Archive for July, 2007

30
Jul
07

iPhone: Review

Preface

This is probably one of the longer reviews that I’ve written — and purposefully so. My intent is to give the reader a complete, full and fair account of my experience as a tech enthusiast who’s experimenting as the owner of a new iPhone. (This is one reason why I’ve waited almost a month after picking up the phone to complete the review. If you’re going to make an educated decision about whether or not to own this very different and very expensive piece of technology, you need to understand how it stands up under normal use.)

If you want a quick no-frills, “bottom-line” account, I don’t think you’re in the right place. We’re talking about a $600 phone that you’ll probably be using until 2009 (2-year contract) — I think it’s worth the investment to know what you’re buying.

I think one of the major challenges with a device like this is that it makes you completely rethink some of the ways that you are accustomed to using a phone — and not always in a good way. It’s like getting a next-generation stove. There are going to be some phenomenal features, but what good is it if heating up left overs turns into a chore. While writing the review, I was trying to contrast this experience with that of using a traditional Nokia or Motorola-interface mobile phone.

I hope what I’ve written makes your decision to buy (or not to buy) the phone one that is based more on fact and less on impression and speculation. (Cause there’s certainly a lot of that going on these days.)

. Continue reading ‘iPhone: Review’

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30
Jul
07

Zodiac: Review

If there’s one regret that I have last year, it’s that I didn’t get to see Zodiac in the theaters. Somehow I just never found the time. But this was one of the films that I was going to rush out and get on DVD as soon as it launched. (Thankfully I didn’t, as I’m hearing that the DVD is pretty much free of any bonus content). But after seeing this film, there’s little doubt that when the full-on release comes out, I’ll be right there in Best Buy waiting to pick it up.

Zodiac is directed by David Fincher (who’s also done such gems as Fight Club, Seven and The Game) and is a dramatization of the search for the identity of “The Zodiac Killer” who had the San Francisco area quivering with fear during the late 60s – mid 70’s. Having been born in the mid 70’s, I didn’t know much about the storied “Zodiac Killer” and almost confused him with “The Son of Sam” murders in New York City. Regardless of whether you know anything or nothing about the legend, if you’re a fan of the JFK-style storytelling (where pieces of the puzzle are revealed almost like a ride) then chances are you’ll love this film.

The acting in Zodiac is truly exceptional. Mark Ruffalo is quickly turning into one of my favorites. He always keeps me engaged and I’ve seen him in a variety of different roles. The role of detective suits him quite well here. Say what you will about Jake Gyllenhaal, but he’s definitely taking the road less traveled as an actor. I’m sure after the success of Brokeback Mountain that he’s had a number of fluff roles thrown his way for more cash. A David Fincher movie is probably one that comes with a huge payday also, but the difference here is that he’s really gotta dig deep and turn in a subtle-yet-solid performance and it’s his acting that really made the two and a half hours seem like a lot less. Jake stars here as the San Francisco newspaper comic writer who’s intrigue over the story lead him to eventually write the best selling book whose detail acts as the backbone for much of the film. It goes without saying that Robert Downey Jr. was great in the film. (Downey Jr. is one of the reporters.) Anthony Edwards, Ione Skye and even Dermot Mulroney play some of the smaller roles in this feature. Personally, for my money, this cast turned in as great a performance as the cast of The Departed without having to resort to all of the over the top acting and stereotypes. (But, of course, what do I know?)

Seven had to be one of the most incredible films that I have ever seen because you felt connected to Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as they searched for the killer. While this doesn’t possess the same creativity as a film where the “seven deadly sins” are featured, this film has some of that same quality. It’s very easy to follow the story as they track down the killer (certainly a lot easier than it is to internalize all of the details in an Oliver Stone film like JFK or Nixon). But much like those films, if you miss a key detail — get up to use the bathroom or doze off for a bit — it may be difficult to follow with key details missing. And so while the film’s running time is two hours and thirty-five minutes, it’s time that’s very well spent. For any film like this to work, it requires very careful pacing. The movie is split between three story arcs: the actual dramatization and re-enacting of the murders, the reporters and news media’s efforts to cover them (and to try and solve them) and the detective’s efforts to do the same. The film is very well edited — we never stay in one place too long. Just when you’ve had enough cop-talk, we’re moving into a creepy time and date-stamped scene where you start to brace yourself for another Zodiac killing. While the film isn’t a documentary, I dare say that you’d learn as much about the Zodiac killings and as effectively as you would by watching this film. In fact, after seeing this film, you’ll probably want to check out more details about the actual case (much like I did). Continue reading ‘Zodiac: Review’

