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Star Trek: Reboot

Posted on January 23rd, 2020

Dave!I am a massive fan of the original Star Trek series. And the original cast movies too.

I did not like Star Trek: The Next Generation because it was just so boring. Aside from an occasional good episode, the lack of conflict on the ship and Gene Roddenberry's "new vision for the future" was a massive downgrade from where he started. Then Star Trek: Deep Space Nine came along and, while beloved by critics and fans, was somehow worse. Odo the non-shape-changing shape-changing alien? Quark comic relief? The Prophets? I mean, sure there was Avery Brooks, but holy crap. AND THEN, just when I thought things couldn't possibly get worse... Star Trek: Voyager. I was totally excited for it. At first. Enemies on the same ship? CONFLICT! Biomechanical ship? COOL! Stranded across the galaxy where survival is a constant struggle and no allies in sight? EXCITING! But then they ended up doing the same old Next Generation shit all over again and boring the heck out of me. Star Trek: Enterprise was a step in the right direction, but they burdened it with a "Temporal Cold War" that was a boat-anchor tied to the show in a horrible way.

Naturally, when CBS announced they were coming out with Star Trek: Discovery, I was skeptical. The cast was amazing (seriously amazing) and they looked to be doing something new, but the ship looked like shit and the early previews with engine spores and stuff looked like crap.

Boy was I wrong.

The first season of Discovery was phenomenal.

The performances and characters were incredible. The stories were cool as all getout. And the "big twist" was about the best thing to come out of Star Trek in decades. I loved just about everything about it. Critics said it "wasn't Star Trek" and hated on it terribly. This made me laugh my ass off, because it was easily the most "Star Trek" thing to happen since the original series! People who said it "wasn't Star Trek" were saying it wasn't "NEXT GENERATION Star Trek." Which, of course, was my favorite thing about it. The second season wasn't as good, but it was still worth watching.

And now there's Star Trek: Picard...

Star Trek: Picard movie poster with Picard at his vineyard with his dog as the sun sets.

Obviously I was not enthusiastic about the continuation of a show which I feel is the point Star Trek went terribly wrong. I like Patrick Stewart... like him a lot... but more Star Trek: Next Generation was not something I was interested in. Paying extra for CBS All Access to see it was the nail in the coffin. Except... I read more than a couple interviews with Patrick Stewart and other people working on the show who promised that it was not going to be more of the same old thing. They were doing something new.

Well, sign me up! Even though I was certain it was going to suck.

Boy was I wrong.

First of all, Patrick Stewart is phenomenal in this. He's playing up the age of his character rather than trying to act like he's twenty years younger. Second of all, my mind was completely turned around when Picard said the words "Starfleet was no longer Starfleet!"

Finally somebody understands what the show needs to be interesting. The story being set up feels like it's going to be entertaining. The cast they've assembled is great. The guest-stars from the old new generation seem like they will be used to good effect. And, oh yeah, the special effects are fantastic...

I have high hopes that the talent behind the show have an ending that's going to be worth it all.

CBS sure seems to think so... they renewed the show for a second season AND invited Whoopi Goldberg back, who's "Guinan" is one of the most interesting characters to come out of the old new generation. So fingers crossed.

Something else that was new today? Jay & Silent Bob Reboot...

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot movie poster.

I'm a huge fan of Kevin Smith's "Askewniverse" films... Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Clerks II, and (to a lesser degree), Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. And now we're getting the sequel, Jay & Silent Bob Reboot. To me it was a mixed bag. Sure it was great seeing all the characters again and it was pretty funny in spots (though a lot of the humor relies on the viewer having seen all the previous films), but it's almost reached a parody of the parody it was parodying and priority is put on famous cameos and injecting his wife and daughter into things rather than humor, insightful commentary on pop culture, and the characters that made me love the movies so much.

I was glad I saw the movie (worth the $10 price tag), but couldn't help but think that half of it was wasted. I am really, really hoping that Smith goes back to form with Clerks III instead of sabotaging himself again.

Kevin Smith needs to Picard himself instead of giving up more Voyager.

   

QNAP if You’re NASty

Posted on January 22nd, 2020

Dave!For years now... a decade really... I've been experimenting with setting up a personal NAS (Network Attached Storage) media server that's connected to the internet. There are a lot of reasons I'd like to have such a thing, but the big one is that I want to be able to access my vast photo library from anywhere on earth. If I'm in Germany and want to show a friend a photo of the Hard Rock Cafe Yokohama (something that actually happened) it would be great if I could do that. Sure I have the option of paying for a photo service, but then I have to convert all my images from RAW format and lose the ability to access/edit the original photo remotely if I want to.

So I purchased a 1 Terabyte single-drive, internet-enabled "WD My Book Studio" NAS back in 2010 with that in mind. Everything ended up being a total mess and didn't work at all like I was hoping. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since.

Fast forward to 2019 and I decided to try again. I used money I had saved in 2014 for a trip to Norway's fjords with my mom (that we never got around to taking) and purchased a QNAP TS415+ NAS and two Western Digital 8 Terabyte RED drives to put in it. The drives are mirrored in a RAID configuration so I don't lose any data if one of them dies. Note that there's a television remote. That's because this model has an HDMI port so it can hook up directly to a television...

Today I finally set it all up. It was fairly straightforward, though not the most user-friendly thing to do. It spent hours doing a "RAID resync" (whatever the hell that is), which makes zero sense. The drives were empty and freshly formatted. How can it take over 24 hours to "resync" NOTHING? Note that QNAP doesn't bother with beta testing their apps. If they did, somebody might have noticed that the displayed percentage overwrites the text label, making it tough to read its progress...

Before you can do anything, you have to set up a "Storage Pool" from your drives. I maxed my pool out at 100% of my available drive space, because why only use part of your drives? QNAP is pretty brain-dead when you choose to do this... it will endlessly pester you with alerts because it defaults to a threshold of 80% usage. Insanity. If somebody sets their pool to 100% of drive space, why not ask if you want to disable the threshold alerts? I had to do it manually. Sadly, after setting things up, my 8TB mirrored drive resulted in only 7.1TB of space available. No idea what happened to nearly a FULL TERABYTE of storage (this seems high for overhead), but whatever.

