Goodbye HBO Now

HBO Now

I really enjoyed my trial subscription of HBO Now. Yes, that is past tense. We cut the cord a long time ago so it was really nice to finally get an opportunity to watch Game of Thrones, Last Week with John Oliver, and the rest. Here’s the problem: since we have Netflix and Hulu, the only thing we have time for on HBO is Game of Thrones and John Oliver and for that we pay double what we pay for Netflix, which has essentially an unlimited supply of movies.

Last episode (as I write this, not as you read it), Game of Thrones once again used rape as a lazy plot device. /sigh. Controversy generates numbers and free advertising and polarizes viewers.

I may be in my 50s but I am still a teenage boy at heart. I enjoy the gratuitous nudity in Game of Thrones and elsewhere. I also enjoy Game of Thrones gritty realism in terms of violence.

Enjoying those is somewhat titillating but I don’t enjoy rape scenes at all. Rape should never be trivialized. It is not that the subject is taboo or sacrosanct. Murder may seem a much worse crime than rape but that is not the way I see it. Statistically speaking, you are very unlikely to know someone who was murdered. You absolutely know many people who have been sexually assaulted, even if they don’t discuss it with you.

The most misogynistic part of this is that the character was raped so that Theon can get on with his storyline. The rape of a well-known and somewhat main female character was a catalyst, a plot device to spur a male character on.

With Peter Jackson’s Tolkien series over, Game of Thrones had a monopoly on the fantasy genre but just because you are the only game in town does not mean we have to play along.

So Game of Thrones will no longer be served at court. We will catch clips of John Oliver on YouTube. Goodbye HBO Now. While it is not likely to have any impact in this case, always vote with your dollars. Never support, financially or otherwise, a harmful cause.

Dracula (Should Remain) Untold

I saw Dracula Untold in the theater the other night.

Dracula Untold

 

Dracula Untold (2014) – Rated PG-13

Facing threats to his kingdom and his family, Vlad Tepes makes a deal with dangerous supernatural forces – whilst trying to avoid succumbing to the darkness himself.”

My father was a great man, a hero, so they say. But sometimes the world doesn’t need another hero, sometimes what it needs is a monster.

Once upon a time, Universal decided to reboot its long-storied horror franchises with a film starring a handsome, up and coming actor, featuring a lot of stylized fighting, and heavily utilizing some new-fangled computer generated imagery (or CGI for those of you into acronyms). That monstrosity was Van Helsing. It was a good idea followed by a series of bad choices thereby ruining a potential franchise opportunity.

Did Universal learn from this opportunity? Not really. The reins for Dracula Untold were handed to a first time feature director, Gary Shore. He was given a script written by two first-time writers, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless.

You would think that I would like illogical storylines since I adore fantasy, horror, and science fiction and those things by definition stretch the imagination. I have no problem accepting a ludicrous premise as the basis for a movie. The logic just has to be internally consistent.

I love Dracula. My favorite Dracula is the Christopher Lee Hammer version but this doesn’t stop me from enjoying the charms of Universal’s Bela Lugosi, the sexy Frank Langella version, or even the made-for-television Jack Palance version. There are certainly plenty of good ways to interpret an iconic character.

That said, I did not care for Luke Evans’ interpretation. He delivers his lines well but appears to be suffering from constipation throughout the film. His performance does have some magnetism to it but he comes off poorly in his scenes with Charles Dance.

Charles Dance is not the only Game of Thrones veteran in the cast. Art Parkinson, the quite neglected Rickon Stark (whatever happened to him?), plays Vlad’s son. It is not as thankless a role as Rickon but is still fairly minor with a single good scene. Sarah Gadon plays Vlad’s long-suffering wife, Mirena (sounds like Mina, hmmm).

One of Dracula Untold’s strongpoints is also its downfall. The action remains brisk at a mere hour and a half and no scene outstays its welcome. Unfortunately, with this being an origin story with a lot of required exposition, there is precious little time to develop a proper villain. Still it could be done except that the script basically decides that there should be a plethora of antagonists so none are actually developed.

