Monday, March 30, 2009

Vid of Week 2009-03-30: Gervais and Elmo Rated R

Not suitable for children! Outtakes of interview of Ricky Gervais by Elmo. Celebrating the start of the 40th season of Sesame Street.

Philadelphia Film Fest is Here!

Here's my schedule.

I know, I'm not able to attend too many screenings this year. Work and jury duty are getting in the way. If you plan to attend any of these, let me know.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wild Thing! I Think I...

Hate you. Good trailer, especially the music. Movie still looks like it is going to be a disaster.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

iPhone Dining Out Apps: Yelp!

Despite some controversy, challenges to its credibility, accusations of extortion, and even lawsuits against its members, Yelp is hugely popular, and understandably so. Think of Yelp as Zagat 2.0, a completely unfiltered customer review site that allows its users to post reviews of restaurants, bars, cafes, gas stations, doctors, beauty salons, newspapers, florists, houses of worship, and pretty much anything else that you can think of. It also allows other reviewers and the business owners themselves to respond to reviewers, which is unique in the world of online user reviews. Yelp is highly successful (4 million reviews written and 15 million visitors a month, according to the New York Times).

The Yelp iPhone application (free) allows users to sync up with their Yelp web account. Though you can't actually review a site or interact with other users within the application, you can read other users' reviews, bookmark businesses, get directions, add photos, and do broad or location-based searches. Conveniently, it also remembers your 10 most recently accessed businesses for easy recall.

The application is fast and a breeze to use. It is very useful for quickly locating and evaluating local businesses. Hard core Yelp-ers may be disappointed in the lack of social features--you can't write reviews or respond to other's reviews via the iPhone. Me? I wouldn't want to write a full review of a business on the iPhone keyboard, and I would even venture to say that reviews written in that manner would probably lack the wit and snark charm of Yelp reviews. A good review takes time to compose, which is not likely to be the circumstances under which an attention-deficient iPhone user (like myself) is bound to be working under.

Next up: UrbanSpoon

Map of NY Sitcoms

Oh, and here is the map of sitcoms in New York City.

Map of US Sitcoms

Check out this funny US map of sitcoms via Durangela. Worth a look.

Fair and Balanced

Apparently, the number of my film-related posts equals the number of my tech-related posts, at least according to my widget. In the administrative area of blogger, the numbers are different for some reason, but not by much. I don't have the patience to track down the reason--the numbers are close enough.

How's that for fair and balanced? Yes, I cheated, as some posts count as both. Anyway, I would have guessed that I had more tech posts.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Vids of Week 2009-03-23: RIP Natasha Richardson and Ron Silver

Ron Silver passed away last week. He was an exceptional talent. In addition to playing a great supporting character on The West Wing, he also played Alan Dershowitz in this great film from 1990, Reversal of Fortune.

Natasha Richardson was also a great talent, and starred in films such as Nell, The Parent Trap, and Asylum (clip below)

I will miss seeing them both on the big screen.

Great TV Sci-Fi Endings

I was riveted to the Battlestar Galactica finale the other night. Wow what a great ending! It occurred to me that the ending was probably easy for the writers--they had it is mind all along, or at least for the last couple of years. What was probably more difficult for them was writing interesting stories over the last couple of seasons without giving too much away. In the modern post-Star Trek: TNG era, great endings have been rare for great sci-fi series. The X-Files failed miserably at this back in the 90s. They had no endgame in mind and the incoherent threads just became impossible to tie together when all was said and done. This left the audience frustrated and annoyed. Alias (From JJ Abrams) did a bit better, but the ending was so incoherent it fell a bit flat. Firefly (From Joss Whedon) didn't have enough of a life technically to be part of this comparison, but the film follow-up Serenity served as an effective series finale.

BSG did it the right way. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and just kept saying "wow wow wow wow" for two hours. Based on their progress, I strongly suspect that similar sci-fi long tail mystery shows like Lost (also from JJ Abrams, scheduled to end next year), Fringe (JJ Abrams), Dollhouse (Joss Whedon), and the like will do it much better, having learned from prior mistakes. As much as I will hate to see these shows go, I eagerly anticipate their finales.

