Monday, December 31, 2007

To Change China by Jonathan Spence (Nonfiction Book 2002)

So yes, another historical, non-fiction book for the list. This one was a tad interesting because it had writings from people who visited China from as way back as the 17th century. I always wondered if people really spoke in that odd manner; sorta like being forced to read Shakespeare and make a wholehearted attempt at comprehending what the man was talking about.

For these few people who did leave behind some writings, I’d have to say that they indeed use very odd diction as well as interesting sentence structures, some of which I would never be able to produce in any amount of time.

The book’s purpose was to show how different people at different points in history tried to change or influence China or Chinese society in ways to make them more western and modern. Although many failed early on, some were more successful in later years. The book itself was a little dry, but the original writings that were used in the book were what stood out. Again, reading a firsthand account, such as something out of a journal entry is much more appealing than reading something that a modern author elaborated on. It would be just like reading Napoleon’s journal and seeing what the guy was thinking when he decided to invade Russia back in 1812.

One thing that did piss me off was reading about how a lot of the earlier peeps were there, only to evangelize and spread Christianity throughout the known world. “People shouldn’t meddle in other peoples’ business.” That’s my motto, so it ticks me off to read such things, even if it happened hundreds of years ago.
Rating - Mid

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Living in China (December 29, 2007)

Dude, it is so friggin’ cold outside… What’s wrong with this picture? Everything! There's this God-forsaken wind that causes you to forget where you're going and what your name is. So so damn cold. Oh! And guess what? Everyone else on this campus is aware of the temperature, so they make my shitty Internet connection go from a craptacular 493ms to 876ms. Oh China...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (Adventure Drama 2007)

I'm ashamed to admit that I even watched this. It was bad, like really really bad. Susan Cooper is a horrible writer if she admits to writing this. I've vote for a plagiarism admission if I were her. Everything was horrible: acting, plot, characters, special effects, etc. I mean how many times did I see The Rider nay his horse? I'm thinking 30, but that may be a conservative number. Alexander Ludwig might also think that he's the shit, since this is his 7th film, but does he realize that every middle school in the America has a guy that looks like him?
Rating - F

Gears of War (3rd Person Action PC Game 2007)

You know what? I don't like losing. Actually, I despise losing. That's why I don't play dumb sports like basketball or baseball, because I suck at them and I know it. But one thing I don't suck at are computer games, so it pisses me off when I play something that is designed to only frustrate and waste time. Why would the proud makers of this jewel make the game play so lame and tedious? Because they are tards; tards that have no sense of what is fun and what a good game is all about.

I'm usually not a fan of ports just because they always seem like a lamer version of the original, even though the game is more/less the same. Since this was one of the flagship games for the Xbox 360, I thought it would be at least O.K., but of course I was wrong.

The first few levels were fun, but then I began to realize that it was all the same. Every level was just a tweaked version of the one before; very repetitive and very boring. There were only two positive things about this game: the blood and the dialogue. Almost everything else sucked, such as the guns, mobs, boss fights, game play, levels, teammates whose AI was dumber than shit, and of course the ultra-hard sections that were made specifically to have you die 50+ times in a row. I can appreciate difficult levels, but not ones that have so many cards stacked against you. I suppose some would call overcoming these obstacles "skill", but I certainly don't.

So today, for the first time since I played my old school Nintendo, I remembered what I hated about console games and why I turned to computer games so long ago. Consoles suck because they are 100% linear, have next to no replay value, and difficulty is derived from a simple equation of how much more HP a boss has and how many times you have to deal damage to it before it kills you. I tried to keep on playing to see what the end cinematic would look like, but I lost all interest in continuing on.
Rating - Low

Monday, December 24, 2007

Living in China (December 25, 2007)

For this year’s Christmas holiday, we were all stuck in China because the schools here don’t really have a winter break until mid-January. Just like we did during Thanksgiving, we all went into Beijing to have dinner at a westernish restaurant. The locale that was chosen was a small, high-end place called Café Europa. The décor was totally my style; so much so, that if I ever wanted to build a house, I would totally integrate a lot of stuff I saw there into it.

The food was pretty good overall. They kinda skimped on a lot of the small things, but the main course was a very generous serving of roast beef (3 freaking huge slabs). It was hella good, even better than our visit to the Outback in Beijing. It was a very nice evening that was topped off with a night cap at a coffee bar in Yanjiao to celebrate the official stroke to midnight.

