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October 28, 2008

Max Payne

Cold case detective Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) spends his nights prowling the streets of New York for fresh leads on the murder of his wife and child three years ago. Whilst shaking down a contact, Payne meets a party girl who is later dismembered not far from his apartment. Discovering Payne's ID on her body, his old partner Alex (Donal Logue) tries to help, but Payne, blaming Alex for not solving his wife's murder, will have none of it.

Unfortunately for Payne, the dead girl's sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), an assassin for the Russian mob, has vowed revenge on him, and a bald, tattooed stranger (Aumury Nolasco) is also following Payne. And why are those who try a new drug on the streets seeing visions of fearsome, winged creatures?

When the computer game Max Payne was released in 2001 to strong sales and positive press, word of a movie adaptation wasn't far behind. And why not? The game was heavily influenced by action cinema, especially police films like Die Hard. The game was also the first (some would say only) to successfully realise bullet-time, the slow-motion rotating camera gimmick that made the first Matrix film so eye-catching, as an integrated gameplay element.

Of course, The Matrix's success means that any attempt to put bullet time for a Max Payne movie would be seen as a rip-off. Strip the gameplay from Max Payne and you're left with the second thing that made the game so distinctive: a loving spoof of both cop films and noir cinema. The game's grungy, decaying, back-alley New York was populated by oddball characters like Vinnie Gognitti, Angelo Punchinello, Vladimir the honourable, movie-quoting mobster, the Finito Brothers and even Payne himself, who was made so distinctive from other game characters by voice actor James McCaffrey's gravelly, utterly deadpan delivery of some very corny noir-esque narration.

Unfortunately, the film adaptation decided to take the game's plot a touch too seriously. The noir send-up was replaced with a fairly standard revenge plot. Mark Wahlberg does a good job with what he's got, but he doesn't have much – movie Payne is a numbed creature, bent only on finding his wife's killer, with none of the game Payne's ham. Wahlberg packed more punch in his supporting role in The Departed than his entire performance here. The game's grunge is replaced by a stylised palate and an almost too-glossy a New York winter. The special effects are done well, with the “angels” remaining very spooky and ambiguous almost all the way through.

Wahlberg's fellow cast-members also do what they can with what they have, although Mila Kunis doesn't seem quite the hard-as-nails killer that game Mona is. Transformers' Nolasco makes a great lunatic, but Beau Bridges feels wasted as the best friend-cum-villain, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges is pretty much there to fill another game character's shoes.

Finally, the ending is anticlimactic, and it's frustrating that I had to sit through the credits until the obligatory extra before feel as though I'd seen a complete movie.

In all honesty I'm not sure why the production team bothered. Any game-tie-in momentum would have been lost in the seven years it took to get from the PC screen to the silver screen, and hardcore Payne fans will surely be disappointed with this character-less, colourless adaption. Everyone else (barring mad-keen Wahlberg fans) will probably be unimpressed. I suggest you wait until the DVD comes out.

October 19, 2008

Thinking

Alan took possession of the house on January 1, and paid for it in full by means of an e-gold transfer. He had to do a fair bit of hand-holding with the realtor to get her set up and running on e-gold, but he loved to do that sort of thing, loved to sit at the elbow of a novitiate and guide her through the clicks and taps and forms.

- Cory Doctorow, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town

More than this, I don't want to say, yet. Still, I wanted to let you know that something's going on. I choose to be cryptic as I'm not sure how far I'm going to get with it. I'm still a little scared of setting expectations, whether high or low.

October 17, 2008

Someone Smarter Than You

"After the war, cryptographers spent a lot of time thinking about (how Alan Turing cracked the Enigma code). The problem had been that Turing was smarter than the guy who thought up Enigma. Any time you had a cipher, you were vulnerable to someone smarter than you coming up with a way of breaking it.

"And the more they thought about it, the more they realized that anyone can come up with a security system that he can't figure out how to break. But no one can figure out what a smarter person might do."

Cory Doctorow, Little Brother

Last night I was working on a huge post in response to an article I saw on BoingBoing yesterday about how the Australian federal government is planning to force Internet Service Providers to install filtering technology with the intent of preventing Australians from accessing illegal and child-unsafe Internet sites (the initial testing is apparently already complete). The general gist of the article was that, although I admire the Government's intentions, they were blazing a highway straight to hell, laid with flagstones of innocent sites locked off due to false positives, crippled Internet response and money wasted on circumventable blacklists.

