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TV and Movies

Posts related to television and/or movies.

Watch It: The Stunt Man

The Stunt Man DVDThe Stunt Man (1980) tells the story of a war vet who stumbles into a movie set and causes (or seemingly causes) the death of a stunt man. The director, brilliantly played by Peter O'Toole, decides to hide the vet from the law by giving him the now-available stunt man's job. (I've seen quite a few of Peter O'Toole's movies, and this is clearly one of his best—he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, but lost out to Robert Deniro in Raging Bull.)

Richard Rush directed The Stunt Man, and he did a masterful job with a huge cast of stars and extras. Most of the time, the movie feels like it's veering out of control, but it never quit goes there, and just keeps careening along, carrying the viewer along for the ride. It's hard to describe, but quite fun to watch.

It's really hard to classify this movie; at times, it's a comedy, at times, it's a serious drama, and much of the time, it's a farcical look at the movie making business. Whatever it is, though, it's quite entertaining and definitely off the beaten path of plot lines followed by most Hollywood movies. If you haven't seen it, it's well worth a watch. (As with last week's pick, this one too is targeted at adults only.)

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Watch It: A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda Blu-rayA Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an entertaining movie (wonderfully written by John Cleese) with an all-star cast (Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin). The movie starts with the gang pulling off a jewel heist, and from there, it quickly evolves into a tale of double-crossing and trickery as each member of the gang tries to outwit the other to steal the loot.

I won't go into the plot more than the above; it's more fun to watch when you don't have any idea what happens. I will add that the scene in the barrister's house involving the necklace is 15 minutes of pure comic mayhem. The cast all do a great job, but Kevin Kline really steals the show with his performance as, well, you'll have to watch.

One minor note: the humor here is clearly adult, so send the kiddies off to bed before starting the show.

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When the music really matters

If you follow me on Twitter, you've probably seen my #WKRPFlashback hashtag in action: I'm rewatching the original WKRP in Cincinnati comedy series, first aired from 1978 through 1982, and tweeting out the occasional funny moment.

For those who don't know, WKRP in Cincinnati is all about radio: WKRP is a fictional AM station in Cincinnati. Given that premise, music is obviously an integral element of the show. You'll hear songs used as transition bits in the broadcast booth, and occasionally as background music playing over the station's speakers. You'll also hear the actors discussing the songs, mentioning titles and artists with regularity.

The songs also work their way into plot lines:

The songs were often tied into the plot of the episode, and some pieces of music were even used as running gags. For example, the doorbell to Jennifer's penthouse apartment played "Fly Me to the Moon" (which was later replaced by "Beautiful Dreamer" due to copyright reasons). [Wikipedia]

Here's one example of how songs and plots were tied together…

That's a clip from "Patter of Little Feet," in which Mr. & Mrs. Carlson discover that they're about to be parents again, very late in their married life. Mr. Carlson has asked Venus to play something "soft and sweet." Venus chose The Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun," which is funny in a few ways, given the context. The end result is a short, poignant scene with a fairly funny audio joke thrown in. And that particular song is obviously integral to the scene.

As you can see (and hear), music was a very important element of the show—and that's where the troubles begin, at least relative to trying to watch the shows years later.

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Watch It: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride Blu-rayThe Princess Bride (1987) tells the tale of a stable-boy-turned-pirate's journey to rescue the love of his life; it's based on the 1973 book of the same name.

The film touches on almost every subject imaginable, including pirates, princesses, sword fighting, adventure travel, large evil creatures, good guys and bad guys, true love, death, giants, and even logic-based drinking games. In short, this is not your average kids' fairy tale—and because it's not your average fairy tale, it's a very fun and interesting movie.

There are many wonderfully quotable lines and short tidbits of dialog (You may have heard the most-oft-repeated one: "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." … but there are many others. I suggest you not visit that link until after you've seen the movie, though; there are many spoilers in that collection.)

The cast includes a number of faces you'll recognize, even if you don't recall their names—I found Mandy Patinkin, as the aforementioned Inigo Montoya, particularly entertaining. Cary Elwes, Chris Sarandon and even the late great André the Giant also do a fine job with their roles. Peter Falk narrates (I could listen to that voice all day), in his role as a grandfather telling this tale to his grandson, played by 11-year-old Fred Savage.

