Archive for June, 2011

Peter Falk reported dead

June 24, 2011

Peter Falk reported dead

“Just one more thing…”

Peter Falk‘s portrayal of Columbo was a unique television character. With his rumpled raincoat and unimposing presence, he was reminiscent of some literary crime fighters (G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown comes to mind), but TV detectives were supposed to be ruggedly handsome.

The series was also different. We typically saw the crime committed in the opening of the show…we already knew who did it. We watched to see how Columbo would figure it out…how he would catch the bad guy.

It wasn’t with bullets and it wasn’t with fists…it was with brains, and in a special way, with heart.

Columbo was by no means an ivory tower intellectual…he was very down-to-Earth. We didn’t see him pull together arcane facts, or calculate angles…he just stuck to it, and wasn’t distracted by anybody.

The writing was great…but it was Falk who brought Columbo to life.

That wasn’t his only role, of course.

He narrated the geek classic, The Princess Bride. He worked with angels in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire.

He was perhaps oddly cast as a Castro-esque dictator in the original Twilight Zone series.

He worked for Frank Capra (and with Glenn Ford and Bette Davis) in Pocketful of Miracles.

He was also a Sam Spade type detective in the all-star comedy, Murder by Death.

Good-bye, Peter Falk…we’ll never again see you bring up “one more thing”, but your characters and performances will live on.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Pottermore: Harry Potter “online experience unlike any other”

June 23, 2011

Pottermore: Harry Potter “online experience unlike any other”

In this

Jo Rowling announced

this morning (my time, Pacific).

What is it?

Well, it’s going to be Harry Potter e-books, for one thing…those will be out in October for “all major electronic reading devices” exclusively through Pottermore.

It’s going to be audiobooks.

Yes, it will be new information from Rowling, but

“It’s the same story with a few crucial additions: the most important one is you…”

Does this mean an online role-playing game? Certainly a possibility, based on what is being said. They make a big point about making it safe for all ages, so that may limit autonomy…no swearing, I would guess. 🙂

The full launch is in October, but on July 31st, you can see if you can get in early.

I think this could be huge…and it sounds inventive. I’m thinking there are a few surprises in the world of Harry Potter yet.

There is additional information in this

Reuters article

and I’ll cover the e-book part in my

I Love My Kindle blog

UPDATE: More information from the Wall Street Journal. It will be a million early entrants on July 31. You will be able to join a Hogwarts house and play games for points.

WSJ blog entry


HuffPo article

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

Pottermore: the next evolution in Harry Potter

June 19, 2011

Pottermore: the next evolution in Harry Potter

“With a Muggle yell…they cried, more, Pottermore!”

People want more Harry Potter.

The last movie is coming (July 15 in the USA), and is likely to be the biggest international box office hit of the year:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

The e-books seem to be getting closer, with Jo Rowling recently calling the format a “godsend”:

J.K. Rowling: “…there are times when e-books are a Godsend.”

Fan fiction (“fanfic”), not official but allowed by Rowling within certain guidelines, is popular.

However, people really want more official interaction with the characters.

Well, something is coming this Thursday at 3:00 AM Pacific Daylight time.

You can see the announcement on YouTube at that time (and there is a countdown clock on the site) here:

What is it?

That’s not clear yet…it’s not a new book, but according to this

The Telegraph article

“Even though this is not a new book…it is something equally exciting.”

They are paraphrasing fansite

The Leaky Cauldron

which has had a sneak peek.

The two words that The Telegraph left out are important…here is the original quotation:

“Even though this is not a new book, we have been informed it is something equally exciting.”

They’ve been informed that, it’s not the perception of the fans.

Still, they are effusive about it in articles, and it may be something new.

I think it’s even possible that they will sell the e-books directly from there. I don’t think they would do that exclusively and independently. A Kindle, for example, can not read mobi books that have security…and I’m very convinced these would have DRM (Digital Rights Management). What they could do, though, is possibly arrange with Amazon that Rowling gets the first month or some other term to sell the e-books directly from Pottermore exclusively…but in azw (for Kindles), with Amazon getting a cut. They would also offer formats for NOOKS and Sony Readers (EPUB with DRM, for example).

