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From an estrogenic perspective... Karyn 
Posted by: Karyn at 11:06 PM EST on 6/30/2005
File Under: Movies -> Cinema -> Review

I have just gotten back from seeing Batman Begins, and as usual, I find myself disagreeing with Tim! Well, maybe not about everything. But, this movie really has me quite torn. During a lot of it, I was thinking it would be my favorite movie of the year. In retrospect, not so much. Here are my top 4 reasons I loved it, and the top 4 reasons I couldn't love it quite enough:

1) Seeing the incredibly kickass Batmobile careening around on the streets and bridges I use to walk to work every day. Chicago makes a damn good Gotham city, and I had a blast picking out the buildings, stores, and parking garages I recognized.

2) Watching it in an IMAX theater. I've never felt so involved in a movie in my life. Part of that was the gripping character study of Batman, and the other part was that the screen was huge. When Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes out there, I'm all over that shit.

3) The actors. Everyone does a fantastic job, though I wish Morgan Freeman had more screen time. Christian Bale realizes his slightly tarnished Batman in a chilling fashion. I agree that the playboy was not as evident, but I think that's the storyline's fault more than the actor. But, here is one of my disagreements with Tim: Katie Holmes. I like her, I think she's good. If we're living in a world where billionaires can run away for 7 years and there are secret societies in the mountains, surely we can accept the fact that a woman with a heart of gold can survive into her 20s and be a lawyer. Plus, Batman needs a good friend who knew him before in order to keep him honest. And she has to be a girl so she can get rescued.

4) The story. Let me say that I am not a Batman snob. Not only did I not have the sheets or the outfit, I didn't even watch the TV show. I've picked up some things by osmosis, but I really know nothing, and I still loved it. The psychological tale of Batman is one that I can really sink my teeth into.

Could have done without:
1) The weapon of mass destruction. I hate spoilers too, so I'll just say that there was a dimension about it that had me puzzled for most of the movie. But, suspension of disbelief and whatnot.

2) The last quarter of the movie. I was totally into it, Batman psychology, and then they had to go and have a bunch of stupid fighting scenes that I didn't care about. Yes, hello, I am a girl. I also disagree with Tim on the camera work during the fights. Some near the end could have been clearer, but the early ones are excellent. Yes, it may have been cooler for everyone to see some badass martial arts, but I say rent a Jackie Chan movie. The confusion of the fighting scenes is an excellent method of showing you that Bruce Wayne doesn't fight specific people, he fights the idea of criminality. And once Batman is fully fleshed out, he fights in shadows, rarely seen. That is basically the whole idea of him, at least to me. But anyway, I kind of zoned out during the end and stared at the city in the background. I wish I wouldn't have had to do that.

3) The lack of villain time. Yes, I understand this is Batman Begins, but come on. I need some time with the evil people, too. Villains are my favorite part of movies, and these guys did not get enough time to talk about destroying the universe (or small portions of it).

4) The horrible flashback to Star Wars III. This story was everything that Star Wars should have been. Batman Begins reminded me of the greatness that George Lucas could have achieved. Batman and Darth Vader both have horrible stuff happen to them in their childhood, both have power (either magical or monetary) beyond anyone else, and both make a choice. Darth Vader is apparently schizophrenic and thinks if he believes one evil thing, might as well believe them all, and turns into a lunatic. Batman chooses to differ on only a few, but key points, and is a normal person. Do we see the difference? *sigh* I'm so bitter.

My final thought is: See this movie, even if you're a girl. You'll like it, and Christian Bale is hot anyway. Despite that second list up there, this is probably my favorite movie of the year. Believe me, it's saying saying something when I'll admit to enjoying something that Tim does too. However, I'm sure it will be replaced by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which will later be replaced by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And if you want to meet me at the IMAX in Chicago for that one, I'll be the one shivering in anticipation at the box office!

Batman Begins... Finally, Batman done right on the big screen. Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 4:56 PM EST on 6/22/2005
File Under: Movies -> Cinema -> Review

Ever since the days of Batman: The Animated Series, I've been a Batman fan. I've always found the dark, brooding character appealing. Batman's not a mutant, he's not an alien, and he's not some radioactive accident. No, he's not a normal superhero. He's just a really rich guy with some major psychological issues. Batman is flawed, and that's what makes his story so fascinating.

