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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

It’s no fun going home to your 25-inch CRT after watching movies on your buddy’s new 50-inch HD flat screen.  It’s a concept most people are familiar with: try a product of higher quality, and the old stuff will seem like garbage in comparison.  Alright, maybe not garbage, but the difference certainly becomes more noticeable than it may have been before.  The same is true of the content you watch on that screen.  I don’t mean half-hour sitcoms, or documentary programs that air on Discovery.  I’m talking about the drama, action, and supernatural shows that usually have sixty-minute run times.

Thanks to channels like HBO, Showtime, and AMC, I’ve been exposed to a multitude of awesome shows, causing me to watch regular television with an even more critical eye.  (And I was pretty critical to begin with.)  The entertainment bar is being held insurmountably high by the likes of Dexter, with its fantastic acting and characters; The Walking Dead, complete with suspense, action, and special effects; and the superbly epic medieval fantasy, Game of Thrones.

The Walking Dead

I know that there are those who might disagree with me about The Walking Dead, claiming that there is room for improvement in the acting department, but I actually thought it was pretty decent.  Sure, there was a character or two at whom I could point a finger, but really the action and cinematography more than made up for whatever thespian shortcomings there may have been.

Now there are shows on regular networks that I, and possibly others, unfairly brush aside.  I probably could have enjoyed ABC’s Once Upon a Time once upon a time, but with my now refined palate I’ve sampled it, pooh-poohed it, and tossed it in the pile along with others like Grimm and Lie to Me.

I know, I know—not all programs have the budgets and special effects that the big guys do, so it’s not completely fair to put them all in the same bracket.  And it is worth mentioning that the standout shows I mentioned all existed previously as celebrated written works.  Nevertheless, the overall effect on me, the viewer, remains the same.  In some sort of weird reverse-desensitization process, I’ve been left constantly expecting breakout acting, jaw-dropping plot twists, or scenes so gruesome that they make me go “Whooooaaaahhh!” and cover my mouth.  Am I so wrong to be disappointed when, instead, I get shoddy green screen effects and evil knights who look like they’ve got helmets made from old Koosh balls?

Once Upon a Time - Koosh Knight

Yup, they really look like that.

Really, once you’ve seen the higher quality programs, the old stuff is ruined. You just can’t watch it without making comments and rolling your eyes at every scene. And if that’s not enough, the good shows are so good that viewers who don’t subscribe to the premium channels resort to Netflix and DVD rentals to watch a series like Dexter, getting hopelessly addicted and winding up going through an entire season in a lethargic weekend of binge watching. But who can really be blamed? Those shows are damn entertaining.

And so, to HBO and its friends I say both sincerely and sarcastically, thanks a lot!

Dexter

Video: HBO via the Game of Thrones Youtube channel
Walking Dead image: AMC (screencap)
Once Upon a Time image: ABC (screencap)
Dexter image: Showtime (screencap)

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Paranormal Activity 3 Poster

“The last 15 minutes will mess you up for life” . . . or so the TV spot claims. I’d been waiting for Paranormal Activity 3 since I first got wind of it several months back. The trailers were finally released and some of the scenes looked pretty good, but when I saw the movie the biggest shock was that the majority of the scenes from the trailers weren’t even there! I don’t know if they got cut, or were just intended to be used for advertising, but if you were hoping to see kids jumping from the tops of staircases and people getting thrashed non-stop by invisible forces, prepare to be disappointed.

Some parts were probably left out for the better—the paranormal investigator, for example. We’ve seen enough of that horror cliché in other movies. And to be perfectly honest, I was glad they cut some of the thrashing scenes. Too much of that and it gets gimmicky. But there were some scenes that I was really looking forward to seeing, like the “knocking game” and the Bloody Mary ritual. In the film’s defense, the Bloody Mary scene was there, just not exactly as it was in the trailer, and as it turns out, the theatrical version ended up being the better of the two. There was also a brief shot in the previews of a house engulfed in flames. You may remember references to “the fire” in the previous films, so I figured we’d finally be given an explanation. Nope. “The fire” remains a mystery.

