“Amores Perros” (2000)

Written by rob on January 29, 2007 – 3:29 pm -

In continuing my review of the Iñárritu/Arriaga trilogy, I come to Amores Perros. I watched 21 Grams first, so I was coming into this movie expecting much of the same. In some respect, Amores Perros is very much like 21 Grams; however, there are important differences. This movie, unlike its soon-to-be-sequel, doesn’t spare any punches. It is a graphic, brutal, and downright realistic look at Mexico City from the perspective of three troubled individuals. Unlike 21 Grams, however, the characters in this movie are very separated; they are a lot less connected. In fact, the only time they are really connected is in the one car accident that represents the convergence of the stories. The idea is that this one event affects the lives of all three main characters, some more directly than others. The idea certainly does work.

Amores Perros is in Spanish, so you will be reading subtitles. The cast is all-Spanish, as well, so there are no notables to mention. The actors do, however, perform quite well. Everyone is believable in their role, and they convey the emotions necessary to make one connect with the stories. The entire movie is very raw, and the performances make it work. It is also important to note that, despite a few flashbacks, the movie is told in chronological order, unlike 21 Grams. The first story is about Octavio, a man who is in love with his brother’s wife. Octavio uses his dog’s ability to fight in underworld dogfights to raise enough money for he and his sister-in-law to skip town; however, he gets caught up with the wrong crowd and after the car accident everything turns bad. The second is about Valeria, a beautiful model who recently moved in with a magazine editor that left his wife and kids to be with her. Their happy story gets ugly quick as Valeria hurts her leg — this ends her modelling career, and complicates her obviously shallow relationship. The final story is about El Chivo, an ex-terrorist who is now a hitman and also a dog-lover. He gets involved in the affairs of others, but eventually learns that he wants to get to know his daughter that hasn’t known him since he went to prison for his terrorist past. Many critics dislike the second story, but I felt it was just as good as the rest; I would even put it above El Chivo’s. Octavio’s, however, is the clear winner in terms of emotion and story; it is just the most moving.

The aforementioned dogfights are particularly brutal and may deter some viewers. Also, the stories are a lot less connected than I was hoping (considering 21 Grams’ characters are tightly interwoven). The movie is also quite long, clocking in at more than 2.5 hours. The story rarely lags, but the pacing is a bit off. One can’t help but realize that Octavio’s story is a lot more fast-paced. Beyond that, Octavio’s story is overall better than the rest by a large margin. When watching the movie, Octavio’s story almost sets the bar too high, setting up the following stories to fail. They do not fail, however, but they are relatively weak compared with that first story. Still, Amores Perros represents a wild look at Mexico City’s diverse characters and portrays a powerful set of emotions. Just like 21 Grams, this will have you thinking for many nights afterwards. If you can get past the brutal dogfights, there is really no reason not to give this a chance. It is a staple for Spanish movies in America and truly represents something powerful.

RATING: 8 / 10

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“21 Grams” (2003)

Written by rob on January 28, 2007 – 11:07 pm -

21 Grams is the middle of the three movies in the thematic trilogy by Iñárritu (director) and Arriaga (writer). The first thing you will notice about the movie is that it doesn’t move chronologically. You will see characters at their prime and then at their worse, and then back at their prime. In fact, it isn’t until the middle of the movie that you realize some characters are the same people (because of their vastly different appearance and apparent state of mind). This device works for the movie because the nature of the plot almost requires it. Suffice it to say, if the story were told in order, it wouldn’t be as interesting.

The most impressive part of the movie, to me, is the performance by the three main characters: Paul (Sean Penn), Christina (Naomi Watts), and Jack (Benicio Del Toro). As stated above, each character has two very different sides. The way the actors can make both of these contrasting sides believable is just amazing to behold. The transformations are sometimes unsettling to behold (seeing someone go from so well-off to utterly distraught, etc.). Aside from this, the movie is also rather rewarding in that you feel good about putting all the pieces of the puzzle together toward the end (it really isn’t difficult to, but seeing all of them come together before your eyes just feels great). I also love the ending… it straight-out gives you the theme of the movie via a narration, but it doesn’t feel forced and I think it works remarkably well. For those who like to think a lot after seeing a movie, it also includes a good amount of profundity in its themes.

