Photography: Sakura

Iron Man 3 Spoiler-lite Review

I wrote a review of Iron Man 3 on Tumblr. You can also read it below, without the need to de-ROT13 it.

Let’s get the non-spoilers out of the way: Iron Man 3 is awesome, Mandarin is nowhere near the awful villain you (I) imagined, and yes, there is an after-credits sequence. The rest is ROT13-encoded for your pleasure. I’m still trying to keep it spoiler-lite though.

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I've also seen eleven other films since my last post, and made a few repeat trips to others. I'll definitely try to review them in the future.

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Photography: Sakura

Films so far...

Sorry for the lapse in posts -- if anyone is still reading, that is.

Today, I went to a special screening of Oz, The Great and Powerful, had some noodles (Singapore-style yo min) with friends, talked to some schoolgirls from Chiba prefecture, photographed some plum blossom and went to the gym. It was almost like being back in Japan, except the noodle portions were way too big. It's getting better, slowly.

Here are a list of films I've seen recently. All spoiler-free apart from the details you could get from the trailers anyway. I'll write a longer, more vaguely spoilerish review for Oz though, just because it was a preview and I like to be first. :-)

For what it's worth, scores out of ten reflect expectations, both missed and exceeded.

Beautiful Creatures

This is the witch-based paranormal romantic comedy aimed at fans of Twilight, according to the trailer.

First half was atmospheric Southern gothic-style snark, and a much better film for it. The main male character lays out precisely why his small town is claustrophobic and it's darkly amusing. The classmates are hilarious and I didn't expect these genuinely funny moments. The shots of dilapidated American houses surrounded by trees draped with Spanish moss really set the scene too.

The second was closer to the film depicted in the trailer, although it wasn't different on the level seen in Looper. It was a subtle shift.


Broken City

I went for the free cinema ticket which nevertheless got me a nice balcony seat where I sat drinking an excellent wet mocha latte. That wasn't free though.

This one stars Russell Crowe as a mayor and Mark Wahlberg as a disgraced cop. The cop discovers that everyone in politics is corrupt and he's living in a... Broken City.

To be fair, this is exactly the film you expect. There were some reasonable tilts and the city was shown in atmospheric detail. I think the director has some promise.


Cloud Atlas

Loved this. Love love loved it.

I can't even begin to tell you what it's about without going into all the Themes about passing down your life story. There's sci-fi, gentle British comedy, seventies conspiracy thriller, tragic gay love... It fits. It does. Everything is connected.

In some ways, it's almost as difficult to follow as advertised. Almost. I'm happy to say that --like Inception -- I got it all in the first viewing. Unlike Inception, I have no doubt that another viewing would make things even clearer.

A few minutes into the end credits, you'll get a visual cast list. You'll definitely want it.

As an aside, I was talking about this film to a customer, and we got onto the subject of books. He said it was his favourite. Half an hour later, he came back with a copy for me! Couldn't believe it. What a perfect way to get the book, in a passing down of stories from one person to another.

Yes, I'm seeing it again.


Django Unchained

I came out of this fully-charged for a simple reason. It's a story about a man who wants revenge and, after a few obstacles, he gets his revenge.

Quentin Tarantino always makes strong choices when directing, whether it's the music or the onscreen captions, so it's easy to pick out exactly what I didn't like and what I loved. I didn't like the sudden rap music, but it was always exciting and with excellent cinematography. I suspect that Inglourious Basterds was a better-made film, but I preferred this one.


A Good Day To Die Hard

Differing expectations made me like this more than Wreck-It Ralph. While critics have generally panned it, the consensus from people coming out of the cinema (and not necessarily then sharing their views online) was that it "wasn't the best Die Hard and it wasn't the worst" although "the bit with the radiation was a bit silly".

The final set of explosions were quite spectacular. I could even overlook the setting (Chernobyl).



