Saturday, January 31, 2009

Farewell to Hellgate: London

They just shut down the Hellgate: London servers. No more Hellgate. My two brothers and I stayed on till the very end, till the network crashed. Everyone was gathered in Stonehenge, jumping around, opening portals, summoning pets, emoting (crying, cheering, begging, flexing, etc.)--essentially everything that you're allowed to do in the "station" areas (no fighting). Some people were running around naked. I was there with my Mantawraith pet (cute demon that looks a bit like a mini manta ray), hopping and sprinting around.

It is sad when a game comes to an end. The games that I play tend to have story lines that can be completed, and once I finish the story, though I feel happy with my accomplishment, I also feel sad that I will never be able to play the game again for the first time. But most of my games have good replay value, so I'll play through again a number of times. Eventually, I'll set the game aside, go onto something new and different. But the game is still there, the characters I created preserved in my many saved games. If I get it into my head that I want to play through again, I can start up a new character. Or, if I'm just feeling a bit nostalgic, I can load one of my old characters and revisit the world that I once inhabited through that character.

With the closure of the Hellgate servers, this will not be an option for Hellgate: London. The game will still function as a single-player game, but the characters on the multi-player server are lost, and some of the areas, such as Stonehenge, are not available in single-player mode. All of the items I collected, the skills I honed, over hours upon hours of play are gone. It's a (virtual) world and a life that is now closed forever.

Some have recently breathed words of hope, that the various companies who own the rights to the game (I think it's a quagmire of legal stuff I don't want to bother reading about) may be able to sort things out and reopen the servers. But I have little hope at this point. And all the material included in the huge patch that Flagship Studios was roughly a month away from unveiling at the point of their collapse will never be seen.

HGL was not just a game to me, it was quality family time. I have mentioned before that I played with my two brothers, and as we slaughtered demons we would chat about life. It was a bit like old times, when we lived together as siblings who got along perhaps abnormally well. Perhaps we will find a new game to play online (I think whenever Diablo III comes out, we'll all be jumping on it), but Hellgate will always be the first, and it will be missed.

Well, I should go to bed. I am tired and much distressed and not writing very coherently. Good night.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Top 10 Characters I Want to Be

It seems like bloggers and columnists and other people who like to hear themselves talk (write) love to make lists. "Top 10 ___" lists and such. I managed to scrape together a Best and Worst 8 of '08 list, but generally, I am not well enough informed in any media to feel comfortable attempting "10 Best" lists--how the hell would I know what the best of anything is? I can, however, give lists of my personal favorites. So here I give you my Top 10 list of characters I want to be.

First, I'd like to establish the rules that I used when assembling this list. The characters can be from any medium, and they must all be fictional. In the case of video games, where a certain character may be different depending on how the player creates the character (good/evil, female/male, mage/fighter, etc.), I will consider the character as I imagined her. I will not take into account the relations that a character has; that is, if the best justification I have for including someone is "because she gets to sleep with ___", that person is getting knocked off the list (if I didn't do this, I might as well just make a "10 characters I'd get in bed with" list). This list is not merely a list of my favorite characters, though. Great characters are not always enviable. River Tam, for example, is pure awesomeness, but her brain was all experimented on and she's a bit crazy. Kara Thrace is one of the coolest characters on TV, but she lives under pretty bleak circumstances and may even be the harbinger of doom. I would not particularly want to be either of them. That said, this does not mean that I completely rule out people to whom bad things happen. As you'll see, not everyone on this list lives a rosy life.

A note: As it turns out, all the characters I have chosen are female (or can be female in the case of games). I didn't really do this on purpose. I guess I have an easier time imagining myself as a woman because I am one. Also, you'll notice that practically all of the characters are from the fantasy or sci-fi genres, which was not a requirement, but it makes sense. Why would I want to be anywhere else?

SPOILERS: I keep out the KotOR and Elfstones spoilers (some things are sacred), but things that are more commonly known or less likely to upset I may reveal, e.g., Eowyn kills the Witch-king (if that's news to you, why on Middle-earth have you not read or seen Return of the King yet?!).


Top 10 Characters I Want to Be

10. Kaylee Frye

Source: Firefly (TV show) and Serenity (movie)
Who is she: The real genius mechanic on Serenity, Kaylee is the heart of the crew, charming all with her cheerful attitude and teddy bear overalls.
Talents: She has an innate skill with spaceship mechanics--machines just "talk" to her.
Companions: Kaylee lives on Serenity with the rest of the crew: Mal, Zoe, Jayne, Wash, Inara, Book, Simon, and River.
Nemesis: She's so lovable and loving, who could possibly be her nemesis?
Admirer: Simon, the cute but awkward fugitive doctor on board, keeps getting close, but then he goes and says all the wrong things. Again.
Why I'd be her: She lives on a spaceship, has an indispensable talent, gets to take part in the escapades of Serenity's crew, and always manages to look on the bright side of life. It's a simple existence, but it's a nice one.