30
Jul
07

Sunshine: Review

Danny Boyle is one of the few directors whose work I get excited about regardless of the film’s subject matter. His ability to provide us with truly original concepts and visually compelling features sets him apart as one of our most talented directors. While he doesn’t have a long list of blockbusters to his credit, Transporting, Millions and, of course, 28 Days Later each rank as some of my more enjoyable film experiences. I can’t give Boyle sole credit for the incredible and original 28 Days Later, as the story was written by Alex Garland. When I heard that Boyle and Garland were teaming up again for another original film and that Michelle Yeoh and Cillian Murphy would be starring in it — well, needless to say I was excited. Then I saw the trailer: Sunshine. A film about a voyage… to the Sun? Now I’m really curious. I saved the trailer to my laptop and must have watched it about twenty times over the past year. When the film was released earlier this year in the U.K. I was incredibly jealous. Well, today I finally had the opportunity to check it out. And while it doesn’t quite live up to the other Danny Boyle films that I enjoyed so much, this film does the one thing that I appreciate most — it made me think.

Sunshine follows a crew of eight scientists/astronauts as they set sail with a huge bomb in hopes of re-igniting a dying Sun. The ship (cleverly titled “The Icarus”), is scheduled to fly close enough to the Sun to detach the payload and leave the crew enough time to propel themselves back towards Earth. The dilemma (besides the daring nature of the mission alone) is that this isn’t the first effort to save the Sun. Seven years prior, the “Icarus One” set sail in the exact same model ship and on the same mission — yet the fate of the original Icarus was never discovered (aside from the fact that the mission failed.)

The plot of Sunshine alone is enough to get hardcore sci-fi enthusiasts reeled in from the opening credits. The crew reminds me of the Alien crew in that they are made up of different and interesting personality types. There is, however, a discernable difference between the mood present in the Icarus and the mood of the Alien crew that flew aboard the Nostromo. This is a crew of brave scientists (some more than others) who are determined to change the fate of the Earth and to preserve humanity. You can feel the tension as they grow closer to the culmination of their mission and you sense that the fate of the original Icarus crew is a constant reminder of their own mortality. Continue reading ‘Sunshine: Review’

12
Jul
07

AT&T and Apple: Strange Relationship?

There seems to be quite a bit of murmuring around town from folks about the fact that Apple chose AT&T as their wireless partner for the iPhone. As a disclaimer, I was an AT&T Wireless customer way back in the mid-early 90s when mobile technology was just starting to come into it’s own, so to say that “there were problems with the network” probably wouldn’t be a terribly meaningful criticism since just about every carrier had problems in the early stages of the technology. I do question whether the current Cingular-now-AT&T has the best wireless network. I had Verizon and despite the fact that they were ridiculously and needlessly expensive and always nickel-and-diming me, they truly did have the best network. I can’t say that there was ever a time when I was complaining about conversations disconnecting. My reasons for leaving Verizon (already well documented) had to do with their lethargic response to new devices (and their need to control the phone’s interface.) Which brings me to why I believe Apple chose the folks from AT&T…

It’s simple. Apple had a vision for a mobile phone experience — and AT&T agreed stay out of the way.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to come to this obvious conclusion. Going with multiple partners would not have given Apple the control over the interface that they desired. The huge market for mobile phone carriers is with the network downloadables. The ringtones. The games. The extra stuff. While lucrative, these downloads detracted from the vision. For one, they decrease what may prove to be an already unstable experience on a fairly new and untested mobile platform. One thing about the iPhone is that from the start-up menu to the shut down screen, the experience screams ‘Apple’. From the font to the icons. Everything. Opening the phone to multiple carriers means that everyone wants their little “store” application on it.

Another big issue is branding. Try to find a mobile phone that doesn’t have a Verizon or Cingular or Sprint logo somewhere stamped on it. Imagine an iPod with a huge T-Mobile icon on it. It detracts from the simplicity.

Most importantly, the reason why this phone has people as crazy as it does is largely due in part to the quiet hype that was created. You had Stephen Colbert doing a sketch begging Apple to send him one. We saw “iPhone sightings” on tech rumor sites. Most of the buzz had to be created around just wanted to experience this thing. AT&T was probably the only company trusting enough of the company that created the iPod to let them just run with their vision and not interfere with the experience they were after. It’s widely known that until the very last stages of design, even Cingular/AT&T executives didn’t have any details about the device design, interface or even a mock up. They were handed the info on a need-to-know basis. And look — it worked. Even the most prying of Apple conspiracy theorists were blown away by the announcement of a phone.

And so after we understand the “why”s, it’s natural for people to speculate as to whether this was beneficial decision. And if so, for whom. Continue reading ‘AT&T and Apple: Strange Relationship?’

