Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chess Grand Prix in Baku

Last night I attended the opening ceremony of the FIDE (World Chess Federation) Grand Prix tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan. Twelve of the very best players in the world will be competing in a round robin format, and two of them are Americans. Hikaru Nakamura is the top-ranked American player, and I love his uncompromising style. Fabiano Caruana is actually higher rated than Nakamura (he's number 2 in the world after world champion Carlsen), and he was raised in America, but he currently plays for Italy (he holds dual citizenship).
photo from Chessbase
You can barely see me in the shot above, talking to the guy holding the trophy. He was presenting it as his company designed the trophy for the event. Nakamura is the gentleman front and center looking sort of in the direction of the camera. He has been struggling of late, ever since he blew a game he was winning against Carlsen, and I hope he will get back on track.

Caruana is coming off of the best tournament performance ever seen, when he easily won the highest rated tournament ever in St. Louis. He didn't just win it; he dominated, winning seven games in a row against elite competition, including world champ Carlsen. I hope he continues to show that level of play here.

I'm not sure if I'll bother going to watch any of the matches, as the organizers didn't seem interested in allowing people like me a real opportunity to get good photos. Any shots I might be able to get would be from several meters away and from below, as the players are up on a stage. I would have liked to meet Nakamura and Caruana and shake their hands and let them know how much I am rooting for them.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Have any of you read the famous sci-fi novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson? I've had it on my bookshelf for ages, long intending to read it, and now I've finally started it.

I think the main reason I avoided it for so long was that I simply disliked the name of the protagonist, which ironically is Hiro Protagonist. It was too cutesy for me, though while reading it now I can see how it fits within the atmosphere of near-future California that Stephenson is creating.

I'm not far into the book, and I am enjoying it, but I was pulled up abruptly by one line that made absolutely no sense to me, thus ripping me right out of the story.

Early in the book, the narrator is discussing Hiro's two Samurai swords, and he says, "Hiro's father looted these from Japan after World War II went atomic..."

Now, my grandfather was a young man fighting in the Pacific during WWII, and I'm not young myself. How can it be Hiro's father who got these from Japan at the end of WWII while Hiro is a young man at the time of the story and it is set sometime in the future beyond our current time? It flat out doesn't add up...not even close actually.

Admittedly I stopped right there to write this, so maybe the author will come up with some fantastical logical explanation, but right now it just feels like a huge, lazy blunder to me.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Best Robin Williams Movies

I've been away for awhile because my family moved from Budapest to Baku, Azerbaijan (where we already lived from 2009-2011). Not much has changed here in Baku--the flame towers have been completed and there is now Papa John's Pizza (that doesn't taste as good as in the US and is about four times the price).

The death of Robin Williams has hit most of us pretty hard, I imagine. The Mork and Mindy show introduced him to me. He had such manic brilliance, as if his brain worked about a thousand times faster than any other human being. For the longest time I thought of him as just a genius comedian, but slowly but surely I began to view him as more of a brilliant actor than just a comedian.

I think he is often overlooked when people speak about the greatest actors of our time. Honestly, I think he is right up there with the best of them. Sure, he did some crappy roles, too, but when he took on a good one, he didn't just hit home runs with his performances--he more often than not hit grand slams. Below I list my favorite Robin Williams films. The order is not exact because his top movies are all so good that they can change order depending on my mood.

1. Good Morning, Vietnam -- Williams did it all in this fantastic movie that I watch again every few years. He was incredibly funny, of course, but he also did what he does in all of his best movies--he showed his dramatic and emotional depth. When my belongings finally arrive, I'm going to have to do a Robin Williams marathon, and this movie will be right up front.

2. The World According to Garp -- The first movie to show me how great an actor Williams could be. He played such a range of ages and character growth, and he first showed me he could be something besides just hilarious.

3. Mrs. Doubtfire -- There are elements of Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society that I like better than anything in this great comedy, but I watch this movie more often, probably due to having kids. It is terrifically funny, but again Williams gets to show his deeper sides.

4. Good Will Hunting -- I need to watch this one again soon, because it's been too long. I think I've only seen it two or three times, but I remember Williams was brilliant in it.

5. Dead Poets Society -- It pushes a little too far at times, but overall this is one sad/poignant film that happens to have some funny moments as well. It's one of the few movies where I had to stop at certain points and have a talk with my sons about important lessons the movie conveys.

6. Moscow on the Hudson -- Another of Williams' older films. I liked watching him tackle the role of a Russian defector in New York. It lent itself to his comic skills. Maria Conchita Alonso is fantastic as his girlfriend.

