Sunday, August 30, 2009

Movie Review: Chocolate

Just to make sure we're starting on the same movie, there's an "e" at the end of that name, meaning this is a Thai martial arts movie, not a French romance movie. I haven't seen a lot of Thai movies - I think so far I've been limited to the sensational Tony Jaa in Ong Bak and The Protector. Both were quite entertaining though, and Netflix used their fancy algorithm to predict that I'd really like this one too, so I had high hopes. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

I will go ahead and say that this is a martial arts movie first and foremost, and if you don't enjoy the genre this one isn't going to have the wider appeal of some of the more beautifully-shot imports like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. However, if you're like me and can watch a martial arts movie the same way as a ballet, then this movie certainly delivers.

Like most martial arts movies, the plot is inconsequential and contrived to lead to a series of increasingly improbable but awesome fight locales. In this case, we have an autistic girl with a goofy but well-meaning friend and a sick mother who was previously involved in organized crime. The girl is fairly low functioning, with the exception that she can pick up martial arts moves by watching kung fu movies. The premise probably would have felt somewhat exploitative (especially in a certain autistic kid vs. autistic kid brawl) if it wasn't for a heart-felt message at the opening of the movie dedicating itself to "the special children of the world". I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. In any case, the plot was serviceable, slightly more interesting than a Jackie Chan movie, but nothing to write home about.

As expected, where this movie really shines is in the whole kicking-the-crap-out-of-people department. I don't feel qualified to judge the 24 year old actress on her autism portrayal, but she does a bang-up job on the crap-kicking. The choreography puts American action movies to shame, featuring longer uncut sequences and some very clever interactions with the environment. It's not quite as funny or over the top as a Jackie Chan flick, but in this case it worked well because it felt slightly more realistic and gritty while still being completely insane.

Watching this movie, along with Tony Jaa's films, has made one thing very clear: Thailand has the best, and absolutely craziest, stunt teams in the world. The stuff these guys do with few (or perhaps no) wires or CG effects is absolutely amazing. In fact, in true Jackie Chan style, we're "treated" to a montage of outtakes at the end of the movie. Honestly, this sequence made the rest of the movie somewhat disturbing when as you begin to realize how many people were injured (at least one ended up with a neck brace and was hospitalized I hear) during the filming of this movie. I hope these guys are paid well, because they produced an incredible product and really put their blood, sweat, and tears into it. Except the tears part. There's no crying in Thai martial arts movies.

Reflecting back on the movie, I really genuinely enjoyed it and would watch it again. I give it an enthusiastic 8/10, though with the asterisk that it really is a movie for people who enjoy martial arts movies. If you were unimpressed with The Protector and didn't love Legend of Drunken Master then you might as well skip out on this one too.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Movie Review: Severance

Severence is dark British horror/comedy about an office off-site trip that went horribly wrong. Given the simple but deliciously punny title I had high hopes for the movie. I'm pleased to report that those expectations were well-exceeded.

One thing I didn't anticipate was just how funny this movie would be. It spends its opening act introducing its cast of characters in something closer to The Office than any sort of horror movie and has quite a few laughs to go along with it. The cast was stereotypical, but in a good way. You have the slightly incompetent boss, the rebel/slacker, the player, the liberal/hippie girl, the hot chick, the token black guy, and the hopeless brown-noser. They go on a trip, hilarity ensues, and then terrible things happen, which are still hilarious.

What I enjoyed about (most) of the movie was that the characters generally maintained a fairly level head. It was rare that I found myself yelling "No, you idiot, don't go upstairs!!", which was nice. The scary/gory elements of the movie were pretty par. I won't spoil anything about who the bad guy/gal is, but it's not a movie that's full of plot twists and double-crosses - you're aware of the villain pretty early on and you track the non-villains' attempts to survive. There are some tense moments, a few jumps (though not many), and some gore (though not nearly as gory as some horror movies - I think it hit a happy medium of appropriate but not over-the-top). Really, fairly standard fair for a scary movie.

