Friday, February 29, 2008

Science fair photo bonanza. That post was inspired by this collection of science fair photos, but I enjoyed Beware of the Blog's focus on freaky kids over odd projects. If I had to pick a favorite, "Garlic: The Silent Killer" narrowly beats out "Are you my mother?"
Art Madrid, my esteemed mayor, a big stinking drunk. Police found him collapsed on a sidewalk near a puddle of his own vomit, and decided to take him home rather than cite him. A city employee less than half his age was also intoxicated, and in the driver's seat of a car with the engine running. She also was not arrested. The city council had a special session to discuss allegations of special treatment; my favorite revelation from the meeting (shown on public access television) was that the night Madrid chose to get liquored up and ride shotgun with a drunk, he was a no-show at a traffic safety meeting he was scheduled to attend in that very neighborhood.
Sweeney Todd NOT coming out in HD DVD. God damn it. I actually found myself interested in buying more HD DVDs since Toshiba officially killed off HD DVD than I was when the format was viable. Sweeney Todd, There Will Be Blood, and possibly Into the Wild, if I could find it cheap. But two of the three aren't happening, and I think I'll be fine with renting Into the Wild. I'll just have to be content with my bootleg of Sweeney Todd; if they want to announce an HD DVD release, only to abandon it, and instead keep company with Blu-Ray, I suggest they service them well and hold their custom, for they'll have none of mine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

NOTE: This video will make absolutely no sense if you've never seen There Will Be Blood. I would say it contains spoilers, but since it won't make sense, you can probably watch it.

Goes on too long and other Oscar movies are shoehorned in awkwardly, but it's still pretty good. What puts it over the top, for me, is that a vast majority of the audience will have no idea what they are talking about. I imagine the standard reaction of the uninitiated would be, "That's just bizarre...I don't know too much about the movie, but one thing I'm pretty sure of, the movie doesn't end with Daniel Day-Lewis screaming about milkshakes." And those people would be wrong, so very wrong.

Oscar-time is again upon us, and for once I've seen all five films nominated for best picture. AMC screened all five movies back-to-back, and for thirty dollars you could see all three, and get all the popcorn you could eat. They've done this for the last couple years, but this was the first year I've actually wanted to see all five best picture nominees, so I decided to give it a shot. It was a bit grueling, watching movies for twelve straight hours (I was in the second row--the theater was completely full--and my neck was straining and my back sore by the end), but it was a credit to all five films that time never really seemed to drag. There Will Be Blood, in particular, did not at all feel like two hours and forty minutes.

The ceremonies start rather soon, so I'll just provide some quick impressions, so that my opinion might reach the Hollywood community in time (I know they were quite worried as to my opinion). Michael Clayton was excellent, and if Tom Wilkinson doesn't win Best Supporting Actor, I must be confused about just what a supporting actor is (in fairness, I haven't seen Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild, and I'm sure he's good, too). There Will Be Blood was also excellent, not really what I expected, though it struck me as the sort of thing I needed time to mull over, not well-suited to a day of binge viewing. The final act was a bit strange, but helped put things into some context, I'd like to see the film again knowing the characters' fate. Atonement was a surprise; I didn't like the book, but the movie wasn't bad. I suppose I didn't like the book because I didn't really care enough about the characters to make the arduous effort of reading worth-while; the movie, in contrast, went down easy enough that getting the payoff at the end was palatable. Still, though, I found myself spending much of my time during the movie thinking about other similar movies I'd rather be watching (I do need to see The Remains of the Day again sometime). Juno was the only film of the lot that I didn't like. Nor did I hate it, I just found it a little ball of nothing that I didn't care much about. It seemed like something that should of come from the Sundance Film Festival around 1998 or so. A dated movie in subject matter and sensibility, trying to make up for it with a faux-Gilmore Girls wit. A few funny lines, but you've already heard them, most likely ("makes his junk smell like pie," for instance, is funny enough to warrant a call-back).

