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Can't believe I have to say this, but: PLEASE DO NOT HURT YOURSELVES WITH THIS BIRD BOX CHALLENGE. We don't know how this started, and we appreciate the love, but Boy and Girl have just one wish for 2019 and it is that you not end up in the hospital due to memes.-- Netflix US (@netflix) January 2, 2019
Oath - Volunteers of Foreign NationalsAs long as I assist as a volunteer in the War of Liberation of the Nation of Israel - I hereby swear on my word of honor, to accept unconditionally and without reservations, the rules and discipline of the Israeli Defence Army, to obey all its orders and istructions given by the authorised commanders and to do all in my power, and even to sacrifice my life in the defence of the Freedom of Israel.
"They need to pair up Liam Neeson's Bryan Mills with Bruce Willis's John McClain and have them be dads who volunteer to be chaperones on a high school trip in order to keep an eye on their daughters. Something could go terribly wrong -- terrorists could, like, kidnap the whole class and, like, do mean stuff -- and Bryan and John could go into action to save them."
I know, it sounds lame, but what if the field trip was to Washington, D.C. And what if the bad guys were actually Congress? Starting to see the appeal now?
OK, it's just a fantasy, but if you're a Hollywood screenwriter cruising the net for ideas, remember where you heard it. Anyway, if you haven't seen Taken and you're a fan of the Die Hard movies, go see it. Neeson doesn't have Willis's comic flair, but to paraphrase Johner in Alien: Resurrection*, he is not the guy with whom you want to **** (pardon my French special characters, which is appropriate given that most of the movie's action took place in Paris).
*This is an under-appreciated member of the "Alien" line-up, in my opinion. The movie is worth watching if only for Ripley's basketball scene, and getting to see the corrupt General Perez pull his own pineal gland** out of the back of his head and stare at it in horror is, well, compelling beyond description.
**OK, I have no idea if it really was a pineal gland, but it was small and icky and seemed like something a person would be really sad to be holding in his hand.
- The movie is almost three hours long (and with the extended trailer for the new Star Trek movie - which looks amazing, by the way - we were in the theater for a full three hours. That's too long. Seriously. The first part of the movie dragged in places, although that was't an issue at all once things got going.
- Continuing along this line of thought, the movie adaptation of The Hobbit will be presented in three parts, with the next two coming in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This means that you'll spend just about as much time watching it in the theater as it takes to read the book.
- Still more about the length: three hours is too long to wear 3D glasses. Someone needs to design glasses that are more comfortable, that don't mash into your temples in migraine-inducing fashion. But, perhaps I'm simply unwilling to suffer for someone else's art.
- The HFR version of the movie has gotten some knocks for being, well, too realistic. Frankly, we thought it was great, and I recommend trying it if you have the option. The movie was beautifully shot and the special effects benefitted from the increase resolution. We also thought the 3D was very well done, and wasn't intrusive or contrived.
- The first part of the movie seemed to drag a little, and the bits where the dwarves sang and put the dishes away seemed like something out of a 1950s Disney animated movie...not that there's anything wrong with that, per se, but it didn't enhance the film and seemed to be filler.
- As Jen put it on Facebook, the eagles rocked. Truly.
- The riddle scene featuring Bilbo and Gollum was great, just the right mixture of manic comedy and suspense.
- Deadward Scissorhands
- The Walking Dead of Oz
- Alice From Underland
- Wrecks and the City
- Who Maimed Roger Rabbit? ["She's not really dead; she's just drawn that way."]
- Breakfast Is Tiffany
- The Princess Died
- ...and many, many more.
On this page you get a very brief plot summary, the primary actors, the director, and options to either play the movie or add it to your queue. Again, very clean and straightforward.
First up was 1981's Wolfen, a "horror/suspense" movie starring a gravelly-voiced and grim-countenanced Albert Finney (yeah, OK, those are his normal acting modes) and a wise-cracking and jive-talking Gregory Hines (uh, same thing, although he does meet an unexpected fate as dinner) who are trying to solve a series of gruesome murders in The Big Apple. As we all know, it turns out to be a pack of wolves (or are they?) who prefer tenement living and derelicts to woodlands and Bambi.