Anyway...

Rather than have to install a third-party app, I decided to give the QNAP "Qmedia" app a try on my AppleTV since it's the "native" application from QNAP. It is complete and total shit. Despite "pretending" to remember where you left off when viewing videos, it doesn't. You can't even fast-forward the video you're watching, which is mind-blowing. I have no fucking idea why they even bothered. Qmedia is useless.

I'd rather not have to switch television video input sources from my AppleTV every time I want to watch something off the NAS, but apparently that's going to be how this goes. So I grabbed the QNAP remote and went for it. First I had to install an app (of course) but no big deal. Then I actually tried to use the thing and it's a total clusterfuck. The "VideoStation" app is just a fucking web browser interface. It's difficult to read because it's not sized for a television. It's impossible to use with the included remote because the remote doesn't do anything. You have to plug in a mouse and keyboard to make it work.

There's an "HD Player" app that looks like it's geared more towards television displays and using the remote control but it's fucking useless too, having many of the same problems as Qmedia. It goes non-responsive constantly, doesn't allow fast-forwarding (pressing the up arrow to skip forward is not the same thing), starts at the beginning of a video even if you tell it to resume from where you stopped, has a shitty interface that makes sorting through a large number of videos a nightmare, has crap video quality that you can't adjust for brightness or anything else, and is an overall steaming pile of fail.

I swear, QNAP is the most ridiculous fucking company. Why bother to make claims of being a multimedia center that can connect directly to your television if it does THIS shitty of a job of it? The whole thing is a fucking joke.

Fortunately there's plenty of options for serving your media from a NAS if it has a computer onboard like the TS451+ does. The "big two" are Kodi and Plex. Kodi is open source and free. Plex is free, but you can support the project by paying to subscribe to "Plex Pass" for additional features (like being able to download media on your phone for local playback instead of streaming it). Most people I know who started on Kodi ended up with Plex, so I just skipped a step and installed Plex Server on my NAS.

For what it is, Plex Server is pretty sweet. It transcodes just about anything you throw at it. Including the RAW Digital Negative photo format from Adobe (DNG) that I use. Which means I don't have to save out JPEGs in order to access my photo library remotely. Nice! I need to work on settings for this, however, because Plex compresses things pretty heavily for transmission. This results in some ugly visual artifacts, banding, and color shifts...

A visual comparison of an original photo of a sunset vs. the version Plex serves up.

Video works brilliantly from Plex BECAUSE YOU CAN ACTUALLY FUCKING FAST FORWARD THROUGH IT ON APPLE TV! Plex does a really good job of cataloging it as well. Thank heavens, because I'd light my QNAP NAS on fire if I had to suffer through their shitty apps. The only problem I've run across is having the video stop and tell me that my connection isn't fast enough, which is absurd because AppleTV is literally plugged into the same high-speed hub as the NAS! There must be some kind of setting for that I'm missing. Fortunately, it's a rare event.

I don't steal media. All the movies and television shows I have are on DVD/Blu-Ray or purchased on Digital. Well, with two exceptions... Cupid (the Jeremy Piven original) and Oh Grow Up! (one of my favorite shows of all time)... are not available to purchase. Lord only knows I wish they were, because my digitized versions of VHS tapes are really poor quality. I've used Vudu's Disc-To-Digital service to convert the bulk of my DVD/Blu-Ray collection to Digital legally. But not all of my stuff is available for conversion. Now I have the option of ripping them to the NAS and viewing them digitally no matter where I am via Plex Server. Technically, any time you break the protection on a DVD you are breaking the law, but that's a bullshit law. I would happily pay to convert them to digital if the studio who owns them would allow them to be converted. What I'm not going to do is buy the same movie all over again. Fuck that. I already paid for it, I should get to pay a small fee for a new format, not have to buy it all over again. And so... I have a small collection of DVDs ripped to my NAS temporarily until the studio allows them to be converted and I can pay for that. Plex does a great job of streaming from my living room to remote locations in HD. No, the video quality is not as good as what comes off of iTunes... especially if the iTunes version is 4K... but it's plenty good enough for my iPad or iPhone. I'm sure if I didn't have tons of security cameras flooding my bandwidth I could set the quality higher, but it's really not necessary.

Music streaming (local and remote) is handled quite well through Plex, and my SONOS system can address Plex directly. This means I can download all my music from iTunes, put it on the NAS, then drop iTunes Music Match and iTunes itself with no problem.

And so... bravo Plex.

I'm going to try out "Plex Pass" for a month and see if I want to upgrade to the lifetime membership for $120. Something tells me that's a purchase I will end up making. I certainly can't do without Plex if my alternative is the QNAP crap.

UPDATE: Yeah. Easiest decision to make to get the Plex Pass... the apps for streaming are included and you're helping the team behind it to keep developing the app.

So okay... the QNAP multimedia is bullshit. What about the NAS itself? Well, I'd love to report on that, but the minute I login, it either immediately disconnects me...

Make sure the NAS can be reached and refresh the page!

...or it allows me in but gives me a shitload of error messages. My favorite? Telling me it's running out of memory. If 2GB is not enough memory to do even the most basic tasks, then why ship with just 2GB memory? QNAP has their own version of Microsoft "Clippy" to break the bad news, which is a weird choice...

QNAP Robot Assistant

Even better? If you choose "optimize" he does a happy dance when he recovers 0MB of memory! Once I can log in again, I'll turn off and uninstall absolutely everything except the bare minimum I need (which includes Plex Server, of course), so I'm hoping that will fix these problems.

My NAS can act as a Time Machine backup for my Mac, but I really don't need that any more. All my data is stored in the cloud, so the only thing that would need to be replaced on my MacBook if it were destroyed are the apps, which I can just download from the developer again.

QNAP provides Apple File Services so I can access my NAS over my local network easily. Weirdly enough, you are required to install Windows File Services in order to install Apple File Services, but (luckily) you can kill the Windows File Services after installation to save precious memory and everything seems to work fine.

