Archive for the 'movies' Category

Netflix, HD DVD, Blu-Ray and random movie watching.

July 15, 2007

Netflix is letting you pick a priority order now of how you want your queue. I picked Blu-Ray, HD DVD and DVD. There is a crapton of stuff out on Blu-Ray now. It’s kind of amazing.

This weekend, I watched The Warriors, Ghost in The Shell Solid State Society, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I’m too lazy to do a full review, but I’m never too tired to give my opinion. The Warriors had such an impact on me as a kid in 1979. I remember it being campy. It was. I still enjoyed it though. GiTS was good. I’ve enjoyed every bit of that mythos. I found Fear and Loathing to be unwatchable. I’m sorry, I liked the book, but I hated the characters in the movie.

Next up in the queue is Ghost Rider, TMNT and Memento. I heard Ghost Rider isn’t so bad. Turtles from the 80s didn’t make me run to the theater, but it’s a rental. Memento is on a lot of people’s list as one of their all time favorites. I’m glad I waited because now I get to see it on Blu-Ray.

I’m also sending in for my 5 free Blu Ray disks. The choices aren’t great, but I’m thinking: Invincible, Blazing Saddles, Stir of Echos, Black Rain and The Transporter 2. I’ll watch them and then put them up on eBay (except Blazing Saddles).

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Online gaming means spending more money.

May 6, 2007

Sometimes I think companies that sell games and consoles would like the consumer cost of gaming to move from its present cost to more like the cost model of a movie. One of the main reasons computer and video games are so popular is because even at $50 a game, you get more entertainment time per dollar than you do at the movies. Say Spiderman 3 costs you $10 for two and a half hours. A good video game might give you 50 hours of entertainment time or more for $50.

But the video game model is shifting. Let’s look at Xbox Live. It is a really cool service, but it’s not an inexpensive one. Most things cost points. I submit to you that if you started downloading stuff every time you sat down to play, you would end up spending more per month than if you just bought games from the game store. Plus, Xbox Live’s premium version itself costs money.

Look at World of Warcraft. You’re paying a monthly fee. Maybe it’s worth it, but the point is you’re getting closer to the movie model in terms of cost per gaming hour than if you just bought a game from a game store.

The more money consumers spend in gaming, the more profits the various companies involved make. I’m all for capitalism, but I’m also for being a smart consumer. The companies have the advantage. I want to look for bargains and I certainly don’t want to pay for bad content. A smart gamer should look carefully at new content and set a budget. It would be easy to start spending hundreds of dollars per month on games, just like we already do on cable.

Beerfest in 1080p.

April 22, 2007

When you are experiencing a 1080p movie for the first time, if you are a true movie aficionado, you should spend the time to pick out a perfect movie for this virgin moment.  Not being a true movie buff, I chose Beerfest.  Actually, I was dying to watch a full movie and my HD choices were Casablanca (which I want to watch with friends), King Kong (which I’ve seen) and Beerfest (which I had not seen).

I liked Beerfest well enough, although it was a bit long.  It’s just that in terms of showcasing 1080p goodness, it’s really like using expensive car wax on a beater.  You just aren’t going to get the same bang for your buck as you would for say, Lord of the Rings.  But LoR isn’t out in HD DVD yet, and, as I’ve said, my choices were limited.

Now, of course, when people ask me:  “What was the first movie you saw in 1080p?”  My answer is forever:  “Beerfest.”  I can always hope that they ask instead what my first HD movie was.  Happily, that was The Enforcer with Clint Eastwood.  Amazingly, I saw this in a hotel room on a 720p TV while on vacation.  It looked terrific and really hooked me on HD.  That experience is what drove me to my current level of home theater dedication.  The Enforcer is a terrific Dirty Harry movie.  Beerfest really doesn’t compare well to it, mostly because of the genre difference.

Actually, I can’t complain too much about Beerfest because it was funny and I recommend it for what it is.  I think I need to wait until The Matrix comes out on HD DVD to really experience 1080p.

In my old age, I can now watch movies more than once.