Through Batman's many incarnations on TV and in film, the animated series is the only one that I felt properly captured the essence of the character, story, and villains. Each episode was a 30 minute movie with intricate plots and excellent character development. Everyone had real, human motivations. Batman was imperfect, and the villains weren't just maniacs -- they were maniacs for a reason.

Finally, we have a movie that can stand up to the animated series. Batman Begins lays a fantastic foundation for what could prove to be the definitive Batman franchise (outside the comics, of course). Christopher Nolan (director) and David Goyer (writer) have abandoned the camp and over-the-top presentation of previous Batman movies, and the cast does a wonderful job of bringing this vision to life.

This time around, the story is rooted in reality. Everything happens for a reason, and every character has true motivations. Even Ra's Al Ghul, a man intent on destroying Gotham City, has a good reason for doing so. The city has become a cesspool of crime and corruption under the control of criminal kingpin Carmine Falcone, and Al Ghul believes that erasing it from the map is the only way to keep it in check and ensure the world's purity. One of the film's few shortcomings, however, was in the development of Scarecrow's character. Though not the most intricate of the Batman villains (I'd give that award to Two-Face or Mr. Freeze), the story of the psychologist-turned-bad is still worth a little more screen time. Perhaps that's being saved for the second movie?

I'd rather not delve too much into the plot. For one, I hate spoilers, but also, it's Batman... I don't think it takes a plot summary for anyone to know what it's all about. That said, I'll just make a few individual comments instead.

First of all, Katie Holmes. She was not a good choice to play Rachel Dawes. Though she makes for excellent eye candy, she's not believable as an assistant DA. She comes across as too young, too cutesy, and not serious enough to be a hard-nosed attorney in a city like Gotham. (If we really need a DA in the story, how about Harvey Dent?) Also, the romantic subplot between her and Bruce Wayne is horribly under developed. A brief romantic scene was tacked onto the end of the movie, and I was just left wondering where the hell it came from. Besides, Bruce Wayne just isn't the type of guy to have a real romantic interest. He'll hook up with the occasional model, actress, or Catwoman, but he's far too absorbed into his life as Batman to take on the emotional burden of a relationship.

Also, Christian Bale does an excellent job of falling into the role of the growling, menacing Batman, but comes up a little short as the suave, billionaire Bruce Wayne. But perhaps that is only a matter of character development, and we'll see more of the playboy side come out as he gains confidence from his Batman persona, and also as the head of Wayne Enterprises.

And one gripe about the direction -- it's way too hard to tell what's going on in the fight scenes. Nolan needs to zoom out a little, and the editing needs to be much less jumpy. Batman is a martial arts expert -- let's see it!

Finally, the new Batmobile (aka, the Tumbler). I had my reservations about this, but not any longer. Quite frankly, it's badass. It also makes more sense for Bruce to salvage a military prototype developed by Wayne Enterprises than to go out and have a custom vehicle built right away. Still, I wouldn't mind seeing a real Batmobile make an appearance in later movies. Maybe it will be included as part of the development of the Batcave?

Though Batman Begins has its few shortcomings, the positives far outweight the negatives. The story's universe has been given the perfect atmosphere and the groundwork has been laid for an excellent series. It's obvious that the movie was a labor of love by people who genuinely want to see Batman taken in the right direction on the big screen. I can't wait for the sequels.

New DivX codec released... Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 4:35 AM EST on 6/16/2005
File Under: Misc Tech -> Computers

Video hounds like me might be interested to know that a new DivX codec has been released. DivX 6.0 doesn't seem to change much in the way of video quality, but it adds several handy DVD-like features:
* XSUB™ subtitles let you author movies with multiple language subtitle sets
* Interactive video menus offer unprecedented convenience and control so you can quickly navigate between various scenes or bonus features, and select from audio track and subtitle options
* Chapter points provide flexibility, allowing you to jump straight to the scene you want to watch from anywhere within the video
* Alternate audio tracks enable audio tracks in multiple language versions or separate audio tracks for specific speaker configurations
* XTAG™ video tags contain descriptive information like title, author and the video specifications used in the file’s creation to streamline organization
* The .divx file extension clearly identifies content in the DivX format so you’ll never again be left wondering whether that .avi file will really play in your DivX® Certified device
The menu and chapter features sound excellent. Unfortunately, right now, only the official DivX player supports these features. Other players will simply play the main feature without the menus, and whatnot. Hopefully Philips will be on the ball and release a firmware update for the DVP642...

