Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can My PS3 Get Lost Now?

Engadget reports that Disney is now (or will soon be) part of Hulu. While I'm not overly happy about some of the Hulu shenanigans relating to controlling who can see what when, I am hopeful that this will allow my Playstation 3 to stream ABC programs.

Well, OK - actually, just the one ABC program I happen to watch - Lost.

As I mentioned previously, ABC's own streaming seems to be unhappy with the Playstation 3 browser, insisting that I get an approved browser instead. I haven't looked into it much, but I'd be very surprised if there were any technical reason they couldn't have streamed the content to my Flash-enabled PS3 browser just as easily as any other one. But since they decided to be anal about things, I turned to the torrent-o-sphere to get my missing Lost dosage instead, and ABC lost out on whatever meager revenue that might have received from embedded ads or whatnot.

Hopefully, ABC will move content over to the more PS3-friendly Hulu, and leave it in some format that I can use.

And hopefully, Hulu won't keep screwing around with its access policy, either.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Movie Review: Armour Of God

Sneaking another film into the Jackie Chan Film Festival schedule, Armour Of God is one of two takes on the Indiana Jones motif. Armour Of God is sometimes called Operation Condor 2, even though Operation Condor (also released as Armour Of God 2) was released after Armour Of God. Oh, and though Jackie plays a character named Condor in Operation Condor, here (in Operation Condor 2), he plays a character named Asian Hawk.

Make sense?

At any rate, Jackie here plays an adventurer who goes after ancient artifacts. The main one in question here is the aforementioned armor, which comes in five pieces. One collector is trying to acquire the pieces for himself, while a band of Satanic monks (no, really!) is trying to destroy the armor, which somehow will give them great power to do...well, something. The only thing we really see them do in the movie is hire a bunch of prostitutes and eat bread, so it's not clear what their real power is. When a former love interest of Hawk's is kidnapped by the monks (she used to be in a pop band with Hawk - yeah, he's like Buckaroo Banzai but without the surgical skills), Hawk, Mildly Useful Companion #1 and Useless Companion #2 head out to rescue her and reclaim the armor.

This movie follows what is becoming a standard pattern in this point in Jackie's career: opening stunt spectacular, plot description, lame romantic comedy beats, closing stunt/fight spectacular. One's enjoyment of the film depends on how much one can stand those middle sections, where you'll get a few minutes of action and forty minutes of goofy situational comedy on the level of a bad Three's Company episode. Here, it's pretty bad - Jackie's Useless Companion #2 is also the competing love interest, and he's definitely not the best character ever to show up in a Jackie Chan movie - pretty much without merit in any way.

The opening and closing scenes are well done, with Jackie getting more stunt work than fight work this time around. (This is the film that features a missed stunt where Jackie required emergency brain surgery.) Outside of a pretty impressive fight sequence at the very end where Jackie takes on four high-heeled-shoe-wielding women (no, really!), none of the fight scenes really stood out. This one is more about the stunts, with the capper being a skydive off of a mountain onto a hot-air balloon. Not that it made much sense in terms of the script. Or physics. But it looked impressive.

Of course, the reason he dove off of the mountain is because he blew up the monk's secret lair with dynamite. With the Armour of God still inside, as far as I can tell.


So, in the end, not a movie that really cared too much about characters, plot or dialog. Just an excuse for a few good stunts, and a length section of boredom. Not really his best effort - the sequel movie ended up being a much better take on this kind of thing. As for this one, two stars.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

That's Just Great

Just wonderful - now I get to watch Brian Orakpo jump on Tony Romo twice a year for a while.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mini-Reviews: Winners And Sinners and The Protector

Before I get around to the next official Jackie Chan Film Festival film, I thought I'd toss in a few thoughts on a couple of movies that I'm skipping over.

The first is Winners And Sinners, which is the first film in a Sammo Hung-directed series that would continue with My Lucky Stars. And like My Lucky Stars, this isn't really an "action-comedy" so much as a "comedy with a little action". And that should be "very little comedy" and "very little action". Jackie only shows up basically in a cameo role to provide one action sequence where he gets to dig out his roller-skates from Battle Creek Brawl to chase down an escaping car. But even this brief action sequence isn't particularly well-done; the sped-up film is very obvious, as are the jump cuts used to splice different shots together. These seams didn't show up nearly as often in Police Story or Project A, and are pretty disappointing given Sammo's usually-good work behind the camera.

As for the comedy, it's most of the same cast from My Lucky Stars, and the sequences are just about as interminable. They hit on the one girl in the cast, they prank each other, they act like idiots. There's no reason anyone needs to see one of these guys parading around nude because he thinks he has mastered invisibility. Urgh. This one is worse than the sequel, so one star for it.

The Protector isn't much better. This is the 1985 Jackie Chan film, by the way, not the unrelated Tony Jaa film. The Protector was Jackie's second try (after the aforementioned Battle Creek Brawl) at breaking into the American market, and it was just about as successful. It's a typical 80's mismatched cop-action film - the serious kind, not the comedic 48 Hrs. kind - where Jackie is paired with Danny Aiello in a horrible performance as a lumbering, vaguely-racist cop helping Jackie track down his former partner's killer. This one's mostly known for going places Jackie didn't usually go in his own films - gratitutous nudity, lots of gun-play and a completely stone-faced serious character. It didn't work. There are a few fight sequences here, but the director apparently thought he knew better than one of the top fight choreographers in Hong Kong how to set up a martial arts scene, so Jackie got no input into that, either. The result is a pretty grim affair all the way around. To see Jackie as a cop, stick with the Police Story series. A low two stars.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Movie Review: Project A Part 2

A definite let-down compared to Part 1. This one takes the same setting as the first part - colonial Hong Kong, where the police and navy are rival justice organizations. The script also throws in an underground independence movement, Chinese government loyalists and the remnents of the pirate crew disbanded in the earlier film. The basic plot is that Jackie and a few trusted navy men are sent in undercover on the police force to get evidence on a corrupt inspector. However, we also get side trips into stolen jewels, a book containing the names of the rebel supporters, a conspiracy between the police and the rebels, a goofy group of pirates, and a few too many other threads for the movie's own good.

