(No spoilers in this review)

[amazonify]B000Y7U98C:right[/amazonify]In my never-ending quest to pur off law school homework, I rented the 2007 film Sunshine off my AppleTV last night. I had heard good things about it, but never got the chance to catch it while it was in the theatres. Besides, it has Chris Evans in it – a reason alone to watch it.

l also have been a long-time fan of Danny Boyle ever since he came out with the film, Trainspotting in the 1990s.

Unlike Trainspotting, or even 28 Days Later, Sunshine is not an instant masterpiece of genre film. It is, instead, just a well-made science fiction work.

Synopsis: In the future, the sun is dying and a team of scientists are on a possibly one-way mission to reignite the star to save life on planet Earth, which is caught in an ice age.

So the crew embarks on its seven-year mission and is strapped into a huge space ship that is one-part huge bomb headed out to re-fuel the star and one-part escape vehicle. On the way it becomes a well-written human drama, a thriller and a film about spiritual journeys.

It was well-worth that rental fee and one of the best science fiction films to be released in the past 10 years.

Nit-picks:

  • Premise: The science is faulty here. When a sun like our Sol starts to die, it’s doesn’t get dimmer and cooler, instead it expands and gets hotter short term. Earth will get hotter and eventually burn like a cinder before the sun burns out.
  • Artificial gravity: I hate this crutch used in supposed realistic science fiction programs. For some reason when an airlock is re-pressurized, gravity magically appears on the space ship used. In the case of this film, the ship was large enough for it to be spinning, giving the crew at simulated centrifugal force “gravity”.

RATINGS:
Overall: 7 out of 10
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia
Sex: None
Violence: Minimal
Special Effects: Well done
Eye Candy: Attractive cast.

CAST:
 Cliff Curtis … Searle
 Cillian Murphy … Capa
 Michelle Yeoh … Corazon
 Hiroyuki Sanada … Kaneda
 Rose Byrne … Cassie
 Benedict Wong … Trey
 Chris Evans … Mace

[azlite]Danny Boyle,5,quiddity[/azlite]

4-0

Life in Cartoon MotionLife in Cartoon Motion is the debut album by Mika, a 24-year-old Lebanese American with a gift for crafting music that seems to mix the talents of Freddie Mercury, Paul McCartney, Lou Reed, David Bowie, George Michael, Prince and the Scissor Sisters into one very contemporary package.

The genre-defying result could best be described as Electropop meets Alternative Rock.

If this freshman effort is any gauge for future promise, Mika (pronounced MEE-kuh) could be for 2008 and afterward what Depeche Mode and The Cure were two decades ago – a semi-serious commentary on modern culture wrapped around a funky beat.

TRACKS

Grace Kelly  [watch video]
The album’s first track is this delightful tune. The vocal and musical style is a quirky mixture of late 70s Queen and late 80s George Michael. The theatricality in presentation and repeating lyrical phrases betray Mika’s classical training and operatic study with famed Russian Opera coach Alla Ardakov.

Lollipop  [watch video]
The song first appears to be a very thinly veiled reference to oral sex wrapped in a bubble-gum beat, once again sounds like the kind of music Queen would be creating in the 2000s. But upon listening more closely to the lyrics it’s about the trials and heartbreak lessons of young love. And the bridge and hook of the melody are infectious. The skill behind this song shows Mika’s roots writing jingles for Mentos commercials before he was snapped up by a record label.

My Interpretation
In a cursory listen to this song, it feels like a mild pop ballad that could have felt at home on any turn-of-the-century Boy Band album. But the chord progressions and complicated key changes belie an artistry that rises above that generic wasteland of cookie-cutter crap of a few years ago. Nonetheless, it along with “Stuck in the Middle ” are the weakest tracks on the collection.

Love Today  [watch video]
A catchy tune that feels like what  the lovechild of Prince’s Paisley Park and Andy Warhol’s Factory would sound like.

