Movie Round-Up: April 9th, 2010

Letters to God:

At heart, I’m a softy.  This is the sort of movie that I enjoy watching (you know, to offset the horror and action stuff), but I get more out of it when I’m at home (you know, when I don’t have to worry about people seeing me cry).  If you like these sorts of films, you might want to venture out and see it, or you can be like me and watch it at home when it comes out (and no one can hear you weeping).

Date Night:

I’m really on the fence about this movie.  The idea of two adults getting away for a date night and having hi-jinks ensue seems awesome, but I’m not sold on the whole crime entanglement and super spy stuff that shows up in the trailer.  Plus, you know, I like Steve Carell except when he does that robotic shouting of obvious things.  “Oh no!  My pants have fallen!  Look everyone!  My pants have fallen!” as if the comedic scene is being described for any blind people who might be attending the film.  But, Tina Fey, she’s awesome.  I probably won’t end up paying full price to see this, and if I don’t see it this weekend I’m not likely to see it in the theater, but I’m sure I will enjoy it on DVD.

Movie Round-Up: October 30th, 2009

This is going to be the “Small Film Edition” of the Movie Round-Up, mainly because I don’t want to make a post just about the only wide opening this weekend:

Michael Jackson’s This Is It:

Never has there been a film so ominously appropriately titled.  Personally, I’m a big fan of the old MJ.  The Jackson 5, his solo work up to about half of the Dangerous album.  And there is no denying that he was the King of Pop… but he was also the King of Odd.  While it is possible that I might one day see this film if it becomes available for streaming on Netflix, I absolutely won’t be rushing out to the theater to see it.

Now, on to the smaller films opening this week…

Gentleman Broncos:

This one is from the director of Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre, both are films I found funny but not really worthy of the devotion and cult following they have received.  Gentleman Broncos looks to be cut from a similar cloth and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when I get a chance to see it.

The House of the Devil:

The only horror film opening on Halloween weekend, sadly its only in three theaters.  But that’s okay, you can see it through Xbox Live and a few other On Demand services.  My main draw to the film, besides it being a horror movie, is that one of the stars is A.J. Bowen, who I know.  I’ve enjoyed his work in The Signal and even Creepshow III, so I’ll probably find the time to watch this one at home if its still available on Xbox.

The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day:

In 2001, I took a three month contract dig working overnights as a server engineer.  My job was to periodically check the servers and make sure they were doing their job, and if they weren’t I had to fix it.  To the credit of the people who built the servers and software, they rarely weren’t.  This meant I had approximately six to seven hours each night, just me and one other engineer doing nothing.  I spent a lot of time browsing the net and listening to music, we even installed games until they took away our 3D graphics cards.  Since every PC had a DVD-ROM drive, we also watched movies.  Mostly I watched my own movies from home, but one night the other engineer slipped me a burned DVD, written across the white label was “Boondock Saints”.  And thus I was introduced to the original film.  I absolutely adore the film, it is not perfect, nor even in my top ten, but I’ve seen it a couple dozen times and I still enjoy it as much as I did the first time.  It is just so well crafted and the characters are so interesting…  When I heard a sequel was being made, my first reaction was “Yes!” but then I thought about all the sequels that suck and I was worried.  However, I’ve heard enough good news about this one to get me excited again.  It is opening on 65 screens, none of which are in Atlanta.  Hopefully it will go wider… if not, I’ll catch it on DVD where it can join the first film in my movie library.

Early Gaming Memories

Another month, another Round Table.

This month, Corvus has asked people to recount their earliest family gaming memories… so, let’s crank up the wayback machine and hit the road…

I think the earlier memory I have of gaming was my father bringing home a Pong system.  It played four games, which were all essentially the same game with slight variations.  But the thing I remember about it isn’t playing it, because Pong is a highly forgettable game… no, instead what I remember most is getting it connected and functioning on our small black and white TV in the kitchen.  Well, they sure as heck weren’t going to let us kids use the good TV for games, and I don’t think anyone ever intended that ancient B&W TV to be hooked to a game system.  I remember us sitting there while dad read the manual about how to hook the adapter to the antenna inputs, how to set the switch and tune the TV, and how it didn’t work on channel 3, but it worked on channel 4.  And we sat at the kitchen table, as a family, and traded the paddles around playing video games at home.