Speaking of memory... QNAP is happy to sell you more, but they charge outrageous pricing for the stuff. I mean laughably outrageous pricing. Far better to buy it yourself (which I'm guessing I'll have to do sometime soon if killing apps don't work).

Remote management and access to my files is a breeze thanks to QNAP's tools and a service they call CloudLink. The NAS talks with QNAP so even though its IP address may change, you can still reach it with no trouble.

And so...

  • I fucking hate the fact that QNAP doesn't really work as a media center as advertised. THAT'S WHY I PAID EXTRA FOR THIS MODEL!
  • Their video apps are worthless garbage that can't even do rudimentary shit like fast forward video.
  • They don't include enough memory to do even basic tasks.
  • Their HDMI television output can not be altered for settings like brightness, contrast, color, etc., which is no big deal considering it's fucking useless without decent apps for it anyway.
  • The included remote control doesn't control shit. And what it can control is garbage and doesn't work.
  • Their web interface is brain-dead idiocy that confuses even the most simple things.
  • Nothing about operation of the QNAP unit is even remotely intuitive. Nothing is easy to find and the byzantine menu system is difficult to use. The fact that they don't have an abstraction interface for moderately-experienced users makes zero sense. They ONLY want to serve the professional market? How strange.

I am still relatively new to the QNAP TS451+ NAS and the Western Digital RED drives, so I can't comment much about them. I can say that Western Digital are the only brand of hard drive that hasn't disappointed me so I'm hoping that trend continues. Also, despite the shitty media center aspects and overly-difficult controls, QNAP is highly respected in the IT industry. I just wouldn't bother paying extra for an HDMI port and remote that you will probably never use because their software is shit. Put that money towards a Plex Pass where it will do some good.

   

Better Than Sliced Bread?

Posted on January 13th, 2020

Dave!When I got home from work I burned through thesecond season of Fleabag. Don't ask me why it took me this long to get around to it. Maybe it's because I didn't freak out over the first season like everybody I know did. Sure I liked it, but it wasn't better than sliced bread, I tell you what.

No, it's the second season of Fleabag that's better than sliced bread.

And speaking of better than sliced bread...

Nice to see that Marvel dumped some serious money into giving Black Widow the movie she deserves. Taskmaster is the perfect opponent, so something to look forward to (as if I weren't already).

   

Bullet Sunday 645

Posted on January 12th, 2020

Dave!The world may be cold and bleak right now but there's a bit of warmth to be had, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• WWDD? I am very late to the party with What Would Diplo DO? but am very glad that Hulu recommended it to me. James Van Der Beek plays a parody of real-life DJ Diplo and the result is some of the funniest television I've ever seen. I can't believe that Diplo signed off on this (as well as produced it). I hesitate to link to this (NSFW) trailer because the show is so much better than this would indicate, but here it is...

It seems impossible we haven't seen a second season since the show was originally released in 2017. Since there's only five episodes available (which I've already watched twice), I need more Diplo in my life.

   
• Deeply Faked. I was disappointed by The Irishman... everybody involved has done better work elsewhere and I was bored by it all. But I did watch it. And a big part of the movie is the fact that the story is told over a long period of time. So Netflix had to pony up a big chunk of money for computer FX to de-age the characters. It was done well enough that it wasn't distracting... nor did it stray too far into uncanny valley territory. But it wasn't terribly convincing either. Which is why I find the fact that some guy used free "deep fake" tools to do a much better job of it for zero dollar so amusing...

These are the same free tools that did a far superior job of replacing Superman's face after Henry Cavill couldn't shave his mustache for Justice League. I wonder how long until Hollywood gets smart about these tools. I also wonder how long before faked video is indistinguishable from authentic video... and how that's going to change the world. What happens when you can't tell what's real any more?

   
• HEADLINE: 32-year-old Medford man fighting severe flu case. I stopped getting the flu vaccine because it never seemed to make a difference. I started again when I became a granduncle because I wanted to take every possible precaution that I wouldn't get him sick. My doctor once asked me if I had gotten my flu shot and I told him that I stopped doing that. His reply? "Well, 50,000 people a year die from the flu, but it's your call." That didn't change my mind, but I see this story and what he said is stuck in my head. 32 years old. Man, I wish this poor guy the best of luck and hope he gets better soon. Get your flu vaccine, people. And if you want to know more about it, the CDC has a page for that.

   
• Front and Center. Holy cats! This $3 utility restores MacOS X window functionality so that clicking on one window will bring all windows for that app to the front. I have NO idea why Apple changed this behavior from all the MacOS's before X, but it drives me insane. And now it's BACK, baby. No idea how much I've missed this. 100% critical app.

   
• WAKANDA FOREVER! Yo, Marvel Studios... what is it going to take to get an M'Baku series on Disney+? The guy steals every single scene he's in! He lives in one of the most magical places on earth! He's a character everybody loves! Winston Duke is a cinematic treasure! It's like... how many pieces need to click together before you do what needs to be done? Is Kevin Feige asleep at the wheel?

And who wouldn't guest star in THAT piece of awesome? Black Panther? Shuri? Okoye? Nakia? They could all make an appearance. This is a show that's begging to be made.

   
And now for some hot chocolate.

   

Bullet Sunday 644

Posted on January 5th, 2020

Dave!We may be on the verge of World War III as a reckless, clueless president is intent on starting a war to distract from his impeachment, but all is not lost because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Oh Deer. So there I was falling asleep last night when the security system alarm goes off on my phone telling me that there was a person on the side of my house and in my back yard. I thought it might be a cat trying to get into the catio again, but Jake and Jenny were in bed with me. Nope... definitely not a cat... it was A FAMILY OF DEER! A couple others came along after this video...

Apparently with the warmer weather they are looking for something to eat, because they spent some time in my shrubs before moving on...

A deer walking through my back yard.

I feel horrible that somebody may harm them as they try to survive by heading into suburbia.

   
• RIP Syd Mead. It's unbelievable how so much of how we envision the future was defined by one guy... Syd Mead. He has created a tremendous volume of incredible work, and I was saddened to hear of his passing.

Syd Mead scene from Bladerunner showing a futuristic city street.

Syd Mead scene from Bladerunner looking out of a flying car's windshield.

