Thursday, December 29, 2011

To the New Year

As 2011 gasps its last breaths, it is either a time to review the year that has been or look forward to the year that will be. Given the year that was for me, I am choosing the latter. So the assignment I have given myself is to think about things to look forward to.

While 2011 had some good movies to go to and I actually attended more than I usually do, 2012 is shaping up to be a very interesting time at the theater. The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, and Prometheus all look entertaining if not excellent. But the one really making me eager to see is the first of The Hobbit movies. Aggravating that is the trailer that was released this month:

Looks fantastic, doesn’t it? The final moments of the trailer raised goosebumps for me. It is hard to believe it is ten years from when Fellowship of the Ring came out.

Come to think of it, watching the Blu-rays of the Extended Editions is another thing to look forward to. My sister and her husband have given us a 40” 1080P 120 MHz LED LCD HDTV for Christmas. This unexpected addition to the living room has prompted me to raid the money I was saving for a new PC monitor and get a decent Blu-ray player for the set.  Just one catch and that is getting it to Minnesota from Indiana.

At least by the time it gets shipped home all the needed cables and gear should have arrived in time. New gear means new cables. At least I will still be able to hook up my region free Yamaha DVD player to the new set. Time to rebuild the media center PC too and add an older HD compatible video card I have to it.

I just hope I do not break anything setting it up. A gift to my step nephew lasted only a couple of minutes after giving it to him. Warning him not to overstretch the toy resulted in one broken toy thirty seconds later. Maybe I should not have warned him…

It appears I have inadvertently created a couple of Bleach fans with the step nephew and niece. They especially like Rukia after seeing several episodes, so they show some good taste there.

The big news is that my sister is pregnant. Irony runs strong in the family, so it is no surprise that this happened unexpectedly after many previous travails trying to conceive.  Welcome news, indeed.

While trying to maintain a positive attitude about next year, I cannot say I am looking forward to the political and economic aspects. The only description I can muster for it without sounding apocalyptic is the word “meatgrinder.” If that is one word, that is.

One thing I will not be doing is a New Year’s resolution. I am too busy trying to do everything I can to improve my health to add something on top of it. Also, last year’s one of finding a gal was a total fiasco, so avoiding the irritation of failing to keep a new one is a bonus. All hope has been lost on that anyway.

Here is to hoping something can be done about our transportation problems.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

RIP Subaru Outback

In the face of the ridiculous costs of bodywork, the still running Subaru has been totaled by the car insurance company. Sadly, there is no way we can afford to replace it with a vehicle that has even a fraction of its capabilities and things are an absolute mess on the transportation side of life.

The Subaru was the best car we ever had and ever will have. It could handle any weather, slippery hills, and long distance travel with excellent handling and comfort. A trip to New Foundland proved what a wonderful traveling car it was and i have fond memories of driving it through Canada.

Deer were cruel to it and there were other minor accidents, so it was an unlucky vehicle over the years. The first day we had it in December of 2004, I hit ice pulling into a business and put the car through a garage door. I should have known then something bad would happen to it in the end just from that unfortunate beginning.

Now we are faced with a serious problem of no wheels and not being able to afford what we really need living out in the sticks. The ever treacherous driveway makes ascending it very tricky on anything other than a 4WD or AWD during the winter.

This did not help with my improving on feeling the Christmas spirit. I am set on getting a 12 gauge by next deer season.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

It is going to be a quiet one here, but I hope others have a lively one with their families. With nothing profound to say this year, I can only suggest that you remember to forgive one another and fill your hearts with love. This is what it is supposed to be about and why the Savior was born.

To those who do not believe, I advise the same nonetheless. Forgiveness and love make life much better in my experience. I think you will find the same if you practice it.

So a merry Christmas to all on this quiet eve!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mr. Krueger’s Christmas: 25th Anniversary DVD

A simple 25 minute film featuring Jimmy Stewart as a lonely old man on Christmas Eve became something of a classic amongst Latter-day Saints after its 1980 release. While marking a shift in outreach to the public from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its importance is more than that. It is the simple message at the end that says it all about the holiday.

Mr Kreuger's Christmas Title

I had originally planned to review something completely different for Christmas, but was hit by a moment of inspiration. Having had difficulty getting into the feeling of the season, I realized it had been a few years since I last watched this. So along with purchasing Christmas with the Rat Pack from Amazon’s MP3 service, it was time to make an active effort. By the way, I’m listening to that superb compilation while writing this review.

Mr Kreuger's Christmas Window ShoppingMr Kreuger's Christmas Fantasy Suit

Mr. Krueger’s Christmas begins with the title character working as a custodian of an apartment building. It being Christmas Eve, he sets out for a tree to put up in his basement apartment. Attempts to interact with people on the street are ignored or barely acknowledged. It is cold outside in more ways than one.

