MarkKawakami.com

“A casual relationship with reality”

This "Mork & Mindy" movie sucks

That's all I have to say about that.

"Sin City"

You gotta respect a couple things about Robert Rodriguez and his work on "Sin City". The first is simply the visual chutzpah in transliterating the look of Frank Miller's graphic novels to the screen. The second is that he resigned his DGA membership rather than allow them to prevent Frank Miller from being co-director on this movie (and as a result, giving up big financial gains).

But "Sin City" has its problems, and they're largely the result of some directorial weaknesses Rodriguez possesses.

The first problem is that Rodriguez is not really an actor's director. I haven't noticed this before, but then I suppose that the acting required in "Desparado" isn't really all that great. So as a result, there's some scenes that just suck. One of the opening scenes, for instance, is tough guy dialogue between Bruce Willis and Michael Madsen. Now, Willis and Madsen can act. I mean, Madsen is Mr. Blonde, right? So when they both turn in bad performances — and I don't just mean a lack of depth in the characters, I mean flat out stilted acting — you gotta assume there is a directorial flaw. And that flaw, if I had to take a guess, was a complete lack of rehearsal time. He probably got the actors to the set, ran through the dialogue once and started shooting. You can't do this, even with the very best actors. Especially with the very best actors. Because rehearsal time is where they create the character. Rehearsal is where they take risks, make strong choices, experiment. Once the cameras start rolling, or once you even have them just on set and you're blocking with the lights and such, that's when they start locking down the characters. They stop creating and start performing with what they've got.

But added to this is the fact that the script seems like it was largely lifted directly from the graphic novels. Not having read the graphic novels I can't say this for sure, but it makes sense. if the visual style was adapted directly from the visual style of the graphic novels, why shouldn't the script? But that's a problem. The dialogue in a graphic novel, just like in a regular novel, works on a completely different level of abstraction than dialogue in film and television. All of that works on a different level of abstraction from the dialogue in theater. These things must be adapted, not just transposed, to new mediums. The dialogue in films is much more about flow and rhythm. Hearing it spoken aloud creates a very different sensation than reading it on the page, and the human ear is much more sensitive to non-sequiturs and disjointed exchanges than the human eye is.

And in a graphic novel, there are no inflections. At best you can bold or italicize or add an exclamation mark to indicate very rough approximations of whatever emphasis exists. In order to establish meaning, dialogue in a graphic novel must necessarily be more direct. Read it aloud, and everything just sounds so "nail on the head". In film, actors can express reluctance with their voices, doubt with their eyes and enthusiasm with their faces. You add real inflection to graphic novel dialogue and it devolves into clunky crap. What's elegant on the page is thorny and crunchy on screen.

And if that's true for dialogue, it's doubly true for narration. voiceover on film must be handled very delicately and it must be sparse. Why? Because otherwise it's boring. I mean, there's other problems, primarily that it indicates a lack of creative thinking, substituting directness for inference and such, but the overriding problem is that voiceover gets tiresome really fast. Again, graphic novels don't have this problem. Just like the regular novel can be narrated from first person, and delve deeply into the thoughts of the characters, the graphic novel can portray an inner world that can't be seen or heard in ordinary conversation. So "Sin City" is bursting to the seams with wall to wall voiceover, and a lot of it is crap. Again, it's not in the graphic novel, it's tough and cynical. But in a theater, telling us things we already know because we just saw it happen, it's crap.

Now, there's a lot to like about "Sin City". It is gorgeous. I think Rodriguez could have been even more experimental visually, but nonetheless, the rough beauty is impossible to resist. And after the first two sequences, the movie gets rolling, and from then on, the momentum begins to take precedence over the movie's shortcomings. The violence is shocking at times, even pretty unsettling and I'm used to pretty violent stuff in movies. But I was pretty unsettled by it. I'm having a hard time deciding if this is a positive or a negative in my line of thinking. Regardless it's constantly moving along. Rodriguez does a great job of raising the sensory stakes at every turn.

