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5.21.2008

Soap & Water

This is the back of a package of hand wipes. Seriously. Did anybody with Sanfacon read this?

5.18.2008

Firefox 3 First Impressions

I've been test-driving Firefox 3 Beta 5 for about a week now. Those who got on board with earlier betas claimed it loaded pages quicker and was less CPU and memory intensive. With that in mind, I expected to be impressed by the performance since I knew there weren't any drastic changes in user interface.

Overall, it does seem a little faster. There's a new page rendering engine which seems to do a better job with AJAX pages such as Google Docs, Facebook and web-based mail applications. Page layouts appear instantly. The speed of a page's content seems dependent only on the speed of your connection.

On the UI side of things there are a few minor changes. There has been a slight graphical update with nice but subtle visual effects like tabs that glow when moused-over. Depending on what OS you are running, Firefox will be skinned to match by default.

Bookmark organization has been improved. Now you click the star icon in the address bar toquickly add bookmarks. Unfortunately, unless you specify a location by clicking twice and going through a bit more hassel, these bookmarks only show up under "Smart Bookmarks" in the bookmarks toolbar.

Pages can now be scaled by pressing "Ctrl +" or "Ctrl -". These hotkeys used to increse or decrease the text size only, but now it will scale the entire page much like the iPhone.

On interesting feature that is being overlooked is drag-and-drop text and images. I've only seen this feature done in Opera (and it only works with images and links there). Bascially, you can highlight some text then drag and drop it into a word processor or whereever you want. Maybe it's not that useful but it looks cool. Try it and see what I mean.

I'd don't use many add-ons, but my favorite "Adblock Plus" works fine with the new version. Bookmarks, RSS feeds and other preferences also seamlessly transfered to Firefox 3. No surpize there.

Overall, Firefox 3 looks like a modest update to an already superb browser. Clearly the Mozilla team tried to address the biggest complaints about Version 2 and for the most part they have succeded.

Release Candidate 1 is out now. You can download it here. The final version is expected to drop sometime in June, but I see no reason not upgrade right now.


** Update **
Firefox RC 1 has some issues with the new Facebook Chat. That's odd because there was no problem with Beta 5. I actually don't care at all since Facebook Chat is just another annoying feature nobody was asking for. I'm sure it will be fixed in the final release for those who care.

5.16.2008

Prince Caspian Review

Note: this review is written for those who have read the book or otherwise know the story. For those who haven’t: be forewarned that it is riddled with SPOILERS.

When I went to see the Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe back in 2005, I had a healthy amount of skepticism as to how good an adaptation it would be. Having come on the heals of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy I knew how wonderful it was when an adaptation was done properly and how sad it was when they strayed too far. But I thought that, if nothing else, it would be better than the awful BBC version from the 80s.

Fortunately, it was a lot better. Although it had a lot of problems, it was a pretty decent telling of the story overall. For the most part I liked the visuals, I liked the portrayals of the characters, and the presentation was fine though a bit overdone.

I am sorry I cannot say the same thing about Prince Caspian. There are two ways of looking at the movie: as an adaptation of the book or simply as a movie.

Let’s look at it as an adaptation first.

It seems like the filmmakers took the book, sliced it into little pieces and re-arranged them into something that vaguely resembles C.S. Lewis’s story.

Some of the best moments from the book are either glossed over, altered, or made insignificant. Trumpkin doesn’t tell the Pevensies the story of Caspian, rather the film opens with Miraz’s son being born which causing Caspian to flee for his life. Any events before that, like his meetings with Dr. Cornelius, are only hinted at. When the Pevensies first arrive in Narnia they seem to know instantly where they are, what they should do, and they don’t seem to have any problem with the time difference between our world and Narnia. In fact, it isn’t directly addressed at any time in the movie. The desperate council of war at Aslan’s How is so dramatically different as to be unrecognizable.

The largest departure from the book, however, is the portrayal of the characters. Instead of acting like a High King, Peter is a selfish, arrogant jerk who insists on making poor decisions. It is apparent from the moment he is introduced that this is how they are going to play the character. Edmund, on the other hand, has become a mediator and peacemaker much like Peter was in Wardrobe.

Caspian is great until he meets the Pevensies which, because this is a movie, happens much sooner than in the book. Naturally, somebody thought it would be a good idea to have Caspian and Peter clash. It makes some sense, but is a needless deviation from the book. It leads to gratuitous battle sequences and pointless drama. At times it feels like a soap-opera. Adding to that feel is an actual romance between Susan and Caspian which, as we all know, can’t go anywhere. As Susan points out in a moderately funny, but out-of-place line “I am 1300 years older than you.” Lucy, fortunately, is just right. She’s still played as the cute little girl with “faith like a child” which is precisely the character I remember from the book.