And that just leaves No Country for Old Men. It's by the Coen Brothers, and thus automatically deserves consideration (the audience seemed unwilling to consider the ending; at the final fade to black, the film was met with jeers and "What the Hell?"s). Honestly, while aspects of the ending bothered me, I'm willing to accept that. The film's conclusion is in keeping with the film's themes of nihilism, chance, and impotence. If anything, the ended was rather heavy-handedly foreshadowed, with the bookending coin-flip discussions. So I don't think a different ending would have satisfied critics, and I imagine most of them wouldn't argue the point. For me, a bigger flaw than the ending was the one-damn-thing-after-another plot progression. Just Bardem hunting Brolin for two hours. Which isn't the worst thing in the world. It actually probably would have been better if that dynamic had been kept pure, but of course Tommy Lee Jones' sherrif was integral to the themes addressed. The point of Woody Harrelson's character? I have no idea. But he had a conversation with Stephen Root; anything giving Stephen Root screen time is a good thing.

Ultimately, I was disappointed in No County for Old Men. Probably not a big shock to me, as I didn't like Fargo, and this covers similar ground. But it's not just a Southwestern Fargo, more like the anti-Fargo, with Tommy Lee Jones as an ineffectual Frances McDormond. In any event, not quite my cup of tea, though it held my interest and gave me some food for thought.

My final verdict, having seen the five films: Sweeney Todd should be the winner, but of the five nominated films, I give it to There Will Be Blood. (as for actual predictions, I have a gut feeling there might be an Atonement upset tonight)

UPDATE: Nothing against Javier Bardem, he was excellent. I just don't think he should have won for supporting actor, because he was the fucking star of the movie, no? But whatever, good for him. And good for the Coen Brothers, they deserved the recognition. Just wish it was for a film I liked better (The Hudsucker Proxy should have swept the Oscars).

No Depression magazine to fold. I let my subscription lapse six months or so ago, so clearly am solely to blame (actually, they say sales and subscriptions were fine, and that the changing economics of the indie music scene are mainly to blame). The editors were on NPR to talk about the decision. Sad, sad news.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Reading of "Luann" musical this Monday in Carlsbad. I thought of attending, until I saw it was way up in Carlsbad. Just don't care enough about the comic, one way or the other, to cancel my plans and make the drive. I would drive into the gaping maw of Hell for "Get Fuzzy" or "Mary Worth" musicals, for different reasons, but "Luann" doesn't really fire up the passions.

Samples from the musical soundtrack CD are available from CD Baby, which suggest the musical is far more epically craptacular than the perfectly serviceable comic strip. Just listen to "Aaron Hill," and picture Michael Hitchcock's character from Waiting for Guffman quietly weeping in the audience:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

As long-time readers have no doubt noticed, I'm rather fond of the semicolon. So I ask you, where's my New York Times profile?

In case you were wondering, yes, I did deliberately avoid using a semicolon in this post; were I to misuse a semicolon while discussing said mark of punctuation, it would be too much for me to bear.

Monday, February 18, 2008

As I mentioned their last article yesterday, I'll mention now that Ars Technica has a follow-up to their HD DVD article, basically a reminder that there's no official announcement, and an explanation as to why there's not yet an official announcement. Basically, as they suggested in the previous article, they report from their sources that Toshiba hoped to milk the market as long as they could, selling off their existing stock before making an announcement. But now, the thinking goes, that's no longer possible, with the motion picture and consumer electronics industries rapidly abandoning HD DVD. I don't entirely agree that they can't salvage a few bucks off of HD DVD. I don't really know the economics of the matter, but if the factories are already retrofitted for producing HD DVDs, I would imagine that this sunk cost is the primary expense, and that the cost of actually manufacturing the discs is trivial by comparison. Over a million HD DVD players were sold, it seems like catering to that market could offer some opportunity for profit, for a few more months, at least. But again, I don't really know the economics of making an HD DVD, nor the opportunity costs lost by not converting the factories to something more profitable. And considering I only plan on buying one more HD DVD, should Sweeney Todd still come out in the format, maybe other HD DVD owners aren't really in a buying mood (I did recently picked up The Sting, Shaun of the Dead, and a third title I'm not remembering at fire sale prices).

