Blu-ray Review: Watchmen Director’s Cut

July 24, 2009

watchmenWithout a doubt Watchmen on Blu-ray has been one of my most anticipated titles of 2009. What’s so special about Watchmen you ask? Aside from some of the most engaging characters to ever grace a graphic novel, Alan Moore’s 12 part series takes place in an alternate universe where super-heroes helped the U.S. win the Vietnam War, while later the United States and the Soviet Union find themselves at the brink of nuclear war. It’s this scenario that fuels the majority of the films plot line.

While the comic’s semi-historical references certainly create a unique and compelling world for the story to unfold, it was the characters themselves that were a breath of fresh air to the comic genre. Watchmen’s super heroes experience self-doubt, heartache, cynicism, regret and ultimately hope for a better world. In a nutshell, it’s the uniqueness of Watchmen’s characters that really separate the story from the rest of the comic world. To date I’ve read some really remarkable comics but nothing quite like Watchmen. But of course as with any comic adaptation its up to the screenwriter, director and cast to bring it to life.

Plot: From the opening drones of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’, to the Ronald Reagan reference right before the credits roll, Zack Snyders Watchmen is painted on a canvas of an alternate history of the United States and what a vivid, fantastic history it was. Again though, without Watchmen’s characters the pretty (ugly I suppose) canvas is nothing more than eye candy and it’s hard to single out one character above another here.

From Dr. Manhattan’s omnipotence, to the Comedian’s ability to cut through the fog and see things for what they are, to the Night Owl’s ‘guy next door’ sensibilities, it’s hard to nail down a favorite, but if pressed I’d have to say Rorschach is my favorite. Rorschach’s no-nonsense black and white vigilantism was electrifying on-screen; he also delivered some of the films most memorable dialogue:

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blu-ray, Reviews | 3 Comments 

Boxee Review

June 30, 2009

boxeeI’ve wanted to try Boxee for a long time now but something else always got in the way, well I finally got around to it and I’m almost kicking myself for not trying it sooner. Boxee is a cross-platform media center that runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and now Windows. The majority of my time thus far with Boxee was with a pre-alpha windows version; however Boxee recently released build 0.9.12.6570 for XP, Vista and Win 7. What few lingering annoyances I found with the pre-alpha build that I was running, seem to have been resolved with 6570.

But before we get too far into the particulars I should explain how Boxee intends to separate itself from the rest of the media center herd. I suppose the answer is multifaceted, but in essence Boxee wants to become more than just another media center, they’re hoping to tap into the social media blitzkrieg. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Delicious, and others have forever changed the way we share content and the folks at Boxee are of the opinion that media centers shouldn’t be left out of the fun. Boxee allows you to share video picks with friends and in-turn view their recently viewed list (should they feel so inclined to share). Keep in mind you can share as much or as little as you like, it’s entirely up to you.

Ok, so that’s the idea in a nutshell, but what’s it really like? How’s it work and is it even worth signing up for? Right off the bat Boxee has a different feel to it. The menu system is smooth and once you shed off the trappings of conventional media centers and adjust to Boxee’s way of doing things, it starts to feel intuitive. Boxee’s a lot to take in early on which is a bit surprising given how spartan the interface appears. Notice I said appears because once you dive in a little deeper you’ll quickly see there are a ton of settings and features to tweak should you wish. If not, no worries. Most of Boxee’s cool features work right out of the box. (One day I’ll quit saying right out of the box about things that have no box, but old habits die hard).

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under HTPC, Media Servers, Reviews | 3 Comments 


Blu-ray Statistics, the Other Side of the Coin

June 23, 2009

Blu-rayIf you haven’t had a chance to read the latest Harris Poll on HDTV and Blu-ray uptake among U.S. consumers, it might be quite the eye opener (Head’s up, PDF link). But before we get into some of those numbers, keep in mind that just like the data used by public relation firms, poll’s can be misleading as well. (Cough New York Times Healthcare Poll)

With polls however, at least we have a pretty clear understanding of what’s being presented to us in most cases, often with sales data what’s not being reported is just as important as what is. The first thing that jumped out at me about the report released last Thursday was that while HDTV ownership increased to 47% from 35% just the year prior, Blu-ray penetration lags significantly behind those numbers.

Just 7% of those polled indicated they would be likely to purchase a Blu-ray player within the next year. That’s actually down by 2% from last year, when the question posed was, “Knowing that Blu-ray is the unofficial winner of the high-definition DVD format war, how likely are you to purchase a Blu-ray disc player within the next year?”