About halfway through the movie it occurred to me that this wasn't the film I was expecting to see; I had it confused with The Howling, a somewhat-better-than-average werewolf movie from - coincidentally - the same year as Wolfen. Same oeuvre, more or less. Common mistake, I'm sure.
What I did not realize is that Wolfen was written by Whitley Streiber, the author of Critical Mass, a novel about nuclear terrorism that I teased a bit in this post last December. Streiber also wrote The Day After Tomorrow and The Hunger, both of which were adapted to movies of varying quality. The latter starred Catherine Deneuve, who should make any top 10 list of sexy actresses, regardless of era. But I digress.
Well, actually, I don't digress; I'm tru wit dis one. (Quick: what movie is that line from?*)
Feeling somewhat unfulfilled by an absence of werewolves, we then chose Frozen (which reminds me of a joke about Presbyterians that wouldn't be appropriate at all at this point), a movie made just last year about three yahoos - a girl and two guys - who get stuck on a ski lift. The fact that it's already made it to Netflix's streaming catalog should give you some insight as to the quality of this production. It stars some Gen Y/Z actor slackers who look awfully familiar, but, then, they do all look alike, don't they?
I guess Shawn Ashmore would be the most recognizable of the cast, as he has a recurring role in the X-Men series. I'm sure it's one of those little Hollywood insider jokes that Shawn's X-Men character is known as Iceman, and in this movie he battles death by freezing.
Well, I'd like to say that Frozen is an undiscovered, under-appreciated gem of a movie, and it does have its moments, but for the most part you're left despairing about the destiny of our nation if kids like this are its future. You know how in the teen slasher flicks the soon-to-be-decapitated and/or disembowled kids always approach the closed closet door, trembling but without the apparent will to resist, and despite the audience's audible warnings, open the stupid door anyway? Those kids were Rhodes scholars compared to these three bozos, for whom logic is as evanescent as ambition.
I actually awoke in the middle of last night thinking, "I can't believe they didn't ..." Sure, that probably says more about me than about the movie, but that's not the point.
Anyway, I mentioned above that these two movies had something unexpected in common, and that was that - well, remember that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine posits that a wild Australian canine devoured a lady's progeny? Well, guess what the leading cause of death in Frozen turns out to be? That's right; nobody gets iced (in the literal sense), but a pack of wolves does turn out to be a troubling complication to being stuck on a chairlift. I think we both know where this is heading, so there's no need to say more. Suffice it to say that by the end of this movie, we were all rooting for the wolves.
Every movie review must provide a reference to another movie in order to establish the credibility of the reviewer (while ironically exposing his inability to come up with anything original), and so I will compare Frozen to Open Water, the 2003 movie about the scuba divers who are stranded in shark infested waters and end up detonating a nuclear device over Las Vegas to extract revenge. OK, I may have embellished that a bit, but I was trying to avoid irony. Anyway, in both movies the protagonists go through the same "bonding through tribulation" phases, sort of. So, I hope that helps.
There you have: our Friday Night At the Movies en la casa. We should have had popcorn.
*Here's a hint: it starred that annoying actor with a recurring role in the Lethal Weapon series. No, that other annoying actor.
If Netflix has disclosed how many movies and TV program episodes it has available for "instant watching" (its term for streaming content over the internet), I can't find it. The inventory looks considerable when you're browsing through the company's website. But the streaming content is a fraction of what's available via DVD, and anyone thinking about going disk-free needs to understand exactly what they're giving up.
In an admittedly dangerous precedent, I did some research yesterday evening in an attempt to better characterize the Netflix streaming inventory. I selected the Top 100 Grossing Movies (US market only) for 2008, 2009, and 2010 and correlated those lists to the content available for streaming via Netflix. Every one of the 300 movies was either available on DVD, or was coming to Netflix via DVD (many of the top 2010 movies are still in first-run status).
