Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999) Review

aka Awakening of Iris aka Gamera 1999: Absolute Guardian of the Universe

Gamera 3 TitleGamera 3 1999

The final installment of Shuseke Kaneko’s trilogy of Gamera films aspires to be more than a giant monster movie when the giant flying turtle faces multiple foes – with the most deadly being a teenage girl. An unrelenting rollercoaster of a ride, Gamera 3 achieves the feat of becoming the most serious kaiju movie since the original Gojira stomped onto the screen. Combining an emotional plot, terrific pacing, and high attention to detail makes for a memorable movie whose images linger on well after the end credits roll.

Gamera 3 Nagamine at EcuatorGamera 3 Ayana 1995

Opening with haunting and evocative music, Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris presents us with an unidentified location on the Ecuator in 1999. Doctor Mayumi Nagamine (Shinabu Nakayama) from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe has been called out to a remote jungle village where the body of a young Gyaos lays decomposing.  Absent from the second movie, the ornithologist has been spending her time researching the bird like monsters and now their return adds an ominous air to the proceedings.

Health 3-31-2012

Here it is General Conference again and I have a mild cold. It seems like this happens a lot for the April sessions. So I will not be making it in for Priesthood tonight.

Just looked at bread purchased earlier in the week and it has all gone moldy. This is getting to be quite a problem in this house for it is too humid in the kitchen once warm weather begins. There is no way the two of us can eat a loaf quickly enough, it seems.

At least I am more alert today. Since Wednesday, I have been completely thrashed from a trip to the capitol in St. Paul. Time to get some writing done!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

F-35A Tests Its Wing Pylons



It is odd, but I think the bird looks better with things hanging under the wings. While it kills the stealth, the idea is that after the enemy air defenses are taken care of more weapons can be hauled for close air support and interdiction. The big question is whether the coming economic collapse kills the expensive program before it reaches service.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The End of Bleach: 2004-2012

There seem to be a lot of things ending for me of late and the as of today the Bleach anime is no more. After 366 episodes and four movies, it ended due to a collapse in ratings and declining DVD sales in Japan. The cancellation was rather sudden, but the show managed to conclude the most recent story arc without throwing too much out.

While not popular with a lot of the fans, the Fullbringer arc adaptation was actually superior to the original manga and showed a great deal of creativity was still left in the staff after all these years. My suspicion is that showing the main character, Ichigo, go through an emotional wringer and having to grow up is the last thing the target demographic wanted to see. But it did appeal to an old timer like me, for character development is what made me like the silly series.

Though rushed, the final episode shows how much Ichigo Kurosaki has grown since the first season that made such a splash worldwide. Not only does he look older, the decisions he made at the end were much more mature and a conversation by two characters about him highlighted it. He has become a man and a good one at that.

All the familiar faces from Soul Society and the real world have cameo appearances and the final minutes of the show end on a nice note filled with a sweetness – something it needed to after the very grim arc. No longer the angry loner, Ichigo has more friends and loved ones than he can count. When he tells Rukia, “Seeya around” the message is aimed at the viewers as much as at the diminutive Soul Reaper.

Ending on a truly warm moment was a nice way to finish the series and I will miss the silly thing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tools of the Faith

When it comes to technology, I believe that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are more geeky than a lot of the population at large in the United States. That is a bold claim in the era of iPads, iPods, and Facebook, but I notice we tend to be early adopters of technology and love to incorporate it into church wide usage. Now that I have moved over to an Android platform for my portable assistant needs, I am finding my suspicions are correct.

The last revamp to LDS.org has made it a more useful tool for individual members, whether they be leaders or the average person. While the updated profile information and access to online versions of manuals/teaching tools impressed me, it was not until recently that I began to really appreciate what can be done with them.

