梵高雜感 – 評Vincent: The Full Story

剛過去的星期一,明珠台播出了一套有關畫家梵高生平的記錄片 – Vincent : The Full Story的最後一集。明珠台安排此節目出街的timing可謂一流,緊接着法國印象派畫展,在人們印象仍深時推出,自然在推廣上坐收漁人之利。話雖如 此,我很想知道這節目有多少人會觀看。雖然一般普羅大眾對年初的印象派畫展反應熱烈,但有多少人對畫家的生平有興趣則無從考。這類節目如果沒有特約,播出 的機會並不會太高。

早前因為參觀了法國印象派畫展的關係,對名畫家生平忽然產生興趣,故抱不妨一試的心態收看。出乎意料,一共三集的片 子,主持人Waldemar Januszczak (註)深入淺出地帶觀眾走過梵高一生的路:貧窮、饑餓、醺酒、被女性和教會所拒絕,迫出了在近乎瘋狂的創作,以及一糸列的經典。梵高的生命是極痛苦,又亂 七八糟地不平凡。他的天份在他頭二十八年的人生中並沒有發展的機會;父母過分保護把他的人生目標搞得一團糟,而他對教會的熱情亦一直不受到重視(他曾不只 一次希望成為正式神職人員,但教會並不接受)。為人過度認真、社會適應度低、依賴性重(由弟弟供養多年)、缺安全感、對人生路向不清不楚、有戀母情意結, 梵高的性格弱點多不勝數,亦令他受了不少苦頭,最後更帶他走上自殺的末路;但亦成就了九年的藝術昇華。

如有機會重播,不妨一看~

註: Januszczak是英國星期日泰晤士報的藝評人。

iPod Shuffle初哥下海記

寫在前面:先此聲明,筆者以前有用過Apple的產品,一早己被Apple的halo effect所迷倒,故本文不求持平,但求對準買家有指導作用,如有錯漏,請多多指教。

iPod Shuffle:最抵買的iPod?

iPod 在近年成功擊退MD、MP3等音樂播放機,成為隨身聽的王者,蘋果電腦集合優良而追上潮流的設計、與iTunes的整合、易用等優點,令iPod 大賣特賣,更進而取代walkman成為新一代潮流文化標誌。然而,蘋果在定價一直高企,iPod又比一般亞洲廠商的MP3播放機笨重,故此,雖然 iPod mini 的推出在一定程度上成功在中價市場上打出名堂,但前面的因素始終令iPod在日本以外的亞洲市場發展比歐美為慢。有見及此,今年一月蘋果終於祭出它的必殺 一擊 – iPod Shuffle – 一部在精密計算下誕生,針對低價市場的iPod。

為達致低價的定位,蘋果在Shuffle的策略上作出多項大膽的嘗試:棄用螢幕、把功能減至最基本的播放、機體外形亦大幅減磅。結果出人意表地有趣:機身 比一排香口膠更小,輕如無物,設計極盡簡約之能事。再加上flash memory功能,令其已經極有競爭力的定價更吸引。(當買一張512M flash drive已是三、四百之時,同容量的Shuffle只是七百八十,播放機功能其實只售三百元左右。)

好,看到這裏,大家應該會問:好用/抵買嗎?筆者會如此答:好用,但抵買與否取決於你對一部音樂播放機的要求。

易用?當然!

易用和美觀的外形,是iPod賴以成功的特色。作為iPod家族的小弟,Shuffle當然亳不遜色。界面只有五個按鈕和一個推制;推制是開關/模式選 擇,而基本功能如播放/暫停、音量控制、向前/後跳軌、fast forward/reverse都在正面的五個按鈕上。按鈕的排列和iPod的click wheel相似,加上iPod招牌”易花”白膠外殼,雖然沒有click wheel,但仍十分醒目易認。除了剛開始用的時候推制有點緊和對位比較難以外,其他按鈕的反應都極佳,而且十分就手,只用觸覺操作絕無難度。電量方面, 官方數字為十二小時,個人無責任測試時Shuffle輕鬆達標。

iPod Shuffle有兩個播放模式:順序播放和Shuffle。順序播放顧名思義、Shuffle則是一般播放機都會有的random play。功能其實很一般,但慣用一般CD/MD/MP3播放機的用家可能需要較多時間適應,例如沒有螢幕,選曲會比較困難。