Along the way, he looks at a suit in a shop window, much like a child looking at toys would. In no time he is lost in a fantasy of being fitted with a new suit and being treated like a man of status. It is only the beginning of fantasies which Willie Krueger succumbs to out of loneliness.

Land Rights Battle in Houston County Gets National Attention

It was something of a surprise to get an email from a friend linking a post on Glenn Beck’s site, The Blaze and asking if this was the local issue a mutual friend was involved in. Sure enough, it is all about the land rights fight here in Houston County.

The money quote from Bjerke in the article is no surprise. Beyond his left wing politics, this is business as usual for the county commissioners regardless of political affiliation. Dictatorial is a common adjective thrown at them in this area and is the norm in most rural counties.

But now some comments on the issue at hand. In a nutshell, Houston County doesn’t want residences increasing in land areas zoned for agriculture. The theory is city folk will come in and destroy the area if they are allowed to build homes here. So to restrict building, only one house per 40 acres is allowed.

That is very restrictive, especially for families that want to keep farms in the family and have the next generation build their own house on the family homestead. A neighboring county, Fillmore, is worse from what I have been told. There are areas zoned where it is something like 120 acres that the same kind of ordinance is applied to.

Something that needs pointing out is Houston County’s population has been declining for years. All this talk of bringing in manufacturing companies is moot if there isn’t a population to supply the labor force. You also need the population to make up for lost tax revenues given out as tax breaks to said companies. So limiting population growth in any way is foolish.

Having been approached years ago to possibly be the spokesman for the group that was forming to fight this, I declined. While sympathetic and thinking they are in the right, I had some issues with using the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of the “pursuit of happiness” as a basis for fighting the zoning law. Land rights is one place the founding fathers botched things. With no explicit land rights expressed in the document or its amendments, it left things wide open for abuse. This is curious due to the amount of writings about those rights before the Constitution was created.

In the end, I believe an amendment to the state constitution is needed and then a push for an amendment on the national level. Nothing less will solve this problem completely and safeguard our rights to land ownership and stewardship.

What goes unmentioned in the post on The Blaze is that there is an element of religious intolerance, if not persecution, involved in this dispute. The original case was fought by a family belonging to a tiny Christian sect called the Marinathas. Outside of mainstream Christianity to some degree, they have been the objects of rumor mongering and ridicule by outsiders.

The rumors that were spread by supporters of the commissioners went something like this: they want to build a cult compound like Jamestown so they can gather people together and take over the area. Needless to say, this did not help the atmosphere. From my dealings with members of the sect, I have found them to be very good, God fearing, and patriotic people. Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I can sympathize about being misunderstood.

I will admit that the family involved in the case were far too hot headed in the way they initially handled things. While they thought they had been given a verbal agreement, you have to have something written when dealing with government. Otherwise misunderstandings can and will arise like it did in this case.

But the fight rapidly grew to include many people outside the Marinathas and there is quite a cross section of concerned citiziens in Concerned Landowners. It has become quite the brouhaha and the commissioners are finding themselves in contested elections now. It will be interesting to see how the national attention affects things in this small rural county.

As for the media censorship of letters to the editor, this is normal and there is no such thing as an impartial newspaper. I do think Heather Gray went overboard on banning all letters on the subject, but The Spring Grove Herald is a DFL aligned newspaper so do not expect an even break there. Instead, mourn the fact that no conservative has been willing to throw money away at a dying medium to counter liberal papers. Actually, the biggest issue is that Gray was mayor and editor at the same time. That was a big conflict of interest that reminded me of Charles Foster Kane’s desires to control everything, albeit on a microscopic scale.

I hope that the battle for property rights gets some results, but I am not holding my breath. Once entrenched, laws are nearly impossible to repeal.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995) Review

Updating a rather ridiculous giant monster series that featured a flying and fire breathing turtle does not sound like a recipe for success. But this surprisingly entertaining film almost convinces you that a turtle could fly. While a mixed bag, it shows the potential that the trilogy eventually grows into. Time for giant monster destruction as Tokyo gets hammered yet again! UPDATED for extras coverage.

Screenshot - 12_17_2011 , 5_26_01 PM

The popular Gamera series of giant turtle kids movies from the 1960’s and 70’s did not get an auspicious start with Gamera the Invincible. It was an obvious attempt to cash in on Toho Studios successful Godzilla franchise on an even lower budget. It had none of the gravitas or coherency of the contemporary Godzilla films, much less that of Gojira which started the whole thing. The movies got weirder and more juvenile as the years went on.