Both  iOS and Android devices have free apps that allow you to sync up all your highlights, annotations, and bookmarks from your scriptures, magazines, and manuals with your LDS.org account. This is tremendously handy for me, since I try to keep my electronic and hard copy scriptures in sync. Making sure to highlight or note something in my Holy Bible or Book of Mormon that I did with my tablet is not easy simply because my memory is not that good. But if I synch my tablet to the account, all I have to do is look under “My Study Notebook” and voila, there it is. Then I crack open the books and get my highlighting pencils out to manually sync the paper editions. The ease of that made me very happy.

Search for “Gospel Library” in Google Play, Amazon Kindle, or iTunes app stores for the very well done app from the Church. If you have a lot of space on your tablet or smart phone, I advise downloading all the conference talks available. So far everything back to 1974 has been issued in electronic format for the app. I also suggest exploring all the lesser pamphlets and manuals, for there is a lot of good information there.

But wait, there is more out there!

I highly recommend Stake Central for Android. While some may be content with the lesser Ward Central app, this has your local leadership and stake calendar included. Both are very handy for active families looking to keep up with local events and contacting people for information. It is the same data you can access on your LDS.org membership account, but downloaded for when you have no Web access.

Another useful tool for digging into scripture is “LDS Citation Index”, which allows you to find conference talks, books, and manuals that reference a specific verse of scripture. This is great for preparing lessons and talks when you are on the road or cannot get to a PC. Look for it in Android markets.

There are other apps available, but those are the ones I am using currently. Now to get the stray annotations out of my old Dell Axim…

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Posting and Health 3-21-2012

The current slow down in blogging is due to the slowdown of me. Since the unusual and record setting heat began, I have had a hard time adjusting to it. Radical changes in temperature hit me in two different ways, with a sudden cold snap causing sneezing and sudden warmth causing my digestive system to get out of whack. The latter is the problem right now and I am being a bit of a zombie. Part of this is fallout from having a more active week before, but most of it is the heat and my body’s poor coping skills.

Sleep has been sporadic and of low quality thanks to all this, which is not helpful. As the week has gone on, things have improved gradually. It is annoying to be yawning as I type this. The good news is that I have not been totally incapacitated and have been working on a monster of a movie review. The screen captures need to culled to something workable and after they are edited the writing will begin.

After that, I will be beginning a new series to review – my favorite one of all time. Expect a lot of theorizing as attempts are made to understand the thinking of its creator and star.

Then there is a post that has slowly been forming in my mind about how hatred and raw emotion have come to dominate what passes for discourse in society. That will be quite a long post.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mass Effect 3, Entitlement Culture, and Endings

Over at Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 forums there is a considerable uprising in protest of the grim ending to the game. Without going into the merits of the how the ending was written and presented (there is very legitimate and not legitimate criticisms), what strikes me is the rage at not having a happy ending possible. There is sloppy writing involved and the ending was rushed along with other parts of the game, no doubt about that. But it is a cohesive and logical ending despite what those who are angry are writing.

Part of what I like about the Mass Effect series is that it does not shy away from hard choices and painful outcomes.  The idea of sacrifice runs through the entire series, starting with the Virmire mission in the first game where you have to choose which one of two main companions dies. At the beginning of the second game, the death of your character, Shepherd,  was a red flag that you would probably die when all is said and done, despite the resurrection after the opening titles. I took it as meaning Shepherd was on borrowed time from then on out.

But a lot of people reject that concept and are demanding a new ending be made and released. Thanks to the afore mentioned sloppy writing, there is an accidental out for Bioware and EA if they choose to use it. Yet I find it amazing that gamers believe they have a right to a happy ending. Long have gamers clamored that games be taken seriously as art, alongside movies and novels. So when a game takes an artistic chance and reaches for that brass ring, this happens. Sigh.

There is additional anger that the vaunted choices imported from the previous games do not effect the ending. My reply to this is that Mass Effect 3 is a final act in a larger story and those choices are shown to have large repercussions for the galaxy. Entire races can live or die depending on the choices you have made. Conflicts between races can be ended and paths for their cultures changed. That is not small in scale, is it? So a great deal of the reward for past choices is delivered well before the ending sequence and I consider that argument a nonstarter.