As for the bad, this movie doesn’t have much of it. There are times when the plot lags, but as long as you stay with it, it will pick right back up again. I don’t think the non-chronological story telling is particularly difficult to follow, but if you don’t pay attention you will likely get lost. Aside from that, there is really nothing to complain about. Simply put, I loved this movie and felt that the the actors did an incredible job. I consider this to be one of my Top Ten movies of all time.

RATING: 10 / 10

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Short Movie Reviews to Come

Written by rob on January 26, 2007 – 12:32 pm -

One of my many New Year’s resolutions this year is to watch one movie per week (the way I figure… the more resolutions you make the more likely at least one will be fulfilled, but I can see how that is failing logic). So far, I have met that goal. The movies that I have been watching are not your typical action, horror, or suspense flick, but actually very intellectual dramas (like Amores Perros and 21 Grams). What I thought that I would do is every week when I watch a movie, I would make a small write-up/review about it. I don’t want it to be as long as the Silent Hill movie review I did a while back, but it will rather be maybe 1-3 paragraphs discussing how I felt about the movie as a whole and the actors in it. It is going to be a thematic type discussion, and will hopefully be vague enough on plot details to not spoil anything.

I’m not promising anything, but I am going to watch the following movies some time soon and may make write-ups about them: Casino Royale, The Descent, Miami Vice, The Prestige, The Good Shepherd, and The 25th Hour (not modern).

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You Know You’re Obsessed with VMWare When…

Written by rob on January 25, 2007 – 8:25 pm -

You get an error message that looks like this:

Can't Run a Virtual PC inside a Virtual PC!

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New Versions of Everything

Written by rob on January 24, 2007 – 1:43 pm -

So, there now seems to be a new version of everything under the sun coming out.

First of all, WordPress 2.1 is immediately available as of yesterday. I already updated. Though I can’t really notice much different, it does seem a lot faster when going to write a new post. It does have some new features (see full changelog here), but not really anything that will affect me (like spell check… Firefox 2.0 did that a while ago). It also lets you post things without a category, and let’s you set any page to the home page of the blog (so it will not necessarily show the latest posts). This is important for me, especially, since I use WordPress as the homepage of my overall site. I don’t know if I’ll ever use the feature, but it represents a powerful step forward… WordPress can now be considered a pretty decent content management system, aside from just a blogging engine.

They also changed how you make posts… now you view it in HTML (minus the BR and P tags). I don’t really mind this, except the new interface for adding links doesn’t give you any options (other than the URL). Previous versions let you “open link in new window” and put in a description of the link, features that I used. I am disappointed to see this, and hope they change it back. One other new feature that is pretty nice is the auto-saving of the post as you type. Now no more killing people when your 1500 word post is lost!

The next big update came today for PS3. Although still not listed on Sony’s official site for such things, Ars Technica has written about the new fixes. The largest thing is the alleged fix to backwards compatibility. Sony haters have taken every chance to point out that PS2 games look poor on PS3, and some even have bigger problems (such as audio glitches). The blog post states that the graphical problems have been almost completely fixed. They also note faster Playstation Store speeds, which is very good considering it was almost unusable. The Store is still rather lacking in the content department though (the same demos have been on there since day one, with few exceptions). I’m still hoping for a huge update to add the covetted Dashboard feature from 360. I don’t care if the haters call it copying… it is a feature that any console aiming to be a media center should have.