So when a director named Shusuke Kaneko was given the green light to restart the defunct property, there was not a huge amount of excitement from what I remember. It did not help that his resume was filled with cheap exploitation flicks filled with the late night cable fare of sex and violence. The idea he could update a kiddie movie and make a hit out of it was far fetched. Even more far fetched would be for it to be critically acclaimed.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why I Despise Deer

In my previous post, I mentioned my father hit a deer yesterday -- after we finally go the brakes repaired on the car. Talking to him, he did not even get a chance to brake, which is just like the deer in 2007. There are too many of the hooved vermin in the area and the DNR has allowed things to get out of control. A couple of years of year round open season might be enough to manage the population, but I think it will require government culling. That will never happen here in Minnesota thanks to Bambi lovers in the cities.

deer collision 01deer collision 06

As you can see, the front driver’s side took the hit this time. The license plate holder/protector I got to defend against kamikaze pheasant attacks did its job and only the top rim remains.

deer collision 02deer collision 03

There is deer hair everywhere. At least the radiator appears undamaged; the 2007 hit destroyed it. The headlight is a complete loss.

deer collision 04deer collision 05

The door had to be completely replaced when a buck ran into it in 2008. Now the new one is banged up. Looking at the car from the side shows how violent the collision was. Yet it is not enough to set off the airbags to my amazement.

As bad as it looks, the collision in 2007 was worse:

Deer collision 2007

Not a good way to go into Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Just Say No to Monday!

At least that was my reaction to today. After having a good week, it figures something bad was coming. The car that finally got its brakes fixed in time for me to go to church on Sunday is now out of commission. My father hit a deer and crumpled the front end again and the shattered the left side headlights. There is simply no winning right now.

I’ll post photos tomorrow after I take them. For some reason I am feeling motivated to get a 12 gauge shotgun for next deer season…

I had plans made for the week that are all now impossible, so it is time to be a shut in again. Loss of transportation equals loss of life to poor rural folks and is something hard to explain if you aren’t experiencing it yourself.

Now I don’t have any excuse for not posting, drat it.

So one giant monster movie review is coming. The monster is giant, not the review. After that, I should do something for Christmas, shouldn’t I?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kim Jong Il Has Died

The oppressive dictator of North Korea has escaped mortal justice and now the jockeying for power in the communist country begins in earnest. It is not surprising to see the markets in Asia going down out of fears of instability. One can only pray this offers a flicker of hope for the North Korean people.

It is difficult not to contrast his “accomplishments” in contrast to those of another leader who just died, Vaclav Havel. One died while clinging to power by starving his own people and the other died after having helped usher his country into democracy. If only there could be a Velvet Revolution on the Korean Peninsula, but I am afraid that is highly unlikely.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Already?

This week has zoomed by. Perhaps that has been a penalty for things going better. We humans have a tendency to remember and dwell on the negative more than the positive, so time appears to fly when things go well.

Late last night I updated the Summer Wars review. While changing it to include the Blu-ray version, I found way too many errors that slipped past me when I originally posted it.  Very annoying, especially the misspellings of names. Repeat viewings of the movie only make me fonder of it and have now led me to buy a deck of hanafuda cards off of eBay today.

An attempt to get a microphone working with my Asus Xonar D1 audio card failed miserably. The best I could get out of it was static humming through the subwoofer no matter what I did. It is the one flaw of the card that if you do not have a front panel hooked up to it you have to use the SPDIF/Line In/Microphone jack in back. Way too many functions assigned to the hybrid 3.5mm and optical jack.  So it looks like a USB microphone is a must buy.

On a brighter note, I have found obsolete CPU’s for my living room multimedia center have gone down in price online. It will be possible to put a faster processor in there after all. No hurry though, it will be awhile before there is a HDTV to hook up to it.

The brakes have finally been replaced on the car with only a concern about brake line pressure. It is a minor thing that can be rectified if it doesn’t resolve on its own. It will be nice to have some freedom to get about again.

It still amuses me that Bleach and Citizen Kane are the two most heavily trafficked posts on the blog. Quite a contrast, eh? I blame the two animated gifs that became Internet memes.

Feeling the tired beyond my normal tired today. That means watching some giant Japanese monsters beat on each other is in order.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Odds, Ends and In-betweens

This has been a good week so far and it is Wednesday already so that means the majority of it has been good. It has been awhile since I could say that.

Sunday I got a ride to church and hung out with a young friend of mine and his girlfriend as we got his fancy new Onkyo home theater system to play nice with his new PC. A spare optical cable I had lying around turned out to be key in getting the signal out to the receiver. The Phillip's one he bought at Wal-Mart refused to convey a proper signal, so we decided it was probably defective.