But that all doesn't completely make up for the weaker direction. The segment that suffers the least from this is the one directed by Tarantino, which stars Clive Owen. Although that segment does have Brittany Murphy overacting her little freaky heart out, it's got good acting and a fun sense of humor that's largely lacking from the rest of the movie. I can't help wondering if the whole movie would have been better if Rodriguez produced it and Tarantino directed it.

Bon Voyage

My mom called me today to make arrangements for my Mother's Day flight home, and to deliver some bad news. Apparently the Monterey Bay Aquarium has released the Great White shark they've had in captivity for the past six months. I said this was bad news, but really it isn't. In the end, she belongs in the open ocean, that's her home. Her stay the the Aquarium was just a visit, and always was going to be.

But it's bad news for me. As you may recall, I was very excited to hear that they had a Great White on display in the first place. And I was really, really looking forward to seeing her during my trip north for Mother's Day. Nearly every day, I'd take a couple minutes and open up the Aquarium's Outer Bay exhibit webcam and watch it swim by a couple of times. Every time she passed by, it gave me this incredible thrill. There it was, at that moment, swimming gracefully by. I wish I had known last time was going to be the last time, I would have watched for a little longer.

But I can't believe that they've had her for over six months. If I had known sooner, I could have seen her. But I only found out about her recently, although now I wish I had followed through on my instinct to fly up that weekend. So, after I found out, I was depressed at work for the rest of the day. I know that seems silly, and I can't explain it to you except to say that I really like sharks a lot. It's just as simple as that. Some people like horses, some people like dolphins. I like sharks. A lot.

And this has been a life long dream of mine, to see a White shark in person. But it'll have to wait. It's best that she be released, and I know that the people taking care of her hate the idea of letting her go, so they really can't be accused of doing it too soon. The decision to release her was based on the fact that she appeared to be exhibiting the beginnings of predatory behavior towards the other sharks. The two earlier bitings on other sharks were probably not the result of predation, but apparently she has become more aggressive in the last couple days.

Plus she's grown really, really fast. She came into the aquarium at five feet and 62 pounds. She's left, six months later, at just under 6 and a half feet and 162 pounds. At that growth rate, there was no way the Aquarium could hope to contain her beyond a couple of months more. This growth rate actually raises interesting questions. Do all White sharks grow this fast at this stage, or is this the result of all the good eating she's been doing?

Of course, part of the decision to release her could also be for health reasons, but if so, the Aquarium isn't admitting it. So far, their line has been that she's been very healthy and active, and her feeding and growth rate both pointed to that. However, a couple of pictures that have been posted on the internet show that her nose has suffered some severe abrasions. Now, I have no idea when this picture was taken, except that it came after she was first released into the tank. So this wound was definitely received while in the tank, most likely by bumping against the tank's walls. According to the aquarium, these wounds were healing nicely, but if you read the postings on that page, others disagree. I have no idea who's right in this case, not having seen it for myself, although the rather intense media scrutiny after the two recent bitings lead me to believe that if the damage was that severe recently, it would have been reported. But nonetheless, if the damage is as bad as it looks in those pictures, unless she stopped bumping the walls fairly early on, I'd say that she should have been released much sooner.

However, like I said, I did check out their webcam very consistently since I heard about her, and never once noticed any damage to her nose. But bear in mind, she doesn't swim up and say "cheese", so a really good look is very hard. But I've seen her fairly close up several times.

At any rate, the Aquarium plans on attempting to obtain another White shark this summer. If they do, I won't wait around, I'll be on the first flight up.

There's actually a lot more to say about this topic, especially the issue of her health while in captivity, which is a massive can of worms that I really don't have the heart to go into right now. So for now, happy swimming.

Great White Shark at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Two inventions

You know, every good idea I have seems to come to market eventually. When I was a kid, The Sharper Image or some other equally pretentious catalog sold an attachment for skis that would measure your average speed, top speed, and distance travelled. It used a wheel that would roll along the snow as you skied.

