Ruining It for the Rest of Us

Last night I attended a screening for the upcoming movie Dredd (very good, enjoyed it a lot, plenty of action, too violent for the youngsters, looking forward to some sequels) and ran into the latest round of backlash and silliness.

No Recording Devices
All Your Cameras Are Belong To Us!

I’ve been to many screenings, so I’m used to them saying that you have to turn off your phones or even saying you can’t bring them in. Sorry folks, they keep making better phones and with 720p HD video recording on your phone, it is getting easier for people to bootleg movies. And that’s really what they are looking for, recording devices.

First off, to all you people there who download shitty bootlegs recorded with camera phones: Stop. For one, there are better bootlegs out there. For another, THERE ARE BETTER BOOTLEGS OUT THERE. I’d say that again in bold and italics, but I figure CAPS should be enough.

Secondly, to the theaters: see the above paragraph. Very few people are downloading bootlegs made on iPhones. Mostly because almost no one is making bootlegs on iPhones. Most bootlegs are made in empty theaters by unscrupulous theater employees, or made as a digital copy right off the discs/camera/stream, however you are getting your digital copy of the movie. If the screening is months before release, then I further understand a desire for “security” to keep screen grabs from leaking onto the Internet, but when you are within a week of release and professional paid reviewers are already dropping bombs and spoiling your film, a kid who snaps a crappy photo of your movie is the last thing you should be worried about.

What really irked me though, was the insistence by security that not only were phones, cameras and such not allowed inside, but no iPods or Kindles or Nooks or any electronic device. That’s right, even devices that do not have cameras because they are not made with cameras, were not being allowed inside. Certainly this was because of lazy – it’s easier to ban everything than to actually know things and selectively exclude devices that are capable of recording. On top of that, though, is the fact that in all the screenings I’ve been to the only thing that ever needs to happen is for security to say, “Put all phones on silent or vibrate. If you use an electronic device during the movie, or a device you have makes noise, you will be removed from the theater.” and then stand in the back of the theater, watching and listening. When that happens, no one pulls out their phones to make calls or text or play games. Because, by and large, people don’t suck when given simple logical instructions.

To top that off, the movie was in 3D. You cannot, to my knowledge, record a 3D movie projected onto a screen with a handheld camera and preserve the 3D. At best, you slap one of the polarized lenses on the camera and record only the left or right eye image, capturing it in 2D – but it will be much worse quality than just capturing the film in straight 2D.

And further insult to injury, the security staff was willing to “bag and tag” phones, but they offered no insurance. One guy actually said, to the crowd, “If you lose your ticket or we lose your phone, you will not get a replacement. It’s just gone.” You know, there is a reason that I keep a photo of myself on my phone at all times, that way I can walk someone through unlocking the phone and opening the photo to prove it’s either mine or someone who knows me. But if that wasn’t enough, the parking garage at this particular theater is a typical parking garage, and thus on your parking ticket states “The management of this garage is not responsible for damage or theft of any vehicle or its contents.” So when the security guys were offering to let people out of line to go put their phones and Kindles and iPads in their cars, they were basically saying “You can’t take those in the theater, with you, where they are safe, you need to put them in your car, where the garage has specifically stated that they aren’t responsible for them.”

I guess people could just not bring their phones and things with them, but who goes around without a phone these days?

Anyway, I’m sure we got this terrible treatment by security because some schmuck somewhere tried to record a movie with his iPhone and then uploaded it to YouTube. If you are that guy, just know, you are ruining the movie going experience for everyone. Cut it out.

Death Valley

Years ago (or can it be measured in decades now?) when MTV pretty much stopped airing music videos, I pretty much stopped watching it. Occasionally I might drift back to it for the odd awards show, special event or boredom, but that came to a complete stop when I canceled my cable TV and no longer had easy access to it. Which is why I find it so odd that I’m now watching (by *ahem* other means) a show on MTV.

But how could I not watch Death Valley?

The show is set in a world where zombies, vampires and werewolves (and possibly other things) exist. Shot as a reality show like COPS, the camera crew follows members of the Undead Task Force (UTF) of the Los Angeles Police Department as they deal with the shambling undead, ones that are fresher and run faster, vampires involved in the “blood for sex” trade, werewolves who forget to lock themselves up for the full moon, and more.