Monday I bought an upgrade to the Cyberlink PowerDVD player that came with my Blu-ray drive since I was liking what it was capable of but wanted more features. PowerDVD 11 Ultra is a very nice upgrade and I am currently playing with its TrueTheater HD upscaling versus the capable ATI Avivo of my videocard. Depending on the video, it seams to do a better job when the content is of lower quality. More testing is needed before I can conclusively say more, but it is promising. It is now my go to video player for all formats.

Sorry, VLC – you have really fallen by the wayside of late.

That cheap optical cable I mentioned before?  Well, shockingly it turned out to work with the Razer Barracuda soundcard on my living room multimedia center PC I built with leftover parts a couple of years ago. Dolby Digital Live and DTS Interactive sound fantastic coming out of it, which breathes new life into streaming content from Hulu, YouTube, Crackle, and other places on the Web. All I can surmise is that the Barracuda pumps out more light than the Asus Xonar D1.

Tuesday my father and I had lunch with a friend from out neighboring county in Houston at the Crossroads Cafe and caught up on politics. I also encountered an amazing hashbrown omelet that was not only huge but had everything wrapped in the hashbrowns. I am still digesting it a day later.

Today we ate at the same place when we met with our State Representative, Greg Davids. It is going to be a strange election year for many reasons, but redistricting due to the census makes it weirder than usual. We do not know for sure where the districts will be until the courts rule on them. Hopefully, they will be more logical than the last court imposed ones from 2000.  Odds are that I will be in the same district as Greg, but the state senate is another question. I will hate to lose Jeremy Miller as my senator if it goes the way I suspect, but that’s life.

Now for something more sobering.  I have to agree with Glenn Reynolds last sentence. These are fast becoming perilous times when you cannot trust the election process anymore.

Over in Belgium a mass shooting took place that got next to no attention here in the States. So far it appears the shooter being a drug dealer about to go to prison again is the motivation, despite his Moroccan origins. The fact he was not a practicing Muslim indicates it wasn’t sudden jihad syndrome, but why did he have grenades and 9500 gun parts? It makes me suspect he dealt illegal weapons on the side to other drug dealers and criminals. Even the craziest of gun nuts do not have that many parts lying around.

In my opinion, Europe is slowing losing control to criminals due to their pervasive statism and gun control laws. Look how well those laws worked with a convict having possession of that kind of arsenal. There is always a way for criminals to arm themselves – always.

My prayers go out to those wounded and the loved ones of those killed.

Bleach Ep. 13: Flower and Hollow

Orihime gets another turn in the spotlight as the duel between Ichigo and Ishida continues. Also returning is the horror movie vibe as the teen’s high school is besieged by a Hollow with some very interesting powers. But a lot more than that happens in this packed episode that shows off most of Bleach’s strengths and none of its weaknesses.

Bleach1 Main TitleBleach 13 Title

In episode 12, Chad and Karin got their chance to shine as they teemed up to defeat a Hollow. In the process, we got a glimpse of the Mexican-Japanese boy’s past and motivations when they triggered supernatural powers in him. But he was not the only one Ishida hinted about having spiritual powers…

Bleach 13 Tatsuki and Chizeru ArgueBleach 13 Hollow Attacks Orihime

Picking up where the previous episode left off, broken windows get the attention of Orihime, Tatsuki, and Chizeru at the high school. Ever conscientious, the redhead rushes over to clean up the mess while her friends fight. Or more accurately, while Tatsuki defends her friend’s honor against the advances of the annoying stereotype girl.

That does not matter to the gentle girl, for she senses something evil is lurking on the rooftops and wants her friends to leave – now. Realizing that Orihime can see it, the Hollow confronts the now very frightened girl about this ability. Chizeru is hit by a strange projectile from the monster and starts losing control of her body. To her horror, she is being made to attack the object of her crush.

Bleach 13 Ichigo Fights OnBleach 13 Little Ishida

While that after school special gone terribly wrong continues, Rukia is trying to figure out where everyone is and Ichigo is still cutting a swath through the numerous Hollows. But it is Ishida’s thoughts that are the most interesting. A flashback to when he was a small child learning to use his Quincy powers from his mentor reveals much. This is where we find out his real motivation for precipitating this crisis and a hint that he is not the villain he appears to be.

Bleach 13 Students AttackBleach 13 Tatsuki Fights

Back at the high school, the situation takes a George Romero like turn when the Hollow enslaves all the students and sends them after Orihime. It is a dark and creepy sequence, filled with odd camera angles making it effective. But in typical shounen style Tatsuki reappears to save the day and give us a very well choreographed fight.

