Saturday, March 12, 2011

Japanese Celebrity Cats after the Tsunami

I do not know anyone from Japan. The emotional impact of watching videos of the tsunami wave consuming whole cities would be greater had I visited that country and made some friends there. While I really feel condolences towards everyone affected and follow the news about rescue operations, the extent by which it has touched my everyday life has remained small - I have to think about my school homework and other things.

I, like millions of others, look at pictures of cute cats on the Internet. There is nothing to be embarrassed about - everyone does it! Even girls do it! There are even some celebrity cats that have their own fan pages on Facebook, blogs and there have been photo books published of their pictures. They have quite a following.

Several of these celebrity cats come from Japan: Maru, Shironeko, Pokke and others. I am not trying to give an extensive list here, merely commenting on a couple of them.

Maru is a very playful Scottish Fold male cat. Videos of him playing with and in cardboard boxes are hugely popular and books and dvd's of his adventures have been published. Maru's owner has already posted a statement in Maru's blog, saying that the cat is alright, though his carrying case was prepared for possible evacuation.

Pokke is another famous Scottish Fold cat, often pictured playing and known for his big eyes. A recent post in Pokke's blog confirms that Pokke is OK, though he was really scared during the earthquake.

Moire is better known as the Ninja Cat (who comes closer without moving). She is a hybrid of several breeds and her mother was a stray cat. In her blog there is a link to a video at YouTube where the cat is sitting comfortably on a bed after the earthquake and tsunami.

Shironeko, also known as the most content and relaxed cat on Earth, is a plump-looking Turkish van who turned 9 years old four days ago. His blog and YouTube channel are full of photos and videos of this incredible relaxed cat and his feline friends sleeping and posing with different fruit and other objects. Unfortunately, Shironeko and his family live in the tsunami affected area and their status is unknown at the time.

It has also been reported that Tashiro-jima, better known as the Cat Islandmay have been submerged by the tsunami, lying very close to the epicenter. The 100 (human) residents of the island have not been contacted after the catastrophe. The island is known for its large population of friendly cats roaming freely around the island.

There has also been some concern about the situation on the Iriomote Island, which is the only habitat for the critically endangered Iriomote Cat, which is the most endangered cat species in the world.

Why do I care? Thousands of people have perished in Japan and they are still struggling to get a nuclear power plant in control. The net is full of desperate messages, news of destruction, human distress. Shouldn't the fate of some pets be irrelevant in this context?

Once again, why do humans keep pets? Why do they look at cute cat photos on the Internet? Among other things, they comfort us. When we are stressed, worried and tired, seeing a content, purring cat can make you feel much better, knowing that some living creature is very content with its life. A feline friend is still a friend even if its communications consists of meowing, purring and clawing, a friend that you come to know and love. Shironeko's photos are a reminder of a life without worries, but companionship of friends, safe adventures, sleeping and eating. A life without jobs, paychecks, debt, studies... or earthquakes and tsunamis.

Do not take away the naïve, worriless fantasy world of Shironeko and the others. We need it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Battle Los Angeles Is the Most Predictable Fight Ever

After a tiresome school week, I went to Goodrich Quality 16 (Ann Arbor, MI) with my classmates to see a movie. Battle Los Angeles features tough marines fighting extraterrestrial invaders who are ugly and they want to kill us. Lots of explosions, destruction and death. The always wonderful and handsome Aaron Eckhart starring. What could possibly go wrong?

It is worth noting that this is not the recipe for success. Take Independence Day and War of the Worlds, for example. Oops, I just spoiled almost everything about Battle Los Angeles. I am sorry... or am I, really?

The idea about making a movie just about a group of marines fighting in an urban environment was good. The whole movie is focused around this small group of men (and a couple of women) who fight an unknown enemy that has already brought down most of the planet's defences. The city of Santa Monica is dirty and in pieces, the biomechanical aliens are tough and the human soldiers are brave and they form a team whose members trust each others. Like professional soldiers that they are. "Remember your training!"

There is a plot. Before a planned air strike (or carpet bombing), the marines are tasked to evacuate a small group of civilians from a police station. This turns out to be difficult and many of the soldiers die. One of the civilians dies as well. They learn something about the aliens. Even though their home base is destroyed, they are able to land an attack on the enemy's control and command center, which (probably) leads to the extraterrestrials' defeat. Just like in Independence Day.

