Category: movies

There are Plenty of Great, Original Movies Out There

One constant complaint I hear echoed across the interwebs is that the days of original movies are over. How all we get are superhero movies and sequels. And certainly there are plenty of examples of those movies to point to. I wouldn’t argue that tons of superhero movies and sequels are getting churned out by Hollywood all the time. But the way the argument’s often presented, it’s that “no good, original movies are being made.” And that’s just not true at all. Plenty of good movies are being made. They’re just not making as much money as superhero movies and sequels. So you could argue the American public has bad taste (or, at least, repetitive taste), but when has that ever really been in doubt?

And anyway, I feel like there’s a whole lot of confirmation bias going on anytime this comes up as a topic. (Confirmation bias, if you didn’t know, is when you recall or refer to information selectively in a way to prove your preconceived argument.) Let’s take science fiction movies as an example. Just in the past decade, what are some fantastic, original science fiction movies that have come out?

Arrival, Gravity, Ex Machina, The Martian, Interstellar, Inception, Wall-E, District 9, Edge of Tomorrow, Moon, Looper. That’s eleven really strong films, pretty much off the top of my head, and that’s not even going into movies that might be more “pop” like Pacific Rim.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that the majority of the push behind films these days has been to support a few tent pole franchises, and so the Star Wars and the Marvels of the world get a whole ton of attention, while movies like Arrival or Edge of Tomorrow can come and go without making nearly as big of a splash. And so I understand the concern that if good, original movies don’t make more money, then they’ll disappear altogether.

But of course, the flip side is that there are also plenty of bad, original movies that get made. Originality is no guarantee of quality, just as being a sequel or a remake is no guarantee of the opposite. My only real desire is that good movies continue to be made. The new True Grit movie was a blast, I liked it more than the John Wayne original. I like the new Planet of the Apes movies more than the originals. Is this bad? Do I fail in movie taste? I don’t think so. Good movies are good movies.

This all is inspired by Denisa and me finally being able to watch Arrival last night. What a phenomenal movie. I thought about doing a full review, but there wasn’t a way I could do it and not include spoilers, so I thought I’d just mention how great it was here on the blog, and encourage anyone and everyone to check it out. It’s on Amazon Prime at the moment. Science fiction, linguistics, and deep thinking, all rolled up into a very accessible package. No wonder I loved it.

So to those who are worried about the fiftieth Marvel movie coming out, don’t sweat it. If Marvel movies ever stop being good, people will generally stop paying to see them. Yes, you still have movies like Transformers being made, but I have yet to feel a lack of good stuff to watch out there, whether it’s television or movies.

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Favorite Sports Movie

I’m off to another meeting in Bangor today, so time is tight. But I thought it would be interesting to have a quick discussion topic. Favorite sports movie of all time.

There are a few movies that jump to mind right away, of course. Hoosiers, Field of Dreams, Rocky, Chariots of Fire, Rudy, Caddyshack, Raging Bull. I love a good come from behind victory. I love character building stories. But I’m always amazed at some movies that I have missed.

(For example, I just asked a friend this question, and he mentioned Escape to Victory. A movie where Sylvester Stallone is a POW in a Nazi camp, and he organizes a soccer game against the Nazis to cover their escape. I have literally never heard of that movie before in my life. How have I been missing out all this time? This sounds almost as good as Over the Top, where Stallone is a truck driver entering an arm wrestling tournament.)

In any case, my personal favorite sports movie has got to be The Natural. Robert Redford. Adaptation of a fantastic book by Bernard Malamud. I must have watched that movie at least seven or eight times over the course of my life. I love everything about it. The acting The writing. The soundtrack. The story. The cinematography. Just a fantastic movie, though at this time, it probably retains the top spot out of nostalgia more than anything. Movies I watched when I was younger just have an easier time of the competing in lists like this.

Anyway. What’s your favorite? It has to be primarily about sports, but I’d love to hear what you love, and why.

