Lars Wirzenius: Review, 2003


Saturday, December 20, 2003

Review: Paladin of souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

I've been thinking about whether I should write fewer reviews, given that I tend to prefer not to read other people's reviews. I have decided to continue to write reviews whenever I feel like it. If nothing else, it means that there will be more reviews in the world with which I agree.

Paladin of souls by Lois McMaster Bujold is an independent sequel to Curse of Chalion. Bujold is best known for her science fiction space operas about the Vorkosigan family, particularly Miles Vorkosigan, but these two books are pure high fantasy. There's magic, there's royalty, the fate of the world is at stake. The genre is completely different and my impression is that so is the writing. Bujold's fantasy is a bit less hectic and there is less humor. Other than that, the writing and storytelling is superb. The characters remain perhaps a bit thin, but they still become dear. Excellent entertainment.

Review: Frasier

The TV series Frasier is a fairly typical US sitcom: lots of jokes and things to laugh at, not much diving into the more serious and sad parts of life. Exactly right, therefore, when you need to escape your life for a moment. Episodes are about 20 minutes each, which makes them perfect for brief relaxation.

Apart from a typical concept, Frasier is very well made. The jokes are actually funny, and acted and otherwise delivered well. Their pacing is quite perfect: much faster and I would be overloaded; much slower and I would be bored.

I've only seen the first season, having bought it on DVD. I've seen stray episodes on Finnish TV, however, and based on that, later seasons are as good, so I'm likely to buy more. (The best way to watch a TV series is, after all, not one episode per week, but as many as you can in as few sittings as you can.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Review: Bellweather by Connie Willies

Connie Willis' Bellwether is a very nice book. The plot is perhaps a bit simplistic and predictable, but since it is not the point of the book, it doesn't matter. The point of the book is the depiction of the silly things people do under stress. It felt similar to my own life and my own feelings, to the extent that I wanted to adopt the feelings and desires of the main character. I now have a vague feeling that I really should try to become a scientist after all. (I won't, since I failed academically already, and am not a researcher by nature anyway.)

I'll have to keep my eyes open for more books by Connie Willis. I've now read three. The first one, Uncharted territory, left no permanent memory trace, but also no bad feelings. To say nothing of the dog I read recently, and would probably have liked it better if it hadn't be hyped to me beforehand. Bellwether I like quite a bit. Let's hope the trend keeps. I could do with a few more new authors I like.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Review: Once upon a time in Mexico

I saw Once upon a time in Mexico with a friend, in a movie theater. The place is significant: I now visit a movie theater so seldom that the movies I do see there tend to get a positive boost. The immersion and visual and aural effectiveness are much higher than when watching things at home.

Nevertheless, I must admit to being surprisingly little enthusiastic about this movie. Visually, it was nice, but not great. The story was somewhat confusing. The acting did not leave a big impressio, though the actors were pretty. I rate the predecessor, Desperado, very highly, and it may be that I was just expecting something equally stunning and my being unimpressed is a consequence of my disappointment.

Still, it is not a bad movie. I will probably not buy it on DVD, but I wouldn't object to watching it again, if someone lent it to me on DVD.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Review: Clamav

For a few weeks now I have been running Clamav as packaged by Debian, including some background tool for updating the virus database regularly. I used the virus scanning in a filtering rule in Evolution to recognize viruses before bogofilter. Viruses would be moved to their own folder, which I could clean out more easily than the spam folder. Eventually I would have had Evolution delete the mails automatically.

Unfortunately, it didn't work very well. Clamav only recognized about a quarter or a third of the viruses. While this is much better than nothing, in the end it wasn't worth the hassle and risk of running multiple filters and having a background process.

Note that I'm not saying Clamav is a bad program, just that it doesn't fit my needs and desires.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Review: To say nothing of the dog by Connie Willis

To say nothing of the dog by Connie Willis was recommended to me about as strongly as any book, ever, and by several people. This may have been the reason why I failed to get really enthusiastic about it.

The story is actually quite fun, and there is both suspension and romance, both of which I'm addicted to. It is well written and, given the implicit assumption that time travel is possible, feels quite realistic. It's just that after all the hype I was expecting something that would blow my mind, and it didn't. It's definitely worth reading, but I'm not joining the fan club.