Almost every single element of the plot is executed in the most predictable way possible. It must have been hard for the scriptwriter to put all the well-known cliches of war movies in one script, but I must applaud him for having success in that. I have not seen Platoon, so I can only assume that some of the moments have been borrowed from there, but if I say Independence Day, Aliens, War of the Worlds and Apocalypse Now! came to my mind while sitting in the theater, that covers most of the content. Also the Finnish war classic The Unknown Soldier could be in the list, but I doubt that the American filmmakers ever saw that.

I have a temptation to disassemble the whole script and point out from which movies each scene was taken. I have a temptation to list all the annoying cliches here. Then again, I could make a shorter list and list all the war movie cliches that were not used in this movie.

  • The main guy is a veteran, deciding to retire, but drawn into battle one more time, realizing his place is there.
  • The main guy is haunted with his past, where the brother of one of his men died.
  • The superior of the main guy is a young, inexperienced Lieutenant. You know he will die soon, so that the main guy can take the lead.
  • Helicopters mainly explode.
  • Aliens are biomechanical.
  • Marines have a gung-ho attitude and they make a big deal about it.
  • Both of the women in this movie are really beautiful. They do not die.
  • The black guy survives and he is a really nice person.
  • Some guy loses his mind during the battle and gets killed.
  • The civilians have an innocent, about 10-year-old boy with them. This boy is 100 % normal and typical.
  • The civilian man dies because that is the only way to get anything sensible for him to do, and it provides a nice emotional moment for his son, who now looks up to the main guy.
  • One soldier proves his worth by blowing himself up (wounded, of course).
  • When the aliens' control center is destroyed, ALL alien craft stop their movement IMMEDIATELY and drop to the ground and explode, instead of, say, hovering around trying to reestablish connection to some backup command center or flying to San Francisco where the next nearest command center is located. I think this is a deadly sin.
  • The marines save the whole planet by doing something entirely trivial.
  • The aliens have antigravity (their craft just hover), but they are still using humanoid soldiers to combat humans.
  • The aliens are after our water, for no believable reason.
  • All TV broadcasts have horizontal lines and analog distortions.
  • Aliens cannot just land here, they must have some visually impressive way to arrive.
  • Aliens emit horrifying noises.
  • Aliens are very ugly.
  • Even though it is very noisy in the battlefield, nobody ever says "pardon, can you repeat?".
  • Even though they are firing big guns all the time, they never lose their hearing even though they wear no hearing protection!
  • Sometimes the grenades and bombs have pressure effect, but mostly none at all.
  • You can see that there are tons of shrapnels flying around but they never hurt anybody. Only straight gunshots do.
  • There is no blood anywhere, even though people are supposedly blowing apart everywhere.
  • Nobody seems to be really worried or sad that their friends just blew up, not even the "sensitive" young guys.
  • United States wins, of course. Marines are tough and they know it.
  • If you write a letter to your wife, you will be killed.
  • The Lieutenant has a loving wife who is pregnant. He will die.
  • Did I already mention that helicopters mainly explode? Though not all of them in this movie.
I need to stop. This list serves no purpose. When you watch the movie, you just know what is ought to happen. You know it, because this is how things happen in war movies. No explanations needed. Even without seeing this movie, you could probably come up with a couple more.

Also, sound waves reach you immediately when you see the explosion. But that is the default, of course. All things produce exactly the kind of sound you would expect them to emit.

There were many cool things about this movie. The cliches and general bad drama and dialog just spoiled all the good things that they borrowed from other movies. Aaron Eckhart, as good an actor he is, is not the proper choice for a professional soldier and a war veteran. He is also too handsome for that! This was probably the first film I have seen at the theater where I had difficulty not to burst in laughter while watching it - the absurdity of knowing everything that would happen was just too much.

As a motion picture, Battle Los Angeles was not as bad a The Day After Tomorrow, for example, but it is very difficult to guess what the producer was thinking when he got the script. Did he think that he could produce a good war movie based on that piece of... work? Apparently he did, and secured a hundred million dollar budget for it. He should have donated that money to The Mikko S. Tuomela Graduate Studies Fund (which I just founded for this purpose). Why? Well, I don't know, but it sounded proper and would have served Mr. Eckhart's career better.