It speaks a great deal about how well written the characters are when players get this emotionally wrapped up with them. A lot of this ire has to do with failing to get a happy ending and seeing your Shepherd happy with his or her love interest as a reward. Life is messier than that and these games have always reflected that.

Currently, the people in most industrialized/Westernized nations have come to believe that happiness is a right to be guaranteed by their governments. Usually that takes the form of a welfare or socialist system of some variant. Expectations are high that failure will always have a safety net. Economics and demographics are starting to assert their terrible and unstoppable refutation of such systems being sustainable in the long term. Watching the riots and demonstrations in Greece has been informative as to how people will react when such nets begin to unravel.

By the way, “happiness” is not guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States of America. The word is not even found in it or the Bill of Rights. So where does that mistaken belief come from? It comes from the Declaration of Independence. To make things even clearer, that statement of intent (which is not legally binding) had “the pursuit of happiness” as a right. Last I checked, pursuit is not a guarantee you will catch the thing chased after.

But back on topic. So what does that have to do with a silly video game, you ask? (Or at least I ask for you.)

Well, people had the expectation of getting their way at the end and when that was dashed, they became disenchanted, bitter, and often furious. So now petitions have begun and an organized movement to force Bioware to release a free happy ending patch or DLC is well underway. This is not too different from protests seen in Greece and soon to be seen in other parts of Europe.

Somewhere along the way, great swathes of people began to believe happiness could be guaranteed. Reality and history say otherwise, but we have so much that we have become spoiled rotten. Thanks to the melodrama playing out over Mass Effect 3, some things I have been pondering have come into better focus. Too many people are utterly unprepared for worst case scenarios, at least emotionally. This is not good, given what is coming.

Odd that a PR disaster for a game is giving me a better grasp of some societal mechanics, but hey, I take my inspirations whenever and wherever I get them.

I wish to note that this is not meant as a full blown apologia for Mass Effect 3’s ending. There are plenty of flaws to it and to the series in general. I cannot present the trilogy as a paragon of storytelling or game making, for it does have plenty of warts. While I do not like how it became a gay rights propaganda platform, a player had the choice to avoid it for the most part – until this installment when it was rammed through with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball. Still, it is an entertaining and interesting science fiction property that might be best served in other media than games in the future.

Something occurred to me while playing through it the first time. The sensation was much like when I saw Return of the King and it can be described as a feeling that nothing will top what I just viewed. For me, Mass Effect 3 is the last video game I will ever get excited about, much like the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy affected my movie viewing. Oh I will get the DLC’s and play out all the bargain games I have gotten on Steam over the years. But it feels like the end of an era in my life and the enthusiasm will never be the same, not due to disappointment but completion.

For me, that is the biggest and perhaps best ending.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Week That Was

Sitting here and typing that it is Friday night seems strange, because it seems like Sunday was only a day or two ago. Time flies when there are things getting done and this week was a better one than I had experience in some time.

I took advantage of the warm weather to get a 2.5 mile walk in yesterday and thought I would never make it back up the hill. That bug last month really knocked the stuffing out of me. The good news is that I managed to be functional today.

While it looks like I did not do much with the blog, I updated two reviews, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and Gamera 2: Advent of Legion with sections on the bonus features. If you ever wondered what making a big monster movie was like before CGI took over everything, there are some good glimpses of the work involved. Next up will be the concluding movie to the trilogy, but that will wait until next week.

One thing I did not get done was re-entering my contacts data on my CyPad tablet. Despite buying Titanium Backup Pro, it failed to save that data in its pre-Ice Cream Sandwich backup. Everything else worked fairly well, but I need to check the settings.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why Hollywood is Evil, Part 1,345,798,221

The production and licensing company that owns rights to The Hobbit are suing an English pub that has been named The Hobbit Free House for twenty years. Read the article and ponder the stupidity of the money grubbers sitting in the USA going after small fry in another land. If the name Zaentz sounds familiar, he is the one who screwed over John Fogarty and prevented him from recording for years after Creedence Clearwater Revival broke up.