I've got to stop listening to people's opinions about books I haven't read, I guess. I already do it for movies.

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Review: ANSI Common Lisp by Paul Graham

I got ANSI Common Lisp by Paul Graham as a birthday present a few weeks ago. I've been reading it on the way to work, and when eating alone in restaurants, and so on. I'm not sure I'll ever write anything in Common Lisp: at least on the surface it doesn't seem like my kind of language, being big and full of nifty but ugly tricks and stuff. However, the book is very nice, and it broadened my mind about programming languages in general, which is always a good thing. Also it gave me some ideas and inspirations for the further development of Hedgehog Lisp.

If I were studying Common Lisp, I would love the book. It is clear, logical, occasionally funny, and has good examples. It doesn't just explain what features the language has, but gives advice on how to use them properly.

Review: Computer networks, 3rd edition by Andrew S. Tanenbaum

I bought Andrew S. Tanenbaum's Computer networks, 3rd edition used, from a friend, a couple of years ago. Since then, I've had it in my bathroom and read it when attending to the final steps of digestion. As usual for Tanenbaum, the book is very well written, both by being thorough and correct, and also by being fun to read. The edition I have is perhaps a bit old by now, but on the other hand, not all that much has changed in the world of computer networks since 1996. Computers and networks have become faster, and the Internet has become bigger. Abuse is more common. Wireless networking is more common. More stuff happens on the net, but nothing really revolutionary, on the networking level, has happened. That's all right - the interesting stuff happens on the application level, which is mostly outside the scope of this book.

The book is perhaps a bit on the heavy side for a general introduction to computer networking. It is, after all, a university level textbook. For anyone already into the technical side of computers it should be simple, and even if the book is somewhat thick, it is easy enough to read, and should be a fairly quick read, if you need to learn about networking in a hurry. (It's not so quick if you read a page or two at a time, while sitting in the toilet.)

Review: Nokia 3510i

I bought a new phone yesterday. My Nokia 7110 has never been a particularly good phone, but in the past months it's been becoming worse: the lid only works part of the time, and even at its best it causes disturbances during a call. Signs of age, it is after all four years old. So I went and bought a Nokia 3510i. It's cheap, and it seems to fill all of my requirements for a phone from October 8.

It's not perfect. My biggest gripe is that except in extremely good light, the screen is unreadable unless backlit. If I wanted to, say, check the time of day, I first have to press a key or unlock the keypad to make the screen backlit. Of course, when the screen is backlit, it is pretty good.

The other big gripe is that it requires more keystrokes to start writing a new text message than the old phone. I'll live with that. Also the phone has lots of useless stuff in it, which I wish it didn't, but doesn't seem to cause any bad effects yet. The keyboard is somewhat rubbery and insensitive, but I'll with that as well.

On the other hand, it has the perfect feature that no-one calls me anymore. Ever since I moved my SIM card to the new phone, I've only received one call. This is nice.

Unless I find something really badly wrong with this phone, I'll hopefully be able to use it for the next three or four years at least. That would be nice. I hate having to replace my phone all the time.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Review: Buffy the vampire slayer, third season

I've just finished watching the third season of Buffy the vampire slayer. I've seen it once before, but it is equally effective, emotionally, the second time around. I find that the third to last episode, The prom, has the mostest emotional impact for me, but the whole season is pretty impactful, and not just emotionally. The plots (per episode, and for the whole season) are excellent, and cut deeper than you'd expect from a critically acclaimed novel, never mind a fantasy TV series for teenage boys.

I don't actually think that teenage boys are the proper target audience for Buffy. At least not the stereotypical kind that only cares about amount of violence and skin tone. The series handles issues such as responsibility for other people, whether the common good is more important than personal good, and living with one's mistakes. A typical TV series (or movie, or novel) presents issues in monochromes, and simplifies things so that whatever point of view the author likes is clearly the best. While Buffy isn't quite immune to that, it does manage to make some of the bad guys be much less than pure evil, to be human even when they're monsters. Also, the good guys are not purely good, and have doubts, they feel the wrong things, and do things out of selfish motivations. And they do the wrong things, occasionally.