Relax (Take it Easy)  [watch video]
The most dance-club friendly of the tunes on this album. I challenge anyone to listen to this song and not have the chorus, “Relax, Take it Easy” re-playing in their head for a few hours. If the rest of this album was junk (and it’s not) – this song alone would make Mika worth noting.

Ring Ring
Here, Mika seamlessly moves from the clubby beat of “Relax” into an authentic Alternative Rock sound without losing any of the catchy melodic momentum of the previous tracks. For a first-time listener of this album, by the time you get to this track on the album, you realize that Mika is a huge talent.

Any Other World
This song starts out with a simplistic minimalism that hearkens an early David Bowie without the depressing stark nihilism of the 1970s. It quickly transcends the Bowie-esque flavor and evolves into a wry commentary of an untrusting and jaded soul.

Billy Brown  [watch video]
Ever wonder what it would have been like if a Sgt. Pepper-era tune written by The Beatles  resulted in a catchy little pop ditty about a man who cheats on his wife – with another man? That’s what this song is. Mika explores and mocks the life of a closet case and the result is a quaint type of commentary. It is obvious that this Gen-Y rocker views societal sexual taboos surrounding homosexuality as odd and outdated.

Big Girl (You Are Beautiful)  [watch video]
This addictive dance song feels like a cross between Lou Reed and Queen. It is a paen to plus-sized women. But it’s unclear whether Mika is celebrating the life of chubby chasers – or if he is singing on behalf of his overweight friends to potential mates. In the end it doesn’t matter – as it is a celebration of women with “curves in all the right places.”

Stuck in the Middle
This track in style would be at home on any Scissor Sisters album. A lament to being the middle child and dealing with parental disapproval of one’s life. With the hook of the chorus being memorable and paired with jazzy elements, the song is saved from what could have been a fate as a very weak track. 

Erase
Every good album needs a breakup ballad full of self-affirming anger. This effort is successful in delving into original territory with an age-old situation.

Happy Ending  [watch video]
Of course the last track would have to be this one by the title alone. It also makes a great companion piece to “Erase” as it deals with the acceptance of life after love has ended and the acknowledgement of the authenticity of past affection and the impossibility of a future together in a doomed relationship. If every good album needs a good self-affirming break up song, well guess what, this one has two. Oddly, “Happy Ending” has a happy ending, albeit is bittersweet celebration. Like a jazz band at a New Orleans funeral it starts out as a dirge of despair and ends with an upbeat message – a celebration of the love that was before things turned bad with acceptance of the future.

This album also includes the beautifully depressing hidden track, “Over My Shoulder.”

1-0
Move along. Nothing original to see here…

I honestly didn’t think I’d pay to see a movie worse than Spider-Man 3 this year. I was wrong.

I plopped down $10.25 to see a little gem (if by “gem” you mean load of crap) called, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (or “AVPR,” for short).

Now, I have to say despite its many, many flaws, I still found myself amused – slightly. The film almost walked the line between campy spoof humor and kick-butt action. The special effects and the art direction were top notch. The cast was good – sometimes very good.

But, the main problem was that the sub-plot of humans in danger and the dialogue writing sucked big time.

Here, the main characters that draw the audience into the theatres are the acid-blooded Aliens and techie-savage Predators. The problem, neither of these characters talk – the most noise either of these makes is a clicking growl or screech.

This means the supporting humans must have interactions and dialogue worthy enough to draw in the audience enough for it to suspend disbelief in what is a pretty unbelievable concept. That just doesn’t happen.

[NOTE: Matters don’t get much better when the plot holes are so big that it’s hard to follow the story because the audience is talking out loud asking valid questions such as, “now why didn’t they just drive away in the tank?”]

With not-so-witty banter such as, “You’re too stupid to talk, shut up!” and “People are dying; we need guns,” screenwriter Shane Salerno is living up to his track record of writing really bad movies. He’s responsible for two other piles of bad dialogue in 2000’s Shaft remake and 1998’s Armageddon. I seriously wonder how he continues to dupe movie studios into paying him money to write.

It’s a shame.

