Archive for November 2002

 
 

Ice Age

Watched ICE AGE this evening, and enjoyed it just as much at home as I did the first two times in the theaters. Running time is about 75 minutes, and it keeps your attention throughout. There’s a little fluff to fill it out, but it’s enjoyable fluff. The prehistoric squirrel, Scrat, almost steals the movie despite having nothing to do with the plot at all. I’m interested in watching the movie again with the director’s commentary to see what they thought of that.

ICE AGE is a great computer animated cartoon because it doesn’t try so hard to look natural or real. It’s got a great design sense to it, in that it looks like a classic Warner Bros. cartoon with just a bit of three dimensional imagery to it. You know it’s computer animated, but it’s got all the sensibilities of a traditional Warner Bros. cartoon. It’s got some Disney plot moments in it, but only one musical number that doesn’t involve any of the characters singing.

Picture quality is crisp and clear, so long as things are moving. Whenever there’s a still background, though, there’s room for trouble. For example, on the first nighttime campout for our three characters (and “Pinky”), there’s some horrible pixellation on the dark blue sky that stays constant in the background. It’s really bad to see. It’s noticeable to a lesser degree in other scenes as well. Anytime there’s a static background, the blocks occur to a degree. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s one of those things many will notice. I watched the movie with three other (non-tech) people, and I was the only one who picked up on it.

Sound quality is good, with excellent use of the subwoofer in the opening scene with Scrat and the avalanche. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has plenty of opportunity to surround you with sound, and they make good use of it.

There are plenty of extras on the two disc set. Some deleted scenes are there with director’s commentary as an option. You get all the trailers and commercials for the movie. There’s a lot more, but the new Scrat cartoon is the highlight. Unlike the new bonus short on MONSTERS, INC., this is hilarious and well worth the time and space devoted to it.

ICE AGE is worth your time and is a good buy at less than $20 for the two disc set. If nothing else, put it on your Christmas list. ;-)

Surfing Amazon Naked

I really do like Amazon.com, even after they decided to go from being the cool little book store to trying to be the internet equivalent of Wal-Marts.

It’s always funny to see what else they suggest you buy whenever you bring up an item on a given page. You’ll get a message that says, “Customers who bought this book also bought,” followed by a list of similar items.

In one such screen the other day, this delightful list of options popped up:



Does this mean there are Amazon.com customers who surf Amazon.com naked? ::shudder::

Cowboy Bebop: Best Sessions



Relatively recently released, COWBOY BEBOP: BEST SESSIONS is a two disc set containing a total of six episodes from the popular anime series. These have just about the same video presentation as the earlier releases, but contain new sound mixes. For the first time, you get Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound in English or Japanese, plus a DTS mix in Japanese only.

I watched Session #5, “Ballad of Fallen Angels” this morning. The new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix is excellent. While the surround isn’t needed for the dialogue scenes, it works really well in scenes featuring music (including the Ave Maria in this episode) and gunfire. The big firefight inside the church leading to Spike getting thrown out the stained glass window has as wide and as glorious an audio mix as you could ask for. For about thirty seconds, you could close your eyes and swear you’re listening to The Matrix.

I tested the DTS track over the closing credits. As usual with DTS mixes, it sounds less forced. The only problem is that the english dubs aren’t included. You either have to understand Japanese or be willing to read the subtitles to listen to the DTS track and understand what’s going on. With CB, the english dubs are better than any dub I’ve ever heard for a foreign film or television show, so I listen to it that way.

The new menus are much nicer than the terrible ones on the original Bandai discs. There’s less animation to slow down the time a new menu pops up, and the design looks more modern.

The discs come in very flimsy cardboard sleeve that makes the X-FILES sleeve look like titanium steel. The images are made up to look like a dupe of the betamax tape that Fay Valentine received in a late episode from the series.

Three episodes for this set were chosen by the director: “Asteroid Blues,” “Ballad of Fallen Angels,” and “Wild Horses.” The other three came from a poll of Bebop fans. I assume this poll was done in Japan. I can’t imagine “Pierre le Fou” not getting chosen in America for a remix. That episode was the first that came to mind, with great potential for surround sound mixing. Instead, we get “Mushroom Samba,” “Waltz for Venus,” and “Hard Luck Woman.” I like the latter two episodes, but SAMBA has never been a favorite of mine.

Overall, this is a boxed set that’s best left for slightly fanatical fans of the series, and those with decent sound systems. I picked my copy up at Buy.com for $25. List price is closer to $35.

Commercials in front of movies

Last night’s theatrical showing of DIE ANOTHER DAY was preceeded by three trailers and five minutes of commercials.

I thought it hilarious that there was an ad before the movie for BMW Films — movies that are actually ads.

The line continues to blur.

FOX shifts its schedule



AMERICAN IDOL returns on January 21 and 22nd, necessitating all sorts of new schedules. The regular Tuesday schedule will be AMERICAN IDOL followed by 24. Things get moved around a lot, including FASTLANE to Friday, and this little note:

“(EDITOR’S NOTE: FIREFLY will be on hiatus, returning to the schedule at a later date.)”