I don't claim that Buffy is the ultimate in storytelling, but it is far ahead from most stuff. I'm addicted not because of the many mini-skirts Sarah Michelle Gellar is wearing, but because the story bears being watched repeatedly. The skirts are just a bonus.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Review: The Art of Software Testint by Glenford J. Myers

Glenford J. Myers starts his book The Art of Software Testing with a self-assessment test, which is a very good introduction to thinking about testing and test cases:

Before beginning the book, it is strongly recommended that you take the following short test. The problem is the testing of the following program:

The program reads three integer values from a card. The three values are interpreted as representing the lengths of the sides of a triangle. The program prints a message that states whether the triangle is scalene, isosceles, or equilatersl.

On a sheet of paper, write a set of test cases (i.e., specific sets of data) that you feel would adequately test this program. When you have completed this, turn the page to analyze your tests.

You can look at the sample pages of that book on Amazon (sorry about not giving direct links). Myers gives fourteen questions with which you can rate your test cases. If yours pass most of them, you're in pretty good shape, testing wise. Back a decade ago when I read the book, I only got a few correct.

Oh, by the way, the book is pretty old, published in 1979. I haven't got a copy (more's the pity), but it should still be relevant, even if it contains anachronisms like "reading cards".

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Review: Snake eyes

Watched Snake eyes again from DVD. It's been a couple of years since the previous time, and I had forgotten more or less everything about the movie, except for a slight feeling about not liking it very much. I think the reason for that feeling is that the main character, played by Nicholas Cage, is not a very nice person. Corrupt policemen generally aren't. (That's not a spoiler, since it becomes evident a few minutes into the film.)

Otherwise the movie is pretty good, actually. The story is not totally obvious from the start, the photography is competent, the acting is not distracting, and so on. Nothing really spectacular, but definitely not bad.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Review: Epiphany 0.9.2

I tried Epiphany 0.9.2, the web browser, after reading today that it will be the default browser in Gnome 2.4. I've been using Galeon for quite some time now. Epiphany seems about par with Galeon (I'm currently using 1.3.7), in a couple of hours of usage. The only two things that I didn't like about in Epiphany were a lack of an option to forget all cookies whenever the browser is closed, and no tab completion in the URL entry box. The latter proved to be a killer for me: I'm so used to it in Galeon that it's lack in Epiphany is quite disturbing. I could easily unlearn the tab completion habit, but it is so convienient I don't want to.

I know Epiphany 1.0 has just come out, but it hasn't been packaged for Debian yet. I don't know how close it is to 0.9.2.

Saturday, September 6, 2003

Review: Daredevil

Watched Daredevil from a rented DVD. Didn't like it. The plot is OK, and in fact better than I had expected. Almost comparable to the best Daredevil comic book story I've read, by Frank Miller. The acting, however, was unexpectedly bad, and the real meat of the movie, the action scenes, were outright lousy: they felt much too fake for a big budget Hollywood movie.

On the other hand, this movie further confirmed my suspicion that it is only possible to make good movie adaptions of superheroes if I liked the comic books when I was a young teenager. Particularly since I only like two: Batman and Spiderman. I'm so clairvoyant, I should play poker.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Review: L.A. Confidential

When the world plays football with your nuts, some escapism is in order. I first saw L.A. Confidential in a nice movie theater with a friend, after we missed something else. Lucky us.

L.A. Confidential is the kind of perfection that makes Hollywood worth all the crap they produce. Movie making is an art and a craft, and there are lots of areas that need to work for a movie to be good. When each area is good, and they all work together superbly, the result is something exquisite. This is the case with L.A. Confidential.

The script, the acting, the photography, the costuming, and all other areas, which I can't even name, are all satisfying. It sounds so banal to not be able to point out problems in a movie, but I can't. I'm sure there are, but I'm a lousy critic and my analysis is superficial.

Tonight, L.A. Confidential was a nice bit of escapism. The good guys won, the bad guys lost, and the important people survived (well, most of them). Immersion into the movie, empathy for its characters, not a thought about the worries at work. Exactly what I needed.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Review: Soul Music the animation

Some time ago my friends Nora and Cessu showed me Soul Music, a animated version of Terry Pratchett's novel of the same name.

I'm a fan of Pratchett's, and I like the novel quite a bit. The animation follows the book quite closely, which is good. The quality of the animation is pretty standard for a TV series: OK, but nothing compare to large budget productions from, say, Disney. At least it was largely lacking in excessive repetitions of the same sequences, which seemed to plague cheap TV animations back when I was till watching television regularly.

