I think there must have been something in the air this weekend. It's not really hard to figure out, of course--a beautiful wedding, towering redwoods, pools of sunlight amid the shadows cast by the trees. Who wouldn't feel a little romantic?
Juliette always says that her older brother and sister-in-law have the best relationship, and, you know, I think she's onto something. I haven't seen many couples that fit together as well as they do. I remember telling them that once and they responded self-deprecatingly, saying something like "Oh, you should see us fight." But, of course, everybody fights with the people close to them sometimes. Not everybody has fun together, and not everybody is affectionate with each other, and not everybody is so obviously in love, especially after multiple decades of marriage. It's really something special, and I always like getting to spend time with them.
Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX
f/1.8, 1/4000, ISO 200
Father of the Bride
We were up in Big Sur this past weekend for Juliette's sister's wedding, which, as I'm sure comes as no surprise to anyone who knows the area, was beautiful. I wasn't the photographer for the event, which meant I could relax and enjoy it as a guest instead of having to worry about getting every shot. (In theory, anyway. Jason kept me busy enough that I couldn't really say I "relaxed," but it was fun, nonetheless.)
For the most part, I just tried to stay out of the way of the photographer that they had hired, but I couldn't completely keep myself from taking pictures. After all, I was in the middle of a beautiful Northern California forest surrounded by people I care about.
This one is from the rehearsal, the day before the wedding. Needless to say, things went smoothly and we were all in a pretty good mood.
Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX
f/1.8, 1/200, ISO 200
I set this picture as my new desktop wallpaper a few hours after I took it. I don't imagine that sounds like much to most of you, as most of the people I know change their wallpaper all the time. I've been using the same neutral background since I got my laptop in 2007, though, and this is the first time I've used a photograph as my wallpaper ever. But I think this might be the best picture I've ever taken, and I want to keep looking at it.
Nikon D40, Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX
f/1.8, 1/100, ISO 200
"Ew, gross! Do you smell those fields?"
"I think it's cauliflower."
"More like butt-flower."
"I knew that would make you laugh. You laugh at anything with butts in it."
Jason at the Reunion
This past weekend we drove up to Salinas for the Sakasegawa family reunion. One of my dad's cousins had recently lost his mother, and partially in tribute to her, he had a bunch of her old family photos enlarged and brought them to the event. There were a bunch of pictures of my dad's generation as children, and their parents as young adults. This one is my great grandfather, Seimon Sakasegawa.
It's such a strange and fascinating experience to see photos like this. When I look at this picture, I can see echoes of my grandfather's face, as well as his youngest brother's. I never knew Seimon--he died in 1948, before either of my parents was born--but, seeing his face, there's still a familiar feeling there.
Nikon D40, Nikkor 55-200mm VR @ 55mm
f/4, 1/125, ISO 200
By Lois McMaster Bujold
It's been nearly a year since I finished the last of the Vorkosigan novels, in which time Bujold has managed to add yet another to the already impressively lengthy series. As regular readers of this blog will know, this series has managed to become one of my all-time favorites in the field of soft science fiction--i read the bulk of it in one go that took just over a month. So how does this latest offering stack up? Well, it was certainly enjoyable, but even so I'd unfortunately have to put it at or near the bottom of the series.
Cryoburn sees Miles Vorkosigan come to the planet Kibou-daini in order to investigate one of the cryogenics corporations that dominates the society there--a corporation that is attempting to expand into the Barrayaran Empire. In the course of his investigation, Miles--as usual--uncovers a couple of hidden cryo-corp schemes and rescues some children, but the real meat of the novel is in its exploration of the Kibou culture. On Kibou-daini, you see, death is no longer a normal part of the life cycle--instead, people have their bodies frozen, to be revived at a later date, and Bujold uses her protagonist to help imagine what such a world would be like.
Now, a number of other Vorkosigan novels have a similar arc. Falling Free and Ethan of Athos, for example, or Cetaganda. I enjoyed all of those three, and the latter was one of my favorites. So why didn't I appreciate this one as much?
What I keep coming back to is that up until the very end, I didn't feel like this really needed to be a Vorkosigan story. So much of the story works like a more fleshed-out thought experiment--as a lot of science fiction does--that having Miles in there almost felt like an afterthought.
Of course, the same is true of Falling Free and Ethan of Athos, and I enjoyed those. The difference, I think, is that while those two stories are set in the same universe, Miles doesn't actually appear in either. The latter works at a level removed by only involving secondary characters from the main series. The former, on the other hand, is set hundreds of years before Miles' birth, which actually sets up some very satisfying callbacks in 2002's Diplomatic Immunity. In both cases, the inclusion in the Vorkosigan canon works to add a bit of extra flavor to the story, rather than it feeling shoehorned in like Cryoburn did.
On top of that, while the characters in Cryoburn are certainly well-realized, none of their relationships really drive the narrative. In Falling, we get to see the Quaddies through Leo Graf's inexperienced eyes, while in Ethan of Athos, the title character's naivete in the greater galactic environment not only gives us the chance to explore his society, but also give a fun outsider's look at the world we've already grown to know. There's a bit of that operating in Cryoburn in the chapters where Jin, a young Kibou-daini resident, is the POV character, but because we spend so much time with Miles, it doesn't come off as well. And ultimately, not much that happens in Cryoburn really has to matter to any great degree, not until the very end.
