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The Claymation Christmas Special is the best Christmas special ever made – hands down.

The Idealist vs. The Realist

December 5, 2013 7:20pm
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How do I not remember this great bit of dialog from MacKenzie from the very first episode of The Newsroom?! Usually Will gets all of the best dialog, but she really nailed it with this scene.

So I learned something last night about 3D TVs … basically, they don’t suck as much as I thought they did.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think that 3D itself is a gimmick that adds very little to the experience and I have no desire to sit and wear 3D glasses in my own living room, but I did dispel a misunderstanding that I’ve had about the picture quality for the last year that makes me feel a little more comfortable about the next TV that we buy being of 3D nature…

…even though technically the problem that I was experiencing apparently was completely unrelated to 3D…

😳

It all started last fall when we were up in New York for my wife’s Grandma’s funeral. Her parents had recently bought a new 3D TV, and while everyone else was gushing and raving over it, I couldn’t help but think that something didn’t seem right. In fact, there were shows that I flat out couldn’t bring myself to watch because the actors on screen had this extra depth to them that made whatever we were watching look more like a live recording than a feature presentation. I tried to watch some of the shows that I had been watching on HBO at the time, everything just looked really fake and terrible.

At the time I chalked it up to 3D sucks and thus vowed that I never wanted to get a 3D TV myself because of it, when in reality it didn’t even click until a year later that the 3D hadn’t even actually been on.

Something finally drove me to dig into this a little deeper last night when my sister-in-law’s new TV showed up and we set it up in the living room to substitute for our old TV until she moves out. For her and my wife, 3D is a big deal, so after getting everything hooked up, we threw a copy of the new Superman into her 3D Blu-Ray player to check everything out in full effect. And it started happening again … all of the amazing space backgrounds looked fantastic, but the actors themselves literally looked like they were performing a stage adaptation of Superman instead of the film that we saw in the theaters earlier this year!

We pretty much watched until Baby Superman landed on Earth and then everyone went to bed … well, they went to bed while stayed up in search of answers because after spending over an hour in the store with her looking at TVs, I thought that the one she settled on was a pretty damn nice TV! There had to be something else that was going on that could make a $2,000 1080p LED look like crap…

…and it turns out there was, and on Samsung TVs, it goes by the name of Auto Motion Plus.

From what I understand, what it basically does is fill in the gaps for lower frame rate videos to bump them from 24 fps up to 30 fps, which doesn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal. In fact, when you watch live broadcasts like sports it looks pretty good, but for anything done in an actual studio, the “enhanced frame rate” makes the latest action blockbuster from Marvel look like it was shot with a Handycam on a badly lit sound stage. Here I thought when the specs listed the TV as having a dual-core processor, I just assumed that it was for the new web interfaces and apps that are being bundled with TVs these days, but in fact, the processor is actually being used for video processing – in this case, generating that extra 6 fps on the fly to “improve” the frame rate for a clearer picture.

Online I found a lot of people referring to it as the Soap Opera Effectwhich now that I’ve heard the name is exactly what it looks like, whether we’re talking about a re-run of Seinfeld or Thor or pretty much anything else with actual people in it! I tried to take a couple of photos, but I don’t really think that they do the issue justice.

First, before – with Auto Motion Plus set to standard:

tv_before

And now with it turned off: (P.S. I hate how yellow that particular scene is, but I think you still get the point…)

tv_after

It’s obviously a lot more dramatic on the actual TV itself, but you can even see in the comparison photos how Thor looks a lot more sharp and shiny in the first one … and maybe that looks great to some, but to me it absolutely ruins the aesthetic of the picture. Thankfully when turning the feature off, though, the problem seems to pretty much disappear…

tv_menu

I did experiment with the other settings first to see if there was a suitable compromise, and Clear wasn’t too bad, but it still popped a little compared to turning it off completely. Turning it off completely delivered the actual HD picture that I was expecting – it looks very nice and is certainly a step up from our increasingly old, 52″ rear projection TV, but more importantly, now the picture is actually watchable … at least in my eyes! 😉

And I guess that’s the weird thing – I still need to show her how to switch it back and forth because neither of them claim to actually be able to see a difference … though admittedly my wife somehow didn’t notice the difference between SD and HD for the longest time, either.  🙄 Considering that my sister-in-law is a football fan, she might find that she actually likes that setting for watching sports – I saw some posts from last year about people watching the Olympics and they said that it looked fantastic with the higher frame rate … which would kind of make sense because it sounds like both NFL and the most recent Olympic games have actually been shot at 30 fps, whereas most movies and standard TV use 24 fps.

