Friday This ‘n’ That – Cruising!

Last Friday, I talked a bit about how annoying I found microtransactions and the old upcharge. I was glad that Epic finally dropped the ridiculous 3D upcharge and hope that other chains will follow suit. please pardon me but today is just a bit of a gripe session about cruising.

I was on a wonderful cruise with my wife and friends the other week. Microtransactions are ruining the traditional cruise experience. The entire idea of cruises was that you could pay one, admittedly large, price, bring your bags aboard, and everything was taken care of, from wonderfully fancy meals to entertainment to incredible destinations. Between the hefty cruise fee and the casino winnings, cruise ships made a bundle and proliferated.

Unfortunately, greed is both terrible and unavoidable. As cruise lines grew and destinations were snatched up, the industry not only widely expanded their line of shore excursions but began inventing their own beach parties and buying their own private islands. I did not find this disturbing as it meant that I got to see countries off the otherwise beaten path. In this last case, we got to visit Roatan in Honduras and Belize City, Belize.

In their relentless quest to suck every last dollar out of you, the cruise lines introduced specialty restaurants on board ship. You could still eat at the buffet or enjoy fine dining in the main dining room but now you had the ability to pay a $10-$50 per person surcharge to eat at a steakhouse or international restaurant (French, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian, etc.).

In itself, this doesn’t sound like a bad idea. You can pay extra for a premium experience or continue as you were. Sadly, the reality is that as resources were focused on these new money generators, the other food was left to, well, rot I suppose. The buffets rapidly declined to Shoney’s/Denny’s quality food.

This however was nothing compared to the beating that the main dining experience received. First off the main dining experience was lobster, a cruising tradition. It is now a $10-$20 surcharge even in the main dining rooms but also in some of the upscale restaurants, so you pay a surcharge on top of a surcharge. The next to go were decent steaks, especially actual filet mignon. If you could get a really good steak at the main dining room, why would you pay another $30 per person (Norwegian’s Cagney) to get one at the steakhouse? The super fancy desserts are now reserved for the upscale experiences as well.

I had an absolutely wonderful vacation but I have to say that at times it was in spite of Norwegian Cruise Lines instead of because of them. I’m not sure I would ever sail with them again (many many other problems other than what I talk about here) but the other cruise lines have also declined in quality (Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, etc.) because of the specialty restaurants.

/rantmodeoff

Just the Spectre of a Bond Movie

Well, I finally got to see the new Bond movie, Spectre.

Spectre

Spectre (2015) – Rated PG-13

A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.”

I really like Daniel Craig’s Bond. He comes across as a muscle-bound thug, a blunt instrument of policy. Connery is my favorite but Craig’s ruthlessness makes him a close second. The Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan eras verged on parody with their outlandish gadgets and grandiose villains.

Casino Royale was a wonderful reboot of the franchise, bringing Bond back to the basics and packing a real emotional punch. They even included a scene from the book that I doubted would be filmed (ow!). Sadly, they followed this up with a rather lazy cash grab in Quantum of Solace.

Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) was hired to bring Skyfall to the screen. In spite of, or perhaps because of, not being an action director, he knocked it out of the park. Skyfall was not only a wonderful action picture but also a love letter to Connery’s Bond.

The success of Skyfall meant that I had seriously high hopes for the reteaming of Mendes and Craig in Spectre. Toss in one of my favorite character actors (Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds) in the villain role and I was all set.

Daniel Craig as a ruthless James Bond – check!

Attractive ladies for Bond to bed but never wed – check!

Callbacks to the Connery era (not just Spectre itself) – check!

Ridiculously dangerous-looking stunts – check!

Really evil villain – check!

Character who dies immediately after giving crucial information – check!

Requisite fancy car chase through exotic locale – check!

So why was I left underwhelmed? Well, in part it was because much of the movie seemed to be developed from the checklist.

Christoph Waltz is a fantastic actor and was absolutely chilling as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Unfortunately, he isn’t given as much to do here. He is physically unimposing so they felt they had to have an imposing opponent as well. Enter Mr. Hinx (though I don’t remember him being called that) played by WWE giant, Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy).

There is one laughably bad action scene that I would swear was lifted from an Austin Powers movie. A dozen armed villains stand around and shoot everywhere but at Bond while he picks them off one by one.

It is explained that Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) hates guns but she shows she is quite capable with them. One would think, in the interests of self preservation, that she would pick one up off the ground when people are shooting at her but she prefers to hold hands with Bond instead.

There is a fantastic train face-off that is worth the price of admission. Yet, after destroying four train cars, Bond and Madeleine simply go back to their train car and have sex. Huh? For every wonderful scene, there is a head-scratching one.

Bottom line is that Spectre is no Skyfall or Casino Royale but neither is it Quantum of Solace. It is fun but not particularly good. It will also make plenty of money so there will be another one in a few years.

James Bond Week – Hulu

Hulu of course has nowhere near the depth or breadth of the movies available on Netflix. However someone in their programming and procurement office is pretty savvy.