Netflix Has Ditched the Star System

(“Netflix has ditched the solar system” would have sounded cooler, but what can you do?) Either which way, the days of rating movies from 1-5 stars on Netflix seem to be over. It’s reduced its user rating system to a very simple thumbs up or thumbs down decision. Did you like the movie or dislike it?

Part of me is bummed about the switch. I had been very dutiful about rating movies on Netflix, and I felt like the algorithm had me down pretty well. I could look at a movie I hadn’t heard about and have a good idea whether I would like it or not based on the anticipated rating Netflix assigned to it. I understood that sometimes that rating might be lower than usual, based on the genre. I didn’t give out many 5 star reviews to action movies, for example, just because many of them don’t warrant it. But I knew when I wanted to watch an action movie and the algorithm gave it around 4 stars, then it would be a really good one for me.

That’s all gone now. Netflix has replaced it with a new algorithm that estimates how good of a “match” a movie or TV show is to your tastes. It’s a percent score, so if they’re really sure you’ll like something, they’ll list it as 98%. That kind of thing. You can indicate what you think of a show by rating it thumbs up or thumbs down, but Netflix has decided it has something far more reliable to judge you on:

Your actual viewing habits.

It makes sense, in a very big-brothery way. Netflix has full knowledge of which shows you watch, when, on which devices. It knows the shows you start but don’t finish. It knows your secret penchant for My Little Pony binges in the middle of the night. It knows your tastes the best way that’s really possible. By keeping track of how you vote with your eyeballs.

I’m torn on this. On the one hand, it makes sense for Netflix to do it. It’s in the entertainment business, and it wants to make sure you’re happy with what you’re watching. It realized that often people wouldn’t give the shows and movies they liked best the highest ratings. Like me, other people sometimes like to watch a movie just for kicks, even if it’s not the best movie in the world. They’ll give it three stars, but they had a great time watching it. But the thing is, sometimes I want a movie that’s going to challenge me. That I’m not necessarily going to love, but which I’ll be very happy that I watched it. It’s not a popcorn flick. It’s a real piece of art.

How will Netflix manage that one? I worry it’ll keep parading the same kinds of shows and movies I often watch, instead. It’ll want to keep me happy on a steady diet of sugars and carbs, when what I really need is a fine dinner now and then. See my point?

It’s also troubling that even with the new system, when I go to “Top Picks for Bryce,” it continues to provide me with suggestions that are far less than ideal. Matches that are just 70% or 56%, leading me to believe those “top picks” are nothing more than paid ads by the content creators. Seriously–why not have the section filled with the content that’s the closest match? It seems like a no brainer.

Anyway. We’ll see how it plays out in practice. Maybe it’ll grow on me. If any of you get experience with it, chime in to let me know what you think.

3D Movies at Home

I love my home theater. That’s well established. And while I still need to get furniture for the room, the theater system itself was mostly finished. I had the screen, the projector, the sound, and the doodads to play stuff on (forgive me if I’m being too technical). But I’d really wanted to give 3D a shot, because gadgets! Technology! Cool!

After looking into it, I realized I was almost there. Most high definition projectors will handle 3D all on their lonesome. You don’t need to do anything to them to enable it. All I really needed to do was buy the right kind of 3D glasses for my projector (there are a number of competing technologies, and you have to make sure you’re using the right one) and buy a few 3D movies.

I picked up the glasses for around $20 each. (My projector uses DLP-link, so I got those.) 3D movies are, naturally, a bit more. But in the name of science, I bought a few of those too. (Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, and Avatar.) Having now watched Guardians of the Galaxy in 3D at home, I’m here to let you know if you should be doing the same thing.

First, a note about me and 3D. I typically don’t watch it in the theaters. I always felt it made the movie too dark, and that it wasn’t worth the extra bother. I like 3D. It doesn’t give me headaches or anything. But it wasn’t cool enough for me to want to spend more money on it. Wearing the glasses in public just made me feel goofy, and I didn’t like feeling cut off from the rest of the crowd. I watch movies in theaters often for the audience experience. The glasses made it much less social.