That would be a creative arrangement, certainly. Alternatively, Pottermore eventually sells the e-books as a referrer to Amazon: they would get royalties plus a referral fee. Yes, I think Rowling will work out a big slice of the pie on the e-books, just as a blockbuster movie gets something like 90% of the ticket price at your local theatre.

Pottermore could have an online role-playing game, audio (like audio readings), video (interviews with Rowling?), new short animations, exclusive merchandise…all kinds of things.

It wouldn’t surprise me to have it be something really innovative: it will be fascinating to see. 🙂

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

My take on Super 8

June 11, 2011

My take on Super 8

Super 8 is a new summer movie from producer Stephen Spielberg and director/writer J.J. Abrams.

The campaign for it was not very explicit, which built up expectations as to what unimagined wonders we might see.

Unfortunately, once the movie started, it was largely predictable.


My favorite thing in entertainment is to be surprised, and it’s not easy to do.  This movie didn’t really make an attempt to do that.

Here, let’s play a game.  I’ll list some roles and characteristics, and you match them up:

Role Characteristic
alien brave
lead soldier mean
scientist misunderstood
lead child noble

Okay, let’s use them in a sentence:  “The brave child helped the noble scientist save the misunderstood alien from the mean soldier.”

It can be fine to use cliches…but when you do that, you have to do it really well.  I remember a description of Laurel and Hardy (it might have been from Leonard Maltin) that said it wasn’t what they did that was a surprise, but how perfectly they did it.

This isn’t perfect.

One of the things that was missing in some scenes was Spielberg’s visual humor.  There was a point when things were flying through the air…and we really missed a touch of Spielbergian whimsy.

In fact, the entire movie could have been helped by more humor.  Not irony, particularly, but it often took itself very, very seriously.

Oh, it tried for a few jokes…the Authoritarian Small Town Sheriff telling the Long-Haired Slacker that young people having personal stereos like a Walkman was a “slippery slope”.  By the way, it’s common to look for anachronisms in a period piece like this, and the Walkman was available in 1979, when the movie takes place.  However, while I don’t recall an exact date in the movie, the Distant Father with a Tragedy in his Past was talking about summer camp with the lead child…that suggests it might be before the Walkman was introduced in Japan on July 1st…and later appeared in the US as the Sound-About (I think).  Minor point, though…the key thing is that they brought it in for a joke (although it has some significance beyond that), and it just wasn’t that funny.

On the plus side, the acting is fine.  Elle Fanning (younger sister of Dakota) is an absolute stand-out as the Tough Dream Girl Who is Vulnerable Inside.  She’s the star, really, and has a varied and shaded performance.  Poor Joel Courtney has to spend so much time looking earnest that it’s harder to judge.

I was surprised that the theatre wasn’t even close to full when we saw it, even though it was a weekday.  I’d say the audience was more…young boomers, maybe.  I would have thought it would have been more younger people, even though it is a “period piece”.

The best part of the movie by far was the credits.  🙂  We get to see the Super 8 movie the kids had been making during the movie.  It’s unpretentious and they appear to be having fun.  Now, if the whole movie had been that way, it would have been brilliant.  🙂

What did you think?  Did it engage your sense of wonder?  Will people remember the experience of seeing it a year from now?  Is it unfair to compare it to the best movies, and we should just say it’s a good movie in a year of overblown spectacle?  Oh, and why was the good alien eating somebody?  Feel free to let me know what you think by commenting on this article.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

My Super 8 memories

June 10, 2011

My Super 8 memories

I’m looking forward to  Super 8, the new movie opening tomorrow (produced by Stephen Spielberg and directed and written by J. J. Abrams).

However, it also has me looking backward…backward to my own days as a kid with a Super 8 camera.

No, I didn’t have a fancy one with a pistol grip, like they show in the movie.  Mine was pretty simple…it did have a shutter release, though, so I could take one frame at a time.

That meant we had a lot of fun.  We would shoot pixilation: people moving a bit between each frame.  I remember us shooting a car race, with no cars.  You just sat down, held your hands like you were holding a steering wheel, and scootched forward between each frame:

Click! Scootch! Click! Scootch!