9. Fa Mulan
Source: Mulan (Disney movie)
Who is she: When her crippled father is called to join China's army against the Huns because he has no son to go in his stead, Mulan disguises herself as his son and takes his place. She eventually proves herself by saving the emperor himself from Shan-Yu.
Talents: She's armed with head-strong ambition, ingenuity, luck, some newly acquired fighting skills, and a beautiful singing voice just like Lea Salonga's.
Companions: Cri-Kee the lucky cricket and Mushu the mini-dragon come along to help her out.
Nemesis: She faces off with Hun leader Shan-Yu, as well as society's oppression of women.
Admirer: Mulan develops a thing for her handsome commanding officer Shang, and he returns those feelings once he comes to terms with the fact that she's a woman.
Why I'd be her: You ever feel like you're trapped, like you're not living you're own life, and you just wish you could follow your heart? Well, that's how Mulan felt, but she managed to find herself, break down the barriers placed in front of her by society, and become a national hero. Who wouldn't want such a happy Disney ending?
*I actually recently cut my own hair to shoulder length, donating the 13 inches that I cut off. Though sadly, I didn't use a sword.

8. Egwene al'Vere

Source: Wheel of Time (books by Robert Jordan)
Who is she: She grew up in the quiet, rural Two Rivers, but when Moiraine, a member of the influential order of female magic users called Aes Sedai, comes to town, Egwene is quickly swept up into the quagmire of dire circumstances involving the impending escape of the Dark One from his age-old prison. Her path leads her to become one of the most powerful Aes Sedai and to even make a claim for the Amyrlin Seat, the highest position of the Aes Sedai.
Talents: Not only is she one of the strongest living wielders of the magic of saidar, she is also multi-Talented with a capital "T"--she's the first Aes Sedai Dreamer in about five hundred years, and she has rediscovered the art of crafting the unbreakable cuendillar.
Companions: It's been a long road with many companions, but ones that merit special mention include childhood friend and Dragon Reborn Rand al'Thor, heir to Andor's throne Elayne, fellow Two Rivers villager-turned Aes Sedai Nynaeve, and Aviendha of the Aiel.
Nemesis: In addition to the baddies that every non-Darkfriend faces, such as the Forsaken and the Dark One himself, her particular adversary would be rival Amyrlin Elaida.
Admirer: Elayne's older brother Gawyn is in love with Egwene, but he unintentionally ends up on the wrong side of her power struggle with Elaida.
Why I'd be her: She goes from plain rural girl in a tiny village to one of the most powerful people in the world. She's come a long way, and with her smarts, skill, and determination, she just might succeed in the role she must play to save the world from the Dark One.

7. KotOR protagonist

Source: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (computer game)
Who is she: A new recruit in the forces of the Republic, the KotOR protagonist survives the attack on the Endire Spire, rescues the Jedi Bastila, becomes a Jedi padawan, and saves the galaxy from Darth Malak and his Sith followers.
Talents: The Force is strong with this one.
Companions: Over the course of the game, she gains nine companions: Bastila Shan, Captain Carth Onassi, Mission Vao, Zaalbar, Jolee Bindo, Juhani, Canderous Ordo, T3-M4, and HK-47.
Nemesis: Darth Malak, the new leader of the Sith, is her main adversary.
Admirer: Carth Onassi has some serious baggage, but he comes to love her in the end.
Why I'd be her: Whatever her past, she can find redemption in saving the galaxy. I think I read a lot more into her character than was provided in the game--her psychology, her philosophical crises--but she is one of the most fascinating characters whose heads I've gotten into. I don't know how her story ends, but until The Old Republic MMO comes out and smashes my dreams (and probably writes her as the male she is in canon--humph!) I can imagine whatever sappy, happy ending I like.