The Alien franchise is one of the best in science fiction horror history. But now it has devolved to the level of self-aware bad camp. Sad.

Final rating: Horrible. 1 star out of 5.

(It gets the one star instead of zero for three reasons: 1. they avoid the save-the-babies for no apparent reason cliche of most horror films, 2. A laugh-out-loud scene when Daddy is telling his little girl there is no such thing as monsters, and 3. the creators put in little non-subtle but amusing nods to just about every famous horror movie made in the past 50 years.)

3-5

PHILIPS DVP3140 - ALL REGION CODEFREE MULTI SYSTEM DVD PLAYER WITH DivX. PLAYS PAL/NTSC DVDS FROM ANY COUNTRY ON ANY TV. REMOTE INCLUDED.

PHILIPS DVP3140 – ALL REGION CODEFREE MULTI SYSTEM DVD PLAYER WITH DivX. PLAYS PAL/NTSC DVDS FROM ANY COUNTRY ON ANY TV. REMOTE INCLUDED.

Price: $54.99 USD

Occasionally when buying things from Amazon.com, you find a good deal that you want to pass along to friends. Here is one from this year’s Christmas shopping.

The DVD player in our bedroom conked out after 5 years of playing DVDs, serving as a cat roost/launching pad and falling on the floor a few times. So, I trolled Amazon.com looking for a new DVD player that can play any of the DVDs we have in our house.

I am an avid collector and have many DVDs from Europe in PAL format that just won’t play on most DVD players sold in America for various reasons: either the player won’t convert PAL to American NTSC format or the DVD is region-coded not to play on North American DVD players – or both. (We’re region 1 – but many of my cherished DVDs are not.)

So what I needed was a DVD player that was compact, played any of the DVDs in the house and was within my budget (less than $100). I found what I needed in the Philips DVP3140 as sold by VCT Electronics on the Amazon Marketplace.

I ordered the DVD player on a Saturday. It shipped for delivery on Sunday, and arrived on my doorstep a few days later. The packaging was superb. The jar-resistant box was packed inside a larger box filled with foam peanuts to insulate it from jostling during shipping.

Upon opening, the small and compact DVD unit was plug-and-play. I had it hooked up to our system within a few minutes (less than 10). It instantly played a store-bought DVD, a PAL imported Farscape DVD from the UK, and homemade DVDs in both standard DVD and Divx formats.

Here are the Specs:
It supports: DVD, DVD+/-RW, DVD+/-R, CD-R, CD-RW, CD, VCD (Video CDs), SVCD (Super Video CDs), MP3 files, WMA files, JPEG pictures, DivX (3.11, 4.x, 5.x, and 6.0)

VIDEO JACKS:

  • Composite Single video out (YELLOW RCA), NTSC jack, or
  • Component YPbPr Video (720p) (three jacks: Red, Blue, Green)

AUDIO JACKS:

  • Standard stereo RCA (RED & WHITE) jacks, or
  • PCM Digital Coaxial (Single RCA jack)

Those are the only jacks on the back. It isn’t top of the line or cutting edge technology, but is perfect for those who want a reliable and compact DVD player that can play almost any DVD or CD on any TV – on an under $60 budget.

In all it is a nice little system that comes pre-hacked to allow plug-and-play out of the box. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

2-5
Sci Am 07-12Scientific American | December 2007

Articles of note:

  • T cell Turnoff: Studies showing the efficacy of immune suppressants in fighting HIV.
  • Aliens Among Us: A feature article on the possibility that life evolved on Earth multiple times – which means microbe may still exist that are not our genetic cousins.
  • Carbon Markets: I just don’t buy that these could ever work.

2-5
Week 07-11-23The Week | 07-11-23

Features:

  • Giuliani’s Past

Busy law school schedule means that by the time I got around to reading this issue of The Week, I already had another issue waiting for me.

Skipping the time-sensitive news parts, this highlights of this issue were: Nice briefing on the plight of the Kurdish people, Nelson Mandela’s mark on the fashion world with the madiba shirt, and some really over-complicated-looking Thanksgiving recipes.

