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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

VIDEO CURIOSITIES

*Photo by Kjartan Trana

I just watched an outstanding Smithsonian Channel television show, (Goshawk: Soul of the Wind) about the amazing goshawk, an incredible bird of prey that can fly silently through tree branches while hunting by folding up its wings to get through the smallest tangle of branches in the swift and deadly pursuit. The determined goshawk also uses its talons to push off tree trunks like a banking billiard ball during flight while chasing down its prey. Very impressive and spooky stuff.

I’d really hate to have THIS raptor chasing me down for dinner.

Look for the Smithsonian Channel’s “Goshawk: Soul of the Wind” in your TV program listings. Direct TV’s listings indicate “Goshawk: Soul of the Wind” will air again on the Smithsonian Channel  on Tuesday, 9/27 at 7AM, and again on Wednesday, 9/28 at 3AM. Set your recorders and be amazed.

*Kjartan Trana’s website.

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Tim says: if you’d like to submit one of your own You Tube “Video Curiosity” discoveries for consideration, use the “Contact” form at the top of the blog. Include the link and a descriptive sentence or two and your first name only. (Email addresses (if any) will not be published.)

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UberStrike

As a kid I loved “kick the can” and “capture the flag“, and for a while I tried the indoor “LASER TAG” craze, where I acquired a taste for hurdling obstacles while trying to annihilate real living players with a little red dot that was registered as a “hit” and tallied during the game. I was pretty good. Then, years later while living in Baton Rouge, I became heavily involved with “paintball“. Yes, I was one of those good ol’ boys who ran amok in the Louisiana bayous sweating like crazy, swatting mosquitoes and running like hell and ducking through the cypress swamps with eye goggles and my CO2 paintball rifle wanting nothing more than to nail a green-paint-filled paintball smack dab in the middle of someone’s chest. Paint balls hurt!

Now — in an attempt to reinvent the thrill of the hunt all over again — I’ve become enamored with “UberStrike“: a high-tech HD paintball-like computer game played in a virtual world against other UberStrike members of all ages on servers scattered all over the world. Obviously, shoot-em-up games are not for everyone.

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UberStrike cost $9.99 on the Apple App store, but it is also available for the PC and directly online. Games can either be played (like capture the flag) in a RED-team vs. BLUE-team mode, or in an all-out free-for-all mode where anything that moves is fair game. The UberStrike online forum is very helpful to newcomers seeking tips and tricks to help them progress from level to level: your mentor can be an incredibly talented teenager or a retired ex-SEAL. You’ll never know. Credits that can be used to upgrade (rent) equipment are gained during battle. Or, some folks choose to pay for them at the UberStrike store using real money. Cash credit players are sometimes frowned upon by the game purists, who prefer to earn their outfitting upgrades during play. To me, both viewpoints are acceptable: the biggest and baddest weaponry in the world won’t help you one bit from getting massacred by experienced players using the simplest of weapons.

One aspect I like about UberStrike — unlike paintball and many other shoot-em-up video games available in the marketplace —  is there is absolutely not one single drop of blood spilled during UberStrike game play. Ever. However, the first-person point of view of yourself being blasted off a roof and falling to the ground and twitching for several seconds is truly ghastly.

Modern technology has brought 3D HD games to our desktops like never before, a far cry from the pioneering text-only games like “Zork“, created way back in the early 80s.

I really like UberStrike. But — again — UberStrike might not be your cup of tea.

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Tim says: I got a kick revisiting the “Zork” link. When I bought that game for my Radio Shack Model 4 TRSDOS computer back in the early 80s, it was my first computer game ever. I became so addicted to it I called in sick from work for 3 entire days. “You have made the TROLL very, very angry. He is running at you with his rusty sword. Thick red saliva is drooling from his lips. This is not a happy TROLL! What do you want to do?  Never mind. You’re dead.”

Doesn’t get any better than that.

Tim says: I accidentally trashed the dozen or so comments for this post. My bad.

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Wild, Wild Planet

MOVIE SHOTS

Preview writers and the folks who create newspaper headlines have always fascinated me. So much to say and so few characters in which to say it. With this in mind, one of my pastimes is reading on-screen television movie guide synopses on the preview channel. Here’s a recent one for the 1965 movie, “Wild, Wild Planet”, starring Tony Russel, Lisa Gastoni, and Massimo Serato that really cracked me up:

“A space cowboy saves planetary leaders from an alien shrinker’s army of inflatable females.”

How could anyone pass up a come-on like that?

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Effect # 1

Most special effects in many of today’s movies have become so commonplace that they have ceased to be special at all. I mean, seriously—how many explosions with flailing bodies launched into the foreground, how many cars overturning from half-concealed ramps, how many running folks catching fire, how many helicopters crashing into mountain sides, how many gush-popping bullet wounds and bullet holes whose ricochets throw sparks even while striking trees (or other organic matter) can an audience possibly digest?

I suspect that contemporary movie producers, screen writers, directors, and stunt people are so familiar with every canned special effect that they refer to them universally by numbers.