A few days before, the Business College took the entire faculty to a place to “play”. It was pretty much a team-building afternoon, consisting of bowling, basketball, ping pong, pool, and shuffleboard. I got the highest score out of everyone, a 130, in bowling, I declined to play basketball, I got my ass handed to me at pong pong (by everyone), some fogies hogged the pool table, and I discovered an amazingly fun little game called shuffleboard. Who would’ve thought that pushing a weighted object across a sanded surface could be so fun? I sucked of course, but it was actually a very fun game to play. If I ever get rich, I’m totally buying myself one of these things.

I’ll leave you all with a picture of a little man frosted into the side of a cake at a local bakery here. I got a great kick out of seeing him flipping me off.

Merry Christmas everyone
& have a fun New Year too!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Warlords (Foreign Chinese War Drama 2007)

This was a Chinese new release that had a lot of big hitters in it like Jet Li, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Andy Lau. The first two were in films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, but I don’t think the third guy’s films have ever made it to the US. They are all pretty famous on this end of the world though.

I was very much looking forward to this movie because it had battles set in the Qing Dynasty, which I find the most interesting out of all of the Chinese dynasties. I especially liked the armor from that era. Sad how almost none of them survived through the turmoil of the 20th century.

This film's story was about brotherhood and how selfishness and break apart any relationship among people. The action was O.K., but there wasn’t enough of it. The director should've watched Braveheart or Gladiator and gained some insight as to what a good battle scene should look like. The plot didn't have many flaws from the storytelling perspective, but it was totally a downer and certainly didn't brighten anyone’s day.

I don’t know if it will ever reach the US, but if it does, I doubt anyone will be impressed. This was yet another movie that had a lot of potential, but it was lacking in so many areas that I find it hard to give it any sort of props.
Rating - C

Friday, December 21, 2007

Living in China (December 22, 2007)

Last weekend I was in the gaming mood so I took the plunge and wandered over to a net bar to see how those places worked. The process is fairly simple. You go up to a central counter that has an employee sitting there. You wave a $10RMB bill at him/her and they will give you a card. The number on that card is credited 5 hours of play time on a computer. You wander around, find a terminal, boot up the machine, and it will auto-run a program with a login-screen. You put the number on the card as the login and give it a password of “123”, at least in this town. You are then able to surf the web, play games, install stuff, etc.

The place I went to had pretty souped-up machines with 2GB DDRII SDRAM, 8600GT video card, 19” widescreen LCD, etc. The bandwidth was fast when I first got there, but as more and more kids came in and started occupying terminals, the connection got pretty bad…at times only 3-4x that of a modem. Blah... Most of the peeps were playing either WoW, Warcraft 3, or small games that are attached to the most popular chatting program here, QQ. The system was also running DeepFreeze, which is the same program I ran back in AZ, so everything gets reset after the system is shut down. I scanned for keyloggers and it came up clean. Even though I still wouldn’t trust it for Internet Banking, I would trust it for installing a game and playing it to death.

I ended up staying for 3 hours. Afterwards, I turned off the terminal, went back up to the front counter, handed in my card, and the lady manning it gave me back some change. It costs $2RMB/hour and it’s prorated to every 30 minutes. Also, the front counter has a monitoring program on their terminal which displays each available machine, which card is on it, how much money is on the card, and if the login program is working. I’m thinking that I could easily bypass the security of the monitoring software, but the front counter would see that the computer was on and that the program was not running.

While there I saw many people come in with hella food, 4 to 6 2-liter bottles of soda, pay for the whole day (12hrs), and proceed to get their gaming hats on. I could easily see how so many Chinese could be addicted to the net and games. It’s one of the only places in this country where you can escape into a fantasy world and everyone around you is doing the same thing so you don’t feel any different. It’s hella fun if you hate your life, hate your job, or are perpetually single.

The Kingdom (Action 2007)

Well the trailer for this one looked very good, but unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations. Good thing is that Jamie Foxx is still a badass and I continue to enjoy his acting.

This film felt like Syriana mixed in with Bad Boys. The background setting was there, a whole crapload of action was there, but where was the plot? I suppose it was much like that of other action films with their highly linear plot line, but the fact that the setting was in Saudi Arabia made it seem like a higher-quality movie could have been produced.

Jennifer Garner looked distraught throughout the film, while Jason Bateman supplied a steady stream of quirky, one-sentence comments. They can hardly be considered supporting actors. One good thing about this film was that the explosions were probably the best "bomb" special effects I've seen to date. There were 2 in the beginning of the movie that looked so real that I had to go back and watch it several more times to see how they pulled it off. I still don't know how they did it either...