6. Éowyn

Source: The Lord of the Rings (books by J.R.R. Tolkien, and movie adaptations)
Who is she: A shield maiden of Rohan and niece of Rohan's king, Éowyn defeats leading Sauron pawn the Witch-king whom it is said no man can kill. After all, she is no man.
Talents: She's got some pretty mean sword skills, plus immense determination.
Companions: The Hobbit Merry accompanies her from Rohan to the Battle of Pelennor Fields and is a crucial part of her victory against the Witch-king.
Nemesis: The Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl, faces off with her in an epic battle.
Admirer: Faramir, a captain and son of the Steward of Gondor, meets her as she is recovering from the battle, and they soon fall in love.
Why I'd be her: She has some rough years there; she experiences great tragedy and strife, she is neglected for being a woman though she yearns to prove herself, and she is rejected by the ever attractive Aragorn. But she overcomes the obstacles before her, proves herself by defeating a foe that no one else could defeat, and lives happily in Ithilien with Faramir till the end of her days.

5. Amberle Elessedil

Source: The Elfstones of Shannara (book by Terry Brooks)
Who is she: When the Ellcrys, the sentient tree that prevents the Demons from invading the world, senses that it is dying, it chooses Amberle, granddaughter of Elven king Eventine Elessedil, as the one person who can restore it.
Talents: While the Ellcrys picks her as the first female Chosen in about five hundred years, this does not grant her any obvious special abilities... beyond the mere fact that she is the only one who can save the world.
Companions: Part-elven, blue Elfstone wielder Wil Ohmsford, Elven Hunter Crispin, and the Rover Eretria all accompany her at some point in her quest to restore the Ellcrys.
Nemeses: She faces Demons in general, as well as her inner demons--doubt and fear.
Admirer: Wil Ohmsford develops feelings for her as he protects her on her quest.
Why I'd be her: Her life wasn't an easy one, and it didn't end with the classic fairytale ending. But she came through and selflessly completed her task to save the world. She is the reason that Elfstones, rather than the earlier and more famous Sword of Shannara, is the right choice for the first Shannara movie.

4. Sydney Bristow

Source: Alias (TV show)
Who is she: A CIA secret agent and sometimes double agent, Sydney brings down countless destructive plots of evil organizations, kicking butts as well as saving butts in countless disguises.
Talents: She speaks basically every language fluently with a native accent, has super butt-kicking skills, can talk or fight herself out of any hairy situation, and, speaking of hair, she looks great in wigs of all styles and colors.
Companions: She works closely with her father Jack, who is also a double agent, her CIA handler Michael Vaughn, and her partner Dixon.
Nemesis: At least for the two seasons I saw, it was Arvin Sloane who was the object of all her loathing.
Admirer: Sydney had a serious thing for Michael Vaughn.
Why I'd be her: She's TV's coolest secret agent, a master of every skill a CIA agent could want. She is also a genuinely warm, fun, likable person. Hate to say it, but Olivia Dunham just can't hold a candle. Of course, I only saw the first two of the five seasons of Alias, so I don't know what happened to Sydney in the later seasons, but, assuming that she continued to win her battles in the end, she deserves a high spot on my list.

3. Commander Shepard

Source: Mass Effect (computer game)
Who is she: Already a hero of the human Alliance, Shepard becomes the first human Spectre, the Spectres being a group of elite operatives that directly serve the Council, the alien leaders of the known galaxy. Her first task as a Spectre is to bring down rogue Spectre Saren, and in so doing she discovers there are even greater dangers from which she must save the galaxy.
Talents: Shepard possesses keen survival skills, military prowess, and the player's choice of skills including usage of biotics, techs, or assault rifles.
Companions: Joining her on her mission to catch Saren are Lieutenant Kaiden Alenko, Chief Ashley Williams, and alien pals Garrus, Wrex, Tali, and Liara.
Nemesis: Her archenemy is Saren (along with his scary big spaceship).
Admirer: Shepard is greatly admired by Kaiden... and Liara as well, but sorry, the feeling is not mutual there.
Why I'd be her: She's a hero, she's even a bit of a celebrity, and she knows how to get the job done. And that job is saving all sentient life in the galaxy from total annihilation. She's smart, she's sexy, she's talented, and she makes sure she gets her way, because her way is the right way.

2. Hermione Granger

Source: Harry Potter series (books by J.K. Rowling, and movie adaptations)
Who is she: A brainy muggle-born witch, Hermione is a best friend of Harry Potter and a crucial part of the team to save the world from You-Know-Who.
Talents: She's not just any witch--she's the cleverest witch in famous Harry Potter's class.
Companions: Hogwarts pals Harry Potter and Ron Weasley stick together with her from book one until the end.
Nemesis: He's perhaps more of Harry's nemesis, but Lord Voldemort is the one they're all out to defeat.
Admirer: As they start to mature, it becomes apparent that she and Ron Weasley are meant for each other.
Why I'd be her: She's brilliant, she's magical, she has cool friends, she helps save the world, and she gets a happy ending. What more could I want?

