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Posts related to television and/or movies.

Force Awakens Day, based on the greatest movie speech ever given*

* No, not really. Not even close. But the President's speech in Independence Day is perhaps corniest, most over-the-top movie speech ever given. And as such, it's a good basis for this bit of Star Wars: The Force Awakens corny, over-the-top speechmaking…

Good morning. In less than four hours, people from this household will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest opening weekend for a movie in the history of cinema. You, Star Wars Fans, will be doing it.

Star Wars Fans—those words should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our dislike of Episodes One through Three. We will be united in our love of the one Original Trilogy.

Perhaps it's fate that today is a Saturday, and you will once again be having an amazing weekend, not being subject to the tyranny of one man's horribly wrong vision of the prequels. You will have freedom from the annihilation of the Original Trilogy through misguided editing.

We're watching for our right to be entertained, to believe in The Force.

And should we all enjoy the movie, this Saturday will no longer be known as a simple weekend day, but as the day when the world declared in one voice:

"We will not be forced to watch the prequels! We will not endure any more Jar Jar Binks! We're going to live on; we're going to survive the prequel era!"

Today, we celebrate our Force Awakens day!

And with that, I'm off to see a little movie this morning.

Smart TVs know—and share—what you’re watching

If you own—or plan to own, or plan to give as a gift—a "smart TV" from LG, Samsung, or Vizio, are you aware that these sets share your viewing data with third parties? If not, you should be—even if you're a very 'open' person, the amount of data collected and shared by these sets is quite scary.

For example, Samsung Smart TVs collect the following data:

Information about content that you have watched, purchased, downloaded, or streamed through Samsung applications on your SmartTV or other devices; Information about applications you have accessed through the SmartTV panels; Information about your clicks on the “Like,” “Dislike,” “Watch Now,” and other buttons on your SmartTV; The query terms you enter into SmartTV search features, including when you search for particular video content; and Other SmartTV usage and device information, including, but not limited to, IP address, information stored in cookies and similar technologies, information that identifies your hardware or software configuration, browser information, and the page(s) you request.

Vizio isn't much better; here's what their sets collect:

For VIZIO televisions that have Smart Interactivity enabled, VIZIO will collect data related to publicly available content displayed on your television, such as the identity of your broadcast, cable, or satellite television provider, and the television programs and commercials viewed (including time, date, channel, and whether you view them live or at a later time).

And while I couldn't find LG's privacy policy, it's been caught spying on users.

All three manufacturers ship their sets with data sharing enabled, but it's relatively easy to disable on all three brands. Consumer Reports provides clear instructions for all three companies; unless you really enjoy sharing your viewing habits with unknown third parties, I suggest you disable these onerous data collection tools in your smart TV.

The bizarre world of digital movie pricing

Recently DirecTV had a free HBO preview weekend; as we're not subscribers, I set our DVR up to record a number of movies. One of those films was X-Men: Days of Future Past. I'd never seen any of the X-Men movies, and I really liked this one. So I decided to watch the other six films in the series, renting them on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

I was able to rent all movies except The Wolverine, which is only available as a purchase on either Amazon Video ($12.99) or Apple TV ($14.99). So I had to buy one movie, and rented the other five. In total, I paid $34.94—about $5.82 each—to watch six movies, including buying The Wolverine. That's not outrageously expensive. (I paid an extra $2 to buy the iTunes version, as it's a better viewing experience than Amazon Instant Video.)

But (excluding The Wolverine), that's my cost to watch them just once. If I or anyone in my family wants to watch them in the future, we'll have to pay again. If I want to own the movies, to make them free to watch any time, I could either buy them digitally or on Blu-Ray.

To buy all six movies on iTunes, I'd pay a whopping $89.94, as each is priced at $14.99. (You'd think the first three films, all being at least nine years old, would be cheaper…but you'd think wrong.) Over on Amazon Instant Video, it'd still cost $77.94 to buy the six movies on digital, as they're $12.99 each.