Some time after that, we got an Atari 2600.  This led to marathon sessions of Pitfall, Yar’s Revenge, Maze Craze and tons of other titles.  Particularly, my older brother and I trying to “flip” games, which means running through all the levels the designers made and having the game start you back at level 1 while often maintaining certain difficulty settings (like speed of enemies or rate of fire).  And yes, we owned and played E.T. and it was a crappy game, but at the time we didn’t know that, we just thought it was hard, not broken.  But one of my personal favorite games for the 2600 was Basic Programming.  It was my first introduction to the idea that I could make the computer do what I wanted it to do.  Well… within reason.  It was very limited, but you could make little pictures on the screen or make it beep and sound sort of like music.  I think I can honestly say that I owned more games for the Atari 2600 that I did for any other console, and possibly even the PC, although with the PC it is hard to keep track.

I can’t say my parents were ever much involved with my gaming after Pong, but my brothers definitely were.  Playing against each other, or with each other, or just watching each other play, entire days were sometimes spent in front of the Atari.  Especially Star Raiders, which had a second special controller so that one person would fly the ship and shoot while the other played navigator.  This shared gaming continued up through the PC and the NES, and even now with each of us owning our own homes we all have Xbox 360s and occationally play online (or everyone meets up at one house to rock out with some Rock Band).

Did this have an effect on me as a gamer?  I’d have to say it absolutely did.  Over the years I always gravitated toward games that allowed multiple players, even better if it was cooperative play.  And I still lean that way now.  I tend to lose interest in games I play by myself, mostly because I end up being able to notice their design patterns and predict outcomes, but another human player always holds the capability of surprising me, of doing something unexpected.  While I have run every race in Paradise City, its the Freeburns and online racing where I have the most fun.

And it has even fed into my desires to make games.  I don’t dream of making the next Galaga or some other single player adventure.  I dream of making the next online sensation, something that brings people together.  And I dream of playing them with my brothers.

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12 out of 13 nots.
for making me care about a lonely robot… and maybe the planet too.

Every time I see a Pixar movie, I find myself saying, “They have done it again.”  I am almost waiting for them to release a film that isn’t great… but don’t get me wrong, I love the great.

WALL-E is the story of a robot (the title is his name/model), possibly the last of his kind, left on Earth to clean up the mess while humanity took off into space for a vacation while the hard work got done.  Its that ‘last of his kind’ thing that hits home, and as usual the Pixar people manage to bring life to the non-living.  WALL-E goes to work cleaning up the mess (compressing junk into cubes and stacking the cubes as high as skyscrapers) and comes home each night to watch an old musical and dream of something more than what he has.  Then EVE arrives.  Another robot, EVE is searching for something on Earth, and WALL-E is stricken with her.  When she finds what she came for and a spacecraft returns to take her away, WALL-E hitches a ride into space to be with her.

From there, the story takes some nice turns and into some crazy chases and situations.  I really enjoyed it, and so did all the kids in the theater.  Its as good as all the other Pixar films.

Oh… and don’t be late to the film.  In Pixar tradition, there is a short film before WALL-E called Presto, and it is hilarious!

The Strangers

11 out of 13 nots
for being actually scary instead of just bloody shocking

The creepiest line in the film is spoiled in the trailer, and yet is no less effective when delivered.  One of the victims asks of their tormentors, “Why are you doing this to us?” and one of the masked people responds, “Because you were home.”

The idea that simply answering your door at four in the morning could be the trigger for some psycho to kill you is… unlikely, yet scary.

I’m not going to spoil any of the film, because it was truly scary in a way that most recent “horror films” are not.  Most recent films just try to shock you with blood and violence and torture.  So, go see this film, and be ready for a few good jumps.

Going Home Again

A time or two I’ve threatened to return to Norrath. Not the shiny new Norrath of EverQuest II, but the original Norrath of EverQuest. The thing that was always holding me back was that when I left there was little to do but raiding. Sure, there was some group capable stuff, but the two most recent expansions (Gates of Discord and Omens of War) seemed to focus so heavily on raid and trial content that the future seemed to be filled only with grinding and gear and raiding. When I left, I left for City of Heroes and to join the World of Warcraft beta. Since then a number of games have come and gone, but recently a bunch of people from my old stomping grounds decided to start back up in the original MMO marketplace monster.

It was fairly easy to reinstall and patch up, even bought the latest box that unlocked the seven or eight expansions I’d missed and started up my 21 days of free play.

