December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

So... 2006.

So far, it looks a lot like 2005, just with Olympics.

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December 30, 2005

Simon's Alive!

I'm sure many of you are scratching your head right now, going "Who's Simon?"

Simon W. is a reader who commented here on the Pond for a while, then seemed to just fall off the face of the Earth. I even sent him a few e-mails, with no reply. I've "known" Simon for about a year, more or less, first at a political blog we both were regulars at, then here, so having him disappear like this was somewhat disturbing... just *poof* and he's gone without a trace.

So imagine my surprise and relief when I FINALLY get an e-mail from the bum this evening! He's doing well, and while he didn't get the job with McLaren (yes, THAT McLaren), he's gone and gotten himself into something big that'll keep him busy for a while... congrats, Simon!

Hopefully, he'll be able to drop by once in a while, too... always room for another Official Reader of the Pond!

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December 26, 2005

"Lets all go to the movies..."

Because I'm completely out of things to write about regarding my usual topics, F1 and anime, I figured that tonight I'd blather on about two movies that I've seen in the past week. No, not in the theaters... that'd mean I had the foresight to actually schedule a couple of hours during normal operating hours, and when these films were released I was dealing with the health thing (that culminated with The Incident back in October). No, caught these on DVD, and... well, lets talk about 'em!

First off was Sin City. A little background here; after I left grad school for... financial reasons, I eventually wound up working at the local comic/hobby shop. Back then, Frank Miller (who did the series that brought Batman up to his gritty self, The Dark Knight Returns) had a semi-regular, quasi-independent comic entitled "Sin City." It was a rough, violent story that harkened back to film noir and Mickey Spillaine novels... and it was done in black and white. Not like the daily funnies in your newspaper are black and white, but BLACK and WHITE. Oh, who am I to try and explain it? Go HERE for an example.

Anyway, why am I talking about the comic? Because for many, many years, Frank Miller refused to allow a movie adaptation of Sin City, because he believed it couldn't be done correctly. Enter Robert* Rodriguez, the director of the movie. He made a five-minute long short movie, brought it to Miller, and said "If you like it, we can make the feature film. If you don't, you've got something you can show your friends."

This five-minute short became the opening scene of the movie.

Hey, if Frank Miller likes the film, who am I to disagree? It's almost a perfect adaptation of the visual style Miller uses for his comics... or should I call them graphic novels (minor aside: I, for one, will always call them comics. I don't care if the cool thing is to spiffy 'em up and call 'em graphic novels)? The movie uses tiny, tiny amounts of color (a cigarette lighter's flame, a policecar's gumballs, a bed's silk sheets) to heighten the contrasting black-n-not-quite-white look of the rest of the film (go HERE to see an example of the film's visual style). If nothing else, Sin City should win an Oscar for cinematography.

Which is not to say that the rest of the movie is crepe. I'm happy to say that it's probably the best comic-book-to-film adaptation ever... and that's saying something, considering the rash of good comic adaptations we've had recently (Fantastic 4 and Hulk not withstanding). The acting ranges from acceptable (Jennifer Alba as Nancy, Devin Aoki as Miho... to be fair, Miho doesn't talk, so it's hard to know what she's thinking) to out-frickin'-standing (Mickey Rourke as Marv, easily the best performance of his career). I'm sure most actors would kill to have characters as fully fleshed as the ones handed to the cast of this film.

That's not always a good thing, as it means the actors didn't have a lot of 'wiggle room' to bring their own spin to the characters, but in this case they don't need it. Each character in Sin City already was a PERSON, not just words on a piece of paper, needing an actor to breathe life into them. Still, the cast could have peed this one right down their collective legs if they hadn't've worked at it. They didn't... and a minor classic was created.

Sin City is NOT for everybody. It's violent (though there's no red blood, there's no shortage of gore, trauma, torture, cannibalism, nudity, and the seamy side of life), brutal, and full of black humor. But, boy, whadda ride!

From Basin City, we go to... um... well... a quaint little house in the English countryside.