1. Gorion's Ward

Source: Baldur's Gate, Baldur's Gate II (computer games)
Who is she: Raised by Gorion at the Candlekeep library, she turns out to be a Child of Bhaal, a status which leads her on many adventures, some by choice and others not. Her decisions have great significance to the world and all the planes.
Talents: Player's choice for the most part, but the ability to turn into the Slayer is a guaranteed bonus.
Companions: In her travels, she encounters about sixteen people willing to join her, including childhood companion Imoen, crazy ranger Minsc, and the druid Jaheira.
Nemeses: Gorion's ward faces a new nemesis in each installment: blood-thirsty brother Sarevok in the original, malicious wizard Irenicus in Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, and mad priestess Melissan in BG2: Throne of Bhaal.
Admirer: Pompous knight Anomen Delryn falls in love with her over the course of their adventures together.
Why I'd be her: It's rough being a Child of Bhaal, but saving the world from big baddies like Sarevok and Irenicus and helping lots of people on the side sounds good to me. She also gets to hang with the coolest group of NPCs in any game I've ever played. And while her decision at the end of Throne of Bhaal is a tough one, it's not entirely unenviable.


Well, that's my list. The order was tough to decide, but I stand by my ten choices. So am I crazy? Am I right on? Who would you be?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Well I finally saw one of this year's Oscar contenders. I was one of the many people who flocked to the theater to see Slumdog Millionaire as it expanded its release this past weekend.

I can see why people love the movie so much. It is beautiful, funny, suspenseful, romantic, sad, touching, and has an endearing character that the audience can easily root for. Also, it is probably the only nominee this year that ends with a big dance number. And what leaves you feeling better than a joyous group dance number? I mean, even the little children dance! Too cute!

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal, an orphan from the slums of Mumbai who winds up one question away from winning the jackpot 20 million rupees on India's version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Convinced that Jamal is cheating, an interrogator forces Jamal to explain how a "slumdog" could know each answer, and the movie cuts back and forth from the game show questions to the scenes from Jamal's past where he learned the answers. In these flashbacks, we see his tragic childhood, how he and his older brother Salim struggled to make it with no one to look after them, how he befriended fellow orphan Latika, and how every time he and Latika are torn apart, he devotes himself to finding her again.

No, the movie's not perfect. First I'd like to air this minor grievance of mine. The start of the movie poses a multiple choice question, where, as on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, the four choices appear one by one. These were my thoughts as they appeared:

Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?
A. He cheated
No way, I'm sure he didn't.
B. He's lucky
Probably, very.
C. He's a genius
D. It is written
Like, in a book or adapted screenplay? Of course. Way to break the fourth wall. Oh, you mean like destiny or something. Okay, that's probably it, then.

When it is said that something "is written", figuratively speaking it implies something like "it is written in the stars," which essentially means "it is fate." But you have to be careful using the phrase in something that is literally written. In the context of a movie or book, saying something "is written" just sounds obvious. Okay, sorry, just had to get that off my chest. Moving on...

The use of game show questions to prompt the flashback sequences that tell the story is a nice device, but it is not original. Similar premises have probably been used a number of times before, but I remember reading one particular book in middle school that used this sort of device, a Newbery Medal winner called The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg. It was about a team of friends competing in an academic bowl, and with each question they answered, it would cut to the point that they learned the answer. Now, like most books that I read more than half a lifetime ago, I hardly remember this book (though it may be interesting to note the few details I do remember: A weird boy on the school bus who wears shorts on the first day of school invites some friends to a tea party with references from Alice in Wonderland, and tip and posh are acronyms), but I do remember that general premise. Still Slumdog Millionaire makes good use of the device, and it is the poignant story told through the flashbacks that makes the movie great.

Some of the story was a little predictable, like what the last question would be, and the fact that Jamal would be phoning a friend and Latika would be the one answering the phone. But it is written, right? If fate is writing the story, it might as well work out just as it seems like it should. And there was much to the story that I did not find predictable or unoriginal. The children were adorable--I particularly enjoyed seeing the various ways that Jamal and his brother made a living growing up (remind me to bring an extra pair of shoes if I ever visit the Taj Mahal). And while it may seem like the same old rags to riches fantasy we've seen countless times before, it's not so simple. At the beginning of the movie, when Jamal looks totally dazed on the game show and doesn't seem happy whenever he gets an answer right, I was kind of mumbling to myself, "Just snap out of it, kid, and smile or something." I didn't understand why he didn't seem excited that he was winning. But eventually I realized that he didn't care about the money. I'm sure that the money he wins helps buy him a life that he never could have dreamed of (the movie naturally ends before we see how he spends all the money), but he wasn't on the show to get rich. It's a rags to riches story where the riches aren't the point.