Syd Mead future submarine-like-craft that shows futuristic construction.

Syd Mead scene from Bladerunner showing a futuristic cityscape skyline awash in lights.

2010, him. Aliens, him. Blade Runner, him. Blade Runner 2049, him. Star Trek the Motion Picture, him. Tron, him. You will be missed, sir.

   
• Poop. I loathe coffee. I have never liked it despite my proximity to Coffee Central (AKA Seattle). On those occasions where it's the only thing to drink, I will try it (again) and want to barf (again) so I've just stopped trying. Finally, finally I've found a video which encapsulates how I feel about the entire situation...

Smart kitty.

   
• Persevere. And speaking of cats... for all the challenges you meet in 2020... take courage from this cat who perseveres over whatever life throws at them!

Way to go, buddy!

   
• Squishy. HOLD UP A MINUTE... how many butternut squashes were y'all going to let me buy, peel, and cube before telling me that they make LUXURY BUTTERNUT SQUASH that comes pre-peeled, pre-cubed, and frozen for my convenience?

Me holding a bag of frozen butternut squash.

Y'all are on my list now. — I think I was dangerously close to breaking down crying in the supermarket when I saw it in the freezer case. This changes so much!

   
• Fly Someone. And lastly, I missed this adorable Christmas commercial from Heathrow Airport. Well worth your time to watch...

What a nice way to end Bullet Sunday! Have a good one, everybody.

   
Stay safe and be kind, everybody...

   

The Howling at Midnight

Posted on January 2nd, 2020

Dave!I have come to the conclusion that once you pass 50 it takes two days to recover for every day you go without a bare minimum of sleep. I went three days without sleep, so it's going to take six days before I recover. Which, for me, will be sometime Saturday.

It was not always like this. Used to be I would operate on a few hours sleep for weeks and suffer no ill-effects. Sometime in my mid-30's this changed and I needed a couple hours extra sleep to recover from a week of insanity. Then I hit 40 and suddenly I needed a day for every day of missed sleep to recover. That was at least manageable. But two days per day? How do I schedule for something like that? Being able to operate at only half-speed is killing me.

Last night I went to bed much earlier than I usually do (around 11:00pm instead of 1:30am) in an attempt to make up for lost rest. Jake, who usually sleeps with me most nights now, fell asleep in the downstairs guest room so I wouldn't be bothered by him. This left Jenny, whom will hop off the bed and go sleep in the other guest room the minute I fall asleep.

But not last night.

Oh no. I fell asleep while petting her and she was very upset about it.

VERY.

I woke up to the sound of her walking around my room howling because I dared to fall asleep before she was done with being petted. When she gets upset or wants attention, she will meow from time to time... but this was howling. Keep in mind that this camera is downstairs, so what you're hearing is one floor and three rooms away from the microphone. That's how unbelievably loud she was...

I love how she is so loud that Jake wakes up and is all WTF?!? and goes walking upstairs to see what Jenny is on about.

And so... I pet her for another twenty minutes until she was satisfied, then eventually fell asleep and hour-or-so later. Not quite getting the sleep I was hoping for, but... well... cats... you know.

Speaking of cats...

One of my favorite things on YouTube is Super Easy, Barely An Inconvenience, a series of "pitch meetings" for popular films by Ryan George for Screen Rant. The guy does the same thing every time and yet it is hilarious every time. The most recent pitch meeting is for the Cats movie, and it's one of the best yet...

And so now I'm binge-re-watching all of the episodes of Super Easy, Barely An Inconvenience while I work, which is a fantastic use of my time. Better than most stuff on television if I'm being honest.

And here's hoping that Jenny gets all her required petting in before I fall asleep so I can maybe... possibly... perhaps... kinda get some sleep tonight?

Well, she's a cat, so I'm not holding my breath. But maybe I should hold my breath. Can a cat howling in your bedroom wake you up if you've passed out from holding your breath?

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Video19

Posted on December 28th, 2019

Dave!And it's time once again for my annual wrap-up of movies that came out this year.

Or, more accurately, a "wrap-up of movies I saw that came out this year." As always, there's a bunch of movies I never saw that would have probably ended up on my list (we'll get to that later). And here we go...

THE TWELVE BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.

Favorite Movies 2019

#1 Avengers: Endgame
This should shock absolutely nobody. Easily one of the greatest super-hero movies of all time, and even more easily one of the biggest cinematic spectacles ever created... but also managed to have real heart and some eye-popping entertainment value. My extended review is here, and there's not much more I can add to it except that no other film came close to changing my mind as to what movie deserved the #1 spot on my list.

#2 Captain Marvel
As perhaps the single most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe, bringing Carol Danvers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was like dancing around a keg of lit dynamite. How in the heck do you manage it in a way that doesn't drastically overshadow everybody else? In Avengers: Endgame you do it by having the mother of all-powerful villains. In her solo movie you do it by greatly reducing her powers for the majority of the film. I have no idea what they will do for future appearances. And while the "youthification" CGI for Samuel L. Jackson and Clark Gregg was far from flawless, it was surprisingly good. Good enough that Sam was on-screen almost as much as the lead character! But what really makes this movie a critical touchstone for the future of Marvel's film slate is that they introduced the Kree and the Skrulls. They are both a massive presence in the comics, and I can only imagine that they will be a big part of the MCU going forward.

#3 Knives Out
Rian Johnson is tough to pin down. He gives us a spectacular movie like Looper, follows up with something completely off-the-mark like The Last Jedi (SPAAAAACE LEIAAAAA!), then rises to even greater heights with Knives Out. As impressive a take on the murder-mystery as this is, the phenomenal cast is where it lives or dies. Smart, funny, and about as stylish as a movie gets, the twists and turns do not stop until the very end. I would say absolutely nothing on this film out of fears of spoiling it... but I will say to go see it.

#4 Jojo Rabbit
Taika Waititi is the gift that keeps on giving. Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok, and now this. There is no subject, no genre that's safe from his incredible talent and I couldn't be more happy about it. This is a comedy which features a young boy who's imaginary friend is... Adolf Hitler?!? What kind of filmmaker does that? Well, Taika Waititi does, and he completely knocks it out of the park. Good, silly fun with an innate sweetness that never goes too far, Jojo Rabbit is not without its problems, but the way it rises above them when taken as a whole is pretty darn inspiring.

