek is done for. I still had fond memories of the original series, but…

Then there’s this new film, a “reboot” of the story by J.J. Abrams of Alias and Lost fame. I wasn’t sure what to think, but I wasn’t expecting anything very good – despite the good reviews the movie had been getting, I generally view most “reboots” with suspicion. Sure, sometimes rarely they succeed wonderfully (Battlestar Galactica, anyone?), but more often than not they are utter flops, with the director totally missing the point of what made the original so good and just cramming in tons of explosions and cgi effects.

Well, Abrams “gets it”. Throwing “canon” (and sometimes “logic”) to the wind, he has built a re-imagining of the original series that actually rocks. Both Janka and I loved it, much to our surprise. Sure, it could be subtitled “juvenile delinquents in space” and there are plot holes you could drive starbases through… but that doesn’t matter, since the “feel” is right. The new actors mostly get the characters spot-on (with appropriate modernization thrown in); Zachary Quinto is great as Spock and Karl Urban is brilliant as Dr. McCoy. The action is fast-paced, but somehow there’s a ton of character development here, too. The balance is pretty good. Most importantly, it felt like Star Trek to me. I know many “old fans” are saying just the opposite, but…. screw you. I loved it.

The plot is pretty clever, but does require you to suspend disbelief and logic at times. It also reboots the setting in a way I hadn’t been expecting, and in a good way which lets this movie (and potential follow-ups) be much more than just retellings of the old story.

Now, ordinarily huge plot and logic holes would annoy me, but here they just don’t. Maybe it’s just the fact that Abrams clearly loves the setting and the characters, and gets the feel of things so very spot-on in so many places… I’m willing to forgive a movie a lot of things if it has its heart in the right place. And this one does.

Didn’t see this one coming.

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Highly-trained thug

We went to see the new Bond movie (Quantum of Solace) last week, and I have to say I liked it a lot – even more than the previous one, which I also liked. I really like what they have done with Bond here; he’s a lot closer to the character in the books, a lot harder in many ways… and the story is dark. Gone is the goofy Bond of old times, and I don’t miss him much. Sure, some of the Roger Moore films were a lot of fun, but we’ve already covered that area quite well. Besides, the old womanizer Bond feels like a relic nowadays.

I’d even go so far as to say this new one was one of the best Bonds I’ve seen. Sure, it’s a valid criticism that there’s a lot of similarity to the Bourne books / movies here – but I also like those a lot. Gritty agent/spook stories are cool.

I can totally echo John Wick’s thoughts on the film.

Oh, and I’m loving the fact that there’s now a (good) movie theater in Leppävaara. And one that’s not Finnkino. Yay!

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Twilight Revolted

We had the “postrelease” tournament for the new Twilight Rebellion VTES set on Saturday. I’ve always found pre/postrelease tournaments a lot of fun, and this was no exception – about 20 players, and lots of new cards to try to figure out. We made decks from 5 drafted Anarchs boosters plus 5 drafted Twilight Rebellion boosters, so it was a low-resource game for everyone. No pool gain, very limited intercept, etc. Tuomas took the tournament win once again, with Tuukka coming in second place, proving that some people are just better players than others. No surprise there.

The set looks solid. Lots of powerful cards for the Anarchs, just what they’ve needed in order to be tournament-level viable. The balance looks good; while there are some very powerful cards in there, they also have suitable restrictions; I didn’t spot any immediate this-will-become-a-problem cases yet. We’ll see, once people start building decks from these. It becomes legal for tournament play on June 27th.

Sunday was a lazy day, which was nice and much-needed. We had one of our semi-regular movie weekends, with some people coming over to watch stuff with the theme “virtual realities” – which meant Matrix, The 13th Floor and ExistenZ. I’d seen all three before, but they stood up well to second (or third) viewings. Read a bit, ate lots of good cabbage soup, did some more Rails coding… nice and relaxing.

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French-Algerian rock and silly science

We were going out to eat blinis (yum!) last weekend when by chance I noticed a poster advertising a Savoy concert by Rachid Taha, “the wild man of French-Algerian music”. It’s on Sunday the 25th (March), and I had to check my calendar – I’m doing knife fighting practice in Turku that weekend – but turns out I should easily be able to make it back in time. So I got us tickets, yay!

Rachid Taha performs a weird blend of traditional Arabic music, rai music, rock, punk, and whatever. He usually sings in Arabic, sometimes in French, so I don’t much know what he’s singing about; my French is very very basic and my Arabic nonexistent. I do know that there’s quite a bit of political commentary mixed in there, the rocking “Barra Barra” translates as “Outside”, as far as I know, and talks about the isolation of some Arabic cultures nowadays. Maybe. Or maybe it talks about the weather, or sports, or the importance of having an umbrella. In any case, his music is an interesting fusion of lots of different elements, and I like what I’ve heard on CD. So it’s time to see the man live.

So that handles the “rock” portion. The “silly science” bit was provided by the movie Sunshine, Danny Boyle’s new science fiction film which we went to see at a daytime (free) pre-showing arranged by the Helsinki Science Fiction Club.

Was it worth spending 2 hours watching it? Well… only just. I’ve seen worse, but…

Things I learned from it (trying to avoid huge spoilers):

  • You can kick-start suns with a (relatively) tiny bomb. A fission bomb. Who knew?
  • Gravity and atmosphere are linked. As soon as an airlock pressurizes, gravity returns instantly. That should come as a relief to all those people who have been trying to figure out ways to beat gravity. Just drain the air out, guys!
  • It’s quite possible to build a heat shield that keeps you nice and cool even well inside the Sun’s corona, even the photosphere, all you need is some nice reflective metal. This SuperMetal will radiate away all the heat, even though weaker, inferior NormalMetals melt to slag in an instant (as the movie shows us). Do this properly, and said shield will even shelter you inside the sun, even though the shield is only pointing forward! Not bad.
  • Time and space distort within the sun. Because you’re going really fast. Or something. This does not distort your space ship, of course, because… well, it just doesn’t. Ok?

In other words, a fairly silly movie. That said, the acting wasn’t bad, the set design was excellent generally and surprisingly hard-science & realistic considering all the major gaffes in the film; they got a lot of smaller details at least semi-right. The plot was a bit incoherent and got worse towards the end – I don’t want to spoil things, but the end part really should have been done differently. As is, it was a bit of a mess, with lots of “huh?” moments.

…on the other hand, I have seen worse. Lots worse. This was ok brain candy, but quite forgettable.

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