Category Archive for 'TV, Movies, and Music – Reviews'

Books, Novels, and Languages

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

The past month has been a bit crazy. I’ve just been trying to finish some things and then started working on others.

Here is some fiction that I’ve read recently:
Knife of Dreams (book 11 of The Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton. (I had read the graphic novel first, then The Laughing Corpse novel. But I wanted to contrast the novel with the graphic novel, so I decided to read Guilty Pleasures before moving on in the series of Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novels.)
Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (Season Eight) in comics is finally completed. :) I am waiting for the last Angel TPB from IDW. Then Buffy’s story and Angel’s story will continue under Dark Horse Comics. The new Angel series will be called Angel and Faith. (No, you aren’t imagining it, Faith’s last name was revealed to be ‘Lehane’ in the last issue of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (Season Eight) No, they never used a last name in the TV shows. Covers for the first issues of these two series are on Dark Horse Comics’ website already. See ‘Buffy Season Nine’ issue 1 Jo Chen cover and ‘Angel and Faith’ issue 1 Jo Chen cover’.

And now, my ‘to read’ list:
A Feast for Crows (book four of A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R.R. Martin
The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin
Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh
Priestess of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Stormqueen! (part of The Ages of Chaos omnibus) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton
Stolen by Kelley Armstrong
Moon of 3 Rings by Andre Norton
Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

I am currently reading A Feast for Crows now that HBO’s Game of Thrones is finished. It’s a bit confusing to be reading book four of A Song of Ice and Fire while watching the events of book one on-screen. I rather liked the adaptation to screen of the book, A Game of Thrones. They are preparing for season two of Game of Thrones, which is based on the second book in the series, A Clash of Kings. I seriously think HBO should rename the series, but whatever. Hopefully, they do just as good a job with book two as they did with book one. But yay! Back to A Feast for Crows. Book five, A Dance with Dragons, will be released soon, so I’m trying to catch up. At some point, I will re-watch all of Game of Thrones.

I’ve been in a bit of a studying mood. I decided to get back to studying languages.

I started studying Cantonese a few years back more out of a sense that I should know it, but tonal languages are hard if you don’t have a good ear for pitch. I am a native Taishanese speaker.  (Taishan is on the southern coast of China. Once a small town, it is now a city. Taishan was once called ‘Toisan’, so you may hear some Chinese people say they speak ‘Toisan’.) Taishanese is very similar to Cantonese which is why I decided to study Cantonese first and then Mandarin.

However, I don’t have much use for Cantonese or Mandarin right now. I can use Cantonese with my mom, but it often turns into Cantonese mixed with Toisan mixed with English – a very strange version of ‘Chinglish’. My mom does not speak Mandarin. I like the Chinese writing system though, but you really have to use that nearly every day to be even remotely good at it. So, I decided to put the Cantonese aside for a while. The written language for Cantonese is the same as they use for Mandarin, one of the reasons I like the Chinese writing system. Even if two Chinese people don’t speak the same language/dialect, the writing system would still allow them to communicate. If I ever get some more time, I think I will be more likely to get back to the Chinese writing than the Cantonese.

I studied French for eleven years continuously throughout school. A few years ago, I did a fairly thorough review of French grammar because there were a few things I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of yet. I was intending to increase my French vocabulary, but I’ve since decided that I don’t like the way French sounds all that much. I also don’t have much use for it, unless I visit France or somewhere else where they are speaking French. If that’s the case, it’s a bit of a review and adding some vocabulary – not too difficult to do.

There are other languages that I actually like and want to learn rather than Chinese or French. They are Korean (which I have been studying off and on for about a year or so), Spanish, Irish, and Dutch (which I did study consistently for a little bit – I need to do a review before moving on with it).

I like Korean because the language seems lively and fun without it feeling like a constant pop song as in Cantonese. I also like the writing system, called han’gul in Korean. Korean used to use the Chinese writing system, but then a new system was created to use with the language. The han’gul makes a whole lot of sense for Korean. Korean is however still a hard language to learn if English is your dominant language. (See “Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers”.)

For a while, I was switching between studying Korean and Cantonese – two very hard languages for an English speaker to pick up (although I probably have a slight edge since I grew up speaking Taishanese with my parents; note that Korean does have some words that are cognate to Cantonese, for example, “chung gwok” in Cantonese and “chunguk” in Korean for ‘China’). There are different reasons why Korean and Cantonese are difficult. Korean uses the subject-object-verb (SOV) construction which is different than the subject-verb-object (SVO) construction in English. For example, in Korean you’d say “I (subject) school-to (object) go (verb)” while in English, you’d say “I (subject) go (verb) to school (object).” Also, Korean has their own writing system. Cantonese is hard simply because it’s a tonal language. Some grammar points are different than English and some things are done in Cantonese that aren’t in English, but Cantonese is pretty much SVO. You can learn to speak and understand Cantonese without learning to write Chinese.

Since Korean is a pretty hard language to learn, I decided that I should just start studying an easier language on top of Korean. Since I’m not studying Cantonese as much, I’m really only focused on one hard language (Korean, and I’m starting to get used to the writing system and the SOV construction!), so why not just start an easier language? Sometimes, you can get your fill of one language for a bit. For me, it takes a day or two for new vocabulary to settle in before I can move on in that language. You also don’t ever ‘finish’ studying a language (I still learn new words in English sometimes), so there’s no point in waiting to learn another language. Since I’ve been wanting to learn Spanish, I decided to do a little bit of Spanish the other day. I don’t think this will be too hard to do on top of the Korean since I spent years studying French. (French and Spanish are both Romance languages.) Of course, there’s vocabulary to learn, but some words are cognate between languages.

I really want to learn Irish, but it seems much harder than Spanish or Dutch, so I will wait until I have a firmer grasp on Korean before I start Irish. As I mentioned earlier, I need to do a review of Dutch before I move on in it. Once I have a better grasp of Korean, maybe I’ll review Dutch and then start studying Irish or vice versa.

There are two languages I’d like to study from a purely academic perspective – Sanskrit and Latin. I started the Sanskrit a while back. Got past the pronunciation and learning the writing system, but I need to review those before moving on. Also since I’m only studying Sanskrit from an academic perspective regarding languages, I’m in no real rush with it.

