Home Theater Roundup

I went through half a dozen home theater receivers last year, trying to find one that would work connected to my Mac Mini media PC. Here are the results:

Kindle 2: the temperature at which books burn

OK, that title doesn’t exactly make sense. I was also going to try “K2: The Book-Widowmaker”, but that’s even worse. Something something ‘books as kindling’ something something. Maybe “What are you reading for?” Well, here’s a review of the Kindle 2 from someone who doesn’t own, nor plan to buy, one. And why would I, when I already have this sweet iPhone?

Speaking of iPhone, Wired thought they’d simplify the design of the Kindle 2. Yikes. While it shows all the innovation of a giant iPhone with an extra button, it does get to the bare essentials: page left and page right. I can’t believe this design was newsworthy, since it’s just simple to the point of being simplistic, especially given the other things the Kindle can do.

Still, the omission of the keyboard does beg the question: how much typing does a person normally do in a book?

As for the utility of the actual Kindle, I would first ask myself if I read enough books in a year to make up the $360 price difference. That’s a huge initial cost — as Jon Stewart pointed out, “You mean you have to buy the books, too?” It is cool that there’s a web browser and free wireless internet out of the deal, but it seems like less a feature for the consumer than another venue for Amazon to sell you books. Why else would they give it away for free? I think of it the way Microsoft grants me an Xbox Live Silver account for free, which is an online account that only allows me to buy their downloadable content. How generous!

It also bothers me that the Kindle is a vertically integrated system. You aren’t buying a book, you’re buying software for the Kindle. Just like how the recording industry wanted you to buy your vinyl records all over again as CDs, it feels like Amazon wants to sell you your books all over again. One for your shelf, one for your Kindle. (Caveat: this from someone who buys iPhone apps and songs for Rock Band.)

Were it me, I would instead go with a netbook, since they cost about the same, have a better screen, bigger keyboard, software (they even come with a free web browser!), plus you can hack them any way you like. There’s even a great hack to put OS X on a Dell Mini 9 netbook.

Regarding the free wireless internet, you can always tether your netbook with your jailbroken iPhone, since you’re paying for that already. But that’s just the way I’d do it — instead of one slim thing to so a specific task, I’ll use three that, well… kinda/sorta fit.

Despite all this, the Kindle does fall into the Goldilocks zone for an e-book reader: it is just the right size to do something an iPhone is too small to do enjoyably and a laptop is too big to do conveniently. And that e-ink display is very pleasant to read. If it’s the right tool for the right job, then you should go for it. So have fun with your reading, I’ll be with the rest of the LA lizard scum out by the pooool!

Are the corporations of WALL-E really all bad?

Cracked recently ran a scathing litany of 5 Terrible Life Lessons Hollywood Loves to Teach You. It is just painful to read because I can make no solid argument against what Cracked is saying; in particular what they have to say about the irony of casting corporations as villains:

Each and every one of these films are made by a corporation every bit as huge and unfeeling as the ones being portrayed in the movies (and the Walt Disney corporation could crush all of them like a grape). There’s almost something condescending about the way enormous companies are willing to cast themselves as the villains, knowing we’ll give them more of our money to watch it.

Corporations: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.Speaking of Disney, in the movie WALL-E the earth has been ruined by the excesses of humanity, fueled by a greedy, uncaring, ubiquitous corporation with the cute name of Buy ‘N Large. But here is the thing I don’t get: if Buy ‘N Large is the corporation that made everything, then they’re the same ones that created WALL-E, the robot who saved humanity, and they also made EVA, a robot tasked with finding plant life, a sign welcoming people back to earth — even says they make robots. So wouldn’t this mean the big, bad corporation that caused this mess is also the one with a plan to solve it? Surely someone within Buy ‘N Large was looking out for people after all.

Sadly, I don’t think this was the message the movie intended.

A tardy review of the Macbook Air

Did you say you wanted a review of the Macbook Air several weeks after its debut? Well, you’re getting one anyway. I was going to call this review the “Macbook Who Cares” because I’m so witheringly clever, but I’m sure there’s a bandwagon of bad “air” puns out there already. Into “thin air”, “hot air”, “break like the air” — those are all for free.

Part laptop, mostly air.The first thing you notice about the Air is how small it is. How did Apple do it? If you’d told me all you had to do to make a smaller laptop was remove the optical drive and a bunch of ports, I would never have believed you. But somehow Apple harnessed the power of “removing stuff” and produced the Air.

Will wonders never cease?

It was while reading a better review from Engadget that I realized what other Apple product the Air most resembles: the G4 Cube.

Both were received to great enthusiasm and are a marvel to look at. They are also too small, too expensive, oddly-ported, difficult to upgrade one-offs that have no long-term sustainability. In both cases, Apple has released to manufacturing what are the computer equivalent of concept cars. Just as the slot-loading drive, touch-sensitive buttons, smaller form factor and DVI port of the Cube began to appear on a lot of later Mac hardware, the features and advances of the Air will soon find their way into much cooler — and more practical — iMacs, Power Macs and iPods.

Yes, “there’s something in the air” — unfortunately it’s Icarus.