Have a look:

New poll and old results Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 7:18 PM EST on 6/14/2005
File Under: Site News

Since the old poll was up for as long as I can remember (years?), I decided it was time for a new one. So, in honor of my retro gaming kick, the new one seeks to determine the best of the failed 80s and 90s game systems.

Also, here are the results from the last poll (people seem to like the letter "Q"):

What's the coolest poll choice?
13315.00 %
2104.55 %
3156.82 %
2093840298346027.27 %
-5209.09 %
Q8237.27 %
TOTAL220100.00 %

Edit: Wow, I just checked the archives, and it's been two years and three days since a new poll was posted. That would have been something else if I decided to do this last Saturday...

More Genesis musings Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 6:49 PM EST on 6/13/2005
File Under: Games

Building upon my last post, I've been getting into the Genesis more and more the last several days. I found a really cool shop here in Madison called PrePlayed and they had a big bin of Genesis carts at $2 a pop. I sifted through it and picked up Vectorman, Ecco the Dolphin, and Flashback.

As I suspected, Vectorman's gameplay is virtually identical to Vectorman 2, but with more appealing level design and enemies. It's a great pick-up-and-play game to kill a little time. Ecco, I've only played once, and it seems like a solid (and difficult) game. I'll be going back to it soon... Another game is sucking up my time.

And this brings me to Flashback. Wow, how did I miss this game back in the day? This is fantastic stuff. Its play mechanics are similar to the original Price of Persia, but it has a great sci-fi atmosphere, and elements of old PC adventure games. It's got exploration, puzzle-solving, item collecting, inventories, and talking to and assisting non-playable characters (for example, you can find a lost teleporter to help an injured man in the first level). This game is right up my alley.

Sonic is also continuing to grow on me. I haven't beaten the game yet, but I probably will soon. It's holding my interest longer than I expected. I'm also on the lookout for Comix Zone and General Chaos. I gave Comix Zone a try on an emulator, and it's probably the most unique beat-em-up I've ever played, and I remember playing General Chaos with a friend and really liking it.

Anyway, my retro kick will probably continue for a while. I'm leaning towards digging out the SNES once the Genesis runs its course.

Sega Genesis, Revisited... Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 4:25 PM EST on 6/9/2005
File Under: Games

Out of what essentially amounts to boredom, I decided to break out the old Genesis and give it a whirl. A few years ago, on a trip to Toys R Us to scout out the Saturn games on clearance, I came across a huge bin of clearance Genesis stuff. Amongst it was the Genesis 3 and myriad old games for cheap. Since I had never actually had a Genesis, I decided to pick one up and have some fun with it. I grabbed the system, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Vectorman 2, and Eternal Champions. I later picked up the 6-Pack cart (Sonic, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Columns, Super Hang-On, and Revenge of Shinobi) off of eBay.

My impression now is the same as it was the day I bought it: "Wow, the Genesis 3 is tiny," and "Wow, the Genesis has not aged well." Its limited color palette definitely rears its ugly head. And were the controls on Eternal Champions and the old beat-em-up games always this unresponsive? And while we're on the subject, how many side-scrolling beat-em-ups does one system really need?

On the other hand, Vectorman 2 makes me want to play the original. The controls and general game mechanics are quite good, but the level and enemy designs do nothing for me. I think I'd prefer the futuristic/robot theme to the swampy/cave/lava/bugs theme of the second game.

Anyway, Sonic and Castlevania: Bloodlines definitely jump out as the best of the games I got. I never really gave Sonic a chance back in the day. I was (and still am) more of a Mario fan. I loved Super Mario World with its huge world, lots to explore, and tons of secrets to discover. Sonic seemed too straightforward to me. Now, I see that that's really how it was supposed to be. It's a simple, get to the end as fast as you can without dying, platformer. Taken for what it is, I'm starting to enjoy it.

Depending on how into these games I get, I may be back with more thoughts. In the meantime, if you're thinking of digging out the Genesis for a walk down memory lane, well, the system isn't quite what you remember.

Ahh, I finally have broadband again... Tim 
Posted by: Tim at 5:38 PM EST on 5/29/2005
File Under: Misc Tech -> Computers

It's definitely true that you don't realize how bad dial-up is until you get used to broadband and have to go back. Even checking my e-mail has been a pain in the ass for the last three weeks since graduating. But, that's all over. I moved into my new place yesterday and the cable guy came today. Ahh, sweet sweet broadband.

Now, to set up a wireless network...

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