Clearly, if digital is that expensive, then the Blu-Rays will be even more, right? After all, they have to be mastered, duplicated, boxed, sealed, and shipped to retailers. There are physical returns to worry about, and management of all the stuff in all of those steps…so these Blu-Rays are going to be incredibly costly, right? No, not right at all.

A quick trip to amazon.com leads to X-Men and The Wolverine Collection, which contains all six of the movies on Blu-Ray. And the cost for all six movies? Only $34.96, or exactly two cents more than I paid to to rent five and buy one in digital form!

(I found the exact same collection on walmart.com for the same price, too, so this isn't some Amazon-only special pricing. And even at the full list price of $69.99, this collection is still cheaper than the digital versions.)

Even if I wanted to buy all six movies separately, the total cost for all six would be $73.78—still cheaper than either iTunes or Amazon Instant Video! (Most of this cost savings is because the older movies are indeed cheaper than the newer movies. And the newer movies are, in some cases, more than their digital counterparts.)

In a nutshell, I should have simply bought the six-disc collection and been done with it. (It's also not too much work to rip them myself if there's not a bundled digital copy, so I can watch on Apple TV, iPad, etc.)

I'd have spent all of two pennies more than what I did, and I'd own the actual movies, free to use when I like and how I like. Sometimes I really hate Hollywood.

Watch It: Noises Off

Noises Off coverNoises Off (1992) is a movie adaptation of a farcical stage play about the production of a stage play. The camera moves freely between front stage and back stage, so you get to see both what the audience sees, and the behind-the-scenes action the audience will usually never see. (The movie's name is taken from a theater term for sounds produced offstage, and there are plenty of those in the movie.)

Just watching the movie, it's fairly obvious that it would work better as a play (because of the layout of the set and the nature of the humor). But this movie is an entertaining and (according to those who've seen the play) faithful adaptation of the play.

The cast is loaded with recognizable names and faces, including Carol Burnette, Michael Caine, Marilu Henner, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker, Nicollette Sheridan, and the too-early-gone John Ritter and Christopher Reeve. They're all quite funny to watch, and the timing amongst them is (and has to be) spot on for the movie to work. Thankfully, the timing is spot-on, leading to many humorous moments.

The movie follows the stage troupe working on their play, starting with rehearsals and opening in Iowa, traipsing through various other small towns, and finishing up with the big opening night on Broadway. Along the way, we get to watch as the group teeters on the brink of disaster, each night's show bringing a fresh crisis. Whether it's an alcoholic old-timer or relationship issues between some of the actors, there's always something going on to disrupt the play's normal flow. Many scenes stand out, but there's one involving bottles of alcohol, flowers, and hijinks among the actors that leaves me laughing every time.

Sadly, this oldie hasn't been remastered for Blu-Ray, nor is it available for legal streaming on any of the services I checked. That leaves just the Amazon DVD, or "alternative solutions" if you're interested in watching some great actors have a lot of fun with a unique concept. Well worth watching, and probably not a movie style you've seen done before.

iTunes Store
Not available
Amazon
DVD
The Movie DB
Details
Rotten Tomatoes
Reviews [57%]

Search the iTunes Store from anywhere

This morning, I wanted to send someone an iTunes App Store search URL, so that when they clicked it, they'd see the list of matching apps in the iTunes App Store. There's no apparent easy way to do this within iTunes, but after much futzing about, I figured out how to structure a URL that will open to to the search results screen in the iTunes App Store.

Because Apple has separated iPhone apps and iPod apps in the store, there are actually two separate URLs, one for each type of app. The iPad version of the URL is:

itms://search.itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZSearch.woa/wa/advancedSearch?entity=iPadSoftware&free=0&genreIndex=1&media=software&restrict=false&softwareTerm=TERMS+TO+SEARCH+FOR&submit=seeAllLockups

And for the iPhone, it's identical except for the entity bit:

itms://search.itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZSearch.woa/wa/advancedSearch?entity=software&free=0&genreIndex=1&media=software&restrict=false&softwareTerm=TERMS+TO+SEARCH+FOR&submit=seeAllLockups

Hopefully obviously, replace TERMS+TO+SEARCH+FOR with the keywords you want to use for the search, separating words with the plus sign. You can then use the URL for whatever you like: send it to someone, add it to your bookmarks bar, whatever. When clicked, the search will run and the results will open directly in the iTunes App Store for either iPad or iPhone apps.