You may recall last year there was a bit of complaint about The Hobbit being released in both 24 fps and 48 fps formats, being the first of its kind to do so. Here’s an interesting article that does a pretty good job of explaining why the higher frame rates for that movie especially, and I would argue even here in general, make the picture look weird … essentially because as frame rates increase, you’re getting closer to the actual frame rate that your own eyes can tell the difference between … hence it looks like Thor is performing a play on public television rather than living it up in the realm of Asgard!

One thing that I did note on her TV that I found interesting was that while you can set custom picture settings for each input (i.e. cable, DVD player, XBox), what you can’t do is set different picture settings for individual channels inside those inputs … and admittedly I’m not quite sure how they would even do that, but I can see it potentially being an issue where you might say, “I want to use Auto Motion Plus for Discovery and The NFL Network and Lifetime for when I watch my stories, but not for HBO and Shotime and pretty much everything else.”

I can see that being an issue for some people because most probably don’t even realize that the setting exists in the first place … I would guess that most simply believe that this is just what TV looks like now, so it must be better! As that article mentions, we’ve already seen it with aspect ratios and even before then, with people still viewing SD channels on their HD TVs (huge pet peeve of mine – why can the cable company not remove those from the guide altogether when there’s an HD equivalent instead of just putting a small ‘watch this in HD’ button on the screen?!).

Anyways, for the few and the annoyed who both can’t stand this and want to do something about it, there you go! Turn off Auto Motion Plus or whatever your TV manufacturer calls it, and enjoy your brand new, sparkling, ultra-slim, high definition TV at a normal frame rate the way that god intended.

Who would’ve thought that we’d get to a point where TVs are too crisp and clear?!  😕

The Hobbit Couch Gag on The Simpsons…

October 30, 2013 3:01pm
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This is pretty great! I don’t know which is better – Moe as Gollum or Mr. Burns as Smaug…

Remember this old classic from Freddie? Sadly, he hasn’t posted anything new in over a year … according to his website, he’s actively working on a new album that should be due out sometime soon, so keep your eyes peeled and your fingers crossed for that! 😉

The Gobots (duh dun dun dun dun dun DUH!)

October 18, 2013 9:42pm
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I grew up as a Gobots kid.

At the time I honestly didn’t really think much of Transformers – I think Gobots were just what I ended up with because that’s what they had on the shelves in the toy aisle of our local grocery store, so that’s where my allowance and whatnot went when I had money to spend. In hindsight, it’s clear that one is pretty much a direct rip-off of the other … even though technically my beloved Gobots actually came out a few months before the stupid Transformers did!  😛

Anyways, I bring this up tonight because whenever these alien robots wander back into my head from my childhood, I’m always reminded of one particular series of episodes that I’ve never been able to find online … until tonight. It’s a five-episode arc called The Gobotron Saga that featured the original creator of the Gobots, The Last Engineer, being sought out to save the Guardians from an evil Renegade invasion. The very last part in the series (5 of 5) features him showing off the new power suits that he created to give the Guardians the upper hand against their enemies which were totally awesome … and yes, I absolutely had every last one of them to complete the set…

…although it’s really hard not to look at the final “Power Warrior” that is formed and not think that it’s just a blatant rip-off of Voltron…  🙄

I also found it somewhat intriguing to look through the actual cast of the show and come to realize that several of the voice actors were actually involved in a lot of the cartoons that I used to watch growing up!

