Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Better Watching

23 May 2011

Dear J-

I’ve spent the weekend ripping digital copies of the DVD movies we own — this weekend it was time to concentrate on the Disney Animated Canon — based on convenience and fear. First off I want to be able to broadcast these to other devices around the house so that means finding a solution for that, sharing; secondly, the unskippable advertisements have gotten obnoxious — hello, we already own most of the 50-movie canon (I counted; and lastly, figgy has proven unusually adept at putting discs in and taking them out, which means with optical media that it’s only a matter of time before we lose or scratch something. And as far as Blu-Ray* goes I’m convinced that’s a format designed to drive you back into the greasy arms of the theaters: once the movie gets going it’s spectacular but getting there is an even bigger struggle than with DVDs which in turn were more annoying than VHS and LaserDisc.

That sharing solution, at least for me (OS X setup), goes like this: use RipIt to extract the disc, play the disc using preferred settings via DVD Player to figure out what te right title to extract is, then use HandBrake in specific title mode to pull the right data and convert it to iTunes format. We have an AppleTV hooked up to the TV so that automatically syncs with the computer and pulls media from it. It sounds complicated** (you could do it all the extraction and re-encoding in HandBrake) but I’m awfully pleased with RipIt — it is a no-fuss tool that does one thing and does it transparently well, no babysitting required. HandBrake in comparison is a bit of a beast, very flexible but nearly incomprehensible without some experimentation.

Thus far it all works shockingly well. If you have to beam content around the house there are various ways to do so but I like the server + client model (and this is not unique to OSX, though I’ve been completely intimidated out of trying it on Linux via one of the XBMC forks; just reading some of the setup questions gives me a headache) and it has the added benefit of nigh-instant access and one-box convenience, sort of like an iPod that’s permanently wired to your TV. The best part for me is stripping out all the extra junk: I used to pay extra for special bonus disc editions but have since come to realize how little I actually watch them. Right now it’s about fair use of what we own and not wasting our time with what the studios have forced down your throat.


* Plus we don’t have a Blu-Ray player any more. And you don’t need to be a technician to figure out how to run DVD like you do with Blu-Ray.

** I also wanted to check how much faster the new computer is (Core i7 Quad versus Core Duo) — short answer is that HandBrake runs better than four times faster and will digest a movie in roughly half an hour or so. Now the question is about storage: each rip is uncompressed from the original disc and clocks in at 5-8GB apiece. Disk space is cheap, and I need to get some more.


Double Feature

12 February 2011

Dear J-

figgy has been sick the past few days so I’ve come home to see her sacked out in front of a movie — it seems as though for as many animated movies that have come out in the past ten years we have a good portion of them — and that’s okay. I’m well aware that lots of folks use their online presence to broadcast how wonderfully perfect their lives are (and probably just as many are as proud of how imperfect they are) but it’s nice to see a relative sense of normal descend on the house for once. When I was little and got sick I would demand outrageous treatment: pajamas all day, in bed, warmed liquids and carry carry carry all over the place.

figgy has learned from me. I don’t know how but she’s gotten a time machine, hopped in, and taken lessons from the master of whinging complaints. I suspect that just as there are new parent classes for childbirth and delivery so are there new grandparent classes: strategies for I-told-you-sos and ways to not-look-like-you’re-enjoying-the-taste-of-your-child’s-own-medicine. I wonder sometimes if we keep our distance from parents to prove that we can do it ourselves or to hide the damning shameful evidence of what we’re doing wrong. It’s strange that I feel a greater kinship with my folks knowing how difficult it was for them — new country, strange customs, and two kids keeping them on their toes. We are the lucky ones.


Investment Return

12 October 2010

Dear J-

Modern movies set in Spokane* show off the same landmarks: Riverfront Park and downtown (with the Skywalks**), moving on to show life in the small, older houses that I’ve always associated with the area near Gonzaga University, houses that could have been lifted from any suburb anywhere in America. I remember that marketing companies liked it as a test market since it accurately predicted the response of larger portions of the Midwest, which evoked a kind of strange civic pride in me: normal, normal, we’re just like everyone else.

There are countless reasons why I’m not normal, and why the region is not typical, but that was part of life back then, celebrating conformity. It’s okay to have a little spice and show off a bit, but don’t stick out, don’t make your name memorable. The unique aspects of Spokane got flashed on-screen
briefly but not for long, and never to the point where you’d feel you were visiting someplace different. It’s a question of comfort: you know enough that you’re not at home, but not so different that you’d want to go back. It’s reassuring to go back to, but it’s a little like traveling home: everything seems that much smaller the bigger your world gets.

What face are we showing the world today? Is it the one that they want to see or that we want to wear, and are they different? Just as there’s parts of Spokane that are world-class (and Riverfront Park is a gem) there’s parts of your personality that make you uniquely you and that bear constant exhibit. It may feel more comfortable to only show off what you think people will like, but it’s a false sort of economy: conserve the you and you actually diminish without replenishment.


