Movie Going

In my opinion, there is almost nothing quite as fantastic as seeing a good movie in the theater. The superior sound and the giant screen enveloping your vision and sucking you right into the story. Even the audience matters. Listening to people enjoying the movie too is part of the greatness. The gasps and laughs, the sniffing of stifled tears. It is unique and wonderful. But increasingly it isn’t worth the price of admission.

Before we even get to the literal price, there is so much more that is wrong with the movie going experience. As much as I love the idea of crowds, the reality of them is always so much less. If your kids aren’t capable of sitting still for a couple of hours and watching a movie, don’t bring them – get a sitter. Not only will everyone else enjoy the movie more, YOU will enjoy the movie more. Also, don’t go to the movies if you have trouble following plots. Nothing will annoy your neighbors more than you constantly asking your friend what’s going on. And if you aren’t enjoying a movie, consider leaving and asking for your money back rather than decide for everyone that this drama should be a comedy by adding your lame remarks in your loudest voice.

People who text or talk on cell phones during movies should be shot. And I’m not being hyperbolic here. Security should come in, drag the texter out of the theater, take them to a room and shoot them. Perhaps just in the hand. Maybe take off a finger, the little one. I bet if they lost a finger they’d stop texting during the movies. Assholes.

And theaters should be required to maintain a certain level of quality. There is a theater near me that I almost never go to because, as I say, “You pay for one movie and you get to listen to two!” The sound barrier between their screens is so poor that you literally get to hear two movies. If your movie is the loud action pack thrill ride, no problem, but if your movie is the dramatic quiet tear jerker, listening to soldiers bark commands and things explode while the main character of your film is supposed to be silently weeping his loss kind of ruins things. At the very least, theaters with shitty quality should charge shitty quality prices.

But before I get to ticket prices, it would be remiss not to mention the concession stand. I can buy a bag of popcorn at the grocery store for about a $1.50, so I wouldn’t be surprised to have to pay $3 to but the same amount of popcorn at a theater where they serve it to me – the people have to get paid somehow. But having to pay $5 to $7 for that amount of popcorn is stupid. And I’m not even going to bother with the $7 sodas. What?!? But what about those $3.75 to $5.75 boxes of candy that are only half filled? I understand that the theaters need the revenue, but every facet of their concession stand appears to be designed to make me angry and never want to buy anything there. These days I don’t even bother. Despite the hanging of signs saying it is forbidden, I bring my own soda and snacks to the movie. And don’t try to sell me on the “but if you buy a large you get free refills!” stuff, because I never leave the theater during the film if I can help it. Why on Earth would I miss part of the movie I just paid that much to see?

Which brings us to the ticket prices. My local theaters are between $9 and $12 for an evening ticket. The $9 is for a theater that is of lower quality. Of course, when I do go to see a movie, I pretty much always go to a matinée on the weekend, before noon, where the price is often $6, maybe $7, for the better quality houses. Still the price is high. For the wife and I to go see a movie it’s going to cost $12 to $24, just for the tickets. And for my money we get to see the movie one time. Whereas if I wait six months, I can buy the movie on DVD or Blu-ray for around the same price, and own the movie – which I can watch as many times as I want or watch it once and then sell it to get some of my money back.

I haven’t even gotten into the latest trend: 3D. Currently, you pay a premium for 3D, an extra $3 to $5 per ticket. They’ll tell you that the extra cost is to cover the glasses (which they ask you to give back so they can recycle them) or to recoup the cost of upgrading their projectors. If that’s true, though, at some point they should finish recovering the projector cost and glasses production & recycling should level off that the premium should go away. It should become standard. Of course, that’ll never happen as they will be too busy enjoying the extra profits. And you know it’s all about the money as every movie seems to be getting a 3D release – and most of those are post-production conversions, not filmed in 3D with special cameras.

I am a movie lover. And back in the days of tickets being $5 to $6 and a concession combo (drink & popcorn) was $4 to $5, I’d go see a movie every single week. It was what I did on a Friday or Saturday night. Now, they’ve doubled the prices and the result is that I never get concessions and I see a movie once every couple of months. And I have to imagine that I’m not alone. These days, my Friday or Saturday nights are often spent streaming a movie off Netflix or Amazon where I pay a movie ticket a month for unlimited streaming of thousands and thousands of movies. I don’t know who is to blame for the skyrocketing prices – the theater companies, the movie producers, someone else – but I do know that it is pricing me out of the market.