It's hard to describe everything you'll experience in this movie, but it's worth experiencing. So if you've been avoiding it (thinking perhaps it was just another kids' film), stop doing so, and give it a look. If you have seen it, but not lately, perhaps it's time to renew your acquaintance? That's what I did over the weekend, in fact.

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How I create digital versions of Blu-ray discs

As I recently wrote about, I'm weird in that I prefer to buy my movies on physical media, versus electronic only. But I also enjoy the benefits that come from having an electronic version of the movie. The recent Frozen Blu-ray release, for example, was perfect: In the box was a Blu-ray, a DVD, and an easy-to-use redemption code for the iTunes digital version.

Other studios, though, want to force me outside the Apple ecosystem, and into the hell that is Ultraviolet. More and more, in fact, this is the norm. Which means I need to make my own digital versions.

For DVDs, this isn't too troublesome (and well documented), but I'm only buying Blu-ray discs now, and that makes things a bit tougher. (Kirk McElhearn discussed Blu-ray viewing/ripping for Macworld last year. Kirk focused on playback; I'm ignoring playback, and expanding on the ripping tutorial.)

If you're interested in creating your own digital copies of your Blu-ray discs, read on to see how I do it.

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A physical media guy in a digital media world

By today's standards, I'm a throwback, a relic, a technological luddite. Why? Because I enjoy owning movies. No, not "owning" the right to watch a downloaded movie—as you might "buy" from iTunes or Amazon—but owning the actual physical disc that stores the movie's encoded bits. But why, you might ask?

First off, I like everything about the physical product itself, from the case's design to the cover art to the inserts in the case. Many are boring and bland, of course, but some are truly wonderful.

Consider The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Trilogy; the image at right doesn't do the case justice, as it's stunning in person. And when you open it up, you're treated to a wealth of extra content, as seen in these customer photos on Amazon.

Sure, you can get the same thing on iTunes, for the same $49.99…but you can't experience the product's physical extras, nor easily share them with someone else. All you can do is share the onscreen experience with others. Try using the Lord of the Rings maps while watching the movie, for instance. It works, but only if you're using a computer while watching the movie on a TV or another computer.

Or consider the three-disc Blu-ray edition of Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone that comes in a very nice case, with printed inserts. (Again, the customer photos show more than does the stock Amazon photography.) You won't get this experience with the digital-only alternative.

I guess I'm just hooked on the tactile feel, appearance, and "solidity" of the physical media. But that's not all.

I also like that many movies offer multiple versions; so for movies that appeal to adults and kids (i.e. Pixar), we keep the DVD version with the kids' stuff, and the Blu-ray version in the "parents only" collection. I also like taking discs to friends' homes for movie parties, or just loaning them out. None of this is easily possible with a digital-only movie.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Just another luddite, afraid to make the digital jump," right?

Actually, that's not it at all: I love the digital versions, too, because of their flexibility. I can "take" them almost anywhere, and watch them almost anywhere. But I want those versions in addition to the physical versions, not in lieu of the physical versions. That way, if something happens to the authorizing agency down the line, my movies won't all vanish in a puff of digital smoke. If I can't buy a movie with a usable digital version, I just make my own (but that's a story for another day).

I do make exceptions at times, of course. When Apple sold a bunch of movie collections on the cheap, I took advantage. And recently, I discovered that I can get an HD version of the not on Blu-ray Real Genius, but only via the iTunes Store. So I'll be purchasing that, as it's not likely we'll see a Blu-ray version any time soon.

But outside of those exceptions, I will always (until there's no way to do so) prefer to purchase the physical version of a movie over the digital-only version. Call me a throwback, a dinosaur, a stuck-in-the-00s guy if you must, but I love my physical media plus digital versions; I really find it's the best of both worlds.

Watch It: Real Genius

Real Genius [DVD]I cannot recall the first time I saw Real Genius (1985), but it wasn't in the theater.

Whenever it was, the movie made enough of an impression that it became one of my fave comedies—something that's still true today. I owned it on VHS, I own it on DVD, and if it comes out on Blu-ray, I'll probably buy that, too. (I noticed while writing this that the iTunes version is listed as HD, so I may have to invest in that one.)