What elevated this to a really enjoyable movie though was the humor. I found myself laughing harder and perceived it as more often (though I imagine part of that is contrast with the scary parts) with this movie than with many comedies (including the previously-reviewed Pineapple Express and Darwin Awards). Granted, the style of comedy is not for everyone. If you didn't think Fight Club was hysterically funny you probably won't like this type of humor either - it is exceedingly dark. For me, this was comic gold. It caught me off guard and had me hooked throughout. Now, it's not all fun and games. Somewhat like Shaun of the Dead, there are some legitimately serious parts of the movie, but if you're looking for a nice combination of pitch-black comedy and horror movie you can't do much better than Severance. I think I'll go out on a limb (and against IMDB and Metacritic's mid-6 reviews) and give this one a solid 8/10. Might not be for everyone, but I loved it thoroughly. (Did I go overboard on the parentheticals today? (Yes)).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

3.5 Pounds to Arkham Asylum

Ok, I think I'm making the executive decision to drop the forced "Picks" thing. I'll keep using lots of them, but it was getting to the point where the labels were getting contrived and losing usefulness. So, I formally introduce the Netflix Diet label (which will be retroactively tagged on a few prior posts).

Anyway, the "diet" is going relatively well. On the food side, I'm primarily trying to watch portions a bit, make some smart decisions when eating out, and drink primarily water with meals. I still treat myself fairly regularly, especially on weekends, and I get a desert after most meals (which I just carefully choose to be low-fat, low-calorie ice cream and frozen lemonade and such). Which is the great thing about this diet - it doesn't feel like dieting.

For the exercise portion, I've been keeping up my running very well. I'm averaging over 4 days a week, at 30 minutes a day. I have a very important piece of advice for anyone starting any exercise regimen: keep a log. I have a spreadsheet for this diet, but for my first one, a few years ago, I just wrote it down on paper. This is crucial. Record your time, your distance, what settings you used on your machines, how many calories, any kind of statistics you can. You'll be amazed at your progress over time, and if you don't record it you'll likely not notice how much incredible improvement you've shown in even just a few weeks.

For example, my first day I only did 20 minutes, but after that I started at my 30 minute runs. That first 30 minute run I did 1,888 revolutions on my elliptical, burning an estimated 562 calories. Just a few days ago, I hit my record of 2,620 revolutions, at 744.6 calories. That's quite a large improvement. :)

Additionally, at the beginning of March, I weight 205.5 pounds. As late as July 6, I was still 203.5 pounds and hadn't really started my Netflix Diet. Now, only 7 weeks later, I was at 193.5 pounds this morning. 12 pounds in 7 weeks is a healthy, steady progression that I can happily keep up for months.

So, what's that title of the blog post all about? Well, I decided to promise myself rewards over this process. At 190 pounds, I get to open up my pre-ordered copy of Arkham Asylum, which is apparently an amazing game. I've very excited. :) At 175 (my end goal), I get to go on a shopping spree for new clothes. I'm not sure if I'm going to set any goals in between those, but I think one at 182.5 might be good too. Maybe Knights In The Nightmare? I've had my eye on that game for a while... Anyway, 3.5 pounds to go!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009 - and what a party it is!

Time for my first website pick. There's not a lot to say about this one besides that it is extremely simple, very funny, and can make almost anyone sound witty and clever in about 10 seconds. One of our programmers, Andrew, linked this site into the company chat room, and very literally the next 2 hours was nothing but people posting their favorite results from this website. The whole company ground to a halt with one link. Which is deliciously ironic, considering our entire business model hinges on reducing the productivity of the world with a website. Oh, oh, I mean, on raising happiness and satisfaction by providing a fun and interactive place to play games and meet people...

In any case, is simply an English -> Japanese -> English -> Japanese -> ... translator. You give it an English phrase and it keeps translating back and forth until it reaches an "equilibrium" (or as the math geeks say, a "point of convergence"). This may sound boring, but it's surprisingly addictive and funny. For example, Theresa, our graphic designer, discovered this gem:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."


"The score of 47-1 to China, free and fair, we were created under the guidance of our ancestors."

And you just thought to yourself "Where did China come from?!" Yup, that's the great fun of this website - you never know what'll happen.

Sadly, it sometimes stalls out, and I'm not sure if this is due to traffic or translation timeouts or what. But in general it's quick and easy fun, and it lets you communicate with people entirely through URLs, which is a skill we clearly needed in this world of typing as few characters as possible.

Movie Review: Pineapple Express

I went into Pineapple Express with fairly high hopes. The movie was not hated by critics and had been recommended by a few friends. I find Seth Rogan to be funny in most things I've seen him in, so it seemed like a good combination. While this is a movie where the trailer spoils some of the better laughs, there was still plenty of fun to be had.