It would take a whole afternoon at the playground to shoot a minute or so of movie.

The reels, by the way, were only three minutes long…so we shot a lot of shorts.  🙂

We even did claymation, playing around with modeling clay.  I remember making a Richard Nixon head (I might not have been the one molding, I can’t remember) and had it turn into a bug (because he bugged his office…heavy social satire, huh?). 😉

We also shot with actual people…I remember an epic that was called The Black and White Ax (I think).

We also took some footage I shot in a class of the teacher, and edited it into scenes of green army men and tanks getting melted…literally by fireworks.   It was as if the teacher was a powerful wizard…take that, Harry Potter!  🙂

Yes, edited…I had an editing machine.  It was a little illuminated screen, and you hand-cranked the movie through it.  That allowed you to snip it exactly where you wanted, so you could literally glue the two pieces of movie together.  We even made silent movie style title cards, to add some dialog (we didn’t have any sound).

My parents were nice enough to let me have a small storage room, like a closet, that I could set up as my film studio.  I remember taping strips of film to the wall, and numbering the tape so I could figure out how to put it together.

Physical film is very different from digital, of course.  One time, a piece of film accidentally folded back on itself, and ran through the projector that way.  That was one of the coolest things ever, because it gave us a superimposition….and it happened to be of a “dead body” over the scene of his killing, as I recall.  I glued it that way to show it to people.  🙂

I also remember trying to do the transporter effect from Star Trek by scratching on a film.

Speaking of scratches, films would get dirty…and that was actually dangerous.  I was working with film cleaner one time…which was really chloroform, as I recall.  You were supposed to use it in a well-ventilated area, but, um…I didn’t.  I was okay…but my dog, who would lay at my feet when I edited, got knocked cold.  She was okay, but I found out later (accurately or not, I don’t know) that chloroform falls to the floor…it’s heavier than air.  So, while I was okay, she was laying in a fog of it.

I say “remember” on a lot of this, because once the projector bulbs died, I had not way to watch them.  I suppose I could find something online nowadays, but that wasn’t an option back then.

We sent some family movies to be converted to DVD for my mother…that wasn’t cheap, but the weirdest thing was getting several of these three minute films back all spliced into one giant reel.  If I’d known that, I’m not sure I would have sent them in: I liked the little plastic reels…and I don’t think that giant reel would have fit on my projector even if I got it running.

Not all the movies we watched were ones we made.  You could also buy Super 8 versions of famous movies.  I remember having The Giant Claw, a really hokey monster movie with this completely unbelievable giant bird puppet.  At least, that’s how I remember it.

Now, of course, you can watch the trailer on YouTube:

The Giant Claw trailer

That’s just not the same, although I’m not going to say it’s not better.

I had a lot of fun with that camera…I don’t expect the movie to match the memory, but it’s going to give it a bit more meaning for me that for those who have grown up in the digital age.

How about you?  Do you have any Super 8 memories? Feel free to comment on this post and let me know.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

James Arness reported dead

June 4, 2011

James Arness reported dead

For twenty years, Gunsmoke was a comforting destination for American television audiences.

While Miss Kitty, Chester (and later Festus) were memorable, it was Marshall Dillon who smoothed out the edges on a rough world.

Even though he was 6′ 6″* tall (without the hat), you never felt intimidated by James Arness‘ lawman.

While most associated with Westerns, Arness also appeared in a couple of classic science fiction movies (and one not so classic one).

In The Thing (from Another World), Arness’ height was an important part of a brief role…as The Thing itself.

In Them!, being 6′ 6″ wasn’t that giant…at least, not compared to the giant ants that Arness’ FBI agent is sent to investigate.

You’ll probably hear about both of those in the mainstream coverage.  Less likely?  Two Lost Worlds, featuring pirates…and dinosaurs.

James Arness’ younger brother acted under the name Peter Graves, and also appeared in a movie with giant insects (Beginning of the End).

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

X-Men: First Class: best reviewed movie of the summer?

June 3, 2011

X-Men: First Class: best reviewed movie of the summer?