軟件方面,如其他iPod一樣,附送的iTunes是為Shuffle抄歌的唯一辦法。雖然別無選擇,但用家可以自建playlist, 亦可用iTunes的Autofill功能,以歌曲的播放次數/用家評分/音軌種類等原素隨機選曲並抄入playlist,和Shuffle之名有異曲同 弓之妙。另一方面,iTunes可以快捷地把CD轉錄成MP3檔或AAC檔(註1),慣聽CD的用家可以輕易把自己的CD轉錄並抄上Shuffle,極為 方便。由於Shuffle使用USB2.0介面,故此抄歌速度快極有限,但正因為容量較小,抄滿一部1GB的Shuffle只需要5-10分鐘,可以接 受。

在音色上,梗看Shuffle短小精捍,其實音色極佳,低音強勁有力,高音亦清脆琍落,音量輸出更是出奇地強,推至七成己是極大聲, 最高更絕對可以打壞耳 機兼震聾耳朶。匹配Sennheiser MX500己經有極佳表現,用上筆者的Audio Technica ATH-EM7 SV,音色更是滑如絲綢。另外,網上有人曾把Shuffle與其他iPod及MP3播放機比較,結果竟然是Shuffle大勝(註2),可見 Shuffle並未因平價而在用料上減省,其講究可見一班。

iPod Shuffle適合你嗎?正如筆者開始時所講,每人用隨身聽的習慣不同,Shuffle的簡約不一定適合。它的容量小,自然可放的歌不會多(1GB的話, 320kbps的歌一百首左右),沒有螢幕或其他功能(收音機、錄音等)亦可能令部分買家卻步。然而,如果把它當作一部只播放你喜歡的歌曲的收音機,它其 實是十分稱職的。因為輕如無物,Shuffle十分適合運動時使用,用附送的頸繩掛在頸上極為輕便,用armband(須另購)亦可,唯一要注意的可能是 給搶掉吧。(由於頸繩是連在USB插上的蓋子上,其實很容易被搶掉的。)

體貼的設計+超低售價+品牌=成功要素?

行筆至 此,大家可能會認為Shuffle在功能上並不特出,要在亞洲區各大MP3廠商手上分一杯羹並不容易。﹔無疑,Shuffle推出只有三個月,要推 測這小傢伙對MP3市場中長期的影響並不容易。只是,蘋果聲稱在上年十二月至本年二月(即Shuffle推出後一個月),iPod在全球flash memory播放機市場的佔有率竟然由0%直跳至43%(註3);由於iPod糸列只有Shuffle是用flash memory,故此Shuffle的銷量直接反映在佔有率上,即Shuffle已在某情度上已攻破flash memory播放機市場。而在三月前,Shuffle在全球各地一直賣斷市,需求大得驚人。iPod家的小弟,實力可不容忽視。而事實上,就筆者所見,近 日在街上用iPod的人漸多,相信大部份會是Shuffle用家。(當然,某寬頻供應商送Shuffle會是其中一大原因。) 新加坡大廠Creative本星期公佈業績倒退時,矛頭便直指蘋果大割價令他們必須跟隨,利錢大減(註4)。

iPod Shuffle為甚麼能一嗚驚人?售價自然是其中一大原因,但蘋果不斷追求優良的”使用經驗”(即洋文所謂user experience,或是中文所謂的”好用”)的努力,以至iPod追上潮流的設計功勞亦不少。例子:筆者經常把Shuffle放在衣袋中,然後直接透 過衣服作簡單操作(fast forward/reverse之類),一切全靠觸覺,正因為介面和模式簡單。雖然其他播放機都可能操作簡便,然而他們卻沒有其他的優勢,如價錢、體貼而 入時的設計、iPod的品牌效應等。蘋果只是以短短一季的時間,便以Shuffle再一次証明市場觸覺加上設計和合理的定價才是在consumer electronics市場的致勝之道。深明此道的蘋果,不發達才怪!