1-5
ON Mag 07-11ON Magazine | November 2007 (free PDF version)

Features:

  • Winter Travel Issue
  • News

As usual, I leaf through this magazine when Rich brings it home from the Billy DeFrank Center or some other LGBT function he volunteers for. This magazine used to be called OutNow a LGBT monthly for and about San Jose and Silicon Valley. But under new owners, it was renamed ON Magazine (I really hate post-gay names) and focuses on the entire Bay Area and northern California.

Sadly, the more regional this publication gets, the less focused and interesting it becomes. This month’s issue is no different.

Winter travel: It focuses on cold places and Las Vegas. Since I moved to California to escape the snow and do not gamble, I skipped this section. One article was on the California desert – but it was more of a list – which Wikipedia does better.

That left about 4-6 pages of news scattered among the ads. Here, the magazine is improving under editor Troy May, a man I used to work with when we were both board members of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

There also is a good article by Heather Cassell on the merger of Coors and Miller brewing – which could end the decades-long LGBT boycott of Coors (were you aware if this boycott?).

Another decent article was a collection of new state laws that will affect LGBT people in California as of January1, 2008.

Other news included an article on three new restaurants opening in San Francisco’s Castro district. That fell into the who-gives–shit category. It was clearly written for the purpose of getting more advertising from SF restaurants – as if anyone from San Jose not of the bar-hopping sort is willing to drive 1.5 hours up to San Francisco, spend another hour trying to park and then dodging homeless people, hoping the smell of human waste doesn’t kill your appetite before dinner begins – then afterward paying San Francisco’s outrageous sales tax for the privilege. No thank you.

Aside from a by-the-numbers profile of a local gay business man (another non-subtle try for ad dollars?), the rest of the magazine was about stuff you could read elsewhere online by better writers.

2-5National Geographic 07-12

National Geographic | December 2007
Topics:

  • Bid Bad Bizarre Dinosaurs
  • Bethlehem 2007 A.D.
  • Wings of the Albatross
  • The Enduring Cowboy
  • Permafrost’s Precarious Beauty

I read the dinosaurs and Permafrost stories. I leafed through the others; here is a synopsis of those parts: In general, I’m bored by cowboys – but found the process of the way the photographs were done in that section to be interesting The Albatross story didn’t interest me at all. The Bethlehem story is more a story about the wall Israel is constructing. The maps were cool.

Dinosaurs: This and the accompanying pullout were interesting to read. It detailed new species of dinosaurs discovered around the world and some updates to previously known forms. This was the cover story for a reason. It was the best section.

Permafrost: Not as in-depth as I’d prefer for a story about global warming, but it was meant as more of a photo essay and as that it succeeded.

A trip to Target the weekend before Halloween to get cat food and shampoo ended up with Rich and me spending close to PlanetTerrorExtendedAndU12569_f$200 in a mini-shopping spree – including two more DVDs to add to our collection of more than 700 discs. We each picked one movie.

3-5

The first was my pick: Planet Terror, directed by Robert Rodriguez. I love most of his films – and thing that Sin City was a masterpiece, about as perfect a comic-to-film movie as has ever been made. It’s a campy zombie film that parodies 1970s exploitation flicks. The star, Rose McGowan is hilarious and very good. Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen a bad Rose McGowan film. I love this gory, witty and wry movie.

Transformers200712568_f

0-5

The second film was Rich’s choice: Transformers, directed by Michael Bay. His films are hit-and-miss, although I really enjoyed The Island more than I though I would. We bought it and until tonight we had not popped it into the DVD player. I was too old to be taken in by the Transformers toy allure in the 1980s, and this film was always a sort of, “ehh…” for me when it came out. But then, again it co-stars Josh Duhamel; both Rich and I are big fans of his.

Then we watched it. It was horrible. Duhamel was OK – actually he was quite good, but he scenes he was in looked like they were from a different film than the rest of this god awful movie. Something tells me this DVD will be quickly heading to the trade-in bin at my local used book store.