#5 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
As a massive fan of everything Quentin Tarantino has ever done, this was the movie that I had the least expectation for. A washed-up actor and his stunt-double wandering around L.A. during The Manson Family murders? Really? Except, as usual, Tarantino has a lot more to say than the subject might otherwise suggest. This alternate-history of Sharon Tate is filled with great characters all having great character moments... and has an ending which was worth every minute of screen time it took to get there. Some of the detours were less successful than others (the Spahn Ranch scene went on way too long and the Italian wife came out of nowhere) but they are all parts of a whole, and the "whole" in this case is pretty great.

#6 Spider-Man: Far From Home
Whereas the first MCU Spider-Man finally... finally... treated us to a Spider-Man that was actually a kid like in the comic books (and found a story which took full advantage of it), the second outing is a step backwards. Using the idea of an international school trip (seriously, who bought that premise?) which takes students on a random (and changeable!) series of locations across Europe, there were just too many bad coincidences for this thing to hold together. Even worse, the fatherly presence of Tony Stark in the first film was badly missed this time around, even though they tried to cram him in via a magical pair of glasses. And yet... if you can ignore all the wacky coincidences... there's a lot here to love as well. Mysterio was reinvented for the MCU in a way that was actually quite clever. We get more Agent Fury, Happy Hogan, and Maria Hill. The action sequences were fantastic. And Tom Holland is still the best Spider-Man yet.

Favorite Movies 2019

#7 John Wick 3: Parabellum
Look, there's no other way to say it except to just come out and say that this is the movie to see when you just want to see a lot of stylish violence done really well. It's a fun flick that doesn't aspire to be much more than a fun flick, and that's why it works so perfectly. I am totally ready for John Wick 4.

#8 Dolemite is My Name
I expected this to be funny with Eddie Murphy starring. I didn't expect it to be so touching. The fact that it's based on a real guy and the very real films he made makes this bizarre Blaxploitation story all the more entertaining. Perfectly presented and perfectly cast, this is Netflix at its finest: producing really good movies that major studios would likely pass on.

#9 The Farewell
Proving once again that everything Awkwafina touches turns to gold, this is a sweet, touching, and wholly remarkable film. Not a lot happens... and yet everything happens... as a family has to deal with a Chinese matriarch being diagnosed with precious little time to live, and everybody knowing about it except her. Apparently this very real situation exists in China. It allows the family to say goodbye without upsetting the person who's dying. The performances are all fantastic, which is essential for a movie like this. The moral and ethical wrangling are just icing on the cake.

#10 Us
If you're Jordan Peele, how do you follow Get Out? Apparently just like this. It's a less subtle effort, going more for outright horror than having an overreaching message (though it does). If there is a flaw, it's leaving too many points ambiguous or not very well fleshed out. And yet... it's a compelling movie even so, which could mean that Peele was smart to stick to the broad strokes and let the details remain unexplored. And yet...

#11 Late Night
This was a good story, not a great story, but the performances by Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling are what make this film appear on my list. As a behind-the-scenes look into late-night television shows it's less successful, but as a character piece for amazing talent it doesn't get much better than this.

#12 Toy Story 4
I honestly thought that two "Toy Story's" were enough. Until I saw Toy Story 3. Then I was certain that three "Toy Story's" were enough. Until I saw Toy Story 4. As a conclusion to the Woody/Buzz story, it's not as pleasing as what we got in Toy Story 3, but it does have some some definite high points that made me glad they went for another installment. The big question being... do we need a Toy Story 5? Given how things ended up in this one, I really don't think so. It would just push things too far and render the power of this film's finale moot. Though there's no part of me that doesn't want to see more Duke Caboom.

   
HONORABLE MENTIONS...

  • Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. I didn’t quite know where to put this on my list. It absolutely wasn’t one of my favorite films, and yet I don’t think I would go so far as to say it shit the bed either. It was just so badly cluttered with ideas, and yet it had tremendous special effects. It was a rushed mishmash wasteland, and yet it had fine moments. It was a comically bad ending to nine films, and yet they got Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Billy Dee Williams some character closure. The “big reveal” on Rey’s parentage was so poorly handled that you can’t make sense of it all, and yet I still had fun. So, darned if I know. The sequel trilogy still beats the gut-wrenchingly shitty prequel trilogy by a wide margin... but it doesn’t even touch on the first two films of the original trilogy, and that's where they should have been reaching.
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. I didn't like the live-action component of the first film, thinking it would have been a far stronger movie without it. I feel this is even more the case for the sequel. Still... it did have many charming moments and was funny enough, so perhaps I'm being too harsh?
  • Always Be My Maybe. As a fan of both Randall Park and Ali Wong, I went in expecting this movie would short-change both of them. Exactly the opposite. They were even better together.
  • Zombieland: Double Tap. Though far, far weaker than the original (and suffering more than the first from Jesse Eisenberg playing Jesse Eisenberg), I still had a good time watching the sequel. There was enough new to make this more than a retread, which was much appreciated. And the addition of Zoey Deutch as Madison proved that the "dumb blonde" trope hasn't quite been played out yet.

   
DIDN'T SEE, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST...

  • Terminator: Dark Fate
  • Jay & Silent Bob Reboot
  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • Frozen 2
  • The Favourite
  • Queen & Slim
  • Ford v. Ferrari
  • Parasite
  • The Last Black Man in San Francisco
  • Dr. Sleep
  • Jumanji: The Next Level
  • Last Christmas
  • Long Shot
  • Booksmart

   
OVERRATED...

  • Ad Astra. I heard some fairly bold claims about Ad Astra "reinventing" the sci-fi genre. Imagine my surprise when the way that the film "reinvented" the genre was to make it boring as fuck. Seriously, I do not get the critical acclaim. There were some nice special effects (the moon buggy chase was great), but everything else was focusing on all the crap I don't find entertaining in my sci-fi. Hell, even 2001: A Space Odyssey was preferable to this! It seems they wanted to focus on the psychological aspects of space travel, but did so in a way that was hardly revolutionary. 2009's Pandorum was a far more entertaining psychological space-faring flick.