For now, I’ll be busy enough with Korean and Spanish – and trying to catch up on my reading list above. :)

안녕히 가세요!
(‘Annyǒnghi kaseyo!’ is the English romanization. It’s “Goodbye” for when someone is leaving.)

¡Adiós, chao!

~~~C

Repo! The Genetic Opera – the new cult favourite

Saturday, November 8th, 2008


Repo! The Genetic Opera trailer

Repo! The Genetic Opera is the must-see horror flick of the year. Cited as Rocky Horror meets Bladerunner, Sarah Brightman of Phantom of the Opera fame stars along with Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy). Featured at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival (where it won the silver audience award for best feature), Repo! already has a significant fan base, despite naysayers who frankly just don’t understand the term “rock opera”. (For those who think it is a genre of music, “opera” is simply a drama set to music). Repo! is already a cult favourite and I predict, in ten years’ time, it will be a cult classic surpassing The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For one thing, the soundtrack for the movie is excellent and showcases different music genres with a hard edge that mesh well with the movie’s macabre ambiance. Repo! is an excellent movie if you have a taste for the macabre and musicals. If you don’t like musicals, well… you can just watch Saw (Repo! and Saw are both directed by Darren Lynn Bousman). No one says you have to watch anything you don’t like. Oh, and by definition, a cult film won’t be popular amongst the masses. (Okay, that was just me ranting about negative reviewers for this movie who frankly should just admit they don’t like rock operas or sci-fi movies instead of giving a movie a bad review for no good reason. I’m done ranting now, I think…) Repo! is more stylish (being cyberpunk) than Rocky Horror and the story itself is much less absurd and silly. (I kind of think of Repo! as Phantom of the Opera mixed with Chronicles of Riddick for some reason.)

Having seen the trailer on the Toronto After Dark Film Festival website, I decided to be one of the first to see this new rock opera. Prior to seeing the movie, I had been listening to the soundtrack for about two weeks and I was hooked already. Some of my favourite tracks are “At the Opera Tonight”, “Zydrate Anatomy”, “I Didn’t Know I’d Love You So Much” (which I thought would make me cry during the movie, and of course, “it did, it did”), “Chase the Morning”, “Legal Assassin”, and “We Started This Opera Sh*t”. Sarah Brightman’s performance of “Chromaggia” on the soundtrack and in the movie is comparable to her younger Phantom of the Opera days, and if you’re a big fan of Phantom of the Opera (I happen to be), you’ll love watching Sarah Brightman (as Blind Mag) in this movie. One of the best scenes in the movie occurs during “Chase the Morning” where we are shown exactly what Blind Mag’s eyes do. For a review of the soundtrack, see “Metro Spirit: CD Reviews – Repo! The Genetic Opera soundtrack”.

As I mentioned, the one song that made me cry during the movie was “I Didn’t Know I’d Love You So Much”, which is a duet between the daughter (Shilo) and the father (Nathan/Repo Man) in the movie. This song pretty much sums up the outcome of the movie and probably one of the major themes of the movie, the love between a father and his daughter. Everything else in the movie is external to the main story, but pushes it along. It’s important to make this distinction as it seems many people mistake the background to be the story. The background to this story is a futuristic world where organ transplantation becomes the trend. First, people were dying and in need of organ transplants, but they couldn’t afford surgery. GeneCo comes up with a payment plan so people could get their much needed transplants, but the fine print for not making your payments is a killer (literally). The Repo Man would be sent out to collect GeneCo’s property (eyes, livers, kidneys, whatever it is you had transplanted). Along with the emergence of organ transplantation on payment plans, a drug called zydrate was created as a painkiller for surgery. Soon, surgery becomes the latest trend and some people are “addicted to the knife” and the demand for zydrate increases. Rotti is the owner of GeneCo and has three children, all fighting to succeed Rotti upon his ever more imminent death. Marni (dead when this story takes place) once dated Rotti, but dumped him for Nathan. When Marni dies, Nathan agrees to work as the Repo Man for Rotti and GeneCo. Shilo is the daughter of Marni and Nathan. Blind Mag was a close friend of Marni and is Shilo’s godmother, though she thought Shilo died with her mother.

The story of Repo! is about Shilo and Nathan/Repo Man, and occurs when Shilo is seventeen. All her life, Shilo’s been told she’s sick and needs to take her medicine. While visiting her mother’s grave, she accidentally meets the Graverobber and forgetting to take her medicine in time she passes out just as Repo Man shows up. Repo Man (Shilo’s father, though Shilo doesn’t know it) takes Shilo home. Meanwhile, Rotti finds out he is dying and he doesn’t want to leave GeneCo to any of his children and decides he might leave it to Shilo if she proves she’s worth it. He introduces himself to her and takes her to meet Blind Mag, whose performances Shilo watches from her bedroom. Rotti also promises that he has a cure for Shilo’s sickness. Despite Nathan’s attempts to keep his daughter from going outside, Shilo does of course, and is unwittingly used by Rotti as a trap for Nathan/Repo Man because Nathan refuses to repossess Blind Mag’s eyes. The conclusion takes place at “The Genetic Opera” and is, of course, tragic, but gives a spark of hope for humanity, as indicated in the song “Genetic Emancipation”. “Genetic Emancipation” has a very important message for everyone, that of free and conscious choice.

The story of Repo! is essentially a simple love story that is uniquely told in a futuristic world, thus reinforcing the fact that some ideas and concepts are universal no matter where and what the future may hold.

Rating: 5 out of 5

~~~C

Other links:

Interview with the director of Repo!


At the Opera Tonight video


Zydrate Anatomy clip from movie

Toronto International Film Festival 2008

Friday, September 5th, 2008

The TIFF started this week on Thursday. Since missing out on the film festival the past two years, I decided to order the popular 10-coupon passbook in advance. As luck would have it for me, there is a martial arts movie showing this year – Chocolate by the same director for Ong-Bak and The Protector. Chocoloate is the debut feature for the “next greatest female martial arts star” Jija Yanin (her stage name). Yanin studied taekwondo when she was younger. The story goes that the director saw how talented she is and decided to recruit her. She worked with his stunt crew for about two years, then the director wrote the screenplay for the movie Chocolate. Yanin performs all her stunts in this movie (you can ignore all the jealous rumours that they used wires and creative editing) and to prove it she has already demonstrated one of the scenes on a live talk show in Asia. She also received injuries on set. It looks like Jija Yanin is well on her way to being the greatest female equivalent of Jackie Chan (Chan being notorious for hurting himself on set due to the extreme stunts he performs himself.)