Bleach 13 Tatsuki ControlledBleach 13 Orihime Bullied

For all her heroics and bravado, she is destined to fail against a foe she can barely sense. Hit by a “seed” from the Hollow, she is felled. Despite her iron will that allows her to resist the seed, multiple hits place her under the control of the creature.

Seeing her friend taken over and in misery triggers a flashback for Orihime that shows us how they first met. Having been badly bullied for having red hair, the sweet girl had her hair shorn by her classmates. It wasn’t until after meeting and becoming friends with Tatsuki that she regrew her trademark locks.

Bleach 13 Orihime's Hairpin GlowsBleach 13 Angry Orihime

Angered by best friend’s suffering, the red haired beauty stands her ground and vows to protect the one who has protected her for so long. Her signature hairpins glow as her anger rises. An explosive whirlwind of spiritual energy forms around the girl and scatters the possessed high schoolers leaving a fierce looking Orihime at the center of six winged objects.

Bleach 13 Shun Shun Rikka RevealedBleach 13 Fairy Overload

As is typical of a fighting show, the fight stops to allow introductions and conversation. Yet this manages to be even stranger than that usually is, because suddenly we are dealing with fairies. Very chatty ones at that.

Actually, they do not like being called fairies. Introducing themselves as the Shun Shun Rikka collectively and giving their individual names, they explain they are creations of her power due to being around Ichigo. All of this exposition overloads the girl’s mind.

Bleach 13 Orihime's ShieldBleach 13 Falling Hairpins

Having sprung forth from her soul (and hairpins), they know how to handle the strange girl and quickly teach her their three abilities: forming a protective shield, a healing barrier, and a killing attack. Now empowered she takes the fight to the Hollow in convincing fashion before collapsing from the strain. Later she awakens to find herself in a strange place with a familiar face.

Bleach 13 Ishida's Bloody HandBleach 13 Kon Kicks a Hollow

So ends Orhime’s fight, but what of the others?  Ishida is tiring from the battle with both hands bleeding from the strain of firing his supernatural bow. While of this appears to be his fault, there are too many Hollows appearing compared to the size of the bait he used to summon them. Something strange is going on.

Rukia joins the fight only to find she is still too weak to do much. Weaker than she should be at this point in her recovery, in fact. Before she can dwell too much on that, Kon joins the fray by saving her in comic fashion.

Bleach 13 IshidaBleach 13 Ichigo

Soon after, Ishida and Ichigo appear on the scene and once again the duel picks up in intensity. Secrets are revealed, more are hinted at, and an ominous sky warns of further trouble.

Thoughts

I liked this episode especially for the character development of Orihime. Rather than being the typical air headed beauty, she is a more complex person as previous episodes have shown. While not being a fighter in temperament, she is as much a protector as Ichigo Kurosaki in her way. Possessed of a gentler spirit, she is a welcome break from all the aggressive personalities in the cast.

Female characters are not often written well in shounen animes, but Bleach has some very good girls and women in the cast. Most show some depth and distinct personalities, with Chizeru being the exception. She is there for comic relief and nothing else. Orihime, Tatsuki, Rukia, and Karin are believable characters and quite likeable. Strong females are always a plus in my book.

The slow reveal of Ishida’s motivations is well executed and he is getting more interesting by the episode. Despite what they say, it looks like he and Ichigo are enjoying competing with each other way too much.

The fights are well done, but it is the characters that keep me coming back to watch this series. It is hard to believe I just watched the 451st episode last night!

Something I only noticed on this viewing was the theme of flower versus flower. The Hollow is very much a flower in design down to shooting seeds that take over bodies by growing through the body and there are Orihime’s flower hairpins. Even the Shun Shun Rika are flower based in appearance.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wikipedia May Go Blank in Protest Against Bill

There is an odious piece of legislation called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) being pushed in Congress right now that jeopardizes a large amount of the Web. Wikipedia is considering blanking their pages in protest of this corporate paid for bill. Intellectual property (IP) rights have gotten out of hand as failing movie and music industries try to stem the bleeding in lost profits. Instead of blaming their very poor products for the decline, they would like to censor the entire Internet in pyrrhic fashion thinking it would up sales.

While legislation against pirate sites is a reasonable goal, this implementation is dangerously excessive. Wikipedia would go under due to it and many a blog would as well. Linking to photos, pictures, and articles would be potentially criminal under this law. That kind of kills the whole concept of the Web, doesn’t it?

It is not the only attack on freedom of speech online. A recent ruling against a blogger by an Obama appointee is a direct attack on the idea of the “citizen journalist” that has flourished on the Net. Not a good precedent, but one I had been expecting for some time. The desire to control others gets stronger the bigger a government gets.