   
SHIT THE BED...

  • Shazam! Ninety-one percent? Shazam got NINETY-ONE PERCENT on Rotten Tomatoes? Really? One minute it's childish and stupid as shit... the next minute there's a demon is biting somebody's head off. So exactly who was this movie made for? Psychotic children? Even if you ignore the stupid glowing lightning-bolt-that-looks-more-like-a-triangle on his uniform, Shazam was awful. WHAT HAPPENED TO HAVING THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON? THIS SHAZAM IS A FUCKING IDIOT! About the only thing I enjoyed was Mark Strong as Sivana, despite the fact that he was a complete departure from the comic book's Dr. Sivana (and not in a good way, of course). I cannot fathom how this managed to rate 91%. I just don't get it. The only thing that kept it from total disaster for me is that they didn’t have any burp or fart jokes. At least I think the movie didn’t... I fast forwarded through the foster home stuff because all the kids were just so annoying.
  • Dark Phoenix. I had no desire... none at all... to see Dark Phoenix. For one thing, it's the capper on a slew of shitty X-movies, after which Marvel will be bringing the X-Men to the MCU and completely rebooting it to (hopefully) something that doesn't suck. So it's essentially a wasted effort and makes no difference. Then I finally caught it on a flight and was mortified that it was even worse than X-Men: Apocalypse which I didn't even think was possible. How in the hell all the non-Marvel super-hero movies keep sucking this badly is a total mystery.
  • Hellboy. So... hold on a second... we were denied the third and final installment of Guillermo del Toro's brilliant Hellboy trilogy with Ron Perlman for this? FOR THIS?!? It's a complete pile of shit that falls so flat as to be unintentionally laughable given the R-rating. David Harbour wasn't a terrible choice for the reboot, I guess, but there was just nothing here to make him a fully realized character. Despite an effort to create a frantic energy throughout, I was bored, bored, bored.
  • The Irishman. Surprisingly funny, impeccably acted and shot, and a cast to die for doing their best work... this should be a slam-dunk win. And yet... it felt like a boring rehashing of stories that I’ve already seen from Scorsese and these actors. It was just so mind-numbingly tedious that even the masterful performances couldn’t save it.
  • The Goldfinch. This is what happens when you are traveling and need to kill a few hours. I watched it because the book (which I haven’t read) was so widely regarded. Looks like I should have read the book, because this movie was so utterly bland and lifeless as to make me wish I had walked out of the theater.
  • Rocketman. I went expecting a bio-pic featuring Elton John’s music. I got this awful musical which shoe-horned songs into a narrative which failed every single time.
  • Glass. M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable was a fantastic exploration of the super-hero genre. Smart, gritty, and a sweet "realism-based" take on how it might work. As if that wasn't enough, it had some pretty good insight into the tropes which make comic books work. I have been waiting for a sequel for a very long time. Alas, what we got was a half-baked effort to cram sequels for Unbreakable and Split into a single movie. Which wasn't a crazy idea... the cameo by Bruce Willis at the end of Split made the idea something that could work. Alas, the approach was severely misguided. There just wasn't a movie here. At least not one I wanted to see.

   
PROBABLY SHIT THE BED, BUT I WOULDN'T KNOW...

  • Joker. I don’t give a crap how many accolades it gets, the commercials paint this as a horrific departure from the comic books and I just don’t care. I may watch when it ends up on HBO or something, but I ain’t paying anything extra for it.
  • Cats. Have I seen it? No. Just the commercials are enough to get it on my list of worst cinematic experiences this year.
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Digital Ghibli

Posted on December 17th, 2019

Dave!It is no secret that I am a massive, massive fan of the films of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli. I own all the DVDs. I have the VHS and DVD imports. I have all the "making of" books. I even managed to get tickets and attend a rare American appearance by Miyazaki-san himself when he was in Los Angeles. There is just no end to the respect, admiration, and love I have for these animated masterpieces.

So naturally I jumped at the chance to purchase them digitally when iTunes finally had the films for sale this morning. There goes the iTunes Gift Cards I bought on Black Friday.

Surprisingly, there's no "Master Collection Bundle" to purchase all the films in one go. The closest you can get is a $100 "Six Films Collection" which includes some of Studio Ghibli's most popular animated classics...

Six films by Hayao Miyazaki: Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, Howl's Moving Castle, Kiki's Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro.

All the other movies have to be purchased individually. This is a bit odd considering that three of his more critically renowned works (Only Yesterday, The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, and Grave of the Fireflies) don't get a bundle treatment.

I must say... it was worth the wait. Because every dubbed film purchase also gets you a subtitled version with the original Japanese actors! Don't get me wrong... the English-speaking casting is always good (Phil Hartman as Jiji in Kiki's Delivery Service is sheer genius), but I really enjoy hearing them as they were originally intended. The films are animated to the voice track, and sometimes the English dub doesn't quite get to where the original performances were at.

I have no idea why Miyazaki-san finally relented to digital distribution. I believe that he's gone on record more than once about wanting his work seen in theaters first... and perhaps television if a theatrical viewing is not possible. I think he bristled at the idea of the sublime subtlety of his animation getting lost on a tiny phone screen. And, to be honest, you can hardly blame him.

Studio Ghibli struck a deal with HBO Max to distribute all their films for streaming (starting next May, I believe). Given their long association with Disney, this was a bit shocking... but I guess Disney+ didn't want to pony up enough money to make it happen. The iTunes announcement came afterwards and was a bit of a surprise. I thought perhaps the films would never be released digitally... certainly not while Miyazaki-san is alive.

But here we are.

Even more exciting is Hayao Miyazaki's final film... an adaptation of 君たちはどう生きるか (How Do You Live?), which is a hugely famous 1937 novel in Japan. It is hoped that this movie will be released next year, but I haven't seen an official release date yet.

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Passengers and Problems

Posted on December 13th, 2019

Dave!It's Friday! Which would be great except I'm working all weekend.

