Monday, January 11, 2016

VR's Killer App is Netflix

 When it comes to virtual reality there are no limits to the possibilities of where you can go, what you can see, and the ways you can interact with your content. As we move forward into the golden age of vr there are thousands of app and hardware developers trying to find innovative ways to use the technology. There is no wrong answer in virtual business right now, but there are still some very right answers too. As people begin rushing to build the application or game that will begin causing mass shipments of Vive, Gear and Oculus headsets, one app has risen above the others almost instantly, and you've probably already used it elsewhere.
 Netflix's virtual theater isn't much at the moment. Looking around the 360° digital living room that the company has built you can't help but ask yourself, "Why did they limit themselves to a living room?" With posters promoting various Netflix series, you can understand why they'd want an environment that can be updated for ads, but to go into virtual reality and be greeted with a pretty standard living room is a bit of a missed opportunity. I can now watch Twitch on the moon, a living room isn't going to cut it.
 Upon looking straight up though you come across what's being termed as the void theater. "The Void" is grey with nothing in the virtual space but the screen. It's this space that is going to change home entertainment completely. Within the void I can control the sizing and position of the screen in front of me. Let me rephrase, I can now watch the largest tv screen I've ever owned, laying down in any position. Laying down on a bed and looking straight up is now a comfortable option for watching movies. In fact, by enlarging the screen beyond my scope of vision creates for a fully immersive film experience. The only dissappointment so far is that the app only has two options, grey and living room.
 When one is trying to determine what entertainment options they want in VR, one of the first films to come to mind is The Matrix. At the moment, the Keanu Reeves starring flick is not available on any native apps, but luckily for us The Animatrix is. Blowing up the void screen to max and pressing play changed how I will perceive VR. The Animatrix was an anime anthology of stories that take place in the Matrix universe. For a time, especially during the short "The Second Renaissance", I felt like I was in the Matrix. Watching the film on a screen almost as large as a digital Imax gave me such an immersive experience, my mind raced at the possibilities.
 Within the next 2 years, hell, possibly the next 6 months now that we're talking about it, it's possible that Netflix and IMAX could partner to bring IMAX formatted films to a digital home device or IMAX could develop a proprietary app for their aspect ratio. Within VR, there are no screen constraints. It's all about changing the digital screen size. An entire catalog of IMAX library content will have a place to be viewed. This includes domed IMAX films created for the specialty screen. It's just about manipulating the digital screen now, no expensive hardware or projectors to fuss over. Even 70mm films will be able to be presented in their true aspect ratios.
 I've already started making lists of content in Netflix that is ripe for viewing on VR devices. The Kirsten Dunst starrer Upside Down is required viewing within the app. The unique sci-fantasy film deals with two planets being close enough in proximity that they share a gravitational field. A girl from the upper posh planet and a boy from the underside fall in love, though they aren't allowed to be near each other. The film is shot with a lot of upside down perspective. By maxing out the screen and viewing the movie laying down, the entire experience takes on a new life, giving the movie a layer of immersion I have never experienced. This is the way to watch this film, but films aren't the only thing that receive a boost from viewing through VR.
 Anime fans already know that Attack on Titan is a visceral, brutal experience. Watching the show through VR? That's down right intense. Attack on Titan follows a group of teens as they enlist to fight hordes of human looking monsters that feed on humanity. In the already kinetic battles from the show we get to see crazy aerial battles through cobblestone streets. In the immersive screening room, it can almost feel like you're strapped into maneuver gear yourself, zipping into battle next to Eren and Mikasa. A rewatch of Attack on Titan in VR should be on every fans list of things that must be done before season 2 comes later this year.
 These are just the first few of many, many films and series that Netflix has on tap to create immersive digital cinema. As the technology continues to grow, 3D films, IMAX, and curved digital screens will all begin to become available through either the streaming giant itself or one of its competitors. College kids will climb into their dorm bunks and throw on VR headsets to binge the latest season of The Flash while their roommates go about their business. Small homes and apartments will be filled with things other than televisions as the biggest TVs you can find will be in your pocket.
 Stay tuned to this site for more reviews of films within the VR experience.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