August 28, 2006

All my life it drove me crazy to watch the same movie more than once.  I could recall every minute and I always felt like I was wasting time because there were other movies out there that I could be watching in the pathetically short and flailing existence that is human life.

But now, I’m 40 years old and my memory barely functions.  So I thought I’d try watching Ghost in the Shell again.

I think I first watched it four years ago.  Sure I remember lines and scenes from it, but as I watched it it was almost new to me again.  Plus, it was better even than I remembered.  Moreover, I’ve had the sequel and both series to compare it to.  Even though it’s ten years old now, it still compares favorably.

So what’s old is new again.  In my failing mind, I find a new hope.

I can’t wait to watch Star Wars Episode III again…

Dungeons and Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God.

August 27, 2006

I TiVoed this movie off the Sci Fi channel and finally got around to watching it while I rode our spinning bike.  I expected the movie to be, well, ass.  Almost every other type of movie or media or what have you associated with the game has been terrible.  I didn’t feel like walking downstairs to get a DVD, so I took a chance.  I was well rewarded.

You have to understand my perspective on this.  I watched Bloodrayne in it’s entirety while exercising.  In other words, there’s not a lot that I can’t make it through (although I didn’t make it through Team America World Police, that truly sucked).

Is D&DWotDG as good as LoTR?  Don’t be silly.  Is it better than Bloodrayne?  Yes, by an order of magnitude.  The acting in D&DWotDG is very good.  I suspect they picked up a cast of stage actors who, while unknown, have journeyman skills.  Next, it’s well shot.  The scenes are well framed and it successfully makes you believe that you’re in medieval fantasy world.  Along with the good cinematography, it’s well directed.  Finally, considering the genre, the writing is strong.

If you want to see a live action D&D story told in a movie, this is the benchmark.  It felt like a campaign that opened up before my eyes.  I appreciated the attention to history of the game as well.  The goblin camp looked like a goblin camp.  There were references to D&D deities and everything fit without being corny and without looking like an expensive fan film.

I was thrilled.  Roy Marsden was particularly excellent, but the whole cast was strong.  At times, the acting rose to Masterpiece Theater level (at times).  It also sort of reminded me of HBO’s Rome series.  I guess because that was a bunch of competent unknown actors in well shot, well written, well directed story too.

This movie should be seen by every director in the future who wants to shoot a fantasy movie.  The message should be:  if you can’t do as well as this, don’t do it.  Don’t give us another Bloodrayne.  Don’t give us horrifically bad schlock.  Don’t blow your money on name actors, just look for Shakespearian stage experience.  Give us competence in all categories.  If you can’t do it, don’t bother.

Topics for Friday Night Party Line June 9, 2006.

June 7, 2006

What are your favorite internet memes and where can we find them?  I'm going to play parts of two of my favorites.  These can be new or old, it doesn't matter.

What are your favorite internet videos out right now?

Have you seen Amazon.com's Automated Turk project?  Essentially you can labor intensive work at low cost throughout the world.  I am working on setting up a project under this program.  Have you ever done any work like this or assigned work out through the internet?

Should movies made from books, stories or even comic books stay true to the original source material or should it be free to go way out on it's own?

Did you ever have a difficult boss?  Why was this person difficult?  Share some examples with us.  What did you do to cope with this person?

Who were your role models growing up?  How about now?

How much time do you spend on line every week?  Do you visit the same sites all the time or are you always looking for new ones.

Soon Spore will be released and life as we know it will end.  Have you seen this game?  Are you planning on playing it when  it comes out?

There was a big blow to the Space Elevator recently when it was discovered that carbon nanotubes might not be able to handle the job.  What do you think about the Space Elevator concept?  Will it ever get off the ground?

In the life imitates art category of the day, there are a group of computer geeks in Silicon Valley that have started their own fight club, like the movie “Fight Club.”  There are videos on the web that show these guys beating the crap out of each other.  Would you ever do such a thing?  Do you know anyone who has done this?

Topics for Friday Night Party Line, May 12, 2006.

