Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weekend Box Office

Numbers. In case you think I'm making it up.

I'm in a hurry: Captain America -- huge! #1 with $65 million. Friends With Benefits -- less so! $16 million, debut at #3. Okay, done.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Adventures in the Forsaken Zone

You will disagree with me, but I think the true miracle of the internet is that is makes available things that should, by rights, have been long forgotten. So in the case of your job search that means pictures of you shotgunning a keg in college; in the case of politicians it's footage of them endorsing the policy they're trashing THIS month; and in the case of Columbia Pictures it's Starhunter: Adventures In The Forbidden Zone. When I opened up Crackle on my new Roku player, it's the thing that caught my eye.

Like a lot of my guilty pleasures, this 3D gem was running in theaters that I worked in as a youth so I used to watch it for free often and wonder what the hell they were thinking. You don't usually see a movie so bad put together by such good people. Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) produced, experienced journeyman Lamont Johnson directed, and it stars Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Andrea Marcovicci and Ernie Hudson. The point is, there are a lot of people involved with the movies who should have made a solid, uninspired hour and a half of sci-fi eye candy.

Instead, there is this fascinating series of wrong decisions, starting with the throwaway killing in the first act of the most interesting character. It's not just surprising, it's arbitrary. It doesn't make life particularly difficult for the lead. (Spoilers! As if you're going to watch it) Then Molly Ringwald, as a teenager who speaks some kind of extraterrestrial valley-girl slang appears and annoys Peter Strauss for the rest of the movie. Strauss, and you.

From then on its a series of Logan-Run-Like vignettes to kill time until the equally time-killing finale. And none of those vignettes is especially revealing of character - not of the lead, not of the world in which they occur. It's like they came up with a dozen ideas, threw them in a hat, and picked 5 at random.

At some point they decide it's time to start wrapping it up, so they drag in Michael Ironside as some kind of mechanized Nosferatu. He usually makes a splendid villain but here he might as well have been played by hand puppets.

Visually the design borrows mostly from The Road Warrior. It's like The Road Warrior, only in 3D! And without a story or point of any kind! And it appears really cheaply made, only once in a while you realize they must have spent a ton of money to make it look that way. Even the 3D effects are arbitrary. It's like a science fiction 3D epic made by people who hate Sci-Fi, hate 3D, hate Molly Ringwald and hate the movie business.

So in other words, good fun to watch. Honestly, I couldn't tear my eyes away. This is the movie, I think, that killed 3D for the rest of the eighties. Watch it, and compare it to whatever's going to kill it this time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Weekend Box Office

Muggles love numbers!

Well, it seems like just a year ago I was writing how predictable this would be - the final installment of the Harry Potter Saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, did well at the box office. Specifically it opened at #1 and made $169 million in 3 days. On the plus side, the long reign of terror is over! No more books! JK Rowling insists she doesn't need to write any more of them and she has all the money she wants. And you know what that means.

More Percy Jackson and the Olympians movies!

Also on the top ten, if you squint, is Winnie the Pooh, a slow and gentle re-imagining of the A.A. Milne stories. It opened at #6 and almost made $8 million. In your FACE, slow and gentle!

The Undefeated, a documentary about once-interesting Tea Party icon Sarah Palin,  picked a bad weekend to open! It came it at #40 and made $65000 on 10 screens. That's not even a high per-screen average, though it beats Winnie the Pooh by about 3k.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Oooh Roku: An Introduction

I'm taking a week off work but only to allow myself the opportunity to sleep in after the very late rehearsals I'll be having for the next musical at the Simi Valley Cultural Center. Opens Saturday, locals! Anyway, you may recall that I'm too cheap to pay for cable because I'm never home to watch TV, except once in a while. THIS WEEK, for example.

So I went online and found myself a used Roku player.

The little black box, which is about the size of a CD box set of Johnny Cash rarities, outputs to your TV and gets content from the internet, either wired or wireless. There's all kinds of services supplying to Roku, and the price ranges from free (Crackle, for example) to $12 bucks a month (Hulu Plus) to video on demand movie rentals (Amazon). The sheer volume of official channels is staggering. Unofficial ones, even more so, because it is apparently not too difficult to draw up a Roku aggregator.

It is, of course, much cheaper than cable otherwise I wouldn't be writing about it. I'm paying $9.00 for streaming Netflix and $12.00 for Hulu Plus, though I will probably drop one of those two in the next few weeks. The thing that Netflix has on Hulu is they don't run commercials in their movies, but Hulu has a content deal with Criterion, which means I can finally see Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman. As I say, I'm still deciding.

Also interesting is Crackle, which works just like Hulu but is free. They're making money on the ads alone. The Crackle library is all Columbia Studios product. I think that means it will be exclusive but what the hell, like I say it's free.

Is there porn? Of course there's porn. No official channels, but lots of home baked ones.

Basically almost any video that's available on your computer, the Roku box is glad to serve up to your TV. The one exception is YouTube, which is a real peculiar exception. I understand that arrangement broke down earlier this year.

The picture quality varies like crazy, as befits a wild-west cable buster. There is one channel which showcases only 1080p footage, for example. (Don't try it with wireless!) Then on the other end of the scale, some of the stuff for Archive.org's channel was digitized at 320x240 and looks caaaaarrrrappy on the big screen. Hulu and Crackle both offer acceptable bigscreen viewing, Netflix as well.

From what I've seen if you like HBO and Showtime, you still gotta pay for cable. My advice, stop liking them. Look, ultimately any media service lives and dies on whether they carry what you want to see, but this crazy little box carries so much that there's gonna be something in there for you.

Next time: Spacehunter - Adventures in the Forbidden Zone

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Weekend Box Office

Truth through the night that the numbers were still there.

Hope you had a nice holiday weekend, Americans! I'll tell you who did - Michael Bay! As long as he didn't read any reviews anyway. His Transformers: Dark Of The Moon predictably took the number 1 spot with an expectedly massive $98 million.

And like an army of giant robots with no respect for property values, Transformers decimated the rest of the chart. Tom Hanks' Larry Crowne only managed to make #4 with $13 million. Something called Monte Carlo from Fox came in at #6 with $7 million.