Arthur Dent wakes up, takes his morning tea, realizes that there's an army of bulldozers outside, lies down in front of them, a friend tells him the planet is about to be destroyed, fills him full of beer, and then the planet is destroyed. Roll title sequence.

Truth be told, I've been avoiding The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. See, I first read the book back in junior high... maybe 25 years ago, more or less. I grew up with the thing; a lot of my sense of the ridiculous came from Douglas Adams' novels (and Monty Python, and Fawlty Towers). I loved the radio adaptation of THGttG, heard here on NPR. I cringed at the BBC tv adaptation.

But as I got older, the book did not age with me. The humor nowadays falls somewhat flat as I read it... because I've lived with the book for TWENTY-FIVE-STINKIN'-YEARS. I've got whole passages of the thing memorized... not because I went out and memorized them intentionally, but because I've read them so many times!

So, of course I was avoiding the movie; how in god's name could they make something that would stack up to this legendary novel that so influenced the way I am these days? The answer?

They couldn't.

Which is not to say it's a bad movie. It's not; it's quite good, actually. It has some very funny bits, it's quite cleverly done in many spots, and is very faithful to the book. It just can't stand up to the force of 25 years of history that's facing it when it comes to me as a viewer.

An example: I'm not usually a nitpicker when it comes to movies. I didn't care a whit that The Lord of the Rings trilogy cut out some important characters (Tom Bombadil, to name one). I actually enjoyed the movies MORE because of that, to be honest... the LotR novels drag under the weight of the immense number of characters in my opinion.

But in Hitchhiker's Guide, the spaceship "Heart of Gold" is described as looking like a "running shoe." In the movie, it's round. Nitpicky? You betcha. BUT IT'S NOT RIGHT.

*sigh* I don't mean to give the impression that I didn't like it. I did. The casting was perfect; Zooey Deschanel, as Tricia "Trillian" McMillan, captured exactly what I saw in my mind when I read the books. Mos Def as Ford Prefect was also an inspired bit of casting.

And I'll even go so far as to say that Martin Freeman, who played Arthur Dent, will replace the mental image I had of Arthur from now on. Finally, Alan Rickman's voice is spot-on for that of Marvin... even though I kept expecting Severus Snape to pop out at any moment.

I'll also point out four "sight gags" in the film that were obviously put there for us long-time fans. Two audio gags first: the theme music for the film is the same as that used for the radio play (imdb.com tells me that it's a tune called "The Journey of the Sorcerer" by The Eagles... that, I didn't know). Also, when Zaphod greets Ford on the Heart of Gold, he calls him "Ix," then corrects himself. Readers of the book know that Ix is Ford's childhood nickname.

Now, the two sight gags that I caught (I'm sure there are more). Most obvious was the appearance of the TV version of Marvin in the queue on the Vogon homeworld. Not so obvious was the car that Ford was attempting to shake hands with during the flashback scene... a Ford Prefect. (Please note: during the movie, Ford's last name is never mentioned. That's because us folks here in the US wouldn't get the joke: the Ford Prefect was only sold in the UK and Europe... see, he's an alien, and he thought the name "Ford Prefect" would let him blend in. To get the same effect here, he'd be named something like "Ford Escort.")

I'm not counting the many times I saw Douglas Adams' face appear as sight gags... nor the appearance of the original Arthur Dent as the 'voice of Magrathea'.

So, um... what I'm trying to say is that, yeah, I liked the movie... but I'm sure I would have LOVED it if I hadn't've read the book so many times.

Go see both movies.

(update: January 8th, 2006, 1019pm)
*for some reason the original version of this post had Director Rodriguez's first name as "Frank." This has been changed, and the website's continuity department has been sacked.

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December 24, 2005

Off we go...

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm off to my folks' place for the festivities... if something important occurs, I'll blog later, but who knows?

I'd like to thank my huge list of readers: Official First Reader Mallory, Official Overseas Reader Flotsky... and that's it. Thanks, guys, for sticking by the Pond during this year!