Being that it’s on MTV, this show is far better than it has any right to be. While occasionally there is an effects shot that looks off, the majority of them are quite good, probably because CG work is becoming so cheap while quality keeps improving. The acting is also pretty good as well. Anyway, this totally gets a thumbs up from me and I recommend at least checking it out to see if it happens to be your cup of tea.  Check out the trailer below for a start.

Murder of the First

Text MUDs really didn’t have much of a perspective because they didn’t have a camera.  You entered a room and were given a description of the room.  Anyone in the same room was “within reach” and to get out of reach you left the room.  Once games went graphical, the camera became a part of the game.  On one side you have Ultima Online which followed the Ultima top-down isometric, decidedly 3rd person.  On the other side you had EverQuest which owed its perspective to Doom and Quake and other 1st person shooters.  Later on, EQ would free up the camera so that people could play in 3rd person, but the game was designed such that you didn’t really gain much from it (unless you were pulling, in which case you could use the 3rd person camera to look around corners and behind other obstacles).  As MMOs have moved on, pretty much all of them have opted for the more tactical 3rd person view.  Pulled back, staring at the back of your character, giving you an almost omniscient view of the world.  It is very popular, in large part I suspect because it makes the game easier.  When you can see around yourself in 360 degrees so that nothing can surprise you, life is more… predictable.

While playing the Star Trek Online open beta, I found myself really enjoying the space combat.  The ground game was pretty much your typical bland MMO, like WoW or City of Heroes.  In fact, it is almost identical to Pirates of the Burning Sea.  But the space combat (much like the sea combat of PotBS) felt more much… alive.  Even though it was pretty awesome, it still felt like something was missing, and it wasn’t until a friendly discussion and an offhand comment that I put my finger on it.  A friend said, “I wish you could fight from the bridge.”  And I light went on in my brain.

What is missing from Star Trek Online, and was missing from PotBS, was a more 1st person view of the game.  STO’s space combat would be incredible if you played from the bridge, had to set the view screen, keep an eye on tactical items like scanners.

In my discussions with other folks about 1st vs 3rd person view, many of them cited PvP as being a reason for 3rd person.  You need to be able to see if someone is stalking up behind your guy.  And that discussion caused another light to go on.  In EQ, when I played primarily in 1st person, I was my character.  I was Ishiro Takagi, monk of Qeynos.  When I played WoW, where 3rd person is the default, I was controlling my character.  I was Jason, sitting at a computer controlling the actions of Ishiro, Alliance priest.  Possibly owing to its roots in RTS games, WoW plays like a giant RTS where you only get one unit.  The immersion is gone.

Stepping outside MMOs, in recent years I’ve been playing more console games.  Back in the day, before I discovered MMOs, I played a ton of 1st person shooters.  Before I started spending hours camping spawns in EverQuest, I was spending hours racing for flags and battling for control points in Team Fortress for Quake.  In the last couple of years, games like Gears of War, which everyone else seems to go nuts for, just leave me feeling empty, largely because the viewpoint of the game is watching over the shoulder of a guy, not being the guy.  I loved Dead Space, but there was a distance from the character, even though the integration of the UI into the game helped I still wasn’t in the head of the hero.  On the other hand, Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are just so awesome.  No longer am I looking at the back of the hero, controlling him, I am the hero fighting my way through the hordes of the dead.

This is what is missing.  This is what makes it so easy to casually cancel my MMO subscriptions and never come back.  I never feel like I am in the game, just that I’m playing it.  Sure, I could play many of the games out there in 1st person, but they aren’t designed for 1st person, they are designed for 3rd and playing in 1st puts me at a disadvantage to every other player.  I hope more games consider locking in and designing for 1st person in the future.

What do you think?

The Dark Knight

13 out of 13 nots
for being everything I wanted and more

When Chris Nolan relaunched Batman with Batman Begins, I immediately knew that the right team had been put in place.  While that film has some issues, the overall impact of it was fantastic.  With Nolan behind the camera and Christian Bale in front of it, they were creating something truly magic.

On the strength of that film I was excited when I heard about The Dark Knight.  Well, until they announced that Heath Ledger was going to be the Joker.  While I liked Ledger well enough, I hadn’t seen him do anything previously that lead me to believe that he could pull off the Joker.  This worry was allayed when early word started to leak out about his performance.  Then he died.