Hulu

At the beginning of the month, just in time for Spectre, Hulu acquired the exclusive rights for a slew of Bond films. Connery is well-represented, with Goldfinger, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds are Forever – even the non-canon Never Say Never Again. Only his first, Dr. No, is not available. Goldfinger and From Russia With Love are justifiable classics. The others are worth watching just for Connery though Never Say Never Again is a very lazy remake of Thunderball.

From Russia With Love

All seven Bond entries from the Moore tongue-in-cheek era are here: The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, Moonraker, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Live and Let Die. Both Dalton’s The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill are available. Heck, they even have George Lazenby’s single outing as Bond, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That one is worth watching for the absolutely radiant Diana Rigg.

The more recent Brosnan and Craig entries are not on Hulu but 16 movies of the franchise is 16 more than Netflix or Amazon Prime have.

Mockingjay Double

Unfortunately I will be missing the Mockingjay double feature but both Hulu and Amazon Prime have The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One streaming in time for the theatrical premiere of Mockingjay Part Two. Netflix has….umm…the not really a satire Starving Games so good luck with that.

Friday This ‘n’ That – FREE 3D & YouTube Red

Epic Theatre Hendersonville

  • Intriguingly, the Epic Theatre chain has dropped their surcharge for 3D movies. I’m not a big fan of 3D movies as I find that in most movies, it serves simply as a distraction. It is supposed to make things more immersive but I find it has the opposite effect. Having said that, it is nice for patrons to have a choice without the exorbitant upcharge. Bravo, Epic!

YouTube Red

  • Borrowing a page from Hulu’s book, YouTube has introduced YouTube Red, their new ad-free service. It is $10 a month unless purchased through ios (ios charges $13). I already pay for Hulu and Netflix as well as receiving Amazon Prime because of my wife’s joy at receiving packages quickly (you can see why I don’t need cable). I can’t see shelling out for this but I can see it being useful for others (my granddaughter really enjoys toy unboxing videos).
  • This does bring up the possibility of a troubling new trend. Start something for free, get people hooked on content, then crowd the site with ads, finally offer to remove the ads if they pay each month to remove them.
  • Which brings us to microtransactions. They were an anomaly until several companies proved that you could make a fortune giving your game away and then making progress nearly impossible without a tiny tiny purchase of some in-game commodity. Now even games that cost $60 will charge you for planned but not yet released expansions, variant costumes, etc.

Spectre

  • Please pardon me as I’m off to see Spectre!

No Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Buy!

I love going to the movies (duh!) but it’s expensive. I try to finesse every FREE ticket offer and discount to keep my costs down and allow me to attend more often.

Spectre

Best Buy currently has an endcap of single James Bond titles for $7.50 each. Each one contains not only a Blu-Ray but also a digital HD copy AND $7 movie money towards Spectre.

The $7 Spectre coupons are also on many of the Bond films at Target. Many Targets also have cheap Bond Collections with digital HD copies (but no Spectre coupons).

I got the Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, and Roger Moore collections from Target, along with Quantum of Solace which had a Spectre ticket. I bought The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill, each with Spectre tickets from Best Buy.

So now I have three tickets for Spectre and all of the canon Bond films on digital HD/UV/Vudu except for George Lazenby’s single turn as Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Wal-Mart and Best Buy (and likely Target as well) have Peanuts movie cash on various children’s features (the Ice Age series, the Garfields, Penguins of Madagascar, Epic, etc) as well as on some DVDs of Peanuts specials.

Lots of Special November Theatrical Showings

November is shaping up to be a good month for movie viewing.

Mockingjay Double

On the 18th, Regal and other chains are showing a Mockingjay double feature. The first feature begins at 4:30. For some reason, my regal (Biltmore Grande) has this listed at a whopping $26.75 as though it were a full marathon and not a double feature. The Carmike in Asheville is playing this for a much more reasonable $15.

Roman Holiday

On the 29th and again on December 2nd (both at 2 and 7), Turner Classic Movies (via Fathom Events) is bringing Roman Holiday back to theaters. This 1953 movie showcases the talents of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

A bored and sheltered princess escapes her guardians and falls in love with an American newsman in Rome.”

Home Alone

Fathom Events and Fox are bringing Home Alone to theaters the 8th and the 11th at 4:30 and 7:30 (except Cinemark theaters where the early showing is 2 instead of 4:30).

Friday This ‘n’ That – Timing is Everything

#firstworldproblems

I love going to the movies. Currently, Friday is my day off and I like to spend the day at the movies. During the summer, things are great as movies start between 10 and 11 in the morning. I can get in three features before meeting my wife for dinner.

Unfortunately it’s not summer so two of the three theaters I frequent, Regal Biltmore Grande and Epic Theatre of Hendersonville, don’t even start their shows until 1 in the afternoon. Ditto the three I don’t go to, Carmike, Beaucatcher, and Asheville Brewing. Only Carolina Cinemas has morning showings, some as early as 11.