The cast is a bunch of names you've never heard of, except for a very young Val Kilmer. The plot centers on two geniuses at a college, working together on a laser project that just happens to have military applications.

There are any number of hilarious mini sub-plots running through the movie, and Val Kilmer is very funny as the older genius at the college. Toss in a guy living in the basement below the closet, a lottery fix, a sexy woman on a mission, ice skating in a dorm hallway, and a slew of one-liners, and you've got a recipe for a very entertaining 108 minutes of movie fun. Thought provoking? No. Well-developed plot? Not so much. But fun? Yea, it's got that to spare.

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Watch It: Fletch

[The first in a series of recommendations for older perhaps not-so-popular movies that I found enjoyable, and that you may as well.]

Fletch blu rayDuring his long career, Chevy Chase has been in lots of movies…including lots of really bad movies.

Fletch (1985), however, is not one of the bad ones.

It may not be his greatest movie, or even his second greatest movie, but I think it's got a solid hold on third place.

Many of you reading this probably weren't born when it came out in 1985, or were way too young to have seen it at the time. If so, and if you haven't seen it since, well, you're missing out on what has to be the funniest "newspaper reporter as undercover druggie selected for murder-for-hire scheme which turns into something much bigger" movies ever made. OK, so it may be the only entrant in that category; it's still funny.

Chevy Chase plays Irwin "Fletch" Fletcher, who writes an anonymous column on various subjects for a Los Angeles paper. While undercover investigating drug dealing on the beach, he's offered $50,000 to kill an apparently-healthy, and very wealthy, man.

Suspicions aroused, Fletch starts digging, and what he finds takes him to an upscale country club, to police headquarters and prison, and to and from Utah (a couple of times). The plot line is tenuous (at best), but Chevy Chase carries the movie (yes, I said that) through a series of funny scenarios, improbable disguises, and seemingly ad-libbed dialog. Be warned that if you don't like deadpan, sardonic humor (i.e. Chevy Chase), you probably won't like this movie.

The movie is filled with great one-liners, visual gags, and the cast includes George Wendt (then just three years into Cheers) and Geena Davis (in only her second movie role). There's also a brief but fun cameo from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, recreating his most-famous movie role.

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Disney does digital right with ‘Frozen’ Blu-ray

Macworld logoI was pretty happy with how Disney handled digital copies on their Frozen Blu-ray:

What with the recent Veronica Mars/UltraViolet debacle, you might think all studios still live in the dark ages, and just don’t get it. Thankfully, as I discovered with my purchase of Frozen—the kids’ “Dad, you gotta buy it!” movie of the month—not all studios opt for such an anti-consumer path.

Frozen is available for purchase via iTunes as well as traditional retailers. At the time I bought, iTunes was asking $20 (with iTunes Extras included), which is the same price BestBuy was asking for the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy bundle.

Read the rest on TechHive.

A non-review of Avatar

It's not very often that I see a movie that moves me enough to write something about it. Sure, a couple years back, I put together a list of some of my favorite comedies, but those were capsule summaries written about movies that were, in general, quite a few years old.

Yesterday, however, I saw Avatar, and was, for the first time since the 1977 release of Star Wars (I refuse to call it 'Episode IV'), absolutely amazed by a film. As such, I felt moved to write a little bit about Avatar.

This is not a review, and it (hopefully) doesn't contain any spoilers. Instead, I've focused on my reactions to Avatar, some comparisons to that original Star Wars movie, and what I think it means for movie making going forward.

First off, after sleeping on it, I definitely stand by the three-word (five, counting the parenthetical) review that I tweeted yesterday:

Go see it (in 3D)

Go see it because it's entertaining. Go see it because it represents the state-of-the-art in movie visual effects. Go see it if you're a fan of cinema in general, and want to see where filmmaking may be headed in the future. But really, just go see it—Avatar is well worth the cost of admission, regardless of the reasons.

Does that mean it's a perfect movie? No, in fact far from it—the story, in particular, is too predictable and has been seen many times before. Then again, Star Wars wasn't necessarily a completely original story, either. Another recent favorite of mine, Star Trek, was itself very similar to Star Wars (this funny video demonstrates just how similar). In short, I don't necessarily mind a predictable story if it's presented well and the rest of the movie works with the story.
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