I don't think this film paints Hitchcock in as brilliant a light as critics have claimed. Sure, if you view his paranoia and spying on his stars as acceptable, even with the clear insinuation that it has got more manageable and it's been much worse, then you might come out of it thinking that the film condones this behaviour. Apparently we need creepy music and mood music to show that it's not okay. Not to mention that the film isn't about Hitchcock so much as a dramatisation of the making of Psycho.

The script is snappy and the opening scene was excellent. The bits with Gein were unnecessary though, and I would be curious if that aspect was based on any research. I would also like to know what happened between Psycho and The Birds. He clearly got worse again.


Les Miserables

Beautiful sets and beautiful costumes, yet the director sees fit to focus on lopsided close-ups of his stars throughout? So irritating. I can remember this one shot of Hugh Jackman. His chin extended below the screen and there was a big gap for a grey area above his hair. It's like no one could be bothered to compose any of the shots. Like they just shrugged and said, "Eh, it's Hugh Jackman singing. Good enough." Or maybe they were trying to recreate a slightly obscured view at the theatre?

Despite this, what we do see and hear when not subjected to poorly framed close-ups is mostly excellent. My favourites were the innkeepers.



Such a contrast to Les Mis. Spielberg really knows his lighting and frame composition. Everything feels like a painting with all the lights and darks carefully picked out.

It wasn't just beautiful, but gently charming and witty. It kind of fell apart after the assassination (spoiler?) as it kept going on, but that was one of its few flaws. The bit where the votes are counted is inexplicably tense.


Oz, The Great and Powerful

Oz was fun, but the ideas the film focused on were not the most interesting bits. For me, that was Oz's life as a circus magician before the tornado hit.

One of my favourite characters was the Wicked Witch, Collapse )

On a more technical note, the film copies the over-bright, Technicolor-style of the first Wizard of Oz film, probably to avoid the usual 'too dark' 3D problem. And yeah, the 3D version is the essential one. One of the things that the film is in love with is the Oz scenery. Sometimes it's with good reason.

Edit: Okay, completely changed my mind on this. It's not a good film at all, which I realised at the same time I realised I wasn't prepared to sit through it again. The black and white stuff is engaging, but Oz itself just... isn't.

8/10 5/10

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies, depending on who you ask, is either an antidote to Twilight or aimed squarely at its audience. A girl falls in love with a zombie after he takes her back to his airplane hangout. He loves her because he ate her ex-boyfriend's brains.

If you couldn't tell, it's definitely not "Twilight with zombies" as some suggest. It's a funny, low-budget comedy-horror that has its feet firmly in the eighties.


Wreck-It Ralph

All these characters are stereotypes. That's the point. The humour isn't character-driven or anything, it's based on seeing Pacman in the background.

You know what? Everyone knows Pacman these days. It's hardly esoteric.

So we have the main plotline for the kids, with adults' content being the older video game characters in the background. Fine. The kids seem to like it. I thought that Rise of the Guardians was much better for both audiences though.

For what it's worth, everyone I know rabidly disagrees with me on this. And AKB48 was a nice surprise(!). Ah, Japan. It's been a while...


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Photography: Sakura

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Cat Video Festival
Fashion: Cyborg Fashion Slideshow
Japan: US English Teacher Makes Video About Being Gay For His Japanese Students
Marvel: Logos for Upcoming Marvel Movies
Movies: Deus Ex Movie Planned?
Photography: LJ Photophile Photo of the Week Poll One of my friends (LJ: [profile] templeghosts) has a picture entered, so a vote would probably be appreciated. My main thought is not another sunset, please!

Poll #1854190 Cats and Movies

Cat video festival?

Not interested.
Nope, I've got YouTube.
If it was within travelling distance, sure.
I'm already booking my tickets!

If you could only see one Marvel movie, it would be...

Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Iron Man 3
None of the above

If you could only see THREE Marvel movies, they would be...