  • B.J. Ward, who was the voice of Small Foot on Gobots, was also Princess Allura and Haggar on Voltron as well as did voices on The Chipmunks and Darkwing Duck.
  • Frank Welkerwho was the voice of Scooter, also did Dr. Claw on Inspector Gadget, ironically Megatron and others on The Transformers, and all sorts of voices from Muppet Babies, Tiny Toon Adventures, not to mention Nibbler on Futurama today!
  • Arthur Burghardtwho was Turbo on Gobots, also appeared on The Transformers, The Chipmunks, and G.I. Joe (a lot of these folks did G.I. Joe – I just never watched that one).
  • And probably most notable of all, Optimus Prime himself, Peter Cullenalso appeared on Gobots as several of the Renegades in addition to narrating Voltron and doing voices for The Chipmunks, Ghostbusters, DuckTales, BraveStarr, Winnie the Pooh, Rescue Rangers, Gummi Bears … the list goes on!

Anyways, here’s the full miniseries – all 100 minutes of it across five parts! I tried to track down another one that I liked as well – it was actually a miniseries of the first five episodes of the show, but the only copy I could find was on some really crappy video site that literally played commercials every five minutes and was nearly unwatchable. Rumor has it you can still get that one as a print-on-demand DVD from Hanna-Barbera, so if anyone needs an awesome nostalgic Christmas gift for me this year… 😉

Reality vs. “Reality” TV

October 17, 2013 11:42am
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I’m not really sure why I still have “expectations” for reality TV shows. There aren’t really any that I watch regularly anymore – they’re pretty much a guilty pleasure at best in my life at this point, but for several hours last night for some reason I had stumbled upon South Beach Tow – a show (allegedly) about a towing company out of Miami, and because apparently there was absolutely nothing better on TV to put in the background while I was writing, it stayed fixed on this and I watched probably a dozen episodes before the night was through.

Again, I don’t know why…

So anyways, this morning I was cruising around the InterTubes and I found this video:

In hindsight, I don’t know why this is the least bit shocking to me, considering that the scene was absolutely ridiculous when I was watching it play out during the episode last night. The more I thought about it, I started to realize that these guys must run a terrible tow truck company because they’re constantly getting their keys stolen, or getting caught by the person whose vehicle they’re trying to repo, or getting assaulted! 

Apparently there’s no such thing as a boring day at Tremont Towing.

…feel free to use that one on the house, TruTV… 8)

Yeah, I get that these TV shows have to be edited to show the highlights because otherwise most days at pretty much any job are likely going to be pretty boring. I guess I just wish that more of these shows were actually neat glimpses into a world that we wouldn’t otherwise see as opposed to over-dramatized garbage that’s produced solely because it’s super cheap compared to regular scripted TV. I wouldn’t mind the pawn shop show where most of the time it’s just highlighting the weird stuff that comes in and every once in a while we see the crazy person … because I’m sure that they do get crazy people from time to time, and the same goes for every setting whether we’re exterminating snakes or towing cars or picking through people’s junk piles…

The thing is, if I wanted to watch something that had been completely scripted, I’d just watch regular TV. Except that I can’t. Because your stupid show about a tow truck driver getting forced inside a giant bouncy ball that eventually gets thrown into oncoming traffic is on instead.

Harrumph.

thoughts on The Michael J. Fox Show

October 4, 2013 11:51pm
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MV5BODQ1ODA3MzY1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODY2NzEyMDE@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_[1]So I reluctantly watched the first two episodes of the new Michael J. Fox Show that aired last week. I say reluctantly because although I’ve always been a huge fan of his, I just had a bad feeling that the entire show was going to be exploitative of its star’s Parkinson’s and our desire to see him as his good, old fashioned hilarious self again.

But the thing is, he’s not his good, old-fashioned self that we all fell in love with from Back to the Future and Family Ties and Spin City from decades ago.

And believe me, it pains me to say that because I get that this is a very personal thing for him and it’s been a personal struggle for a long time now, but as I watched his new show, I must admit that I cringed as exactly what I was concerned about unfolded before my very eyes.

I mean, seriously – the first episode’s writing process basically started and ended at “let’s make a show about Michael J. Fox!” Even the name is uninspired! I couldn’t believe what I was watching, as if they were purposefully parodying themselves – a show about a star coming back onto TV after getting Parkinson’s and the network being more excited about the potential ratings than his actual return … it was so blatantly EXACTLY WHAT NBC DID that it didn’t even feel like comedy.

It just felt wrong.