Odds and Ends 3-13-2012

It was a nice day out today and tomorrow promises to be even better. While I was dead tired today after a tiring, but interesting Sunday, it turned out to be a day to get things done.

After much wrangling, ranting, research, trial and error, I managed to get a Sylvania 7” Android tablet working again for a friend. It was a Christmas present for his oldest boy and locked up when they first used it. I count that as a victory.

The upgrade to Android 4.0 aka Ice Cream Sandwich on my Iview CyTab went relatively smoothly last week. While slightly slower in some ways, the stability is an immense improvement. So far I like it a lot and the various Web browsers seem to be happier than on Gingerbread. The keyboard is a huge improvement and nearly worth the upgrade alone.

It is hard to believe that Sunday was the one year anniversary of the tsunami that hit Japan. Their economy is still affected by it and I read that a lot of a manufacturing that had not already left is now going to China. It is a strange thing to watch because I remember when all the cheap knockoffs had “Made in Japan” stamped on them.

We had a township election today and for the second time in a row it came down to a tied vote decided by drawing cards from a deck. Yucatan Township is an interesting place to live, that is for sure.

The massacre in Afghanistan by a renegade soldier may turn out to be an even bigger tragedy than reported. There has been a report that he had suffered a brain injury while serving in Iraq in 2010. It used to be that was an automatic discharge, but he was sent back into combat duty. If true, careers need to end for the officers involved in the decision.

I finished Mass Effect 3 and found the ending to be interesting. Other people are incensed by it, but a happy ending never seemed to be in the cards to me. This series is gritty and serious science fiction, not Star Wars or Star Trek. In fact, it felt a lot like how Babylon 5 ended in some ways. Come to think of it, the Reapers remind me of a cross between the Shadows and the Borg.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bleach Ep. 15: Kon’s Great Plan

The first season takes a breather and slows down in this comedy centric episode starring Kon, the stuffed lion. When Kon can no longer take being treated like a toy, he runs away from home to find a better place. But there is a moody parallel story as Rukia finds herself becoming too attached to others in the mortal world. So what does a mysterious black cat appearing mean for our heroes?

Bleach1 Main TitleBleach 15 Title

Bleach’s comedy is not for everyone and is often over the top. This is one of those episodes, but is leavened by a growing melancholy that quickly becomes foreboding. There are no fights, but plot development is carefully advanced as the next big storyline is setup.

Bleach 15 Rukia in BedBleach 15 Kon in Dress

The duality of the episode is introduced early on with a brooding Rukia in bed and a crying Kon dealing with having been put in a ridiculous dress by Ichigo’s sister, Yuzu. Both are suffering for very different reasons and each handles their problems quite differently. At least on the face of it…

Friday, March 09, 2012

Another Year Older, Another Year Wiser?

My birthday was a low key affair, which has become the norm for many years now. While we all get older, the real trick is becoming wiser as the years go by. In a culture devoted to perpetual adolescence, wisdom is dwindling. Not that we ever had enough of that valuable resource, but it is becoming even rarer.

So I hope I have learned a few things in the past year and that they have or in the future will benefit others. It does not seem I learn much for my own gain as time goes by. Since I believe we are here to serve others, it is probably for the best in the eternal scheme of things.

This week I decided to take for myself though. Using my birthday as an excuse, I have focused on me and entertaining myself instead of being productive. This is something someone healthy cannot do and probably does not need to do, but being disabled means you live a life most cannot understand. While I rant against being in a culture of “mass distraction,” it has been a deliberate exercise in it this week.

Being distracted was made easy by the release of Mass Effect 3, the conclusion of the Commander Shepherd trilogy and my present to myself. Some of the content I do not like, but the finale is a worthy ending to the epic story and the conclusion that angered a lot of fans is fine with me. Especially since it appears to be more open ended than they perceive to allow for DLC packs to come. It is a grim story, with the destruction of worlds making that unavoidable. Fortunately, that sense of friendship and personal intimacy with other characters is still intact. Hate the new cover system, it got me killed more times than I can count.

