Thursday, March 29, 2007

Viva Ventura pt1

I recently moved to SoCal and that means a whole new group of restaurants to try. This series of reviews will be dedicated to restaurants along Ventura Boulevard, and there are a lot of them. I will cover local chains, but I'm not going to talk about national chains since really, there's no point.

Kabuki: Japanese restaurant that's definitely interested in being an "it" place more than being completely accurate. That isn't to say the food isn't good, but some of the menu items are a bit odd for a traditional Japanese restaurant. I had the beef sukiyaki and it was really good although definitely constructed with an eye to the health freaks. It was loaded with more hardy vegetables than tofu, beef, and noodles. There was very little onion or cabbage, which I'm used to seeing in my sukiyaki and there was a lot of button mushrooms and what I think was zuchini. Also, the amount of soy sauce used was also a lot less than usuall, again I'm thinking it's a concession to the "health conscious" that run the area. Again, not bad just not what I'm used to getting in my sukiyaki and definitely a little short of the level of soy(salt) that I prefer.

China Star In and Out: Chinese restaurant and fish and chips place. Now I don't really have a problem with this as I grew up near a Japanese and fish and chips combo place. But, I think it's popularity stems from the fish and chips. The chinese food was decidely sub-par. I had the Beef and Brocolli lunch special which included a veggie eggroll and egg drop soup. None of it was very good. The Beef and Brocolli was bland and when that's what you're going for, that's not good. The service was good, especially given the fact that one lady is handling all the sit-in, take out, and call-in customers by herself. But really, good service doesn't overcome bad Chinese food.

Sol y Luna: I really liked this place. The chips and salsa were good and I got the beef flauta for my lunch. Oh man it was good. And the group I was there with all really loved the food they ordered too. It's a little pricey for a Mexican restaurant, but the servings are huge and everything is really good. A definite recommend.

Curry Bowl: This is a Sri Lankan restaurant and I've never had Sri Lankan food, so I can't speak to authenticity. My experience and love of curry comes from Indian curry and that is the basis I compare all others to. So understand that's the perspective I'm coming from. I had the lunch buffet and ordered some of the beef pastries to go. From the lunch buffet I tried the chicken curry, egg curry, some roast vegetable curry and the rice. The chicken curry was alright but had no kick and was a bit bland. The egg curry could have had no curry for all the flavor it gave to the hard boiled eggs. The roast vegetable curry was sweet but not really my thing. The beef pastries were good though. I'm not all that into that kind of thing but I was craving samosas so I gave them a shot. I had three different varieties and they were all pretty good, even if not quite my cup o tea.

Shanwen Shanghai Cuisine: I had the wor won ton soup. This is the variety with a bunch of extra stuff thrown in. Again, I think this is a restaurant that has it's eyes towards the health conscious a lot more so than those who want accuracy. There were a lot more vegetables that wor won ton usually has and the broth was very light, almost flavorless. The won ton were very good, which redeemed it. The bok choy were barely cooked so they seemed a bit off. As a whole I think the place is OK, but I would try another place before going there again.

Pickwicks: A British Pub that's not. It looks like a British pub, has the right beer and has darts. But the menu is definitely not that of a British pub. There's a few items here and there that are British but most aren't. That being said it's a good crowd, good service, and the food is pretty good.

Monday, March 19, 2007

They're Like Real Comics, But Good!

I speak of course, of webcomics. That (relatively) new medium of personal and amatuer self-expression that is successful as a movement but struggling as an industry.

I'm not going to say why I like the webcomics linked below. They're too different to compare and I can't really point to why I like these over other, similar comics.

Errant Story
Exploitation Now - Ended
VG Cats
Mac Hall - Ended
Three Panel Soul
Okashina Okashi
Dr. McNinja
Queen of Wands - Ended but apparently a sequel has recently started up
Megatokyo - I should note that while I have stopped reading this webcomic, I am still a huge fan of his artwork.
Real Life Comics
Cute Wendy - Ended but the artist is doing buttloads of other stuff still

That's my reading list. The below links are a couple of weird ones. Road Waffles I liked, but I don't like most anything else the artist is doing, especially his new comics. Down to Earth I also like but it seems to have a posting schedule measured in months.

Road Waffles
Down to Earth

There's one more I love, but I haven't read it in forever due to time constraints and I can't for the life of me remember who the artist is or what it's called, but I will try to post the link once I figure out where it is.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Music Must Really Hate it's Consumers

OK, maybe the title of this post is unfair, but hear me out.

I don't normally like posting this sort of thing, after all, this is a review blog, not a political commentary blog, but I think of this as a negative review of the buffoons running things, both in government and the private sector. And, this happens to be a subject that affects me(and millions of others) in a very real way.

A decision was recently made, you may have heard, by an obscure panel of judges attached to the Library of Congress. How the *Library* of Congress has authority over anything is beyond me, but apparently they do. What this ruling will do is increase royalty costs for digital audio streams such as Internet radio and the Internet based streams of traditional broadcast stations. It will increase these costs exponentially. Of course the company in charge of collecting royalties is in full support of this new fee structure. I'm sure it means they collect more money for themselves as well.

The worst part of the new ruling is that it violates one of the most basic elements of good lawmaking. It is RETROACTIVE. Imagine if this retroactive aspect was applied to another part of daily life such as driving. The government decides that the new legal driving age is 30 and they make the ruling apply retroactively to anyone who was driving up to 10 years ago. Every person between the age of 16 and 39 that drove is now a criminal. Or, let's imagine that the tax rate is increased to 50% across the board and is retroactive 5 years. That means that you now must pay 50% of the money you made for the last five years immediately or you will go to jail. How many people could afford to pay that over 5 years much less all at once?