The supporting characters are very supporting. They seem to fall pretty far into the background sometimes. Trufflehunter and Nikabrik’s roles have been massively downsized. You will either find Reepicheep just right or too cartoonish. Trumpkin is more curmudgeonly than I remember.

As an adaptation, Prince Caspian drifts painfully far from the book. Even if you haven’t read it in awhile (and I haven’t read it for a good six or seven years) you will probably recall enough of the book to know it’s not quite right. Besides, the film is too dark overall to really resemble the beloved children’s classic.

Nitpicky fanboyism aside, how does it fare as just a movie? Frankly it’s no better. It falls into a lot of modern movie clich├ęs and because of that, you are constantly being reminded that you are watching a movie and a fairly predictable one at that.

All the problems of the first film are present here only they are amplified. The dialogue has been somewhat modernized. Characters are very “quippy” if you know what I mean. They toss one-liners around, throw lines back at one another, and don’t speak as you’d expect. Characters sound altogether too much like they’re in a movie.

The pacing is all wrong too. Occasionally it is too slow, but most of the time it moves far too quickly. Often new characters will be introduced, sometimes several at a time, and their names are only mentioned once. Good luck catching them. If I hadn’t known the book, I would have been rather confused. Important plot points seem rushed or glossed over. Characters seem to instantly appear at the convenience of the plot.

Like the first film, it tries a bit too hard to be “Lord of the Rings, Jr.” There are more sweeping, epic helicopter shots. More use of slow-motion. More dramatic moments: if someone isn’t hanging over the edge of a bottomless pit or about to have their head chopped off – well they jolly well are going to get into trouble soon! The filmmakers seem to think that a scene without visible physical tension and drama is a scene that’s scarcely worth shooting.

Then there are the numerous battles and fight sequences ranging from fistfights to sieges. There are lots of minor scrapes and tussles like when Lucy discovers a wild non-talking bear or when, for no reason at all, Trumpkin swordfights Edmund upon their first meeting. There is an utterly unnecessary scene in which the Narnians attempt to raid Miraz’s castle – a futile task – not because is isn’t possible, but because the flawed, jerky version of Peter suggested it and he has to learn his lesson. Even while in England, there is a fight sequence. I was sick of them about half-way through the film.

There is one utterly laughable scene in which Caspian is surrounded by Narnians who are ready to kill him because they are convinced he is an evil Telmarine. He doesn’t really do anything to convince them otherwise, but by the end of the brief scene they are ready to call him King.

Were there any positives about this movie? Sure. The visuals were excellent. It was great to see how the Pevensies were transported to Narnia from the train platform. Miraz and the Telmarines have a Spanish conquistador look (and accent to match) that works just right for them. Miraz himself is a better villain than the White Witch. He seems more cunning and brutal which matches the tone of the film. Also, he’s not constantly spouting horribly cheesy lines.

Now, even though I darn near hated this movie, I am looking forward to the next Narnia film: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which is more of an adventure story and should adapt to well to the visual medium of film. Plus, it introduces Eustace and (most importantly) sets-up my favorite Narnia story: The Silver Chair. Dawn Treader will be directed by Michael Apted who is responsible for the Bond film The World is Not Enough and last year’s Amazing Grace. Frankly I don’t care if all he’s ever done is cereal commercials. Anybody will be better than Andrew Adamson. Unfortunately we have to wait until May of 2010 to find out how much better.

5.14.2008

Oh, Hullo!

Ohmygoodness! I have a blog? I have a blog! Wow... that's exciting... and frightening. Not having blogged in over a month feels sort of like I haven't been paying child support. Is that metaphor funny to anyone? Thought not. I apologize.

Fortunately, the summer movie season has kicked off apparently with Iron Man which I have not seen, but it has gotten surprisingly good reviews so I may. I am planning on going to Prince Caspian, Indiana Jones 4, WALL-E, and The Dark Knight this summer so look for reviews of those beginning soon.

I expect to like Indiana Jones and The Dark Knight quite a bit. I'm not sure about the others. WALL-E is going to be the strangest Pixar film ever and (I've said this a lot and been wrong) it could be Pixar's first flop. I actually don't expect to like Prince Caspian that much. But I am obligated to see it as someone who has fond childhood memories of the book, right? We shall see.

I haven't really felt like blogging about anything else. I am absolutely bored of politics. It looks like Obama has the Democratic nomination all wrapped up which basically means he wins on his age and vibrancy alone. Voters are so stupid. So there you go: I called it right here and now. Get ready to say "President Obama."

And now summer's beginning. Yay. Either that means I will be blogging a lot more or a lot less.