From the archives: July 2003

Or, if you'd prefer, return to the most recent posts.

Franklin, my dear…

Thursday, 17 July 2003 — 10:16am | Scrabble

Now available for ordering at NSA Word Gear and Amazon is the Franklin Scrabble Companion, basically an electronic version of The Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary, Third Edition (OSPD3) that was published in the mid-1990s. Though it was before my time, the Franklin for the OSPD2 had a stellar reputation in its day for being the ultimate portable anagramming companion – cheap, pocket-sized, and feature-rich.

The new Franklin is of questionable utility, however. At 5″ on each side, it is a considerably larger model, only slightly smaller than a compact disc. It includes the one-line definitions of the OSPD3, but its use of that dictionary as a hard-wired word source is its greatest drawback. It is unsuitable for tournament play, as it omits the same 167 playable “offensive words” as the OSPD3, which are included in the actual tournament word source. Furthermore, word is that the next round of changes to the Tournament Word List is slated for as early as 2005.

As a product geared towards the casual living room player, the Franklin does show some promise. It eliminates the need to physically flip through the dictionary for challenges and definitions, even if this simultaneously removes one’s ability to scan the dictionary casually looking for neat words. In doing so, it removes the nuisance of the print version’s pseudo-alphabetical sorting and grouping of inflections. Whether or not this is worth $49.99 USD is a different question entirely. One has to wonder about the marketing strategy behind it: do people who don’t play at clubs and tournaments actually study words rigorously? Is there really a market for this? There might be – after all, some tournament gurus still lug an OSPD3 around for the definitions alone, and the book seems to sell rather well; as of this writing, its sales rank is a whopping 351.

But as far as electronic Scrabble aids go, the consensus among competitive players is that Paul Sidorsky’s freeware LAMPWords for Palm OS is far superior. Using a display that is not confined to one line, and filled with LeXpert-esque lookup and list creation features, the only overhead is that you need a Palm device to run it, and the only drawback is the lack of definitions. But LAMPWords is most prominently superior because of its versatility, in using downloadable software-based dictionary files. It’s adaptable to future revisions and lexica used outside North America (I refer specifically to SOWPODS here), and any errors are easily patched.

Annotations (1)

League is 20,000 under the sea

Wednesday, 16 July 2003 — 9:42am | Comics, Film, Full reviews

Director Stephen Norrington must be truly extraordinary: somehow he has managed to make The Pagemaster look like a tour de force of literary studies.

A more appropriate title for Norrington’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would be Cliff Notes: The Movie, though that hardly does justice to the film’s absurd superhuman ability to take characters out of eighteenth-century literature remembered for the complexity of their tales, and water them down to one-note, one-joke self-parodying caricatures that are more like Pokémon than people. We see Allan Quartermain as the poster-headlining retired adventurer, played by Sean Connery in his best what-kind-of-lines-are-these look. The Invisible Man (Tony Curran) is invisible. Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) is somehow immortal by way of the peculiarity with his portrait. Dr. Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) is the brute strength of the team when in his egregiously outfitted Mr. Hyde form. A certain Special Agent Tom Sawyer (Shane West) inexplicably shows up from America and delivers “witty” wisecracks about the British. When you begin to describe characters by a single trait or ability as if they were merely weapons, you know there’s a problem.

Conceptually, the idea of uniting iconic literary characters and making use of their special powers – the novelty behind the comic book on which this film is based – is something with great cinematic potential. It would ideally play out like a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure of fiction rather than history, only serious and bullet-ridden. The problem is that James Dale Robinson’s flaccid screenplay acknowledges that the heroes of the piece are pre-established, and uses this as an excuse for forgoing any degree of coherent exposition.

But it was never intended to be anything more than a thrilling adventure movie, right? At least we could expect it to deliver on its promises to be high-octane visceral escapism? Nope. The League wants to be campy fun at every turn, but ends up as merely campy. The fight sequences are for the most part choppily edited; one early conflict switches characters and fights every second, moving from close-up to close-up, lacking any degree of continuity. The way these battles were staged, they must have looked really good live on set; however, they are muffled by poor editorial choices rather than amplified, as they should be.