There is considerable controversy surrounding the film. Some people think that it paints India in a bad light. Sure, it shows tough living conditions in Mumbai's slums, but it's a story about a kid from the slums. And every country has its poor parts; it is clear in the movie that the whole country is not like the slums where Jamal grew up. Another controversy is over the use of the word "slumdog" in the title of the movie. As one social activist protester reportedly put it, "Referring to people living in slums as dogs is a violation of human rights" (IMDb). Setting aside the fact that using a word is not a violation of human rights so much as preventing someone from using the word is (well, at least it's a violation of rights in some places), I think these protesters are missing the point. First of all, they may not realize how much we like dogs. Another compound word that uses "dog" is "underdog", which happens to describe Jamal as well. And, as it turns out, people like to root for the underdog. When the Giants face off against the Patriots and are called the underdogs*, they don't claim that their rights have been violated. They probably welcome the designation. Calling the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" is not calling people who live in slums animals. Besides, the whole movie is dedicated to making the audience feel for Jamal, to sympathize with him and root for him. Whatever the title, if anything the audience leaves with a higher opinion of people who live in slums than when they entered. So even if the word is perceived by some as derogatory, one could argue that the use of the word is ironic: here is a character that some people might look down on and call a slumdog, but he is a good, deserving person who wins big on a game show. Nowhere in there is Danny Boyle calling the real people who live in slums anything less than human. Stop burning him in effigy.

Well, I absolutely loved the movie. I didn't enjoy it as much as Dark Knight, but that's personal taste. And I sure didn't leave Dark Knight dancing. Hopefully I'll get to see other Oscar contenders before the big night, but if not, at least I've seen the front-runner underdog Slumdog Millionaire.

*I hope you appreciate the fact that coming up with a sports team reference is a frightening and torturous process for me.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Academy Awards Nominations!

Don't be sad, the Season of Giving is not over yet: the 81st Annual Academy Awards nominations were announced this morning! And I, um, still haven't seen any of the nominees in the six major categories (i.e., picture, director, and lead and supporting actors and actresses), save for Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. In a somewhat poignant coincidence, his nomination for Best Performance by and Actor in a Supporting Role (isn't it diplomatic that the official title doesn't say who is actually the best actor, just who gave the best performance of the year) comes exactly one year after his untimely death. And he is one of the surest bets of the year; it would be a huge upset if he doesn't win. In any other year, I would be rooting for Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, but not this year. Not against Ledger.

Well, the fact that I haven't seen many of the nominees puts me in a strange position. I am always reading about the movie business, so I feel well acquainted with the nominees and want to talk about them like everyone else. But I don't actually have informed opinions of my own about any of them. I guess I will talk about what opinions I have, anyway, as well as whatever I find interesting about the nominations.

Benjamin Button was the big winner in the Oscar nominations, with a hefty total of 13--the same number that Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King received (though it is not expected to win all of them, as RotK did). The Best Picture nominees are The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, Milk, and Frost/Nixon. They all also received nominations for their directors and screenwriters (Milk for original screenplay, the others for adapted). Revolutionary Road, which had fared well at the Golden Globes with nominations for picture, director, and lead actor and actress (for which Kate Winslet won), received only one major category nomination for supporting actor Michael Shannon. Leonardo DiCaprio was the only actor who received a Golden Globe nomination for leading role in a drama who did not get an Oscar nod; Richard Jenkins received the honor instead for The Visitor. Similarly, Kate Winslet's Golden Globe-winning performance in Revolutionary Road was ousted in the Oscar nominations and replaced by... Kate Winslet in The Reader, for which Winslet had actually won a supporting actress Golden Globe. As has happened before, the Golden Globes and Oscars disagreed on what constitutes a lead and a supporting role. Also in the lead actress category, Melissa Leo was nominated for Frozen River in place of Golden Globe nominee Kristin Scott Thomas.

Wall-E received a nomination for Best Animated Feature, but it also received nominations in original screenplay, original score, original song, sound, and sound editing, setting a Pixar record in number of nominations and tying Beauty and the Beast as the most nominated animated film. I hope they cook up something cute for the awards show when Wall-E accepts its animated feature award (which there is little doubt it will do).