Mal, have a great Christmas Day! Flotsky, have a great Christmas Day and a Happy Boxing Day!

Talk to you soon!

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December 22, 2005

Sector 97

Oh. Dear. God.

I'm not even going to try to describe THIS. Just... go. Look. Weep.

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December 20, 2005

(slowly) Breaking F1 News!

See what happens when you don't read the websites for ONE NIGHT?

*ALONSO SIGNS WITH MCLAREN!: Yes, you read that right. Fernando Alonso, 2005 World Champion, has signed with rival team McLaren for the 2007 season.

Now, his contract with Renault DOES expire after the coming season, so I suppose this might not have been much of a surprise. Also, Renault has been rumbling about leaving F1 after the coming season, so Alonso's contract may very well have been void afterwards. But this really blindsided me, and the F1 Update! crew is just banjaxed.

Merry Christmas, McLaren! Your team for 2007 might very well be Raikkonen and Alonso. Sheesh, nice lineup you got there.

*SUPER AGURI ALLOWED ON GRID!: There hasn't been an official announcement yet, but it seems that MF1 has had their arms twisted sufficently, and Team Super Aguri will be allowed to participate this season. That puts 11 teams on the grid, 22 cars. Yayyyyyy!

If you were wondering why MF1 was dragging their feet, ankles, calves, thighs, buttocks, and any other part of their anatomy they could get on the ground on allowing a new team in, current rules in F1 state that only the top 10 teams get a cut of the TV contract at the end of the season. I think I read that the payout was $50 million per team last year... that's enough to run a team (poorly) on.

MF1 won't have to worry about Super Aguri for the first few races, though. SA will be using the 2002 ARROWS chassis for the first leg of the season, with a V8 engine... which means the car will be underpowered and overweight in comparison to everybody else.

Now, I'm just a duck, but even I know that that isn't a good combination! Still, that should only last until the first European race, when they plan to get their own body out there.

...now all the Duck needs is for Zsolt to get a drive...

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December 19, 2005

Cool stuff...

Stumbled upon THIS whilst wandering the web during lunch today. It's the history of Honda Motors in two minutes or so, all while a Jim Clark lookalike sings The Man of LaMancha's "The Impossible Dream."

"But Wonderduck," I hear you ask, "what does this have to do with the price of cheese in Switzerland?" Well, nothing until the last quarter of the ad. Then it gets REALLY cool, as we get an long, loving in-cockpit view of a 1960s-era F1 car at speed, which then goes under a bridge...

...and comes out as what might be the 2006 Honda entry into F1. I've watched it a few times in still-frame, and it doesn't quite look like last season's car.

If you've got broadband, watch the ad. If you don't, get broadband, then watch the ad. I have no idea how long it'd take to load using dial-up... I'M not gonna try it (I have dialup at home).

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December 17, 2005

MediaPlay Delenda Est...

So the newest combatant to leave the field in the entertainment sales category is MediaPlay. It was announced a few days ago that all MediaPlay stores will be closed by mid-January, but not before the now-customary Christmastime "Going Out of Business, Everything On Sale, Get It NowNOWNOW!!!!" sale.

Twenty to forty percent off everything at the moment, but there ARE some nasty things going on, too. For example, a box set of the original Bubblegum Crisis anime series is $59.99. For the past 4 months, it's been $39.99. Oh, but it's 20% off, which means it is now... $48 (I'm rounding).

I can only assume the same thing is happening in other places in the store. Still, there are bargains to be had, and since I'm about the only BGC fan around here, I'm hoping that "20%-40% off" will become something nicer later.

I've always had a... strained relationship with MediaPlay. When it was announced that the Test Store would be opening in Duckford, there were no Borders, there were no Barnes & Nobles superstores... BestBuy really was the only "big box" store in the city. So for a while, MediaPlay was the place to go for books, and music/movies/software was a tossup between BestBuy and MediaPlay.

Eventually, Boarders and Barney & igNobles came to town, with larger selections of books; BestBuy's prices outstripped MediaCircus' for music and movies (though the Circus still had a larger selection of movies).

