About that Sleepy Hollow season three finale…

SLEEPY HOLLOW: Tom Mison in the“Ragnarok” season finale episode of SLEEPY HOLLOW airing Friday, April 8 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2016 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Tina Rowden/FOX

SLEEPY HOLLOW: Tom Mison in the “Ragnarok” season finale episode of SLEEPY HOLLOW. Cr: Tina Rowden/FOX

FOX’s Sleepy Hollow has been an entertaining diversion for me for three seasons. The show – about a Revolutionary War solider appearing in present day America to battle demons – has filled a niche missing since The X-Files and Fringe went off the air.

Essentially a supernatural police procedural,  I found the historical aspects of the show intriguing. It tickled me to see how the writers worked in American history to explore the idea that the nation’s founding fathers were battling demons and the British during the birth of our nation. And, of course, there was the Headless Horseman.

Tom Mison was excellent in his performance in the role of Ichabod Crane. He and Nicole Beharie (Abigail Mills) had tremendous on-screen chemistry. Even when the writing was sub par, their acting chops carried the show.

Season three has been a bit uneven and audience has dwindled since the first season. The last two episodes of season were a downer. Both contained major character deaths. In the series finale, Mills died, leaving Crane to face new challenges alone. I barely recognized the show from the finale. Too many threads were trying to be resolved in 42 minutes.  Supporting characters barely got a chance to say bye.

It is doubtful that the series will get renewed.  After watching the season 3 finale, that may be for the best.

Imagine if The X-Files killed off Scully?

Still, if Hollow does get renewed I will turn in just to see Mison’s performance and how his character moves forward. For those that have not seen the series, I urge you to give it a shot even though you might be disappointed at the end.

These days, there’s not many supernatural scientific procedurals left. Perhaps I should catch up on Grimm…

2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen. The real big screen.

Original promo for 2001: A Space Odyssey features artwork of Space Station V by artist Robert McCall.

Original promo for 2001: A Space Odyssey features artwork of Space Station V by artist Robert McCall.

Last week I had the rare opportunity to view director Stanley Kubrick’s classic space film in 70mm at the Indiana State Museum’s IMAX theater. The screening was part of IndyFilmFest’s Roving Cinema series. The film played to an at-capacity crowd of mostly film buffs and college students.

Yes, it was an intellectual nerd fest.

2001 (1968) was originally filmed in 70mm, a common film size in the 1950s and 60s. The 70mm “flavor” for Kubrick’s work was Cinerama. You can learn more about the specific format here. This particular print was a restored version struck in 2001.

Most movie theaters today screen films in digital format, even the IMAX theaters. That technology continues to mature, especially with colors and brightness. Analog film and projectors still offer superior image quality, but the technology is expensive and rapidly being replaced.

This print was not a true IMAX-optimized film, just 70mm. Still, the image was 70 feet wide. The film did have some artifacts such as grain and scratches and a few slight audio pops, but overall it was in good shape and played well on the IMAX’s six-story screen.

Director Kubrick was known for his attention to details, and this was clear in the 70mm version. The space station docking and lunar shuttle sequences were especially stunning. With 70mm, it was easier to see the people in the windows of the station and the moon base. Set detail — especially warning labels and company logos — were also more obvious. It was a good display of Kubrick’s world-building skills. One could even read the instructions for the zero gravity toilet on the lunar shuttle.

And seeing the monolith on a six-story screen was pretty intimidating, too.

For me, the greatest strength of 2001 is the craftsmanship. I found the plot thin and slow, but I realize Kubrick wanted to make space travel seem boring and monotonous. I’ve got several books about the film’s making, including the latest from Piers Bizony.

The film – and its under-appreciated sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact — are among my top favorite movies. A small monolith and moon bus model sits atop my DVD collection.

The Indianapolis State Museum IMAX is one of my favorite IMAX theaters. Comfortable seats and often less crowded, there’s little comparison to the “IMAX light” digital theaters in Indianapolis suburbs. Indy IMAX uses the original analog IMAX projectors. The theater is 20 years old. As of Jan. 25, the theater was undergoing renovations to add digital equipment for more screenings of modern films (press release).

Awakening: Thawing out the themes of Buck Rogers

Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.

Opening sequence to Buck Rogers featuring NASA footage of Apollo missions.

Universal Studios originally planned Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as a series of TV movies. After the Battlestar Galactica TV pilot became a hit movie overseas, the studio chose to launch Buck into space with a theatrical version. The movie was successful and made about $21 million in North America, according to Wikipedia. Networks took notice, and soon Buck Rogers made the jump to a weekly TV series on NBC.