The PGA and DGA nominations got my hopes up about The Dark Knight, but The Reader slipped into its place. Or Milk stole Revolutionary Road's place, if you're looking at the Golden Globes, but that would be silly... even though I just did that a whole bunch in my discussion of the acting categories above. Anyway, Dark Knight did get a respectable 8 nominations. In addition to best supporting actor, it received nods for cinematography, film editing, art direction, makeup, sound, sound editing, and visual effects. After all the fuss over whether it should be eligible for best score (it was disqualified, then requalified), it didn't end up with a nomination in that category.

A Best Picture and/or Best Director would have been nice for The Dark Knight, and it might have helped the Oscar show's lagging ratings of late. I would never support the Academy pandering to the masses by throwing in a nomination for a huge box office hit just to get more viewers--their job is to give the recognition for achievement in film that box office dollars cannot give. Nor would I even suggest that the Academy is shamefully out of touch with mainstream tastes; judging by last weekend's box office receipts, mainstream tastes can themselves be shameful. I would just feel better knowing that the Academy is not prejudiced against comic book films simply because of lingering fanboy stigma. They showed that they could accept a great fantasy film, but RotK was a full five years ago. Since I haven't seen any of the actual Best Picture nominees, I can't say which should give up its place to The Dark Knight (though the DGA and PGA say The Reader). Still, the five nominees all ooze Oscar bait. It would have been refreshing to see a dark knight on the list with them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In D.C. on Inauguration Day

Ah, nothing like adding to an already long weekend by skipping a day of work to go into Washington, D.C. for a truly historic event. Yes, I was one in that one-point-whatever million crowd that gathered to witness via jumbotron* the inauguration of President Obama. Here is my account of the day.

I stayed with a friend at her uncle's house outside the city, and we went in to D.C. on Tuesday morning with this uncle's family, which included two little girls. We were all very well bundled up. I had at least two layers everywhere: two pairs of socks and winter boots, long johns under corduroys, a long-sleeve t-shirt under a fuzzy turtle-neck sweater, my winter parka, double-layer wool mittens, a scarf, and a polar fleece-lined wool hat. All that, and I still managed some mobility. We got a relatively late start, arriving at the Metro station probably around 9:15. The crowds weren't bad at all there, probably because everyone was already in the city by then. The metro ride was slow, though, because, as the conductor kept telling us, "A customer was hit by a train at Gallery Place, so as of now all trains are turning around at Farragut North". We were annoyed at the inconvenience, since Gallery Place was our destination, but decided it wasn't as much of an inconvenience as the poor person struck by the train had experienced. As it turned out, though, the person was not actually hit by the train; I heard she managed to duck into the space below the platform when the train came by, and ended up with only a dislocated shoulder probably from when she was trying to get back up on the platform. Anyway, before we got to Farragut North, they opened Gallery Place back up, so everything ended up fine. When we got off at the Gallery Place stop, there were huge crowds heading up the escalators, so it took a while. We walked around a bit, because we were meeting a couple other families in a museum, and then we made our way to the Mall.

The Mall was crowded. We heard that they had closed the Mall at some point, but we got there around 11:20 or so, and by then it seemed that no one was stopping anyone from entering. Since we figured that one jumbotron looked like any other jumbotron, and there was no way we were going to be close enough not to need a jumbotron, we didn't mind being far from the Capitol Building. We got onto the Mall near the Smithsonian Castle. It was not a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd there (though the porta-potties were lined up shoulder to shoulder), so we easily got in enough to see the Capitol Building as well as a jumbotron. I think we were very lucky that getting into the city was relatively easy, and we got a pretty good view, and we even kind of cheated because we didn't get up early.

The crowd was really cool. I don't know when I'll ever again be in a crowd that big, and that happy. I mean, everyone was in a really, really good mood (people who were not in a good mood today weren't going to bother going out in the cold and the crowds). At one point coming out of the subway, someone had tripped slightly and crashed into the person in front of him. He apologized profusely, but she said, "It's alright, you can do no wrong today. It's a good day." Yes, spirits were high, and the crowds were overly polite and forgiving.

The ceremony was very nice. It was about what anyone saw on TV, but it was great hearing the great cheering roar of the crowd in person, and see those thousands upon thousands of little flags waving over the crowd. I wasn't even bothered by the cold, except when I took my hands out of my mittens to take pictures. Speaking of the camera, to be honest, I think I may have missed some of the gravity of the moment because I was too busy lining up my shot to stop and think about the fact that Obama is taking the Oath of Office right now! I noticed my friend was tearing up and I was not, and wondered for a second what was wrong with me, but the thought quickly passed because I was too busy cheering my lungs out (the video I was taking successfully recorded my unflattering scream).