Finally, the largest of the three updates that I am bringing up in this post, is coming out January 30, 2007, which is less than a week away. It is the much anticipated and also much delayed update to Microsoft’s flagship product, the Windows operating system. The update of which I speak is Windows Vista, which will come out with myriad versions and likely require most users to upgrade their computers to fully enjoy it. I happen to be running Vista Ultimate already (and eventually plan to shift to Vista Enterprise when my 30-day trial runs out), and I’m enjoying it. The biggest set-backs are compatibility with my iPod and the fact that games don’t run too well. I am pretty sure the game issue is due to the beta, and thus not optimized, video card driver.

I’m excited about the launch because I know that Apple will soon roll out a Vista-compatible iTunes/iPod driver, and that ATI will hopefully upgrade their driver. When Vista goes mainstream, big developers (both hardware and software) are going to have to address it, which means all the shortcomings that I experience now will be gone. Though Vista isn’t revolutionary or necessary, it has some much-needed features that you shouldn’t be left without. While I still prefer Mac OSX (and look forward to Leopard on my future MacBook Pro), I’m a PC gamer and thus need Vista in order to experience the next-gen (Direct X 10… Crysis, anyone?).

That’s it for now. Once Vista is launched, I plan on updating everyone on whether or not the iPod issues are addressed. Also, I will make a brief write-up about Vista Enterprise once it comes to that. It is in some ways even better than Ultimate, minus the Media Center. Without a TV tuner, though, I won’t be missing the Media Center too much. As for PS3, I’m still waiting for the dashboard (and rumor has it that February will bring with it the location-free-esque Remote Play for PSP).

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And the Saints Go Marching In…

Written by rob on January 13, 2007 – 11:33 pm -

The Saints win over the Eagles 27-24. What else do I have to say?

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Apple Announces New Products

Written by rob on January 9, 2007 – 8:00 pm -

Today at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco, Apple announced a few new notable products: the iPhone, Apple TV, and a new version of the Airport Extreme. For a full breakdown of each, you can click their links to be taken to the section of Apple’s site discussing them.

Starting at the least impressive… the new Airport Extreme is Apple’s response to Linksys’s (other manufacturers do it now, too) wireless-N-enabled routers that have superior range and speed to normal Wi-Fi connections. It uses the same technology as the Linksys’s do, the 802.11n standard. It isn’t really anything new, and so it isn’t much to get excited over. I personally feel that the only innovative thing Apple did with respect to wireless is the Airport Express (that lets you stream music wirelessly to a stereo, and also easily share a USB printer).

Next up is the Apple TV. This device, much like the above mentioned Airport Express, lets you wirelessly stream media from your iTunes-enabled wireless-equipped computer to your television. The idea is that any video available to iTunes on your computer can be downloaded and subsequently streamed to your TV. It sounds like a great idea, except it is $299. I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of other devices that offer similar functionality for less of a price. Also, “stream” is used relatively. You actually have to sync files to the devices hard drive first before you play them, which simply means that you wirelessly transfer videos to be played from an internal hard drive. For some reason I think Tivo can do that, though I’m not positive. (EDIT: You actually can stream… I just watched the keynote and it turns out that you can stream from up to five computers, and can sync with one.) I should also note that PS3 can stream and sync media if you install Linux (it can do the playing media files part out of the box, but to be able to transfer from a computer to the PS3 wirelessly you would need to setup a file server of sorts, which is only available through Linux as of now; to stream you would need VLC).

Beyond that, this device requires videos to be in iTunes first before being streamer. That means that the videos will have to be encoded in MPEG-4 format, likely using H.264. Not that it is a horrible format, but DivX and XVid are the chief file formats used nowadays for video. The Apple TV also has 720p output at the TV end using either Component or HDMI cables. Yet, the videos downloadable on iTunes are 640×480 the last time I checked. I don’t know how nice 640×480 content will look upscaled to 720p. It probably won’t be horrific, considering DVDs are 720×480 and they seem to be upscaled pretty good. Nonetheless, playing upscaled content on your new $300 piece of hardware seems a little ridiculous. Maybe that is a sign that Apple will have HD content available on the store soon? You’d think you could play true HD files for that price. Also, I hope the 40GB drive can be upgraded later on (either officially or otherwise), since I know real home theatre media center users will require a lot more than that. (EDIT: It can support 1280×720 files, but they must be H.264 as originally imagined. I don’t think iTunes has those files available yet, but I’m sure it will soon to keep up with the HD era. Until then, you can encode your own.)