I’m not sure if this means that FOX doesn’t care at all what happens with the ratings in December and they plan on burning off whatever they have left after all their good stuff airs, or if they ordered those couple extra episodes so that they could put together a decent run of episodes in the spring again.

Pardon me whie I scratch my head…

Bond: Die Another Day

I had fun at the movies tonight. It’s a Bond film. Don’t overanalyze it. Enjoy it for the formula, marvel at the stunts, and curl up the corners of your mouth at some of the bad puns and innuendo. There are some great easter eggs in here for longtime fans, too.

The Bond franchise has changed. Bond doesn’t win everything. (See the wretched credits sequence at the beginning if you can get through the horrible Madonna ‘song.’) Halle Berry’s character is the most active Bond Girl ever, and I didn’t have a problem with it. It didn’t seem forced at all. Between her Jinx and the most stunning MI6 agent, Miranda Frost, you don’t get any tongue-in-cheek character names this time around. One has to wonder if Austin Powers hasn’t taken the sting out of them at all.

Jinx’s fight at the end of the film was excellent, but Bond’s earlier in the film with the swordplay was the highlight for me. I love a good swordfight. It’s a shame we don’t get more of them in films these days.

The special effects take a nosedive to roughly the level of a Gidget The Flying Nun made-for-television movie when Bond goes surfing near the end. It was almot embarrassing to watch. They did such a great job with the car chase on idea, and the hovercraft opening, but that bit was atrocious. I also have one or two physics questions (particularly with the helicopter at the end) that I’m trying real hard not to think about.

Some of the humor felt a little silly. I had brief flashbacks to a Schumacher-directed Batman film when the set piece moves into the icehouse, complete with a couple of obvious puns.

I liked it better than the last Bond film, but not as much as TOMORROW NEVER DIES, which for some reason is still my favorite Brosnan-era Bond.

From Ridiculous to Bizarre

Kevin Bacon’s 92 year old father went skateboarding in a Philadelphia park to protest the city not allowing skateboarders there.

I don’t have much love for skateboarders, mind you, but I find this story too bizarre and odd not to pass along.

New releases 11.26.02

It’s a slow week this week, but there’s plenty of good stuff coming out between now and Christmas. I’m not worried.

As always, the full list can be had at the Release Calendar section of DVDJournal.com.

# The Complete Jeeves and Wooster (8-disc set) (1990-93)

History of Britain: The Complete Collection (5-disc set) (2001)


Presented just for you Anglophiles. Both sets pale in comparison to the monster Twilight Zone DVD set mentioned here a couple of days ago.

# Ice Age (2-disc set) (2002)

The only disc I’m interested in this week. Yet, I don’t know if I’m going to buy it. Might save it for my Christmas list. Everytime I see a commercial for it, though, I want to pick it up if only for the new animated short.

# Men in Black II: Special Edition (2-disc set) (widescreen) (2002)

Based on the comic. You’d think I’d be more interested in this, but I’m not. I’ve never even seen the first one. It’s a good case of a movie becoming so popular that I lose interest in it. Does that make me a snob? Perhaps.

# The Transformers: Season #2 (4-disc set) (1985)

Pretty cool, but I’ve given up on those things. I don’t think I’d even buy a GI JOE DVD set right now, as tempting as it might be.

# Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Series (20-disc set) (1971-75)

OK, this comes close to challenging the girth of the TWILIGHT ZONE boxed set, but is still 29 discs short. Ooh, sorry.

# World Series 2002: Major League Baseball (2002)

I didn’t watch baseball this year. I don’t care.

Heck, I haven’t watched any football this year, either. I think college basketball (go St. Johns!) and professional bowling are the only two sports I’ve stuck with this year.

BMW Films

TiVo was kind enough to automatically download a recent BMW Film, “Ticker,” directed by Joe Carnahan. It was an amazing eight and a half minute short film. Yes, it’s a commercial for BMW, but you barely notice it. The story is just that fast and the car races are just that cool. The QuickTime compression in the format I watched is excellent. There are hardly any blurs or holds or pixellation present. It preserves the film look perfectly.

So I visited the web site tonight and downloaded John Woo’s film, “Hostage.” It’s got all the classic Woo moments in there, complete with a soundtrack that fits. It’s a bit less dramatic than Carnahan’s, but there’s a certain sense of humor to it that’s inviting.

I can’t wait to download the others to look at. These are not short downloads. I’d recommend them for broadband connections only. The Woo film has an optional 100 MB download that includes a commentary track from Woo, who you have to listen to very carefully.

I hope that after this round of films is over, they consider putting together a DVD for all of them. I know that they were giving away the first set of films on a DVD to those who test drove a BMW or answered some sort of telephone survey. These are good enough to pay money for without any of that rigamarole.

I hate wrestling

I hate wrestling with a passion.

Here is just one more reason.

