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Hardening Windows Systems
Hardening Windows Systems
by Roberta Bragg
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 36.51
30 used & new from CDN$ 3.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Tough Enough, June 15 2004
Most books about security don't really address it. They skirt the issue, or they give general advice instead of specific, applicable directions. "Hardening Windows Systems" is one of the few books I've seen -- and I've seen more than a few -- that goes into remarkable depth into how to toughen up a Windows installation, be it a workstation or a server.
The first chapter, "An Immediate Call To Action," starts off, "We have a problem." The problem is that not only does Windows ship in a terribly insecure state, but that most people have no idea how to go about protecting it from compromise. Right away, Bragg shows us specific things to do to make Windows that much more secure in only a few minutes: how to toughen password policies, how to turn off unneeded features that are security holes waiting to happen, how to educate yourself.
The book is loaded with deeply insightful advice. One of the best boxouts is on the rising fad of biometric security. Bragg pokes a hole in its inflated reputation and talks about why biometric security is no better than a blank password if the implementation is itself weak. Many of the book's tips focus on preventing sidelong compromises through spoofing of administrative access (such as granting a program elevated privileges), something Windows is notoriously bad at preventing.
The last chapter is also among the best: it talks honestly and candidly about how to educate users, administrators and the guys with the money on how to make things more secure. This includes things like being able to communicate about security to the non-technical, a grossy underrated ability for many IT people, and how to educate without being condescending (another thing many tecchies are guilty of, myself included).
I'm hoping that this book goes through multiple revisions with each future edition of Windows, because as it stands it's already worth the price. It works as a dive-in-and-start-swimming guide to Windows security (what to do FIRST) and as a detailed course in how to keep things secure for years to come. IT people who don't know where to start should start here.

Spirited Away (Bilingual)
Spirited Away (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Daveigh Chase
Price: CDN$ 28.88
39 used & new from CDN$ 13.89

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miyazaki's Waking Dream, April 23 2003
This review is from: Spirited Away (Bilingual) (DVD)
After grossing more than $250 million in its native Japan and enthralling the anime fan community in the United States, "Spirited Away" has been released both theatrically and in a well-assembled English/Japanese hybrid DVD to great critical and popular acclaim. Winning the 2002 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature didn't hurt, either, and now people are finally beginning to discover what makes Hayao Miyazaki one of the most widely-celebrated directors in the world. Even if he's never made a film with a single living actor on screen.
What makes the movie so special is not just the beauty and gidy strangeness of the images, but because it is at core a grand and well-told story. People who hate animation find themselves captivated after only a few minutes, probably because the story starts on such specific, realistic terms and only gradually branches into fantasy. By the time we're neck-deep in it, so to speak, there's no turning back.
"Spirited Away" gives us Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi in Japanese, and an excellent Daveigh Chase in English), a sullen and dispirited ten-year-old traveling with her parents to their new home in the suburbs. Chihiro has not wanted to move, and resents her mother and father for being forced to leave her old life behind -- much as any ten-year-old would -- and her parents are blithely indifferent to her annoyance. She'll get over it, they seem to be thinking.
Their car takes a wrong turn and winds up being stopped near what looks like a theme park. "They built a lot of these in the Nineties, before the economy went bad," her father says, "so you tend to find them just sort of standing around, falling apart." That doesn't make the place any less creepy, and Chihiro's preternatural unease only increases when her parents find a buffet table heaped with fresh food and begin digging in, despite no one else being in sight. Before she realizes what's going on, her parents have changed into pigs (Miyazaki's earlier Porco Rosso was also about a man changed into a pig), and she's running through the park scared out of her mind.
Somehow Chihiro has crossed over into a parallel world of sorts, one where the park is very much alive, and catering vigorously as a kind of vacation resort to the "Eight Million Gods." In a scene worthy of Kurosawa, Chihiro watches open-mouthed as a giant paddle-wheel steamboat docks and disgorges an apparently endless procession of spirits, all lining up for a fancy meal and soak in the hot springs. She also befriends (somewhat by accident) a young boy, Haku, who works in the resort and gives Chihiro tips on how to be employed there by the owners. There is also something strangely familiar about him, which becomes of paramount importance in the movie's closing scenes, but the less said about that the better.
The movie has the feel of a dream, and that is, I suspect, something that threw people off -- they were expecting something more conventionally Disneyfied, and not something that had strong roots in surreal / fantastic art. That to me makes it all the more valuable: this isn't something that was thrown together to sell some action figures, but is a communication from one soul to many. And at the end, when the dream is over, we realize what we've seen has been in its own way as adventurous and thought-provoking as anything by David Lynch.
PIXAR CEO John Lasseter personally took the reins to bring this film to American audiences, and did it with love and care. The English dub is never distracting, although if you like the movie it's worth watching again in Japanese to see how little (or how much) was actually changed. Very little has been arbitrarily rewritten, and the voice actors all give a great deal of gusto with their performances.
Disney's presentation has been lavish -- two discs, with the movie isolated on one disc and sporting both English and Japanese audio. Some seamless-branching work has been done to the titles, which may glitch on some players (it was OK on my PC, but twitched slightly on my standalone Sony DVD player), but the whole package is quite effective. The 2nd disc also features a storyboard-to-film comparison that students of the production will find endlessly enthralling.

