Second screen

It's not that we need a second screen, it's that we have an inadequate first screen.

If we're watching a great movie, we're engrossed, swept away. We're not even thinking about the phone in the pocket or purse. We're not wondering what's happening on Facebook or Pinterest. We're not even thinking about that.

That's the point, isn't it?

The view from space

Photo of Earth from thousands of miles away

This video struck me in a profound way.

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

Only a few hundred people have been in space, but they share an experience that changed them, changed how they see the world. Maybe we need to send into space more people, from every culture, every nation, so they can bring home what they've seen, what they've experienced – not the technology, but the perspective. The overview effect.

[h/t Upworthy, via Patricia Tallman.]

Sookie, the empowered

There are two vampire phenomena happening right now in entertainment: the Twilight saga, with the popular books becoming popular movies, and the True Blood Series, with the increasingly popular books adapted into an HBO series. Both have a young female heroine who is romantically involved with a vampire. Both are set in present day America.

There the similarities end.

One is set in the Pacific northwest. One is set in the parishes outside of New Orleans. One seems intended for teens. The other very much for adults. But the real difference is in the women at their respective centers.

Carmen Siering writes in Ms. Magazine that Bella, the heroine of Twilight, fails as a feminist hero.

[N]ear the end of the film, Bella must choose between her two suitors. And yet when this big, empowering moment arrives, Bella offers an explanation for her choice that lets her off the hook. Melissa Rosenberg’s script doesn’t have Bella spell things out quite as clearly as Meyer’s narration in the book. Here we have Bella talking in circles about her love for Jacob and what might have been. In the book, Meyer makes it clear that Bella places the blame for her choice on something outside her control….

…[B]y placing the blame for choosing Edward over Jacob on the insane, irrational world in which she lives instead of on her own needs and desires, Bella abdicates responsibility for that choice, making it no choice at all. If the foundation of feminism is being able to choose, as Meyer insists, and one chooses not to choose, then what sort of feminism is that? It may seem romantic to be swept away by forces outside your control, but it’s not empowering.

I'm not a big Twilight expert. I've seen the first movie. The second lurks in a dark corner somewhere in the house, hiding from me. The third, well, I'm not keen enough to compel me to go to the theater and watch all the commercials.

But I do know True Blood.

Let's look at Sookie. Where Bella may seem to "abdicate her responsibility", Sookie refuses to let go of her own. In fact, she won't have others meddling in her business, not without at least confronting them. In the very first episode of the show, we see her pick up a chain from a truck bed and use it to confront a couple of ne'er-do-wells — not out of a misplaced sense of macho or foolishness (though it does feel foolish at the time), but in order to protect someone she's just met and hardly knows. She can't just stand by while someone gets victimized. It's striking how the chain in her hand becomes an extension of herself. Oh, she's scared. But she won't back down — not unless he has to, not unless she's outmatched. And even then, she'll keep the words coming. She's never cowed.

Sookie owns her destiny. She owns her choices in life. When Bill asks, "What are you?" and Sookie responds, "My name is Sookie, and I'm a waitress," she's not being self-deprecating, she's stating the facts. And interestingly, we never sense that she's diminishing her life by not pursuing the usual "success" tracks of college or power career like real estate or movie star. She's too self-aware, too in charge of her own life to feel that.

There's no sense of victim mind in this character who has every right to feel the victim. (I'll spare the spoilers that would be required to rattle off the reasons.) She is empowered. How? Why? I feel that it's because that's how she was raised by her "Gran." It never occurs to her to play victim to the fates.

Yes, Sookie can be foolish and naive at times. But I chalk that up to her innocence and youth, not her sex.

'The Man Who Fell to Earth' Blu-ray, as it should be

I never had the opportunity to see this film in a theatre, and the existing video versions were pretty murky when it came to the shadowy dark scenes. This movie is very unusual and requires some patience to settle into its pacing, but once you do, you're in for a ride. But with those murky scenes before, you'd get kicked right out of the story and wonder what the heck was going on.

No longer. This Blu-ray transfer is excellent. My only complaint is that the color saturation seems a bit washed out. Some of the stills in the extra features have the saturation you'd expect. But this is a minor quibble. Maybe David Bowie's orange hair would get all blown out in full saturation.

That brings me to David Bowie, who is really quite wonderful in the film. Enigmatic, androgynous yet masculine, and very other-worldly. If you're not old enough to remember Bowie, he was a star back then, and still pretty fresh off of startling the media world with his oddity. He had some very big hits, and yet you really couldn't quite peg what kind of music he was making. It was truly original.

This was his film acting debut, and he's really good! Very compelling, and totally convincing. You never have what you might expect, a cringe moment where see the rock star instead of the character.

Maybe it helps that his character is totally bizarre anyway. But he's right there in character, in the reality of the moment always.

This Blu-ray is worth getting, most definitely.