To start the series off, the studio fleshed out the theatrical  version into a two-part pilot episode, Awakening. The differences are minor, however, and the same themes are woven throughout both stories.

[Read more…]

Davis on DVD: Buck Rogers In The 25th Century

Nicely done fan wallpaper art from George Spigot's blog captures the essence of the series.

Nicely done fan wallpaper art from George Spigot’s blog captures the essence of the series. More can be found at https://georgespigot.wordpress.com/tag/buck-rogers-in-the-25th-century/.

The year is 1987, and NASA launches the last of America’s deep space probes. In a freak mishap, Ranger 3 and its pilot, Captain William “Buck” Rogers, are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems, and returns Buck Rogers to Earth, 500 years later.

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century is a favorite TV series of my childhood. The show, starring Gil Gerard and Erin Gray, lasted two seasons from 1979-1981.

Fortunately, the series is on DVD. I snagged the complete series a few years ago. Universal has recently released each season separately. Even if you have the original box set, Buck fans may want to buy the second season for a special Easter Egg. More on that in another blog post later.

The series is often dismissed has 70s and 80s kitsch because of wacky costumes, cheesy sets, silly humor, disco music, stunt casting, and scenery-chewing guest stars.

[Read more…]

Album Review: I hear you, Major Tom

Seeking Major Tom

Seeking Major TomWilliam Shatner’s third studio album – Seeking Major Tom – has nowhere near the emotional resonance of his last album Has Been, but it is a fun listen.

The concept album shines with arrangements of space-themed covers, including David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Elton John’s Rocket Man. Adding polish to the album is a slew of guest artists, from Cheryl Crow and Lyle Lovett to Peter Frampton. Shatner can chew the scenery and the microphone, but the musical talent backing him up prevents the album from hitting the Moon with a thud.

Favorite tracks of mine include covers of U2’s In A Little While with Lyle Lovett and Pink Floyd’s Learning to Fly with Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream). The album’s only original track, Struggle, is perhaps the most genuine artistic work in the lineup and packs an emotional wallop.

If not a fan of Shatner or spoken word genre, I’d recommend passing on this launch. Otherwise, strap yourself in for an entertaining ride.

Revisiting World War Z

 

World War Z

World War Z

World War Z (Max Brooks, $9 on Amazon) is one of my favorite books. It was the first book I read after my mother’s death.

You are probably thinking that a zombie horror novel is pretty dark read after such a tragedy, but I found the book to be comforting.

Mass media often depicts zombies in a gore-fest drenched in blood. From The Walking Dead to George Romero’s Living Dead movies, the apocalypse is typically portrayed with a lot of bite and blood, grimness and gore.

Z, on the other hand, examines how humanity copes with a zombie outbreak. The book is woven with the first person narratives of doctors, leaders, military people and other survivors of the crisis. There is not a lot much gore or horror. The main theme of organized civilization banding together to survive a horrific period gave me hope in the immediate days of my own personal loss.

A few weeks ago I downloaded the audio version of World War Z from Audible. It was a highly enjoyable listen during my work commute. The book was not simply read; it was acted by a full cast that included Alan Alda and Mark Hamill. The voices were filled with passion and emotion. The audio version won an Audie award in 2007 and it remains popular with listeners.

If you are a fan of the book, I highly recommend the audio version.

 

 

 

 

Cutting cable? Here’s some advice

Roku 3
Roku 3

Roku 3 is my pick for the best streaming box.

My friend Stephen wrote to me asking recommendations for cutting cable. Based on his description of his family’s viewing habits, he seems to be the ideal candidate. You also might be an ideal candidate. Besides viewing habits, location, services and technology are also considerations when deciding to tell the cable company to take a hike before it gives you a hike.

Viewing habits, of course, are the ultimate factor. If you don’t watch a lot of television, only popular shows and the main networks, you could be a prime candidate to cut the cord. This is especially true if you live in an urban area and can easily receive HDTV signals over the air.

Content services

Hulu Plus ($7.99 a month), Amazon Instant Video (prices vary on ala carte purchases), Netflix (streaming plan is $7.99 a month) are essential. You will find the latest popular TV episodes on Hulu and Amazon. Netflix still have the largest on-demand library, including past seasons of popular shows like Breaking Bad. Spring for Amazon Prime ($79 a year) for access to that company’s instant movie and TV library. Pay attention, though, to the number of devices you can connect and simultaneously stream from each service.