It is a universal truth that an adaptation in want to rise above parody must show a certain respect for Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies most certainly does. While cleverly staying true to the characters of Austen's Pride and Prejudice, P&P&P lets genre revisionists destroy Georgian era society.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies follows the tale of the Bennet sisters as they balance combating zombies and the task of finding eligible suitors at the turn of the 19th century. As the zombies and suitors pile up it's up to Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) to navigate a path for the family through the apocalypse.
The film uses animation and a scene of Mr. Darcy investigating a zombie infection to explain how the plague works in this new England. If you are bitten by a zombie you don't present as a zombie right away. Though, once a victim eats a human brain they lose all humanity. This addage to the zombie mythos finally gives a once-bitten bastard a reason to keep his mouth shut about his bite.
  In this iteration of Austen's landed gentry, rich families send their children to Japan to study combat techniques to fight the zombies while poorer rural families had to rely on Chinese fighting styles. The added layer of aristocracy to the proceedings is welcome though the film comes close to overloading you with details. The costume design will usher in a summer of cosplay decadence.
 Highlights: Matt Smith, Lena Heady and Charles Dance bring broad life to their characters. Each owning the memorable scenes their respective characters have, but also playing them louder than normal as they are well aware when zombies are involved you can go big. Matt Smith's Collins is a revelation as he takes the most abysmal of characters in the written word and makes him an utter delight in un-earned optimism. Lady Catherine De Bourgh's backstory is radically different in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, so it doesn't make Collins seem like such a f**kboy. He's in the employ of someone worth respecting, so he comes off as overzealous, not sad. Heady plays Lady Catherine beautifully as both dour matriarch and savior of the peoples of England, commanding the screen in her brief appearances.
 Disappointments: The cast is good, but the unfortunately dour expressions of a period piece can cast a pall on the visceral experience that is zombie warfare. You will understand what it means to see a look of consternation by the end of this film. The film has a few dangling plot threads at the end of it all, whether this is intentional for the hopes of a sequel or just forcing an explanation without explanation I'm not sure.
We've seen a myriad of adaptations of Austen's novel. Everything from Bridget Jones' Diary to an early millennia Pride and Prejudice of Latter Day Saints Edition has been made in a continued effort to mine the book's popularity. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies rises above regurgitation to become interpretation and expansion. The film can be considered a case in getting chocolate in my peanut butter. The film is fast paced, with fun action and tight fight scenes. While, Matt Smith as Collins is nothing short of brilliant.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is in theater February 5th, 2016.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

 After completely redefining what a horror film could be with Let the Right One In,Tomas Alfredson has crafted the definitive spy film with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; setting a new standard for the spy genre and political thrillers in general.
 Gary Oldman plays George Smiley, a retired British intelligence agent who is called back into duty to root out a mole in MI-6. Oldman is mesmerizing. There is a meticulous nature to Oldman's performance that makes you think every movement, down to his breathing, is intentional and plotted. In a way very few actors can pull off lately, you completely forget you are watching an actor and lose yourself in the character. The human drama that Smiley has going on under the surface is expertly left to simmer in Oldman's cold stares.
 The plot is so simple that the description above is really all that need to be said about it. The film is a classic mole hunt, with surprising twists that you'd never contemplate but a beautiful ending that wraps up in such a way that you feel vindicated when you get to say, "I knew it!" The movie does not leave a lot of room for explanation, so if you've found yourself scratching your head at a thriller in the past, this movie is not for you.
 Highlights: The superb British cast. John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch. All of them outstanding in the film and in their roles. Benedict Cumberbatch shows why he will be the next big leading man out of Britain. Beautifully shot and stylized for cold war era England. Fully engrossing dialogue; MI-6 is always referred to by it's codename, "the Circus." Tiny details like that go so far in making the film feel authentic. The realistic depiction of intelligence work being mostly paper chasing.
 Disappointments: The spontaneous transitions to other characters arcs and other the main characters past reflections can be a bit jarring. You're left wondering if you just saw someone's bak story or something that is "currently" happening. Only happens a few times, but it does require a bit of "catchup" from the audience.
 From moment one, the movie creates a palpable tension that you need for a spy thriller like this to work. The movie is a puzzle that the director is letting you help solve and only puts the pieces in place when you've figured them out for yourself. I cannot recommend this film enough.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

With Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (from here on out referred to as SHGOS) Ritchie makes a solid film out of the story of a madman's search for power through the initiation of war in turn of the century Europe.
 SHGOS picks up a few months, possibly a year after Robert Downey Jr.'s first outing as Holmes. He and Rachel McAdams are continuing their flirt filled romance while also being on opposite sides of a battle of wills between Holmes and McAdam's employer, Professor Moriarty. Without revealing the full details of what happens in the first ten minutes of the movie, let's just say Holmes is given a very personal reason to see to it Moriarty is separated from his machinations.
Dr. John Watson, as affably portrayed by Jude Law as he was previously, arrives to venture forth with Sherlock for a stag night before his planned nuptials. He is unsurprised to find that the bachelor party is a cover for Holmes to get information on the intended recipient of the previously mentioned letter. It is then we are introduced to Noomi Rapace's gypsy character Sim (Sym, Simm?). She escapes as Holmes and Watson leave for Watson's wedding.
From there, the cat and mouse game promised between Holmes and Moriarty kicks into full gear, with Moriarty pledging to end Watson's life due to a lack of respect from Holmes. The movie barely let's you catch a breath as the characters trapse about Europe tracking down Moriarty's motives. Highlights: The film is filled with perpetual chase/fight hybrid scenes that keep the pace of the film very frenetic, almost fitting in with the retooled Bond series more than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classics. Stephen Fry as Mycroft Holmes is splendid as are most of the performances in the film. Jared Harris is perfect as Moriarty and balances Downey's Holmes brilliantly.
Disappointments: The reveal of Moriarty comes far too early and far too easily for the viewer. The joy of the Sherlock Holmes series was always trying to put two and two together before the book handed you the answer. No such luck in this version. (The BBC's Sherlock still manages to keep this aspect of the franchise Doyle built.)
For those fans of the book series, the film has some nice nods to the Final Problem. Anyone familiar with that book will get shivers of anticipation when you see Reichenbach Falls in the final act. SHGOS pays just enough fan service to Holmes enthusiasts to keep them interested if not maintaining the spirit of the book series. It's a fun adventure with very little wrong in its execution. More than anything it makes for an excellent audition reel for Guy Ritchie to eventually direct a Bond film.

Review: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

From The Social Network to Alien 3, David Fincher's previous work has been meticulous and thorough. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo continues that tradition. The book and Fincher seemed tailor made for each other, allowing him to be as intricate as he likes to be with visual detail while weaving a captivating story.
 Based on a the Swedish book, The Men Who Hate Women, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has previously been adapted into film in its native country. As I only saw the original today, my mind naturally went to a place of comparing and contrasting the two. The Swedish version is a much more fluid film, integrating every aspect of the story in a more cohesive manner. That seems to be the only place I can firmly say the first adaptation was superior.
Fincher was very smart in knowing that the type of people who would want to see this are the same people who made the Swedish version a hit. He took a number of liberties and changed just enough about the film to keep it fresh, even for the most die hard fan of the source material.
Dragon Tattoo stars Daniel Craig as a disgraced reporter who is enlisted by a wealthy businessman to track down his niece's killer. A young woman named Lisbeth (played by Rooney Mara) is chronicled as well and at first you don't know that there will be much of a correlation between the two. As Craig's Mikael is searching through the dirty laundry of the Vagner family, Lisbeth is dealing with a lecherous case worker since she has been committed as a ward of the state. Mikael and Lisbeth eventually come together to partner on finding the killer of Harriet Vagner, but not before stumbling upon a serial killer's trail. The film picks up it's pace at this point and leads into a very fulfilling climax.
 Highlights: Daniel Craig is commanding on screen and handles the weight his character is going through with an  intensity and grace few other actors can. For those waiting for the next Bond film, Tattoo is a nice respite. The main story of the conspiracy is strong and well plotted. The film doesn't get into problems with pacing until it veers to far away from the investigation.
 Disappointments: The seven tacked on epilogues made the final act of the film play closer to Return of the King than to Seven. An out of character moment when Lisbeth asks for permission to do something in the final act takes you out of the moment. The titular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes a back seat to Daniel Craig as the movie is clearly his and Lisbeth relegated to his sidekick. I couldn't stomach the scenes between Lisbeth and her case worker. I had to look away. Overall, I do recommend the film. I would recommend Fincher's stylized version over the Swedish, but I also think you should pick one or the other. Watching both just makes your brain pit them against each other instead of looking into the movies themselves.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Review: We Bought A Zoo

Cameron Crowe is by far one of my favorite filmmakers. His movies have always managed to bring out the human comedy that comes during times of turmoil in our lives, whether that turmoil be from falling in love for the first time, being a teenager, realizing you don't like who you've become and in the case of We Bought A Zoo, learning to deal with loss. I've always said that the reason Vanilla Sky didn't work for me was because Crowe wasn't allowed to let the humor out. Thankfully, he does in Zoo.

