Tech Review: Google Play

Google-Play-LogoThis tech review is going to be just a little bit different from prior ones (and not just because it’s actually current; I think at least half of the old ones are for software that has since stopped existing). Most of the previous reviews have been for a specific piece of software; today, I’m looking at a somewhat broader platform.

“Play” is Google’s attempt to corner the market on digital media, or at least to have a healthy share of it along with Amazon and Apple. With Google Play, one can buy news magazines, movies, music, e-books, or Android apps. As I do not have an Android, and have little interest in trying out the magazines, I shall be focusing on movies, music and books.

On none of those three categories can I recommend Google Play. Continue reading

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Movie Microscope: Drop Dead Fred

Drop Dead Fred PosterThere are a lot of reasons why a film may become a cult classic, but it’s always easy to spot one. Find a title that isn’t talked about often, particularly not among critics or awards shows or all time sales charts. Then ask around about it. If nine out of ten people give you a blank stare and the tenth says “Oh my gosh, I love that movie!”, you’ve found one. Something about cult classics means their reception is always split between a small group of people who disliked it, a slightly larger group of people who loved it — almost never merely liking it — and a vast group of people who have never heard of it.

Sometimes the blame can be put down to a disconnect between professional critics and the viewers. If the critics don’t like it, it can reflect poorly on the box office, which leads it down the path to obscurity. This may be what happened to Drop Dead Fred. A box-office bomb, it was critically blasted… but those who remember it generally remember it positively, especially those who were young when it was released in 1991. The cause of such a disconnect isn’t always clear, but here it may be that the blame lies with its title character, played by Rik Mayall. Continue reading

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers 2 PosterThe bigger the sequel is, the harder it is to pull off. Avengers: Age of Ultron is arguably a sequel to multiple different movies at once, and its direct predecessor, The Avengers, was a massive success — so the bar was set fairly high for it. I’ve seen some criticism of it here and there suggesting that it didn’t live up to it, which suggests that perhaps expectations were simply set too high.

It’s not the home-run that the previous Avengers film is. But it’s still a pretty solid hit. Continue reading

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Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted PosterBeing “meta” — originally “meta-textual”, openly discussing the medium of a work within the work itself — is in right now. Has been for a few years; it’s an era in which self-awareness, irony, and talking back to the audience are at least as normal as a straightforward sitcom or movie. The Office and Parks and Recreation both relied on a “mockumentary” style, with the premise of their characters being filmed by a documentary crew as they go about their business; this is also the premise that will be used for ABC’s upcoming Muppets TV series.

But the Muppets have always been meta, always self-aware. In The Great Muppet Caper they sang about how they were starring in another movie. Earlier, in The Muppet Movie, they relied on the script to tell them where to go. Before that, The Muppet Show itself was a show… about putting on a show. And even the pre-Muppet Show TV specials leaned heavily on the fourth wall; the Sex and Violence special had Nigel (later relegated to conducting the house band) struggling to keep the show organized just as Kermit later would. The Muppets Valentine Special, the very first non-Sesame Street outing of the Muppets as a group, had a struggling writer character named Wally who types out the scenes just before they happen. Talking about the show — always with a degree of self-deprecation — is an inherent part of a Muppets production. Continue reading

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Dreamscape PosterThe poster looks like something out of Indiana Jones. As Dreamscape was released in 1984, in the middle of the Indy era and the same year as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, perhaps it’s not surprising that the producers of the film decided to try and catch some of that enthusiasm. On the other hand, it is a little surprising considering the film has very little in common with that franchise. This isn’t an homage to 1930s-1950s pulp action heroes, it’s a science-fiction film about adventures in the mind. The poster even prominently features a “kid sidekick”; the kid in question has about ten minutes of screen time, though they do contribute one of the film’s most memorable moments. It’s definitely a stretch to ride the coattails of a more successful film.

On the other hand, the movie does feature Kate Capshaw as the love interest, so it does have that in common with Temple of Doom. She’s not as screamy here. Continue reading

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Hobbit 2 PosterOne of my chief concerns with The Hobbit being expanded into three films from one book was whether or not the movies would feel padded, or if they would drag at any point. With the second film, I think it’s safe to say that they certainly feel long, but I can’t say I have any major complaints about the added content thus far. In fact, I would say the padding was less obvious here than in the first movie — and is greatly helped by the company of dwarfs-plus-two making significant progress in their quest.

Narrative progress is always helpful in an epic story. Continue reading

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

Xmen DOFP PosterI pity anybody who likes to be overly precise with their terminology on franchises. Sequels following after, prequels being made after but telling a story that come before… and then there’s a film like X-Men: Days of Future Past. Based roughly on the comic book storyline of the same name, it’s a movie with a bit of time travel, taking place both long after the original X-Men trilogy, and shortly after the X-Men: First Class prequel, merging both the casts and the storylines. Both Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy play Professor X, and both Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender play Magneto. And Hugh Jackman plays Wolverine in both eras.

The film marks Bryan Singer’s return to directing the franchise, and like X-Men and X2, it’s a solidly entertaining film. Continue reading

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