Technology

Popular streaming options are AppleTV, Roku, Xbox, “smart” TVs, internet-connected blu-ray players and TiVo DVRs. Indy Gadgetguy has had them all. I currently favor Roku and AppleTV. The family just acquired a Samsung SmartTV that is impressive. Roku (under $100) has the largest selection of streaming services and a slick interface. I also like my AppleTV ($99) because of the slick interface, movie rentals, and integration with my iTunes media and Apple devices. It lacks Amazon services, though. Bonus: Current Macs can stream to the AppleTV using AirPlay. My top recommendation is Roku.

Recording

The majority of streamers do not have digital video recording capabilities. You will need a TiVo for that. Prices are inexpensive, but there is a $20 monthly fee. The entry Tivo Premier (about $150) can be hooked to an antennae to snag analog and over the air HD signals. It also has Amazon, Netflix and Hulu services built-in. If you want one box to help you cut the cable, this is my top recommendation.

But not for my family

Our own family situation isn’t ideal for cutting cable. My wife is fond of HGTV shows and I like documentaries on The Science Channel. Both have sparse online content offerings, so we subscribe to DirectTV. The monthly bill runs around $170 a month, but that’s a good value for what we get. We’re too far away from Indianapolis to receive HDTV over-the-air signals without a large tower. We also enjoy the superior HD picture quality on our media room’s 120-inch LCD projector screen.

I’ve been impressed with DirecTV’s DVR technology (we have two networked together so we can watch anywhere) and have access to many movie channels. The DirectTV iPad/iPhone apps are especially nice for viewing content at home away from a TV. The sat service’s online web portal is great for finding and scheduling content and additional information in the forums. Nomad – DirectTV’s little box which allows recorded content to be place-shifted – needs more work to make it practical, though.

Conclusion

Still, $170 a month could fund a lot of streaming subscriptions and online movie and TV rentals and purchases.

Gadget guy versus the Google

I recently bought a movie on YouTube from the GoDigital channel. It was the HD version of Atomic Filmmakers. The film was is a part of Peter Kuran’s impressive nuclear testing documentaries that began with Trinity and Beyond.

I settled down to watch the movie with my AppleTV and was irritated to find that one cannot view purchased YouTube videos through the device. Undaunted, I decided to use Airplay to stream the content from one of my Macs. Unfortunately, only my Macbook Air would work and that was charging. I wasn’t able to stream from my iPhone or iPad. I found a solution for my older iMac called AirParrot. This software enabled me to stream audio and video. I was impressed with the simple setup. Streaming quality was superb. The HD picture lost little detail when streaming. There was occasional minor pixelation. Buffering was fast and there were no stalls. AirParrot falls into the recommend category for me.

 

It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage

Raiders of The Lost ArkI took the family to see Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark: The IMAX experience. The film has been digitally remastered for IMAX and is being shown this week only.

The Saturday 4:20 p.m. showtime at the nearest IMAX was not very crowded. That’s probably to be expected for a film from the 1980s. Still, the family was excited to see Raiders on a big, big screen. The movie is one of my favorites. I was curious how IMAX’s Digital Media Remastering process would treat the source material. I generally find the digital IMAX conversions can be hit or miss, especially with digital projection creating muddy blacks and dim colors.

I shouldn’t have worried. According to the New York Times article, the conversion process was supervised by director Steven Spielberg and sound designer Ben Burtt. The film was quite enjoyable in both picture quality and especially sound mixing. Fight scenes had an extra dimension, especially in the Nepal bar and flying wing sequences. Indy’s gun sounded like a canon and bullets whizzed past the audience’s ears. I felt the punches.

Some shots were not as clear, especially in the opening temple sequences. I suspect the original source material was out of focus, and the DMR process attempted to correct for that. For every small flaw, though, the majority of the famous sequences — such as the climatic ending when the Ark is opened — were quite impressive. During the Well of Souls sequence,  I was fascinated by special effects wizard Richard Edlund’s clouds. All of the effects work still holds up. Spielberg made a wise choice not to introduce new effects or alter elements. If only his pal Lucas would pay attention.

The film opened on 9/6 at number 14 at the box office. According to Wikipedia, it has grossed $1,673,731 from 267 theaters ($6,269 theater average) as of 9/11.

All of the Indiana Jones movies will be released on Blu-ray on Sept. 18th. I am looking forward to viewing The Last Crusade in HD.