* Here I’m essentially referring to three mid-major efforts: Vision Quest, Benny and Joon, and The Squid and the Whale (which in itself shows a bit like Benny and Joon II: We’re Getting Real Gritty).

** The Skywalks essentially turned large portions of downtown into an enclosed mall, River Park Square, by enclosing bridges between buildings and across streets. They have since been remodeled and RPS is much more mall-y now (with a proper street entrance and grand escalator facade), but I’m most familiar with the parking lot and service elevators in the back, when we used to make deliveries to the Dim Sum Inn. You get a good taste for all the landmarks in the first opening-credits sequence of Vision Quest, by the way. Minneapolis has a similar skywalk system: both are places you stay indoors during the winters.

Three Thoughts

2 May 2010

Dear J-

I think it might be time to introduce her to Sound of Music; partly because she’s probably ready, and partly because I’m starting to understand the lyrics to some of the songs in Chitty, and they’re starting to make me … er, suspiciously sentimental. That’s enough for musicals for now except to note that we broke open Hello Dolly (“It Only Takes a Moment” is pretty impressive) in order to watch the sequences that were featured in WALL-E. Maybe we do watch too much on the weekends. The ambition on Sundays has a short half-life.

I’m wondering if the BP platform explosion doesn’t have a more simple explanation. Unknown. Mysterious. I don’t think so. If a machine — oil extraction platform — fails, there are three likely explanations: incorrect design, incorrect operation, or incorrect maintenance. And especially if that machine has operated correctly in the past, that eliminates the design; Chernobyl lost its core because they wanted to conduct an unanalyzed test. We all have a tendency to compensate for slight changes (when was the last time you thought about your shocks? Be honest) and deferred maintenance (I’m way past due on my oil change), and I’m thinking there are a few maintenance and operation managers at BP that won’t be for much longer.

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a perfect remote control, but the one that comes with TiVo boxes I suspect is at least as responsible for reeling in customers as the software itself. When I think back to the wretched remotes that I’ve used before — all buttons the same shape and size, or slick surfaces with no feedback (this is the primary complaint I have with touch interfaces like the Kameleon — if it’s something I have to use blind, it better be distinctive without forcing me to memorize finger positions like frets) — the TiVo remote is a paragon of useability, distinctive buttons available without fumbling or repeated repositioning.


Knowing Smile

25 April 2010

Dear J-

We actually didn’t finish Chitty Chitty Bang Bang until today, but we’ve been humming songs from it since. And it turns out that the belt I’d bought yesterday was too long, so it’s almost like I got to do yesterday over again (note to belt vendors: what happened to plain strips of leather, nicely finished on the edges, roughly an inch to an inch and a half wide?). The excitement of Friday is lost in the foreshadowing of the work week writ large on Sunday afternoon.

I wonder about the paucity of digital distribution solutions; I understand that it’s important to keep track of copyright and provide proper credit, but doesn’t it seem that the minor amount of potential theft would be outweighed by the benefits of not having to provide physical storage and supply. For some industries — music — digital distribution is an accepted norm; for others — movies — folks are still buying and renting DVDs instead of sending bits around (there’s a seedy air about torrents, no pun intended); and for still others — books — digital adherents are looked upon as heretical, despite being perfect candidates (relatively small amounts of data). After all, all those physical artifacts end up cluttering the house when you’re done with them (we’re not going to talk about the box of DVDs that were watched only once).

There is, after all, a lot of important information out there to be digested; life works and whole careers continue to come on market and impact other lives. Was it Newton or Galileo who said that they saw further because they had stood on the shoulders of giants? The easier it is to know, the more we will know.


Time Shift

17 April 2010

Dear J-

Saturdays move in slow motion some weeks and today was no exception: nothing accomplished, no great memories, right? Truth is that life drains away as we sit in front of the TV (at the moment, CBS is showing something called Saturday Night Strikeforce, which appears to be brought to you by the same people who kept pumping out Jean-Claude Van Damne movies well after their sell-past date expired — the audience looks more ripped-off than interested), and we had a long stint today.

What else are you supposed to do when resting and getting over a cold? The more movies we show to her, the less likely she seems to pay attention to any one in particular, although she was fascinated by the dragon in Sleeping Beauty; I remember being quite intimidated when I was little, although not to the same degree of trauma that I felt when Augustus Gloop got sucked up the pipe.

If you’re just marking off time in order to get through the day, perhaps it’s time for a change instead.


Post Haste

27 March 2010

Dear J-

It’s nice to have a day like today: warm like summer, warm like you can’t remember being cold before, little triumphs and delights and anticipations keeping me motivated to watch each moment pass. The longer these days are the shorter my memory of dark nights and hours passed on the road. The final tally for today (excluding the three diapers we changed between bathtime and sleep time) was four to two; theVet told me that figgy had a trick of telling us when she needed to go to the potty, but I hadn’t seen it in action until today, with two accidents and four succesful trips. Take pride where you may.