This was an overall average action flick, but it was definitely marketed as something better. Maybe next time they can find a better writer.
Rating - C

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Brave One (Drama 2007)

It's been a long time since I've seen Jodie Foster in a movie. The last good one had to be Contact, and that's probably considered old school by today's standards. But I got to say, this here film was pretty good. You probably know what the ending is like, based solely on my approval of it.

Yeah this movie is about how one woman dealt with the assault and murder of her fiance. I think it accurately demonstrated the emotional feelings that would've come from such an experience. I'm no psychologist, but everything seemed fairly believable and justified.

The tag line for this film is " How many wrongs to make it right?", and my answer to that is "As many as it takes". It's crappy how our legal system can do so much to protect those who don't deserve that type of respect. I'm down with vigilantism, but I can see why our system frowns upon it. Sometimes its necessary because not everyone plays by the same rule book.
Rating - A

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rescue Dawn (Drama 2006)

I haven't seen a Nam P.O.W. film since the whole Missing in Action series back in the 80s, but surprisingly enough, those old school films totally beat out this one.

I'm a fan of Christian Bale so it certainly wasn't his acting that brought down this movie; the story is what lacked. Since this was based on a true story, I'm not punishing it for the plot, but more of how it was presented. The director tried to concentrate on the mental turmoil of the prisoners in the camp, but he didn't really do a good job with that. If this was the road that the director wanted to go down, he should've gone balls-out and done it. Because of the lack of skill in regards to using the "mental anguish" technique, the rest of the film fell flat on its face.

This wasn't as bad as a regular bad movie, but it did have a lot of potential that was not utilized.
Rating - C

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Crysis (FPS PC Game 2007)

Ever since its unveiling at E3, this game was labeled as one of the more anticipated games of the year. With the ultra-realistic graphics and a strong reputation as being the creators of Farcry, Crytek used their established beachhead to launch their new island FPS. Was this game all that it was supposed to be? Yes and no, but it was only a very small no.

To begin, let’s just say that I really like the direction that games are currently heading in. It’s no longer pointless shoot’em ups, but instead these games feel much more like playing within a movie. I think it all started way back in the day with Half-Life and being employed at Black Mesa, but now this much needed plot background has spread to more than a few other titles.

From the very beginning, Crysis was indeed immersive and plot-driven. You play as a U.S. Special Forces soldier, but you get to wear this nifty exo-suit that allows you to gain various advantages over enemies. This was just enough differentiation to make the game play interesting without totally making it unrealistic and boring. The guns were all fairly standard, as you were only allowed to carry 2 larger rifles and have a double pistol setup as your sidearm. It would’ve been nice to see different pistols like a Magnum or something, but through the whole game you were pretty much stuck with the pistols; that was a little lame.

The sound was good, but on par with other FPS out there. I don't know why they had the North Korean soldiers yelling in very crappy English when they would've realistically been yelling in Korean, but this was indeed one audio faux pas. The UI was very intuitive and easy to get accustomed to, especially all of the rifle modifications. The graphics, being the highlight of the game, were both a blessing and a curse. It was great because when you turned all of the settings up, everything looked so damn sharp. I will very much enjoy playing this game again a few years from now, when video cards can actually handle it. As you might’ve guessed, playing the game with the settings maxed out was 100% unplayable. It took a whole 17 seconds for me to shoot my gun (mouse-click to bang), if you’re in need of a reference. Like always I had to lower the resolution to 1024x768 and have most of the settings on low or medium. It was still fun, but I’m sure I was missing out on some wondrous graphical achievements.

The story was very good, until it got all alien. I don’t know…I like sci-fi stuff as much as the next guy, but somehow it seemed misplaced with this one. I hated being in the alien structure because it felt like I was playing old-school Descent, and I didn’t like that game at all.

The ending was a cliffhanger of sorts so there will be a sequel for sure. Hopefully it will have less alien stuff, although I highly doubt I’ll get my wish. I think I still enjoyed playing Call of Duty 4 more though, but this came in a close second. Overall it was a great game with only a few misgivings.
Rating - High

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Living in China (December 13, 2007)

So a few days ago was my first experience with snow in China. Surprisingly it wasn’t as dirty as I would’ve expected, considering all of the pollutants in the air. Many of my students who were from the South had never seen snow before, so it was quite the event that deserved some level of celebration. It’s kinda like that one time in Tucson where it snowed and everyone was all sorts of giddy.