For example, iPad Apps related to the word foobar, or iPhone apps about hopping frogs.

You can further customize the URL to find anything you want—not just apps, and using additional criteria—within any of the various areas of the App Store. Read on for the details on how to do that.

(more…)

Watch It: Edward Scissorhands

Edward ScissorhandsEdward Scissorhands (1990) is a different take on the classic Frankenstein story line. In this variation, an inventor creates a being (Edward), complete and ready to function, with the exception of a pair of hands. As a temporary measure (I'm not sure 'why' is ever revealed), the inventor attached multiple scissor-like blades to each arm of his creation. Unfortunately, the inventor died before he could finish the hands, leaving Edward with blades where his fingers should be.

Edward lives alone in an old mansion on the hill, until an Avon saleswoman (Peg) comes calling. He is then brought into 1960/70s suburbia, as Peg takes pity on his situation and basically adopts him. Edward becomes immensely popular due to his ability to sculpt hedges and bushes, and for his incredible skill at cutting hair. He's also attracted to Peg's daughter Kim, who seems capable of seeing the person behind the blades.

But trouble lurks with Kim's boyfriend Jim, who dislikes Edward. Eventually, Edward winds up accompanying Jim, Kim, and others in a robbery, and winds up arrested. More troubles follow, and, well, you should watch the movie to see what happens.

You'll recognize many stars among the cast, starting with Johnny Depp in one of his earliest big-screen appearances; his range of facial expressions is astonishing and really helps convey the complexity of Edward. Dianne Wiest plays Peg, the career-oriented Avon sales woman, and Winona Ryder plays her daughter Kim. Alan Arkin, Anthony Michael Hall, and Vincent Price as the inventor (in his final big-screen appearance) also have key roles.

While the basic story line is familiar, Tim Burton's direction and the amazing 1960s/70s pastel colored set and costumes give this movie an entirely different feel. Watch it, and you'll have a whole new appreciation not just for your fingers, but for the relative nothingness of the nicks you give yourself while shaving.

iTunes Store
Buy or rent
Amazon
Blu-ray | Online
The Movie DB
Details
Rotten Tomatoes
Reviews [91%]

Watch It: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai…

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth DimensionThe Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984) has perhaps the longest name of any movie I've seen—so long, in fact, that I had to truncate it for use in the title.

Anyway, the titular character, played by a very young Peter Weller (Robocop was still three years away), is a Japanese/American race car driver…and a neurosurgeon…and a rock star…and a comic book hero. He also dabbles in scientific invention, and has created an oscillation overthruster that allows him to travel into and out of the eighth dimension. Confused yet? Try watching the trailer. It actually won't help your confusion any, but it gives you a good taste of what the movie is like.

The movie waivers between a satire of sci-fi movies and a rollicking good sci-fi adventure movie. You may have to watch the movie a couple times to begin to have an understanding of what you've just seen. But that's not a bad thing, because the cast here is full of great actors, many in their early- or even pre-fame days. You'll see Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, and a few other faces that may be familiar, even if the names are not. (Keep an eye out for Vincent Schiavelli, the ghost from Ghost, for instance.)

The story is convoluted, some (ok, most) of the special effects are cheesy and cheap looking, and you're never sure whether to take the movie seriously or not. But it all moves at a good pace, and there are numerous funny bits to keep you wondering what's going to happen next. And hey, you'll probably never see another movie whose lead character is a neurosurgeon, race car driver, and a rock star, right?

iTunes Store
HD - Buy | HD - Rent
Amazon
DVD | Online
The Movie DB
Details
Rotten Tomatoes
Reviews [71%]

Watch It: L.A. Story

L.A. Story DVDL.A. Story (1991) is one of my favorite Steve Martin movies, due primarily to its hilarious overgeneralization of the California lifestyle (but the story and performances are both also quite good).