But this morning I decided to start reading a collection of essays who wrote the brilliant novel Little Brother, blogger and web-activist Cory Doctorow, who is a lot better educated on Internet technology, security, digital rights management and such matters than I could make myself in a scant four hours. In those essays, he covers all the bases I was planning to in much more detail and better conversational style.

So instead of a half-baked rantesque, I will simply offer you two recommendations:

  • If you would like the challenges facing and born from the Internet explained to you in clear, plain language, download and read Cory Doctorow's Content. Yes, it's free. Legally free. If you really like it, buy your library a copy. (Do the same for Little Brother.)
  • If you're Australian and anywhere near approaching Internet-savvy, write to your local MP and demand that ISP filtering or any other restriction on Internet access be stricken from the Plan for Cyber-Safety immediately.

I'll end with the final paragraph of that rant I'm not going to bother finishing:

I understand the desire to ensure that Australia's children, that all children, are protected from “harmful” information. But I believe it's impossible. The best any parent or guardian can do is give the children in their care as many opportunities as possible to educate themselves and encourage those children to take them up so as to best protect themselves. I can only protect myself from information by choosing to be ignorant – which increases my risk of making choices that will lead to unnecessary harm to myself and others.

October 13, 2008

Social Networking

The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that the link to my MySpace page has been replaced with a link to Facebook. This is because I closed my MySpace page down a week ago. It had become a site for my PMS|H2O Clan membership, and as I’ve been winding down my involvement with the clan (heck, I’ve not touched my Xbox in two weeks; just look at my 360voice blog) I no longer saw any need to maintain it.

I was going to maintain my abstinence from social networking sites in general until Vickie, of all people, created a Facebook sign-on in order to communicate with a friend of ours in Sydney. As said friend is a good one, I figured “what the hell” and made myself a profile.

Long-time Facebookers will probably nod their heads sagely at the next bit: There’s something of an initial rush when you first create a login and make a couple of friends. I knew I’d got the odd invitation to join Facebook from folks over the last few months, but when I created my profile, Facebook remembered my e-mail address and let me know that three people had told it they wanted to be my friend when I finally logged on. I found people I knew on their friends lists and sent friend requests, and from there, there was a snowballing as those folks had people I knew on their lists, and so did those folks, and so on, which led to me getting more friend requests!

Thankfully, I’ve reached a plateau where Facebook’s friend suggestions are almost entirely people I’ve never heard of, so I’m no longer checking it once an hour. But unlike MySpace, Facebook still has an immediate utility, because it’s easy to update and there are more people whom I actually know on it.

So if you're a reader and you've not yet got me on your Friends list, chuck me a request!

October 07, 2008

Unusual Hard Disk Activity

It’s been a busy past couple of weeks when it comes to computers. It started, as I mentioned on the 24th, when I installed Ubuntu 8.04, a Linux distribution, on Chook’s old PC. I’ve had a good fiddle with it in the meantime, downloading packages and getting a feel for how it does things. I even wound up having to reinstall it twice after I forgot my login password – I’ve had a bee in my bonnet about strong passwords lately and made it a bit to obscure to remember the first time and must have put one special character too many in the second time.

My original plan was to see whether Ubuntu would notice the 170GB of space on my hard drive that Windows was refusing to recognise and install it there. Every time I tried to run the installer on my PC, though, GParted, Ubuntu’s partitioning program, gave me an error message about the logical sector size of my hard drive and the whole installer would hang after that. Thinking the problem might have been with the distribution, I’d downloaded another Linux distro, Fedora 9 – but hit the same trouble as I’d had with Ubuntu.

On the weekend just gone I finally took the step I should have done on the last weekend in September: I searched Ubuntu’s forums to find out whether anyone else had had similar trouble. The search was a success: USB flash drives (like my iPod and Toshiba 1GB drive) interfere with GParted’s partition scanner and I needed to unplug them from my USB hub before commencing installation.