As is tradition, my dad and I went out for crab legs on my birthday. Back when my mother was alive, our birthdays were slightly more than a week apart so we would celebrate that way between them. Amazingly, I did not overstuff myself this year.

Thanks to my sister, I have the Blu-ray of my all time favorite movie coming. Akira Kurosawa’s Ran is a true masterpiece and, in my eyes, superior to Seven Samurai. My first DVD purchase was of this movie, more than a year before I had a DVD-ROM player to view it with. It cost a pretty penny back then, around $35.00 and looked like it was lifted from a VHS tape. No anamorphic widescreen here, just a letterboxed scan wedged into 4:3 ratio. I tried watching it on the new 40” HDTV and it looked awful. So it will be nice to see it in high definition glory.

After we succeeded in out quest for snow crab legs, we went to Blaine’s Farm and Fleet for more wood pellets. There I ran into the deluxe two disc DVD edition of Lawrence of Arabia, the one with the cloth cover on the case. It was in the surplus rack of discount DVDs and was on sale at an additional discount. Paying four dollars to replace my no frills bargain DVD was a no brainer and capped off a nice birthday.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Long Arm of Uncle Sam

This article on Wired (via Instapundit) caught my attention today. It may surprise people to see just how absolute the Fed’s power over the Internet really is. So any website ending in com, org, or net is claimed to be under United States jurisdiction. What does that mean? It means they can legally shut down any website in the world that ends with those suffixes.

Meanwhile, Anonymous are in a tizzy after one of their own rolled over to the Feds. Language warning for the article, BTW. LulzSec is pretty much done, but there are still quite a few in Anonymous who are sweating bullets at this point.

I am afraid a lot of people assume they can do whatever they want and get away with it due to government incompetence. The thing to remember is that governments are slow and ponderous, but not oblivious. Eventually they will get around to pursuing cyber criminals if they draw enough attention to themselves. With Anonymous constantly making declarations, they might as well be wearing blinking neon signs. Their time is running out.

No deep thoughts on any of this today, because it is merely interesting data for the moment.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Squid Girl Episode 9

In the space of one episode, the show goes from sweetly silly to lunacy. Squid Girl discovers makeup, the dangers of doorbell ditching, and that being fought over is not as much fun as it sounds. But things are not all bad as she makes a friend.

Squid Girl Main Title[2]

The misadventures of Ika Musume aka Squid Girl are at their best when they mix a dash of sentimentality into the antics. Since most of the stories have a basis in every day events, there is ample opportunity to do so. It is the first story that uses this recipe to best effect and I judge it the most memorable in the episode.

Squid Girl 09 Takeru Doorbell DitchingSquid Girl 09 Ringing the Doorbell

Want to Ring and Jet?

I knew other kids who doorbell ditched when I was younger, but I never found it amusing. Usually the targets were old folks who would become very confused and flustered, which irked me. So when the episode opened with Takeru and his friend doing it, I was prepared to be annoyed. Especially when Squid Girl is taunted into playing “ring and run.”

Seen ringing the doorbell by Chizuru, the hapless girl freezes. Luckily for her, the woman answering the door provides her an out by assuming she a friend of her daughter’s. Bluffing her way out of it, it almost works – until the girl shows up.

Recovering from the Weekend

I suppose that most Americans would look at the title and assume copious amounts of partying and alcohol were involved, but since I am a devout Latter-day Saint the latter is not possible. The former can happen, but in this case did not. Still, after two weeks of being ill with a virus on top of my normal CFS, it was a bit more strenuous than normal.

It started with a normal D&D session that got very loopy and not due to the story. When a group of friends have not been together for several weeks, it is very hard to get them to focus on gameplay. At least that is been my experience and it was particularly chaotic this time around.