I can only hope this bill fails, for it will be a disaster for free speech not just in the United States.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Zulu Soundtrack by The City of Prague Philharmonic

John Barry’s soundtrack for Zulu finally gets the justice it deserves in this lavish rendition in HDCD format. Also included are tracks from many of his other movie scores on this two disc set that spans most of his career.

Zulu HDCD

In these faltering times for classical music and orchestras, The City of Prague Philharmonic has carved out a niche by redoing film themes and soundtracks under the direction of Nic Raine. The best modern recording technology has been employed for maximum clarity. Often the result is superior to previous recordings and occasionally Raine’s arrangements are simply better than the original.

A few years back I discovered one track from Silva Records 1999 double CD Zulu set online and that led to me buying quite a few tracks performed by the Philharmonic of various film themes. But I wanted to get this CD and only recently did I find a used one in the price range I am miserly so fond of.

Upon receiving it I was delighted to find that while the case had a light crack, the CD’s were immaculate. Even better, they were in the relatively rare HDCD format. After setting up Windows Media Player properly, I could hear a difference between it and my normal Media Monkey playback. Decent speakers and headphones are a must for this, otherwise you will not be able to tell the difference. But how to rip the CD’s and preserve the 20 bit quality?  DBPowerAmp to the rescue and I used its demo to rip the tracks to FLAC.

Further adding to the quality of Silva Records issue is a nine page booklet packed with liner notes on the tracks. Insights into Barry’s process on each film answered some questions I had while listening to the compositions and that made listening even more enjoyable.

On to the tracks. What I wrote about them in the review of the Ember release still applies, so you will want to read that first.

Disc One:

  1. Zulu Main Theme/Isandhlwana – The much richer sound and impeccable clarity are noticeable immediately.
  2. News of the Massacre/Rorke’s Drift Threatened – The drums really stand out more with the strings and horns benefiting greatly from the digital recording.
  3. Bromhead’s Safari/Wagons Over – The addition of the short intro for Michael Cain extends this track in a lovely Copeland-like passage.
  4. “You’re All Going to Die!” – One of the missing pieces it features ominous strings reminiscent of Barry’s Bond compositions. It is a much better segue into the next track than Wagons Over.
  5. First Zulu Appearance and Assault – Compared to the original, the strings shine and the harp is delicately pristine. It makes the Ember release sound muddy.
  6. March of the “Men of Harlech” – The Crouch End Chorus led by David Temple sing the full song acapella and it is a fantastic addition that is just as stirring as when the soldiers sang it in the movie.
  7. Durnford’s Horses Arrive and Depart/The Third Assault – This shows off what a modern recording does for trumpet and brass in general.
  8. Zulu’s Final Appearance and Salute – The HDCD wider “soundstage” allows you to place where almost every instrument is. Superb.
  9. “Men of Harlech”/End Title – Once again, fantastic.
  10. The Girl with the Sun in Her Hair (Sunsilk TV Commercial) – Composed for a 1967 shampoo commercial it reminded me of Barry’s work on From Russia with Love. It is classic 1960’s soundtrack far and is quite good. Too good for a commercial!
  11. The Specialist: Suite – A compilation of music from Sylvester Stallone’s 1994 action movie it was a rare outing into action films post Bond. In some ways it sounds like he was trying to reach back to his hey day and it turns very jazzy two thirds of the way in. Sadly it is not memorable.
  12. The Cotton Club: Suite – Now this is fun. Getting back to his jazz roots, Barry composed a very George Gershwin style soundtrack in 1984. The first third features a playful piano and smoky sax, the middle darker and noirish, and ending in a mournful theme. A very good bit of music, indeed.
  13. King Rat: March – Very military and strangely upbeat it does what a march is supposed to do – move your feet. It fits the 1965 film’s POW setting well.
  14. The Tamarind Seed: Suite – Since no soundtrack was ever released from the 1974 movie, this is the first time the music has been made available. It is a moody string based affair about an affair. At one point a repeating instrumental phrase builds relentlessly, sounding much like a Morse code transmission, which reflects the spy thriller elements of the movie. It ends with a slow moving piece that reminded me of parts of Barry’s later soundtrack for The Black Hole.