Dead Or Alive 1
Dead Or Alive 1
DVD ~ Shô Aikawa
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 52.19
8 used & new from CDN$ 13.97

5.0 out of 5 stars Flabbergasting!, April 5 2003
This review is from: Dead Or Alive 1 (DVD)
The first and last five minutes of DEAD OR ALIVE are truly you-hadda-be-there experiences... and the ending.... well, the ending isn't just over-the-top, it's fall-off-a-cliff-and-no-bottom-to-hit.
This overheated crime noir is the brainchild of Takashi Miike, Japan's answer to Ken Russell and Quentin Tarantino rolled into one, a workaholic who in only a decade has something like forty-five films to his name. Here he pits the sneering Riki Takeuchi against the cool-eyed Sho Aikawa (both direct-to-video crime-movie stars in Japan), with the former being a yakuza with ambitions to ace everyone else out and the latter being a vice cop obsessed with squeezing him to pay for his daughters operation. The two ooze through Japan's underworld, where stomachs full of ramen noodles are blown all over the camera lens and you're as likely to die of being drowned in a wading pool of excrement as you are being shotgunned at your birthday party while in a stork suit.
What makes Miike more than just an exploitationist is his unusual attention to character and incident. Beyond and above the noise and splatter of his images, there are real people on screen here: Takeuchi's criminal is so hardened that he can't even hear the cries of despair from the younger brother he allegedly did so much of this for, and Aikawa's cop is so estranged from his family, he's almost going through the motions of trying to save them. Then both of them are jarred into action by circumstances, and that leads to the showdown I mentioned above. Which REALLY has to be seen to be believed... or disbelieved.
There are two other DOA movies, but interestingly, they have no common elements except a) crime and b) the presence of the two leads. Call them "side-quels," if you will, and here's hoping the rest of them find their way to the USA sooner rather than later...

The Ring (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
The Ring (Widescreen) (Bilingual) [Import]
DVD ~ Naomi Watts
Price: CDN$ 10.92
47 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Do not adjust your picture, March 11 2003
A worthy if limited remake of the Japanese horror cult item "Ringu" (now also available on DVD from DreamWorks; it's worth checking out), "The Ring" is like a cross between a rebus puzzle and a murder mystery. The clues in the film are all esoteric and visual, and even though they're explained for us in considerable detail there's still enough left open to keep the audience squirming -- the movie not only gives you a jolt when you're watching it, but stays in your head for days afterwards. That said, it's flawed -- but not in ways that make it unwatchable.
Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), journalist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, is having kid trouble. Her son is uncommonly precocious and blunt for his age, and seems to have been greatly disturbed by something that he couldn't have known about: the untimely death of his cousin from a gruesome heart attack. The rumor mill among her friends seems to hint that she watched some kind of weird videotape "that kills you seven days later." Weirder things have happened, right?
Smelling an urban legend in the offing, she follows a trail of clues to the mountain cabin where the girl stayed with some friends, and where they seem to have taped something that seemed to manifest in their TV by itself. It's a parade of gruesome, apparently unconnected images, and after it snaps off she gets a phone call ... telling her she has seven days to live. Worse, her picture comes out distorted whenever she takes a photo of herself. What's going on here?
The movie assembles clues like a Nancy Drew mystery, but with the atmosphere and lurid sensibilities of a David Lynch movie. The two are an uneasy combination at times, but that doesn't stop the film from going for some really bold ideas: there's a moment where Rachel is analyzing the videotape with an industrial-strength VTR deck, and the scene works almost like an homage to Brian De Palma's "Blow Out," where we had another amateur investigator assembling what appear to be facts out of thin air.
Without ruining anything I will say that she discovers the secrets of the tape, as well as a great deal more, although the way these elements play out might seem abortive to a lot of people. The movie ends very abruptly, on a note of existential "what now?" rather than the usual gallery of dead bodies -- which is, I guess, pretty refreshing from the usual sort of thing, but it's still frustrating all the same. (Apparently some deleted material involving a child killer was supposed to furnish a more definitive ending for the film, but I can see how it would simply be seen as a contrivance.)
Most of the film's appeal lies in its audacity and visuals; the acting is either flat or merely serviceable, although Daveigh Chase is exceptionally creepy as Samara (even though you almost never see her face during the whole movie). Director Gore (!) Verbinski shoots in ominous greens and blues, saturating the film and rendering everyday objects menacing, and his vision of Seattle is like a wet hell.
The movie, interestingly enough, may work best for those who haven't seen the original and therefore don't have an existing standard to hold it to -- they'll either find it a real original or a total mess. Still, if they don't freak out in the last few minutes, then they're probably not breathing too good themselves.