Charles Dance’s character rules the screen but he can do a lot with a little. Dominic Cooper’s Mehmed is unfortunately a little generic aside from an absolutely ridiculous scene late in the film. No spoilers but we’re shown that Dracula is much faster and much, much stronger than a human yet that appears to not be the case when they meet. Obviously the writers and director thought this scene was very clever but it was more eye-rolling than anything else.

Speaking of eye-rolling, apparently not only are the Turkish soldiers uber-elite but they are capable of free climbing cliffs in FULL ARMOR. Not only does Dracula do this but so do many members of the Turkish army. The Turkish army also has no problem outmarching a group of refugees who have a good headstart on a fairly short trek. The silliness just takes you out of the suspension of disbelief necessary for this film.

While Dracula Untold is not worth your time or money, it is pretty, Charles Dance is great, Luke Evans isn’t bad, and the movie itself is a brisk hour and a half. You could do worse for Halloween. I’m just hoping for better. I’m looking at you Ouija, Horns, and Annabelle.

DragonCon 2014 – Dressing Up

We spent three and a half days at DragonCon and only went to one panel (Filk and Cookies). We spent the majority of our time just watching all the wonderful Cosplayers. Here was some of our cosplay:

Cosplay 1

 

Our dear friend Renee was a steampunk Miss Frizzle from Magic School Bus. My youngest daughter was a stormtrooper 50s housewife. My wonder wife was 1950s housewife Darth Vader.

Cosplay 2

 

Here my wife is lumpy space princess (I was middle-aged Finn – there were a lot of Finns) and my very pregnant daughter was Melisandre from Game of Thrones when she was pregnant with the shadow monster.

Cosplay 3

 

Finally, a candid shot of my daughter as pregnant Daenerys. That was a very long day. I should be back to regular movie blogging tomorrow.

What I Watch

My wife and I have spent the last month trying to catch as many of the Oscar nominees as possible. Normally though our viewing habits are much different. On nights when Jenny and I are watching Dorothy, we watch:

Doctor Who (2005-2011)

“After more than a decade off the air, the epic sci-fi series returns with an all-new look — and the ninth (and beyond) incarnation of everybody’s favorite time-traveling doctor, who promptly sets about fighting nefarious aliens and other foes.”

We have (happily) worked our way through Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant and are just getting started on the latest Doctor, Matt Smith. Both instant Netflix and Amazon Prime have six seasons for streaming. Amazon has the seventh but you have to buy the individual episodes (bleh!).

If our eldest daughter is with us:

Game of Thrones

“In the second season of the epic HBO original series Game of Thrones, kings from across the fictional continent of Westeros vie for the Iron Throne. As winter approaches, the cruel young Joffrey sits upon the Throne in King’s Landing, counseled by his conniving mother Cersei and his uncle Tyrion, who has been appointed the new Hand of the King. But the Lannister hold on power is under assault on many fronts, with two Baratheons donning crowns, and Robb Stark fighting as the King in the North. With tensions and treaties, animosity and alliances, Season Two is a thrilling journey through a riveting and unforgettable landscape. “

Sadly this will not be on any of the services so I have to buy Season 2. Still I enjoy the show so much that I don’t mind shelling out the bucks to own it.

When my fair wife is unavailable, my daughter and I tend to watch scarier fare such as:

The Walking Dead

“In the wake of a zombie apocalypse that desolates the world as we know it, a group of survivors led by police officer Rick Grimes holds on to the hope of humanity by banding together to wage a never-ending fight for their own survival.”

My wife does not like being scared yet horror is my favorite genre. Thank goodness both of my daughters share a love of the genre. The first two seasons are available to watch on instant Netflix. I actually shell out a couple bucks each week to get the current episode of season three. Now if only HBO would release the individual episodes of the upcoming Game of Thrones season three for sale…

It takes a little juggling to satisfy everyone at home. My daughter and I like horror and animated comedy (South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy) but my wife does not like scary shows or raunchy comedy. My wife and daughter like sitcoms and upbeat fare but those are not to my taste. My wife and I like documentaries and British shows (Sherlock, Doctor Who, mysteries) but my daughter hates them.

Finally we all seem to like a good number of ‘R’ rated movies but our three-year-old granddaughter is with us all the time so those are out. I often watch a movie after I’ve put them all to bed.