註:

1/ 以320K壓縮(MP3/AAC最低值,音質最佳),五分鐘的音樂轉MP3只需半分鐘,轉AAC亦只是需要一分半鐘左右。

2/ 詳見: Bill Machrone寫的Quantifying Digital Audio Player Performance, (http://home.comcast.net/~machrone/playertest/playertest.htm) 及 Shuffle’s got a Secret, (http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1777890,00.asp)

3/ 詳見: PiperJaffray: iPod shuffle, Mac mini sales well ahead of expectations, (http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=1000)

4/ 詳見: MP3 player sales drive Creative to record Q3, (http://playlistmag.com/news/2005/04/22/creative/index.php)

29th HKIFF Series : Hotel Rwanda and Gunner Palace – Some thoughts (originally posted on 29/3/2005 2:10:00)

For this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival, there are quite a bit of movies and documentaries that reflect on topics that did not make it to the news. Hotel Rwanda and Gunner Palace are two of them.

Gunner Palace – an Oxymoron?

Mike Tucker has arrived Baghdad right after Bush declared end of “major combat” in Iraq. He has joined the 2/3 Field Artillery, First Armor Division, US Army, a.k.a. “Gunners”, for an insider look at what is like to be an American soldier in Baghdad. Surrounded by a nation of people who see the US military, as a collective, as the evil conqueror of Iraq, their job has turned from being artillerymen to security guard, drill sergeant, police detective and target rolled into one. For the Gunners, in the surreal world that is Iraq, their billet was a former pleasure palace of Uday Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein. Hence the name of the documentary, Gunner Palace.

The style of the documentary is from the same perspective that the troopers had, since Tucker followed them out on patrols, as well as catching glimpses of the soldiers’ life inside the palace. There was little music to constitute a score, but that wasn’t necessary. The soldiers’ rap talk, poetry and their guitars playing provided a musical perspective to their frustration and opinion on the war, like Rumsfield’s refusal to provide armor upgrade kits for Humvees.

This is very much a “behind-the-scene” view of the days after Second Iraqi War, from the eyes of grunts that are living the scenes. There was no blood and gore, no fighting scenes, yet as an audience you know those things happen every day, and the troopers are always aware of the consequences of these incidents. Telltale signs such as explosions in the distance, radio communication of attacks and roadside bombs sightings, as well as verbal accounts from the soldiers themselves, told a grim story for the predicament of their mission. And their mission changed day-by-day: one day it is a patrol around their sector, the other day might be a raid for insurgents or weapon caches, yet another day might be answering an emergency call for support. Just by being outside their complex means mortal danger for them, no matter from a stone, rifle, RPG, or a roadside bomb.

That said, since the barracks IS a palace, there are some really weird R&R for the Gunners, like a dip in the pool with a Snapple (no alcohol is officially allowed), or a poolside party after a successful raid, or risking one’s life for a whopper at the Burger King outside the complex. While the audience is free to place whatever judgment on the as they see, ultimately the troops are fighting the war for the survival of themselves and their buddies, not for WMD or the ousting of Saddam or even oil. Besides, the troops live in that set of the ‘show’, which most people would perceive when they watch their daily news and went back to their dinners. I guess those who will feel the most watching this film will be Americans with a conscience; that will give them something to chew on while they consider what had happened ever since their people voted G.W. Bush into office.