Other than that, nothing really new happening. School is winding its way down so finals will be quickly approaching. Since Christmas and New Year’s are not as big here as it is back in the States, I’ll have to celebrate alone, or maybe with a few other teachers. I’ll be happy to go home for the break so that I can blow a ton of cash on all of the “After Christmas” sales that will hopefully still be going on.

3:10 to Yuma (Western Action 2007)

I’ve always been a fan of good westerns ever since Young Guns and even the "Lonesome Dove" series to some extent. It has been quite a while since anyone has made a western movie though, so that is why I was surprised to see both Russell Crowe and Christian Bale paired together for this film.

This was a nice breath of fresh air considering all of the crap that has come through my DVD drive as of late. It had a nice, solid story with good acting and character development. Crowe’s character was way too “nice” in my opinion though, but it was needed to move the plot forward.

If you’re in the mood for a pretty decent movie then I’d recommend this one, but if you don’t like westerns then I can understand that feeling as well.
Rating - A

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mongol (Foreign Drama 2007)

Russian producers/writers/director making a film about Mongols…humm…what to think. Although I know that the Mongols did conquer a huge chunk of Asia and Russia, it still seems odd for them to make a film about Genghis Khan. Did they do well? No.

To start, this movie was putt putt slow. Yes, it’s nice that they went into the childhood of this notorious conqueror, but #1 who knows if any part of this movie is actually true and #2 Russians can’t make movies. The film was lacking in all respects. I don’t really know how to describe it other than me thinking to myself that the direction this film took was just plain wrong. You might be able to find this in the bargain bin somewhere, but since it’s a foreign flick, hopefully it will be harder to come across.

The fights were sub-par, the armor was lame, the archery was lame, and the CG effects were 5-10 years behind a real movie. Maybe these people should invest their money into making their country not so corrupt and leave the movie making to Hollywood. They tried to make this an epic film, but all they did was create yet another crappy one.
Rating - D

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Half-Life 2: Episode Two (FPS Action PC Game 2007)

Alex and Gordon are back at it again. The story continues from the end of Episode 1, when you were escaping on a train after you blew up the Combine Tower. As expected, the game play, story, sound, and effects were all top notch. This episode seemed to be a little short, but the levels were all very fun. I still don’t think it was fair to package this together in The Orange Box, just because nobody likes to pay for something they already have, but I guess Valve has to look out for #1.

The ending of this episode was yet another cliffhanger, so there will definitely be a 3rd episode. We’ll be waiting for it.
Rating - High

Lions for Lambs (Drama 2007)

This was totally a political film questioning the current state of the US and its foreign policy agenda. It had an all-star cast who took the lead in showing the different perspectives of people affected by government decisions.

It wasn’t a normal film as in having a real plot. It merely had a small group of characters who each represented different levels of the system and how policy is made and executed by policymakers, the press, and the military.

This movie should be played in poli-sci classes because I’m sure the students would have a lot to talk about. Since I watched it alone, with no other opinions floating around, I don’t really have anything to say other than, “bureaucracy is a bitch and it’s the little guys who get screwed in the end.” And this brings me back to my famous saying of how crappy our legislative branch of government is. Rich people making big decisions that will usually make them more rich at the expense of the ignorant and the idealistic members of our population. What type of representative government is that? A corrupt one.
Rating – C

Good Night, and Good Luck. (Drama 2005)

Interesting little film about the McCarthy Era and how the US was totally in an anti-communist mood. Since I never got to this point in history in any of my classes as a student, this was all new to me.

The movie was fairly good, as it displayed the life of Edward R. Murrow and how he had no fear in questioning the improperness of McCarthy and his witch hunts during the 1950s. It was a well done film with great acting. Funny how George Clooney directed it. Maybe some actors do have other talents.
Rating – B

Redacted (Drama 2007)

Well this was a crappy movie. It was a recreation of an event that was reported on the news pertaining to the rape and murder of a family in Iraq. I think I remember that a few soldiers were prosecuted, but besides that, I don’t know if the film added more stuff to it or if they left some details out.

In a one-liner, this movie was way too one-sided. Although there really isn't another side that can rationalize rape and unjustified murder, a film can be made to be politically charged, and this just seemed to be way towards the left. I'm sure there are many peeps in the military who are slimy characters who lack moral fortitude and have next to no conscience, but this film tried to exploit that to a greater degree.