A talented young female martial artist? Great stunt choreography? Of course, I procured tickets. I got tickets for me and Nathan to see the midnight screening of Chocolate, which is the last Midnight Madness movie to screen at this year’s film festival. (Saturday, September 13 at 11:59 p.m.)

Other movies we will be seeing are:

Daytime Drinking on Sunday, September 7, 9:00 p.m.
Tears for Sale on Monday, September 8, 9:45 p.m.
Ashes of Time Redux on Wednesday, September 10, 9:30 a.m.
The Sky Crawlers on Saturday, September 13, 12:15 p.m.

Here is a preview of the movie, Chocolate.

The TIFF has their film descriptions online. Read more about Chocolate.

Movie Time!

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

MM,

I’ve been hankering to see another movie again lately. According to my horoscope, transiting Neptune trines my Ascendant until next February, which means that I will be tempted to escape and withdraw from the world during this time. Since this period is long, I can’t realistically withdraw for that whole time – not unless I plan on finding a monastery I can stay at. However, this astrological aspect provides a “spiritual cast” (I use www.astro.com for my forecasts) which means that it is a good time for me to focus on my spiritual studies more than ever. This also means that I’m tempting to absorb myself in certain movies (a way of withdraw from the world) lately – perhaps something that jives with my spirituality.

This time, I’ve decided to see 300, which is a movie version of the graphic novel by the same name. The graphic novel in turn is based on the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, a decisive battle during the Greco-Persian War. According to historical sources, three hundred Spartans participated in the battle against a Persian army consisting of millions. It was the willingness of the Spartans to give their lives up for a greater cause (than themselves) that helped turn the tide of this war. Supposedly this battle gave the Athens time to come up with a naval strategy that would hold off Persian invasion of Europe. (Imagine how different Europe would be now if the Persians won that war.) The movie and graphic novel tell the story from the view of King Leonidas of Sparta. In the end though, all three hundred Spartans including King Leonidas are killed.

The Battle of Thermopylae is referred to as the “most famous last stand” (see above link to the “Battle of Themopylae”). It is especially notable because although the Spartans lost the battle, they succeeded in diminishing the Persian army more so than normal considering the odds (three hundred Spartans against millions of Persians). Basically, the Persians lost more men than would be expected against such a small army. The reason for this is simply effective strategy. I find this battle to be notable because the Spartans display a sense of honour and duty – they stayed and fought although they knew they’d be slaughtered in the end. They did this because they believed in their cause. They knew that their actions and their ultimate deaths would mean something. Of course, they were right as history records this as such. The famous Oracle at Dephi was even consulted regarding this battle that the Spartans would engage in. From this, King Leonidas knew he was following his destiny.

I find movies like this touch me more than interpersonal dramas, probably because they move beyond our own selfish lives. Astrologically, I can explain my attraction to such movies by my Mars in Aries in the 11th house. Mars is the planet that represents aggressive action (such as war and battles). Aries is the sign that Mars rules, which means Aries also represents aggressive action. The fact that I have Mars in Aries in my horoscope means that aggressive action is doubly represented. The 11th house represents associations, acquaintances, and humanitarian issues. Thus, Mars in Aries in the 11th house for me represents aggressive action (war, battles) within the realm of associations, acquaintances, and humanitarian issues. Epic stories about the struggle and fight for the good of all definitely fit this description! (This also explains why I love Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Stargate so much. I liked Battlestar Galactica at first for this reason, but the writers for that show seem to have forgotten the appeal of the main story. See my previous post on that.)

Well, if I get the time I might do a review of the movie later. For now, I think I’ll read a bit more about the three hundred Spartans, King Leonidas, and the Battle of Thermopylae.

BB,
Cassandrah
Brigid’s Flame

Battlestar’s Big Mistake

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

If you haven’t seen the most recent episode of Battlestar Galactica called “Maelstrom”, be warned – spoilers follow.

When I first heard about a remake of the original Battlestar Galactica TV series, I was ecstatic. First, Lucas makes a second Star Wars trilogy (something I wished for after I saw Return of the Jedi in the theatres oh-so-many years ago), then I get to see a re-telling of Battlestar Galactica with better special effects.

Now though, I’m truly disappointed. What started out with a bang with a spectacular mini-series and excellent first season has turned into, to steal from Katee Sackhoff, “90210 in space”. Apparently, she’s been a tad disappointed with the show as of recently. According to a Sy Fy Portal article, Sackhoff was “critical of is Kara’s tendency to bed hop, which reminds her more of a soap opera plot than something found in science-fiction.” Sackhoff reports that Ron Moore specifically said “we are not doing 90210 in space”, but in her opinion it’s turned into that. She’s not alone in that thought though. I’m patient if a sci-fi show throws in one or two “soap opera-ish” episodes here and there interspersed amongst loads of climactic battle scenes (for example, the Stargate SG-1 episode where Teal’c moves into an apartment and gets involved with a lovely young lady – who happened to be played by Erica Durance – but then at least in that episode he gets accused of murder and the N.I.D. try to interfere, and in the next episode we get back to the sci-fi), but enough is enough. Battlestar Galactica has tossed in soap opera episode after episode. We don’t even see “toasters” anymore – that Raider in the last episode was supposedly a hallucination of Starbuck’s and therefore, doesn’t count. I mean, come on! I thought the main thrust of the show was about the battle between cylons and humans – life long enemies. Maybe if the producers focused on that a bit more rather than worrying about the ratings and how to build up the characters, the show will get back on track – and the ratings will come after.