It starts out like a...typical?...pot movie, follwing a twenty-something stoner in a crappy job with a how-the-hell-did-he-end-up-with-her? love interest and a goofy drug dealer. Then a crime gets committed, some people witness it, there are chases, gun fights, a lot of stoner jokes (many of which were quite funny), and a somewhat bizarre over-the-top action sequence near the end. There's a buddy-badguy duo that tries to be Vincent and Jules from Pulp Fiction but never quite reaches that goal, though Craig Robinson seems to be some up-and-coming talent between this, The Office, and Zack and Miri (which, by the way, is a much funnier comedy, nothing against this one).

I actually don't have a lot to say about this movie. It's not deep or life-changing, and I'm writing this review about 2 weeks after having watched the movie and I'm having a hard time recalling a lot of details, so it obviously didn't make that lasting of an impression on me. None the less, I know I had a good time with it and would certainly recommend it to anyone who is up for a goofy movie with a good heart who doesn't mind a lot of swearing and a little bloodshed. Not the best comedy ever (heck, not even Rogan's best, which would be Zack and Miri or The 40 Year Old Virgin, depending on how you define a "Seth Rogan movie"), but still worth a watch. 7/10.

By the way, have you noticed that almost everything I've rated so far has been right around a 7/10? My theory is that I'm successfully picking movies that I like, but nothing that I love since most of those I would have seen by now or am waiting to watch with Shelly. Something tells me that streak will be broken with my next review... which way will it be? Actually, since almost everyone reading this is probably reading in the "reverse blog order" with newest posts at the top, there's really no suspense at this point. Oh well.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Seeing Jesus on a Toilet

I recorded this off of this morning's local news program.  I'm having some difficulty coming up with things to say about it because it just seems too easy.  This isn't meant to mock Christians because I feel confident that most Christians (i.e. probably everyone except this woman's boyfriend, who has no choice) would look at this and say this woman is a few fries short of a Happy Meal.  In any case, there is just too much wonderful irony / WTFness involved in this video to ignore.

A woman who is having financial difficulty sees an image of Jesus and feels uplifted and gets renewed hope. Ok, that's not so bad. Except the "image of Jesus" is exceendingly hard to make out (even by normal "I see Jesus in some toast" standards), it's on a I [Heart] Las Vegas bumper sticker, and that bumper sticker is plastered haphazardly on the underside of a toilet lid. I feel like this one just speaks for itself.

Somewhere, Andres Serrano is cackling madly.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A study in efficiency: Microsoft and the RROD

Time to start a new category. Rather unexpectedly, I feel the need to tell a story of a pleasant surprise. It may be a geeky story, but credit should be given where credit is due. Which brings us to Microsoft.

*showers to get rid of that dirty feeling*

So, where was I? Ah, yes - Microsoft. Many of you geeky types are probably familiar with the famous "red ring of death" on the XBOX360. For those who don't know, it looks like this:

If that doesn't look ominous and horrible, I don't know what does. At least it's more appropriate than the famed blue screen of death - the XBOX360 doesn't joke around. When it's toast, it let's you know.

Basically, this is a problem that comes from over-heating of the 360. It has been a persistent problem for Microsoft, who even admits themselves to a 3%-5% failure rate. Other studies have put this problem at anywhere from 10% to 30% of all 360s. So, while very angry, I was not terribly surprised when I booted up my 360 one day and saw the menacing red glow staring me down.

I was able to easily find Microsoft's support request page through a quick Google search and I promptly registered my problem. I immediately printed out a pre-paid shipping label for UPS and packed up my 360 to get sent out. A mere 9 days later I have my 360 (or most likely, another refurbished one, but whatever) in my hands. Fast shipping, quick service, and even a 1-month XBOX Live Gold card (worth about $6) taped to the system as an apology for my troubles. I am very impressed with how efficient they've been in handling this rather large and pervasive problem. So, bravo Microsoft - you made the process quick, easy, and relatively painless.

I'm a little surprised that you have a typo in your apology letter, but whatever. The core experience was excellent and I'm very pleased with your service. Though I have attached an intercooler (and one of the ones with it's own power supply) to my 360 just to make sure this time. :)

Now to get back to the Netflix diet that I had to go for a week without.

A brief poetic play on words

I can't claim to have written the words to this poem (it's actually a very famous progression), but I don't think I've seen anyone punctuate it before, so this is my contribution.

I, in sin, sing Sting.

String staring...


Strange what we think up in the shower, isn't it?