Having seen the film now, one element of the true tragedy of his death is that there will be many people who write off praise for his performance as sympathy for his having passed on.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  All of my early fears were put to rest and now I honestly feel that no one was more meant for this role than Heath, and now I am worried about what they will do with the franchise going forward.  Heath has left some enormously large shoes to fill in regards to this role.

Outside of Heath’s performance, every other actor also pulls off some fantastic work here.  I found every character to be fully believable in the world that Nolan has crafted.  And the story is no weak link either.  I literally spent a full third of the movie with my hand to my mouth in a futile attempt to prevent my breath from being taken away.  The most important aspect that this film holds is that it is not “Batman Begins 2”.  You do not need to have seen the first to understand the second.  Rather than being a sequel, The Dark Knight stands as a whole and complete story set within the same world as Batman Begins.

After leaving the theater and walking out to car, I said to the group I was with, “If there had previously existed only nine kinds of awesome in the world, this movie would be the tenth.”  Two days later, I still feel that and I am certain I will feel that way for some time to come.

If you have not already, see this film.

Rest Stop

5 out of 13 nots
for Confusing Yet Stupid Twists and Unneeded Characters

Rest Stop is supposed to be a horror film, but in the end its just a mildly disgusting film that leaves you saying, “What exactly did I just watch?” The 5 out of 13 I’m giving it is generous, it would be a 4, perhaps even a 3, but it had naked boobs in it, and they were kinda nice. Be warned though, I watched the unrated version, so view the regular version at your own risk because it may not even have the boobs. Overall, still not worth the time.

More after the break.

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12 out of 13 nots
for Survival Panic, and Crazy Shaky Camera Goodness

Let me begin by just saying, if you go see Cloverfield expecting the traditional Us versus Them monster movie, you will be disappointed. The only real battles between humans and monsters are seen in the background, passing by or as “we” run through it. That said, if you go in looking for a heart pounding survival run through New York as it collapses around you, this film totally rock.

More after the break…

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I Got a New Toy

My New Toy… and I took a photo to show it off. I decided I needed an organizer, and a way to write stuff on the go, and a way to get around the firewall at work (bastards and their need to ban everything!)… so I went to Sprint and got myself an Audiovox 6600. Its a phone, and a PDA, and a camera, and its all kinds of neat.

About the only thing it doesn’t do is play MP3s… well, I think it can, but I’ve heard its not so good at them. It runs Windows Pocket XP, even includes a Terminal Services client should I feel the need to do some server maintenance on the go.

There’s a ton of free software out there for it, and I’m sifting through all of it… now I just need a PocketMMO and I’m set!

Better Than Ezra

I’ve reviewed them before, and considering that they are my favorite band, its likely that I’ll review them again… and again.. and again…

There are bands out there that have had bigger success. Bands that play sold out stadium shows, whose members live in regal mansions, whose albums go quadruple platinum in the first week despite the fact that there are only a couple of good songs on it. Better Than Ezra isn’t one of those bands. Put in any one of their CDs and there isn’t a song I will skip. Sure, I like some songs more than others, but there isn’t a “bad” one in the bunch. And then to see them live… they are tight. They know how to line up songs to flow through a set. They know their own songs, and songs of their peers well enough to know which songs can blend seemlessly from one of their’s to a medly of covers and back into their song (like going from “Recognize” into Nelly’s “Ride With Me” into “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode and back in to finish off “Recognize”). And they know how to bring the audience into the performance, to make them feel like they are a part on experience not just watching a band, and all without the use of cheezy sing-a-longs.

Last night BTE dropped into Atlanta for the 99X Sinners Ball, their version of a Mardi Gras celebration, and they rocked the stage. I’ve seen the Ezra gang do well with enormous crowds at festivals in stadiums, but in a smaller setting like Kenny’s Alley at Underground Atlanta is really where they shine. Here are some really crappy photos I took with my camera phone, proof only that I need a better camera to take to shows like this.

Better Than Ezra
Better Than Ezra
Better Than Ezra
Better Than Ezra
Better Than Ezra

BTE has two albums coming up… if you don’t know them, or think you don’t know them, they have a Greatest Hits album dropping on March 15th. And they have a new album hitting shelves in April.

And of course, if you haven’t seen them live… do so. I promise you won’t be disappointed.