This struck me as a pretty lame way to do this, although it was probably the only way to do it back in the 80s. The problem is I don't think a wheel could roll reliably enough to really get accurate readings. A few years later, inspired by GPS, I thought you could use triangulation to get all that data with transmitters set into the ski-slope. Back then, GPS was intentionally crippled for civilian use so that very accurate readings weren't possible. Since the government has relaxed enough GPS is probably good enough for the task.

So, of course, guess what is coming to market? That's right, the Skido, very similar to what I had in mind. It's actually software you install onto a GPS-enabled PDA, which has the downside of requiring you to take your PDA into the freezing cold as you hurtle down a mountain, but overall, it's a good idea.

And I say that because the idea was mine.

Another invention isn't an idea of mine, but it's cool nonetheless. Fox-Blocker is a filter you attach to your cable line that blocks out the Fox News Channel. It's a childish, pretty silly reaction to the conservative "news" network, but anything that keeps O'Reilly off my television is fine by me.

Gender test

So do you like my new design or do you think it sucks?

I've noticed I get two reactions. There's people that seem to really enjoy it, and others that aren't afraid to tell me they don't. And the interesting thing I've noticed is that it seems to divide fairly evenly amongst men and women. Men like it, women don't. Now I hate to generalize, and I'm sure there's some men that think the design is very cold and techie, and there's gotta be some women that think it's modern and sophisticated. Hopefully those women are hot and single.

As for myself, I like it more than my last design, both for technical reasons and for aesthetic reasons. But as I said before, I'm not as happy with it as I could be. At any rate, I'll probably change it in a couple of months, so if you don't like it now, just wait. At any rate, I certainly won't be changing it back, because regression is lame.

I've got precision issues

Remember the movie "Adaptation"? In it, Donald Kaufman, Charlie Kaufman's fictitious brother, is reading "Story" by Robert McKee, and eventually Charlie attends one of his seminars. For most of the movie, "Story" is kind of ridiculed and so as a result I've always kind of looked down on this book I hadn't read and knew nothing about.

As it turns out, "Story" is really, really great. It's really an exemplary text on writing screenplays, in part because McKee eschews the lame clichés Donald Kaufman embraced in his writing. In fact, I've come to realize that Kaufman (the real one) probably has a very great respect for McKee. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to write.

By the way, since I know he never reads my blog, someone tell Noka I'll let him borrow the book when I'm through with it.

Anyhow, like I said, it's great. But I've got one big complaint. And it has to do with "Star Wars", because I'm a geek who was born in 1975.

See, on page 305, McKee is talking about "Crisis within the Climax" and one of the examples he uses to illustrate it is at the end of "A New Hope": "As [Luke] maneuvers his craft by computer, he hears the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi: 'Go with the Force, go with the Force.'"

Okay... Okay...

Okay...

Wait... What the fuck? I mean, seriously, what the fuck? It's "Use the Force, Luke", goddammnit! Everyone knows it's "Use the Force, Luke". This isn't a minor issue, man, it's one of the single most famous lines in the entire damn history of the movies. Around the globe, everyone born after 1975 (and most born before it) knows it's "Use the Force, Luke"! Second-graders get this line right. Crazy homeless bums on the street get this line right. Nepalese sherpas struggling up Mount Everest probably say it to themselves to get over the next peak.

I mean, how can you possibly screw this up? What's next? Ending Casablanca with Rick Blaine saying "Louie, I think you're a pretty kick-ass guy"? "There's no place like that place I used to live"? "As God is my witness, I shall continue to eat!"??!!!

I mean, yeah, I know I'm anal about these sorts of things, but I think it's important to accurately quote one of the most famous lines ever written, especially when you're writing a book about screenwriting.

Way to go, McKee!

But his near total ignorance of important Star Wars facts goes even further, and this next one he mentions several times throughout the book. It comes as he discusses the end of "The Empire Strikes Back":

Luke musters his courage and chooses to fight. However, when Vader suddenly steps back and says: "You can't kill me, Luke... I'm your father," Luke's reality splinters. In a flash he realizes the truth and now must make yet another Crisis Decision: whether to kill his father.