The availability of those movies for streaming was a starkly different picture. Only nine of the 2010 movies are available via streaming, which wasn't terribly surprising given the typical time lag between first runs and rental availability. 2009 fared better, but still only 33 movies on the list can be watched via streaming. The real shocker came when I cross-checked the 2008 list: only TWO of the Top 100 are available: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (the #20 movie that year), and Defiance, which was last on the Top 100 list. These findings seem to conflict with the company's statement that Netflix has streaming access to films that brought in about 49 percent of the 2010 box office revenues, although they may be including TV shows in that number. [Source]
We don't see a lot of movies at the theater anymore, and haven't felt deprived, so losing access for many of them isn't really a big deal for us. But any film fan who is contemplating a switch to the Netflix no-DVD plan should consider carefully what they're giving up. You may end up spending more on gasoline to drive back and forth to the nearest Red Box to get movie satisfaction if you halt the shipment of Netflix DVDs.
Paltrow stars as a washed up country singer in the upcoming movie Country Strong. Gee, that sounds awfully familiar; wonder where they came up with that idea? Of course, copying Crazy Heart isn't a bad strategy, considering that it won Jeff Bridges an Oscar. And playing a country singer on the big screen also has some mojo; just ask Reese Witherspoon, who got an Oscar for her portrayal of June Carter in Walk the Line.
But Witherspoon's portrayal had something important in common with Jamie Foxx's performance in Ray (another Oscar-garnering appearance). They were portraying real performers who were either dead or no longer active. When you can't get the actual person to play themselves, it's natural to look for an actor who can do a credible job.
Which brings me to my mild complaint about Paltrow being cast as a country singer. Don't we already have enough real country singers who are also gifted actors? Did they have to look for someone with no musical background (being married to a rocker doesn't really count), who had to learn to sing, and learn to talk country, and learn to have big hair, to play this role?
As good as Paltrow is, I can't help thinking that someone like Carrie Underwood, Reba McIntyre, or Faith Hill could do just as good a job on the acting front while being completely authentic as a country musician (and let's not get into bickering about the state of country music today, 'k?).
It's all about box office buzz, I know. Gwyneth Paltrow's name on the poster guarantees an additional xx millions of revenue for the movie, and that's fine. I like Gwyneth Paltrow, and I'm very impressed with her poise and, yes, her voice. And it didn't hurt her credibility to be paired onstage with Vince Gill. But puh-leeze don't try to tell me that she's got a future in country music. Let her take a show on the road through East Texas and Missouri and Southeast New Mexico and Gillette, Wyoming for a few years and then let's talk. In the meantime, we've got plenty of ladies who've earned the right to represent country music.
I've already spent two hours watching a documentary on Cream** (the band, not the dairy product, although that would probably be interesting too, as long as I can watch it on an iPad).
Netflix doesn't provide every movie in its catalog for streaming, but there are enough titles of interest to suck up every otherwise-productive moment of the day. Very dangerous.
*I've been prone to hyperbole for, like, a billion years.
**Things I Learned: Ginger Baker was the driving force behind the formation of Cream (the band, not the dairy product, although I suppose it's possible he also spent time churning milk). He's also a very bitter fellow who hated bassist Jack Bruce for most of their time together. Also, Eric Clapton was planning to give Jimi Hendrix a left-handed Stratocaster as a gift on a certain night, but never was able to connect with him. That turned out to be the night Hendrix died of a drug overdose. And, finally, all three of the band members have lost significant hearing as a result of their time in front of high-powered amplifiers, and they blame Jim Marshall.
I wish more movie reviews were sensitive to the needs of bitter enders by including something like "stay for the credits" (no need for spoilers) or "there's nothing in the credits but credits." We wouldn't change our habits based on those tips, but it might expand the ranks of our small but dedicated cadre.
Of course, ushers would be less pleased, but that's why they make the big bucks.
Whenever we'd try to watch a DVD, the TV would display a fuzzy pink-tinged picture, something that I'm pretty sure didn't accurately reflect the content of the disc. Then, it would display a message like "resolution not supported" and go blank. The cycle would start over, and while it occasionally would end with the DVD playing properly, more often we had to give up on it. The problem was that I was never sure if it was the DVD player, the receiver, the TV, or a combination of two or more of them. All three have the capability of upconverting non-HD signals, and I feared that they just weren't playing well together. And, of course, the documentation read like, well, stereo instructions.