The story takes place over roughly a two-week period in 1988 and centralizes on the childhood haunting of sisters Katie and Kristi. What begins as seemingly harmless interactions with an imaginary friend soon escalates into a series of increasingly disturbing and violent encounters.

The movie is filmed similarly to its predecessors, using handheld cameras and tripods. But if you think watching footage resembling a security camera is boring, think again. Some cool creativity was employed that allowed a stationary camera to shoot both the foyer and kitchen by being mounted on an oscillating fan. It then pans eerily back and forth—empty kitchen . . . empty foyer . . . empty kitchen . . . not-so-empty foyer. That element was really well done and for me was one of the stand-out suspense builders.

As far as the acting goes, on the whole it was tolerable for a film that makes heavy use of improvisation. Surprisingly, the scenes that were the most intense (which I would have thought to be the most difficult) had the best acting. Apparently, what’s not so easy is realistically depicting natural, casual conversation. I remember there being one character in PA 2 whose acting bothered me throughout the entire film. Thankfully, this movie had no such characters.

I was particularly curious as to whether the writers would be able to work this film into the story as well as they did with PA 2, because although I wasn’t impressed with the fright level of the second movie, I thought it was fantastically tied into the first, especially considering that they weren’t written at the same time. Naturally, I was doubtful of their abilities to demonstrate similar writing prowess again, but sure enough, like a puzzle piece, they snapped this movie into place as smoothly as the last one. I did notice a little plot hiccup regarding mentions of the mother in the second movie, but I found it to be a very minor issue.

Of course, this movie comes complete with a few typical horror situations like skeptic vs. believer, as well as conflicts that could easily have been solved with a simple “why doesn’t he just show her the tape!” But at least it was refreshing to see a role reversal of the common skeptical male and credulous female.

I tend to judge scary movies quite harshly. While scenes designed to make you jump and scream can be fun, especially in a pitch black theatre full of people, I find such tactics to be cheap when overused. A jump scene comes and goes very quickly, and the sense of fear isn’t a lasting one. I prefer that a movie be scary as a result of the atmosphere, the events, the story. If you’re still creeped out when you leave the theatre, then the filmmakers have done a decent job. In Paranormal Activity 3 there were a lot of make-you-jump scenes, but at least they were complemented by a story that had a moderate fear factor.

I don’t think the Paranormal Activity franchise will ever really scare people who need a corporeal being—whether a monster, alien, or psychotic killer—on which to project their fear. The strength of this style of film lies with the invisibility of the villain. It causes the viewers’ imaginations to run wild which, for many people (myself included), is usually more frightening than anything that can be depicted with special effects and makeup. That said, keeping the spooky entity hidden doesn’t automatically guarantee a successful fright. Paranormal Activity 3 certainly had some creepy parts, but came far from messing me up for life.

6/10

6 on 10

 
Image: Paramount Pictures via Wikipedia
Video: Paramount Pictures via YouTube

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I’ve added Lesson Plan to my list of recommended documentaries. It’s a very thought-provoking film in which a class of high school students is taught about fascism. Check it out if you get the chance.

 

 
Video: State of Crisis Productions via YouTube

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Chicken: delicious, tender, dramatic . . . wait, what?

Maple Leaf’s “Dinnertime Is Prime Time” commercial shows that not only can chicken satisfy your hunger—it can move you. Depicting scenes of close relationships combined with a poetic voice-over and topped off with a poignant piano melody, they’ve created the most moving ad for chicken that you’ll ever see. Don’t believe me?
 


 

The clincher in this ad is really the music, so naturally, I went looking for the artist. First stop: YouTube. Apparently I’m not the only one enamored with the tune—something I realized after watching several videos of people performing their renditions of it on piano.

After finally locating Maple Leaf’s channel on YouTube (that’s right, Maple Leaf has its own YouTube channel) I read that the music was composed specifically for the ad. Kind of a bummer, as I would have liked to hear more of the same.