EDIT: I changed the opening line so that now I'm singing a Sting song, which makes much more sense. However, the "string" is fairly nonsensical. Everything else makes perfect sense, so that's a little annoying. If you have any ideas of how to make the string make sense, lemme know!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dr. Some-Assembly-Required or How I Learned to Stop Reading and Loathe Directions

I feel a major rant coming on, but it's over something pretty trivial, so this gets the "nitpicks" label instead of a full-fledged "bone to pick". Still, make no mistake, the rage is boiling up. I'm in the present tense because I'm still working on it, and will be "live blogging" through the process.

This all started in an effort to have some better organization and storage space in the kitchen (due to not really having much of a pantry). We bought 3 short shelving units with doors to put side-by-side as a wide unit along the back of the bar. Granted, these are cheap units from Target that were on sale for college, but that means I'd expect cheaper wood, not impossible directions.

The first bookshelf had a number of brilliant moments. For example, the first step says "Gently tap hinge pins into holes in top panel, and bottom panel as shown." Ignoring the runaway comma it sounds fine. Except it's not actually shown anywhere. It's not in the picture to the side, nor are the "hinge pins" even listed in the relevant pieces needed for step one.

Next step, we get "Attach strike plates to top corner of doors to create left and right doors...Strike plate holes are not pre-drilled." Great - no holes (unlike everything else), nothing that says you need a drill (or at least a hammer and nail to make a pilot hole) - just twist this screw into the wood. Better yet, there's no indication of where exactly to do it or how to measure it. Icing on the cake, which was only delivered as a punch line after the entire construction was finished, is that the image showing the installation is upside down, so now I need to re-attach the plates.


As much swearing as that induced, it only got worse when I got to the third one (the first two were identical) which now has a drawer to install as well.

First step and we're already off to a brilliant start. "Attach drawer glides to left side and right side in holes shown using 4 drawer glide screws." Sounds easy enough. Wait a second...there aren't 4 drawer glide screws. Well, there kind of are - but there are 2 of one and 2 of another. They're very similar, but clearly not identical. After enough searching, I've decided to just run with it.

Now, to attach the glides to...wait, there are two sets of holes. Which one do I use? Nothing in the directions. Nice. Oh, and the holes are ever so slightly off no matter which set I use. I can tell this is going to be even more fun than the last one. Oh well - I'll just guess and pick the set of holes that looks better.

Next brilliant point: in the image in step two I'm shown a picture of screwing the magnetic clasps into the "top panel", which is all and good, except that's what it is in the non-drawer model of this unit. The drawer model, which is what I'm working on, has those screwed into the fixed shelf instead. Confidence is not rising...

I'm glad I don't only speak French, because Step 8 has an entire section of the French translation in English.

Step 9. Got the main unit assembled, now I just need to put together the drawer. Uh, wait - why is the drawer now pictured in Step 9? I haven't touched the drawer yet! What the Hell is going on here?

*flips back through previous steps looking for when I missed the drawer construction*

Nope, nothing. Oh - it's in Step 10. I can almost hear the piece of paper yelling "Psyche!" at me.

Step 10. Gotta find 4 of these strange little round pieces. Ok...there are only two. These are really obvious, I can't possibly be missing them. Please tell me they didn't forget to include some pieces...

*checks inventory on front page*

Oh, there's only supposed to be 2. A typo. I'm shocked, truly.

Still in step 10. I quote: "Align drawer bottom on all sides and gently nail drawer bottom to [it]." Has this person ever used a hammer before? "Gently" nail it on? If you are using a hammer gently, not only are you doing it wrong, you're probably not doing anything at all. Gently nailing something is a physical impossibility. I can imagine some poor person trying to follow these directions precisely and spending hours trying to drive a nail through wood without hitting it. It's an exercise in futility that would be daunting even to the WMD search crews in Iraq.

Ok, just about done. Drawer is assembled, all I need to do is slide it onto the rails. Sweet! It worked! Now hammer in the drawer stops's done! Finally done!

*slides drawer all the way in to unit...hears unfriendly clack*

Hmm...the drawer's not closing...that's odd...why is it not...oh. Oh, that's so not cool. So uh, remember that first step when I just had to guess which set of holes to use? All the way at the beginning? I apparently lost the coin toss. Serves me right for...wait...I didn't do anything wrong at all! I'm going to hunt down the children of whoever wrote this, grind them into a paste, and make burgers out of them. Rare burgers. Because I need to taste the blood of innocents.

By the way, ClosetMaid is not a brand I'd recommend purchasing if you have high blood pressure. Also, I'm having a cookout next Saturday. Bring your own beer, I'll provide the burgers.