The Clumsy Stormtrooper

Home again after a 40-day work trip abroad, my lovely wife took the day off for my first day back, to start a wonderful long weekend to reacquaint. And what did she suggest? “We should watch ALL of the Star Wars movies to be ready for the opening of the new one”! (My wife is awesome). I’m no fanatic, but I know my Star Wars pretty well. I know that Han shot first. I’ve heard the Wilhelm Scream in there. I’ve had lengthy debates with friends about whether Luke ever returned to Dagobah to complete his Jedi training after ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. I’ve even followed recent debates about whether the destruction of Alderaan was justified. I can still quote lines from the original like it’s memorized, and I often do. So, not a fanatic, but still I think, Star Wars savvy.

So tonight we mix our drinks, make our popcorn, and settle in to watch the original Star Wars, Episode IV, A New Hope. We addressed the question of the proper order (release order, sequence order) and she doesn’t know it yet, but I think we’ll try the Machete order, but I digress.

The point is, I’ve seen this movie about a thousand times, but there’s always something new. Tonight, I think for the first time, I spotted this; while Han, Chewie and Luke are off on the Death Star detention level, stuck in a trash compactor, C-3PO and R2-D2 are barricaded in a control room that Stormtroopers are breaking into. Watch closely the Stormtrooper on the right, as they enter the control room.

Wow! How did I miss that before? Curious, I turn to Google, and not surprisingly, I find I’m about the last one to notice. The YouTube video I’ve embedded here has been viewed almost five million times. And this article in the Star Wars Wookiepedia explains the history of the head bump, and reveals that George Lucas added a sound effect in the 2004 DVD release to actually point out the gaffe, and I guess to remind us that Stormtroopers are human too.

Anyway, we’re looking forward to the next installment that we hope to catch over the holidays, and we hope to hear a Wilhelm Scream and to see a good head bump or two.

“I Am Legend” and The Cubs

So here we are, just three days from baseball season (good god, what has become of me), and I’m watching my new DVD “I Am Legend” for the second time. As a teen I worked in movie theaters, and in college I worked as a movie theater projectionist, and so I got in the habit of seeing movies that I like multiple times. I guess that may explain why I enjoy collecting DVD, particularly for the special features they offer, as well as for the minor details that are easily missed in the first viewing of any movie.

So tonight I’m watching “I Am Legend” for the second time, and it begins with the sound of a sports radio program where the hosts are discussing the coming baseball season, and they predict a Chicago Cubs vs. New York Yankees World Series. And of course, I’m not spoiling anything to let you know that shortly after every person on the planet either dies or turns into a vampire that preys on the few remaining survivors. They don’t say how many Chicago Cubs survive, or if the Vampires continue to play baseball (only night games?), but it rather looks like a prediction of a Cubs World Series win is in fact a portent of the end of the world.

So the season starts on Monday. And it’s been 100 years since the Cubs last win, which provides a very poetic opportunity to end the drought, don’t you think? Let’s just hope the end of the world Vampire virus doesn’t strike until AFTER the Cubs end their century long series drought.

Netflix vs. On Demand

Netflix.jpgAs a new customer of FiOS TV, and also the owner of an Apple TV, I now have new options available to me in the home entertainment arena, particularly with being able to rent and view a movie on demand.

I have been a customer of Netflix since 2000, and I have rented X movies from them in that time. I don’t think I’ve set foot in a movie rental store since, and the recent closure of my nearest store, I know that in my case, it is Netflix holding the smoking gun that killed them.

So the question is, will my new On Demand options from FiOS and Apple return the favor, and do to Netflix what Netflix did to the bricks and mortar video store? An investigation was warranted.

My first question is one of selection. Which service will provide me the greatest number of titles to choose from? Netflix’s web site proclaims that they have “more than 90,000 DVD titles”, while FiOS and Apple can only weakly claim “over 1,000”. Advantage: Netflix

Next comes convenience. Traveling to a video store is less convenient than browsing the web to select a movie to watch. I find that my new rentals arrive from Netflix within a day after having a new spot open on my list, and having a rental queue always loaded means not even having to think much about what’s coming next. Something I put in the queue will come next. But it’s hard to compete with ‘right now’ for impulse movie watching. Advantage: On Demand

Finally, and most importantly, there’s costs. I am currently on the $18/month Netflix plan, which allows me to have three movies at home at a time, and to keep them for an unlimited amount of time. Prices for on demand rentals from FiOS and Apple range between $2.99 and $4.99 depending on the movie (new releases cost more), and quality (HD movies cost more). In each case, you have 24 hours to watch the movie you’ve rented. Using $3.99 as the average on demand rental cost, five movies would cost me about $20. But a review of my rental history over the last year from Netflix shows me I’m renting an average of seven movies a month. That’s math easy enough even for me; 7 movies from Netflix for $17, or 7 movies on Demand for something between $21 and $35. Advantage: Netflix

So there you have it. I’m sure variables will change with competition for my rental dollars, changes in technology, and other changes. And I’m sure that from time to time the appeal of renting a movie on impulse for immediate viewing will lead me to do an on demand rental. But for my regular rentals, I’m sticking with Netflix.