May 9, 2006

It could be a banner week for FNPL.  We stand to have as many as 6 guests, 50/50 guys and gals.  I want to say thanks and give a link back to K at A Yoga Coffee Outlook.  She's going to be one of our guests this Friday and it's her first time on a podcast.

Here are this week's topics:

1.  The summer blockbuster movie schedule is fast upon us.  There's lots of mutant and superhero action coming and plenty of comedy and adventure too.  What movies are you looking forward to this summer? 

2.  Do you do any sort of exercise or physical activity that requires training or special skills?  How did you come to take it up?  What makes you keep doing it?

3.  I had the occasion to see Itzhak Perlman play this week.  In my mind, he defines the term virtuoso.  He takes his natural gifts and fulfills their potential.  What examples of virtuosity have you seen in your experiences?  Is it ultimately better to be a master of something or to be merely good at many things?

4.  Do you ever think humans will be able to stop the aging process?  Would you take advantage of it if we had the technology?  Would you have surgery to make yourself look younger?  How far would you go?

5.  Few people would run their lives based on astrology, yet just as we have fun opening fortune cookies, most of us know our our astrological signs.  Some of us may even know a bit more.  Do you ever say "that explains a lot" when you find out someone's sign?  Do you read your horoscope at least every once in a while?  Why does astrology still have enough pull today to appear in the newspaper?

6.  On NewScientist.com, there's an article about a new robot suit "that could help older people or those with disabilities to walk or lift heavy objects."  This suit is sleeker and less cumbersome than some of the bulky things that have been available in the past.  Is the age of the iron man here?  Have you seen the YouTube video of the guy with these spring stilts on his feet jumping around Las Vegas?  It's just another example. 

7.  There have been many TV shows based on animals (Mr. Ed, Flipper) and many commercials based on animals (Geccos, Tuna).  What is your favorite TV animal and why?

8.  There's an article from the AP this week that says women can look at a guy's face and tell which guy is interested in becoming a father.  Then they can also which ones they are interested in for "short term romantic partners."  Is this real?

9.  Generally speaking, women live longer than men.  I have an article that claims to know why.  Why do you think that is?

10.  I put up a link in my del.icio.us to peekvid.com.  It's television shows that you can watch online.  They have 24, Boston Legal, The Daily Show even Thundercats!  I'm not sure that that site is particularly legal, but there are lots of sites that are.  I have a computer hooked up to a television upstairs.  Is the average person going to start watching TV from his or her computers with content delivered from the internet? 

Special Days.

May 7, 2006

Special days are not the same for everyone. There are generic days that are supposed to be special to large numbers of certain groups, such as Christmas or Easter, but what is special, memorable or enjoyable depends on the individual. An event that is fun; an event that triggers all the chemicals in a person’s brain that causes one to feel happiness is rare and special and unique to the individual. I wonder if what one really enjoys in life can be distilled to one day. Can you describe your ultimate day? Can you think of how you would take the things you enjoy in life and put them all into one day, assuming you could do anything you want?

What makes something special depends on upbringing and culture and genetic predisposition. Something that is fun and memorable to a middle aged man in Beijing is going to be different than for a man living in Brazil just as it would be to me. There are some exceptions. The human basics are largely enjoyable to everyone. Eating would be an example although what Beijing gentleman considers a delicacy is probably not going to be something I would enjoy as much.

Look at sports. I know a lot of people who love going to basketball games. For basketball fans, a ticket to the big game is something very valuable and attending that event creates both happiness and a memorable experience. While this could be fun, in most cases, I could take it or leave it. I do, however, get the equivalent thrill from podcasting and other computer related activities. To each his own.

The point is, humans have extremely varied tastes in what they enjoy and what become forgotten moments. The trick is to fill your life with those things that create positive memories and limit the ones that do not to the necessary evils in life.