The perfect name for a coffee shop

Grindhouse, of course.

That’s probably not such a good name for a movie though, since no budget, crappy effects and wooden acting are not the best points to sell a movie on.

Three rooms too manyIn the new film celebrating a genre that really didn’t need that much celebratin’, directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino team up for a cinematic masterpiece not seen since their earlier success with Four Rooms.

Director Robert Rodriguez got his start making movies for $7000 and has grown quite a bit as a director who now spends millions of dollars making a movie that merely looks like it cost $7000. Meanwhile, indie auteur Tarantino continues to draw his inspiration from other movies of the genre, which puts him creatively on par with the directors of Epic Movie and Airplane! — except his bag of tricks draws from movies you’ve never heard of.

Will this new movie be as gruesome and nauseating as Rodriguez’s earlier kidsploitation flik The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl? Only time will tell.

June Movies: a Race to the Bottom

In Cars, Owen Wilson plays the voice of a talking car who….

Talking car? Let me start over.

In Cars, the zombified carcass of Walt Disney (ahem, Walt Disney Pictures) grasps at the coattails of the animation powerhouse Pixar and its latest offering. And this time, it looks like a cartoon version of Oliver Stone’s U-Turn, except with J-Lo replaced by a Porsche, though hopefully without so much junk in the trunk. If you like automotive puns like that — God help you — then Cars is the movie for you! If you like a night of mixed feelings, check out Cars in a double-feature with Who Killed The Electric Car? and see what happens to all those adorable cars you fell in love with over the last hour and a half. Or try Cars with An Inconvenient Truth to see how our nation’s dependence on plucky animated race cars is destroying our environment.

Speaking of movies where the cars have all the personality, there’s The Fast & the Furious 3: Tokyo Drift. In it, Average White Guy and Average Black Guy meet Japanese people and are like, “Hey, Japan is a crazy place where everything is different!” I got the drift that this movie is made up nearly entirely of car races and car chases, so if the filmmakers aren’t going to pretend there’s anything more to Tokyo Drift than this, neither am I.

Switching gears (ugh), The Lake House stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock as a couple trapped aboard a speeding bus as a couple who share the same house by the lake, albeit two years apart. If only they had tried this in The Break-Up, I could’ve saved 90 excruciating minutes. The Shyamalan-esque twist is that while one lives in the eponymous lake house in 2006 and the other lived there in 2004, they still seem to be able to write letters to each other, which I think classifies this as sci-fi. Or if Sandra Bullock is supposed to be the attractive female lead, then fantasy. I don’t want to jump to conclusions with this touching fantasy romance with its elves and unicorns and magical time traveling postcards, but do you think it’s possible that… one of them was dead the whole time?!

Click. That’s me turning off the latest Adam Sandler movie.

I’ve tried looking up information on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford but I still have no clue what this movie is about, and the title sure isn’t any help. The closest I could find is a motorcycle mechanic by the name of Jesse James, so uh, I guess this movie is about bikers?

So this wraps up my round of movie reviews; I’ve left the critique of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 to the guy dressed like Jack Sparrow up on Hollywood & Highland — I figure he’s more of an expert on the subject, so ask him what he thinks if you see him on your way into Beard Papa’s.

Beware the Movies of March!

President Bush, in his most recent State of the Union address, mentioned the need for tougher ethical standards in medicine, to guard against the nightmare scenario of human/animal hybrids. Surely he must have been speaking about Disney’s The Shaggy Dog.

In the latest retreading of one of Disney’s gimmicky animal movies, Tim Allen plays an inattentive father who learns a valuable lesson about family by being turned into a dog. All this and more in the creatively-named The Shaggy Dog. How many imagineers did they go through before settling on this title? While the man-to-dog-to-family-man transformation has long fascinated movie goers, is it maybe possible that it’s really just a lot cheaper to film a Bearded Collie for two weeks than Hollywood megastar Tim Allen?

Depending on this movie’s success, we can look forward to Disney’s next round of family-themed lycanthropy where a career mom learns why her kids are more important after she’s turned into a goose that lays golden eggs, a bully who learns compassion after being turned into a cat and sent into outer space and finally a touching tale where Don Knotts learns the importance of being alive after getting turned into a talking animated fish.

Speaking of being turned into something you’re not, Failure to Launch is about a grown man who would rather live with his parents than move in with Sarah Jessica Parker. And really, who can blame him? I’m “failing” to see the problem here, unless you’re talking about the movie’s confusing title. Is this a movie about astronauts? Nope, it’s yet another romantic comedy with a non-sequitur for a title, which is unusual because part of the romantic comedy formula — and romantic comedies are the most formulaic of any movie genre — means having to conform to a theme. See: Must Love Dogs (there’s a dog), Fever Pitch (guy likes baseball), Prime (still don’t know) and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton (Tad Hamilton). To avoid confusion in the future, please go easy on the theater patrons and just start calling romantic comedies Woman Finds, Changes Man: Episode LXVIII.

The movie poster inexplicably shows Matthew McConaughey leaning against Sarah Jessica Parker and states that “To leave the nest, some men just need a little push.” I’m going to need more than just a little push to get anywhere near that shaggy dog.