New Movie Tradition

V_for_Vendetta_mask.jpgSo today I thought about Guy Fawkes

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,

The gunpowder, treason and plot,

I know of no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.”

 

I honestly know little of Guy Fawkes, but when I got home I was happy to find my kids already watching V for Vendetta, and I settled in to watch it with them. It was a good movie to watch on an Election Eve. I’m guessing we’ve got a new annual movie tradition to watch on November 5th.

It will join another annual November must watch movie, which is of course, Planes, Trains & Automobiles on Thanksgiving Eve.

Star Wars

Star Wars PosterI am your father
Darth Vader

I took the family to see Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith yesterday. It was great! Consider the challenge of making a movie for which anyone who knows anything about Star Wars already knows how this one will end; Anakin will turn to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader, and his newborn twins, Luke and Leia, will be sent into hiding for their protection. No spoilers there. But even with such pre-knowledge, many other questions are answered, particularly ‘How did Darth and the Emperor each get so messed up?’.

I was twelve years old in 1977, and I remember waiting in a long line at the movie theater with my family to see the original Star Wars. I even had a Star Wars poster in my room. So it was a bit of a trip yesterday, to find myself with my own family (including my 12-year old son), going to see the sixth installment of this series. No ticket lines this time, we bought ours in advance on the Internet.

for further reading:

Star Wars
Wikipedia

Star Wars Through the Years
NPR

Revenge of the Sith Insiders Guide
The Washington Post

It’s A Wonderful Life, or Not…

It was an accidental juxtaposition of movies on the Casey DVD player tonight, two movies of different times, with utterly different messages. And it requires a dual-review. Spoilers within, so deal with that if you haven’t seen one or either of these movies; It’s A Wonderful Life and The Butterfly Effect.

And I’d find it hard to believe if you haven’t seen the first one. Since this film no longer plays around the clock in December as it once did, I do feel a responsibility to provide at least once annual force-feeding of George Bailey’s life-affirming adventure. And so, against the moans of my children, I insisted on starting with ‘It’s A Wonderful Life‘, Frank Capra’s holiday classic.

The story needs no re-telling here (if you really need a recap, try this 30-second version with bunnies). Suffice to say that George’s life doesn’t turn out the way he had planned, and despite having a beautiful wife, great kids, and many friends, he hits a low-point where his attempt at suicide is prevented by a guardian angel. Still convinced that everyone would be better off if he had never been born, George’s angel grants his wish, and introduces him to the people and places in his life as they would be if he had never existed. And of course, everyone and everything is worse off without George (although Pottersville looks like a fun town to me). George has an epiphany, begs his angel to take him back, and we have a happy ending with neighbors emptying their pockets, Clarence getting his wings, and some wine and Auld Lang Syne. The End.

The Butterfly Effect was one I added to my Netflix queue based on the preview. It looked like a nice horror/sci-fi/time travel type of thing, and I generally like that sort of stuff. In the movie, Evan Treborn is a young man with some issues. His father is in the nuthouse, and Evan has a bad habit of blacking out and missing critical events in his own life and the lives of his friends. On his doctors advice, he begins to keep journals, writing down his daily activities and thoughts in order to have a reference to check against when he later forgets what’s going on around him. He’s got some good reason to black stuff out; a crazy dad, pedophile neighbor, sadistic friends and a prank gone horribly bad. But only years later, when in college Evan is studying how memories work, does he discover a unique talent. By re-reading his own journals, Evan can project himself into the past. Once there, he can act to change events, and then come forward again to live with the end result of the change he has made.

Evan learns that his attempts to change history often bring unintended consequences, and repeat visits to the past to try and fix things again and again typically only make things worse. As he continues, you start to wonder if he’s really traveling through time, or if he’s just crazy like his father and all of this is in his own head. Ultimately, he decides that all of the problems in his friends lives are his own fault, and so Evan goes back one last time for an interesting final solution. I guess his guardian angel was on a coffee break or something.

I should note that we were watching the Director’s Cut, and not the Theatrical version. A posting on the IMDB message boards says that the version that played in theatres had a happy ending (it was supposedly on the flip side of the DVD disc, but our player wouldn’t cooperate in playing it). But I can tell you, the Director’s cut does not. It was my wife Jennifer who pointed out that The Butterfly Effect was essentially an exact opposite of It’s A Wonderful Life, in that unlike George Bailey, Evan finds that they only way he can make everything turn out well for his family and friends is to take himself completely out of the picture.

I guess it’s a common question for any of us. Is the world a better place with me in it? Am I having a positive or negative impact on my loved ones? Would my home town become a Pottersville without me living in it? We’ll never know the answers, but the questions themselves can help us strive to be more like George than Evan.

Thanks to Eric for sharing the Bunny version of It’s a Wonderful Life

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