Well, not quite, but almost.

MRQE (The Movie Review Query Engine) is one of my go to sources for movie information.

I don’t like spoilers, which means I’ll skip articles about movies I want to see (or carefully skip sections of them) until I’ve seen them.

However, I will check MRQE’s aggregate critics’ rating, particularly if it’s a movie about which I’m not passionate.

Just getting an aggregate number doesn’t tell me anything about the plot or the good parts.  🙂

Yes, it might prejudice me a bit, but it does make me feel more secure when my Significant Other and I are looking for a movie to see.

I have to say, even though I’d seen some positive mentions of the X-Men prequel, I was surprised to see that it got an average critic’s rating of 76.

That’s really good: it’s tied with The Tree of Life for second of the summer movies so far, and only trails Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris by three points.


A prequel/reboot to the X-Men movies, beloved (or at least well-liked) by critics?

That 76 rating ties it with X2 for the best reviewed X-Men movie so far:

Title MRQE
X-Men: The First Class 76
X-2 76
X-Men: The Last Stand 63
X-Men 61
X-Men Origins: Wolverine 54

Let’s take a look at the summer movies by best-reviewed:

Title MRQE Dogro
Midnight in Paris 79 3.46
The Tree of Life 76
X-Men: First Class 76
Kung Fu Panda 74 66.7
Submarine 72
Thor 69 162
Bridesmaids 69 89.3
The Beaver 62 0.6
Hobo w/a Shotgun 57 0.6
Jumping the Broom 55 34.7
Pirates 51 164
Hangover Part II 48 135
Something Borrowed 41 35.2
Priest 40 23.8

I sort of expected an inverse relationship between critics’ reviews and box office…that the biggest box office movies would have the worst reviews. That’s because, you know, it makes you look smarter if you pretend that the average person doesn’t understand things as well as you do. 😉

Certainly, being well-reviewed doesn’t guarantee box office…but it doesn’t sink it, either. Thor is the sixth-best reviewed (69) and the second biggest box office (162m dogro…domestic gross) of the summer.

Fast Five, by the way, released in April, has a 64 rating and dogro of 186.2m.

Here are those same movies by biggest dogro so far:

Title MRQE Dogro
Pirates 51 164
Thor 69 162
Hangover Part II 48 135
Bridesmaids 69 89.3
Kung Fu Panda 74 66.7
Something Borrowed 41 35.2
Jumping the Broom 55 34.7
Priest 40 23.8
Midnight in Paris 79 3.46
The Beaver 62 0.6
Hobo w/a Shotgun 57 0.6
The Tree of Life 76
X-Men: First Class 76
Submarine 72

Just for fun, I combined the numbers:

Title MRQE Dogro Combined
Thor 69 162 231
Pirates 51 164 215
Hangover Part II 48 135 183
Bridesmaids 69 89.3 158.3
Kung Fu Panda 74 66.7 140.7
Jumping the Broom 55 34.7 89.7
Midnight in Paris 79 3.46 82.46
Something Borrowed 41 35.2 76.2
The Tree of Life 76 76
X-Men: First Class 76 76
Submarine 72 72
Priest 40 23.8 63.8
The Beaver 62 0.6 62.6
Hobo w/a Shotgun 57 0.6 57.6

These numbers will obviously change when X-Men: First class has dogro reported (by Monday or so).

Here’s another interesting one…for those of you who think box office means lower quality (I’m not amongst your ranks, by the way).

Title MRQE Dogro Diff
Midnight in Paris 79 3.46 -75.54
The Beaver 62 0.6 -61.4
Hobo w/a Shotgun 57 0.6 -56.4
Jumping the Broom 55 34.7 -20.3
Priest 40 23.8 -16.2
Kung Fu Panda 74 66.7 -7.3
Something Borrowed 41 35.2 -5.8
Bridesmaids 69 89.3 20.3
Hangover Part II 48 135 87
Thor 69 162 93
Pirates 51 164 113

I took out the movies with no box office reported yet.

I subtracted the MRQE rating from the dogro.

There, feel better, movie elitists? 😉

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

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