I read an article once, and I wish I could find it again (but I think it was in print, not on the Internet), that Hollywood and theater owners were both lamenting “event movies” – stuff like The Avengers, the Harry Potter films, Avatar – movies that draw people into theaters.  Part of their lament was that smaller films just didn’t sell in theaters, and it was only these giant budget risks that stood a chance. I can’t help but think that they’re looking at everything all wrong. The problem is that it’s only these huge “must see” films that get people to ignore the high cost of admission. At half the price, at $6 or $5… or in my dream world $3, I feel people would be a lot more willing to take a risk on a movie. For $3, I would pretty much go see any movie in the theater – even if it was poorly reviewed, for $3 I’d be willing to judge it for myself. On the other hand, for $12 (or $15 in 3D), the movie better be well reviewed and give me two hours worth of awesome entertainment or else not only will I be unhappy but I’m likely to avoid going to the movies for a while. Once bitten, twice shy and all that.

So what do I recommend? First off, do some research on the movies you are going to see. Check this list, and if the movie says it was originally filmed in 2D, see it in 2D. Don’t reward people for going for the 3D cash grab. Second, go to weekend matinées. See the movie at 11am, then go for lunch, do some shopping, whatever, make a day of it – but start with the movie. Plus, if you eat breakfast, and then see a movie with the plan to get lunch after, you don’t need movie snacks, just sit back and enjoy the show. And third, find local theaters with good quality sound setups and stick to them. Reward theaters for being good theaters.

That third step can be the most difficult as movie distribution is a scam just like everything else. The best local theater nearest me doesn’t get all the best movies. They have 24 screens and didn’t get The Avengers, the 16 screen house down the road with lower quality got it. Two different movie theater companies, but they are serviced by the same distributor who ensures they take turns on the blockbusters and don’t compete. Lame.

You know… on second thought, you should probably just invest in a quality home theater instead.

This isn't my personal home theater... yet.

Planning, Packing, and Points Between

I go to Dragon*Con every year. Despite the fact that we live in Atlanta (or near enough to it), we book a room at one of the host hotels and stay downtown for the weekend. It’s like a half-vacation. We go, we have a great time and love every minute of it, but we aren’t really “going on vacation”. Six years ago, I took another non-vacation. An overnight really. We drove to Savannah on Monday, stayed the night, and drove back Tuesday. That was our wedding. A couple of years before that, we did a long weekend in Savannah. You’d have to go back to, I believe, 2003 to find a real vacation-vacation in my life. We went to Cozumel for 5 days. And before that, we went to Mardi Gras in 2001.

On Saturday, the wife and I will be heading up to a little cabin we rented in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We’ll be coming back on Wednesday. Five days and four nights, away from home, in another state. It’s been about nine years but we are finally going on vacation.

When we go to Dragon*Con, the weekend is pretty well mapped out. There are panels and parties. I’m on staff. It is, as far as vacations go, pretty regimented. When he did Cozumel way back when, there was little plan. We had a hotel, all-inclusive, and that was it. I’d been to Cozumel before and mostly just gone to beaches and bars and the usual stuff (I was part of a group of 30 people who went together). But this time it was just us. One day we rented a jeep and just went driving around the island. We found some unoccupied beaches and a little restaurant on the windward side of the island. It was great.

This time around, I’m aiming for something in between. The final day we have to check out of the cabin early anyway, so we are just going to check out really early and drive over to Asheville and visit The Biltmore, and then head back home that night. Either on the day up, or one of the three middle days, we’re planning to spend some time touring the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. We also plan to do some hiking, and of course a little casual relaxing. It’s cold here, and we are going north, so I expect some time spent in front of a roaring fire might be in order. And as weird as it sounds, we are planning to curl up and watch the Academy Awards on Sunday night. We don’t have cable TV anymore, so events like this are something we don’t get to watch at home.

The cabin has a kitchen, and we are trying to plan some meals to cook and foods to take with us for snacking, though we probably will eat out at a couple of places that have been recommended to us. We are driving up, so the only limitation is what we can fit into the Jeep Cherokee.

And then we get to packing clothes. It is still winter, so we’ll dress warm, maybe throw in an extra couple of sweaters and make sure we take our jackets. There are no plans to do anything super fancy so no suits or cocktail dresses.

I’m very excited about the whole thing, probably more than I should be.

Foreign Policy

I don’t normally get political on this blog.  I tend to want to keep this about game design or movies or zombies or other random passing thoughts. However, lately I’ve been thinking about all these wars that the United States is getting involved in and the common refrain that we should “bring our troops home”.  The reality, of course, is that we will never see all the troops come home from the Middle East.  As far as I am aware, and I could be wrong since I’m not a history professor, the United States has never completely left a country that we weren’t forced out of once we went in.  We’ve got military bases in Japan and Germany and every other country we’ve ever invaded.