Thor: The Dark World
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Iron Man 3
Still none of the above

The Carnival last weekend was fantastic. We even saw a sheep show and duck-herding. The IKEA problem was quickly sorted out by ringing the delivery company -- No, they had no plans to deliver that day, weren't in the area and IKEA could never have instantly promised that they would without checking first. So we went to the carnival and got a our furniture the Friday after. I'll try to post some photos soon, but I've got a busy week coming up. An interview, a phone interview, and then I'm leading a Squeefest workshop.

Two days ago I saw Assemblage 23 at the O2 Academy in London. It reminded me of my favourite goth club on the outskirts of Kabukicho in Tokyo (URGA), so I felt at home. The only real differences were the high drink prices and the ban on smoking. Lose some, win some.

They played Document, Drive, and Last Mistake, which is a relatively new song off their June 2012 album. The final song mentioned was awesome, with rawer vocals than the recorded version. Unfortunately, the live versions online aren't that great.

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Photography: Sakura

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GoodReads' Picks of 2011
Japan Comedy: Tokyo Improv Festival
Tech: Oil Painting Typewriter
Twitter: Top Twitter Hashtags 2011
UK Comedy: Yorkshire Comedy ...No reason.
UK Comedy: Chortle

A inprov festival is coming to Tokyo! I only heard about it on Wednesday. Anyway, I'm going to one of the Japanese shows, which will be done in the Theatresports format and only costs 500 yen, probably because it's happening in Shinjuku at 10.30am. I've applied for the two workshops.

Next Wednesday, I'm going to be performing in our own Tokyo Comedy Store Theatresports show! Very excited. And here's a weird thing: I finally signed up to perform a stand-up set for Open Mike (Double Tall Cafe, 20th December). The whole set-up seems friendly enough, but I don't want to be That Guy.

On a completely different note, the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society will announce the Kanji of the Year very soon. It's an annual event that's been going since 1995, but you'll immediately notice that they've already "used up" kanji such as 震 (quake) and 災 (disaster). However, for most of us, there's only one event that comes to mind when talking about 2011. I think 原 (gen or hara, referencing nuclear power or fields) would be interesting, but 北 (kita, meaning north) would be one of the best choice. All that is moot because it's definitely going to be 絆 (kizuna, community). I would put real money on it.

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Photography: Sakura

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Books: The Voynich Manuscript Goes Online A 15th/16th century book either written in nonsense or written in a code so tough to crack that even professional cryptographers can't do it. Your pick. Either way, it's now been digitised and put online.
Books: New York Times' List of 100 Notable Books of 2011 [NYTimes] Almost all of them sound awful, frankly.
Books: Best LGBT Books of 2011 See above.
Comics: Interview With Alan Moore Fun interview with the man who wrote V For Vendetta and Watchmen, with particular reference to the masks now used by protesters.
Random: Jetman and Jets [Video]
Random: Santa School [NYTimes] There's a lot more to being Santa than I thought, including lessons on psychology and economics.
Science: UFOs Disrupting Search For God Particle Wow, it's almost 2012.
Space: The Mare in the Moon Kraken Mare is the name of a lake made of liquid hydrocarbons on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
WTF: Hato-ful Kareshi J introduced this game to me last night and we played the free version together for a bit. It is BEST DATING SIM EVER. I mean it. It's awesome. You need to download the free version ASAP. Just a note: the listed seiyuu are just a joke. But the rest is very, very real.

I'm still taking offers on my manga/anime sales post.

After my final lesson on Monday, I went out to an izakaya named "Classy" 「蔵っしい」 with some of the students from my business English class. There was all-you-can-drink, plus sashimi and fried chicken and grilled sunfish and oysters, then nabe followed by fried manjuu. It was amazing!

