Home Theater Roundup

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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:

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Kindle 2: the temperature at which books burn

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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?

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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 — www.buynlarge.com 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

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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.

Evolve how?

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Trojan’s new ad campaign is entreating men to “evolve” by using their product.

How, um, do Trojan’s customers evolve when using a condom to prevent sexual reproduction effectively takes them out of the reproductive gene pool? If anyone, it’s the unwashed masses too dumb or impatient to use a condom that are taking part in any actual evolution — for better or worse. Maybe the people at Trojan don’t understand how evolution actually works?

If you really wanted to encourage condom use, why not use an obnoxious caricature of a pregnant teenager instead? That would at least save us one cute independent film with a teen as the smartest one in the room, so sassy and like, “pfft, whatever” while adults are left as a string of bumbling, one-dimensional straw men.

Now that would be a sign of evolution.

Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s

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You said you wanted a review of Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s two weeks after it came out? You’re in luck…

If the Guitar Hero video games were a discography, Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s is at best a between-album maxi-single. Adhering to the format established with GH2, there are six levels to play through: the four songs in each level are basically a crap shoot, with a fifth bonus song that’s the real star.

Guitar Hero Rocks the 80sThis is where GH80s disappoints. While I wasn’t expecting to be wowed by every song selection, GH80s slides ever further into cover band territory. Compared to the songs from the original Guitar Hero, this release sounds worse and less like their originals than ever. I was blown away by the quality covers on the first Guitar Hero, but the cracks that started to show in GH2 (the mealy-mouthed ‘Mother’ springs to mind) have become ear-splitting chasms by this release. And that’s to say nothing of the 80s not being a decade particularly known for its shredding.

As for what’s missing, there are no extra songs to unlock, though coming up with a back catalog of unreleased 20-year-old music is probably pretty hard to do, so I let you off with a warning, Guitar Hero.

All — and I mean ALL — of the guitars and finishes you can buy in the store are exactly the same as those offered in the far-superior Guitar Hero 2, so rather than splurging on that Gibson Moderne, you’d be better off investing your hard-rocking money. That way, in 20 years you aren’t begging Activision to include your one hit in their latest video game cash grab.

New Wave PandoraAlso missing from the store are the different outfits for your characters, which is especially disappointing because the new outfits look so good. Even Pandora, who always looked like the guitarist who took her Tim Burton movies a little too seriously, looks hot and so very Eighties. Even though these outfits look great, there’s nary a set of lime and pink legwarmers, off-the-shoulder ripped tees, keyboard ties, Adidas tracksuits or checkered Vans to be seen. In a decade that was more style over substance, this is a bad place for GH80s to come up short. Maybe we’ll “luck” out and get to buy upgrades on Xbox Live. Now all I need is an Xbox.

Anyone who was a kid in the 80s remembers the occasions when a He-Man figure would come out that was just an existing figure with a different color palette. Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s is that action figure. It’s little more than a stripped-down version of Guitar Hero 2 with some new graphics and the same sticker price. But from a decade that brought you the phrase “Greed is good”, what could be more 80s than cashing in with a cheap knock-off?

The perfect name for a coffee shop

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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.

At last! The sequel to 299!

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Three HundredThe new movie 300 is yet another adolescent male power fantasy from the fertile mind of perpetual angry 13 year old Frank Miller, but this film is unique in that it has a mercifully less punitive attitude towards male genitalia than the writer’s other work.

Come to think of it, when the main characters are all half-naked warriors, taut, toned and bare-chested, this movie is gayer than the super bowl.

300 is about a king who defies his country’s rule of law and goes to war with a vaguely-defined threat from the middle east, but I can hardly see how a story like this is even relevant in this day and age.

Ultimately, what this movie makes me think about most is what terrible shape I’m in. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some sit-ups to do. About 300.

June Movies: a Race to the Bottom

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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!

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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.

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