This is the absolute nitpickiest of nitpicky complaints.

Regal Cinemas

Biltmore Grande has a rather annoying schedule. The vast majority of their films run on a 1, 4, 7, and 10 rotation (as many theaters do). While this does mean that you can simply show up at the theater prior to one of these times and be pretty sure you’re okay, it really leaves out those of us who like to string together a marathon or even a double feature.

Carolina Cinemas

Again, Carolina Cinemas comes to the rescue. Their movies are scheduled at all different times so, if you know how long a movie is, you can plan a string of movies. This past Friday, for example, I could have gone to Biltmore Grand to go see The Visit at 130 and Crimson Peak at 4. Alternately I could have gone to The Carolina to see Crimson Peak at 1150, Sicario at 205, and Bridge of Spies at 420.

Epic Theatres’ New Classic Movies on the Big Screen Program

Epic Theatres

Epic Theatres is running a nice lineup of classic movies. Unlike the once a month TCM showings through Fandango, Epic is showing their shows every week and at regular ticket price. As is typical with these classic movies, the advertising is not what it could be so catch them when and where you can or they will stop running.

Epic classic showtimes are 2 and 7 on Sunday and Wednesday (much like their TCM counterparts).

Psycho

10/25 & 10/28 – Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

11/01 & 11/04 – Back to the Future (for those who missed the triple feature)

Princess Bride

11/08 & 11/11 – The Princess Bride (my wife’s absolute favorite movie of all time)

11/15 & 11/18 – The Wizard of Oz

11/22 & 11/25 – Spaceballs

11/29 & 12/2 – A Christmas Story

 

Friday This ‘n’ That – Violence in the Cinema Edition

I went to see Sicario the other day and enjoyed myself but there was an incident at the theater.

I actually missed about ten minutes in the middle of the movie as a fist fight broke out. One patron decided the theater was his personal living room and starting using his cellphone, another patron objected verbally, and shortly after, sound effects behind me are echoing what was onscreen.  I got up but several closer people had already separated them so I got management.

The incident was resolved quickly. After the movie finished and people started leaving, management was on hand to give out return passes. My wife was concerned when I told her but for all the talk of cinema violence, I have gone to the movies constantly for over four decades and have seen just this one fight and one drunk and disorderly a few years back.

I am refraining from naming the theater(s) involved as I would not want them to get a reputation over an incident. Violence is obviously unacceptable (on either part of the equation) but also

TURN OFF YOUR PHONE at the movies – everyone else paid for a ticket too. Act like an adult – don’t kick the chair in front of you because you want to put your feet up. Don’t talk during the feature. This is not your living room. If you are incapable of simple human decency, for goodness sakes, stay home.

 

Sicario – Prisoners Part Deux

I spent a wonderful day at the movies last week. Sicario is currently playing in theaters.

Sicario

Sicario (2015) – Rated R

An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by an elected government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.”

I had heard a lot about director Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners before seeing it. I had heard that it was complex, nuanced, and uncompromising among other good things. It was a pretty decent film and he did get several very good performances from his cast but I didn’t really find it hype-worthy. Basically, Villeneuve stepped a little outside of the Hollywood mold but definitely not far enough.

Later, I saw the Israeli film, Big Bad Wolves. It was everything that Prisoners should have been – uncompromising, thrilling, and thought-provoking. It is currently available on instant Netflix so go watch it now, but for goodness sakes turn off your devices and pay attention.

Emily Blunt plays FBI Agent Kate Macer. I loved her as the subversive lead in the generically titled Edge of Tomorrow (a full year before Charlize Theron pulled the same trick in Mad Max Fury Road). To digress for a moment, Edge of Tomorrow is such a generic title that not only did it do poorly at the box office but when it received a home release, they rebranded it as “Live. Die. Repeat.”. To this day, many people think that is the name of the film. After all, it is actually in larger print than the title.

Emily Blunt is just as good here. She has a wonderful ability to project toughness without having it hinder her acting. Josh Brolin plays, well, a Josh Brolin-esque government agent named Matt Graver. He is a good solid actor but lately his parts can pretty much be defined as “Texan…”. He is a Texan mountain climber in Everest. Here he is a mysterious Texan agent. Unfortunately, there is no stretching of his acting abilities.

Benicio del Toro is suitably enigmatic, charming, and menacing as Alejandro. He is another actor who can act quite well but is often cast in roles he can walk through. In Sicario, his character is given a complex backstory BUT since the story isn’t really about him, it is glossed over and mostly delivered, disappointingly, as exposition.

Herein lies the crux of Denis Villeneuve’s issues. He is a director with a lot of good ideas and able to get good performances out of actors BUT he lacks subtlety and nuance. He wants to make sure audiences get it so many things are delivered by expository dump. That said the opening sequence is a stunner. The rest of the film is quite good but definitely by-the-numbers as Agent Macer gradually realizes how in-over-her-head she is and what lengths both sides are willing to take.