Stayed over at a friend’s house and went in with his carpool to church, so that meant being there three hours before sacrament meeting started. A light snow had deposited enough flakes to be slippery, so we shoveled the walks. Normally, that would be too draining for me, but the snow was so light it was more like scraping the walks.

However, I am feeling it today. The pain is not muscular, because there was nothing to lift. But when I get too tired and the weather changes, it becomes a double whammy of pain in the joints and back. A rough night led to sleeping in and I am still a little fuzzy headed.

Still, it was worth it.

I see Rush Limbaugh has lost seven sponsors over his extremely foolish insults toward the female students that the Democrats setup to cause a big ruckus. Rush fell for obvious bait and I am continually amazed at how naïve conservatives are in regards to the Left’s tactics. The whole contraception controversy has been a very carefully calculated and laid out plan between the Democrats and the media to divert attention from the economy by reigniting the culture wars. Both Santorum and Limbaugh have shown themselves to be rather stupid in doing exactly what the Left wanted them to do.

It is only the beginning of what I predict will be the dirtiest and ugliest election season since Abraham Lincoln was elected. The political Right have no clue just how bad it is going to get and have busied themselves with self destructive internecine warfare, much to the media’s glee. The phrase “Stuck on stupid” keeps coming to mind.Failing to keep the eye on the ball due to ego is not forgivable.

With global freight shipping declining, durable goods orders down, and inventories growing, the real story will be the economic collapse happening. The media will avoid that as long as possible to keep Obama in power, but I think things will hit a critical point before the election. The fact he has told the House and Senate Democrats there will be no money coming from him and his PACs is a big warning sign that there are money problems. They act surprised by it, but it has been clear that the only person Barack cares about is Barack for a very long time now.

Over in Russia, Putin has shown how it is done with massive fraud and a lot of media blitzing. Reports from observers indicate it was not a fair election, but does anyone really expect it to be overturned? At the rate things are going, America will end up like this.

At least I will have a distraction for awhile. Mass Effect 3 unlocks around midnight and I am eager to see how the trilogy ends. Forget Star Wars and Star Trek, the Mass Effect universe is the most exciting science fiction setting currently out there. The ability to turn a game into something more akin to being inside an epic film or novel series has been the great achievement of the franchise.

I had better get to work on another review before I start playing, or there will not be one posted any time soon!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Gamera 2: Advent of Legion (1996) Review

aka Attack of the Legion.

Everyone’s favorite fire breathing and flying turtle returns for the second chapter of the 1990’s revamp. When an alien menace threatens Japan, the Earth’s guardian gets his scaly hide kicked repeatedly by a superior foe. Brutal fights, massive destruction, and science fiction horror show this series is not aimed at little kids anymore. UPDATED for making of extras.

Gamera 2 Advent of Legion Title

Gamera was always something of a joke to me while I was growing up. Of course I was a dedicated and loyal Godzilla fan, so a giant turtle that flew by spinning was sure to be a target of my disdain. It did not help that the movies were aimed at very little kids who could cheer him on in fights and revive him by doing so. It was not mere corn, it was buttered corn with sugar sprinkled on it. I prefer salt, thank you very much.

So when I declare the trilogy begun with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe contains the best kaiju (giant monster) films to ever come out of Japan, please note that there is no sarcasm involved. Gamera 2: Advent of Legion manages to do the impossible and that is to turn the ridiculous ideas of the original films into something cleverly entertaining. Attention to detail, character development, and excellent pacing are to be found in abundance. It is almost enough to convince you that a turtle can fly.

Gamera 2 Small Legion Pistol

Like this post or the monster gets it!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

In Memoriam: Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012)

In Memoriam: Andrew Breitbart (1969-2012)

This was a shocker to read this morning. Breitbart had done a lot of good in getting the conservative message out there and especially in giving the libertarians and conservatives in Hollywood a place to voice their views. Like a shooting star, he blazed brightly and all too briefly.

My prayers and condolences go out to his family, friends, and coworkers.