'Violent Cop': Beat Takeshi Kitano as a Japanese Dirty Harry

Sono otoko, kyôbô ni tsuki (Japanese title)

*** mild spoilers ***

He's not ready with the witty verbal quips – just the opposite, actually – but Detective Azuma is otherwise not all that unlike Dirty Harry. He slaps teenage punks around, would rather beat up than arrest drug dealers, and doesn't hesitate to run down a cop killer.

The plot eventually becomes about Azuma's investigation of a drug syndicate and how it's controlling more than it seems. But I have to warn Dirty Harry fans: This is no Magnum Force. In some ways, the Dirty Harry films are fairy tales compared with this movie. They are also much more sharp and focused in the western cinematic tradition. Violent Cop is very Japanese in understatedness of plot.

For those who like to see other cities, other cultures, like I do, there are lots of scenes on the streets of what might be Kyoto. (Filming location info is not currently found on Wikipedia or IMDB.) Much of the story takes place during the daytime, so there's much to see. (City streets at night could be almost anywhere.)

Interestingly, the movie was originally conceived as a comedy. IMDB:

The original script was a comedy. Kitano was then very concerned about the audience recognizing his acting skills and he didn't feel that a comedy would allow him to act nor allow the audience to abstract from his comic TV personality. So he rewrote the script, removed all comedy and turned it into a drama.

One wonders what elements of the final film could have been comedic in another context.

In 'Brother', Beat Takeshi shows LA hoods Yakuza style

This movie is interesting. Very dry. Very understated, for all the violence. Beat Takeshi Kitano directed this movie, his first outside of Japan.

Beat Takeshi Kitano
(If you don't know Beat, you may still recognize his face.)

Wikipedia currently remarks:

Brother (2001), shot in Los Angeles, had Kitano as a deposed Tokyo yakuza setting up a drug empire in L.A. with the aid of a local gangster played by Omar Epps. Despite a large buzz around Kitano's first English language film, the film was met with tepid response in the US and abroad....

Between the disappointing response to Brother and Dolls [another movie he directed], Kitano became a punching bag for the press in the United States, who wondered if he had lost his ability to make a good film. Criticism was less severe in Europe and Asia though many commentators were not as lavish with their praise as they had been with previous Kitano films.

To my own taste, I prefer Brother to Violent Cop, Kitano's first movie as director. For one thing, you get to know why Beat's character Aniki is the way he is. In Violent Cop, Azuma is more of a cipher.

That said, Aniki is not quite as transparently purposeful or ambitious as the Wikipedia description would have you believe. He's a guy who doesn't back down. Ever. And that leads to some interesting reactions as he makes his acquaintance of the LA drug gang world portrayed in the film. What makes it all hold together are the flashbacks that tell us why he's in LA in the first place. Enough said about that.

For anyone interested in gangster movies, I'd say this is probably worth seeing. But for me it's the Kitano-style Japanese touches in the story and some characters that puts this movie in the yes column. Omar Epps is a likable presence, too.

'Hancock' flies on Will Smith's super talent

Hancock probably could not be considered anything more than a halfway decent scifi/fantasy movie if it weren't for Will Smith. The concept is interesting enough, but the storyline ends up falling a bit short, even compared with your basic superhero movies. Yet with Will Smith's performance, you almost don't notice.

Without spoilers, I feel safe noting the premise of the movie: Hancock (Will Smith) is a sloppy, careless guy with superhero powers. Smith makes this guy truly compelling, though. He's tragically lonely and hates his life so much he drinks heavily just to blot out the clear perception of it all. At times you almost want to cry for him. And that's all Smith.

In fact, I'd say that Will Smith's performance is more key to this movie than Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance is to Iron Man. There's plenty of humor in the story, but Smith actually plays it straight ... which of course makes it all the funnier.

Now I'll take a moment to note that Charlize Theron is one of my favorite actresses, so it should not surprise for me to say that she brings some fun to the movie. Charlize Theron is one of those actresses who brings a lot to even the smallest role. And yet she never tries to upstage anyone ... which of course makes her all the more compelling.

The Blu-ray is high quality. I didn't poke around much at the extras. If you're a Will Smith fan, then this is one to see. He does not disappoint.

Godfather on Blu-ray: Where's the resolution?

I've been watching The Godfather on Blu-ray, and have been rather disappointed just how muddy the image is.

Credit where credit's due: the rich high-contrast nature of Gordon Willis' astounding cinematography is well captured for the most part. The shadows are as black as they were in the theatre. You can really appreciate the control of light, especially as characters emerge from darkness and disappear back into it.

But the high definition image resolution just isn't there. The details end up fuzzy. The sharpness doesn't seem up to par for a 35mm negative, that's for sure.

Other films from the period, including The Wild Bunch, haven't suffered so badly. What has The Godfather done to be treated so disrespectfully?