Many may disagree with me, but I felt that this film wasn’t worth its beans. Yes, we shouldn't be in Iraq. Yes, bad things happen in war. And yes, there are people who function without a moral compass. It’s life…why waste time making a film about something that most people already know?
Rating - D

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dan in Real Life (Comedy 2007)

It's nice to see Steve Carell in more films since I like him as an actor much more than, lets say, Will Ferrell. Bad thing is that this script was not very impressive although I did laugh a few times.

The movie was O.K. in most respects, but it wasn't anything special. You have this guy name Dan who is a widower raising 3 daughters. He meets a chick in a bookstore and is smitten. He then drives to a family reunion only to find out that this new flame is the girlfriend of his brother. Drama ensues.

The whole story is very predictable and very plain. Again, nothing really wrong with it, but it brought nothing new to the table. Maybe Steve will get another The 40 Year Old Virgin which will then put him back on the map.
Rating - C

Living in China (December 5, 2007)

So this last weekend, was yet another trip into Beijing. This time, we only explored one shopping area near the Xidan subway terminal. I only had time to wander into 3 large buildings: 2 of them had genuine clothes at genuine prices, while the last one had fake stuff, just like the Silk Market. What I discovered there, in terms of pricing, was fairly shocking. Everything real, from shoes to jackets to beanies were all priced anywhere from $25USD to $300USD more. What does this say about shopping in China? Don’t. From all the data I’ve gathered, China is a good place to buy little things such as pens, toiletries, food, etc. Everything you would buy at a Wal-Mart or Target is cheaper here by quite a bit, but anything else, where quality is a major factor, like electronics, good clothes, and shoes can be purchased in the US for much cheaper.

I have a little side-rant to go off on though. In the last few weeks, things that you would expect as being standard have been “breaking” and that totally puts things in perspective, but it does not alleviate the frustration that is felt. One 2 occasions the water has stopped functioning. When I reported it to our handler, she said that it was campus-wide. Mind you, it always occurs at around 9:00PM-1:00AM. WTF. It’s really something special when you come home from eating dinner, go to the sink, get some soap all lathered up in your hands, and reach for the water knob to find that there is no water. The same thing applies when you get all ready to take a shower to get cleaned up and nothing comes out of the shower head. I have never experienced this in the US…ever. How can water just be shut off?

The next rant is with the electricity and the Internet. The Internet connection is already slow as all hell, but when we lose connection for days at a time, it really puts a damper on one’s quality of life. For all of the other people in the world who don’t use the Internet much, it would be equivalent to all the TV channels being switched off. What is one to do? I know that I can read a book or something but sometimes all you want to do is to blow 5 hours of your life looking at random stuff on the Net.

As for the electricity, I’m used to that because it happened so often down in Tucson, but usually that occurred during or after a monsoon rainstorm…not randomly out of nowhere. I think I’m more annoyed at the frequency than the length. Back in the States, it would go off anywhere from 10min to 1 hour, but it happened only a few times a year. Here it goes off for 5min to 30min but it happens multiple times every 2 weeks. Very annoying. It’s funny because I’m usually working on my laptop and to the side I have the school’s computer playing a DVD. When the electricity goes out, it becomes dark, the school’s computer shuts off, but I continue with what I’m doing on my laptop via battery power. I usually mumble “great” and continue to ponder how utterly lame it is.

Other than that it’s freezing here, and when it’s a windy day, it becomes God-awful freezing. Go China.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Nanking (Documentary 2007)

This wasn't your average documentary in terms of format, because they pretty much hired actors to sit in a chair and act like they were the real people who lived through some of the atrocities that happened during WWII. Most of the dialogue was taken from letters and memoirs written by expatriates living in Nanking at the time of the Japanese occupation of the city.

The account of what happened was pretty gruesome and disturbing, but in times of war, all bets are off. During any chaotic time, soldiers from all sides will preform inhumane and unethical acts against an enemy country. I'm sure if we went back in time to the days of the Roman Empire or Alexander the Great, you would find similar acts being committed. But even so, in the more-so civilized world of today, we often hope that ethics and personal values will overcome the intrinsic barbarism that seems to exist in humans.

If you're interested in what happened in Nanking during the Second World War, this film will give you a detailed account of past events. The morale of the movie is that war is bad...for everyone...and that is why we should avoid it at all costs.
Rating - B