I’m reminded of the end of the movie "AI." The movie is uneven but it does have memorable spots. At the end of the movie, the aliens can essentially give the robot boy anything in the universe that would make him happy. He chooses one day with his mother. This is his ultimate time of enjoyment. This is how he spends his last day alive, playing games and otherwise spending an ordinary day with his mother. While I love my parents and I would certainly include them if I were planning a final day, there would be a lot of other activities as well. It might be strange to hear that I would spend a little bit of the day at my office and other parts of it doing computer stuff. Driving at high speed from destination to destination would be mandatory in a certain black sports car. Don’t worry, though there would be plenty of family time. I would eat, I would drink and I would spend time with my friends and family. When I think about it (morbid as it is) I think I could plan my last day if I had to (heaven forbid). Could you?

Review of the Sanyo Xacti VPC HD1.

April 15, 2006

Can a video camera be the greatest piece of technology available today? I can tell you this is the type of wonder that this device instills in me. It’s almost like I bought something from the future. It seems that sophisticated. The button on the right starts recording in HD (720p) and the button on the left takes 5 megapixel pictures. The switch in the middle zooms in and out. The zooming mechanism is the only moving part. The camera writes its data to an SD card. I bought a two GB version. The viewfinder is the clearest I’ve ever seen and the camera is light and fits perfectly in my hands. The combination of ease of use and portability make it easily the best video camera and digital camera I have. It is a first in so many categories. It’s the first digital video recorder that got the still camera part right. It’s the first HD camera I’ve ever used. It’s the first tapeless video camera I’ve had. It does things like allowing you to make panoramic pictures by sweeping the video or extracting decent stills from video. It has a long battery life and it will use the new four GB SD cards.

So you’re thinking by now that I have stock in Sanyo or something. No I don’t and in fact, I remember when Sanyo built really low-end cheap stuff and when Sony was the big innovator. And this device is not without some issues. Remember that one moving part? The manual says that you can hear the noise of those gears in your videotapes. It’s almost like Sanyo is saying: “Hey we made this thing incredibly tiny and flexible to do all things for all people for 800 bucks, what do you want from us? It’s not perfect.”

Actually, I got mine for about $600 at Broadway Photo.  If you shop around on the Internet, you can get real savings.

The state of the art aspect of the camera can work against you too. The HD mpeg4 files are not for low-end computers. You need a 3GHz Pentium or a 1.6 GHz G5 to play the things. Actually, I beg to differ on the G5 rating. My 1.8 GHz G5 iMac chokes on them. For the first time in my life, I don’t have a computer that’s powerful enough to do something I want to do that’s not a game. Of course this gives me and excuse to build another, more powerful computer! Another problem is that while you can do some primitive file cutting and joining with the camera itself, I haven’t found software to edit the mpeg4 files themselves. You can string together the files and burn them as a movie to a DVD, but I haven’t figured out how to edit the clips. I’ve just been shooting them like completed clips.

Getting them off the camera is easy. The computer recognizes the camera in its base as a drive. So you just copy the files over to the computer. Easy. You need to use the base though, because the camera uses a special formatting on the SD card.

I’ve uploaded some sample video on Youtube. Youtube has dumbed it down, but you get the idea. This is definitely not a low light camera. You’re going to need plenty of light. I’ve also got some flickr links so you can see a couple of pics. It shoots at 10 megapixels too, but I believe that’s an extrapolation. I have links to the video and the pictures. Here are videos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6. Here are picture links 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6.

I’ve saved my one real disappointment for last. The camera has no inputs. You aren’t going to be using it to digitize material from other devices. I had hoped that I could do that. I wanted to take some old minidvs and record them in HD format (even though I know I would not have any better resolution). The camera base plays on regular tvs and has component outputs. Since I don’t have an HD TV, I have yet to see the true HD performance beyond what’s on the viewfinder.

All in all, I feel like I’ve bought an everyday video and digital camera from five years in the future. It has the button placement and ease of use of a device that’s been through many versions. I’m very impressed with it and I would highly recommend it.

(you can hear an audio version of this review on Odeo)

 Edit:  I'm very pleased that this article has been republished or perhaps, "reblogged" at an extremely cool tech site:  Zatz Not Funny.