It will be interesting to see how long it takes HD DVD to finally die. As an owner, I hope it takes awhile. I'm not counting on any new releases more than a month out or so, but I don't know how far in advance they manufacture discs...anyone know?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I mentioned Monday that things weren't looking good for HD DVD. I figured things would drag out for a few months, but apparently, if the buzz about the intertubes is to be believed, HD DVD's demise is imminent. Nothing official out of Toshiba, but Reuters and others seem to have things pretty much confirmed. Ars Technica is usually pretty on the ball; they offer some details about the accelerating death of HD DVD. Apparently Toshiba already made the decision to kill off HD DVD even before this week's bad news, but was looking to gradually exit the business and sell off excess inventory. But apparently Netflix and Wal-Mart were aware of this plan, and decided to speed things up on their own, to prevent customers from being burned, and have forced Toshiba to speed things up. So it looks like Netflix did the right thing in dropping HD DVD.

Sadly, it now looks unlikely that I'll be buying Sweeney Todd in HD DVD. Good ol' DVD will be good enough, I suppose. Besides, I managed to download an awards screener of Sweeney Todd off of BitTorrent last night (downloaded in less than an hour). Good enough quality to keep me satisfied for awhile (though again, I can't seem to make it play on my Xbox, and thus my TV).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Uno becomes first beagle to win Westminster. I'm trying to keep Tanner from seeing the coverage; Uno propagates an idealized standard of beauty shlubs like Tanner can't possibly obtain.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dolly Parton postpones tour, blames breasts.
As I just mentioned in my last post, I am looking forward to the digital distribution of media reaching critical mass. But while I wait, I've been making inroads into controlling my media library on my computer. I recently purchased a 1TB external hard drive, and have begun digitizing my movie collection for use on my iPhone and elsewhere.

For those who haven't tried this, I should mention that it's not like ripping a CD in iTunes. The conversion process takes time; on my old clunker of a computer, it takes almost twice as long go convert a movie into H.264 as it does to watch it. So for the most part, I've just been converting one movie at a time, overnight. And sometimes Handbrake (the program I'm using for the task) freezes up in the process, and I have to start over (again, I have an old computer ill-suited for such modern tasks). So it's a somewhat frustrating task. But the end result is well worth it. I've been impressed with the visual quality of the final product, and especially the audio quality. I digitized some concert DVDs; since I've always found music on DVD to be inconvenient, I rarely watch my music video DVDs, so I figured putting them on my iPhone would breathe new life into them. They look good, but the audio fidelity was what really surprised me, sounding as good as anything probably can on the standard iPhone headphones.

So I've been happy with the results of my digitization project. Trying to get the videos onto my TV has been more frustrating. I have an Xbox 360, and so should be able to stream media via Windows Media Player 11. But despite setting everything up correctly, my Xbox 360 couldn't recognize my computer. After much tinkering, I gave up. But last night, I wanted to watch MST3K while playing poker online, so I wanted to get the show off my computer and onto the TV. So I decided to take another stab at getting WMP 11 to work with my Xbox 360. But upon booting up the software and the Xbox, I found it was now working fine. So all I had to do was set up the WMP library, and I'd be all set. Unfortunately, WMP sucks ass, so it was another two hours or so before I finally got the library under control. But I was watching MST3K on my TV (not playing poker, as Poker Stars turned out to be having issues with sit-and-go tourneys).

So far, so good. But the program I was watching was an, um, archival copy found online, in Divx. WMP didn't have a problem with that. But I'm creating my library in H.264, since that's what the iPhone plays nice with. WMP doesn't natively support the format, but plug-ins are readily available to permit playback. But even with the plug-in, you can't add H.264 files to the WMP library. I've found workarounds online, but one seems rather cumbersome, requiring multiple programs and modifications to the registry, and the other being simpler, but consisting of merely changing the file extension, which would interfere with iTunes, which is where I primarily use the files.