Matt Damon (MAAAT DAAAMOOON) plays a single father struggling to get by dealing with the emotional and physical needs of his kids six months after his wife has died. Single moms are circling like vultures hoping to get a shot at the handsome dad, his son is lashing out to get his father's attention and his daughter seems to be the only one holding it together. Damon's Benjamin can't escape the memories of his wife and even goes so far as to avoid eating lunch in places that hold her memory. The family needs a change.

While looking for a new home, they come upon a run down house that could use a coat of paint but is otherwise beautiful. While the enjoyable realtor tries to explain that the house comes with significant baggage, Benjamin and his daughter fall in love with it. Then comes the lion. It's revealed that the house is part of a wildlife park and whoever buys the home also buys the zoo. As the title would suggest, they buy the zoo.

The rest of the film is Benjamin and a motley crew of zoo workers trying to bring up the park to USDA standards for operations. Scarlett Johansson, Elle Fanning and Patrick Fugit make up part of the team of loyal zoo employees. 

The highlights: Benjamin's daughter is about the cutest thing I've seen on a movie screen since I found out the human head weighed 8 pounds. Coincidence? I think not. Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson have insane chemistry, it's a little disappointing that they chose to costar in a movie that required their characters to exercise restraint. I would love to see them together again in a light rom-com or even something along the lines of the Notebook.

The disappointments: Patrick Fugit seems wasted. While I'm glad to see him in anything, he didn't really have a lot to do here. Benjamin's son is kind of a piece of crap. I found myself actively rooting against him and he's just a kid. 

The movie is a fun and light family affair with some melodrama along for the ride. It's the kind of sappy fun film you don't mind losing yourself in for a few hours so you can come out hopeful that the world isn't as shitty of a place as you left it. No one will walk away with an award, but I don't feel like I wasted my time or dollar.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Food Review: KFC Doubledown

Do you remember the scene in Fight Club where Tyler and ___ were stealing human fat to make soap? Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are comedy geniuses in that scene. When the bag of fat gets stuck on the barb wire and starts pouring onto Brad Pitt, I am both hilariously entertained and positively mortified by the disgustingness. Now picture if some of that had gotten into his mouth. Then he ate it. That is the scene I imagine in my head as I get my first taste of a Kentucky Fried Chicken Doubledown.
 Today my curiosity got the better of me and I hoofed it over to KFC to check out their food abomination known as the Doubledown. A bacon and cheese sandwich that has replaced the bun with two fried chicken breasts. I do this for you dear reader.
Visually, the sandwich looks like it could be tasty. The chicken breasts almost resembling two pieces of bread that were baked without being kneaded into submission. Don't be fooled. The folks at KFC are kind enough to wrap the sandwich in wax paper so that you don't have to handle the greasy bun substitutes directly I look at this beast and my heart sinks a little. I am about to eat the most disgusting concoction ever created.
As I bite into the sandwich I am overcome with a salty almost sweat like taste. If you could make a sandwich out of grissle and tears, it would taste exactly like a KFC double down. The cheese and sauce give the DD the most vile texture I've ever had the displeasure of chewing. Imagine a full ketchup packet mixed with Laffy Taffy. I'm having a really hard time eating this sandwich.