Some of the jokes were funny, but not really funny, to the point where a lot of them felt more like pity laughs than actual enjoyment. It’s probably in the network’s interest that they ordered the entire first season upfront simply because that way they don’t have to be the ones looking bad for pulling it off the air after only a few episodes.

Even the reviews I’ve read are very light handed, as if they feel the need to cut the guy a break after all that he’s been through. And maybe Michael J. Fox does deserve that – the man is no doubt a legend in his own right. If The Michael J. Fox Show is intended to be his gateway back into entertainment* and maybe also help bring awareness for Parkinson’s to the mainstream, then so be it … but the show has to be a lot better than its first two episodes because so far it’s been about 90% pity / 10% comedy … at least for me.

And the sad thing is, I actually think it raises the question of whether we the people can actually handle a “comedy” with his disease at the forefront because if we’re being honest, the majority of us likely tuned in to the premiere episodes out of curiosity, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to keep us coming back. Nobody’s going to watch a 30-minute comedy each week consistently just because they feel bad and they’re nostalgic for the old Michael J. Fox. And I would hope that Michael himself doesn’t want that to be the reason why people are watching, either, but they’ve got a long ways to go to get past all of that because the first two episodes were very lazily “written” and certainly didn’t do him any favors.

I get that the idea was to write Parkinson’s into the show so that his symptoms look natural for the character, just as they’ve apparently done with some of his other guest appearances on shows, but I don’t think that it really works. The laughter feels forced when the jokes are about his disease, and when they’re not actively being addressed by comedy, the symptoms are still there and just make me feel uncomfortable.

Maybe that’s my fault for not being able to look past the disease – I don’t know. For what it’s worth, I could never see the humor in the Retarded Policeman webseries, either, and a lot of people loved that … though it’s still hard to discern why they loved it.

I guess we’ve got 20 more episodes to see if anything changes.

*And for the record, I’ve got to say that I was actually surprised to read over his IMDB page and see that he’s guest starred on a handful of shows over the years since his disease took its turn. Aside from his appearance on Curb, which I totally forgot about, too, I haven’t really seen anything with him except for the occasional interview, which was always really hard for me to watch. I do sincerely hope that this show turns around because he’s still an amazing guy, but I was very not impressed by what I’ve seen so far…

Talking ‘Bout Dexter – the Series and the Finale

September 23, 2013 12:14am
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919YdoOHuHL._SL1500_[1]Regardless of what you actually thought about tonight’s series finale, it’s kind of strange to think that this incredible show – arguably one of the best suspense dramas on television these days – is now over after 8 long years!

This is one that my wife and I have been watching from the very beginning … in fact, we had actually just started dating when this show premiered in the fall of 2006. I don’t recall what actually drew us to tuning in, but it certainly didn’t take long before we were completely hooked. Maybe it was Michael C. Hall himself – I’ve been a big fan of his since Six Feet Under, even though Sara never showed much interest in revisiting that one. Ironically, I guess Dexter ended up being centered around death as well, albeit the other end of the equation this time around…

But boy, did this show have down pat the art of leaving you on the edge of your seat! Maybe not so much in this last season because admittedly the first few episodes for the most part felt a little dry, but some of those earlier seasons were killer … pardon the pun. Never before have I had a show that’s made me exclaim, “Why aren’t we watching this six months from now on DVD?!” more consistently after every episode, and they did a really great job with a lot of the guest stars for each season, too … my favorite, of course, being John Lithgow as Trinity – the storyline that culminated in probably my single-most favorite episode in the entire season.

If I had to rank my top three seasons, they’d probably go:

  1. Season 4 – The Trinity Killer, who ends up killing Rita before Dexter puts an end to his spree
  2. Season 7 – specifically when Dexter is with Hannah before she gets locked up
  3. Season 1 – The Ice Truck Killer, who ends up being Dexter’s biological brother and almost kills Deb

And so as for tonight’s season finale…

*** SPOILERS ***

…I guess I’m kind of torn about it because when we first watched it unfold, I was kind of content up until the fade away with Hannah and Harrison in Argentina, and then we met Lumberjack Dexter and things got a little weird! And I think it was confusing because all of this time, we had been setup with the notion for the finale that this only ends one of two ways for Dexter – either in a body bag or in prison, and so at least *I* didn’t put an ounce of thought into the idea that maybe there were other ways that Dexter could finally “be punished” for his sins, too.