Friday, March 20, 2009

iPhone Dining Out Apps: OpenTable

The Zagat Guide application was one of my favorites on my old Palm Treo. So of course after I got my iPhone I surfed right over to the App Store to see if they had an iPhone application. Good news: Yes! Zagat's app included the reviews I love, plus is location aware and supports making reservations. The bad news: it costs $10! Damn ! So I went on a mission to see what free Zagat alternatives there might be. I'll be writing a series of posts about what I find.

First up: OpenTable - I originally learned of OpenTable via using its website. Though its site allows for user reviews and links to professional reviews, it is not a restaurant review site primarily. Instead, it is designed first and foremost for making reservations for restaurants that participate. That may sound very limiting, but many many restaurants participate and the list is growing, particularly in major metropolitan areas. OpenTable online saved me more than once, most recently when I needed to find a restaurant that had reservations available for New Years Eve when I got stuck at the last minute.

The OpenTable iPhone application follows nicely in the footsteps of the website. It links easily with your account (and can save your login information), and enables you to get directions to a restaurant, email your reservation, or cancel an existing reservation. It is also location-aware, so it lets you easily locate restaurants nearby. It also saves recently accessed locations for search. All of these features cool to have, and the application is very easy to use and works flawlessly.

My only problem with the application is that it lacks one key feature of the website--the ability to add the newly created (or other existing) reservation to your calendar. As of now Apple restricts third party applications from creating calendar entries, so I can't fault OpenTable for that.

I would suggest to users that they create an account at first before using the application. I didn't try creating an account through the application, but I imagine that it must be easier to do in a browser.

Next up: Yelp!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sony + Google > Amazon?

The success of the Kindle has prompted Sony to cozy up with Google to improve its ebook offering. Will it help? I doubt it. The major advantage that Amazon has over its competition is the convenience factor. Modeled on the success of the seamless iPod/iTunes music store ecosystem, the Kindle/Amazon convenience model is just too hard to beat. Apple proved it--you don't have to build the best MP3 player, you just have to come close enough and make it 1000% more convenient than your competitors and you will win the market.

Via Technologizer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Vid of Week 2009-03-16: Pulse Smart Pen

I had minor gadget desire that blossomed into full-fledged lust when I saw this Wired review of the Pulse Smart Pen. Once one of those open source developers builds Evernote integration, I'll be on board.

iPhone OS 3.0 to Have Copy/Paste

Kevin Rose and Wired as well as Gizmodo are reporting that the iPhone 3.0 OS update coming this week will include copy and paste, as I wished for last week. People have been screaming for this enhancement for some time, and news of the announcement has been met with some sarcasm and snark. Me, I can't argue with success. Apple sold millions of iPhones without what many would consider a foundational feature. Given Apple's propensity for eliminating obsolete technology before other vendors, some may have speculated that it was gone for good. Me? I just figured that Apple wisely calculated that they needed sexy features like 3G, Wifi, GPS, app store, multitouch, etc. to sell iPhones, and clipboard functions could come later once the groundswell of annoyance reached a point where it might start to hurt sales. That's why Apple is on top and the conventional consumer electronics vendors (Sony, Microsoft, & Dell, I am talking to you!) are playing catch up. They "think different(ly)."

Friday, March 13, 2009

I Love Jon Stewart

Bonus Video of the week! Stewart just destroys that blowhard Jim Cramer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

iPhone OS 3.0 To Be Announced Next Week.

Apple holding iPhone 3.0 special event next week. 2.0 brought us applications. I wonder what 3.0 will bring? Real-time GPS? Video chat for next gen iPhone? Usability enhancements (multithreading/clipboard) functions? Dunno, but I'm eager to find out. via CNET News

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

iPhone's Not-So-Universal Dock Connector

One of the unfortunate things that I discovered when I purchased my iPhone is that none of my old iPod dock connectors worked. Turns out that the friendly folks at Apple decided to jigger the electronics within the connector, rendering old connectors incompatible with the iPod nano 4G; iPod touch 2G; iPhone 3G and presumably future models. So now all of my old chargers are obsolete. Thanks to Scoshe for creating an adapter, but at $25, it is almost as much as buying a whole new charger. Meh.

Dilbert Knows Me

Scott Adams pretty much nailed my relationship with my iPhone.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Was Watchmen Watchable?

"Filming a work doesn't make it filmable"--me

" preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.."--Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park

War and Peace and Ulysses are groundbreaking fictional literary works, like Lawrence of Arabia and Citizen Kane are in film. These pieces of art dramatically changed the trajectories of their medium. After each of these works were released, the standards of their respective worlds were raised forever. There are few if any that would dispute that Watchmen falls into that category for the graphic novel. Watchmen redefined the superhero genre and made it for adults and legitimized comic books as art.