This post is a spoiler-laden discussion of the movie Passengers from 2016 which stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. If you haven't seen the film, then go watch it (or not, it's up to you) before proceeding (or not, it's up to you)...

Passengers Movie Poster with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt's faces above a space ship floating through space.

I put off seeing Passengers despite being a big fan of Chris Pratt and a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence because I read a couple reviews on Rotten Tomatoes which said it was problematic, so I passed. The review that sticks in my mind most was called Passing Jerks, which I just Googled... it was by Ryan Syrek at The Reader. His review was particularly harsh, because he essentially boiled it down to a "love your abuser" flick. Something I had no interest in watching.

Fast forward, and...

A while back I saw that Passengers was on, and decided to see just how awful it was.

Except I actually liked it.

Jim Preston is on a space ship that's on a 120-year journey to a colony on another planet. Thanks to damage to his sleep pod by an asteroid strike, he wakes up 90 years early and, because reasons, it's impossible for anybody to go back into hibernation for the rest of the journey.

It's at this point I am going to agree with Ryan Syrek on one thing... Pratt's character of Jim Preston is pretty awful when he decides to wake up a woman named Aurora from sleep because he fell in love with her writing (and looks, I'm sure). Since she can't go back into sleep, he does this knowing that he's dooming her to die on the journey... then lies to her and tells her that her sleep pod must have been damaged too.

But to all of Syrek's other points? Not so much.

  • "You get to watch a boring dick grow a beard for the first half of the movie." Well, duh. That's the entire catalyst of the movie. We are meant to feel just how boring and lonely your life would be if you were alone for a year. It's context as to why he does something so reprehensible.
  • "The number of times Aurora is preposterously placed into situations where her clothes must come off would be appalling..." Did I watch the wrong movie? There was exactly once that her clothes "must" come off. Jim takes her for a space-walk and she can't fit in the space suit in the dress she's wearing. But Jim turns around and all that he (and the audience) sees is her dress sliding across the floor. Yeah, she is wearing a swimsuit those times she's like, SWIMMING, but it's a perforated futuristic one-piece with more coverage than a bikini! Where is all this "male-gaze" bullshit Syrek is talking about? Arguably J-Law looks her most alluring when she's fully-covered in a red dress. Did I go to the bathroom when all this bodice-ripping happens? As Syrek noted, the only nudity was Chris Pratt's ass... and it was meant to be humorous... and show that he had completely given up. If anything, this was a movie for the female gaze.
  • "Michael Sheen is forced to watch all this shit as a legless robot chained to a bar." Well, yes. If he were a robot capable of independent motion who could do stuff with Jim, perhaps the guy wouldn't have been so lonely? Sheen played a crucial role as a sounding board for the first half of the movie... and a moral compass at the start of the second half... and the "guy" who eventually spills the beans.
  • "The premise is shut-yo-damn-mouth preposterous, the visuals are “Yeah, I’ve seen 2001 and every other sci-fi movie since too” uninspired." The premise is preposterous? In what way? A meteor strike can't happen in space? Equipment can't malfunction? A person can't make a morally horrific choice? What? When you watch a science-fiction film which takes place in the future, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief has to enter the picture. Otherwise, why the fuck are you watching the movie?
  • "He confines her to die on a spaceship with him because he thinks she’s cute." Except not really. The movie goes out of its way to show that he read all her writing (she's a writer) and fell in love with her smarts, humor, and talent... as well as her looks. When a reviewer sets up a straw-man argument like this, how can you take them seriously? You can't. If you felt that the attempt to build reasons for waking her up were weak, then say that. Don't outright lie.
  • "The naked message in the film then is “ladies, even if a man does the literal worst thing possible to you, forgive him." Except she doesn't forgive him. Up until there's a disaster which forces them to cooperate, she makes this very clear.
  • "Forgive him or die alone like the sad spinster adrift in this life you fear becoming." And here where Syrek is just being an asshole. Once the disaster has passed, Jim finds out that the Auto-Doctor pod can serve as a hibernation chamber to keep Aurora asleep until the ship arrives at the colony in 88 years. She doesn't have to be a "sad spinster"... she can put the entire mess of his disgusting act behind her and move on with the life she intended. By omitting this salient fact, Syrek is being all new levels of disingenuous.
  • "This is gonna sound crazy, but the two fall in love, then have a problem, then work together and reconcile." Crazy how? At the time Aurora falls in love with Jim, she doesn't fucking know that he woke her up, she thinks her pod malfunctioned like his did! They are literally "the last two people on earth" at that point and, thanks to all that Jim researched on Aurora, he knew they were likely compatible. So it's perfectly natural that they would fall in love. And yes, they reconcile, but that's her choice. He is willing to let her go back to sleep. She has the option of going back to sleep. But, as anybody who has been in love can attest, turning off those feelings is not always easy... even when the person you're in love with doomed you to death on a spaceship because he was so horribly lonely that he couldn't help himself. On top of that, they had just faced death together, and that's a bond that's not easy to shake either.
  • "Nothing Jim could say or do could forgive this sociopathic action, but it’s only that much more insulting to women that he’s a boring nothing-person who is, for real here, the supreme goddamn worst." Again, did you fucking forget that she had the option of going back into hibernation? Did you go to the bathroom during that scene? Because, yeah, if she forgave him because she felt she had no other choice and it was better than dying alone, then sure, that would make for an awful movie... but she had another choice! What she forgave was NOT that he had awakened her. What she forgave was that he was so lonely that he wronged her terribly. And the film made this abundantly clear when she thought she was going to be forced to live out the rest of her days alone if Jim died (which is why she risked her life to save his). And how was he a boring nothing-person? She mentioned early on in their relationship that hanging out with him was the first time she didn't feel alone... in her entire life! They did fun things together. He was constantly working to improve himself. He had skills. He was always working on something. He risked his life for her... and was later willing to giver her up (seriously, if he was a sociopath, wouldn't he have kept the fact that the Auto-Doctor pod could hibernate her to himself?). He did everything he could to make up for what he had done. He wasn't a sociopath who thought he did nothing wrong... he was haunted by what he had done, and said he wish he could have stopped himself. On top of that, he looks like Chris Pratt.
  • "Passengers is morally reprehensible and functionally inert." Jim's initial act is reprehensible, but the rest of the movie is about redemption. And if you had paid any sort of attention at all, you might have seen that the story actually makes this exceedingly clear. If Ryan Syrek doesn't feel that anybody is worthy of redemption, then perhaps he is functionally inert?
  • "It is anti-entertaining and potent nightmare fuel for anyone who dares think women have agency outside of finding a nice man." Except Jim is not a nice man. He never thinks of himself as a nice man because of what he did. Aurora made it clear that she didn't think he was a nice man. Even the robot fucking bartender didn't think he was a nice man. And, for the last fucking time, anybody who thinks that the message of the movie is that "women don't have agency outside of finding a nice man" wasn't paying fucking attention. Which is kind of a movie reviewer's job, isn't it? But, being a guy myself, I am not going to let my thinking decide any of this. I will, however, let Jennifer Lawrence's thinking decide it. I've watched countless interviews she's done and I am certain that she wouldn't do a movie with such a message. Indeed, at the time this film was made (and probably even today), she could have made any damn movie she wanted. She didn't have to make Passengers at all. But she did. So perhaps we should listen to women when it comes to this stuff?
  • "A nuclear reactor failure factors into the climax of the film. I rooted so hard for that reactor failure. So hard." Jesus. There were FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE PLUS CREW ONBOARD! Wouldn't wishing 5000+ people dead just to kill one man make Ryan Syrek a morally reprehensible sociopathic nightmare? If it doesn't, it does make him (at the very least) completely self-unaware.