Disc Two:

  1. The Last Valley: Main Theme (Choral Version) – Big, militant, and sinister is how I would describe this theme. Appropriate for the 1970 film set during the The Thirty Years War. If you liked the soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian you will like this. I liked it.
  2. Love Amongst the Ruins – A gentle and romantic waltz befitting the 1975 TV movie starring Katharine Hepburn and Lawrence Olivier. Harpsichord and strings dominate. For some reason it reminds me of The Wrong Box, a completely different movie.
  3. Mercury Rising: The Story Ends – A generic effort that wanders about aimlessly before deciding to walk a darker path. It appears Barry did not know what exactly to do with the 1998 Bruce Willis film and parts of it seem like leftovers from Dances with Wolves.
  4. Midnight Cowboy: Florida Fantasy – Cheerful in contrast to the 1969 movie it came from it is more of a pop track than anything else in this collection. Notable for featuring guitar work and what sounds like bongo drums if I am not mistaken.
  5. King Kong: Prelude & Love Theme – Large sounding like the title character of the infamous 1976 remake it was composed without seeing the film! The first part is more discordant than I am used to with Barry. The love theme sounds like Rogers & Hammerstein meet John Barry. I really do not know how I feel about that.
  6. Frances: Theme – From the very depressing 1982 movie, it combined Mozart’s Sonata in A major with Barry’s own music. Unfortunately, the outcome is slow, boring, and forgettable.
  7. My Sister’s Keeper: Suite – Another rarity in that it comes from a 1986 period piece set in 1943 that ended up going straight to video. Opening with a harmonica and a bluesy piano, it gives way to strings and what seems to be only the left most keys of the piano. That makes for a deliberately uncomfortable passage evoking feelings of bad news. Then it gets darker in tone before finally lightening up. This is my favorite track on Disc Two and was a very nice surprise.
  8. Hammett – Chinese motifs blend with piano and clarinet for a feeling of being in smoke filled and dimly lit dive. Can’t get more appropriate for a private eye film dealing with Chinatown! It is a good composition from a very troubled production that finally came out in 1982 after years of problems.
  9. Dances with Wolves: The Buffalo Hunt – Gorgeous horn work and strings star in one of the best pieces from what I believe is Barry’s best soundtrack. It is a great rendition, but I still prefer the original soundtrack version from 1990. Go buy that, now!
  10. The Deep: Theme – Slow, relaxed, and well… blah. I vaguely recall the 1977 movie only because of Jacqueline Bissett in her prime.
  11. Mister Moses: Suite – Nic Raines went back to the original compositions of this music since Barry had compromised them to appease the film makers of the 1965 movie. So in a way, this is another first on this release. I would describe it as a very fun mix of Zulu and Dances with Wolves. Very enjoyable to listen to and it will bring a smile to your face.

All in all, this is an interesting overview of John Barry’s work over the decades. The performances are all very good and benefit from the all digital recording, not to mention the 20 bit HDCD format. However, there have been no new HDCD capable players made since the 1990’s so that is a problem.  But if you have the know how, you can decode it like I did and it will sound terrific on a decent soundcard.

This version of Zulu is simply superior in every way but one to the original Ember Records release. All that is lacking is the narration by Richard Burton. Otherwise everything about the modern version is better mainly due to modern recording techniques, but also the inclusion of a couple of missing pieces. Add in all the other tracks from different movies and it becomes a slam dunk. One caveat is that it will cost you more than twice as much as the Ember release to buy in physical or digital format.

I highly recommend this two CD set to fans of Zulu, John Barry, and good film scores.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Squid Girl Season 1 DVD Set 2 and Ep. 7 Review

Squid Girl returns to inkvade TV sets in the final volume of the first season. Will she take over the world or settle for taking the hearts of the viewers? Oh and was that defective DVD case problem fixed? Read on to find out!

Squid Girl Main Title[2]

There is still a place for utterly silly humor and the best place for it is in animation. Without the constraints of reality, there is a freedom to have anything happen. The idea of an anthropomorphic squid hybrid walking around trying to invade the world is a perfect example of this.

Squid Girl could have relied on pure silliness exclusively, but fortunately the original material and the anime adaptation have a gentler side. The little things in life are shown both comically and with warmth in a blend that makes you smile, if not appreciate life a little more. Episode 7 is a gentler and slower moving one that relies more on character insights and situations than slapstick comedy.

Is Somesquid After Me?

Squid Girl 07 Nagisa and the Aizawa'sSquid Girl 07 Alien Abduction

Poor Nagisa. She gets the job of her dreams at the beach so she can surf whenever she likes, only to find herself working next to a possibly alien invader out to conquer the world. Being the only sane one in a bunch of weirdoes  is a burden to the teen, but someone must protect humanity. Right?

So when she is invited to the Aizawa residence for a welcome dinner for joining the restaurant staff, Nagisa is shocked to find Squid Girl living there. Unable to resist tormenting the only human afraid of her, Ika Musame brags how her plans are going ahead.

Squid Girl 07 Squid ConversionSquid Girl 07 Brainwashing

Despite seeing the relative normality of Squid Girl’s life with the family, the surfer girl becomes even more paranoid. Delusions about brainwashing going on lead her to ask to stay overnight, where she observes the invader’s behavior. Confused by what she sees, Nagisa decides a desperate new tactic must be used to save the Aizawa clan and humanity.