“But that’s not what they mean” you might be saying, and you are right.  They don’t really want us to bring all the troops home.  These people just want us to stop fighting, bring our large combat units home and leave the usual peace keeping forces behind.  But I’ve got another idea…

We should recall all troops.  All troops.  Everywhere.  We should close all foreign bases and begin construction on a giant impenetrable dome to enclose the United States.  Think of it as a jobs program.  To make this happen we will be required to annex parts of Canada and possibly some of the Caribbean.  A dome, after all, is a circle at the base and the United States isn’t exactly an island.  In exchange for the parts of Canada we will be required to take we will give them Alaska.  Hawaii, being too far away to include inside the dome, will be allowed to form their own country, taking the US’s seats in all international forums since we won’t need them anymore.  I do not envy them their fight to retain a voice, seeing as how they won’t wield much in the way of military power, but perhaps they’ll be able to cozy up to a few European nations and trade vacation homes for protection.

Once the dome is completed, we will begin phase two, wherein the dome is converted into a sphere with large engines constructed deep beneath the earth.  At the end of phase two, the sphere will separate from Earth proper and take position as a second moon to the remaining planet.  Should the separation of the United Sphere of America cause the destruction of the rest of the Earth, we apologize in advance and promise to build a memorial garden, with both a commissioned work of art and a commemorative plaque.

This is the best, and in my opinion the only, option for the future.  It must be done to protect freedom, justice and the American way.

Be Prepared

Not only is “Be Prepared” the Scout Motto, but it’s also a really good idea.  Or to quote Nathan Muir from Spy Game:

When did Noah build the Ark?  Before the flood.

When disaster strikes, it is too late to begin planning for disaster.  So, obviously, the answer is to be prepared.

Zombie Banner from the CDC

The CDC agrees, and last week they published Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse, which I have now permanently added as a link over the right hand side.  They aren’t the first to utilize an undead plague to illustrate proper planning.  A group called the Zombie Squad has been doing it for some time.  The main idea being, if you are prepared for zombies, you are prepared for anything.

While the CDC article and the materials provided by the Zombie Squad are good, the key element to disaster preparedness to understand is that you are not a priority for anyone else, and that includes the government.  In the event of any disaster you should be able to survive on your own for at least 72 hours.  That’s three days.

Let’s just say, for example, a hurricane comes tearing through your area.  The first job of the government is not to rush in and rescue survivors.  What would it do with them?  No, the first job is to set up hospitals and aid stations so that survivors who can come to them can be taken care of.  They will work on re-establishing communications and power, and only once they’ve gotten themselves firmly dug in will they begin ranging out to find stranded survivors.  If they ran out and got people first they’d simply be dumping them all into an unprepared cluster without power, communications or medical treatment.  Not to mention that if they rush in they could be putting themselves in great danger.  They are “slow” for a reason, and that is because when they get to you, you will be saved, not just temporarily reprieved.

Even more than that, however, is that by being able to help yourself, you free up resources for people who cannot help themselves.  If you have food, water and shelter for three or more days, then the rescuers can leave you alone and spend their time finding people who have been injured or are trapped or who didn’t plan ahead and have no food or water.  By being prepared, not only are you helping yourself but you are indirectly helping others.

The best thing about being prepared is that it doesn’t cost very much.  A few dollars and a little time will put you leagues ahead of those who don’t.  You probably have many of the things you’ll need in your house already, and if you don’t a quick trip to Wal-Mart will solve that.  Then you just need to pick rally points.  Your home, just outside your home, miles away, states away.  Make sure everyone knows where to go and how to reach each other.  Just like that, you are better off than you were before.

It’s so easy that there is no excuse to not be prepared.  If you aren’t, do it now.  Do it within the next week.  Pick a day and get it done.  Because after the zombies come, it’ll be too late to prepare.