Luke confronts the agony of this decision and chooses to fight. But Vader cuts off his hand and Luke drops to the deck. Still, it's not over. Vader announces that he wants Luke to join his campaign to bring "order to things" in the universe. A second Gap opens as Luke realizes that his father doesn't want him dead, he's offering him a job. He must make a third Crisis Decision, a lesser-of-two-evils: to join the "dark side" or take his own life? He makes the heroic choice, and as these Gaps explode, the Climax delivers deep rushes of insight uniting two films.

Yeah, that's a great ending. But, dammnit McKee, you totally screwed it all up again! First of all, Vader doesn't say "You can't kill me, Luke, I'm your father." What happens is Vader asks Luke if Obi-Wan ever told him the truth about Luke's father. Luke says Obi-Wan told him Vader killed him. And Vader says "No... I am your father!". And I know what you're thinking. What if he was just paraphrasing? But no, that's not it, because he says it several times throughout the book. In quotes. It ain't paraphrasing, that's how he thinks the line goes. Which is completely ridiculous, if for no other reason then because Vader considers it against his Sith code of ethics to ever use a contraction. And cheaply misquoting it completely changes the meaning of the exchange.

And that lame misquote comes after Vader cuts off Luke's hand. Not before, AFTER... Affffttttteeeeerrrrr. I know this seems like cheap fanboy nitpicking, and yeah, in a way it is. Like the title of the post says, I have precision issues. But once again, it significantly changes the meaning if Luke learns this before getting his hand sliced off instead of after. It completely changes the emotional experience for the audience if there's more fighting after the big revelation. It's just wrong, man.

And it's not like getting the end of some obscure movie like "Proof" a little wrong. This is the single most famous surprise ending ever. It's more famous than Kaiser Soze, more famous than Bruce Willis being dead already, more famous than the sleigh named Rosebud. So, pretty please, get it right, punk.

Like I said, precision issues.

Brushed!

Here it is, the new design. I call it "Brushed" for the brushed metal appearance*. I'll probably change it soon, because although it's not a bad design, it really doesn't push the envelope as much as I'd like, in terms of both the actual visual appearance and the underlying CSS. The criticism a lot of people have of CSS-based design is that the resulting web page all tend to look "boxy". This is a completely ridiculous assertion as many of the beautiful designs at CSS Zen Garden can attest, but there is a grain of truth to it. The problem is that until recently, most of the people that really know their CSS were programmers and not designers, and the resulting aesthetics tended to reflect that. So I'd really like to get to something that doesn't have that perpendicular feel this site has always displayed.

There are a couple of cool features, CSS-wise here. The "MarkKawakmi.com" graphic utilizes image-replacement techniques that replace text with a graphic, which means I don't have to have the image embedded in the source code. It's also a rollover, and that uses a refinement to the image replacement to avoid pre-loading the image, which makes it the fastest possible rollover.

The other cool feature is the Ajax-based search box on the right. You can type search terms in the box and it will automatically fetch the results of the search. It works in Internet Explorer 5+ for Windows and Mac, Mozilla based browsers like Firefox, Safari, OmniWeb and Opera. Basically the full list of modern web browsers.

And an extra for all those browsers except IE is that if you roll your mouse over the title of one of the search results, a box pops up that has a little excerpt of the entry. This is entirely CSS, not Javascript based, which is a very neat trick. I'd be more proud of it if I had been the one to think of it, but the behavior is based on the "LiveSearch" feature of 1976Design.com, so credit is really due to him. The background of the popup excerpt is a semi-transparent PNG, which gives it a translucent effect. Truthfully, that's really just showing off and I think it's sort of un-subtle, so I'm probably going to change that eventually.

There's also a couple of little bugs with my search tool that need to be fixed. The most obvious one being that if there are quotes or other special characters, they get displayed as their HTML-encoded values. I think this is because they are sent back to the browser as CDATA, which basically means that they should be interpreted as is. This shouldn't be too hard to fix.

Another semi-bug is that when you click on one of the entries, you lose your search results. And clicking the back button fails to bring them back. You have to retype your search to get the entries. This isn't a bug, per se, but it is poor interface design. To fix this I think I'm going to set a cookie that has your last search term because I want the links themselves to be clean, but that raises a couple of implementation details that need to be handled.