With that out of the way: watching 3D at home? Totally awesome. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m using a different tech than the theaters (I doubt it), but the picture seemed sharp. Not quite as bright as I’d like still, but I’m thinking that might be because I have my projector’s brightness dialed down to conserve on bulb life. It was bright enough for me to be fine watching it, though there’s no way I’d watch it during the day, or with the lights on. I’d want the room to be all dark. (That also helps with not seeing any reflections in the glasses as I’m watching, which was another irritant of watching in the theater.

Honestly, the experience was so good, for the first time I felt like it was just as good as watching a movie in the theaters. I’ve always gone to the movies to see some films because I wanted that cinema experience. I wanted the huge screen. I still might see some now and then, but this felt like all I really need. (The ability to pause, add subtitles, adjust the volume, etc. is a really nice perk, people. And the popcorn is much cheaper.)

I do see some down sides. First, if I had a smaller screen, I don’t think I’d enjoy this much at all. 3D needs to be big to have an impact. On a 50 inch screen (or even a 70 inch), I’m not sure it would be the same. Also, if I want to have friends over to watch with me, I’ll need to buy more glasses. Not a huge fan of that. They have to be charged, and spending $20 for every friend is prohibitive. I think I might just keep it at a “just for family or small groups” experience.

The next problem is cost. 3D movies are often more expensive. I looked into getting them through Netflix, but they don’t offer them. (Not even through discs). There are some online companies that let you rent them, but they’re expensive. ($18/month?!?) I can stream some in theory, but my internet isn’t fast enough for me to feel good about that. So it looks like I’ll have to pay to play. Then again, since I won’t be paying for the fam to go to the movies as much, perhaps that’s about a wash.

Overall, I’m very happy with my purchase, and I’m eyeing all sorts of movies in 3D on Amazon now. Denisa’s trying to talk me down from buying all of them. I think she’ll be successful, but getting one now and then as a treat? Why not.

If you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them as best as I can.

The Advantages of a 110 Inch Screen

Yes. I’m still going on about how awesome my new home theater system is. It’s been a dream of mine for a long, long time. And the greatest thing about it is that there are perks that keep showing up that I didn’t even think about when I was dreaming.

Case in point? Groundhog Day. I’ve seen this movie many many many time. (I should probably add a few more “many”s to that, just to be fully accurate.) So you’d think that when I saw it on a big screen, there wouldn’t be much that would feel different to me.

You’d be wrong.

I was amazed at how much easier it was to spot details that I’d missed before. People in the crowds that come into the scene later on. Side characters you spot that you didn’t spot otherwise. For example, did you know that in the hospital scene where Phil is trying to save the panhandler, you can see the kid who falls from the tree later on? He’s got a broken leg, and his mom is filling out paperwork. (Because Phil wasn’t there to catch him. Get it?) How awesome is that? And that was on a standard DVD. I can’t wait to watch a movie on Blu-ray.

The big screen also makes things a lot more intense. We watched episode 6 of Lemony Snicket last night, and that was just thrilling. The house falling into the lake? Incredible. (The surround sound system worked really well for that too.)

I know that in theory it shouldn’t make a huge difference. After all, I can watch a movie on my iPad and use headphones, and I can put the screen pretty close to my face and have the same net effect as a big screen, right?

Nope. That’s what I’d thought ahead of time, but I was just wrong wrong wrong. Your mind knows what size that screen is. It knows that the scary thing on the screen is actually just about two inches tall. But when the scary thing is four feet tall? Big difference.

It’s not the same as watching it in the theaters, but it’s awfully close. I want to watch Lord of the Rings on the thing. Or Star Wars. Or some Marvel. Ghostbusters! The number of movies I’ve got on my “rewatch soon” pile is so long.

I’m loving it. Everybody should do this!

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