Just a quick side here… if a game is going to sell a boxed expansion and offer 30 days free to new players, I think they should offer that 30 days free to existing/returning players too. Would it really kill them to do that? If they really believe their game doesn’t suck, I’d have to hope that retaining returning players after a free month would more than make up for the loss than trying to convince people who quit to buy the expansion AND resubscribe. Anyway, maybe I’ll do another post on that later…

Its really amazing how different games are. To anyone who has the attitude of “they’re all the same” I would really suggest playing WoW for a month, then playing EQ for a month. Its not just the look and feel of graphics and art… the game controls are different. WoW has quest indicators and an accept/decline interface, while EQ still retains the “spoken” quests, keywords, and passive acceptance where technically you are “on” any quest you read about, in game or out, with no limit to how many you can be working on beyond your ability to cart around sacks of quest items. And as I’ve mentioned before, EQ tends to be a more player-lively game. In groups, people actually talk to each other. WoW is so quest focused that people grouped together are usually doing exactly the same thing and often there is little reason to talk, not to mention that the gameplay requires more clicking and button pressing, and combat moves more rapidly, there’s just no time to talk in WoW until you get back to town.

So far, I haven’t gone adventuring into all the new lands, Ishiro Takagi is still just 65 (ding! 66!) after all, and been living in the Silent Fist Retirement Home for Monks for nearly four years. But it feels good to be back… as a bonus, I think I’m going to subscribe to the Station Access which will let me play EQ, EQII, Vanguard, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Star Wars Galaxies, and even The Matrix Online (which I doubt I’ll go back to unless someone can convince me its improved greatly beyond the trash I saw in beta). The future looks to be full of MMO gaming…

Boxoffice Insanity

For the sake of argument, lets assume that I go see a movie every single Friday night. I take my wife and we buy popcorn and sodas. Now, to give the theaters a break, we’ll even be a tad frugal and say that down at the AMC, the wife and I stick to the “Clip’s Picks” special: a 16 oz. soda, 32 oz. popcorn and a regular candy for $7.50. The local AMC just pushed their ticket price for a regular adult evening show to $10. One night at the theater, not including gas, will run me $35.00. Expand that out to a year and you get $1,820. Next year, prices are likely to be higher, not lower.

Last year, I bought an HD projector for the house for under $900, I think it was $832 or close to that. Grouped with the $150 sound system we picked up a few years ago on a Black Friday super deal, our $95 5 disc DVD changer (that upscales content), and the 102″ screen we built for under $25 (wood, white sheets and a staple gun), it makes for a fairly nice experience of watching films. Of course, I didn’t buy this just to watch DVDs on, we also watch TV and play Xbox 360 on it (really freaking sweet by the way). Trying to figure out how much to charge to what activity gets a tad complex. For now, I’m actually going to lump it all together and say $1,200 to make a home theater. Of course, some people don’t like projectors, and that is their choice, but it’ll run them a whole lot more and net them a smaller screen.

Buying in bulk down at the BJ’s, the cost of popcorn runs maybe $0.50 and candy around the same, sodas too. For both of us, at home, the movie snacks cost under $3.00 for both of us. $156 for the year.

As for movies, lets take a Netflix membership. The lowest plan they have that would allow us to see a movie a week is the “1 DVD at a time – Unlimited” plan for $8.99 a month. $8.99 * 12 = $107.88 / 52 = $2.08 a week. So, for us to rent a movie from Netflix and watch it together costs us $1.04 each.

Total cost for 1 year of watching movies at home in a theater I built myself: $1,200 + $156 + $107.88 = $1,463.88.

Now, for the second year, I won’t need to rebuild the theater, but I might upgrade to an HD-DVD or Blu-Ray player, so I can subtract the $1,200 for initial investment and add back in a $200 cushion for improvements, if I desire them, making the second year cost me only $463.88.

But wait… what if I bought DVDs instead of rented them? One advantage to buying a DVD is that thanks to places like Amazon and eBay, no movie is every really unavailable, while if a movie you want to see doesn’t open well at the boxoffice it may be gone before it gets a second weekend. If I were really going to abandon the multiplex for the home uniplex, you can bet I’d pre-order movies. Again, thanks to Amazon, a pre-ordered movie will run $16.99, less sometimes. If I wait for the release day, I can usually find a store selling a new movie for $14.99. Even if I was generous and set the price at $19.99, the movie tickets were the same price. Except we get to own the movie and watch it as many times as we want, and if the movie sucks it didn’t cost us any more than going to the theater, but we can give it away or sell it to someone who would enjoy it.

From a purely monetary aspect, the home theater is the wiser investment, so lets put money aside. What makes the traditional movie house better than watching the movie at home?

For one, sometimes I do just like being in a large audience. However, these days that is being severely overshadowed by my desire to avoid people who text message, leave their ringers on, and talk. In addition to this, I’ve noticed that to combat noisy audiences some theaters turn up the volume of the movies, couple that with the not-quite-soundproofed walls and all the sudden my quiet drama is being invaded by the action film next door.