Mysterious Object at Noon
Mysterious Object at Noon
DVD ~ Prasong Klimborron
Offered by M and N Media Canada
Price: CDN$ 138.80
8 used & new from CDN$ 90.52

5.0 out of 5 stars Mysterious Corpse, Feb. 9 2003
This review is from: Mysterious Object at Noon (DVD)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul doesn't say he "directed" this movie -- he says (in an interview on the disc) that he "assembled" or "compiled" it. "Mysterious Object..." is a filmic version of the "Exquisite Corpse," where a group of people will take turns adding segments to a story, in effect becoming improvisational storytellers. What makes the film unique and refreshing is its location and mode: it's shot in Thailand amongst the villagers and people of the countryside, and they bring to the experiment a wonderful clear-mindedness and naive joy that would be hard to get out of a more "professional" group of people. The story they tell is deliberately meandering and contradictory, but it's not about the story so much as it is about the storytelling. There's never been anything like this, and fans of experimental or world cinema deserve to check it out.

Visitor Q (Full Screen)
Visitor Q (Full Screen)
DVD ~ Ken'ichi Endô
Price: CDN$ 25.01
7 used & new from CDN$ 11.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Taboo-incinerating, has all the pieces, but they don't click, Jan. 2 2003
This review is from: Visitor Q (Full Screen) (DVD)
"Visitor Q" crams in every possible perversion of love imaginable and goes full-circle through all of them, from a disintegrating marriage back into maternal and wedded bliss of a sort. We get sadism, masochism, teenage prostitution, adult prostitution, incest, domestic violence,... , drug abuse, murder, rape, necrophilia, cophrophagy, lactation, and, incredibly a happy ending. It's the happy ending that may tick people off the most.
Why? Probably because Takashi Miike, the director / writer / producer / madman responsible for this (and about 165 OTHER films every year since 1992), isn't just rubbing our noses in ugly behavior for its own sake, but uses it -- and the genre trappings of exploitation/grindhouse cinema -- to make points about his characters. He shows us a father, a failed TV producer, who's trying to recapture his former glory (?) by making a docudrama about "kids these days", except that instead of the usual addled, hopelessly out-of-touch approach, he gets in TOO close. His daughter's a prostitute? He'll go rent her for the hour and record the experience. His son's getting beaten up every day on the way home from school? He'll film that, too. And so on.
The visitor of the title is a near-mute stranger who gets himself invited into the household (not very subtly, either: he announces his presence by bashing the father over the head with a brick) and slowly becomes a catalyst for change. I won't say how, but lactation figures into it, and before long everyone's one big happy family again. Sort of.
Curiously, where the movie falls short is not because of its luridness or even in spite of it -- the movie's failings are separate from its material or even its approach. It's a little scattershot and underwritten in places (the stranger is the weakest part of the story), but if you're already a Miike fan, make this part of your collection if only as an example of what the man can do when nobody's standing in his way. If you're a newcomer, try "City of Lost Souls" or (gulp) "Dead or Alive" first. And don't eat anything.