Next time, I’ll be reviewing The Hills Have Eyes and wondering why President Bush didn’t mention the country’s growing problem of radioactive mutant marauders.

December Movie Reviews in a Hurry

I’ve gotta get back to programming in a second, but first…

Let me save you some time and distill the 5-book series that encompasses The Chronicles of Narnia down to its two essential facts: Turkish Delight is a sticky dessert and the titular lion is a metaphor for Christ …for some reason. These would appear to be the only things going for this movie apart from a very long and silly title. But the real question for The Chronicles of Narnia is will it be a bigger success than last year’s The Chronicles of Riddick?

Rumors about a fourth installment to Peter Jackson’s incredibly popular Lord of the Rings trilogy reveal it to be a separate movie entirely. At last, stop-motion and claymation technology have reached a level of sophistication that Peter Jackson can finally make an enduring version of King Kong. The real advantage for Jackson is that computer graphics allow for a greater degree of lip sync and character animation that until now have limited the performance of the film’s pivotal star, Adrian Brody.

I’m a little worried about whether the popular Broadway musical The Producers could actually work as a feature film, but I’m glad that at least one popular Broadway musical has finally shown enough crossover appeal (thanks to the public’s enduring fascination with both Uma Thurman and the Nazis) to make it to the big screen. I can’t wait until 2008 for the inevitable musical based on the movie based on the musical based on the movie.

Brokeback Mountain, which looks like a cowboy fantasy taken out of Gus Van Sant’s secret diary, is the sort of movie that usually enjoys a limited release at the Tomkat Theater in West Hollywood. Starring the Casanova Heath Ledger and Jarhead Jake Gylyllennhaaaaall (sp?), this steamy cowboy romance simmers with an erotic ambience not seen since Unforgiven.

Finally there’s the Jim Carry comedy Fun with Dick and Jane, which is not to be confused with the Tomkat double-feature Fun with Dick and Dick.

November’s Magical Musical Movie Review

It’s November and music is in the air… and in theaters!

Money enthusiast and rap star 50 Cent stars in Get Rich or Die Tryin’. How about “Get Rich or Don’t Get Rich?” You don’t need to make everything into a life-and-death struggle, Fiddy. Now I don’t want to give away the ending of the movie, but since it’s a big-budget feature film starring 50 Cent in the story of his life, I’m guessing “dying tryin’ ” isn’t an outcome.

The Chumscrubber is a feature-length adaptation of Chumbawumba’s one hit song. It centers around a man who drinks a whisky drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink, then a cider drink. I assume this man is an alcoholic. The film chronicles his struggles, what gets him down and how he gets up again.

Zathursa. See: Jumanji

For songs that don’t rhyme and jokes about black people, check out comedian Sarah Silverman in Jesus is Magic and hear variations on the same six jokes that made her sorta-famous.

In the trailer for Walk the Line, Joaquin Phoenix states, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” and the movie appears to say just about as much. Folsom Prison? Check. “Ring of Fire”? Check. Reese Witherspoon? The heck? What’s she doing here? At least her goofy southern-somewhere drawl finally seems appropriate.

Finally, Rent tells the inspirational story of several hip, young artists living in a run-down part of New York who are all trying to ‘make it’. No wait, that’s the movie Fame. Okay, but Rent is a musical. No wait, Fame was also a musical. But what Rent has that Fame doesn’t is more timely references to things like AIDS and Newt Gingrich. But with all the similarities, maybe this movie should be called Rent: I’m gonna live forever …or die tryin’.

September movie semi-round-up

So many brand new movies to see!

In Flight Plan, asexual parent Jodie Foster loses her luggage on an airline flight. She spends the rest of the movie adamant about reclaiming her lost luggage even though nobody else believes she brought any in the first place. Did I say luggage? I meant daughter. I can’t say I look forward to seeing this one, after already seeing this same thing in The Forgotten (2004) and Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938). Wait, it’s on an airplane you say? Well that’s totally different.

Also, from the writer of Emma and Sense & Sensibility and the producers of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually, comes a movie just like Emma, Sense & Sensibility, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love Actually: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

So what’s new with America’s sweetheart Emily Rose? This September something-or-other, she’s getting some exercise in The Exorcism of Emily Rose! It’s a story about a psychotic little girl whose demons cannot be cured by medical science and must be treated by a higher power. It chills the viewer with eerie sounds and images, leaping beds and a waif with a voice like an angry linebacker. Also, Emily Rose will be played by Linda Blair and the movie will be released in 1973 under the name The Exorcist.

Serenity, based on the low-rated sci-fi series “Firefly”, is about some people in a spaceship. Not terribly innovative yet, but wait’ll you find out what they’re carrying! The cargo is a Joss Whedon fantasy: a combat-capable super-chick. The real question of the movie though is which combat-capable super-chick??? Is it a squeaky blonde named Buffy who slays vampires? No wait, maybe her name is Lara and she raids tombs, guns a-blazin’! Or is it Dark Angel Jessica Alba come to kick future space butt? Or could it be Jennifer Garner from “Alias”?

Maybe it’s Jodie Foster’s missing daughter.