Hotel Rwanda – the genocide that comes with your main course

Unlike Iraq, Rwanda was somewhat different. The genocide of Tutsi people in the nation of Rwanda had horrified the world in the year 1994, yet due to the retreat of all western support and failure of UN and US from providing official sanction in stopping the massacre, people got killed, and the media moved on to other stories less dangerous to cover. While this is not intended to slam on the media, one of the characters in the film Hotel Rwanda, says the truth of people on the debacle: “If people see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, that’s terrible,’ and they’ll go on eating their dinners.” Everyone, the media, the wealthy countries, all of us, lent a hand in allowing Tutsi people being killed in that bloody year.

Hotel Rwanda started with a peaceful scene with an uneasy undertone. Paul Rusesabagina was the manager of a Belgian luxury hotel in the Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. He was well paid, has a lovely wife and three children, he did interesting work serving wealth westerners, built relationship with powerful people in the country with wit and cunningness for protection and procurement, and lived a comfortable life. But something isn’t right. Hutu and Tutsi people in the country was at war, settling blood feud that went back to German and Belgian colonial time. The actions of Tutsi rebels has not affect the everyday life of Tutsi citizens, but that is about to change. When Hutu started to systematically kill off Tutsi from the country, UN and America has refused to provide diplomatic and military support to intervene. All they did was evacuation of westerners; all the Tutsis has was a token force of UN peacekeepers that were mere doorstops against the Hutu mob. Somehow, the refugees has learnt that some Tutsis has seek refuge in the hotel, as Belgium has threatened retribution against the country on damage for Belgian property in Rwanda. Thus, refugees flocked to the hotel for safety. Paul has to make a choice: should he leave the refugees to die, which basically means he would had to drive his Tutsi wife away, or should he try his best and risk everything to save these people?

People compare this movie with Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Yet, even though the feats that Rusesabagina pulled off is as great as Oscar Schindler’s, he was subjected to even greater odds, as his family and himself, as well as the lives of the refugees were at risk, comparing with Schindler, who was a member of Nazi, thus safe during the whole process of the rescue. By comparison, while Paul’s action is less of the selfless sacrifice that Oscar did, there was a necessity that Paul must address.

Directing wise, Terry George, as the director, is not Spielberg. Not that he had to be, because he has created a masterpiece in vivid image of how the Rwandans were abandoned by the west, and how Rusesabagina save the flock that he had at the hotel. Exercising less on graphic details of the Hutu atrocities, George relied more on the interaction of between the nervous yet calm Rusesabagina, played by Don Cheadle, and the rest of the cast, which included Nick Nolte as the Canadian UN officer, Joaquin Phoenix as Jack the camera man, and Jean Reno as the Belgium company president, which Rusesabagina served. The pace of the movie was tense, as the hotel was constantly under threat and the hint of impending disaster taxed the nerves of the refugees as well as the audience.

At the end, Hotel Rwanda is not a movie that you see for fun. You have to be in a certain mood to see it, or you will be in for a real shock. But that can be a good thing, as both films are works that questioned: how the abundance of information in this age has nullified the senses of the mass on man-made disasters, reducing such tragedy into news items that become history in a relatively short timeframe. How come people can do such horrible things to fellow countrymen, where hate and old feud played a major role. How the lack of initiative from the mass has failed to stop atrocities, when you and me and him and her choose not to care and help about things that are far from our immediate interest. And people die because of all these. Hotel Rwanda, as well as Gunner Palace, was the epitome of these things that we, as a human being, had to consider, for humanity as we know, rest upon our stance on such issues.

痛了一次又一次 – 評《Max Payne 2 – The Fall of Max Payne》(originally posted on 25/2/2005 14:46:00)

久未有時間完成手上已開頭的評論,先拿舊文頂上,大家不要砍我啊! 😛
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痛了一次又一次 – 評《Max Payne 2 – The Fall of Max Payne》
文:菲力士

“Like all bad things in my life, it started with the death of a woman. I cannot save her.” – Max Payne

“The only true reason why man fought wars. Love.” – Alfred Woden

“We are willing to suffer, to die for the things we care about. For love, for the right choices… Sometimes, Something good comes out of it. Something you know you wouldn’t deserve in a million years. Something that gives you a reason to go on.” – Max Payne