7. The Fisher King -- I'm torn by this movie, because Williams is utterly brilliant in it and there are some truly amazing moments, but there is some unidentifiable element of the movie that sort of disturbs me. Honestly, I can't say what it is, but it prevents me from having the same level of love for it that I have for Williams' best movies.

8. What Dreams May Come -- Another movie I need to see again. I only saw it once. I remember that I didn't love the story, but the visuals were stunning.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I Saw My Movie!

Yesterday we departed Budapest for good (so sad!) and flew to Arizona. It was exhausting but it had one great part. The Swedish movie that I acted in hasn't been available in English yet. It opens in English in England on July 4 and in the U.S. sometime later. But during the overseas flight, a Swedish version of the movie was available that had English subtitles!

The movie has a long title--The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Some of the scenes I filmed were cut, and the voice-over I did wasn't used. But I saw myself very clearly in two scenes, and that was very cool. I can't wait to get the DVD so I can get screenshots and figure out how to do clips of the parts I was in!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dialogue in Fantasy Novels

I was reminded recently that many people complain about modern-sounding dialogue in fantasy novels. They seem to expect everyone to have to speak archaically. Now don't get me wrong, if done well I enjoy characters speaking in such a manner--Lord of the Rings is a prime example.

However, my opinion is that characters in fantasy novels are not generally speaking English. They are speaking some other language, and the author is essentially translating that language into modern English for the readers. So to me it is only logical for characters to speak modern English in a fantasy novel, as there is not always a good reason for an author to be translating the language into anything other than the language of his or her audience.

I do admit that going overboard with modern slang and such would kill the fantasy vibe, and there is no reason to use modern slang. The English language is fully sufficient to translate fantasy languages without having to resort to our slang.

What do you think?

Monday, May 12, 2014

What Happens to Jon Snow?

*This post contains spoilers for anyone who has not yet read A Dance of Dragons*

Continuing my little series of posts about Game of Thrones...

I was just reading a George R.R. Martin interview from some time ago when he was asked about the assassination of Jon Snow. The interviewer seemed to assume Snow was dead. That's not a terrible assumption to make given how Martin has treated enough of his characters, but I don't believe it for a second. Snow's arc has been too big and important and without enough resolution for him to be completely out of it at this stage.

I don't believe Snow will be back the way he was, though. I think Martin gave us a hint of what happens to Snow when he showed the unusual Other that helped Bran (was it Uncle Benjen Stark? It's been too long since I read the book now for me to recall if that was ever resolved). See, I think that Jon will be back as an Other, but one that has the same issue as the one that helped Bran, so he will side with the forces of 'good' (or as close as one ever gets to such forces in this series). Given how much time Martin has devoted to having readers love both Jon and Dany, I wouldn't be surprised if he makes them square off against each other. Jon could be a special Other leading an army of wildlings, Others, white walkers, giants, etc.  He may be facing either Dany or a triangle of foes with the Lannisters.

I also think it's very possible that Jon is a Targaryen, perhaps the son of Rhaegar, who then asked Eddard Stark to raise him as his 'bastard' and keep his secret. That would make Jon the rightful heir to the whole seven kingdoms.

What do you think happens with Jon Snow?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Worst Story Line in the Game of Thrones Universe

*Spoilers for those who haven't read all of Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series*

A writer friend of mine sent me a link to an interesting article that reminded me of one of the worst story threads that I ever encountered--the story of Quentyn Martell. I had great hopes for it and was enjoying it until suddenly Martin just killed it all off as soon as the characters arrived at their destination. So what was the point? They travel over many chapters, seeming to have some vague future connection to the plot, but then they are dead. So if all of their chapters had been excised, nothing at all would have changed in the overall story arc.

I didn't know where Martin was heading with that story arc, but I at least expected he'd go somewhere with it. After all, why devote so much page time to it if not to use it in some manner? I even thought Quentyn might blossom and turn into one of the three future dragon riders.

The article writer even moaned about how homely and average Quentyn is. I find this hilarious given that I believe this character was a direct result of people moaning for so long about how attractive and above average characters always tend to be. So Martin finally does what many people seem to want, make a character normal, and people then moan about that. Anyway, I liked that he was normal, since it gave him that much more room to grow and change...except Martin decided not to bother.

What are your thoughts of the Quentyn Martell sequence? Do you see some deeper meaning there that will actually impact the plot going forward?