Oftentimes, the first to do something has a short-lived advantage, then watches as they get blown away by those who copy their idea, and that's exactly what happened to MediaCircus... except nobody did everything they did.

When MediaCircus came to Duckford, a lot of the independent booksellers and music stores (I still miss Appletree records...) closed down within a year. Now, ironically, MediaCircus was slowly being strangled by what were, essentially, larger versions of the independent specialty store. They couldn't compete with Boarders & Ignobles in selection; they couldn't fight BestBuy in price. But they were STILL the only place that carried books, movies, music AND software (including console-based games). The problem was simple: how often did you NEED all four at the same time?

...and then came the skewer that pierced the heart of MediaPlay here in Duckford. Oh, I don't mean to suggest that it was specifically aimed at MediaPlay, but it sure ended up that way. Anyway, the final straw was Best Buy moving right next door to Borders.

Suddenly if you needed books, movies, music AND software, you didn't need to go to MediaPlay, you went to BestBordersBuy. The two stores were about as far apart as a walk from one end of MediaPlay to the other, their prices and selection was better, and the staff of MediaPlay couldn't compete with the knowledge level of BestBordersBuy's.

Oddly, I wound up going to MediaCircus more and more often after that. Fewer customers = better shopping experience for me. Yeah, I might pay a couple bucks more for that movie or anime DVD, but not if I was careful, and I never had to wait in lines at the cash registers, nor have problems parking. That's worth a couple bucks in my book!

I guess what I'm saying is, if there's a MediaPlay near you, go pick over the carcass like the vulture you are! You can get some great deals, and I got about 4/5th of my Christmas shopping done there last night, for about 2/3rds the price.

...and some things for the Pond's anime list, too. Hey, I'm not gonna pass that up!

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December 15, 2005

37-year Tune-up, lube, and oil change...

You may remember me mentioning that I was wearing a portable EKG thingy last week. Well, this morning I got the results back.

I'm clean.

Oh, I still need to clean up my vile habits, but I'm working on that. But my ticker is tickin' over, sweet as a V10 runnin' at 19000 RPM.

Except not quite that quick. EVERYthing that can be measured regarding my heart is lower than it was, and THAT is the good news. BP 130/85, pulse of 84, even the EKG printout looked absolutely normal and regular... no unknown blips, beeps, spikes or poits.

Hey, I just realized: I now know what it feels like to be a F1 car, what with it's constant telemetry monitoring! Cool!

*chuckle*

Of course, it's not all ribbons & bows; after all, my heart DID act like a fratboy on a bender for a measurable length of time there, and that's gonna make me gunshy for a LONG while.

But as for now, I've been given my 37-year tune-up, lube and oil change, and I'm ready to leave the pits for the next couple dozen laps.

Or something like that.

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December 11, 2005

Christmas for F1

Ho ho ho! MERRY Christmas! I'm SantaDuck, and I've brought a sack o' goodies for all the good (?) little boys and... uhm... (glances at list)... boys of Formula One! Gather 'round and I'll show you what they'll be getting...

For Takuma Sato, I bring a team of his very own. And a no-fault car insurance policy.

For Alexander Wurz, I bring a full-time drive... and either a larger cockpit or knee-replacement surgery, whichever is easier.

For Christian Albers, I bring a car that will go fast... that he won't have to have two wheels in the air to get around corners. Even if he IS good at it.

For Jacques Villeneuve, I bring... um... I know there's something in here somewhere, hang on...

For Felipe Massa, I don't bring anything. He's already the luckiest man on the face of the earth, he doesn't need my help.

For David Coulthard's Chin, I bring a wristbrace... for the carpal tunnel syndrome problems he's suffered while signing all those autographs. Hey, get away from that reinduck!!! Do you know how hard it is to get Sharpie ink off feathers???

For Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld, I bring individual personalites. Use them well, boys... um, which one is which?

For Jacques Villeneuve... um... still looking...