Eel (Widescreen)
Eel (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Kôji Yakusho
Offered by OMydeals
Price: CDN$ 174.80
9 used & new from CDN$ 35.95

1.0 out of 5 stars Clumsy, amateurish, pretentious, Nov. 17 2002
This review is from: Eel (Widescreen) (DVD)
Shohei Imamura has been responsible for some of the better films out of Japan -- "Black Rain," "Vengeance Is Mine," and "The Pornographers" all come to mind. How, then, to explain "The Eel," a movie so silly and dumbfoundingly amateurish that it contains mistakes no first-time filmmaker would make?
The plot: After spending eight years in prison for murdering his philandering wife, a man returns to society and opens a barbershop with only his pet eel as company. He stumbles across a woman who has apparently attempted to commit suicide, and in gratitude she offers her services at his shop. He doesn't want anything to do with her, but eventually it becomes him vs. her half-psychotic former boyfriend (in a subplot involving her loony mother and some stolen money that's as stupid as it is unedifying).
The main problem with "The Eel" is not the premise, which is fine, but the way the movie is set up and played off. The writing and directing (and in many cases the acting) are staggeringly bad, so much so that I felt flat-out pity for Imamura. I suspect he had an idea that he simply was not capable of doing justice to properly, and compromised somewhere along the way.
So what kinds of mistakes are made? Example: Takuro is shown goose-stepping in prison as part of the routine. When he's released, he follows his parole officer a little too closely, and with a walk that's reminiscent of the goose-step without actually being that way. The parole officer asks him what's wrong. So far, so good. But then Imamura destroys the moment by forcing a shot of other prisoners goose-stepping, and even goes so far as to give us a voice-over explaining what was going on. It's as if he doesn't trust himself or his audience to figure anything out. Worse, there's a scene later where a bunch of recruits go jogging by. Takuro compulsively falls into step with them, like some publicity hound trying to be seen in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
Perhaps the most telling comment of all came from the director himself: when he was at Cannes the first couple of days, he grew unhappy and declared, "I can't compete with all of the big-budget entries here, and I'm not happy with the way my movie looks. I'm going home." He left the festival, and it was up to Koji Yakusho to accept the award on his behalf. When Imamura heard the news, his response was "There must have been some mistake. They should recount the ballots." He was probably right.

The Rules of Attraction: A Novel
The Rules of Attraction: A Novel
by Bret Easton Ellis
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.27
42 used & new from CDN$ 1.77

1.0 out of 5 stars Rashomon meets Bevery Hills Brat Pack, everyone loses, Sept. 26 2002
Somewhere inside this very, very tired and very, very stupid novel is a germ of a good idea, but I'll be darned if I'm going to go digging for it. Just reading "The Rules of Attraction" alone was painful enough.
Bret Easton Ellis made his mark, shallow as it was, with "Less Than Zero" and "American Psycho," ..."Attraction" is the absolute bottom of the barrel. It's a kaleidoscopic take on various people lusting after each other in college, each with about one personality trait apiece if you discount the fact that they are only really defined by what they want and how they can get it.
... The book reeks of pseudo-artlessness on every level -- Ellis tries to avoid looking pretentious by using four-letter words galore, which only makes him all the more pretentious.
Apply the Siskel Test here: Are any of these people worth even eating lunch with? If not, why read a whole novel about them? I wish more writers would try applying that rule to their own work; we could be spared a great many more garbagey novels with inflated pedigrees.

Koyaanisqatsi (Widescreen)
Koyaanisqatsi (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Lou Dobbs
Offered by thebookcommunity_ca
Price: CDN$ 69.51
16 used & new from CDN$ 9.55