Then the next thing you know, they go and do the worst thing possible (short of killing off Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama) – they kill off Starbuck. Yes, that’s right, the “rock ’em, sock ’em, ‘I’m gonna get that toaster!’ chick” has left the building. “Wait? Say that again?” Starbuck is gone. That fact was brought home with the last scene of Admiral Adama tearing apart his model ship after he puts on it the mini-statue of the goddess Aurora that Starbuck gave him. Angry and upset, the Admiral tore apart the model ship that Starbuck wanted him to finish. Unfortunately, us viewers don’t have a model ship to destroy as well – to take out our anger and disappointment at how badly they ruined Starbuck’s character.

Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace was the archetypal female warrior. She’s strong, tough, and you don’t mess with her because frankly she doesn’t give a damn about the rules – she’ll hit you even if you’re the X.O. She’s the best Viper pilot in the fleet pulling off feats that no one else can, even saving Lee’s butt a few times. She’s also managed to escape cylon capture (reference “The Farm” in season two). Then the writers turn her character upside-down by portraying her as an emotional mother with the first episodes of season three (though the child really wasn’t hers). Of course though, her experience as a “mother” is supposed to change her and she is more in touch with her emotions. Then, all seems fine with Starbuck for a while until the most recent episode, “Maelstrom” where Starbuck is having dreams about her old apartment on Caprica and, in particular, about that painting she made that looks like the “Eye of Jupiter”. A man who looks like the cylon Leoben is in her dreams and is supposedly leading her to her destiny, which as it turns out in this episode is to fly into a cloud and blow up with her ship from the pressure in the atmosphere. In “Maelstrom”, Starbuck is a teary-eyed mess and it is revealed that she was abused by her mother. By the end of the episode, she forgives her mother for the abuse as somehow she can see her mother on her death bed. Then Starbuck wakes up in her cockpit and tells Lee that she isn’t afraid anymore. She doesn’t eject out of her Viper, and then it blows up while Lee watches nearby not able to do anything.

There are few things as inconsistent as a warrior committing suicide for no good reason. A warrior may sacrifice herself for the explicit purpose of saving someone else, but a warrior is not suicidal. In this episode, Starbuck commits suicide just because she has a destiny? The Starbuck that we know and love wouldn’t do such a thing – no way, she’d say “Frak that!” Warrior archetypes have too much self-preservation to just give up and commit suicide. They may give up their lives trying to save someone, but that doesn’t mean they court death. What happened with Starbuck in the last episode was just out of character and basically non-sensical. In the episode previous to this one, Starbuck was giving her new “nugget” hell for not showing up for training on time AND out of uniform. Basically, the writers and producers want us to believe that somehow Starbuck went from being a warrior to someone who runs back crying to Mommy. That is how we are supposed to remember her? Sheesh, perhaps the producers need to read some Joseph Campbell – maybe look up the Celtic goddess Morrigan and the Norse goddess Freya while they’re at it.

Aside from Starbuck dying in “Maelstrom”, there are many things that were just wrong with that episode. First off, it’s another soap opera episode consisting of flashbacks with Starbuck’s mom who as it turns out was abusive to Starbuck. Second, Starbuck forgives her mother. What?! There are some things in life that are unforgivable, abuse is one of those things. To forgive an abuser is to accept abuse, it gives it validation, it says it isn’t at all wrong (is that really the message we’d like to say about abuse?) The character of Starbuck as a strong woman would not have forgiven her mother – again, she’d say “Frak that!” and she’d move on. There’s a difference between accepting what’s already happened to her and accepting abuse overall. Third, there’s the cylon Leoben again. Er… wait, it’s not Leoben? He’s there to help her cross the river between life and death. So, Starbuck’s spiritual guide is personified as the cylon who abused her? I don’t know about anyone else, but my spiritual guide isn’t someone who abused me. Fourth, why was Starbuck even written as an abused child? Just because a woman is strong doesn’t necessarily mean she was abused. Some people just have strong personalities, they’re just born that way. Some people are less resilient. Some people who have been abused aren’t strong at all – they can’t stand up for themselves. So, why is there this assumption that since Starbuck is a strong woman she must have been abused? That’s a stereotype. (Actually, this is a problem overall in the show. Strong women are portrayed as having been abused in some form or another. Or for a woman to become strong, she has to experience abuse such as in the case with Sharon who was raped while being imprisoned as a cylon.) Fifth, Starbuck was a poet and a painter. Apparently, this was supposed to imply that she was moody, subject to depression, and potentially suicidal because all poets and painters are. Another stereotype.

Granted, some of these issues with the show have been apparent earlier on, but I’ve been patient (bored, but patient) hoping the show will get back to its roots and not turn into a major sci-fi soap opera (sci-opera?). I’ve also been patient hoping that Starbuck’s character will switch back to the warrior archetype, but I guess I was wrong. The producers had one chance to “fix” Starbuck, but now they’ve blown it (literally, as her ship blew up). What’s next for us? Helo turns into a moralizing something-up-his-butt bastard? Please not! I’m liking Helo and Sharon right now. Supposedly, Lee is to turn against his father and the President over the issue of how they are treating Baltar. Does that not sound like a plot from The Young and the Restless? Oh dear. I keep hoping for the cylons to return and for some more climactic space battles. I guess we’ll find out next week on “90210 in Space” if the producers have heard my plea. Come on, let’s blow up some more toasters! (Or can’t they afford them anymore???)

BB,
Cassandrah
Brigid’s Flame

Other articles on Battlestar Galactica:

Starbuck: Is She or Isn’t She?
Major Cast Member to Depart
March 4, 2007: Mother, May I

Blood Diamonds

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Okay, I’ve already seen the movie, Blood Diamond starring Leonardo DiCaprio and I thought it was an excellent movie. The movie touches on a subject hard core and pulls no punches.

Then of course, Valentine’s Day rolls around (and I won’t even get into my rant on how Valentine’s Day is a Christian pervertion of a pagan tradition and how morbid it actually is since it’s on the day Valentine died) and there’s a bulletin on myspace.com about why you shouldn’t buy a synthetic diamond, although there is an extremely good reason why you should. Here’s my response to that bulletin:

In actuality, synthetic diamonds are marked synthetic so buyers can tell the difference. This was imposed by the major diamond corporations, so that people can get a “real” diamond. In fact, a synthetic diamond looks as good as any “real” diamond. Contrary to what people may say, it does cost to make a synthetic diamond because you still need a diamond piece to begin with. Though once you make one diamond you keep one piece out of a batch to keep making more.