Obviously the recession plays a part in that disparity, no matter what anyone thought of their finances a year ago, they’re likely even more concerned today. That alone would explain the dip in buying intent. But I couldn’t help think back to the bevy of “Blu-ray player sales surge” articles from last May.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blu-ray, HDTV | 3 Comments 

Blu-ray Review: Indecent Proposal

June 18, 2009

indecent-proposal-blu-rayI’m not exactly sure why but I get a kick out of reviewing films on Blu-ray I saw in theater 10-15 years earlier. Nostalgia I guess, or perhaps its just fun to see if they’ve aged well with time. I saw Indecent Proposal back during the spring of 1993. I remember the trailer featuring Demi Moore sporting that short bob haircut, wearing the now-famous black cocktail dress and well, being a twenty something year-old male, that was about all the reason I needed.

I also recall some of the controversy surrounding the films plot, most of the outrage was misplaced if not completely disingenuous in my opinion. The idea of being bought and paid for (pivotal to the movies plot) was nothing new, but portraying it onscreen, to this extent was I suppose. Still, much of the outrage rang a little hollow, the premise of ‘Indecent Proposal’ was hardly the most shocking thing ever portrayed onscreen.

Plot: Strip away all the really, really good looking people (copyright Zoolander) and at its core, Indecent Proposal is a story of love, trust and ultimately regret. Take one young, attractive couple, mix in some financial problems, add a dash of aging billionaire playboy looking for love and you get the gist of the film; an indecent proposal indeed. To be quite honest, this once “controversial” film seems tame by today’s standards. But I suppose anything looks tame after a decade plus of Jerry Springer.

In some regards 1993 could be yesterday but in others it might as well be a hundred years ago. The film feels a bit dated but not entirely irrelevant by modern standards. On one hand, the couples win or lose it all together moments still feel endearing but the 1990’esque musical interludes / music video scenes felt decidedly passé. One subject decidedly un-dated however was the recession (at least the one portrayed) in the film. It plays a pivotal role in the dilemma the two main characters find themselves in.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blu-ray, Reviews | Leave a Comment 

Last One Out Turn Off the Lights

June 11, 2009

antennaThis Friday marks the end of analog television (knock on wood) yet according to CNET news some 2.8 million people aren’t ready. This would be the same analog cut-off date that was delayed more times than I can remember, the one with reminders scrolled across the bottom of thousands of hours of programming and the same one first announced in 1996.

If anyone can honestly claim they didn’t know abut the transition I’m not sure all the time in the world would have made a difference, much less a few more months.

Here’s the kicker though, after all the hubbub, delays and talk of the final shut off date, many of those who would presumably be hardest hit by the shutoff; (read those in rural areas) likely won’t see the end of analog TV for months if not years longer.

There’s a little known clause in the transition legislation that waives so called LPTV (low-power television) stations from the June 12th cut off date. The LPTV stations are often re-broadcasters and or local programming providers outside of major metropolitan areas. But again, in all honesty if the transition does catch someone by surprise I cant imagine another few months or even a few more years making a difference.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under HDTV Programming | Leave a Comment 

Blu-ray Review: Pinocchio

June 9, 2009

pinocchio-blu-ray“A lie keeps growing and growing, until it’s as plain as the nose on your face,” -Evelyn Venable as the Blue Fairy. It was my intention to buy all the Disney classics on Blu-ray based solely on how good  ‘Sleeping Beauty’ turned out. Although I have to admit to being a little skeptical that another animated film could be as impressive as beauty, but of course I’m more than willing to give it a go.

I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw Pinocchio but I’m assuming Carter was in office and gas was about 60 cents a gallon. I remembered so little of the film; it was as if I’d never seen it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a review. If you’re a classic Disney fan, I really shouldn’t have to go into great detail about what makes these films so special. In their simplest form, the early Disney films are life lessons disguised as entertainment. Some may prefer to leave to the lessons to parents but in my estimation the values taught here are about as universal as they come and certainly tame by today’s standards. (Song of the South being a notable exception)

Plot: On the off chance that you’re among the handful unfamiliar with Pinocchio, or just get it confused with all the other animated Disney tales, it is the story of a puppet carved from wood who dreams of becoming a real boy, (Ok bad pun time, I considered typing “a wood be boy”. Ah never mind, it wasn’t nearly as funny the second time around) and of course he has a rather unique physical reaction to lying. By now, Pinocchio is so ingrained in pop culture that some of the scenes may feel a bit surreal. Luckily I found the pristine new transfer and crystal clear soundtrack were more enough to offer a fresh, new look at the film.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blu-ray, Reviews | 3 Comments 

Knocked out by Natal

June 3, 2009

natalIf you’ve already seen the Natal demonstration from E3 you may be wondering what it has to do with home theater. If you haven’t seen it, run (do not walk) to this video and watch it from start to finish; be sure to see Peter Molyneux’s “Milo” demonstration as well.  I’ll wait right here, I promise.  Ok, what did you think, were you blown away like I was?

If you weren’t intrigued by the time the Kung-Fu demonstration was over in the first video, I honestly don’t know what to say, but of course it doesn’t end there. The demonstration goes on to full motion capture and control, real-time image scanning/importing, and even facial recognition. Remember we’re talking about a Xbox360 add-on that’s expected in a matter of months, not a early mock-up (there are multiple accounts of non-insiders using the product from E3) or something planned for a few years down the road.

