Mon, 28 Jul 2008

Helvetica Mea Culpa

I posted a throwaway a few days ago, implying that it was a bit silly to be watching Helvetica (2007) on Blu-ray.

How silly of me. Typography is all about precision and detail. Of course it makes a big difference to watch a film about design in a crisp high-resolution “print”, and Blu-ray on a high-def screen is the best game in town for that sort of thing now.

The film is great, anyway, for anyone who’s ever had even the slightest interest in 20th century design. Highly recommended.

:: 11:18
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)

Sat, 19 Jul 2008

This Week In Noxious Gadgetry (Living Room edition)

I’ve had a PS3 for a little while now, and I quite like it. It’s a pretty polished consumer electronics device, and plugged into my TV it’s even a half-decent attached set top: running Medialink on the Mac that hosts most of my digital media lets me play audio & video in a lot of common formats in the living room. Combined with the fact that Sony’s XMB is actually really nice (one of the nicer non-Apple UIs in the industry) and it’s really useful for viewing family photos, HD video podcasts, and the like.

I was interested to see that Sony have added video rentals. I don’t have a Mac or Windows machine plugged into the living room TV, and I can’t bring myself to buy an TV when the only thing I’d really be using it for is rentals, not to mention the prospect of yet another blinking box to maintain/attach (the same reason Netflix/Roku’s device doesn’t appeal), but a device I’ve already connected to the TV is a different matter. (An aside here — WhyTF did Netflix sign an “exclusive” deal with Microsoft for this? Are they idiots? Do they not realize that broadening this to PS3 and Wii owners would vastly increase its utility and reach?)

I haven’t rented anything from Sony’s video store — I was on the road for a large part of the week. I’m curious how the user experience compares to Apple’s rentals.

:: 09:50
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)

Thu, 17 Jan 2008

iTunes Movie Rentals, part 2

When I woke up, the rental I started last night had stalled at the 75% point. Clicking the little revolvo-reloado iconlet in the iTunes downloads list revived it, and it finished up in about 15 minutes. Considering that I lost my IP connection a dozen times earlier Tuesday evening (the hotel wifi went through a really crappy phase), I’m really not going to harp on the download performance too much.

The Biz

I disagree a small bit with Sven on the rentals being overpriced —

edit: I misread Sven a bit there (see comments)
A new DVD release from Blockbuster or Hollywood Video is going to be priced @ about $3 for a rental, and I have to travel to the store both to pick it up and to return it. I’m perfectly willing to kick in an extra buck to avoid that trip, especially during a Michigan winter. I imagine that price constitutes a decent margin both for Apple and the studios, but I don’t really have a problem with that. One could argue that library titles could be a little cheaper, but whatever.

24 Hour Un-Party, People

Some of the suckiest things about the rentals seem to be things the studios would have insisted on to keep cable, satellite, and physical rental outlets happy, namely:

  1. The 24-hours-once-you’ve-started-viewing matches the broken model used by cable and satellite pay-per-view outlets.
  2. No rentals until after the DVD’s been out 30 days sounds like a bone being thrown to Blockbuster or maybe Walmart/Target/etc.

It seems as though the content cartels are negotiating from a stronger postition than they were back when the iTunes store debuted — it seems like with every new media product added to the store, they get a few more concessions: TV shows were more restricted than songs (no burning of physical copies), movies for sale were more restricted than TV shows (much less desirable pricing), movie rentals expire aggressively on a 30-day/24 hour schedule.

As others have mentioned, a Netflix-like model where you’re able to keep a certain number of films rented for a fixed monthly fee would have been great, but it’s not to be, at least not for this go-around.