For Jensen Button, I bring a contract with the team-name left blank. Everybody knows that what you wanted last year...

For Rubens Barrichello, I bring a DVD set of the 2004 season. Watch it often, Rubino, it's probably the closest you'll come to winning a race this year...

For Jarno Trulli... a lump of coal. No, no, you haven't been bad! It's just for you to throw into the engine of your train next year.

For Jacques Ville... oh, just skip it, he's not gettin' nuthin' from me.

For Ralf Schumacher, I bring the Cora Schumacher Guide to Driving Racecars. Maybe it'll help.

For Giancarlo Fisichella, I bring a replacement butt. To replace the one that Flavio Briatorie chewed off last year.

For Juan Pablo Montoya, I bring NFL shoulderpads and a tennisball deflector system. Just in case.

For Michael Schumacher, I bring a pair of boxing gloves. Might hurt your hands less that way.

For Kimi Raikkonen, I bring mmblembllmbmmblembblmmb mbmbblmbl mm-mmbllelmmbemmll. (Kimi: Cool! Thanks, Santaduck!)

For Fernando Alonso, there's nothing I can bring. He's got everything.

For F1 Fans, I bring a new season, just around the corner.

For Official First Reader Mallory, I bring NASCAR (less than 60 days away!) and a really new storyline for the WWE.

For Offical Overseas Reader Flotsky, I bring a "3\/1L l33t G33k" T-shirt. 'Cause I know j00 understood that.

And for Wonderduck, I tried to bring a drive for Zsolt Baumgartner, but not even Santaduck could pull that one off.

Merry Christmas!!!

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December 07, 2005

Wired for sound again.

Once again, I've got more wires attached to me than a decent stereo system... the good thing is that THIS time, it's planned.

I've got something that is, to me, a medical miracle attached to my sweats. It's roughly the size of an old walkman (cassette-type), and the wires I mentioned run from the thing to six different sensors taped to my chest (and wow, that's gonna hurt tomorrow when they take 'em off).

It's a friggin' portable ECG machine with a 24-hour recording device built in. The cardiologist will take the recording of a day's worth of heart activity, study it to see how my ticker is... um... ticking, and sometime next week, I meet with him (or, hopefully, his assistant, Aneta), and he/she will tell me if things are all okay now over a month after The Incident. I hope.

Still, it has it's problems. It WEIGHS as much as the old-style walkman, complete with batteries, so it keeps trying to drag my pants down. Because of the wires, I can't actually tuck my shirt in. And, worst of all...

...I can't get the sensors or the device wet. No shower in the morning, in other words.

Ew. Ew ew ew ew ew ew ew ew. Ick.

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December 05, 2005

WOOOoooooo-oops...

The Nature Boy, Ric Flair, is in some serious sheepdip now. No, I'm not talking about the assault charge from a week or so ago, I'm talking about something worse: THIS.

Short version? The Infernal Revenue Service wants $1,000,000 of his hide in back taxes. His wife is divorcing him, with charges of physical and mental violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and adultery.

We all knew his Stylin' and Profilin' persona was real, to a certain extent... now we know just how TRUE it really was.

Sad.

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December 01, 2005

Honey, I Lost The F1 Team...

The official competitor's list for the 2006 F1 season has been released, and there's one big surprise on it:

SuperAguri F1 isn't on it.

This was the main concern for the new team; they had to get a deposit into Darth Bernie's cronies by Nov. 30th, in the size of $48 million. It's quite possible they didn't make it in time, perhaps the check got lost in the post.

This doesn't make it impossible for them to race this year. They'd just have to get approval from the other teams. This could be difficult, however... why would MF1 (hold the 'M-F' jokes) approve of a team that stands a good chance of beating them in their rookie year?

An article at GrandPrix.com reminds us that Williams missed the deadline in 1993, and thus was not on the competitor's list despite being the reigning champion! So it's not impossible that we'll be seeing the 2002 Arrows car out there (at least until San Marino, when SuperAguri F1 is supposed to roll out their first chassis), so cross your fingers!

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