So again, what does Natal have to do with home theater? A better question might be, what doesn’t it have to do with home theater? Look past the gaming applications and think about the core technologies, voice recognition, this ones simple, “start movie”, “dim lights”, “next video”, so on and so on.

The motion capture/recognition could again be used to trigger shuttle-commands and launch different files but it could also be used for something as simple as dimming the lights 30 minutes after the last motion was detected in the room.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Commentary, Home Theater | 8 Comments 

Blu-ray Review: Doubt

May 28, 2009

doubt-blu-rayDoubt might just be the biggest surprise of the year for me, not for what it depicts but for what it doesn’t. I’d love to go into more detail and explain exactly what I mean by that, but I’d almost surely (see how I didn’t say undoubtedly) spoil it in the process. No matter what opinion you’ve derived from the trailer, chances are this is not that film. Couple of points, Doubt is not explicit and considering the subject matter (molestation) that was quite a relief, it doesn’t have a definitive point of view, at least not as far as I’m concerned and in the end it wasn’t nearly as controversial as it might have appeared; again in my estimation at least this was all somewhat of a surprise.

Plot: Set in the sixties, Doubt takes place in a catholic parish in Bronx, New York. The lead role is played  Philip Seymore Hoffman who is compelling as always. From the first time “Donald” and “Father Flynn” (Hoffman) met on-screen I felt myself cringing at what might be depicted, a strong indicator of how well the groundwork had been laid for the events to come.  Meryl Streep delivers a strong performance as usual but perhaps above and beyond her typical work of late, this was classic Streep if not, in a strange way even better. Streep’s character “Sister Aloysius Beauvier” is a hard nosed, no nonsense disciplinarian who’d as soon knock you senseless as suffer indignation from you, the casting certainly wasn’t where Doubt fell down.

The slow build up of events was a welcome change, all too often and especially lately I’ve seen a rush to hurry plot lines along. That said… roughly 40 minutes into the film I found myself almost ready, strike that anxious to get to the point. Without giving too much away I’ll just say the title of the film is no accident and in my estimation illustrates a disconnect between the trailer and what actually unfolds on-screen. Again, make no mistake the cast is superb but its akin to gathering up the worlds finest race horses to fill a petting zoo.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blu-ray, Reviews | Leave a Comment 

Movie Posters with a Twist

May 24, 2009

You know I’m sure there are examples of oh why didn’t I think of that moments for just about every idea, I mean Starbucks $3.50 for a cup of coffee? yeah sure why didn’t I think of that, how about band-aids, white out, or even Velcro. Ok while I wouldn’t put movie posters into the same category as any of those ideas/inventions, I’m kicking myself just the same here. Come to think of it, in all honesty it’s probably best that I never attempted anything like what you see below.

jaws1

The 3D movie posters are manufactured by Todd McFarlane’s SPAWN toys, but before you start eyeing those old flat, two dimensional movie posters on your wall I should warn you; these “posters” aren’t posters as much as table-top decorations. The dimensions are 8 ½ by 12 ¾ by 2-inch on most. If they could be reproduced at full size the posters would have to be just about the coolest home theater accessory ever, even at half-pint size I reckon they’re pretty darn cool.

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Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Movies & Television | 4 Comments 

Dude, Where’s My Netflix Tab Inside Vista Media Center?

May 21, 2009

MCE 2005Like many of you who heard about Netflix support coming to Vista Media Center I too was anxious to give it a whirl. The only problem is unlike most of the accounts I was reading, my tab wasn’t “just there when I opened media center”.

I’m not sure if it was due to having turned automatic updates off back sometime before Obama was elected, my overly strict firewall settings or just bad ju ju in general but that lil’ sucker was nowhere to be found. Ultimately I had to go and get my Netflix tab the old fashioned way, er rather though a link I found on the The Green Button.

I can only assume my Silverlight install wasn’t up to date as when I installed the Netflix in Windows Media Center app, I got what appeared to be a few Silverlight updates to boot. Once the download was finished, bam Netflix from the media center menu.  So what did I get for all my effort? I can browse my queue, add new discs to it and watch some really low quality standard definition if I’m in a pinch, thankfully I’m not pinched that bad… yet.

Oh one last thing, to the folks that went ballistic over media center extenders getting left out of all the reindeer games, someone over at the The Green Button summed it up best. Before Microsoft added Netflix support to media center your extender didn’t have that functionality, it still doesn’t.

I don’t mean to sound harsh but this is nature of consumer electronics, some products get updated, others don’t. It seems like media center extenders weren’t the cats meow like Linksys (and everyone else) wanted us to beleive.

Posted by Bryan Greenway | Filed Under Blockbuster & Netflix, HTPC, Media Servers | 3 Comments 

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