During my search, though, I had looked into someone’s claim that the music was a trance song called “Make a Miracle”, so I made another quick visit to YouTube. The arpeggios in “Make a Miracle” are played in a different order, but the melodies of the two songs sound oddly similar. And strangely enough, the artist is called Prime Time! Coincidence? Probably.
 


 

In fact, if you listen to a lot of trance, you’ll find similar arrangements all over the place. Most likely because the note pattern in question produces that familiar “moving” feeling.
 

First video: Maple Leaf Foods via the Maple Leaf Foods YouTube Channel
Second video: Primetime via YouTube
 

Apologies to any vegetarians who were offended by my description of chicken as delicious.

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“Do what you want,” sings Amy Lee in the new Evanescence single—advice that the band members themselves have clearly taken, as fans who are used to the typical Evanescence sound might be thrown off guard.  The single, What You Want, was made available early this August and can be heard on their official site.  The new album, self-titled Evanescence, is scheduled for release on the 11th of October.

The new single is fast for an Evanescence song (at just over 120 bpm).  A run-through of the previous two albums reveals that it’s their fastest song yet, with its brisk pulse heightening its intensity and making it more energetic.  Conversely, it becomes less dramatic—a quality which in the past has been a staple of the band’s music.

Evanescence at Le Zénith in Paris

Although some of the newest band members have been around for a while, this will be the first album to feature Troy McLawhorn (guitar), Tim McCord (bass), and Will Hunt (drums).  The lineup alterations were interspersed throughout the last few years, but the new guys seem to form a perfectly capable troupe.

Evanescence has definitely kept its roots in the obscure area between rock and metal sticking with a dark and somewhat heavy sound, but had it not been for Amy Lee’s distinctive voice I probably wouldn’t have been able to recognize the music on its own.  Remove her from the mix and it almost approaches industrial metal at some points (although industrial fans might get on my case for that comment).  The change is not a bad thing, though.  When a band releases new material that sounds different from everything else they’ve done, it shows that they can evolve and that they aren’t afraid to tread on new musical ground.  Instead of looking backward trying to imitate their previous successes, they’ve got their minds on the future and are trying out new ideas.  It’s a refreshing methodology and I can think of a few other bands that could benefit from it.

Some fans might not agree that the changes are all positive, complaining that “this is not Evanescence”, but those are probably the type of people who like listening to the same old tunes over and over—the type of people void of any thirst for new and creative music.  Granted, we’ve only heard one new song so far, but if What You Want is any indication of how the rest of the album is going to sound, I’m looking forward to hearing it.

 
Photo: Jacquelin Corrales via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.5

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You might have seen a certain Microsoft ad on TV recently.  It stars Cheryl, who is surprised to find a PC store in her living room when she gets home.

There is something very wrong with this commercial.  Can you tell what it is?  Here’s a hint: it’s not Cheryl’s acting.  We’re told that “this is her four year old computer she doesn’t think she needs to update.”  Four years?  Are you kidding me?

I was lucky to have been introduced to the tech world when computers were still geeky, not trendy and a pivotal part of the market—back before it was commonplace to have an Internet hookup (or even a computer, for that matter) in every home.  We would upgrade our PCs when it was necessary, i.e., they could no longer perform the tasks for which we used them.  And even then, upgrading didn’t mean buying a whole new machine.  It meant buying only the components you needed to make the computer faster, or more powerful, or to give it more storage space.

PC Exploded

Today, computers are marketed a little differently.  They are treated only as the aggregates of their components.  It’s a false premise (likely the result of advertising), but it brings in more money, so that’s the way it is.  New is good.  New is fast.  New is cool.  If you want to keep up with the trends, it has to be new and cutting edge.

Running out of space for your photos and videos?  This PC comes with 500 gigs of storage!

A hard drive upgrade is very simple.  You replace your current drive with a bigger one, or add a second drive to your system.  External/portable hard drives are also a handy option.  The need for space alone doesn’t warrant a new PC.