Is the cost of a diamond what really matters? Is the value of a diamond worth more than life itself. See Leonardo’s new film, Blood Diamond, and then do some more research. The actor has stated in interviews that he will not buy a “blood diamond” (also known as a “conflict diamond”. (Kudos to Leonardo for standing up for something important! Note that obviously the movie would alienate many movie-goers and not pull in as much profit, yet he took the role anyway.)

The ring that my beloved gave to me does not cost as much as a diamond, but is worth much more than the dollar value attached to it (it cost around $350). My ring is an iolite stone set in silver with gold embedded in the silver (not gold-plated, but solid gold pieces). The stone itself is a beautiful indigo stone that tends to change colour according to the lighting. Sometimes it’s violet, sometimes it’s black. On top of this, the ring was completely hand-carved and shaped. They didn’t use a mold to make it. Because they didn’t use a mold, no one else will have this ring. It’s one of a kind and over time will probably be worth more, especially when the jewellery who made this isn’t around anymore.

A diamond is a diamond – you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I’d rather have the ring I have than any blood/conflict diamond – I value human life and my conscience more than any over-rated mass-marketed product (that is used to help a major corporation get richer while the rest of us struggle just to have a decent life) . If you really must buy a diamond, do the opposite of what De Beer’s intended and buy the synthetic one, the one labelled “conflict-free”. Your conscience will thank you.

Cassandrah
Brigid’s Flame

Survivor: Cook Islands – Recap and Prediction

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

MM,

Survivor: Cook Islands started out this season with an interesting premise. Would tribes divided by race work better than a mixed tribe? Interesting premise, I thought, even though some people thought this was somewhat a racist idea. Not really, because the show wasn’t making any assumptions about the races, but was performing a sociological experiment.

In a way too, it was a good thing Survivor decided to make tribes based on race – now we get to see more ethnic groups represented in the show. Before this season, Survivor seemed primarily Caucasian with a few splatterings of other ethnic groups. Perhaps after this season, the producers of Survivor will be casting more ethnic people in the future seasons. For one thing, early on this season the top three favourite Survivors this season according to the website poll are Asian – Yul, Cao Boi, and Becky. They also seem to have gained some popularity among the former Survivor players. (Read the Survivors Strike Back Blog). Flying under the radar these three aren’t! They’ve made an impression so far.

But did division based on race make a difference this season? Not really. People were still making alliances based on who they personally felt like they could trust, such as Cao Boi and Jessica (“Flica”). Even the Yul and Becky duo was based on personal feelings of mutual trust. They see each other as surrogate brother and sister. Overall though, the cast of this season’s Survivor couldn’t wait to shed their racial identity and mix it up with the others.

Now, it’s down to the final six with Yul as the ring-leader and Becky as his side-kick (or is she the brains behind it all?). Tagging along and pulling his own weight, we have Ozzy (“Monkey Boy”). Being rewarded for her loyalty in not deserting her tribe like Candice and Jonathan did, we have Sundra. Finally, we have Parvati and Adam, the last ones standing from their original Raro tribe. Who will win the million dollars?

Before I get to my prediction, here’s a run-down of the tribes and the cast of Survivor this season.

The season started with four tribes – Hiki (African-American), Puka (Asian-American), Aitu (Hispanic-American), and Raro (Caucasian). Below is the list of Survivors by their original tribe along with some early comments (based on episodes one and two):

Hiki (African-American)
Sekou
Sekou, we didn’t have enough time with you. You seemed like an interesting fellow though. Too bad you got voted off just because it was a gender thing. I was sorely disappointed that the ladies felt they had to do this.
Sundra
Stephannie
Rebecca
Nathan
Nathan seems like a cool guy. I can’t believe he caught an octopus! Damn. That’s almost as good a killing that pig or spearing that shark in the other seasons. You rock! Strangely, I have noticed that you have the same name as my better half, and he rocks too. Nate the Great meet Nate the Great.

Puka (Asian-American)
Becky
Brad
Cao Boi
I like Cao Boi. Yeah, his jokes could get old, but he’s damn entertaining, and a fairly lovable guy.
Jenny
Yul
Yul is a favourite too. He’s well-mannered, handsome, and has “adopted” Becky. He was also smart enough to find the hidden immunity idol. I would definitely want to team up with him if I was on this season of Survivor. (BTW, this is the second time someone’s found the hidden immunity idol after only one night on Exile Island. Last season, Terry found it the first night out there as well. Either these guys are brilliant at solving clues or the crew of Survivor needs to be more creative.)

Aitu (Hispanic-American)
Cristina
J.P.
Billy
There is only one way to describe Billy – TEDDY BEAR! Yeah, he’s a bit of a sap, and maybe a little naive, but hey, if he felt something for Candice, so be it. He probably thought she was an angel since he knew he was going to be voted out. Besides, he is cute. Granted, I like a man with a fit body like any other girl, but I could tell that Billy is a sweet heart. If he lost a little bit of the bulge, he’d be a girl’s dream.
Ozzy
Ozzy annoys me so far. I just thought there wasn’t a good reason to throw a challenge to vote Billy off. This was so not the same situation as when Ethan’s tribe threw the challenge to vote someone off. They had gotten to know the person for a while. In this case, Ozzy just didn’t give Billy a chance. Billy was clearly an outcast in his group, even if he was part of the same ethnic background. He just didn’t feel as if he fit. Pretty much like Cao Boi. I sympathize because I know how it feels not fitting in with “your own kind”.
Cecilia

Raro (Caucasian)
Adam
Adam is just plain idiotic. You don’t want to be sleeping on a wet, cold floor for thirty-nine days. I haven’t even been on Survivor and I agree with the former Survivor Stephenie, you just don’t want to do that. So just get off your lazy butt, quit sulking about not being the alpha male, and just build the damn shelter.
Candice
Candice is just a nice girl. Another sweet heart. I see why Billy likes her. I also see why he could mistake her sweetness for actual love. Hopefully, she doesn’t feel too weirded out to be his friend later on during the reunion episode. In my experience, guys like Billy make wonderful friends even if he doesn’t get the girl.
Jessica
I really like Jessica like I like Cao Boi. Those two are great companions. Two hippies, but from different generations – I love it!
Jonathan
Jonathan is clearly the alpha male. The younger Adam just can’t deal with it. Oh well.
Parvati
Not sure what to make of Parvati yet. She reminds me of some of the other former female Survivors who just used their “feminine wiles” to get what they wanted instead of being who they are. Then again, maybe they were being who they are, now that is sad. Women feeling like they had to act the way men expected them to act. I liked Stephenie much better – at least she had strength and didn’t rely on batting her eye lashes at every man on the island.