The animation was quite an enjoyable experience, and made me want to see other Pratchett animations. It was not quite good enough for me to want to spend much money on them, but it might be because I've already spent money on the books.

Both tapes of the animation started with a Pratchett interview. Those were also fun, and actually more interesting. I knew the story, but it was interesting to hear what Pratchett thought of it, and his thoughts in general. I'm not quite enough of a fanboy to trawl the net for interviews to read, but when I do come across a good one, like this one, it is a pleasure.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Review: High fidelity

Watched High Fidelity on DVD. I've seen this movie before, several times, and every time it leaves me with a nice, warm glowing feeling of satisfaction, possibly even happiness. A nice story, good acting, find photography, everything good.

I'm not a music freak; indeed, I rarely listen to music, I just keep it playing in the background. Nevertheless, I feel the music nerds in the movie are my kind of people. Geeks have empathy for geeks, I guess.

Sunday, August 3, 2003

Review: Terminator 3

Saw Terminator 3: rise of the machines in a movie theater. It is a movie that did not need to be made. It is not actually bad, just wholly unnecessary.

Friday, August 1, 2003

Review: Monster ball

I had the impression that Monster's ball was a dark and depressing movie. It is anything but. Much of the movie depicts the hardships of the two main characters, but the end makes it an optimistic and happy movie.

I like the way the storytelling is slow and simple and understated. I've now seen Billy Bob Thornton in two movies, and he excelled in both. On the other hand, both of these characters were quiet men; it would be interesting to see him do a completely different kind of role.

Halle Berry is the big surprise of the movie. I admit I'm prejudiced and have little hope that a supermodel or other celebrity will improve a movie. Berry acts so well I forgot not just that she used to be a model, but also that she's gorgeous.

All in all, an extremely nice movie.

Review: Forrest Gump

I bought Forrest Gump a little while ago on DVD, since I got it cheap, but didn't watch it until this week. I did see it originally in a movie theater when it was released, but had forgotten much of the plot. I only remembered that I liked the movie, and now that I've seen it again, I remember why.

The movie made me feel good inside. It also made me cry. I'm not entirely sure why, since the plot isn't all that different from the more boring kinds of movies that Hollywood makes so many of each year. Perhaps it is not the plot but the execution. The movie was executed quite well. There is a thin line between being exquisite and being vulgar or boring and Forrest Gump manages to stay on the right side.

When I commented on Forrest Gump on IRC, someone said that they had hated the movie, because it was calculated. After pondering on it, I agree: it is calculated. I don't, however, think it is a bad thing. I value craftsmanship and I think it is good if movie makers can make a superb movie on purpose and know exactly what they are doing. It would be sad if good movies were made only by chance.

Review: Bullit

I've owned a Bullit DVD for a couple of years now, and seen it many times. It is a realistic, understated and finely crafted police action thriller from 1968, starring Steve McQueen. The movie is perhaps best known for its long and dramatic car chase scene, but the acting is almost perfect all round. Highly recommended.

Review: Bend it like Beckham

Bend it like Beckham is a nice movie. If you've seen the trailer, or the posters, the plot is unsurprising, but the execution is good, and the movie leaves a warm, happy feeling that the world is, perhaps, not all that bad, after all.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Review: ATK-sanakirja

I stubmled onto an online version of ATK-sanakirja. It is the most well known computer related dictionary for the Finnish language. Unfortunately, it also has a reputation of being a bad joke. Earlier, say about a decade ago, they tended to invent new Finnish words for which they didn't know of an established one. Few, if any, of these were ever used for real. They did not mark such inventions in any way, which meant that those using the dictionary didn't know if they were making a fool of themselves or not. Not good.

They have since improved, and the online version seems to not be a complete joke anymore. It is, however, still very spotty in its coverage. It lacks words that are in real use, and has words that would seem to belong to a general English-Finnish dictionary, rather than a computer specific one. Some definitions seems lacking. For example, they include the word "acceptance" and translate it as "vastaanotto" (the act of receiving), and do not mention anything about approving of what you receive, which is an important part of the meaning of the English word. Rather than adding a half-assed definition for it, they should have left it for a general dictionary.