I decided to keep on with Fedora when I discovered that the latter distro includes a feature not present in the 8.04 Ubuntu build: the ability to encrypt partitions during the formatting and installation process. Unfortunately, although everything seemed to go well during installation, Fedora refused to complete booting up.

So after all the fiddling around, my PC can now boot into either of two operating systems:


  • Windows XP Home Service Pack 3, which will be my gaming and iPod partition. While my 360 is my main gaming platform, I’m still keen on playing Dawn of War II, as well as Command & Conquer 3 and Red Alert 3; the controls on the 360 version of C&C3 were frustrating, so I’ll stick with mouse and keyboard for my RTS action (at least until Halo Wars).

  • Ubuntu 8.04, which I intend to use for everything else: browsing, e-mail, instant messaging, word processing, even programming. I wasn't quite able to achieve my ideal of keeping it purely open source; the Nvidia card and Flash websites (different from a flash drive, in case you're wondering) need proprietary software. But I'm not too worried.

I’m especially interested in setting up an encrypted storage volume on my Ubuntu partition, and I think Vickie may be as well. She was sceptical about the need for encrypting her data – who’d be bothered reading our stuff, after all? – but I showed her that, while my My Documents folder was nominally accessible only to me under Windows once I’d logged in with my password, I was able to access any and all of the contents of my Windows partition from the Ubuntu one. So if anyone swiped our PCs (especially Vickie’s laptop), gaining access to our data, including logins to shopping websites like Amazon, would be a simple matter of juggling partitions (or perhaps even putting an operating system on a Live CD into the disc tray).

As for Chook’s unit, wanos mentioned setting up a home web server in his comment on my Sep 24th post. Interestingly enough, a book I got out from the library, Lifehacker, has a set of instructions dedicated to doing exactly that. With Chook’s Windows XP product key now spare, I’m tempted to reinstall XP on that PC, download Apache and maybe set up a Net-accessible storage facility.

That can wait until we renovate our computer room once again and install our all new computer desks. In the meantime, I’ve been trying out many of the other tips in Lifehacker to good effect, and I’ve ordered the second edition, entitled Upgrade Your Life, through one of our local bookstores. I’ve also added the local branch of the Lifehacker website to my startup tabs. Both book and site are well worth a read, folks, especially if you’re keen in getting your tech to do what you want it to.

October 04, 2008

When the student is ready…

You know, sometimes I think I can understand the belief that there’s some sort of guiding hand behind this insanely complex world. No sooner do I decide that I want to start concentrating on my friendships, opportunities materialise. Yesterday, I was walking up the road from work to the library on my lunch hour, when I run into David, the fellow I met on the bus at the beginning of last year. We’ve only seen each other sporadically since my 30th birthday party in 2007; life has been a bit hectic for the both of us since then. Anyway, rather than go to the library, I head to a local café and have a forty-minute catch-up chat with him, at the end of which he decides he’s finally going to have Vickie and I over for the cuppa that he promised back in 2007, tomorrow.

This morning I fired Trillian up on a whim, and Brett, one of the folks I met through the Cairns RPGers Meetup Group, happened to be online. He was working, of course, but I asked him when Vickie and I might be able to catch up with him (with gaming as an optional extra). We checked schedules (looking at next weekend, then the weekend after) and finally settled on him bringing his wife and his young son over at 2PM today. So Vickie and I dashed about for the next three hours, getting the place up to scratch and preparing some nibblies, and the trio turned up at around quarter past. It was great to finally meet Brett’s wife, and their son got to have a good run-around the yard!

There was a negative note, though. We had two glass tables in our back entertainment area until this afternoon, when the one we were all sitting around – and which had quite a few bowls and plates on it – suddenly shattered, sending the table’s contents to the concrete floor. We have no idea why it happened or how, but we’re very glad that no one was harmed.

Oh, and think I mentioned that I was looking to join an amateur drama society. The first group I tried was the Just Us Theatre Ensemble, but it turns out that it’s actually closer to a business than what I’m looking for. In the meantime, Vickie and I have become members of the Cairns Little Theatre. More on that as it develops!

Finally, my work's social club is throwing a family fun day soon, which will, I hope, give Vickie and I the opportunity to get to know some of my workmates better.