After episode two, the Survivors finally got a chance to mix it up when Jeff merged the four tribes into two tribes – Aitu and Raro. In Aitu, we now have Sundra, Yul, Becky, Cao Boi, Cecilia, Ozzy, Candice, Jessica, and Jonathan. In Raro, we now have Stephannie, Rebecca, Nathan, Jenny, Brad, Cristina, J.P., Adam, and Parvati.

In episode three, Cecilia was voted out by her new tribe based on her performance in challenges. Jonathan has now teamed up with the Becky-Yul duo – smart move. Cao Boi and Jessica team up; however, Jonathan expects Jessica to be loyal to their original Caucasian tribe. Cao Boi targets Becky to vote off, but in the end he’s convinced to keep Becky around and vote off Cecilia. Candice was saved from potentially being voted out by Raro sending her to Exile Island. Remaining are Sundra, Yul, Becky, Cao Boi, Ozzy, Candice, Jessica, and Jonathan.

In episode four, Candice is questioned about her loyalties based on Raro sending her to Exile Island. Ozzy is feeling vulnerable as he is the only original member of Aitu left. Adam is sent to Exile Island. At Raro, Stephannie becomes frustrated and blames herself for losing the immunity challenge. However, the other women of her tribe convince her to stay around longer and to vote out J.P., who has been annoying the women with his lying around and giving commands. In the end, J.P. is voted out, and the women of Raro now out-number the men. Remaining are Stephannie, Rebecca, Nathan, Jenny, Brad, Cristina, Adam, and Parvati.

In episode five, the men at Raro work harder now that they are out-numbered by the women. At Aitu, Cao Boi becomes annoyed at Candice, Sundra, and Becky for taking it easy. Later, Cao Boi, Jessica, and Ozzy take a little trip and end up at Raro’s camp. Jonathan is once again sent to Exile Island. He can’t find the immunity idol, though he searches hard for it. Cristina at Raro starts to annoy her tribe mates. Now, that J.P. isn’t barking orders, she seems to have taken over. Meanwhile, Stephannie’s comments about home to Nathan indicates she has no heart for the game anymore. In the end, her tribe votes her out keeping Cristina around a little longer. However, her tribe hurts her feelings when at tribal council, they say she’s too bossy. Remaining members are Rebecca, Nathan, Jenny, Brad, Cristina, Adam, and Parvati.

In episode six, we get to know Cao Boi a little more as he expresses a spiritual connection to the immunity idol after winning the last two immunity challenges. He decides to bring the idol to every challenge because he believes it will then bestow victory on his tribe each time. Unfortunately, this time there was no immunity challenge – both tribes had to vote out a member. The tribe that wins the challenge wins a big dinner and a chance to sit in on the other tribe’s tribal council. Aitu puts in a strong performance and wins the challenge. Aitu heads to tribal council and unfortunately, the luck of the immunity idol can’t save Cao Boi and his tribe votes him out. Then, Aitu moves to the other side of the council while Raro enters. As Raro sits down, Aitu feasts on their reward dinner. Aitu listens to the issues of Raro tribe and before Raro can cast any votes, Jeff surprises everyone by telling them that as part of their reward Aitu can “kidnap” a member of Raro until after the next challenge. The person kidnapped is safe from being voted out. Aitu decides to kidnap Nathan, and he is given a dinner while his tribe mates cast their votes. In the end, Cristina is voted out for her bossy ways. Remaining Aitu members are Sundra, Yul, Becky, Ozzy, Candice, Jessica, and Jonathan. Remaining Raro members are Rebecca, Nathan, Jenny, Brad, Adam, and Parvati.

In episode seven, Nathan sits helplessly by while watching his tribe lose the reward challenge. On returning to Raro, he blames Brad for not physically competing, but instead sitting by to do the puzzle part of the challenge. Adam is once again sent to Exile Island for a rainy night. Feeling miserable and tired of losing, he comes back with more determination to win the next immunity challenge. Amazingly, this does help as Jenny, Rebecca, and Adam work together to win the immunity challenge and they send Aitu to tribal council. At Aitu, Ozzy tries to form an alliance with Jessica and Candice, but this falls apart as Jonathan convinces his tribe to vote out Jessica (who is now lost without her buddy, Cao Boi). In the end, Jessica is sent home. Remaining members are Sundra, Yul, Becky, Ozzy, Candice, and Jonathan.

In episode eight, all the Survivors are expecting a merge as we are now down to twelve Survivors. Jonathan and Candice discuss switching their alliance back to their former Raro members, Parvati and Adam, when they do merge. A merge though did not happen, and the Survivors were given another twist to the game when they met up for the reward challenge. Before beginning the challenge, Jeff gave everyone the opportunity to “change their fate in the game” by leaving their current tribe and joining the other tribe – in effect, mutinying. Given only ten seconds to decide, Candice steps forward soon followed by Jonathan to the surprise of their former alliance of Yul and Becky. After joining Raro, Aitu has four remaining members – Sundra, Yul, Becky, and Ozzy – who vow to be work even harder at the challenges. This determination pays off as Aitu wins the reward challenge. Given the chance to send someone to Exile Island after winning the challenge, the small Aitu tribe of four unanimously agree to send Candice to Exile Island and exact their revenge for being abandoned. While enjoying their reward, the four remaining Aitu tribe mates solidify their bond to make it to the final four. Candice meanwhile is sulking on Exile Island because she hasn’t had any time to bond with her new tribe mates (in particular, Adam). Jonathan is feeling vulnerable at Raro and confesses on camera (not to his tribe mates) that he feels vulnerable. He followed Candice’s decision without thinking things through. At the next immunity challenge, Aitu once again pulls through and wins. At Raro, Candice tells her tribe she wouldn’t mind voting out Jonathan (and specifically tells Adam Jonathan wants to vote him out), but they decide that Brad’s earlier comment of “every man for himself” was enough to warrant voting him out. In the end, the spared Jonathan and voted Brad out and surprisingly making him the first member of the jury. The remaining Raro members are Rebecca, Nathan, Jenny, Adam, Parvati, Jonathan, and Candice.