I tried everything I could think of...swapping out HDMI cables, toggling the conversion settings on all the devices, and...well, that's all I could think of to try, to be honest. I finally had the brilliant idea of connecting the DVD player directly to the TV, and it played perfectly. That, combined with the fact that even the cable box/DVR that was routed through another HDMI connector on the receiver led me to believe that the receiver's HDMI circuit board had issues. I googled the problem and found that others had experienced HDMI problems with Onkyo A/V receivers, albeit not with our particular model.
The receiver is still under warranty, so I contacted the store I ordered it from (Vann's Inc., via Amazon.com) and they immediately diagnosed it as a defective unit and offered to exchange it or issue a refund. I was very impressed, until they added that these options were available only if I shipped the unit back to them in the original packaging. That packaging included a box big enough to house a refrigerator, and we didn't want to use an entire spare bedroom just to store an empty cardboard box. So, Vann's washed their hands of the issue.
Next stop: Onkyo's customer support. I emailed them and received a response within a couple of days (along with an apology for the delayed reply). They directed me to one of their service centers for warranty work. Of course, the closest such center is in Denver, so I've got to ship a 40 pound piece of electronics up there and the turnaround is 2-3 weeks, assuming they have the parts in stock to fix it. So be it.
The upside is that we've greatly simplified our remote control situation once more. And we can still watch the Blu-ray player by connecting it directly to the TV. But the absence of surround sound makes an HD DVD a less than satisfying experience. What I really miss is the ability to play music on the front and back porches.
Why am I sharing this? No real reason, other than it might help someone else diagnose a similar problem. And, I guess, also to point out that in light of the kinds of problems we could be having, this one's not too bad.
- When we built this house two years ago I wired it for 7.1 surround sound. We had the four rear speakers installed in the ceiling at the time so they could be painted to match, but two of them have never been connected because our current receiver is an old-and-busted 5.1 model. The new receiver will enhance our listening pleasure by approximately...let's see, carry the one...20%. (The new box is actually a 7.2 receiver; I guess the .2 means that we could run two sub-woofers, but I have no idea why I'd want to do that. I value our drywall too much.)
- Our current receiver also does not have an HDMI connector, meaning that the digital HD cable signal is bypassing the receiver completely, going from the cable box directly to the display. So the picture is great, but the audio - well, not so much. Plus, whenever we want to watch a DVD, I have to plug a separate S-Video cable into the side of the TV, which looks ugly in addition to being less than optimal for picture quality. (I knew that eventually I'd have HDMI capabilities, so I didn't go to the trouble to run an S-Video cable through the wall to the TV...in case you're wondering.) The new receiver has six HDMI ports, which should pretty much satisfy our hi-def connection needs for, say, the next two decades, or until something better comes out next month.
- This means that we can upgrade to a Blu-Ray player if we so desire. Perhaps April will be a good month, too, although Blu-Ray machines are becoming almost ridiculously inexpensive, at least compared to where they started.
- And, finally, because the new receiver supports music streaming by Ethernet, I can finally see if the CAT-5 cable I had run from my office over to the A/V bookshelf actually works. Or, to be more precise, I can finally see if I know how to hook things up so that my computer will talk to the receiver and make sweet music together.
What I am simultaneously dreading/looking forward to is disconnecting everything from the old receiver and trying to get it all plugged into the right places on the new one. And, because of the "cascading upgrade" effect, I'll have to do this multiple times, as I move the old receiver into another room to replace and even older one, and move that even older one into a room without one at all.
Even if you're not a Queen fan, be sure and watch at least the last 20 seconds or so.
We caught the first matinee showing of 2012, the latest epic disaster movie from Roland Emmerich. The bad news is that the whole world gets destroyed; the good news is that it's not blamed on SUV drivers. Al Gore is reported to be disconsolate.
We went in with reasonable [read: lowered] expectations, and came out thinking, "that was actually pretty entertaining." Sure, Emmerich borrowed heavily from almost every major action thriller movie that has gone before - including Volcano, Earthquake, The Day After Tomorrow, The Poseidon Adventure, and even Speed (he somehow missed Twister, although that footage may have been cut in order to pare the movie down to its spare 158 minute run time) - and it clung to the stereotypical characters (plucky unlikely succeed-against-all-odds heroes, cold-hearted politicians, cute kids and dogs in harm's way, ex-wives who eventually see the error of their ways, and flying rhinos. Oops; strike that last one. Sort of.), but they were all presented in a "we know that you know that we know that this is all in good fun" manner.