However easy it was for us to get in to the city, we paid for it on the way out. I mean, we started leaving the Mall some time after 12:30. We were trying to cut across to the American History Museum, and it took us until the end of the ceremony to get there (so no, we didn't technically leave until it was over). Of course, everyone else was already going into the museum, so once we got there, we decided instead to go straight home. Right, "straight" home. Cut to 3:30--Eleni and company finally board the metro. Yeah, we were walking around for two and a half hours easily before we got into a station. I don't even remember which stations we tried, I just remember the endless streams of people. No matter how far we walked from the Mall, there seemed to be just as many people walking just as far, and all the metro stations were overflowing and they were closing them down. It was slow going because we had the children with us, but luckily they were with the friends we had met in the city, so they were occupied and mostly not complaining. I was starting to complain, because I was beginning to notice just how cold my nose was and my feet weren't happy walking so much. But we did finally make it out.

We watched the parade on the TV at home, drinking hot chocolate and appreciating the heat. It was a crazy, long day, but it was a good day. Sure, it would have been warmer, more comfortable, less-time consuming, and I would have been able to see and hear better if I had watched from home, it wouldn't make nearly as good a story. It was historic for being the inauguration of the first African-American U.S. president. Hopefully, a great presidency will turn it into an even more historic occasion. And I will be able to say that I was there.

*All day, I kept wanting to say "Megatron" instead of "JumboTron". No, Eleni, they are not the same thing. If Megatron (or 20 Megatrons!) were on the National Mall with well over a million people gathered there for Inauguration Day, it could very well be the plot of the next Michael Bay film.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Watchmen case is settled

Fox and Warner Bros. have reached a settlement that will see Watchmen released as scheduled on March 6, with Warner Bros. as the only studio logo in the film (Variety). Fox, in return, will receive an upfront $5-10 million to compensate for the money they spent developing the project way back and their legal costs for the trial, plus a gross participation scaling from 5% to 8.5%--a sum that normally only top movie stars can demand. Fox will also be able to participate in any sequels or spinoffs. Which there hopefully won't be any of. Please, please, please no sequels! The legal saga may continue if WB sues producer Larry Gordon for bringing them the project without having the full rights to it, but the important part, as far as I am concerned, is settled. Watchmen will be released in theaters as scheduled.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Batman, Iron Man, Narnia, a starry movie, porn, and more

Happy New Year!

I haven't been posting much lately because of holiday break (I spent Christmas with my family at my parents' house) and because I've been busy writing my Statements of Purpose for my grad school applications. I don't know what my purpose is (do I even have a purpose? Do any of us?), so that makes writing a ~1000 word essay stating my purpose rather difficult. Luckily I have a pretty good sense of the kinds of things admissions committees might like to hear, so I managed to find something to write.

Anyway, here's some interesting recent entertainment news. There's a lot, since it's been a while...

Reports suggest that some key roles in the third Christopher Nolan Batman movie have been filled. Rachel Weisz has reportedly been cast as Catwoman, Eddie Murphy is lined up for The Riddler, and Shia Labeouf is supposedly set for the role of Robin (IMDb). I recall reading at some point that Christian Bale said he would drop out of the series if they ever brought Robin in, but I suppose he could have had a change of heart. This coming movie has a lot to live up to--I imagine it will be nearly impossible for it to match the critical or commercial success of its predecessor The Dark Knight. If it is as good as Batman Begins, though, I will be satisfied. The sequel is slated for release in 2010.

The economic downturn has affected even blockbuster franchises. Disney has dropped the third installment of the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, from its slate, leaving co-producers Walden Media to find another studio to co-finance the film (IMDb). The first Narnia movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, made around $745 million worldwide, bolstered in large part by churchgoers interested in the story's strong Christian themes and parallels. The second, last year's Prince Caspian, made only $419 million. For most movies, this would be a success, but these films reportedly each cost around $200 million to produce. In the current economic climate, Disney apparently did not want to risk another $200 million if there is a chance they could earn even less than they did on Prince Caspian. I have never read Voyage of the Dawn Treader, so I have no particular reason to worry about this movie specifically, but as a fan of fantasy movies in general, I am concerned if what once seemed a hit franchise is being dropped by a major studio. What will happen to the smaller franchises? Some suggest even Harry Potter is not immune to the recession (The Independent). Hard to believe, but it's enough to make me nervous.