I mean, I kind of had a feeling that Deb would one way or another be a casualty, though I wasn’t really sure how. And I’ve read some complaints about people not liking that Dex took her body out to sea in the same manner that he dealt with all of his other victims, but I suppose for me that was a little symbolic because he did feel responsible for all of the bad that had happened in her life, even if it hadn’t been dealt directly from his knives. So I was ok with that.

Now that fact that he survived the hurricane while his boat did not … a bit far-fetched, but whatever – it’s a TV show about a serial killer who’s eluded his peers at the police dept. for 8 years now! Hurricane survival is the least of my worries!

I guess what I didn’t care for, ultimately, and I have a feeling that many people agree with this sentiment, is the last minute or so where we see Dexter alive and living the life of a lumberjack … somewhere.

I may have missed a clue somewhere that hinted otherwise, but as far as I could tell, we’re to believe that he’s now living a lonely life without Hannah and Harrison, and that’s his punishment for all that he’s done. Kind of rough and unexpected, but again if we all knew that this series had to end with Dexter finally being held accountable for the things that he’s done, isolation as a means to protect the ones that he loves from himself is a pretty harsh reality for our lovable serial killer.

It makes sense, but it doesn’t leave the best taste in your mouth … almost making you wish that somebody had bested him instead.

If it had been me doing the writing, I’d have taken it one of two ways instead…

If we were able to ultimately get to the happy ending, Dexter would open the door to the cabin to find Harrison and Hannah there waiting for him … maybe even for the first time, where Harrison comes running to him and Hannah cries as they lock eyes and the screen fades.

Granted, even I myself would argue that the happy ending is a bit much for this show … as much as I wanted to see Dexter & Hannah live happily ever after … and so instead, here’s a super simple way in my eyes to redeem the existing ending with hardly any changes at all…

Dexter comes home to the cabin after a long day at work and the camera fixates on him to imply that now he’s very much alone. Then Dexter stands up and walks into the other room where we find a kill room has been setup with a new victim waiting for him, and we end on the note that even after faking his own death, Dexter will never truly escape his Dark Passenger.

I don’t know … I guess the ending was a little bittersweet and I would’ve liked to see it go a bit differently, but in reality if I look back to some of those earlier seasons, even then I remember thinking that I couldn’t imagine how long he’d be able to evade anyone who managed to catch onto his trail. I’ve been saying this for eight years now, but it still makes me want to read the book series to see what they did differently … to be completely honest, at one point this season I actually found myself up late one night looking for plot synopses of the books to try and get some insight on what they were going to do with the final season, and everything that I read made it sound like they actually deviated quite a bit from the books for the TV show. Apparently he’s with Rita much longer – she might not even die, and I guess at one point Dexter starts to teach Aster and/or Cody how to kill like he does.

It would be fun to go back and read them now, especially having such an incredible mental picture of Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan to help put a face to the main character … I know how most people always rave over the book compared to the movie, but it’s kind of funny how sometimes seeing a Hollywood face that’s become attached to a role can make the original book itself shine in a whole new light. I know that I was that way after watching Peter Jackson’s telling of The Lord of the Rings, anyways.

All in all Dexter has been a pretty great show, even if it did lose a little steam here in the final season or two … I think after so much chaos, it actually starts to limit your direction a little – I know I personally felt that way with Weeds there at the end. Still, I think this is going to be a fun one to load up on the DVD Player/Magic Streaming Box in 5 or 10 years to revisit the serial acts of one Dexter Morgan … the finale might not have been exactly on the nose, but there was still way too much great TV in the earlier seasons not to give it a replay on down the road when there aren’t any other arguably justifiable serial killers on TV worth watching. 🙂

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My Dexter Series Finale Predictions

September 22, 2013 9:00pm
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Dexter actually lives and escapes to Argentina because all this time we’ve been telling ourselves that the only way this can end is for him to either get killed or caught.

Hannah is revealed to be pregnant with Dexter’s second child.

Deb dies.

Extra Credit: Just before the credits roll, we’re presented with the two words that will segue into the new series to follow the end of Dexter … “Surprise, Motherfucker…”

24a[1]

😯

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