5.0 out of 5 stars "Until now you've never really seen your world.", Sept. 24 2002
This review is from: Koyaanisqatsi (Widescreen) (DVD)
Those words were used in the trailer for this unique film, and appear on the poster as well. More than almost anything else, I think, that sums up the movie's intentions. This is a film about observing our lives as we live it, but in a manner that forces us to see everything anew, to see both the harmony and the imbalance for what it is. In the words of Godfrey Reggio, we are seeing "the beauty of the beast."
The movie does away with traditional narrative -- no plot, no story, no characters, no dialogue (not in English, anyway) -- and gives us instead a pure experience, something that other movies often try to do and don't achieve. By starting in a world without man and gradually adding him, we see that the world as we live it has become an artificial extension of our will. We don't use technology; we live it. But the movie is not blanket-condemning this -- the whole sequence "The Grid" shows mankind and his technological envelope coexisting in grand harmony, producing, living, interacting.
When the movie does focus on the individual human being, a strange thing happens: because of the way the movie sees, the people we see seem strange, distant. When was the last time we really looked at someone, in the same way this movie forces us to really look at things? That's the main issue here, I think -- it's an education film in that it teaches us how to see our world all over again and think broad-mindedly about it. We can use our world badly (the atomic bomb) or we can use it intelligently and resourcefully (the nuclear power plant, in front of which we see people cheerfully sunning themselves).
"Koyaanisqatsi" means life out of balance, of course, and I think the title applies to the film in a cautionary sense. We can live in harmony not only with our natural world but with our technological world, the one we have substituted for tha natural world. Or we can live badly with either, or both. The movie shows examples of all of the above, and quietly reminds us that beneath the skin of our technology we're still human, and we require humanity more than technology.
About the aspect ratio issue: I have seen the movie in 1.33:1 and 1.85:1, and as far as I can tell this is the most correct aspect ratio for the film. The 1.33:1 prints appear to be cropped from the sides -- I have stills of the movie in that aspect ratio and they are definitely side-cropped to fit. MGM's compression job on the film is for the most part really good -- I spotted some artifacting here and there in a couple of scenes, but for a movie with this much motion they did a pretty solid job. See it on a really big TV (or better yet a 35mm theatrical print with digital sound) for the best effect.
I do agree that the audio is a bit murky. I think they took the audio from a 2-channel magnetic master and rechanneled it for 5.1, but they may have had to do this because of the elements available -- the audio in the movie contains atmospheric effects which are not duplicated in other copies of the soundtrack. I've not seen the private IRE edition of the DVD, so I can't comment on how good that is. But for the time being this is still a very worthy version of a movie that up until now simply wasn't available to the public in a commercial release.

Monsters, Inc. (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
Monsters, Inc. (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
DVD ~ Billy Crystal
Offered by magsamil
Price: CDN$ 26.95
26 used & new from CDN$ 9.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Bring out the kid in you -- or the kid with you, Aug. 23 2002
Pixar, Inc. must have the exclusive drilling rights to childhood joy. Given that they have now made not one, not two, but FOUR movies in a row that are grand fun for kids and adults everywhere, I can't think of any other explanation. Like Disney in the early part of the 20th century, they are taking a medium -- in this case, computer-generated rather than hand-drawn animation -- exploring it vigorously and joyfully, and putting this new technology in the service of some terrific storytelling.
Rather than rehash fairy tales or rework legends, Pixar are trying something a little daring: creating movies that are totally new, not based on any existing material, but have the timelessness of children's stories. "Monsters, Inc." is their newest movie and it's a beaut -- at least as good as "Toy Story" was, if not better.
The premise is a tad more sophisticated this time: A parallel world much like ours, except populated by closet-monsters, who depend on childhood nightmares to fuel their machines and gadgets. The actual "mining" is done by an outfit named Monsters, Inc., who teleport themselves into kid's closets and pop out, then capture the screams in special ampules. This is all terrifically clever, and the movie has great fun with the details of the process. I loved one shot where a monster pops back out of the closet with a whole armful of ampules, and says "Slumber party."
As would be expected, something goes amiss, and soon enough a kid winds up crossing over into Monsterland. Kids themselves are treated like toxic waste -- or maybe Roswell aliens -- and soon the problem of an escaped kid mushrooms into one wildly funny situation after another. What's even better is the ultimate payoff, which comes from totally unexpected directions.
Technically the movie is outstanding. Pixar's animators aren't trying to make everything look photorealistic (think of the technically astounding but ill-fated "Final Fantasy"), but they make it convincing, and that's what matters. We see this universe and we accept it on its own terms instead of going "Oh, that's CGI" every five minutes.
This movie is proof that computer graphics are a medium, and that the medium is open-ended: we can make it into any kind of conveyor we want, provided we have the talent to tell a story that matters to people with it. Disney's recent decline seems to be due to them simply running out of ideas; Pixar is picking up where they left off and going into uncharted territory, and having a great time as well.
This is one of the very few DVDs that belongs in just about every collection. There isn't a soul out there that won't dig it.

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