Though, to give credit where credit is due, the "Aftermaths" coda is just about perfectly handled. Bujold manages to sum up a whole lot of emotional content in just a few surprisingly short vignettes.
Longtime fans will most likely find this an enjoyable but not outstanding new entry. For the rest, while this episode is, like the rest, self-contained enough to be pretty friendly to newcomers, there are other places to start that are even better. (I recommend starting at the beginning, as I did.)
Started: 6/10/2011 | Finished: 6/13/2011
The ABCs of Canada
"N is for Niagara Falls. Hear the roar of the water..."
"Why did you say 'roar'?"
"Because the water makes a loud noise."
"Is there a lion in the water?"
"No, it's just that waterfalls are very loud and the noise they make kind of sounds like a roar."
(I'm kind of disappointed, too. A lion in the water would be a much cooler explanation.)
Kung Fu Panda 2
The Monday after I saw Kung Fu Panda 2, I mentioned to a coworker that I had done so. "I'm sorry," was his response. Which struck me as strange, since not only was it quite a good movie, but so was the first one. It turned out that he hadn't seen either, but it really speaks to the perception of DreamWorks as an animation studio that he would jump to such a conclusion.
Not that I can really blame him, of course. DreamWorks Animation initially made its name with Shrek, which wasn't bad (even though I do think it's ludicrous that it beat Monsters, Inc. for Best Animated Feature). But then came the second and third Shrek movies, which were awful, not to mention such gems as Shark Tale, Flushed Away, Madagascar, and Bee Movie. After such a long string of stinkers, I had, like my coworker, pretty much written off the studio.
Starting in 2008, though, with Kung Fu Panda, DreamWorks seems to have finally gotten its act together. The first Kung Fu Panda was a lot of fun, and 2010's How to Train Your Dragon was strong enough to give Pixar's offering from that year--Toy Story 3--a serious run for its money. In fact, I'm still not sure which I like better. And heck, even the fourth Shrek movie was decent.
So, coming into Kung Fu Panda 2, I had high hopes and expectations, and I'm happy to say that they were all met. I really liked it. I liked all of the returning cast--Jack Black, of course, as well as Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, David Cross, James Jong, Jackie Chan, and Lucy Liu. Together, they formed a very effective ensemble, with a very good mix of comic sensibility and depth of character. Throw in Gary Oldman as the villain, Shen--a role perfect for Oldman's often over-the-top style--plus smaller appearances by Victor Garber, Dennis Haysbert, Danny McBride, Michelle Yeoh, and even Jean-Claude Van Damme* and you have a cast of voices that made me rejoice to hear it. Yes, there are a lot of famous names in there, but they all worked really well in their roles.
Plus, there was a lot of range to the script. It had me laughing at some points and actually got me a little choked up at others. I mean, who knows, I have become a bit of a crybaby in the past few years, but there was an honesty to some of the character interactions that I just found touching.
I'd put this as the first must-see family movie of the season, whether or not you have kids. And if you haven't seen the first one, throw it on your Netflix queue, because it's also well worth seeing.
* And, by the way, if you haven't seen Van Damme's 2008 film JCVD, I highly recommend it.
Viewed: 5/30/2011 | Released: 5/29/2011 | Score: A
Given that Sky Blue Sky Studios was the same group that brought us Ice Age and Robots, I really wasn't expecting much from Rio. After all, we live in an age where Pixar has repeatedly shown us that not just animated movies but family movies can have full, rounded characters with complex relationships in stories with real emotional depth. In comparison, Blue Sky's movies have typically just tried to cash in on celebrity voices and visual gags. And in a lot of ways, Rio follows that same formula. Still, I have to admit that it did a better job than any previous Blue Sky offerings, and while that's not exactly high praise, I can say that I enjoyed the movie well enough.
There's not really a lot to the movie, plotwise. Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is a rare blue parrot who lives with his owner Linda (Leslie Mann) in Minnesota. It turns out that he's the last known male of his species, so a Brazilian biologist named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) brings Blu and Linda down to Rio de Janeiro to try to pair Blue with a female blue macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway). But Blu and Jewel wind up getting stolen by bird smugglers and wacky hijinks ensue as the parrots try to escape.
I think the main problem I had with this movie was Jesse Eisenberg's voice acting. Not that he did a particularly bad job, and in a lot of respects that casting choice makes sense. Blu is, after all, shy, awkward, and young. If you want a voice that sums that up quickly you're pretty much down to Eisenberg or Michael Cera. The problem is that both of those actors have such distinctive voices that hearing them immediately evokes their images, so having Eisenberg voice a cartoon bird kept jarring me out of the movie.
On the other hand, despite the fact that the jokes were mostly pretty facile, they were executed well enough by the various actors that I found myself laughing out loud several times. Plus, the movie was quite pretty to look at--it's really amazing how far computer imagery has come in such a short amount of time.
It's pretty unlikely that Rio will be winning any awards, but if all you need is a movie you can take your kids to without too much pain, you could definitely do worse.
Viewed: 5/8/2011 | Released: 4/15/2011 | Score: B-