在一個射擊遊戲中,有如此的對白,可能有點奇怪吧。但Max Payne 2 – The Fall of Max Payne(下稱:MP2)卻承繼上一集精神,別樹一幟的在戰鬥中穿插著一個有趣的愛情故事。加上更上一層樓的遊戲模式、一流的配樂,成為零三年的佳作。

射擊遊戲=無故事? 非也~
———————-

PC射擊遊戲(第一身射擊更甚)自從十年前的開山之作Wolfenstein 3D/Doom (1993)開始,便以”故事可省則省,戰鬥越緊張刺激越好”為主流。之後八年,玩家好像都習以為常,就像把射擊遊戲等同”把小卒頭領一舉打倒” ,為何打倒則不大重要了… 雖然期間偶有故事突出的佳作(例:Half-Life),但整體氣氛並無突破。

位於芬蘭的遊戲開發商Remedy可不吃這一套。在他們眼中,射擊遊戲的故事與動作場面、視覺效果、美工以至武器同樣重要。他們2001年的第三身射擊處女作 – Max Payne(下稱:MP)便在各方面大幅革新下推出。故事情節以美式漫畫風格交代,加上上佳的對白和演譯,成功地描繪一個警探在槍林彈雨中的復仇之旅;Bullet Time更把吳宇森式慢鏡槍戰場面發揚光大,加上第三身視點,成為MP的一大特色。雖然在2001年因為MP而獲獎無數,Remedy並沒有放鬆。在零三 年,他們推出了MP的續作 – MP2。

痛苦還沒有完(The pain/Payne is not over yet)
———————————————

“I lied to myself that it was over. I was still alive, my loved ones were still dead. It wasn’t over.” – Max Payne

一群吸毒者殺死了紐約警探Max Payne的妻兒。家破人亡的Max為了復仇深入虎穴調查,卻發現事情與一個政府和大企業的陰謀有關。拍擋被殺,自己被陷害,Max必須在黑白兩道追殺之 下走他的復仇之路… MP以大頭目的死亡,Max的大仇得報作結。但事情真是如此簡單嗎…

Max在政府有力人士、秘密結社Inner Circle頭子Alfred Woden的影響下成功洗脫罪名,重回警界。一個下雨晚上,他的朋友,黑幫中人Vladimir Lem(愛稱:Vlad)的貨倉有人報警。Max到場調查時與多名持槍匪徒駁火,並目睹Vlad的女友Annie Finn遇害。在追補期間,應該已經死亡、在Max的復仇之旅中曾介入的女殺手Mona Sax竟奇跡地出現。及後Mona與Max會面,更被之前的匪徒追殺,迫使他必須調查Mona與事件的關係。另一方面,Inner Circle頭目陸續被殺,進一步帶出Inner Circle、Alfred Woden、Vlad、Mona以至Max的拍檔Winterson之間錯綜複雜的關係…

MP糸列的故事一向有如電影劇本, MP2亦不例外。這一次因為Max大仇已了,故事方向便轉往Inner Circle的內鬥,劇情於Max在家被追殺一段急轉直下,匪徒步步進迫之下令Max必須與Mona合作查明真相。情節中的伏線不算十分明顯,先行交代部 分劇情後flashback至之前的事亦處理得十分好。

由於在劇情中有甚多對白,配音便顯得更重要。Remedy在這方面再下一城:除了Max的上司Jim Bravura在第一幕表現較誇張外,角色配音均十分稱職,為MP2加添多一分的電影感。

音樂方面,MP在有限資金下,並沒有把配樂搞得太大。MP2因為有了Rockstar的支援,自然可以大玩特玩。故此MP2的配樂實在可以與電影配樂相提 並論。其中Max與Mona在funhouse被追殺一段和結局一段的弦樂實在叫人拍案叫絕。主題音樂的大小提琴合奏,以至主題曲Late Goodbye的無奈,為整個故事的沈鬱加上注腳。

當你望著槍管,時間好像停止一般
(When you stare down the barrel, time slows to a halt)
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當然,MP2是一個射擊遊戲,如果只談故事不如玩Adv吧!