In episode nine, Candice’s reason for mutinying against her tribe becomes clear as she and Adam snuggle together. After her tribe loses once again to the strong Aitu tribe of four, she is again sent to Exile Island. Apparently, there is no punishment strong enough for her abandonment of her former alliance. Clearly, she was using them. At camp, Jonathan makes himself useful by catching more than enough fish for everyone to eat. Hopefully, this is enough for his tribe to keep him around. At the next immunity challenge, Jeff tells the Survivors that the losing tribe will receive a bottle with a message inside not to be revealed until tribal council. Aitu wins the challenge making it their fourth straight win as a tribe of only four. At tribal council, Rebecca is voted out based on her poor performance in challenges. Then, Parvati is instructed to read the message in the bottle. Everyone hopes it’s something good, a merge maybe? However, Candice points out if it was good, wouldn’t it be given to the winning tribe, not the losing. Opening the bottle, Parvati reads, ““You’ve just voted out one member of your tribe, you will now vote out another.” She follows that with her amusing comment, “That’s not fun.” With no room for discussion, the Raro tribe ends up voting out Jenny. Rebecca and Jenny now join the jury. In one night, Raro is now down to five members – Nathan, Adam, Parvati, Jonathan, and Candice.

Episode ten finally brings the waited for merge. As the Survivors meet for what they thought would be their next challenge, Jeff announces that two members were voted out of Raro the night before. Aitu realizes how very fortunate the won the last challenge, otherwise, they’d be down to two members. Jeff shows the Survivors a basket of food and announces the merge. The newly merged tribe has a celebration and later paints their new tribe flag for “Aitutonga”. Realizing that the Aitu members are down by one when it comes to votes, Yul discusses with Becky his plan to use the immunity idol to convince Jonathan to flip alliances again. He informs Ozzy and Sundra too of his plan, finally revealing that he has the immunity idol to them as well (Yul had earlier shown Becky the immunity idol). At the immunity challenge, Ozzy (“Monkey Boy”) wins by hanging onto a poll longer than the other Survivors. Yul is convinced Jonathan will flip if he sees Yul has the immunity idol. After seeing Yul’s immunity idol, Jonathan tries to convince his Raro alliance not to vote for Yul, but they don’t believe Yul has the idol. Realizing that they are going to vote for Yul anyway, Jonathan decides to vote with his former alliance in an effort to prevent them from voting him off. In the end, the former Raro tribe except Jonathan votes for Yul and the former Aitu tribe plus Jonathan votes for Nate. In a five to four vote, the newly merged tribe makes Nate the fourth member of the jury. Remaining Survivors are
Sundra, Yul, Becky, Ozzy, Candice, Jonathan, Adam, and Parvati.

In episode eleven, Jonathan is confronted by Candice and Parvati for flipping on his alliance. He tells them straight out now that Yul has the immunity idol and would have used it. Either way someone from the former Raro tribe was going home. Meanwhile, the former Aitu tribe is ecstatic that they have turned the game around on the former Raro tribe. At the Survivor auction, Becky bids and wins an important sealed note. She has to read it immediately and it says to send one person to Exile Island immediately and take all of their money for the auction. She decides to send Candice again and take her $500, which hasn’t been spent yet. Jeff says that the immunity idol could still be found on Exile Island, but Yul decides to end the suspense and openly tells everyone he has the idol. Pulling it out, he shows it to Parvati (who bidded on and won a bubble bath and chocolate cake) and the rest of the Survivors. Parvati comments that the idol looks authentic and then bats her lashes at Yul. Jonathan ends up the big winner at the auction as he won a hot dog, fries, and a cold beer (though he spilled some before he had a chance to drink it all), and then later wins a pepperoni pizza. He also wins a toothbrush, toothpaste, and mouthwash to clean up after eating so much. At camp, Jonathan burbs in front of this tribe mates annoying them. Meanwhile, on Exile Island, Candice is crying about needing a hug (especially from Adam). She mets up with her tribe at the next immunity challenge, which requires everyone to recall the past challenges. Adam, because of his determination to win and beat Jonathan, wins the immunity challenge. Later, Adam, Candice, and Parvati relax in the shelter while their other tribe mates make and then have dinner. Candice, still overly emotional about being sent to Exile Island so many times, confronts the other tribe mates, especially Jonathan who caught the fish that comprised their dinner. “Since when do you guys not share food?” she whines. Apparently, since she decided that snuggling up with Adam was more important than helping out at camp. Did she expect to be served dinner after having betrayed her former alliance? Candice takes things out on Jonathan saying that no one likes him and that even Yul doesn’t like him, to which Yul comments that he can speak for himself and “please don’t speak on my behalf”. At tribal council later, Candice is finally spared from ever going to Exile Island as she is finally voted out becoming the fifth jury member. Candice and Adam share a passionate kiss good-bye. Just before snuffing out her torch Jeff comments, “A kiss is nice… Maybe if it were love he would have given you the Immunity necklace.” Remaining Survivors are Sundra, Yul, Becky, Ozzy, Jonathan, Adam, and Parvati.