Steve plays Harris Telemacher, a TV weatherman who spends most of his time doing comedy instead of weather because, hey, this is LA, and the weather never changes! Things are going great, until Harris loses his job. This causes a period of introspection, in which he gets assistance from a "talking" (by way of customized messages) freeway sign.

During Harris' journey, you'll experience number of jokes (both verbal and visual) about the California/LA lifestyle. These will be even more humorous if you know the city and its peculiar customs. As my dad lived in LA for a number of years, I found the movie spot-on in a number of its over-the-cop characterizations of the city.

Steve Martin wrote the film, and both he and the supporting cast are wonderful. Marilu Henner plays his cheating girlfriend, Sarah Jessica Parker is a stereotypical "valley girl," and Victoria Tennant (Steve's real-world wife at the time) has a great role as tuba-playing British journalist.

If you've never seen it, and you're familiar at all with the "California lifestyle," L.A. Story is well worth a watching. (At the time of this writing, the movie doesn't seem to be available on Blu-ray; however, both iTunes and Amazon streaming have the HD version.)

iTunes Store
HD - Buy only
Amazon
DVD | Online
The Movie DB
Details
Rotten Tomatoes
Reviews [94%]

One possible solution for ripping stubborn discs

While writing up this week's Watch It selection (The Stunt Man), I was rewatching the movie on my TV, and wanted to switch over to the computer. I own a many-years-old DVD version, so I popped it into my iMac, fired up HandBrake and set to ripping it. But I got nothing—HandBrake ripped a 4KB file, then claimed it was done. Not a good start.

A glance at HandBrake's activity window showed this error:

libdvdread: CHECK_VALUE failed in ifo_read -- error message

Searching on that error message pointed to an error in dvdnav, and some suggested ways of working around it, including installing a patched version. There were also other errors, and searching on those indicated something about the copy protection was causing a read error with the disc.

I also tried RipIt's built-in rip-and-compress, but it also failed. After mucking about with those two apps, and nearly every other video-related app I own, here's how I finally managed to rip my legally-purchased version of The Stunt Man:

  1. Used RipIt to copy the DVD to my hard drive. (No settings to worry about here at all.)
  2. Used MakeMKV to make an MKV from the ripped file. I pointed it at the folder from step one, and clicked the Make MVK button. The end result was a number of files, with the longest one being the movie itself.
  3. Used HandBrake to convert the longest MKV file to an m4v file. I just left the settings at the default (high quality), and the end result was a nice quality 1.9GB movie (down from a 7GB MKV file) that plays on all my devices.

I'm posting this here mainly so I remember what I did, but perhaps it'll help with your stubborn discs as well.

Time flies faster than reality in 24 – 2014 Edition

As Fox launches 24: Live Another Day tonight, I thought I'd update this old post to reflect Jack's newly-calculated age…

The following is my rough timeline for the aging of Jack Bauer, lead character on 24. The original inspiration for this post was the 24 Wikipedia entry. While browsing, I noticed the way time absolutely flies between 24 seasons.

24 first aired in November 2001, and was set on the day of the California presidential primary, but no specific year was provided. Just to make things simple, I've arbitrarily chosen 2000, which puts day one in June of 2000. Any year, however, would work just fine for tracking Jack's age.

In June of 2000, Kiefer Sutherland was 34.5, so let's assume that was Jack Bauer's age as well. From there, as the seasons progress, time moves rapidly. In the following table, all of the After Prior Day values came from the 24 Timeline on wikia.com. (Season 8 and Live Another Day were not sourced from wikia.com.)

Season NumberStart DateAfter Prior DayJack's Age
#1Jun 2000--34.5
#2Dec 200118 months36
#3Dec 200436 months39
#4Jun 200618 months40.5
#5Dec 200718 months42
#6Aug 200920 months43.5+
'Redemption' movieFeb 201342 months47+
#7Apr 20132 months47+
#8Sep 201418 months49ish
Live Another DaySep 201848 months53ish

The only real issue with this is that the timing of the Redemption movie is off--it's supposed to occur on the day of the presidential inauguration, which has been on January 20th or 21st for over 70 years now, but the timeline shows it in February. I'm not sure why there's a discrepancy.

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