So I've given up on streaming H.264 files to my Xbox 360. When I want to watch a movie in that format, I'll just copy it to my portable USB hard drive, and plug that into my Xbox. Should work fine, but from past experience, I expect some glitch to arise.

So what's my point? Mainly, I'm just bitching that Microsoft seems to make this harder than it need be. But also, I wanted to point out that, even when a company like Microsoft gets their device in the home, through something like the Xbox 360, which doubles as a trojan horse for a Windows Media Extender, getting video onto a TV through these devices is too difficult for the general public, and far from mainstream. Which might be good news for Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, but is bad news for the overall adoption of digital video.

I don't know if I mentioned it, but I bought the HD DVD add-on to the Xbox 360, about six months or so ago. Even at the time, it was clear that Blu-Ray was winning the format war, but the add-on was reasonably priced, having just received a price cut, I had a coupon on top of that, the add-on came with King Kong, and a mail-in rebate offered five free movies. Not the best HD DVD movies available, but either movies I liked, but doubted would benefit from the HD treatment (Casablanca, Blazing Saddles), or movies that should look good, but that I didn't really care about (The Perfect Storm). But the free movies were just enough to make the drive look like a good deal. Especially after taking a look at Netflix, and seeing that they had plenty of HD DVDs for rent.

Overall, I've been happy with the drive. The first HD DVD I watched, other than sampling a bit of King Kong, was the BBC documentary Planet Earth, which was absolutely incredible, and which I almost immediately purchased. So far, that is one of only two HD DVDs I have purchased. The other, Batman Begins, I already owned on DVD, and overall it left me a bit underwhelmed. Standard DVDs look good enough on an HDTV with an upscaling player, for my tastes. So I don't think I'd rebuy DVDs I own in HD DVD (even if the format were not in its death throes).

So, owning the HD DVD add-on, you might imagine I have not been happy to see the recent developments in the format wars. For those not paying attention, HD DVD is getting its clock cleaned pretty well. But I took comfort in one thing: There are still plenty of HD DVDs I want to see available from Netflix. Now it appears that Netflix is abandoning me, too. Now, details are vague, so I don't know if this means Netflix is dropping HD DVD from their inventory, or simply forgoing the purchase of any more HD DVDs. If it's the latter, I'll cope. But if they remove HD DVD from their back catalog, I think I may become an ex-Netflix subscriber. I've been wondering if the public library could handle my DVD needs, and while their selection lags Netflix considerably, I could probably get by, supplementing their offerings with digital vendors (Xbox Live Marketplace, iTunes), piracy, and maybe even the good old-fashioned video store (I miss Kensington Video, and I'm sure they miss me). Or, you know, I could watch the hundreds of unwatched DVDs I've hoarded over the years. In any case, the availability of HD DVD is the main factor that has led me to overlook the fact that I haven't been getting a great value out of Netflix lately (only going through 3-4 films a month or so), and if they're no longer available, I'll probably get my fix elsewhere.

The seeming failure of HD DVD leads one to wonder if I'll purchase a Blu-Ray player. Doubtful. I'd rather watch HD than SD programming, and HD media looks better than standard DVDs, but standard DVDs still look pretty good on an HDTV. So, having spent time with an HD DVD player, while it looks good (especially for nature documentaries), it's not worth a substantial capital investment, in my opinion. Though I have a relatively small HDTV; if you're plunking down a chunk of change on a home theater, a few hundred dollars more for Blu-Ray might be worth it. But for me, I'll wait for digital distribution of HD content to go mainstream.

I'll close with one bit of good news for me on the HD DVD front: Sweeney Todd comes to HD DVD April 1.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Black cartoonists run their own versions of the same strip, to protest the idea that there is one monolithic thing called black cartoons. I read the K Chronicles strip, but since I don't read the other strips, I didn't realize it was part of a movement, until I saw Gadzooky's C.C. post with links to the various strips. Of course, given their point that newspapers are reluctant to run multiple "black" strips, the casual reader can be forgiven for not realizing that this was going on, but then I suppose the ultimate point was to raise media awareness.