I only browsed through the words beginning with A, but found several things I objected to. This indicates to me that the dictionary is still useless. If one were to use it, one would still have to double check everything.

When I commented on this on IRC, jaakob suggested that the Computer Science department of the University of Helsinki could start a wiki for doing a completely new computer dictionary for Finnish. I think this is a good idea. Trying to improve the mess that ATK-sanakirja is, is depressing work, and this is almost certainly a case where it pays to start from scratch.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Review: King Kong

Saw the 1933 version of King Kong from DVD. It proves that action films with a simple plot, paper thin characters, and an over-reliance on special effects are not a new phenomenon in Hollywood. On the contrary, apart from the movie being black and white, and the special effects being somewhat less convincing than modern ones, the movie does not significantly differ from what might be produced 70 years later. A 2003 version of King Kong would sport faster action, saturated colors, hours of computer generated material, and would be hard to tell visually apart from reality. It would not, however, really be more convincing, or feel more real, than the 1933 version.

Still, like its modern descendants, this 1933 film is entertaining, and the fact that it looks 70 years old gives it a certain charm. A very good buy at five euros, I'd say.

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Review: Charlie's Angels: Full throttle

Watched Charlie's Angels: Full throttle (i.e., the sequel) today in a movie theater today with a friend. There were three significant things. First, I visited a movie theater, which has become pretty rare since I bought a DVD player three years ago. Second, I was not alone, which has been pretty rare for the past six to nine months or so, for no good reason at all. And thirdly, the movie was nice, too.

I don't think this movie was as good as the first one, though. It was too fast, to begin with, with too many things crammed into it. It was a bit too fantastic. The scene (included in the trailer, so not a spoiler) where one of the angels starts a helicopter in the air and two others fall and climb into it while the rotors start moving was somewhat too incredible. Don't get me wrong: I didn't expect a realistic film. I expected incredible and unbelievable action scenes. There is, however, a fine line between an incredibility that is great fun and one that is too much and becomes boring, and this movie crossed that line a couple of times. Not enough to destroy the movie, but enough to be disturbing.

A further disturbing thing was the sloppy way side characters were handled. There were several that were quite pointless: either they should have been removed or they should have been given a reason of existing. Either way would have improved the film.

On the other hand, the three angels were as beautiful and charming as before, and the costumes, and silly escapades were everything I expected after having seen the first movie.

Monday, July 7, 2003

Review: Harry Potter and the Order fo the Phoenix

I have last night finished reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth novel in the series. It is large, about 800 pages, but an amazingly easy read, perhaps because it is aimed at young readers. On the other hand, I felt that it was less aimed at young readers than the earlier parts of the series. On the third hand, part of the fascination of the Potter series for me is that it is meant for children and yet enjoyable by adults.

Oh, yes, I did enjoy it. Maybe I should watch the movies as well.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Review: Crush

Rented Crush on DVD. The blurb at the back claimed it was a comedy, and I was in the mood for a comedy. The local movie rental did not have too many comedies available, on DVD, and Andie MacDowell is cuter than Mike Myers. Unfortunately, the blurb lied. Well, sort of.

Crush is not what I would call a comedy, even if it left me with a happy feeling. The story is too serious to be a comedy. However, even though the story contains moments of sorrow, on the whole it is a warm one.

As usual, I don't feel like to spoiling the movie for those who haven't seen it, and thus won't summarize the plot. I will, however, compare it to another MacDowell movie, Four weddings and a funeral. Crush is similar in its mixture of happiness and sorrow. Where Four weddings etc manages to be almost magical in its conception and execution, Crush is merely competent. There's nothing really wrong with it, apart from its classification, but the magic that is required for a really great movie is not there.

I liked this movie. It left me with a happy feeling. I'll happily watch it again, if a suitable occasion occurs.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Review: Abduction club

Watched The abduction club on DVD, based on a recommendation from a friend. It is a romantic comedy set in 18th century Ireland, with several nice costumes included. I liked this movie. The simple story is told well, and technical aspects, such as photography, costuming and scenery, are competent. The acting was perhaps a bit restrained, but it might have been a stylistic choice on the part of the director to be understated rather than lively. Or perhaps it isn't a case understatement. Perhaps it is just a thing about not following the Hollywood tradition of making everything painfully obvious even for the slowest people in the audience.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Review: La fille d'Artagnan

La fille d'Artagnan is a French movie set some twenty years after the most well known story of the three musketeers. The main character is Eloise, daughter of d'Artagnan. I'm not giving anything out by saying that, since it is the title. It is a humorous film where the humor is kind and gentle, and does not involve custard pies, even if there is a lot action. There is a total absence of farting or other bodily functions, which makes the humor almost seem intelligent and high-brow, especially after The sweetest thing. What little reference to sex there is, is made seem perfectly natural and lacks the sense of taboo that American films have. I don't know if it is typical French, but it was nice.