12
Jul
07

The Fountain: Review

The Fountain was one of the most eagerly anticipated releases for me last year. I think it was the combination of having enjoyed Darren Aronofsky’s previous films coupled with the mystique that the trailer hinted at. I almost made the trip to see the movie last year, but it was in such limited release that it just kinda came and left before I had a chance to check it out. And so, with great patience, I decided not to download any versions of the movie, but to wait and check it out on my screen — the next best thing to checking it out in the theater. (That is, until the plasma arrives.)

The Fountain stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz in a somewhat epic film which deals with the biggest topics imaginable — life and death. More simply put, the two star as “timeless lovers” who are mysteriously together in completely different periods of time — from 16th century Spain to modern day and the story extends to the 25th Century. It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out that the subject of “the fountain” relates to the myth of “the fountain of youth”, but it relates more heavily to biblical themes centered around the mysteries of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, the Tree of Life and mostly the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” discussed in The Book of Genesis.

I went into the film knowing that like the other Aronofsky films (at least Pi, anyhow) that I probably wouldn’t “get” everything. At least not on the first sitting. And after having seen it, of course I was right. But disappointingly, I think I “got” most of what the film was trying to say and unless I’m missing another huge underlying theme, the film isn’t quite as prolific as I had first thought it would be.

First, the good. I thought the film was incredibly well shot. There are lots of golden, green and dark tones. There’s hardly any red or blue in the film at all. It helps to create a mood that does suspend reality and makes it easy to go with these characters throughout time. The effects are very well done. They’re awe-striking enough to be appreciated, but not so overdone that they take away from the already difficult to understand subject matter. Particularly well done are the shots in the future and the images of “the tree”.

Also of note is the acting. Hugh Jackman has to range out a bit here. His character goes through a lot of emotion and he gives a lot of himself to us in the role. This isn’t a drama or anything, but for a sci-fi / psychological film, the acting performance is well done. I’m not particularly a fan of Rachel Weisz. The bias is probably undeserved, but every time I see her on-screen, I feel as if I’m watching “the victim”. She her performance here is a big “drama-heavy”. Lots of crying and emotion. But it’s probably called for, as her character is very essential to the mystery of the movie.

For a film that attempts to delve into a topic of such epic proportions, the film is surprisingly short at about an hour and a half. But for me this turned into about 2 1/2 hours, as I found myself losing interest, rewinding to make sure I saw the scene properly and just struggling to focus on the plot. It jumps around quite a bit. The transitions are well done, so the editing isn’t really the problem. It’s the story. It would be a lot easier for me to stay engaged if I was given a bit more clues along the way of where the film was headed. For a film that I almost gave the ultimate honor and bought from Best Buy sight unseen, I sure am glad that I decided to Netflix this one because I’m pretty sure that will be my last viewing. There’s just not as much here as I thought there would be.

For all of the fans of movies with heavy psychological and zen-like implications, this is a must see. But if you’re looking for a film with some intrigue that actually entertains — even a little bit — this probably isn’t the movie for you. I can’t really recommend this one to anyone except the most hardcore metaphysical / psychological fans. Here’s hoping that the future Aronofsky films will be more like his initial efforts and less like this one.

07
Jul
07

Happy Endings: Review

Had I not been a Netflix subscriber, I probably would have never even heard about Happy Endings. It was suggested to me by their system that assesses which movies you’ve seen and liked and makes recommendations accordingly. Sometimes they’re off. Way off. But thankfully, this time they brought me a unique, fun and challenging film. It’s a shame that I hadn’t heard more about this film before.Happy Endings is directed by Don Roos and stars Lisa Kudrow, Maggie Gyllenhaal and, of all people, Tom Arnold, in a film that’s mostly about love and relationships, but presented in a totally non-standard and refreshing way. The title is sort of a ‘play on words’, as one of the plotlines of the movie centers around a ‘film within the film’ about a massage therapist and the “happy endings” that he provides. (And if you don’t know what a “happy ending” is, go look it up on Urban Dictionary.) The central plot deals with Lisa Kudrow’s complicated character, who sought to have an abortion early in life and ironically works at a clinic consulting women who plan to make the same decision. Having never gone ahead with the abortion, she finds herself meeting an amateur filmmaker who wants to reveal the identity of her long lost child — only if he can capture it on film. The other major plot surrounds Tom Arnold’s character, and his son, who is wrestling with his sexual identity.This film presents itself as a comedy, but honestly I found the film more interesting as a drama and didn’t really find myself laughing that much. It is aiming squarely for the Soho/yuppie crowd who can relate to these types of problems. Initially I found myself resenting the movie a bit. It comes off very pretentious. There are subtitles that share screen space with the action that give you some “intel” about the character. For example, a young woman comes on screen and the film might split and on the right half in white text with a black background you’d read, “Sarah works at this bookstore just to pay for her clothing addiction. She’ll only work here for a few more days before realizing that there aren’t any more clothes that she wants to buy this season.” You get the idea. Initially it’s somewhat annoying, but as the story progresses, it gives more insight into the characters than a single scene ever could. It’s a very efficient use of screen time, although I hope this doesn’t represent a trend. It probably will only work in this film. Continue reading ‘Happy Endings: Review’