Evan Rachel Wood is trying to convince her Across the Universe co-star to star with her again in the stage musical version of Spider-Man as the Peter Parker to her Mary Jane (IMDb). While I do genuinely like both comic book heroes and Broadway musicals, I've sort of tracking this story mostly as a joke, because, I mean... it's Spider-Man singing and dancing on stage! But Wood insists that Spider-Man: The Musical is not a joke and has assured us that the character will never sing in tights--he will only sing as Peter Parker. Bono and The Edge wrote the songs. And director Julie Taymor of course did amazing things with the stage in The Lion King, so there is promise for some amazing web-slinging theatrics. My apologies; I will withhold my judgment.

As the summer blockbuster that was also a critical darling, The Dark Knight had some early awards buzz, but after many awards groups declined to give it a nomination for best picture, it seemed mostly out of the running for an Oscar nod. Until now. The Producers Guild of America has announced their nominees for best picture of the year, and The Dark Knight is in, along with Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Milk (IMDb). And this is a big deal because the PGA nominees and winner frequently predict the movies that will receive the same honors from the Academy. I'm definitely hoping for a little comic love from the Academy Awards. We'll see how the Oscar nominees turn out on the 22nd.

Head down to your local grocery store and pick up a pair of 3-D glasses to watch... a commercial. Dreamworks Animation is going all out and spending what is probably tens of millions of dollars on a huge promotional campaign for upcoming film Monsters vs. Aliens. A three-minute three-dimensional clip of the movie will be shown during the Super Bowl commercials. 150 million pairs of 3-D glasses will be distributed free of charge at 28,000 locations including grocery, drug, and electronics stores and big-box retailers (IMDb). Not as cool as beaming the movie to Alpha Centauri (see previous post), but a pretty cool (and likely more effective) promotional move nonetheless. I have a couple reasons I am interested in this movie and concerned about its success, one of which you might not think of--I may post on it at some point--so I'm interested to see how this promotional campaign turns out. The best thing about the glasses is that apparently the following night, you can use them to watch a 3-D episode of NBC's Chuck. Hopefully they will have some appropriate effects on that night's episode to warrant the 3-D treatment.

This is the first I've heard about it, but there is an independent 3-D animated film being made in conjunction with NASA called Quantum Quest (Variety). The main character is a photon who lives in the sun. Yes. The movie will fuse Digimax animation with actual space imagery from NASA. It's going to have a star-studded voice cast, with two Captain Kirks (William Shatner and Chris Pine) and two Darth Vaders (James Earl Jones and Hayden Christiansen) signed to lend their voices along with Mark Hamill, Samuel L. Jackson, Amanda Peet, Sandra Oh, Abigail Breslin, and astronaut Neil Armstrong. The film has apparently been in the works since 1996, but they have been waiting for footage from the Cassini/Huygens to arrive. Sweet.

Mickey Rourke is in talks to play the villain in the Iron Man sequel (Variety). I find this mildly interesting because the talk this year has been all about the unlikely comebacks of Mickey Rourke and Robert Downey Jr. (who, in case you are living under a rock, is the star of the new Iron Man movie franchise). I became a fan of the latter after seeing 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and I was introduced to the former in 2005's Sin City, but those were either not big enough hits or big enough roles to count as real comebacks. Anyway, Iron Man 2 may be a face-off between the two comeback kings of 2008. Sam Rockwell is also in talks to play a villain in the movie, which is slated for release in summer 2010.

And lastly, my little gem of the day. Porn moguls Larry Flynt and Joe Francis are asking Congress for a $5 billion bailout for the troubled porn industry (IMDb). Adult DVD sales are apparently down 22 percent from 2007 sales, which Flynt attributes to American citizens being so worried about their finances that they don't have the time to think about sex. Quote: "It's time for Congress to rejuvenate the sexual appetite of America." Yeah, I don't know why Congress didn't get on that sooner. Flynt and Francis say that the porn industry is important to the American economy just as the auto industry is, though I think it may still be a tough sell to get Congress to spend taxpayers' dollars on reviving porn. But I guess the fact that there is a male majority may help. I don't really care what happens to the porn industry, but as a fan of Avenue Q, I can't help but think of a certain important moment in that musical. When it turns out that Trekkie Monster has $10 million to donate to Kate Monster's school for monsters, and everyone in shock asks him how he has so much money when all he seems to do is sit in his apartment and watch porn, he declares, "In volatile market, only stable investment is PORN!" So now I have become deeply concerned about our economy. If even porn needs a bailout, we must be doomed!

Ah, what a start to 2009.