The Viewing Experience

On my MacBook, the video and sound quality were completely acceptable. The horizontal resolution is 640 pixels, slightly less than a physical DVD, so zoomed up to 1280 pixels the picture quality was slightly “soft” but nothing too dramatic. I didn’t see any artifacts like macroblocking. Framerate was rock steady (I was running full-screen and not doing anything else, however.) Sound quality was fine through noise cancelling headphones. One thing worth noting is that my fans spun up from time to time — h.264 is a fairly demanding playback codec. I’m not sure how often the fans came up (yay for noise cancellation), but that might be an issue running from battery or in quiet surroundings.

movie stats

Amusingly enough, the other bit visible in iTunes’ info window:

J. Edgar's watching you.

As for the movie itself, er, I’ve seen better…

:: 07:26
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)

Wed, 16 Jan 2008

iTunes Movie Rentals, part 1

rental screencapAfter watching the Macworld 2008 keynote, the first thing I wanted to try out were the new movie rentals from the iTunes store. After updating to iTunes 7.6 and visiting the movies section of the store, I saw, confusingly, that there was a pane for “Top Rentals”, but no movie I selected was actually available for rental. Hmm…

I visited the store a few more times over the course of the evening, but I didn’t actually see rental buttons start to appear on movies until after midnight EST.

Seeing as I’m on the road this week stuck in a hotel room, it seemed like a great opportunity to try a rental. I went ahead and clicked the RENT MOVIE button, which popped open a dialog asking me if I really wanted to rent the movie, and then added it to my cart. After switching to my cart and clicking the purchase button, I got a screenful of legal gibberish to agree to before I could actually complete the transaction. Dumb — why couldn’t this screenful of garbage have been tacked onto the other screenful of garbage I had to blow past when I ran iTunes 7.6 for the first time? To add insult, after agreeing to the clickwrap, iTunes informed me that I’d have to attempt my purchase again. Yes, I had to go back to the movie’s screen, as assenting to the license helpfully emptied my cart. Asstastic usability there, guys.

During the keynote, Jobs was able to start viewing his rental a few seconds after beginning the download. In the real world (i.e. on sketchy hotel wifi) it looks like the download is going to take about 2 hours (for a 1.14GB movie). I guess I won’t start my 24-hour viewing window until tomorrow sometime — it’s time for sleep.

addendum: Download stalled at about the 75% point (did I mention how flaky the hotel wifi was?) Resumed when I woke up…

:: 01:27
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)

Sat, 31 Dec 2005

More Dollar DVD Sleuthing

A person named Amy left a few helpful breadcrumbs in the comments of one of my old entries about those cheap DVDs you can find at discount shops.

She also pointed to another nice resource — the Public Domain Movie Database.

Thanks, Amy!

:: 14:20
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)

Wed, 05 Oct 2005

Snakes On A Plane

I don’t have a post here, really. I just needed to give this a post of its own.

Snakes. On a Plane.

Damn.

(more)

(IMDB)

:: 14:52
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)

Thu, 16 Sep 2004

Dollar DVD Addendum

If these films are genuinely public domain, it would be cool to start ripping them and uploading them to the Internet Archive’s feature film collection — that’s my prime motivation for wanting to find out more about where they come from.

:: 12:50
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)

Wed, 15 Sep 2004

Dollar DVDs

I went a-Googlin’, but I haven’t been able to turn up much information about the $1 DVD’s I’ve been snarfing at dollar stores lately. I’ve bought them at various dollar stores. They’re usually sitting in big plastic tub near the registers. They’re mostly old obscurities I’ve never heard of, but I’ve gotten a surprisingly high number of true classics (e.g. The 39 Steps, His Girl Friday) from these bins as well. They’re all packaged the same way: the discs are contained in cheap cardboard sleeves and shrinkwrapped, with a still from the movie on the cover and a brief blurb on the back. The series is called “Movie Classics” (and boy, does that produce some useless results when you start doing web searches) and the address at the bottom of the sleeve is:

PMB 421
991-C Lomas Santa Fe Drive
Solana Beach, CA, 92075

In addition to the occasional classic, there are episodes of old TV shows, 70’s obscurities, ancient cartoons, and the like. The discs have no extras, most of the time they don’t even have menus. The video and sound quality varies from almost passable to laughable. But hey, they’re a buck, so I’ve been collecting them like bottle caps.