When the printed source material is so powerful as to change the nature of the medium like Watchmen and the other works I have mentioned, it poses a unique problem to a filmmaker who wishes to adapt that work. A director can simply try to capture every line, every detail (and in the case of a comic, every panel) on screen as a literal translation of the work. Then, the result is something that nobody whines about, but nobody raves about either. These works are inherently forgettable and inspire the old cliche, "the book was better." For an example of this phenomenon, see Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Why is this true? Because each medium, be it comics, film, oil on canvas, television, radio, or the printed word is unique. One can't simply try to directly translate a visionary work--it would be like faxing the Mona Lisa and expecting the fax to carry the same power as the painting. On the opposite end, a filmmaker can use the original as an inspiration and remain faithful to it while still presenting a unique vision (i.e., Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy). These works occur rarely simply because vision is so hard to come by--it is like being struck twice by lightning. Groundbreaking works by definition are quite rare in any medium. Matching a groundbreaking literary work to a movie director who has a groundbreaking vision for that work is an understandable rarity. It is a wonder that that ever happens. I myself am hard pressed to think of any beyond LOTR.

It always seemed to me that with Watchmen, the nature of the narrative, the nature of the story, the nature of the visuals simply could not be translated to another medium. In fact, much of Hollywood agreed, and the Watchmen project languished in development limbo for many decades and was called 'unfilmable' by many. When it was announced that the director of 300, Zack Snyder would finally be the one to capture the story on film, I was hopeful. After all, arguably he did manage to create a visionary film out of a less prominent graphic novel (300). He was true to the source material and yet brought a powerful and unique vision to that film. Maybe he could do the same with Watchmen!

Was he successful? Well, Watchmen is a great piece of work. Snyder made a compelling film and he presents a strong vision on screen. It is densely packed with complex existential, psychological and sociological themes and is a feast for the eyes. Still, I was disappointed. I was hoping for a transcendent work like 300 the movie was to 300 the graphic novel. There was my fatal mistake--The problem was not that Watchmen did not always fire on all cylinders throughout (the music was terrible and there was one ridiculous love scene that seemed like it came right off of a made-for-Cinemax skin flick), it is that I believe that the Watchmen concept simply cannot transcend on screen the way that it transcends on the page. Snyder made a great film that I hope to see again in the theater and I will certainly buy on DVD (director's cut) and that I hope is very successful. However, it's not a groundbreaking film. Heck, it's not groundbreaking as a comic book film (i.e., Dark Knight). We can't fault Snyder for the power of his source material. He did as good a job on this unfilmable work as I think could possibly have been done, but ultimately the graphic novel far outshines the adaptation in 'relative visionariness'.

So by all means, go see it, but don't expect Citizen Kane in tights.


Like this topic? Here's another great article on film adaptations vis-a-vis Watchmen from Cinematical.

Vid of Week 2009-03-09: The Macbook Wheel!

I loved the Onion before, but after this R-rated sendup of Sony and the video below, they are my geekazoid heroes!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Web is Watching Watchmen

Generally, I use Rotten Tomatoes to see a cross-section of critical attitude towards a film, and they give Watchmen a respectable, if not overwhelming 63% as of this writing. Admittedly pimping themselves for fanboy-crazed clicks, the folks at Cinematical also compiled a bunch of quick blurbs about what critics are saying about Watchmen. Strangely, they left out Roger Ebert's positive review.

I have my ticket for Sunday. Can't wait.

Want DVD Special Features? Pay Up!

Variety is reporting that Fox is going to start producing two classes of standard and Blu-ray DVDs, one stripped down no-special features version for the rentals market and one for the direct sales market.

Does Fox really think that leaving special features off of The Day the Earth Stood Still is going to get me to buy it? (Not that I was going to rent it)... I hope that this does not become a standard practice, but I won't lose sleep over it. I generally enjoy the special features secondarily. If I am a fan of a film enough to watch the special features, I am a fan enough to have bought the disc in the first place, most likely. I generally do not find myself watching special features on rentals. I wonder if I am in the minority and this is going to create an uproar?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Another Great iPhone App

FlightTrack made my business trip this week so much easier. Can't beat the free price. Haven't tried the Pro version yet...