Windows IE adds space to my blogroll
My blog roll on Windows Internet Explorer

Windows IE adds space to my blogroll
My blog roll on Safari

There is another bug that appears in Windows IE, and it's Microsoft's fault. My blogroll should look like one continuous list of links without any gaps between each entry. In IE, a visible gap appears. If I add a border to the list elements, the gap disappears.This makes no sense, it should respect the margin settings I have regardless of the presence or absence of a border, but that's IE for you. Which is why, if you're using IE, you should really consider switching to Firefox. Actually, the reason you should is security, but this is a good reason too.

At any rate, I'm not in any hurry to find a workaround for this bug, I'm all right with just living with it. It's just really disappointing that in 2005, I still have to decide between having different displays on different browsers or spend time and thought fixing things that should already work.

Another change that my friend Jon suggested is integrating the search box into the blogroll area, and having the results push down the blogroll. That's a great idea for a number of reasons. First of all it saves horizontal space, which means that the entries area can be wider. Secondly it prevents the large empty gray box when you have no search results, and I won't have three different boxes of varying height. In fact so many positives come from this change, I'm kind of kicking myself for not thinking of it immediately. It really is the obviously right thing to do now that it's been pointed out to me.

I also need to add some sort of little explanatory text for the search tool, I think. Nothing fancy, just a "What's this?" type link.

So, even though I've been dissing the entire design, I'm pretty happy with this as a first draft. Hopefully I'll have simple fixes and changes done soon. And I'd like to get the next major redesign up faster then it took me to get this one up. I get pretty bored of a design after about a couple of months, and my old design (the now retired "Greenbriar") was up since October or September.

For my next design, I'm thinking about something inspired by the graphical design of "The Incredibles" credits. Something with bold color, angular (but never perpendicular) lines, and a 50's-modern look, but that may be just because I recently got my "Incredibles" DVDs. At any rate, I really like the sleekness of it, and I think the general look could transfer well to the web, but I haven't really seen anyone else doing anything like it.

* For you Photoshop mavens out there, creating a brushed metal appearance is extremely simple. You just start with a solid color, use the "Add Noise" filter (set to monochromatic) at a relatively light setting, then add a horizontal motion blur. Voila! If you're using it in a tiled setting, like a webpage, you can make it tile seamlessly by running the offset filter with only a horizontal offset. This makes it wrap at the edges. Then select the area with the seam (and some of the surrounding area) with a large setting for "feather" and run another motion blur. I forgot to do that on the medium-blue background image here, so you can see the seam just to the right of the entries. I'll fix that soon as well.

New Design Coming Soon...

I've been playing around with a new design that also incorporates the Ajax-based searching. I'll upload the changes soon (within a day or two). I'm not completely happy with it (I've never been completely happy with this design either) but it's a pretty dramatic departure from the style I've had so far.

Is there really any reason to post about a design I haven't even uploaded yet? Not really, but it's good marketing. Plus it alleviates my guilt about not posting anything since Saturday (and prior to that I had been on a roll).

[update: Obviously, the new design is up.]

My Talking Breasts are Better than Yours

In the spirit of I Read the Comics so You Don't Have To "The Comics Curmudgeon", I present today's "Mark Trail", and the Amazing Conversating Rack.

Cherry's rack appears to be talking

Apparently, in panel one, Cherry Trail's chest appear to have not only joined in the conversation, but has decided it is qualified to give medical opinions. At least, I believe it's her chest. It may also be her right armpit, but frankly the idea of a talking armpit gives me the willies. Plus I imagine if armpits could talk they would mostly be saying "What's with all the anti-perspirant, people? Pits gotta breathe too, my man!"

And note Cherry's expression in the same panel. Apparently although it comes as no surprise that her breasts are talking, it still does make her embarrassed or otherwise uncomfortable. And rightly so, because too much of that, and then suddenly everyone wants to hear them at parties when she just wants a cosmo and a dolphin-safe tuna roll.