Ryan Syrek reads like one of those movie reviewers who considers themself to be a morally superior social justice warrior who is so far above any possible failing that they can completely omit pertinent information about a film which doesn't support their narrative. If he would have at least acknowledged that the film addressed his problems... but still failed to win him over... I could at least respect his critique. As it is, I cannot help but go back to his first paragraph...

"What’s that, Chris? You want to be a super-duper, dimple-chinned movie hunk? Bend over and bore us while your once-charismatic baby blues go fully dead inside."

First of all, Chris Pratt's eyes are green.

Second of all, saying that Chris Pratt "bent over," thus using a homophobic slur to say that he sold out his career to star in this movie, makes the only passing jerk here Ryan Syrek. Talk about somebody who must be dead inside. Because, just like J-Law, Chris Pratt is one of the biggest movie stars on earth and doesn't have to sell out a damn thing.

As for me? Yeah. The movie is highly problematic... at first. But I cannot ignore that there were explanations for why the characters acted the way they did. Jim did a horrendous wrong not just for fun or because Aurora was pretty... it was because he was horrendously lonely and couldn't stop himself after reading her words which felt as though they were speaking just to him. Aurora didn't forgive him because she didn't want to die a lonely spinster, she forgave him because that was the choice which was least painful to her after she had fallen in love with the guy. She chose to forgive him. She chose to rescue him. She chose to stay with him. Far from being a victim, Aurora could have gone right back to her life the way it was going to be at the end of the movie... but all the choices were hers and she made her choice. Then, as we find out from her book, she didn't regret the choice she made and the life she lived.

Like I said, I enjoyed the film. I thought it had a lot to say about redemption and forgiveness that many critics overlooked in a rush to be politically correct. The special effects were pretty great too.

And I really liked the ending where they show the tree that was planted and the home that Aurora and Jim built together... plus a maintenance robot who has apparently been harvesting vegetables...

So... I don't know if I recommend this movie or not. I can see where people might have serious problems with it, and that's okay. To me it worked, and the film itself addressed many of the criticisms that were dropped on it. But don't listen to me... or the critics... if the film looks interesting to you, judge for yourself.

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Bullet Sunday 641

Posted on December 8th, 2019

Dave!Don't let the prelude to holiday madness get your down, because an all new Very Special Video Edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• WW84. My first instinct is to trust that Patty Jenkins will deliver an awesome sequel to her amazing Wonder Woman movie. But this new trailer... I just don't know. Apparently this is not actually a "sequel" but instead "the next iteration" of Wonder Woman. Which seems like a cop-out... especially since Steve Trevor looks to be alive(?) after dying in the first movie. Or, if not alive, a figment of Diana's imagination? Or something. And while I'm excited at the prospect of Kristin Wiig playing long-time Wonder Woman adversary The Cheetah, I'm a little less thrilled at the idea of Maxwell Lord factoring into all this as some kind of maniacal infomercial villain...

The music and action scenes look stellar. I guess we'll find out if this is a Wonder Woman worth watching when the movie is released on June 5th, 2020.

   
• Guy. I had heard absolutely nothing about Free Guy until I saw this trailer...

The concept is great. Casting Ryan Reynolds and Taika Waititi is fantastic. The visuals are amazing. I hope all that adds up to a really good movie. I guess we'll find out on July 3rd, 2020.

   
• Life? And... tonight was yet another bizarre (yet completely watchable) episode of HBO's Watchmen. And with just one episode left, I am anxious to see how everything comes together at the end. And yet... I'm willing to be that the haunting version of David Bowie's Life on Mars by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from last Sunday will still be stuck in my head...

Because nothing ever ends.

   
• LEGO! Two guys after my own heart with their LEGO groom & groom decorations! Their story reminds me of the movie Yossi & Jagger. WHY CAN'T WE HAVE THIS AS A HALLMARK MOVIE?!?

I mean, come on... how sweet is this...

Maybe one day nobody will give a crap what other people want for their marriage since it has absolutely no bearing on their life. But, until then, I guess the needle keeps moving.

   
• Masters. Speaking of LEGO... how in the heck is a competition show like the only just now happening?

It's kinda a no-brainer concept. But that doesn't mean it will make for good television even though it should make for great television.

   
• Ad Aware. I love a good advertisement, and am always amazed when somebody creates a truly great ad without the help of an ad agency and a lot of money. Case in point...

The ad was created for £100 by the shop owner, his kid, and his best friend... in one day. I've seen million-dollar ads which were far less memorable and even less effective.

   
And that's probably enough videos for one day. So until next time...

   

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