A Week of Tweets on 2011-01-30

  • Never call me on speaker phone. Call first, then inform me you are going to put me on speaker. Really, it's safer for both of us. #
  • Tuesday. A day for doing things in pairs, or doing something because someone else is doing it. #
  • Today is going to be too long by far because the RIFT beta is waiting for me at home. #
  • Thanks to the song, I can always spell Mississippi, but there is no song for Masachewsits. #
  • Really need to see about setting up Artemis at Dragon*Con this year. #
  • Cr-48 showed up at the house yesterday. I can see why many people dislike it, but for a web browser with a full keyboard, it's pretty nifty. #
  • It puts the lotion in the basket. #

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One of the things in life I’ve come to be fairly attached to is correctness.  When I’m wrong, I love it when people inform me that I’m wrong, as long as I am actually wrong and they can tell me why I am wrong.  I mean, just yelling “You’re wrong!” over and over without explanation doesn’t help anyone.  But when I post my thoughts here, if I’ve made an error, if I’ve got bad data, I want to know.  I tend to do the same with other people.  Most times when I post a comment on another blog it’s either to say “I agree!” or to point out somewhere that I feel they’ve made an error.  Sometimes, even when I point things out that I think are wrong, it can turn out that I’m wrong.

Tami Baribeau works in the gaming industry, specifically the social gaming arena.  I read her blog because I want more insight to that world and she provides it (she’s not the only one I read, to get all my info from one source would be wrongheaded).  She posted a list of 10 reasons why Facebook Game wall posts are not spam.  Reading her list, I felt that three of her points were in error, based on my experience, and posted a reply.  It turns out that two of my points were addressed with changes in Facebook policy I was unaware of and so were not errors.  In one case, however, I was correct and Tami acknowledged that.  This is the sort of stuff I love.

Of course, on the Internet, this sort of discourse is rare.  Well, rare-ish.  I see it quite often, but only because I stop reading blogs where the authors just want to spew and don’t care about being correct.  But it means I do filter a lot of blogs out.  The main reason, I think, for this is many people still believe that the Internet is separate from “Real Life”.  Even when they are in a forum where their real identities are well known, they act as if their online persona is different from themselves.  It leads to a lot of waving off errors under the belief that “this doesn’t really matter… it’s only the Internet, it’s not Real Life.”  And most often it is that they don’t care about the details.  If you still agree with their main thrust argument, why should the facts and figures matter?

If a politician were to give a speech and state “We need to bring our troops home from Iraq!” he would probably get a lot of support.  It’s an idea that many people can get behind.  If he were to follow that up with “We need to bring them home because thousands of our boys are dying every day!  And thousands of woman and children are being cut down in the crossfire every day!” … well, both of those things are completely not correct.  Yes, soldiers have died and are dying, and yes, civilians have been injured and killed because of the war there, but those numbers are just way way off.  Thousands are not dying per day.  For me, that politician would lose my support (unless his opponent was a raving loon who was insisting that we needed to leave Iraq now… so we could nuke it into oblivion).  If I really wanted to support that politician, I’d write a letter, or even stand up right then and try to get a correction.  Because worse than someone making an offhand error is someone fully believing that the error is true and correct.  I’d want to know where that politician stood.  Was it an honest mistake? or is it more than that?

Or maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong.  If I am, I want to know.  And I suppose that that is the main thrust of this post… owning mistakes.  If I make one and it is pointed out to me, the very first thing I want to do is acknowledge that, and then either explain why this new information doesn’t change the point I am making or adjust my position based on the new data.  But the acknowledgement is important to me.  And it irks me when people don’t do that, when people just wave it off and don’t admit to having been mistaken.

A Week of Tweets on 2010-10-31

  • Yippee Ki-Yay, Mr. Falcon. #
  • I'm sitting at work, doing my job, but thinking about getting home to play Minecraft. So addicting. #
  • I week remains until NaNoWriMo… need to get my shit together… #
  • @Scopique As a F2P it means I'll actually try it. in reply to Scopique #
  • @Critus Hopefully not an omen. in reply to Critus #
  • For the first time in weeks I'm not itching to get home and play Minecraft… RDR: Undead Nightmare is out! #
  • How many times do I have to turn of Lexulous' turn email notification off before it stops sending me emails? I'm over 20 so far… #
  • @Krystalle I'm still Minecrafting, and waiting for the Halloween update. Dead Rising 2, Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare DLC… in reply to Krystalle #
  • @Critus Don't know what you are talking about… *goes back to playing Left 4 Dead 2* in reply to Critus #
  • @lexulous They come from a account, but are signed "The Lexulous Team". There is a link to disable emails, they are. in reply to lexulous #
  • Nice! #
  • @sera_brennan Congrats on the new job! #
  • Dumping an HTML formated report into a spreadsheet is not a data export. What it is is useless! #
  • Dragon*Con needs to set up a room with this. #
  • I finally know what I'm doing if I win the lottery. #
  • @Krystalle That page is distracting me today. I keep taking breaks from work to look at the photos and daydream… in reply to Krystalle #
  • @jehuthehunt That's much better than the flying car with the folding wings. in reply to jehuthehunt #
  • Due Date screening tonight. (@ Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station Stadium 16 Theatre) #
  • After yesterday's drooling over that castle, from now on I will refer to the Lottery as "Castle Money". #
  • I'm thinking of leaving my NaNoWriMo region not because I moved but because at some point they decided to call us "Pandas". #
  • Run Like Hell, finished, 53 minutes flat. (@ Oakland Cemetery w/ 9 others) #
  • Google, once again you punish me for keeping a clean inbox. Just because I always delete them does not make them junk. Please stop. #
  • Happy Halloween! #