I'm off to my improv class in a few hours, after a bit of writing. Still focussing on Dark Matters and Golden Jubilee, if you were wondering. As for reading, I just finished Impro For Storytellers and have picked up where I left off with Kraken. Suddenly it seems far more enjoyable, so I don't know what happened there. In fact, its unashamed genre-bending is admirable.
Photography: Sakura

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Outdoor Walkable Rollercoaster Sculpture I cannot figure out how the loop works. This disturbs me.
BGLT: Seven LGBT Comedians You Shouldn't Have Missed in 2011
Butlers: Racing Waiters In Kanagawa
Japan: Book By Rapist-Killer To Become Film The autobiography glamorises his life on the run, portraying him as a kind of anime character, and the actor/producer has stated: "I may be able to shed some light on an angle that may not have yet been explored. The forces in society that may have distracted this man to make him what he is."
Nature: Brinicle: Finger of Death [Video] Includes images of starfish being killed by ice, so watch at your own risk.
Photography: 1970s America & The Environment Photographs so much more awesome than they sound. It really is a window into another country and era.
Random: Household Objects Taken Apart
Random: Pakistan Bans Previously Un-obscene Words From Text Messages
Science: The Lightest Material On Earth
Space: Alien Storm on Saturn

I finished my sales post. Please take a look and remember prices are negotiable.

I've had a busy week so far -- on Wednesday I went to the improv workshop as usual. It was tons of fun and I thought I had a pretty good scene at the end with everyone swarming the stage pretending to be sharks.

On Thursday I went to Hakone with J. He'd never been before, and it was stormy when I went with my parents, so we never saw Mt. Fuji. I thought the storms were rather nice though and I can remember mist rolling off the surrounding hills as we crossed Ashinoko (Lake Ashi) in a pirate ship. This time, it was winter and often there was literally not a cloud in the pale blue sky.

On Friday, I went to Tokyo Comedy Store for the last time (in the foreseeable future!). They don't have a show in December. Everyone in the audience was given free condoms for World AIDS Day and they all said "Have A Nice SEX!" on them.

Satuday, I had a rest and worked on some of my short stories. My current favourite is Dark Matters. I need to finish that up and submit it somewhere because I'm trying to have at least one story under consideration at all times.

And now I'm going to Dr. Sketchy's, which will also be the final show of the year. Everyone leaves Tokyo in December, you see. I think I have to leave in the next ten minutes to be there on time...
Photography: Sakura

Sales post

Hi everyone!

Here it is. The sales post. I have a mix of CDs, magazines, monthly manga anthology magazines, figures and clothing. If something doesn't seem like a good price, please make an offer. Often I thought too much about how much I originally paid for it, so don't be afraid to go lower. Others I don't know and so I'm going to put them up for "auction".

There is still more to come -- mostly figures and doujinshi.

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Photography: Sakura

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You don't have to be American to know how awful the US health care system is and how it lets down many good people. One of the people it's currently screwing over is viridian5, whose photographs and fanfic you've all probably seen at some point. Click here to read more and find out how you can help her. Even a click-thru on her Amazon page will help.


Actual News:
Female Student’s Naked Posts Tear The Veil From Face Of Secular Egypt I worry for her safety -- even secular liberals don't appear to be on her side.
BGLT: The Devotion Project: More Than Ever [Video] Short film (under 10mins) documenting a gay couples relationship over almost six decades. Bring the tissues.
BGLT: November 20th: International Transgender Day of Remembrance
BGLT: Glaad's Thanksgiving Campaign
Earth: At The Ghost Mountains of Madness via zalia
Facebook: When You Type @[251859230739:0] on Facebook It Turns Into "I’m Gay" Considering my friends, it would probably be funnier to make it @[63847107820:0] (is that right?) or similar.
Fashion: Backstage at GMHC's Fashion Forward GMHC stood for Gay Men's Health Crisis, although they don't seem to use that anymore(?). It's a charity dealing with AIDS/HIV help and awareness, so you don't even have to feel guilty about ogling all the models. They did it for charity. :)
Food: Toast Sandwich is UK's 'Cheapest Meal'
Japan: Ask Unsophisticated Questions
Japan: Rice from Areas of Fukushima is Surprisingly Radioactive
Japanese: Top 60 Japanese Words of 2011 A difficult list to read through -- most of them are connected with the Touhoku disaster in some way and have negative memories attached.
Movies: New Banners For The Avengers Movie
Poems: Poetry Through Erasure Fun to try yourself, but not really poetry.
Space: Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2011
Twilight: It's Time To Stop Being Angry At Twilight and Truth vs Twilight
Weiss Kreuz: Weiss Kreuz Yaoi Fanart [NSFW] from error256, via balljointedomi and NSFW!
Weiss Kreuz: Don't Make Me Turn This Car Around (BradSchu Fanart) from nuraya