Your computer isn’t fast enough?  This one has four gigs of memory!

Memory, or RAM, will certainly affect how fast you can get things done on your computer.  But like a hard drive, it can be easily added to an existing system, and it’s certainly less expensive than a new machine.  Here’s a great article by Worth Godwin that explains the function of RAM using non-geek terminology.

Want the latest operating system?  You’re in luck.  This shiny new PC has Windows 7 pre-installed!  (Along with a boat-load of useless junk.)

A new OS is often pushed because of its security, usability and speed, along with hosts of new widgets and baubles.  But remember: an OS is software.  You can buy it on its own and install it.  All you have to do is make sure your PC meets the minimum requirements.  However, since the cost of new OS software can sometimes run over a hundred (depending on whether it’s Home, Pro, etc.), this particular dilemma remains a judgement call on the part of the user.  Some do prefer to shell out an extra few hundred for a new machine if they’ve got it to spare, but it’s not a necessity.  Plus, installing an OS yourself will keep your PC free of bloatware (junk that PC manufacturers install, like free 30-day trials of software).

A couple of years ago I bought a new PC.  My reason for the purchase was strictly portability.  I wanted a laptop because I was moving around a lot.  If it hadn’t been for that, I’d have kept my now eleven-year-old desktop computer.  Why?  Because as far as everyday computing tasks go, there was nothing wrong with it.  Email, web browsing, watching movies, listening to music, banking, organizing digital photos—it could easily handle it all.

Let’s take a look at the operating system example. Imagine that I wanted to install Windows 7 on my eleven-year-old PC.  The minimum requirements specified by Microsoft are as follows:

Required 11-Year-Old PC  
1 GHz 32-bit 1.1 GHz 32-bit Yes
1 GB RAM 512 MB RAM No
16 GB space 220 GB space Yes
DX 9 capable graphics w/ WDDM 1.0 DX 9 capable graphics Yes*

* WDDM is apparently only required for the Aero theme.

I could potentially run the latest Windows OS on my old PC and all it would cost me is about $25 to double my RAM, netting me a few hundred dollars in savings (hardware-wise) versus the cost of a completely new computer.  If your computer is only four years old, like Cheryl’s, chances are it’s much more powerful than my beige, steam-powered antique PC.

There are those who do need to buy new computers more often, but they’re usually either hardcore gamers who need the fastest everything, or people who do resource-intensive audio/video work.  You might also need a top-notch rig if you’re mining Bitcoins.

If you moved north where it’s snowy, would you buy a new car because it had snow tires on it?  Or would you just buy the tires and have them installed on the car you already own?  The notion of buying a car for the tires is, of course, ridiculous.  So why is it any less ridiculous to completely replace your PC when only part of it may need upgrading?

 
Video: Microsoft via WindowsVideos on YouTube
Image: Gustavb via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0

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People have been saying it for a while. The film and music industries have not crumbled due to piracy. They continue to flourish.

An interesting article on Geek.com talks about a report that was created by research company GfK Group for an undisclosed client. The report was initially intended to further the negative view of media pirates but, in fact, showed that pirates are generally better customers than their straight-and-narrow cousins.

The gist (although I encourage any readers to check out the original article) is that movie pirates don’t just download. They spend a lot on DVDs, Blu-rays and cinema tickets. Likewise, music pirates spend money on music because they like music.

From the article:

The conclusion of the study is that movie pirates are generally more interested in film and therefore spend more money and invest more time in it. In other words, they make up some of the movie industries best customers.

This makes perfect sense to me. If a person downloads a certain form of media, it’s probably because they’re keen on it. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t downloaded a few movies and television shows, but I also consider my hard copy DVD collection to be quite large and my cinema attendances common.

Now, the question is . . . who commissioned the report. I think we all have a pretty good idea.

Also from the article:

The reason given for shelving [the report] was that the contents proved “unpleasant.”

 
Original article: Geek.com

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