HBO, Game of Thrones, Coke Adds Life

* I have railed before (and likely will again) about the outrageous price it takes to watch Game of Thrones. I’m not adding cable TV AND a deluxe package AND HBO just to watch a single TV show. I’ll happily watch it on Netflix or another service but it is not available. I’ll happily pay for it by the episode or even rent it on Amazon or Apple but, again, it is not available. For me this means I have to wait until next April or so for Season 2 to become available on DVD/Blu-Ray.

Apparently everyone else though simply pirates it. Gizmodo recently put together two wonderful statistics. 3.8 million people watch Game of Thrones on HBO (Wiki) whereas there are approximately 3.9 million pirated downloads of each episode.

I’m not condoning piracy. Piracy absolutely is theft and the only people who say otherwise are, surprise, thieves but I will say that I understand frustration in this day and age of not being able to watch what you want when you want to. Clearly the numbers show a lot of missed opportunity on HBO’s part.

* HBO’s HBO Go is wonderful but only amounts to a drop in the bucket. Only 1% of HBO official (non-pirated) viewership is from HBO Go. This will gradually increase but not too much as it requires a HBO subscription AND a participating provider. HBO Go just recently became available on the Kindle Fire and is already available on iDevices, Roku, and Xbox 360.

* It’s been reported for a while now that Mayor Bloomberg is trying to ban large sizes of sugary soft drinks (anything over 16 oz) in restaurants and movie theaters in New York. Instead of going into the hypocrisy of a mayor who celebrates National Doughnut Day and attends hot-dog eating contests where the winner downed 68 dogs while decrying soft drinks as fattening, I often wonder about the logistics of such actions. Would this cause more people to go to New Jersey to see movies and go to restaurants? Would convenience stores see a huge bump in Big Gulp sales? Would an enterprising theater step up and offer a Buy One, Get One Free sale on beverages? Would there be a separate set of cups for those ordering Diet Coke?

While I don’t agree at all with Mayor Bloomberg as legislating morality is always a bad idea, Coca-Cola’s response was ludicrous. “There is no scientific evidence that connects sugary beverages to obesity” stated Coca-Cola’s Katie Bayne. Raise your hand if you recognize this as tobacco’s decades long defense of ‘there is no scientific evidence that connects cigarettes to cancer’.

Personally I like a fairly large icy beverage with my movie. I’m not concerned with meals so much as you can typically get refills. Unfortunately I hate water and diet colas and diet Mountain Dew, while fine in a can or bottle, tastes like bug spray on tap (no idea why). None of my local theaters has Minute Maid’s Light Lemonade (which is pretty good) and only one has unsweet tea. This means that I often have a large Coke at the theater but I would love some better options.

What I would love at every restaurant and especially every theater is the Coke Freestyle machine. Shown above, we have them at Moe’s restaurant and Firehouse Subs. It has a touchscreen where you can choose from dozens of sodas. Once you choose your soda, you can then choose from many different varieties. For example choosing Minute Maid Light Lemonade brings up Lemonade, Orange Lemonade, Raspberry Lemonade, Cherry Lemonade and a few others. Choosing Diet Barq’s Rootbeer brings up Diet Barq’s or Diet Vanilla Barq’s. These machines are fanatstic and the only drawback is that every new person takes forever to choose their flavor. Oh that and every man using it hits the Seagram’s button thinking it might dispense booze – really Jen and I watched it happen over and over again.

Awesome Game of Thrones – HBO No Go

We just finished the first season box set of A Game of Thrones last night. Unfortunately neither this nor any other HBO series is available on instant Netflix.

Game of Thrones

“Originally airing on HBO, this live-action fantasy series — based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels — charts the violent efforts of competing noble families to gain control of the vacant Westeros throne.”

You might think from the cover shot that Sean Bean is the star of the series. If there is a central character then yes Sean Bean’s Eddard Stark is that character but the brilliance of Game of Thrones lies in the depth and breadth of its ensemble cast. Everyone is really good, from veterans like Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) and Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) to newcomers Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark).

The standout here is Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. He is an absolute delight and steals every scene he is in. He won an Emmy for his role. The fabulous clockwork map titles also won an Emmy and the series was nominated for eleven others.