The acting is nice, although I suspect I'm missing half of it since I don't understand the language. The story is fun, and the scenery, costumes, and other background elements work well. The photography is competent, but not breathtaking. The fencing is ridiculous, but that's to be expected from a movie. All in all, a very pleasing film.

Unfortunately, the Finnish subtitles on the DVD are quite bad. Not only do they have lots of spelling mistakes, but I noticed that they left out things, and I don't understand French at all. I have the same movie on VHS, with a different translation, and that may have improved my understanding.

Review: Le pacte des loupes

Yesterday, I watched another French film, Le pacte des loupes or Brotherhood of the wolf. Set in 18th century France, it tells a story that is probably best characterized as a horror story. The story is not, however, why I liked the movie a lot. The story is OK, even good, but what I adore is the beauty of the film. The people are either beautiful or charismatic. The clothes are magnificient. The scenery, with its castles, forests, ruins, ravines, and so forth, is interesting. The photography is excellent. Action scenes are unrealistic, but gorgeous.

I really like this film. I really liked La fille. I consider La femme Nikita to be a classic. Even Les visiteurs is good. That's all the French films I can remember seeing in the past decade or so. I suspect I should see more, if they're all that good. (Obviously they aren't, but at least there's ample justification to be unfaithful to Hollywood.)

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Review: The most fertile man in Ireland

The most fertile man in Ireland, DVD. This is a film made in Ireland, and not Hollywood, and it shows. The whole world in the film is less glittery or shiny than the worlds in Hollywood films. More documentary, sort of. This is nice. It makes the film seem more realistic, even if the story is a bit fantastic, for comedic purposes.

The acting in this film is good enough, but could be better. The characters remaing a bit too much like sketches, but not disturbingly so.

On the whole, a nice little film, but nothing spectacular.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Review: The sweetest thing

The sweetest thing is a funny move. Not deeply insightful of the human condition, nor intelligent or highly innovative. The humor is derived from that endless source: human relationships, especially sexual ones. Still, it is performed well, and it helps that the three main actors are pretty women.

Review: Mackenna's gold

Saw Mackenna's gold the other day, from a DVD. It is a badly made western. The story is good enough, even if a bit on the fantastic side. The acting is fairly boring. The photography is downright bad, with many stupid special effects made by wiggling lenses or zooming. Not recommended.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Review: The Eiger sanction

A local store had DVDs very cheaply and I bought three: Forrest Gump, The Eiger sanction, and Spider-Man. Nothing like a bit of unnecessary spending for improving the mood. I watched the latter two the same evening.

Clint Eastwood both starred and directed The Eiger Sanction himself. The story is pretty simple, but fits the simple and laconic style of the movie. Even the fight scenes are laconic and most importantly brief. After Matrix reloaded and its excessive Roman orgy of martial arts glorification, the minimalistic action scenes of this movie are quite refreshing.

Mountain climbing is an important part of the movie, and much time is spent on the faces of various rocks. Often the scenes are quite high, but there was not so much of this as to invoke my fear of high places. I get vertigo fairly easily, and a number of movies trigger this. Compared to, say, Cliffhanger, Eastwood's movie is again nicely laconic. You're aware that things happen up high, but you're not forced to look down all the time.

The good thing about mountain climbing in movies is that the scenery can be extravagantly beautiful. If the movie's photography is good, you may even be able to ignore the plot and just revel in nature's glory. The Eiger sanction includes plenty of eye candy.

The movie's supporting characters are thin. They're also unnecessarily extraordinary, which actually weakens them as characters. One, for example, is an albino who can't stand direct light at all. He therefore lives in a darkened room, with only the dimmest of red lighting. He is also a former Nazi. I doubt Nazi's would really have accepted such a genetic aberration. I think the movie would have been better had he been a more normal person.