So, if you have the budget to afford the popcorn and the bladder to withstand the soft drink, I recommend 2012 as a good way to while away a fall afternoon or evening. Sure, it's mindless entertainment, but let's face it: nowadays, Hollywood just isn't giving us that many chances to irritate Al Gore. Plus, you'll get to see the assassin from Serenity (it took me a while to figure out where I'd seen him before).
- We don't live far from Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico, but I've never seen the bats emerge from or return to the caves. I'll bet you haven't either, at least not like this:
The flight of the bats was filmed using an infrared camera which tracked their movements via their body heat. Amazing footage. I've watched it closely, and out of a half million bats (unaudited, I suspect, but still) I saw not a single collision. Drivers in Houston's rush hour traffic should be so skilled. (Via Wired)
- From the sublime to the, um, not so. Here's how Terminator should have ended. (Via Geeks are Sexy)
- Wonder if Bruce Schneier knows about this?
- Peace Frog is a Japanese motorcycle shop (manufacturer? customizer? hard to tell) which has assembled what appears to be a Royal Enfield with an Indian badge. Gotta love the minimalism; I'd ride one.
- Speaking of bicycles (well, sort of) here's a lush new (to me) online-only cycling publication called The Ride (big honkin' PDF). It's mostly a series of one page essays written mostly by people unfamiliar to me, although Greg LeMond does recollect The Time Trial (surely you don't have to ask).
- On a less light-hearted note, I continue to be disappointed, if not downright disgusted, by the names appearing on the petition to have Roman Polanski released. Wonder how many of them would be OK with their 13-year-old daughters being raped? Ah, don't answer that.
- Last, and probably least, here's a list of 50 large corporations whose PR departments dropped the ball, social-media-wise, and allowed their names to fall victim to cyber-squatters. It's interesting that Chevron's fall-back name, @chevron_justinh, makes it sound like they've assigned their Twitter campaign to an HR intern. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.
You may not have noticed, but the writers of movie subtitles often exercise what I'll diplomatically refer to as artistic license when generating the text that accompanies the movie's audio track. The really good (or compulsive) subtitlers will even describe sound effects (craaaack!) or musical interludes (cello playing ominously). You'll occasionally see long monologues paraphrased, sometimes in ways that affirm one's suspicions that no aspect of modern industry is immune to outsourcing to workers for whom English is, at best, a second language.
And, sometimes, they just get it wrong, having apparently thrown up their figurative hands in dismay, as if they'd been asked to subtitle the original version of Louie, Louie. Such is the case with one scene in Dirty Dancing.
Remember when Baby and Johnny are doing the mambo exhibition while Johnny's regular partner visits the butcher with the coat hanger? Of course you do; don't play coy. Anyway, she's all, like, nervous and he's all, like, just follow my lead, and he's talking her through the next steps (like anyone ever does that), and at one point he says, very clearly, albeit sotto voce, "cross body lead."
Now, as we all know, the cross body lead is one of the more common moves in ballroom and Latin dancing, where the male turns away from the female and then pulls her past his body in one fluid (theoretically) motion so that she ends up on the opposite side of where she started. One can do cross body leads in everything from cowboy two step to rumba to foxtrot (although I've never seen anyone actually successfully execute the move while doing the gator). So, it's not like it's some exotic move that was specially created at Patrick Swayze's behest just for this movie.
Anyway...well, I've lost my train of thought. Oh, wait; the subtitle. Yeah, when Johnny says cross body lead, the subtitle comes up as now spot a lead. Oh, my. Talk about a disaster of epic proportions.
I think (I hope) the message is clear: never rely on subtitles when trying to master subject material of a highly technical or life-and-death nature. Because it might just be that the next time you're trying to defuse a bomb before it blows up the nunnery, instead of playing through your head the proper snip the red wire, you'll hear strip and head higher, and not only will people die, but you'll probably be humiliated.