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Movie Round-Up: October 15th, 2010

Red 3-DJackass 3-D: (official site)

Ummm… yeah.  I was never really a fan of America’s Funniest Home Videos and their constant barrage of men getting hit in the nuts and other zany antics caught on film, so when Jackass aired on TV and it was essentially people doing the AFHV stuff on purpose, I tuned out.  On the other hand, people doing crazy stunts was pretty much made for 3D.  I’ve been trying like hell to get into a free screening of this, because that’s the only way I’d ever see it, but have had no luck.  I suppose I’ll never get to enjoy Jackass in 3D.

Red: (official site)

Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Julian McMahon, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox, Karl Urban, and James Remar.  That’s eleven reasons to see this movie right there.  Add to that the fact that the trailer looks awesome, and it’s based on the Warren Ellis comic book about an ex-CIA agent who has been targeted for assassination, and you’ve got a must see film for me.  I’ll be there.  Count on it.

Dragon*Con 2010: Day Four

And we comes to Day Four of Dragon*Con, the cruelest of Dragon*Con days.  Why?  Because most people don’t stay through Tuesday, seeing as how everything is done by 5pm (the panel schedule is so light that most people won’t find much to attend), it means they have to check out.  By noon.  Or 11am. Or whatever hour their hotel kicks them out.  And many people when faced with the dilemma of having their luggage sit in the holding area under bellhop guard or just proceeding out to the car and heading home will head home.  Checking out means Dragon*Con is over.

Where will I be today?  In the Sheraton, Savannah room, hiding.  We run a panel on legal issues in MMOs, another on Guild Wars 1 & 2, and our last panel of the con is where we talk about how the track did: what rocked, what sucked, and what we missed.

But what about yesterday?  The Guild panel was great.  Sandeep (Zaboo) and Jeff (Vork) are both great guys, oh and Sean Becker too (the director).  After that I took my annual tour around the exhibitors and dealers halls, things were bought, pictures will be posted in the aftermath post tomorrow.  I enjoyed the rest of my afternoon in my hotel room, trying to stay off my tired little feet.  But after not going to and later hearing about the Kingdom of Loathing party, I knew I had to go.  Plus, you know, last night of the con.  Essentially, it’s like going to a room party in a hotel, only you don’t have to have a secret handshake to get in, we post it in the schedule and invite everyone!  Day Three was a smashing success.

And look at that… I didn’t stumble into bed until nearly 5am and my 8am post is only 45 minutes late.  I am a con warrior!

Movie Round-Up: May 14th, 2010

Just Wright:

This actually looks pretty decent, and I’m a fan of Queen Latifah, but I’m always hesitant to pay full price for a romance film on the big screen.  Movies like this are just generally better sitting at home cuddled up on the couch with a girlfriend or wife.  I’m certain I’ll see this at some point, just not this weekend.

Robin Hood:

This story has been made into a movie so many times that you’d think I would be tired of it.  And yet, every one seems to find something new to bring to adds a little life to the tale.  Certainly this one looks action packed, and I like most of the cast.  However, the reviews around the Internet seem to indicate that this is barely a tale of Robin Hood and more a tale of the Magna Carta and the events that surround it.  This news both saddens and intrigues me.  If I can find the time and a few spare dollars, I might make my way to see this at an early show this weekend.  If not, I’ll catch it on Netflix for sure.

Letters to Juliet:

As previously established, I’m a sucker for romantic comedies.  I got to see a screening of this film a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it.  Amanda Seyfried puts in a much better performance here than she did in Dear John.  Here I actually believe her and that she is falling in love, whereas there she seemed wooden and unsympathetic.  Plus, here you get Vanessa Redgrave too, who does a fantastic job.  And the whole movie makes me want to visit Italy.  Anyway, completely worth seeing if you like to catch your rom-coms on the big screen.  Had I not gotten to see it for free, I’d probably have waited for DVD, but since I did get to see it for free, it was great to see with a full house and a crowd willing to laugh out loud.