A similar complaint can be made of the overall look of the film. Given The League‘s comic book roots, the Batman-esque gothic darkness of the sets and costumes is one of its high points. The way the production looks on the screen, however, is a different story. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen seems to misunderstand that the effect of darkness is most expressed with the contrast between light and shadow, and goes solely for the shadow. I suppose this is in line with the movie’s apparent philosophy that the audience should not have any idea what is going on, but this only highlights (pardon the pun) Conrad L. Hall’s superior work in Road to Perdition as the textbook on how to light a dark graphic novel adaptation. Granted, comparing Laustsen’s work in The League to Hall’s pedigree is akin to juxtaposing crab apples and Florida oranges, but that does not change the fact that the commendable design values go to waste.

With more coherent editing and smarter photography, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen could have been great, despite a horrendous screenplay. Add a better script and it could be marvelous, though it would be a completely different movie – namely, a watchable one. It has a lot going for it: the production design, a talented cast that does what it can, and most of all, the concept. There are even some very cinematic moments in the film, the briefest flashes of brilliance, as in a pivotal scene when our heroes listen to a staticky recorded message from the villain, which is shot like a grainy vintage reel. The unveiling of the movie’s Standard Diabolical Plan is the best-edited montage of the entire piece; it is a pity that the rest of the movie never comes close to that level of achievement.

For The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the nail in the coffin is that it is not even a whole lot of fun. It’s a bad movie, but not quite farcical enough in its badness to merit watching in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 way, or disastrous enough to leave permanent and visible scars to show your friends afterwards, à la 1998’s The Avengers. It fails because it is the worst kind of disappointment: one with tremendous promise. Even the League of Nations was a greater success.

Annotations (5)

Crazy Dough-Nuts University

Tuesday, 15 July 2003 — 12:50pm | Studentpolitik

For those of you who are unaware, and the few among you who give a damn, the replacement for Tim Horton’s in the University of Alberta Students’ Union Building has been named – cue drumroll – “Cram Dunk”. Read all about the doughnut shop naming contest and the announcement of the winner here.

Annotations (0)

Vacationing in sunny Canada

Tuesday, 15 July 2003 — 11:42am

I smell Hawaii envy, and it fills me with a burgeoning desire to put on the Beach Boys:

MP backs lobby for a sunny 11th province

A Canadian Alliance MP wants Canada to investigate the possibility of annexing the idyllic Turks and Caicos Islands.

Peter Goldring, MP for Edmonton Centre-East, has drafted a motion asking the federal government to study the practicality of “a union” that would see the islands adopted as “Canada’s 11th province.” He plans to introduce it when the House of Commons reconvenes this fall.

Canada has twice rejected the idea of annexing the archipelago in the past 30 years. But Mr. Goldring says it might make sense to reconsider in “this new day and age of international terrorism.”

“Maybe it would be good from a secure aspect of having a little piece of Canada in the south that Canadians could travel to with a greater sense of security than some of the other islands that are commonly visited,” he said from Edmonton.

Believe it or not, I think these guys are serious. More information, including maps for those of you who (understandably) have nary a clue where Turks and Caicos are, can be found at A Place in the Sun.

Annotations (0)

Anne Shirley would not be proud

Tuesday, 15 July 2003 — 11:08am

From the Simply Ridiculous Files comes this little gem in the National Post:

‘A few things slipped through’

The first issue of PureCanada, a magazine published by the Canadian Tourism Commission to lure tourists north, includes maps that, among other gaffes, omit Prince Edward Island and Yukon Territory.

Drafted by Fodor’s Travel Guides, a U.S. company that has worked with the federal commission for years, the maps also neglect the cities of Halifax, Fredericton and Brandon (while identifying some smaller towns), misidentify Newfoundland and Labrador (the province’s official name since 2001) as simply Newfoundland and spell Canada’s newest territory “Nunavit.”

Certain regions of Canada were ignored completely, among them northwestern Ontario.

Northwestern Ontario — from the Manitoba border to Lake Huron — isn’t referred to once in the magazine’s 185-odd pages, even though it is home to a growing eco-tourist industry.

Somehow I get this image of a similar article about Atlantis inscribed on a papyrus. Read the full article.

Annotations (0)

« Back to the Future (newer posts) | A Link to the Past (older posts) »