Given that Francis Coppola's company authors DVDs, I had to assume that the Blu-ray result on this film is testament to the poor quality of the surviving film elements available. I can only imagine what they had to work with for the opening wedding sequence, in which the outdoor shots seem very blown out – blown out in a video sense more than a film sense. No amount of restoration is going to put back resolution that has been lost.

As it turns out, that's precisely the problem. Stephanie Argy writes in American Cinematographer: Post Focus:

Widely regarded as an American classic and a landmark achievement in cinematography, Paramount Pictures’ The Godfather (1972) is identical to most films of its era in one respect: it was not properly preserved. Paramount, like most Hollywood studios, did not create a preservation program — “asset protection” in industry parlance — until the home-video boom of the 1980s proved film libraries could have indefinite, lucrative lives. Before that awareness took hold, original negatives were typically used as printing negatives, which meant the original negatives for popular pictures took a lot of abuse. The Godfather was not only popular, it was Hollywood’s first blockbuster, and over the years, “the neck of the golden goose was certainly wrung out,” says the film’s cinematographer, Gordon Willis, ASC, with typical candor.

This really is heartbreaking, that a cinema classic such as this is left with a Blu-ray that looks more like an upconverted standard DVD.

On Amazon, Reviewer Wayne Klein claims...

"The Godfather" was meant to look grainy so those of you who hate grain will probably wonder why they didn't eliminate it. That's because to do so would have required altering the look of the film not restoring it and the usual result of eliminating film grain is that you lose detail.

The problem is that you get some grain, but only in the most underexposed scenes where the lab had to push the image more than otherwise. This is nothing like the well-used print I saw years and years ago in a revival house in LA, which was scratched and broken in places but had some fine cinematic detail. One of the appeals of Blu-ray is that it can actually present much of that rich detail. But The Godfather does not showcase that.

Back on Amazon, reviewer Kieth Paynter writes:

Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog ends today (kind of)

Have you seen it yet? This is not something to miss! Personally I love the music, but the real charm is the humor. Neil Patrick Harris is the perfect comic hero/villain.

If you've not heard of this show, it's a little ditty by Firefly and Buffy creator Joss Whedon and cohorts, created as something to do while the writer's strike stalled all production in Hollywood.

Once upon a time, all the writers in the forest got very mad with the Forest Kings and declared a work-stoppage. The forest creatures were all sad; the mushrooms did not dance, the elderberries gave no juice for the festival wines, and the Teamsters were kinda pissed. (They were very polite about it, though.) During this work-stoppage, many writers tried to form partnerships for outside funding to create new work that circumvented the Forest King system.

Frustrated with the lack of movement on that front, I finally decided to do something very ambitious, very exciting, very mid-life-crisisy. Aided only by everyone I had worked with, was related to or had ever met, I single-handedly created this unique little epic. A supervillain musical, of which, as we all know, there are far too few.

The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap – but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way. To give the public (and in particular you guys) something for all your support and patience. And to make a lot of silly jokes. Actually, that sentence probably should have come first.

(Of course, it will be available for paid download after today, but why not see it for free while you can?)


Dr. Horrible is available on DVD! See it on your television!

Laura's unofficial sci-fi geek Lords of Kobol lineage DVD collection

Some items are must-haves for any science fiction fan (and aren't all geeks and geekettes to some extent sci-fi fans?). We already know that Battlestar Galactica is the best show on television. Now we can celebrate not just this fabulous show in high-definition video, but those shows and movies that led to its creation (according to me -- Ron Moore may have different ideas).

Let's start at the top:

  1. Battlestar Galactica - Season One [HD DVD]

    If you've stumbled across the show broadcast in HDTV on the UHD cable channel, you know that Galactica is really something else when you can see all the detail.

    Price: $69.95

  2. Blade Runner (Five-Disc Complete Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]

    Caprica Six, meet your cinematic ancestors -- the angry existentialist Ray, the touchy Leon, the cheerfully desperate Pris and the ass-kicking Zora. And, of course, Rachel. (I couldn't be offering a spoiler on this 1977 movie, could I?) You have to wonder if we'd have Battlestar Galactica if we didn't have Blade Runner. Remastered, re-edited by Ridley Scott, this is the definitive edition.

    Price: $27.95 for the 5-disc Blu-ray set, $66.95 for the Blade Runner (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition) (aka the special edition with dead tree material added)

  3. Firefly - The Complete Series

    The mood of Galactica wouldn't be possible if it weren't for Firefly, which aired a few years before. This sci-fi classic series was ill-treated by the television, but lives on in gorgeous DVD video that upconverts very nicely, thank you.

    If you haven't seen Firefly, you're in for a treat. These characters you will love -- they will be your friends for life. I swear!

    Price: $39.99

  4. Cowboy Bebop Remix, Volume 1

    You couldn't have Firefly without Cowboy Bebop. This anime series manages to surprise you. And the music is pretty cool, too.

    Price: $17.49

    Happy Holidays, Space Cowboy!

This is part of a larger holiday geeky gift guide I posted on BlogHer.



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