Luckily, I enjoy KFC's coleslaw. I'm not a big coleslaw guy but I need a distraction from the taste of this sandwich and my Mt. Dew is not doing enough to cleanse my palet after each bite. That's right, the taste is so gross you want to get it out of your mouth after each bite.
 Apparently there is bacon on this thing. I am going to skip the pretense of calling it a sandwich anymore. You can't taste the bacon, but overall the sandwich tastes more pork like than chicken. I'm almost done with the foul aberration. The last few bites are the worst. All that's left is grissle and breading and some cheese. I do the smart thing and just leave it. 
 As I walk out of KFC my conscience is heavy. I'm imagining the entirety of that sandwich going straight to an artery. I honestly debate whether or not finding some syrup of ipecac is a good idea or not.
 The Doubledown is not a meal, it is self abuse. There should be a support group for cutters and doubldown eaters. On the walk home, on a warm day here in LA, sweat begins to bead on my forehead and I think, "I'm  not sweating, I'm oozing doubledown." Gross.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Review: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Just like music in this day and age, the teen rom-com is going emo. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is the latest young adult novel to be adapted for the mass audience; Gossiping Girls, Traveling Pants, and now hipper than thou teenagers.
Nick (Michael Cera) is the tortured bass player in an all-gay-but-him post-punk band that is hip enough to play the village. He’s just been dumped by his girlfriend Tris and is full of teen angst, sarcasm, and self pity. Norah (Kat Denning) is the awkwardly fun-hipster-jew-girl-in-a-catholic-school, who has to deal with her father being famous and her friend being an alcoholic. She also goes to school with Tris and secretly steals the awesome mix cd’s that Tris’s mystery boyfriend makes for her. The two meet when they are both trying to avoid Tris at one of Nick’s shows. They share a kiss and away we go.
To ensure Nick gets out of his funk, his fellow band mate’s arrange for him to go with Norah to find the band Where’s Fluffy?, playing a secret show in the city. The book and film both steer pretty much the same course until Norah’s friend Caroline, the Soprano’s Ari Graynor, thinks she’s being kidnapped by the band mates and takes off into the wilds New York. It’s then that the film turns into more of a scavenger hunt than a random and quirky adventure. The book Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a short novel about two Jersey kids meeting for a brief moment in New York that turns into an overnight love affair. The book’s charm comes from the fact the book rotates the perspective from which we see the story every other chapter. One chapter Nick is taking us through his rollercoaster of emotions, the next Norah. This provides insight to the characters that isn’t forced through cheesy dialogue one would never say out loud. That’s not to say all of the dialogue is cheesy, but one too many times the characters had to spell out how much they loved a certain band; this immediately following a scene where a different character was spelling out how much they loved a certain band. All so that when you saw them together later you would know, they both love a certain band.
While some of the dialogue seemed forced, the characters themselves felt very real. There was no super sarcastic Juno-esque girl that seems to overcrowd these films nowadays. The characters and actors portraying them felt very genuine and unique. Gone are the days of the John Hughes stereotypes where everyone fits neatly into a mold. This brings me to one of the two biggest highlights of the film, The Jerk-Offs. Nick’s band is called the Jerk-offs. They are an emo/punk/queer-core band. (They sing hip songs with gay overtones or undertones depending on your preference.) The guitarist and lead singer are both gay, portrayed brilliantly by Rafi Gavron and Aaron Yoo, but that isn’t the only thing that makes them worth having in the movie. Between the two of them I was shocked to only hear one stereotyped line, this occurring more naturally when one is helping Norah primp before going out with Nick. They were real people, not overly blown (no pun intended) caricatures of effeminate gay men that Hollywood likes to drop into movies to spice things up. When Aaron Yoo’s Thom explains to Nick “what it’s all about,” he’s coming from a real emotional place. Not some hackneyed, “let me break it down sista” garbage. It’s nice to finally see a gay character be able to be something besides gay.
The other bit of greatness in this film is Ari Graynor as Caroline. While the first few minutes of the movie are clunky with her introduction, the moment she get’s an opportunity to cut loose she does. Graynor’s performance as the boozy best friend is by far the most entertaining part of the film. While the jokes come easy, it’s impressive that the actress is able to keep Caroline charming. It’s easy to understand why someone would put up with her being an obnoxious drunk for so long as she is that endearing best friend who would stick by you to the end, if she could ever make it to the end without passing out or throwing up. Luckily the role was massively expanded from the book or we would have missed out on this fabulous performance.
The film does offer up a few misfires. The pacing of the main love story between Nick and Norah doesn’t quite work as naturally as the book. In the book we are given a lil’ more time to get to know them before any decision is made as to how they feel about each other. In the movie it’s as if the filmmakers want you to know these two are in love before they’ve even met. Michael Cera, god bless him, is charming; as is Kat Denning, but these are not two great tastes that taste great together. Another little bit of unnecessity was the incredibly bad score this film had to offer. Too much synth, too loud (often overshadowing the dialogue), and just plain bad music in a movie that is supposed to be rooted in good music. They should have just stuck with the licensed pop/punk/emo and not bothered with a score. From the sound of it, they could have saved $1.27. If the score is an indicator, the playlist isn't that infinite.
Overall the film isn’t a great experience, but definitely an experience worth having. If you want teen angst, it’s here in spades. If you want realistic characters with honest emotions, the film has that too. Just don’t expect a movie that’s going to move you. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a charming if forgettable teen romantic comedy.