So what? Well, the new fee structure means that most small Internet radio stations will be required to pay royalties greater than their average yearly gross every year, in addition to the chunk of change they now owe for the last 15 months. It means smaller broadcast radio stations that simul-cast online will no longer be able to afford their Internet streams and will get rid of them. It means I will no longer be able to listen to music from across the globe and know what to look for when I walk into the music store. It means I will no longer be able to listen to my favourite radio stations I discovered while traveling or living in other states. It means the number of mp3s I have to download to determine whether a CD is worth buying or not will go up. It means I have to listen to morons go on and on about how drunk they got last night and how pretty this new handbag is every morning instead of listening to what I want to: music.

I started listening to Internet radio because it gave me access to music I would never hear on broadcast radio. I can listen to techno from Sweden, I can listen to a garage band from Brooklyn, I can listen to an artist who died before I was born. I can listen to music in the morning instead of some talk show host that thinks he or she is more important or more entertaining than they really are.

My favourite Internet radio company is Accuradio. I listen to it every day. I listen to it the entire time I'm at my desk at work. It will be forced out of business when the new royalty rules come into effect. Many others like Accuradio will be forced out of business at the same time and I will have very little I can listen to. Goodbye music from Japan, goodbye guitarist from down the street, goodbye Billy Holiday.

Please, please, please, if you listen to Internet radio at all, I highly encourage you to find out more and to speak out by visiting Save the Streams.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Strength and Honour

This weekend I saw the much anticipated 300(in IMAX). I will try to review it here without giving away anything you can't grasp from just viewing the trailer.

Now, I am a history buff, particularly ancient world, and I am a reenactment/recreationist and part of that is sword combat. My armor is based upon the 700 Thespian volunteer-warriors that fought alongside the 300 Spartans and refused to abandon them. I had to spend a good bit of time immersing myself in anything involving the movie 300 before it opened in order to get all my frustration at the historical inacuracies out before I went to see the movie so that it would not ruin my appreciation of the movie itself.

That being said, I LOVED the movie. And I will be going back to see it in the theaters at least another two times. My knowledge of the time period, cultures, soldiers, warfare, and armaments in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the movie. Would that have been the case had I not "prepared" myself? I can't say, but I can say I still would have enjoyed the movie immensely.

The visuals are quite breathtaking. You know everything but the actors are CGI, whether you knew anything about the movie going in or not. This isn't to say the graphics aren't stunning and well done, they are. But, it's obvious that a computer was heavily involved. The visuals have a very similar feel to Sin City's. This is not a bad thing. As I said, things are obviously computer generated, but that only adds to the fantastical, graphic novel feel. If anything it helps, not hinders, the composition of the movie. The use of computers for the backgrounds and creatures definitely frees the creators to bring in these elements in ways they could not have achieved with the real things.

The costuming was superb. Now, I know, if all you've seen are the posters, you may ask "What costuming?" The details were there and they worked(unlike Eragon). The red cloaks of the Spartans had spectacular swoosh to them, undoubtedly for the same reason the Nazgul cloaks hung so well in LOTR: there's a lot more fabric to them than you would think. The outfits of Queen Gorgo defy gravity in ways that would make Donatella Versace proud. The fabrics all have texture to them, from the rough spun of the Spartan cloaks, to the fine silk of Xerxes' entertainment. The props were similarly impressive. The spears all showed leather wrapping during close-ups, the Persian arrows were barbed in painfully beautiful fashion, and the helms of the Spartans reflected the punishment they withstood.

The acting was pretty good. The actors did the best they could with the lines they were given, and I must say the real weak point of the movie was the dialogue. The various actors playing the key Spartans had a spectacular grasp of what it meant to be Spartan and you could see it from the way they moved in combat to the looks on their faces during battle. Vincent Regan was spectacular in what is his second Greek period epic(the previous being Troy where he played Achilles's second) and was one of the highlight characters of the movie, despite the fact that his character is never actually given a name but referred to simply as "The Captain." I think he actually did a better job of things than Gerard Butler, who put a little too much into a few lines.

The fighting, surprisingly, I loved. I must admit to liking the fighting of Troy a little more but different forms, different set-ups, and a different quantity of combat mean the two, despite their roots, can't really be likened to each other. Now, again, I'm a sword fighter for fun, and I will never say sword combat in a movie or TV show is realistic(documentaries don't count), but there are degrees of inaccuracy. Troy's shield work was more accurate and effective, but 300 is definitely more accurate than the European style point dueling done with Asian slashing swords that we saw in Ultraviolet. The tempo of combat is where 300 really shines. Time slowed and sped up in a way that flowed and can be understood by anyone who has experienced the perceived time dilation of melee combat. No one just stood there waiting to be center screen to fight, in fact I came out of each battle scene wishing the shots had been wider and shown me more. The biggest problem is one that seems to be shared by many people. Blood is shown flying everywhere from every stab of the spear and slash of the sword, but none is on the ground. This may be a rating thing similar to why some video games have green blood(red blood in a game means an automatic increase in the maturity rating apparently) or it may be due to the fact that the blood is computer generated and they didn't want to deal with "painting" the blood on the ground. I don't know, and quite frankly, it didn't bug me enough to really detract from the experience.

All in all, I would highly recommend this movie to any and all adults. I would highly recommend you NOT bring anyone under 18 to see this movie. The only thing it's missing from the unholy triumvirate of things that make censors freak is foul language.

As I said at the beginning of this review, I will see this movie in the theaters at least another two times. And I think that is the most telling statement I can make.