Last, but certainly not least, is the iPhone. Do yourself a favor and go to Apple’s site for the iPhone (linked to at the start of this article) to check out the gallery of pictures. What this thing looks like is utterly amazing. It is essentially just a screen in a shiny black bezel that shows on-screen buttons that activate to your touch. This is, for all intents and purposes, the widescreen/touchscreen Video iPod everyone was expecting. Except it is a phone, too. And a web browser. And an e-mail client. And it runs OSX. The point is, this device does a lot. It is akin to the Treo devices offered by Palm, the Blackjack offered by Samsung/Cingular, and the Q from Motorola. Except, like all things Apple, looks and feels a million times sleeker than everyone else’s products. It also helps that it has uber-cool sensors built in that automatically detects when you rotate it from portrait to landscape mode (and adjusts the on-screen image accordingly). It can also detect when you bring it up toward your ear to talk, and will automatically turn off the screen to save power and prevent you from accidentally hitting the touch-sensitive on-screen buttons. These nifty features sound like something out of a sci-fi magazine.

While I would be lying if I said I didn’t want one of these, the device, still unreleased, has some obvious problems. The most obvious is the price. Available in two models, the iPhone can be $499 or $599. Sounds kind of like something else (*cough*PS3*cough*). That said, the two different models differ in only one aspect, storage space. This brings me to the next inherent problem with the device. It comes in a 4GB and 8GB version, respective to the prices above. The reason this is a problem should be obvious… this thing does everything. It is a widescreen iPod capable of playing video, music, photos, etc. It can organize your life with Contacts, a Calendar, Notes, etc. It acts as an e-mail client and thus allows you to store all your e-mails on it. All of this takes up space, but none more than the iPod functionality. I am already using 8GB of space on my iPod Video 30GB. That includes just my music and three videos. And I only have 1500 songs, something that most people would laugh at. The point is… there is no way you can expect a device that will hold videos to have sufficient storage in 8GB. Am I going to pay $600 to have maybe five movies and some music in my pocket? I don’t think so. Keep in mind that the $600 price is only if you get a 2-year contract with Cingular, and obviously doesn’t include the service costs of this Internet-enabled device. This is going to be reserved for those of us with a lot of cash… that much is certain.

I really wish they would have an iPod with the touchscreen feature, and an 80GB hard drive like the current-gen $349 iPod Video has. I would like all of the features of the iPhone in an iPod-like device, but you can keep the phone functionality. With the steep price and the small storage space, the iPhone becomes pretty useless to the average consumer. It will definitely be a gadget that could “wow” anyone in the room, but I don’t think it is worth the money. That thing needs a hard drive.

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24 Season 6 Kicks Off Early

Written by rob on January 8, 2007 – 6:36 pm -

For those of you who like the Fox TV show, 24, as much as I do, I have some very nice news… the new season is starting a little early for those of you with a Bittorrent client. While I won’t post any links for legal reasons, the 4-hour premiere for the sixth season that is set to hit the States on Sunday and Monday (the 14th and 15th respectively) has already hit the torrent community. Though I have no idea where the leak came from, these first four hours were released yesterday. Having “previewed” them myself, I can confirm the validity of the various other sources that report on the leak.

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Happy New Year

Written by rob on January 1, 2007 – 7:58 pm -

I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy New Year. 2006 was a relatively good year for this site. I hope it is just the beginning. I can’t say I am disappointed that almost all my traffic is due to the games on the forum, but I would like to broaden my horizons, so to speak. I’m hoping to put up at least two meaningful articles per month. I was really losing that the end of last year. Here’s to a 2007 filled with much more traffic and diversity in content.

Cocktail for the New Year

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