For the past week she’s been popping out of bed on a regular basis; I like to believe that me coming home has restored some measure of order to her life, but it’s probably just not having a nap during the day and pushing her bedtime back by an hour. In the grand scheme of things I’m not sure that everything I do has much of an impact, yet I’m also pretty certain that I tend to underestimate the weight of words. Today we went around in public (well, to a couple of stores).and tried out the limits of freedom; knowing that you have to plan your trips around the nearest bathroom does crimp your style somewhat.

This week they released Toy Story in the latest and greatest Blu-ray Disc format, with all the proper bells and whistles (high-definition, surround sound) and I have the dubious privilege of owning the movie on three different at-the-time state-of-the-art formats: CAV LaserDisc, DVD, and Blu-ray. Nothing stays on top for long; new models are always superseding the old and sooner or later, figgy will grow up and what’s amazing now will be old hat, just as we’ll go from all-knowing oracular wisdom to implausibly living despite our decided faults. Point is to enjoy the now and not worry about the inevitable; we can’t stop change and we wouldn’t, not for the world, not for us.


Memory Shape

4 December 2009

Dear J-

I’m thinking about Spokane again today because we watched part of Mozart and the Whale last night, a romance drama starring Josh Hartnett and Radha Mitchell set in Spokane.  Though the setting is un-named (except in the end credits — I peeked) it’s a very visually distinctive city; the opening credits take you on a helicopter tour of downtown and the first outdoor scene is set in Riverfront Park, just as every Spokane movie has been since 1974 (I suspect that it’s not just that photogenic, it’s must also be a stipulation of the film commission:  “Say, have you filmed in the Park yet?”).  I didn’t recognize the mall scenes at first, but later, as if by magic, she’s standing right in front of the entrance showing the distinctive crossed-escalators (and sign) for River Park Square.  That makeover did happen after I left, though.

And yet even as the various opening images (there’s those smokestacks again!) were dredging up warm fuzzies inside me, theVet pointed out that the movie, released in 2005, looked nothing but old, as though they filmed it with a filter stuck firmly on 1987.  Perhaps it’s a Spokane optical illusion; there’s nothing quite like watching the evergreen activities of my youth (look, carnival rides under the old US Pavilion:  short of restoring the canvas covering, there’s nothing that would make me believe more that the movie had been sitting in the can for twenty years) that fools my perception.  The areas that they filmed in are pretty solid, mature areas that aren’t going to change dramatically, so that’s probably what’s responsible.

I can’t help but think of another romantic drama filmed there just before I left, though:  Benny & Joon.  There’s no overprotective older brother, but we’ve got off-beat leads casting glances at each other through Riverfront Park again.  When I was growing up the local paper would trumpet how Spokane gathered a lot of test marketing and product trials because it represented a good cross-section of (Caucasian) America; to watch it on the screen, though, you’d believe it full of quirky people and buses.  It’s hard for me to separate the truth from perceptions colored by years spent downtown transferring between buses, trying to squeeze a trip over to Merlyn’s after they’d moved around the corner, skating under the pavilion as light snow falls and trying not to fall; perhaps it’s why I refuse to return — there’s no way the reality matches the contours of memories.


Cinema Nouveau

23 August 2008

Dear J-

You know how movies are aimed at the age group just below the characters depicted?  Sort of a sneak preview of the crazy kinds of fun you’d have if only you were a bit older; Real Genius must have put Caltech out of contention for a lot of kids in high school, The Breakfast Club made middle schoolers swoon with the choices of which clique to belong to, and even such fare as Hannah Montana is enough to get the elementary school kids organized to conduct inter-parental warfare to obtain tickets.

The reason it appeals less to the actual age group, I think, is because you fill your head with all these wonderful things that could be, but then you become and reality isn’t nearly as exciting, or wacky, or hi-jinky.  It’s amusing, but then you leave the theater and your life just seems that much more drab in comparison.  Sort of like realizing that instead of laying out nearly two hundred large on a new Bentley Continental Flying Spur, most of the mechanical bits and platform can be yours for one-tenth the price when you pick up a used Volkswagen Phaeton.  We drive Bentleys in our movie lives, and settle for Vee-Dubs in reality.  To be honest, are you certain you need a car that barely cracks double digit fuel economy in the city?

All that boils down to this:  we’re reaching the age where Hollywood doesn’t have much left to offer in terms of age-plus movies.  We’re at the Harold and Kumar and Pretty Woman and Knocked Up stage in our lives, and the only thing to look forward to now is fare like My Big Fat Heart Attack and Rectal Digital Exam, neither of which is likely to appear at your local metroplex soon.  Blame it on youth, but I’m beginning to understand why all those Baby Boomers seem crabby about getting older.  Your head’s as young as you think, but the frailties of the physique betray you in an instant.