In the most recent episode of Survivor: Cook Islands, episode twelve, Jonathan worries about the comments at the previous night’s tribal council, in particular he found Adam’s name-calling uncalled-for. In the morning while chopping coconuts, Parvati cuts her thumb with the machete. The good news is she doesn’t have to cut her thumb nail for a while, the bad news is she needs a few stitches. Her thumb bandaged up, Parvati shows up at the next reward challenge. Jeff asks if she can get it wet and she replies that she can a little. Then Jeff reveals that in this reward challenge, family is there to help. Unexpectedly, Parvati and her father win the challenge. Parvati can now send one Survivor to Exile Island. She picks Jonathan. Jonathan gives his wife a kiss good-bye and then heads out. Parvati’s dad is then told that he can pick two other Survivors and their loved ones to join them in the reward with no help from the Survivors. Her dad picks Sundra and her mother, and Adam and his father. With four of the Survivors gone from camp, Ozzy, Becky, and Yul enjoy the peace and quiet. Yul comments how nice it might be in the end with just the three of them. Then the three of them decided to hide some of the food they gathered from Adam, and Parvati stating that why should they give food to their competitors and help them win the challenges. Later, they change their mind as Sundra, Adam, and Parvati return with food from the reward for them. At the immunity challenge, Ozzy wins easily as it involves quick-footed feats of skill. As tribal council looms, Adam tries to convince Yul to keep him and Parvati around longer. In the previous episode, he had stated that Yul would have his vote at the final tribal council if he voted out Jonathan before him. In the end, Parvati and Adam secured their spots in the final six as the tribe finally voted out Jonathan making him the sixth member of the jury.

To sum up, we have Sundra, Yul, Becky, Ozzy, Adam, and Parvati in the final six. The jury members right now comprise of Brad, Rebecca, Jenny, Nate, Candice, and Jonathan. Yul has the immunity idol. Ozzy is doing spectacular in individual challenges and he might just pull off winning the remaining ones. Adam is determined to win and not get voted out. His determination has helped him win at least one immunity challenge. Yul is looking out for Becky, and so far it looks as though Yul will keep his word to take Ozzy and Sundra to final four. Unless Adam wins the next immunity challenge, he’s next to go. Then Parvati. I strongly suspect Ozzy will be in the final three with Yul and Becky. He may try to do something to upset that in the next episode, but I highly doubt that Adam and Parvati will make him change alliances. Sundra won’t change either. She’s been carried this far with Yul and Becky and she’s not about to trust Adam and Parvati. Thus, odds are the final three are Yul, Becky, and Ozzy. Of course, Adam and Parvati might try to convince Ozzy and Sundra to vote Becky off. In that case, Ozzy, Adam, and Parvati could then vote off Sundra. Then Adam and Parvati might turn on Ozzy and vote him off because they can’t vote for Yul. Because of that danger, I think it’s still unlikely Ozzy would switch alliances. You want to be allied with the whoever has the immunity idol. Ozzy voting out Becky is enough for Yul not to trust him anymore. I’m putting my odds on Yul, Becky, and Ozzy unless Adam wins more immunity challenges. For final three, we might be surprised at to who wins the immunity challenge. In the past Survivor seasons, the woman who survived to final three often ended up winning the last crucial immunity challenge. If indeed this happens, Becky and Yul will be in the final two. If Yul wins, Becky and Yul will be in the final two. Only if Ozzy wins the final immunity challenge will he be in final two.

If final two is Yul and Becky. The jury will consist of Brad, Rebecca, Jenny, Nate, Candice, Jonathan, Parvati, Adam, Sundra, and Ozzy. I don’t think Nate and Ozzy will vote for Becky. For the rest, I think it’s even odds on who they’ll vote for. Yul’s played a spectacular game. I think the jury will be convinced, except for maybe Candice and Jonathan. It could be a split 5-5 vote. If so, then no one’s sure what will happen.

If final two is Yul and Ozzy, Becky will vote for Yul with a certainty. Nate will vote for Ozzy. Ozzy might actually stand a chance in the final tribal council. Overall, he hasn’t deceived anyone and he’s played a strong game. The jury would feel he deserved his spot in final two. The jury could also have a split vote here.

Is there even going to be a final two? Rumour has it it’s going to be final three.

Overall though, I think Yul might be more convincing at the tribal council and win votes that way. He is not only physically strong, but mentally strong. He’s played a good game without being disloyal. His vote for Nate wasn’t personal. He voted out Candice and Jonathan because he felt they might be disloyal.

But you never know. Maybe Adam and Parvati will convince Yul to vote out Ozzy. Episode thirteen airs this Thursday, and the final episode airs this Sunday. To find out who wins, watch the reunion episode right after.

Before I end this, I would like to make another point of asking “when the heck are you going to let Canadians on the show?!” If you don’t want to mix it up with your northern neighbours, how about a Canadian version of the show? I’m sure I’m not the only Canadian interested.

Cassandrah
Brigid’s Flame

Fight Science is now available

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

MM,

As a follow-up to my previous blog entry on Fight Science, this martial arts documentary is now available on torrent for download. (Check torrentspy.com.)

If you watch the documentary, I think it’s worth noting that the amount of power generated by the small kung fu guy is comparable to the power generated by the larger boxer. The numbers didn’t adjust for differences in body size. Since it happens to be my specialty, I’d like to note that taekwondo takes its punching techniques from boxing, modifying it only slightly (a lower guard to include the torso and a less open stance).

If I were to summarize the documentary, I would say that all martial arts can be just as effective and deadly. A truly effective martial artist would have at their disposal a variety of skills and techniques that can be used for individual situations. Thus, a warrior’s greatest asset is their brain, which gives them their ability to think, analyze, and react in time.

BB,
Cassandrah
Brigid’s Flame

Martial Arts Documentary – Fight Science!

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

MM,

This is for all the martial arts fans out there. National Geographic Channel will be airing a documentary on Sunday, August 12 looking at the science behind martial arts. Some may recall XMA: Xtreme Martial Arts, which took a look at how a martial artist can do some of those amazing feats, as well as explaining the body mechanics involved when a martial artist is fighting. Fight Science is a new documentary being shown on the National Geographic Channel that looks at many of the same things as XMA; however, it is hoped that it will give a less “flashy” perspective on martial arts. This is something definitely worth watching for any martial artist. An understanding of how our bodies move and react is essential to being a good martial artist. From this perspective, the documentary should help martial artists become better at what they do. Check it out.

For those who aren’t martial artists, but are just curious, this documentary should strip away much of the mystique and mystery of the martial artist (yes, we are people too!). At the same time, you should gain a greater respect for the martial artist as we do endure much to achieve what we have achieved, and we continue to endure much every time we train.

Sadly, I don’t have the National Geographic Channel, but hopefully the documentary will be floating around for download after it airs. I’ll be looking for it.

BB,
Cassandrah
Brigid’s Flame