The way I figure it, there are only two possibilities: either these are films which have (luckily) fallen into the public domain, or they’re straight-up bootlegs. I hope it’s the former.

:: 05:58
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)

Fri, 13 Feb 2004

D.O.A. PD

I didn't know that the classic film noir D.O.A (1950) was in the public domain. Cool. You can download a copy from the Internet Archive, and even share it via BitTorrent or FastTrack or eDonkey or whatever, legally. Cool. Nice to have some completely legit content for your DVD burner or homebuilt media server or Gameshark Media Player.

:: 23:01
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)

Tue, 06 Jan 2004

Two Imaginary Boys

In a moment of Netflix-derived serendipity, I had recent movies from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon show up at my house on the same day. I will stress that this was not by design, as I have no particular pre-existing attachment to either as an actor. I know them, respectively, as the one guy who's amiable enough in Kevin Smith movies and has some sort of tabloid-sustaining relationship with the cute Puerto Rican girl with the nice booty, and the one guy who looks about 14 and was Mr. Winona Ryder or something for a while.

I saw Ben Affleck in the Sum of All Fears, a truly regrettable chunk of post-Cold War technoporn based on the right-wing stroke book by Tom Clancy. It was a mess on so many levels I'm not even sure where to begin. Since its true that all works of fiction depend, at a certain level, on the willing suspension of disbelief, beginning the story with a howler of an anachronism seems to be an unwise decision. The built-in audience for The Sum of All Fears, presumably, is the one that watched Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford play the role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan in the Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, and Clear And Present Danger. When this audience last saw the Jack Ryan character on screen in 1994, he was a middle-aged, high-level spook with a wife and family that had featured prominently in his on-screen exploits. the Sum of All Fears features a junior-level CIA-analyst, at least 20 years younger than he was 8 years ago, who's single and dating a young doctor. This is never acknowledged. I've never read the novel the movie's based on (I mean, really...) so I can only guess that the severe telescoping of plot points in the movie's first two acts is just the result of a less than successful attempt to shoehorn all of the novel's action beats into way too little screen time, but the last act's catastrophic jumble of locations and dangling plot points makes the first two thirds feel like a Merchant-Ivory film. I still don't know if Affleck can carry a picture, since this one was such a mess he never got the chance.

Matt Damon has a much better time of things in the Bourne Identity. This film, too, was based on a successful spy novel, this one written at the zenith of the Cold War. The director and screenwriters remembered the first tenet of adaptation -- that their mission is to create an entertaining film, not to replicate a book; that the interplay of light and shadow across a talented performer's face can be far more successful and dramatic than endless literal exposition copied from a novel's pages and filmed artlessly. Damon proves to be the ideal sort of actor to carry this sort of role. He's not a showy actor, he's more of a "reactor" who gets more mileage out of his silences than his line readings. He's the ideal sort of performer to play the role of a character who's literally rediscovering his identity as the film progresses, and he carries the action scenes credibly. In a sense, it's the excess of backstory that dooms the Sum of All Fears from the very start, while Damon's Jason Bourne works from the opposite extreme. Franka Potente (I will confess a crush) is pitch perfect as his love interest and partner in flight. In addition, the film looks wonderful, making great use of chilly locations in the Czech Republic (standing in for Zurich) and France. Though it's a studio film, at no point does it ever feel particularly "Hollywood."

If I had a point, I suppose it would be that the problem with culture of celebrity endoscopy we live in now is that the multi-tentacled publicity monster (and his many many teeth) can scare you away from a given work of entertainment or the artists behind it quite independently of its/their own merits. I never saw Good Will Hunting, by the time I got an opportunity it had crossed some kind of hype event horizon and the very idea of watching it had become quite distasteful. So GWH may truly be great, and I'll never know.

:: 17:07
:: /entertainment/movies | [+]
::Comments (0)




Flattery is like cologne — to be smelled, but not swallowed.
— Josh Billings