Seeing movies sooner. A movie tends to be in the theaters anywhere from 3 to 18 months before it comes out on DVD, though very few go longer than a year anymore, and for others it is entirely dependent on holiday shopping seasons. But, on the other hand, in general, a movie that fails to do well at the boxoffice tends to get to DVD sooner. So the seeing movies sooner reason really only applies to movies that are going to do well, or movies that are going to get held for some reason (Christmas movies that open at Christmas tend to go to DVD the following Christmas regardless of their boxoffice take). Really though, the only reason I desire to see a movie sooner in the theater is so that I don’t have to spend the next six months trying to avoid spoilers on the internet and elsewhere until I see it.

So where does all this leave us?

The wife and I like the AMC theater chain. The main reason for this is that they run a special, see a movie on Friday, Saturday or Sunday before noon and its cheap. It was $5, now up to $6 with recent price increases. At $6 and generally being less hungry or apt to snack before noon, a $12 showing of a movie is worth it. Even if we snacked the usual nighttime snacks it would be just $27.00 if we both went for the full Clip’s Picks deal, and that is much closer to the approximate $23 we’d spend buying the DVD and making our own snacks. Close enough that it doesn’t bother me… much.

Overall though, except for the occasional “must see” movie, I just don’t envision myself going to the movies much anymore. Hollywood and movie theaters have priced themselves right out of my casual budget and wedged themselves nicely into the “once in a while” budget. If they raise the prices any more, they’ll shift into the “almost never” budget, and beyond that is the realm of “when I win the lottery” and “not on your life”. If they want my money on opening weekend, something has to change…

I Am Legend

12 out of 13 nots
for Depiction of Isolation, and One Awesome Dog

For the short version of this review, let me just say that if you are a superfan of Richard Matheson’s book of the same name, and you’ve been itching to see it faithfully recreated on the screen… keep waiting. This movie is not the book. In some ways I was disappointed at that, but overall it didn’t matter. I absolutely loved this movie. The only reason I can’t in good conscience give it a 13 out of 13 is that I think they went a tad overboard with the monsters in this one, they are just on the bad side of unrealistic when it comes to CGI. When the monsters are on the screen, my brain screams “CGI!”. They just don’t blend in. Outside of that though, its a great film. Go see it.

More (and spoilers) after the break.

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A Book a Week

Some people are a little crazy… other people are freakin’ nuts! This time Kevin may be falling into the latter.

The idea is to read 52 books in 52 weeks, a book a week for a year. And you know, its not really that the idea is all that outlandish. I mean, when I was riding downtown every work day and spending two or three hours on the bus between home and work and back again, I was probably on that pace. Of course, I work from home now pretty much nine days out of ten, and reading time has been given over to sleep and game time. But maybe I need something like this to give me a gentle kick in the butt.

I won’t start now though. I’ll wait until January and start the year fresh. Likely I’m also going to choose to do 26 books in 52 weeks, a book every two weeks, because I know that unless I throw in some hundred pagers like the Hitchhiker’s Guide, I’m not likely to do it. And I know myself too well. If I fall behind a few weeks, I’ll give up.

So, January 1st, I’ll start my new reading regiment. We’ll see how it works out.

The WriMo Wrap Up

You might have noticed that during the entire month of November I did not post, not once, about the NaNoWriMo. Let me tell you why…

I got sick.

Yeah, its a lame excuse, but the wife and I both caught the creeping crud somehow and it put us both down for the count. To be honest, we should have gone to the doctor as bad off as we were, but without insurance those office visits add up. Even if we’d had insurance, what I can afford to buy on my own ends up having such a high deductible and covers so little, its really like not having insurance. Instead we stayed at home and doped up on the OTC medications.

Ultimately, NyQuil with the alcohol in it did the trick. But after nearly two weeks of headaches and congestion, coughing and aching, I just wasn’t in the mood to write.

I tried, a few false starts, but since I started the month sick I never settled on an idea, a place or character or situation, and I wound up doing what I always do, write half-assed outlines. I’ve got about six more of them now, all with plot twists or cool characters and not a single one even remotely close to being a full fledged story. All in all, I probably wrote 20,000 words in November, but spread out over a half dozen stories… well, it just sucks.

Next year, I’ll try not to get sick. In the meantime though, I’ve got a few other things going to help get the juices flowing, and with the Writer’s Guild still striking, I soon won’t have much TV to distract me.

Of course, there is always Rock Band…