I'm still looking to learn how to program. Ruby seems to have the best tutorials, Python is the one everyone says is cool but won't get you a job, while C++ and Java are said to be the most difficult but will bring in the money.

But honestly? As a kid, I used to "program" in BASIC. I didn't make things bounce around the screen or draw pictures like everyone else -- that was too difficult. Instead, I used to program in Choose Your Own Adventures with snippets of music I had made up, so it's possible that I'm not suited to programming. But this is something I want to try because I don't have many job options going back to the UK. Despite being more capable than ever at dealing with people and just basically handling anything that is thrown at me, I don't have any specific skills. So I figure I should pick a big one and tackle it head on. I'm probably best suited to customer service right now, but any business will probably take one look at me and say there's no way I'm coming into contact with customers.

And in other news, I've taken photographs of the first batch of magazines, CDs and manga, so get ready for a sales post really soon.
Photography: Sakura

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The Out 100 Portraits
Space: Bright Spot on Uranus!
Weiss Kreuz: Crawford/Schuldig As Vampires by 2nds2disaster. SFW.

On Saturday evening, I went to see Cowboys & Aliens. I liked it, but the set-up was far more compelling than the execution. Collapse ) Brilliant.

One of the key charms of the film (and I don't believe this to be a spoiler) is the aliens facing off against cowboys against the backdrop of a realistic-looking desert. But after the initial set-up, we start to have problems. There are a large number of flashbacks which are made to stand out by turning up the brightness/contrast to max. So far, not a problem. However, roughly half of the rest of the movie has also been attacked by DI techniques such as colour grading, while the other half has been left relatively untouched. It makes for very uneven cinematography, when they should be using those bright expanses of desert to their advantage.

If nothing else, the realism and grittiness expected by the presence of cowboys is your selling point. Use it.

Then there are the female characters. It starts off well enough, with the only female character being fairly strong and who appears to be at the start of a genuine story arc. Collapse )

The final fight scene was poor. They should have done it as they did in Lord of the Rings where you have a huge battle over a huge expanse of land, but you make it meaningful by focussing on small battles, rather than orc after orc being knocked over in various different ways.

As for the good stuff, the opening is fantastic and the alien architecture in the desert looks great when they ease off on the digital processing. I must also commend them on finding the shortest route between the concepts of "aliens" and "cowboys" to justify the whole thing. Oh, and waistcoats.

Overall, it wasn't bad, but I could have fixed it all. And a film that I could fix single-handedly is probably not that good.

On Sunday, I saw Captain America. I'm very surprised to note that I loved it! While it has also undergone extensive colour grading as well, it's only really noticeable in one scene where a motorbike explodes in a flash of orange surrounded by a completely teal forest. And it's not like you wouldn't have known that from the promo shots.

The key point to its success, apart from genuine stars like Hugo Weaving and a ton of nods to comic book fans who already know the story (such as the way Steve Rogers holds a dustbin lid like a shield in the beginning), is that it knows that excessive jingoism is a risk and goes up against that problem head-on. Collapse )

I can't wait for the Avengers movie.