Game of Thrones is a fantasy in the same sense that the new Battlestar Galactica was science fiction – it is true but it’s more of a milieu to discuss other topics. For Game of Thrones, this is a showcase  for politics. King Baratheon is obviously modeled heavily on King Henry VIII. There are a number of other historical parallels such as the Borgias and the Mongols, though each of George R.R. Martin’s characters are fully fleshed. My wife, who has read the first book, said that the show is accurate albeit with some compression of events.

The set design, writing, direction and cinematography are outstanding. Pacing is somewhat stately – this is definitely NOT a hack and slash, in spite of having recent Conan the Barbarian, Jason Momoa, playing Khal Drogo. Boy does that guy have muscles. The fantasy elements are very light but fit well into the storyline.

I watched this on Blu-Ray and the picture quality was phenomenal. This is one of the best looking Blu-Rays I own. If you still get discs from Netflix then I highly recommend putting this in your queue. I would really like HBO to offer HBO Go as a stand-alone service. I’m certainly not paying for cable TV and almost another $30 on top of that for HBO. Alternately I’d like to see a similar service from Showtime. Or perhaps just an ability to purchase individual episodes just after they air like I do with Walking Dead from Amazon.

Black Death – Christopher Smith

 

Black Death (2010) – Rated R

“Sean Bean stars in this historically rooted horror-thriller as Ulric, a church-appointed knight in the age of the Bubonic Plague’s first wave who’s tasked with investigating rumors of a woman (Carice van Houten) who can bring the dead back to life. A young monk (Eddie Redmayne) named Osmund is aiding Ulric on his quest to root out the necromancer — and to determine whether or not she has ties to Satan.

“The fumes of the dead hung in the air like poison. The plague, more cruel and pitiless than war, descended upon us. A pestilence that would leave half our kingdom dead.”

I love the prologue to this movie. As it goes on about demons and witchcraft carrying the plague, you see a rat scurrying about – the true carrier of the plague. Okay it was actually fleas but that is a much harder visual to pull off.

I was lucky enough to catch Black Death in the theater at a promotional showing for Actionfest 2011. I had really been looking forward to it since every Christopher Smith film I’ve seen has been better than the last. He did the underground horror Creep, the horror comedy Severance, and the horror sci-fi Triangle – all of which I’ve enjoyed.

The only trepidation I had was that this was coming out at the same time as the extremely similarly themed Season of the Witch. Here is the Netflix description for Season – “In 14th-century Europe, a courageous knight leads a group of weary warriors across impossibly treacherous terrain in order to transport a suspected witch believed to be responsible for spreading the devastating Black Plague.

Now Hollywood often has sets of movies like that (Deep Impact, Armageddon) and often one is very good (Dangerous Liaisons) and the other not so much (Valmont). In fact next year we get no less than three Snow White adaptations, not counting the currently popular TV show Once Upon a Time.

Not only are both films about the possibility of a witch causing the Black Plague but both feature an action star as a knight (Sean Bean, Nicolas Cage) with an innocent religious sidekick. Both have former 70s horror stars as high level clergymen (David Warner, Christopher Lee). To be fair Black Death was done and released in the UK well before Season of the Witch but I think it got short shrift here in the States because of Season of the Witch. As before one is very good (Black Death), the other not so much (Season of the Witch).

I found the script to be excellent and a nice bit of a history lesson vis a vis early Christianity (though my wife thought the script beat you over the head with it – my head must be thicker). The one problem is that there is an unbelievably ridiculous plot twist that almost ruins the movie. It’s a case of Ulric’s party doing something they would never do simply because it says so in the script.

I loved a lot of the small touches. One of my favorites was how not everyone rode on horseback. The company is not comprised of a troop of knights but of a knight with a number of men-at-arms. The men are pretty rough and tumble with a fair number of scars and functional rather than pretty armor. Combat, like life, is nasty, brutish and short.

People Watch: Look for Black Adder comedian Tim McInnerny in a far more serious role as Hob. Also not only did Sean Bean go on to appear in Game of Thrones but so did Carice van Houten. In this she plays Langiva (no character name should have an anagram like that) and in Game of Thrones, she is Melisandre. Also Emun Elliott who is Swire here is Marillion in Game of Thrones.