Twilight Zone on DVD

This gets the award for most awe-inspiring DVD boxed set yet.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE GOLD COLLECTION is made up of 49 discs, collecting all five seasons (156 episodes) of Rod Serling’s seminal science fiction series in chronological order. 5 of those discs are bonus materials.

The only catch is that the cost is $400 and you have to order it through Another Universe, who are famous for making a royal muck-up of MY SO CALLED LIFE.

It’s an impressive-sounding set, though. If I win the lottery this week, I’m buying one.

Firefly

Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY almost never got a fair shot. When FOX ordered a new first episode and shelved the vastly over-budget two hour pilot, word leaked out about problems on the set. I don’t know whether they were real or not, but early word on the series didn’t say many good things.

Then, of course, FOX sticks it in the Death Slot of Friday night at 8 p.m., home of other long-term successes as MANTIS, BRISCO COUNTY, VR.5, SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND, and several others I’ve already forgotten. (It seems that only X-FILES has survived Friday nights on FOX.) Follow that up with a delayed start thank to the baseball playoffs and World Series, and it’s amazing the show ever got off the ground.

The good news is that the show has gotten better and better over the weeks it’s aired. Characters are taking shape, and the writers are comfortable in mixing up the types of stories the show uses. There’s a backstory present that never threatens to take over the current plot, which is a current downfall of too many shows which rely on teasing us with potential bits of backstory and clogging up the works in the meantime. “Look how smart,” they say. Sadly, most people get bored and change channels to a show which gives them a real story.

FIREFLY has none of that, plus it’s a really cool mix of western (most notably in style of dress and manner of speech) and science fiction. There are no aliens, and there’s very little technobabble. The sense of humor is always present in the sharp dialogue exchanges, and the threats feel real and not rigged up. It’s too early in the show to take anything for granted.

FOX just ordered two additional episodes. While the show took last week off for a friggin’ Adam Sandler movie and this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, it’ll be back next week and throughout December. This might be the show’s final chance to get better ratings and survive. I wish they’d just sign up for the whole season right now and give the show a real shot, but I’ll take any little baby step I can get at this point. Joss Whedon has an excellent show with a sharp ensemble cast. I want to see it survive. So, please, give the show a chance when it airs next month. Forget any negative things you may have heard about in the past months. Give it a chance. I want to see it last.

Please?

Besides, there are already two western series in development for next season on different networks. I’d hate to see FIREFLY get cancelled because it was a season ahead of its time.

Official message board is here, and the official site for the show is here, with a “Save Firefly” web page here and fan web pages here and here.

New TWO TOWERS trailer

She’s a beauty. I’m excited about this:

http://www.apple.com/trailers/newline/the_two_towers/lotr_tt_tlr_fs_interim.html

Attempted Bowling Ball Homicide

I’m a bowler. My average has sunk down to 171 in the past couple of months, but I was closer to 180 not that long ago.

But these people give bowling a bad name…

(And while I think bowling is more of a sport than a game, I’m not about to create another new category just for this story. )

Survivor SPOILERS

Like I said in the subject: SPOILERS for last night’s episode.

I’m glad Jake is still in there and fighting. (But it’s always good to see Erin, even if sitting silent on the jury. ;-) Jake’s an early favorite, but it seem the fatherly figures never make it too far in this game. Unlike previous father figures, his little girl (Penny) isn’t sticking by him. He’s really in trouble.

The sad thing is, Jake’s telling the truth and everyone is too deaf to hear him. Brian and Clay have done an excellent job of margianalizing him. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for Ted. How he’s suddenly become at the mercy of those two is almsot beyond me.

One thing I’d like to see change about the show for future editions: I want this merge to go away. Let’s make it one big tribe from the start. The show is getting too predictable and somewhat ridiculous after the merge where there are nothing but team loyalties. The closest we came on that account this year was with Shii Ann, but that was a fakeout merge, and the first person in a long time to think of jumping ship so early is the victim. (Maybe I’m just bitter that she was another early favorite, if only because she was smart and logical as opposed to that jerk Rob.)

I think Clay might be in more trouble than he realizes; he’s overplaying the game. Just as soon as two people start comparing notes, he could be gone. Brian would vote him out in a heartbeat if it kept him in the game, and if Jan and Helen compare notes and realize the mathematical impossibility of Clay taking them BOTH into the Final Four, there’ll be some hell to pay.

How is Jan surviving out there? She’s completely under the radar. The way things are going now, she’d be the most likely suspect to go next, after Jake gets voted out next week. (This, of course, ignored possibilities of drastic upheavels, or immunities.) When the original tribe has to start eating its own, I don’t think she’ll make it. The guys will rally together to get rid of the island drunk. With Penny gone, I guess Helen will have less people to talk recipes to. The guys might not be quite as annoyed by her.

Has anyone else noticed how ass-centric Clay is? Can he utter three sentences without discussing someone’s ass? The man perves me out a little…

UPDATE: Check out RealityNewsOnline.com for further analysis. They caught the ass-fixation of Clay, too.