The Great White, Live and In Person

Did you know the Monterey Bay Aquarium has a Great White shark? Living, breathing (well, ventilating) and swimming in their million gallon Outer Bay tank. Apparently, they've had her since September, over six months now. The previous record for keeping a White shark in captivity was 16 days.

Great White Shark at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

I can't believe I just found out about the Monterey Bay Aquarium's amazing achievement. I'd heard about their plans to attempt to acquire one, and it sounded promising. But that was a couple of years ago, and I assumed that since I hadn't heard anything else, nothing had come of it. But apparently, this last August and September, their efforts paid off. A young Great White was accidentally caught in a fishing net off the coast of Huntington Beach. Marine biologists were in the area hoping such an opportunity would come along, and they showed up with their giant ocean-borne pen where they kept the shark, hoping it would feed. It responded well, was feeding, and they decided she could be safely transported back to the aquarium.

Not long after being put in the Outer Bay exhibit, she was feeding on halibut. Since then, she has appeared healthy and generally got along well with the other fish in the exhibit. Well, got along with most of them, anyway.

Apparently she's bitten two soupfin sharks in the past month, most recently a couple of days ago, causing them to die. The attacks weren't predatory in nature, the soupfins seemed to get too close and bumped into her, causing her to snap at their tails. The other fish (which includes large tuna, some magnificent sea turtles and scalloped hammerheads) in the exhibit have the good sense to generally stay out of her way. But these two soupfins seem to think she might want to be their friend or something, which is generally a mistake. I think this might be because soupfins are apparently schooling sharks, so they have a greater degree of socialization than most other sharks.

At any rate, the second attack made the news. I heard about it on KROQ the other morning, and hopped on the internet the first chance I got to see if I heard it right. And indeed I did. But I wonder just what's up with the news that successfully keeping a Great White in captivity doesn't make the news down here while a shark biting another shark does. If it bleeds it leads.

But, whatever. Anyhow, the second attack has caused some controversy, with some marine biologists saying she should be released into the wild. There are reasonable arguments to both sides of this, however, I think that at this point, bitings aside, there is still more to learn from her and as long as she remains healthy, stable and thriving, keeping her in the aquarium is a good idea. Allowing the public to learn more about them is a real net positive, and there is plenty to learn about their growth, eating habits, behavior, etc. that is next to impossible to learn if she's released.

And the aquarium recognizes that she cannot remain a permanent resident, not in the tank they have her in. Right now, at about five and a half feet in length, she's comfortable in the tank. But even at a million gallons, which is larger than all their other tanks combined, at some point she will outgrow it, and they'll have to release her.

Which means that if you want to see her, you should see her soon. I want to see her. Seeing one of these creatures in the flesh has been a dream of mine, and I can't believe it's possible to right now.

In the meantime, if you want to see her without making the trek, including check out the Outer Bay Exhibit webcame where the White shark is kept. The live feeds are available 7am - 7pm PST. It's really very, very cool. You usually have to wait a minute or two, but all of a sudden she'll swim right by, and it's a beautiful sight. (They also have webcams of all their other major tanks as well).

Incidentally, you may be wondering what they've named her. Well, I wondered the same thing, and dropped an email to them. As it turns out, they haven't named her. Here's their response:

We do not name our animals unless they are deemed unreleasable and need names for behavioral training. Currently our otters, penguins and murres have names for these reasons. When we speak about our white shark we not only want our audience to think of her as a wild animal, but also want everyone to connect more intimately with her entire species. We want her to represent her species, a species that is in trouble right now and needs our help.

We hope that during her stay with us, the white shark will help to raise public awareness about the threats all sharks face around the world. White sharks are among the many, many shark species whose numbers are declining due to excessive and indiscriminate fishing practices. Our initial studies of visitor responses suggest that people are getting the message, with more than 30% of them reporting that they learned something about shark conservation during their visit.

Perfectly reasonable. Anyhow, you can probably already tell this, but I'm really very happy and also rather moved at what they've been able to achieve.

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Copyright © 2005 Mark Kawakami