Review: Spider-Man

Spider-Man, directed by Sam Raimi, represents the modern, less laconic style of action movie: fight scenes are longer and choreographed par for a ballet. Where The Eiger sanction relied on scenery and photography to provide eye candy, Spider-Man excesses on computer generated special effects and a pretty girl. That is not a complaint, it is merely a different way to tell a story. Sometimes laconic is good, sometimes extravagancy is called for.

The story in Spider-Man is actually a bit more complex than that in The Eiger sanction and the characters are more rounded. Where Eastwood's characters are thin and stereotypical, Raimi's feel more like real people. There's plenty of growth potential in them: Raimi has so many characters the movie does not have room for them all to become alive. I'm helped by reading the comics in my early teens, of course, but I don't think that would be necessary for the enjoyment of the movie.

Spider-Man's special effects felt pretty much standard for this age. Not bad at all, but no longer spectacular, either. That doesn't matter, since they work.

I don't actually know how the special effects have been made. Presumably the computer animators and their programmers have again made giant leaps in the development of their art, but it really doesn't interest me much, as the audience. The Titanic and Jurassic Park movies were enjoyable to a large part because of the novelty of really good computer generated effects, but after that, the method in which special effects are created has ceased to interest me. (Well, as far as enjoying the movie is concerned, anyway; I wouldn't mind working for ILM.)

The DVD is perhaps the most irritating one I have ever used. The menus are animated and the animation has been implemented in such a way as to make the remote control almost non-responsive. The DVD player would only respond to my cursor buttons at certain points in the animation, with a second or two in between. Selecting things was difficult and this made me quite annoyed by the time I managed to get the movie playing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Review: Matrix reloaded

Saw Matrix reloaded in a movie theater with Ville and Vera. I'm sort of unconvinced that the sequel was worth it, but I'm reserving final judgement until I see the next part, since this part leaves the story unfinished.

This one had lots of action. I found the action scenes a bit too long, but I guess after the original movie that was to be expected. The plot and characters are okay for an action movie, i.e., pretty thin. The photography and visual quality is quite good: the movie is beautiful.

Friday, June 6, 2003

Review: Komisario Palmun erehdys

Saw Komisario Palmun erehdys, an old, classic Finnish detective movie based on an old, classic Finnish detective story by Mika Waltari. I've seen the movie a couple of times before and read the book a few times. It is a nice story, and the atmosphere is quite nostalgic. Especially so the movie, with its scenes of a Helsinki long past (past before I was born, in fact). Luckily, many of the buildings still exist, so it would be possible to visit the scenes. Perhaps that would be a nice thing to do during my summer vacation.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Review: Lap tray

My main machine is a laptop. At home, I have a desktop machine as well, but I only use it for image editing, for which the laptop's screen is not very suitable. The nice thing about a laptop is that I can sit in very comfortably in an armchair. Modern laptops get pretty hot, and I've used a pillow between the laptop and my lap to prevent burning myself. The pillow also makes it easier to get a good angle for the laptop keyboard.

Some time ago a friend showed me a lap tray he'd bought and used with his laptop. I liked the idea, and went and bought one at Don Goffo. It is a tray of plywood, or some similar material, with a loose bag of small Styrofoam balls, which makes it easy to prop it up in the desired angle. Very handy. Should be easy to make one very cheaply yourself, if you're not lazy like me.

Monday, June 2, 2003

Review: A long painful history of time

Erik Naggum wrote A long painful history of time to explain his design for a time and calendar library for Common Lisp. It nicely covers many of the idiosyncrasies and complexities of the way the modern world keeps track of time. Naggum's style is rather too disdainful for my taste, but not enough to make the paper unreadable.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

Review: Spy game

I watched Spy game from a rented dvd. It was surprisingly good. Robert Redford is charismatic as usual, and Brad Pitt doesn't do badly, either. The plot is not quite the typical spy story, but doesn't quite raise enough moral scruples about espionage and assassinations to spoil the movie's usefulness as escapism. When I want to get angry and worried about the state of the world, I'll start reading news sites. When I want to forget about the real evils, I put in a disk in the dvd player, a pair of good earphones on my head and turn up the volume. Spy game works for that.