Next up, will be Suteki na Kanashibari, which has been heavily advertised around here. The title translates as either "Awesome Sleep Paralysis" or "Awesomely Tied Down By Money" and I guess that's why the English title is "Once In A Blue Moon".

I hope to see that today.

As for writing, I posted the first part of my Crawford/Schuldig fic, Golden Jubilee! Maybe I'll stop feeling quite so guilty as I clean up the rest of it. I'm also waiting on the results of an anthology I submitted to a few months ago. If you have a second, send a few positive thoughts my way?

I'm also thinking about what to do with my blog over the next three months. It's called "Spam From Japan" and it won't be from Japan for much longer. By chance(?), I have an extra webhosting package. Long story short, my webhost kept sending me reminders to renew pretty much every other day, warning me every time that when my hosting expired they really couldn't guarantee that it would be automatically updated (although it might be). So I renewed it and they charged me for that AND the auto-renewal. So I could have a new blog very easily.

But what would it be about? Spam From Japan wasn't as popular as it could have been. Maybe I wasn't a good enough writer or photographer, or got the balance wrong. Maybe I didn't SEO enough. Maybe 'spam' in the title scared people off. Maybe no one really wanted pretty pictures of Japan mixed with Japanese pop culture.

So let's try again. Something that is me. Something very, very narrow in scope rather than 'popular and traditional Japan depending on my whim'. I don't want to do movie reviews, not just because there's too much competition, but also because I don't know how much money I'll have to regularly go to the cinema in Britain. I must admit, I'd love to do something Hyperbole and a Half, detailing my "adventures" in Britain. Any other ideas?
Photography: Sakura

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Fifty Of The World's Best Breakfasts (Not fifty of the world's best breakfasts (as many of the comments point out), but rather what you could expect from a luxury breakfast provided by your hotel if you stayed in that country. Or something that is eaten somewhere, sometime in the country specified. They all look delicious.)
Nature: Giant Amoebas Found In The Mariana Trench
Science: Global Warming Is A Thing That Is Real, Says Study (What makes this different from all those other studies that said it was real was that the main source of funding was a climate change denier.)
Thai Flooding: Crazy Photos Of $12 Million Worth Of New Hondas Underwater In Thailand! and Editorial: Reports From Thailand Often Show Disinterest In Lives Lost, Focus On Financial Losses
Tiger&Bunny: Tweet 'Happy Birthday' To Barnaby, Win Fabulous Prizes!
Writing: Actress Writes Trashy Blog Post For Playboy About Hiring Prostitutes (I'm linking to the blog post that pointed me to her post just to absolve myself of any responsibility (and to give you a second chance to click away). Said post described it as "the worst collection of words I've ever encountered". In truth, I found the writing compelling; not because of what she was describing, but for what she was revealing about herself. However, it was written with a lack of self-awareness that counteracts that. Or does it? Is it strange to acknowledge I would have welcomed more-or-less the same post by an author who was aware that she or he was writing fiction from the perspective of a truly awful person?)

I haven't had time to write much lately myself. I'm getting up at anywhere between 5:55 and 6:15 to go to work, teaching business classes in the evening and getting home around 9:00. My sleep has really suffered, but I should be better in about two weeks when one of my classes finishes. I've only got one class next week and even a day off for "Bunka no Hi". I'll almost certainly head to Asakusa to see the Tokyo Jidai festival, which apparently has no official website this year. Other sites assure me it's on though, although all of these are minor blogs in Japanese. English websites don't seem to mention it. Hm.

November also starts next week and I'm genuinely superstitious about that month. Something bad ALWAYS happens in it. Always. I'm hoping for something a little better this year though. Wish me luck!

I went to the Tokyo Comedy Store. Yes, after a week of getting to bed at 11;30 or (much) later and getting up at six, I still went out. It only happens once a month and there's only one more left that I can go to, to my knowledge. It was really good, and I'd recommend it to anyone.