Squid Girl 07 Tearing UpSquid Girl 07 Sunset

Heartbreak follows as does a terrific talk between Eiko and Ika-chan. Will things go back to normal? Is there a normal in this show?!

Why Don’t We Inkvestigate?

Squid Girl 07 Cindy and IkaSquid Girl 07 Queen Squid

A rare bridge between segments has Nagisa meeting Cindy Campbell for the first time. Yes, the alien obsessed blond from MIT has returned to try to get Squid Girl to submit to being tested. For some reason being a lab rat does not appeal to the betentacled girl.

Tired of the lack of respect, not to mention fear, from humans, Ika decides that she needs to change her identity to gain that. It is time to become Squid Queen! Since royalty requires servants, she hatches a plan to recruit followers – a plan that includes blackmail. Yes, she will stoop that low to get her tentacles around the globe.

Squid Girl 07 Hidden LairSquid Girl 07 Cindy and the Three Idiots

Sadly for her, she is outwitted once again by Cindy and agrees to go to her lab in exchange for her servitude. Realizing she has been played for a sucker, Ika reluctantly goes. Surprisingly, the lab is a hidden lair in the rocks near the beach! Inside are three more MIT graduates, Martin, Harris, and Clark. Like Cindy, they are obsessed with aliens.

Squid Girl 07 Mad ScientistSquid Girl 07 Test Tube

Finding herself in the clutches of mad scientists can Ika survive without being dissected or worse? Or will childish verbal games be her undoing…

Can I Inktrest You in a Job?

Squid Girl 07 Eiko to the RescueSquid Girl 07 Ayomi and Eiko

Eiko rescuing a pretty girl being hit on by Goro’s life guard buddy leads to Ayomi joining the waitressing staff of the Lemon Beach House. Yes, she is girl who wore a fake Squid Girl head in an earlier episode. Her beauty is only eclipsed by her terminal shyness. The girl does not even speak and only nods in agreement.

Squid Girl 07 Trading WaitressesSquid Girl 07 Harsh Boss

With a beautiful girl as a lure, business booms and Squid Girl finds herself in the rare position of not being the center of attention. But that is not the worst thing the day has to offer. Being traded to the girl’s father to work at The Southern Winds has to be worse. Harsh does not begin to describe the man’s methods. If you have ever been in boot camp and had a DI you will recognize some similarities.

Squid Girl 07 Stage FrightSquid Girl 07 Drumming

Being thrust into the spotlight leads to a sad epiphany for the young squid as the episode ends. Can Ayomi find her voice? Can Ika handle working for her father?

Thoughts

That was a fun episode despite not being manic. I particularly liked the clever usage of music with melodramatic tones used for Nagisa’s delusions and the 60’s movie homage for the mad scientist lair.

Speaking of (or more accurately, writing of) the mad scientists, this is the introduction of their reoccurring characters. On the Net they are often referred to as the Three Idiots for good reason. There is a bit of snarky social commentary about wasting one’s talents that I also appreciated.

Eiko gets some good character moments in each segment. It is nice to see a “voice of reason” character treated well in a comedy and she gets some great lines throughout the series.

One of the best sight gags I’ve seen in a cartoon is committed by Cindy and that had me laughing out loud. Keep an eye open for that.

Squid Girl 07 End Credits

Technical

Squid Girl Season 1 DVD Set 2 FrontSquid Girl Season 1 DVD Set 2 Back

The unorthodox case covers continue and the front is a clever lampoon of group photos gone wrong. The back has a typo in the first sentence that proves you cannot rely on spellcheckers alone. Also, the synopsis is annoying because it overplays Sanae’s unwanted obsession with Squid Girl as if it were the main story. Ah, otaku’s and their obsession with perviness.

Squid Girl Season 1 DVD Set 2 Case

The case itself is a vast improvement over the previous one. Many discs from set one were damaged in shipment due to the poor quality of the cases. Gone are the flimsy center post design and the plastic is much firmer with less flex. Discs will not depart on their own with this case. Kudos to Media Blasters for rectifying the problems there.

The second set for Season 1 of Squid Girl maintains the high visual quality of the first set reviewed here. The video scales up nicely again and the sound is clear Dolby Digital.

Episodes 7-10 are on Disc 3 and Disc 4 contains the final two episodes plus the same trailers from the previous set.

But the big bonus are the two OVA episodes of Mini Squid Girl on Disc 4. These short and relentlessly cute stories are great fun.

All in all, Media Blasters did a good job on the DVD sets and now have announced there will be a Blu-ray set released this coming Spring.