MP2作為一個第三身射擊遊戲,最突出的自然是Bullet Time吧。看過吳宇森的動作片或是Matrix三部曲的,大都知道Bullet Time即慢動作避子彈吧。Remedy雖然並非用Bullet Time遊戲的第一人,但發揚光大則非其莫屬。然而,MP與MP2的Bullet Time亦有不同。在MP中, Bullet Time是幹掉敵人時補充的。由於敵人分佈並不平均,故在大量敵人出現前使用Bullet Time便要十分小心,難度自然較高。MP2中Bullet Time會自動補充,無需”忍手”用自然較佳。另外,用Bullet Time殺敵到一定數量便會發動第二模式,Max會回復正常速度而敵人則不會,威力大增~ 當然,為平衡起見,敵人數量增加便是在所難免了。(汗)敵人的AI亦被強化,故難度並未比MP下降。

另外,MP2起用了近年射擊遊戲開始採用的Havok物理引擎。Havok能真實地把人與物件的重量和動作正確地表現,故此大部分物件都可以碰跌,爆炸的 爆風亦會把人與物件炸飛,敵人每次中槍亦會有不同的“死狀”。在MP2中,利用這特性的玩意可多的是:炸藥桶可以推向敵人然後引爆,可以把門後的敵人撞倒然後轟殺,也可以把橋炸斷讓敵人跌死…等等。

這是正確的決定嗎? (Is this the right choice? To say no will be a lie)
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MP2是一個頂級的射擊遊戲。如果要挑剔抓缺點的話,故事比較短和沒有多人模式可以算是吧。除了上一作的三個難度和New York Minute模式外,雖加上Dead Man Walking模式(在不同版圖中不斷殺敵),但重玩性並不是極強。話雖如此,要把遊戲全破也需要十小時左右,如要完成最終結局更要破三周目,再加上遊 戲本身質素之高,實在物有所值。

Writing (originally posted on 26/1/2005 0:34:00)

I had been talking about writing some commentaries on things that I read and watch, such as movies, animation, books , etc. So far, there is little to show… I had done a commentary on a PC game last February, and that was almost one year ago. Some projects started and stalled. Some never got started….

I need motivation. Yet, self-motivation seems to be the weakest part of my personality, besides quick temper. Since those articles are neither paid for (I write for webzines that pay me nothing), and there is no time constraint on delivering them, the steam to drive the writing simply is not there. I know I am passionate about telling people what I thought, but without actually putting words on paper (or, in this case, in a word processor), it will never happen.

Frustrating, I know. I guess those who happen to come across this page might have the same feeling. Let’s see if I can get my act together this year.

p.s. one more difficulty: I write better in English than Chinese now…. will I become so degraded to put my articles in English and run it through a translation program in order to get the right Chinese version? 🙁

Some thoughts (originally posted on 26/1/2005 0:24:00)

Talked with one of my old collegues from my first job. I was mentioning that there were quite a bit of people that are not in logistics field studying the masters program that I was in. I then elaborated that there might be a lot of competition down the road, if those people decided to step into the logistics field. Facing such challenge, I proposed, we should equip ourselves with the best qualifications possible.

He replied, “That should not be a concern, as the field is currently in need of entry to middle grade people to do the job, instead of manager grade people that had experience. You see, in this field, the experienced never really leave, they stay in companies for relative long periods. Only the junior people hop from company to company in relative short period of time. Having too high a qualification will only hinders you, as management usually look for people with experience more than qualification.”

Come to think of it… it seems like a valid point, especially when he works in air freight and I work in sea freight, and we saw pretty much the same kind of environment. Yet, that gets me thinking: if I got myself a doctorate, will I be over-qualified yet under-experienced? Should I go for the doctorate right after my masters or should I wait?

This is very confusing. I think I need to consider further options.