04
Jul
07

Transformers (2007): Review

https://i0.wp.com/powet.tv/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2006/11/200px-tf_teaserposter1.jpgQuick question: which movie would you rather see — one directed by Michael Bay or by Nelson Shin. Without question, I’m certain the majority of hands that would go up would be for Bay. Even if you can’t name more than five of his films, just hearing the name alone evokes a feeling of action. So what’s my point? Well, to illustrate, I need to take you back a bit…….it’s 1986. Thousands and thousands of pre-teen and teenage kids come home from school every day, make a glass of Nestle’s Quick, open a box of Lemonheads and turn on the TV to the local affiliate that carries The Transformers. Unlike many of the other cartoons that aired during that time, The Transformers upped the ante just a bit. Yes, it was your classic ‘good vs. evil’ show, but it was so much more. The storylines were intricate and faithful to the universe. It’s actually amazing to think that our young minds were able to digest some of the subject matter that took place on the show. If you just tuned in for robots bashing each other, you’d get that. But if you really watched closely, you’d see so many other themes. The struggle to preserve one’s heritage while honoring the existence of another’s. The difficult choices that leaders sometimes need to make. It was a show to be proud of. Even then, there were some who couldn’t see past the medium of animation to realize the depth and strength of the story. But despite the claims from others that it was “just a cartoon”, we kept watching.Turn the page to August 8, 1986. All of the blockbusters have already debuted…..save one. And now those thousands of kids who were drinking Nestle’s Quick after school were now petitioning with their parents for the right to see the continuation of the Transformers saga — The Transformers: The Movie. It seemed a little campy — even back then. And I was slowly growing a bit ‘too old for this stuff’. But that 84 minutes sitting in the theater really changed me. It was one of the most incredible movie experiences of my young life. The movie was groundbreaking for an animated feature. For one, it acknowledged the path that the storyline was headed in on the television show — almost as if the writers from the TV show Lost decided to just take off a year from writing the show and deliver a film from point that the season finale left off. It was daring — major characters died in the feature. It introduced new characters to the universe. And most of all, it just gave hope. I watched it recently and it holds up almost as much now as it did then. I thanked my mother for taking me to see that movie after we left.It’s hard to watch a movie that calls itself “The Transformers” without acknowledging all of the history and details that I know about the universe. When I first heard that this movie was in production and that it wouldn’t be animated, I was kind of puzzled. But that puzzled feeling gave way to trust, as I heard it was receiving the big budget Hollywood treatment. Last summer when I saw the teaser, my expectations started dropping. The movie started to look more like a Godzilla-esque movie monster feature than a movie that features the characters I’d come to respect.OK, I’m dragging. I’ll get right to it. I didn’t like it. I’m not saying I hated it. But this isn’t a Transformers feature. I don’t care that Peter Cullen and Frank Welker’s voices are featured. This isn’t the Transformers. It’s what Michael Bay sees the Transformers universe as, and clearly he isn’t a fan of the animated feature, much less the movie.There are some things about the movie that I respect. The Autobots and Decepticons were always after Energon Cubes to try and restore energy to their home planet of Cybertron. The translation here was that there was one cube that both groups were in search of. This works. The voice work of Peter Cullen and Frank Welker definitely gives me the “illusion” that the filmmakers care a bit about the series. They utter phrases that most who’ve seen a few episodes would understand. But I struggle to think of any other redeeming qualities about the film.The worst thing about this movie are the design of the robots. I can totally ride with the fact that the look of the characters needs to evolve a bit to give the feeling that this could take place today. But the design that they went with is so outlandish that it just takes away from your enjoyment. When the robots are on screen, often you have to squint to tell who is who. Instead of looking for facial features or the shape of the robots, you quickly realize that they’re almost all shaped the same. When Megatron is talking to Starscream, with the exception of some detail in the faces, you can barely tell them apart. When Optimus Prime and Megatron are fighting, I could barely tell which one was which. The only thing that saved me was the slight color and detail that was on Optimus Prime. Without this physical distinction, they’re just a bunch of robots on the screen throwing each other around.The previous point actually gets into one of my pet peeves. Directors: if you’re listening to this, please — for the love of all that is good in this world — stop with the shaky cam. This film suffers from the same problems that I felt Batman Begins had — too much camera trickery. The camera is whipping around and dipping through space so much that it creates a false sense of action and often you can’t tell what’s really happening. It’s almost like watching a Bruce Lee film where the camera gets in too tight and all you see are punches and kicks. Yes, it’s action packed, but what the hell just happened? Continue reading ‘Transformers (2007): Review’