Director: “Okay, listen up. First off we’ll pan down from effect #33 into effect #12. Makeup: go light on the blood until effect #27 has had time to register.”

Producer: “Hang on there for a minute. If we substitute effect #88 and effect #50 for effect #33 instead, we can throw in an extra effect #41 or possibly two back-to-back effect # 6s and save investors a little money.”

Writer: “Yeah, but I was saving those two number 6s for the scene where the jealous boyfriend, having just survived effect #73 (minus his ear, or course) was falling over the cliff right after effect #9 catapulted him right off the edge.”

Sigh. If the Movie Guild would simply publish this Official Special Effects List shorthand and distribute it at the theater, think of the money they could save in production by just plugging the effect number text right into the blank movie scene.

Last week I re-watched the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Psycho”. It was chillingly refreshing not to have witnessed the famous shower scene the way it most certainly would have been graphically depicted today. More and more I find myself turning to the older cinemas of yesteryear. You remember them — the movies where special effect #1 was a bold pioneering force called CREATIVITY.

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Just another burned-out cinder.

I watched “The Day the Earth Stood Still” 2008 movie remake on pay-for-view the other night and was so disappointed I almost deleted it halfway through the viewing. The movie was filled with (spectacular) special effects and little else, not the least of which was any semblance whatsoever to the original movie’s storyline plot, to which I attribute a true “Classic” rating. I gotta tell you I have a real problem when arrogant Hollywood producers, directors, and money managers decide to remake any movie classic: Hell, let them earn their own movie classic status the old fashioned way!

Having said that, a lot of folks I know didn’t care for the original movie, either. What I liked about the original 1951 movie was its simplicity, a straight forwardness ultimately delivered to an uneasy, Cold-War-era nuclear-paranoid audience in the closing scene: “It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”

The original 1951 “The Day the Earth Stood Still” movie was based on a short story, Farewell to the Master“, by mostly unknown writer Harry Bates, published in the October 1940 issue of Astounding Magazine.

I must point out that although the storylines in both of the two movie versions of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are different than the “Farewell to the Master” short story, I did not like the recent 2008 “The Day the Earth Stood Still” remake one iota. It was a pompous and arrogant production from the get go, crammed with special effects designed to be overbearing in an attempt to make up for an otherwise terrible movie plot. I usually enjoy watching lead actor, Keanu Reeves, but his lackluster performance in this classic 1951 movie remake did little to enhance the movie.

It was not worth the $4.99 Pay-for-View fee, popcorn or not.

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“Take off on a thrilling flight across America, a journey that allows you to leave yourself, and your travel organizer, at home. Shot entirely in high definition, this series offers rare glimpses of some of our nation’s most treasured landmarks, all seen from breathtaking heights.”

That’s what the Smithsonian Channel web site has to say about their captivating series, “Aerial America”. I began watching it a couple months ago, and I have to admit: I’m hooked.

“Aerial America” is a series of hour-long, mini-documentaries, enriched from beginning to end with exquisite nonstop aerial views which spotlight — state by state — America’s incredible geographic diversity and beauty from an aerial perspective; taken from a slow-moving, rock-steady helicopter, the production value is everything you’d expect from the Smithsonian Channel — and more. Several episodes have already been produced, and many more are in the works.

Packed with interesting — and often little-known — state histories and trivia, “Aerial America” is an incredible snapshot of America at it’s best. Watch it if you can, but look out: it’s addicting.

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“Open Water”

A movie review. (circa 2004)

Against my better judgment, I purchased the movie “Open Water” on Pay-per-View. Although the movie had received several good reviews, I regretted spending $3.95 from the very first frame. “Based on true events”, is how the movie is plugged. That’s rarely a good sign: most often than not, the true events get diluted with so much fiction and fantasy it’s hard separating which is which. According to the Open Water website, a Newsweek review describes the movie as “… a 79 minute triple-dog-dare”. Which is true, I suppose, if you remove the words triple and dare. . .

While vacationing on a Caribbean island, a stressed-out, marriage-challenged, yuppie couple signs up for a half-day dive-boat excursion. Somehow or another an inattentive crew member miscounts the number of divers exiting the water at the conclusion of the dive, and — bingo! The boat weighs anchor, the propeller goes ‘round and ‘round, and sure enough, our submerged yuppies get left behind in vast, shark-infested open water. One of the few positive notes about this movie are what’s missing: gory shark bites, blood trailing in the water, gnashing teeth,  a daring rescue. There were even a few moments of brilliant editing. But mostly, scenes were designed to keep us guessing in a murky psychological haze, forcing our minds to tread water while filling in events that were perhaps too costly to film.

Open Water is one of those movies where the credits — unlike the sharks — suddenly appear on the screen and bite you. I replayed the last Open Water scene several times.  “Was that the ending?” I wondered.  “What just happened? Did I miss something?”

Unfortunately, the only thing I had missed was 79 minutes of my time and a triple-dog-dare.

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Tim says: A couple years ago I tried watching this movie a second time, but I ended up switching channels about a quarter-way through.

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