Things get off to a good start in a scene where Jackie and crew take down a gang (also on the inspector's payroll). Sadly, things then transition to a pair of interminable scenes, one where Ma is framed at a party for theft by the corrupt inspector and another where just about every character so far hide from each other in a house for reasons that, frankly, aren't entirely clear even just after watching it. There's lots of sneaking around, people handcuffed to each other, and the usual lame attempts at "comedy" that result in long set-ups for little results. It's quite a long time before we get around to the final big chase scene, such as it is. It's meant to be a big Jackie Chan stunt/fight showcase (it goes on for about twenty minutes) and while there's good individual moments (a fall down a bamboo scaffolding and a fight in a strange rotating drum stand out), it didn't really flow into anything that made much sense as a whole.

In the end, this one has to be counted as a disappointment. I'll give it three stars, because it is better than the two movies immediately preceding it in the Festival, but it's a middling three stars at best. Up next, we'll see if Jackie does better with another sequel - Police Story 2.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Movie Review: My Lucky Stars

Well, here's another "Jackie Chan" movie that isn't really a Jackie Chan movie. Unlike some of the earlier movies I've reviewed, though, this isn't a case of a pre-fame Jackie Chan supporting role being promoted as a starring role. This time around, it is basically Jackie doing a favor for friend Sammo Hung. Hung was developing a movie series around the Five Lucky Stars, a group of four comic actors (and Sammo himself being the fifth), and he got some of his friends (Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao among them) to appear in supporting roles to boost the movie.

My Lucky Stars is the second movie in the series (I don't have a copy of the first, Winners And Sinners). The plot line is simple: Jackie and Yuen are cops working a case. When Yuen is taken prisoner, Jackie (or "Muscles" as he is called in the English dub, and that isn't the worst nickname in the movie) decides that the police force is infiltrated and wants to bring in some outsiders. So he calls in the Five Lucky Stars, who are former orphanage brothers of his who have become con-men and criminals. That they have no particular skills (other than Sammo) to bring to bear on this case is apparently beside the point.

So after a pretty nice opening set piece when Yuen is kidnapped, we then switch over for an hour to the wacky hijinks of the Lucky Stars. To call this comedy a little broad is to call Rosie O'Donnell a little broad. Actually, to call much of it comedy is to call Rosie O'Donnell a comedienne. Lots of mugging for the camera, lots of bad slapstick, lots of juvenile sexual humor (courtesy of the attractive police detective assigned to assist). There's a couple of chuckles here, but almost all of this section of the film is a complete waste.

It's too bad, because the action sequences at the beginning and end of the film are actually pretty good. They are set in an amusement park and take good advantage of the setting, with men crawling around on rides, battling each other on outside stairways and sidewalks, and (in the best design work in the film) fighting in different rooms in a haunted house exhibit. As usual during this phase of Jackie's career, there is great stunt work (in particular, a nice car jump over a conveniently-placed car carrier) and some well-choreographed fight scenes. It only amounts to about thirty minutes out of a ninety-minute runtime, but what's there is very good.

But since it's only thirty minutes, and since the rest of the film doesn't have much to recommend it, I can't give this film more than two stars. I think I'll have to give a pass to the follow-up, Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars. Instead, we'll head back to Jackie Chan in the director's chair with Project A2.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I Had Almost Forgotten

Oh right, I was going to head down to Highland Mall on Saturday and shop around a bit.
Thanks for reminding me, Austin NAACP!

And Yet Even More Flash on the Playstation 3

Since I've actually been picking up some hits on my posts about using my Playstation 3 as a media center, I thought I'd mention another issue that has come up. It appears that the PS3 does have some issues with its Flash implementation - in an earlier post, I described how the PS3 browser locked up while pausing a Hulu playback.

Last night, I tried looking up some old Red vs Blue videos on Google Video. I got to a page of search results, but at that point, the PS3 browser again hung up on me. I'm not sure what the root cause was here, but the search result page is a fairly busy page, with lots of subframes and embedded objects (and now that I think about it, that's fairly different from the standard Google search page, which is usually pretty clean). At any rate, the browser lockup this time was more severe - the browser never responded to stop/refresh/back/etc. I was eventually able to exit the browser back to the main XMB screen, but the XMB itself was now locked up. No background animation, no scrolling menu items, no response to the controller. I had to hard boot the PS3 by (gasp) actually standing up, going over the PS3 and holding down the power button. Everything came back up as normal after the reboot. I was finally able to find (and see) what I was looking for over on YouTube.

I think the bottom line is that Flash playback is possible now on the PS3, but only under fairly "ideal" circumstances, and failure can result in a hard lockup. If an occasional reboot is the worst problem, then it falls into the "barely acceptable" category - after all, the PS3 isn't a general purpose computer (at least for most people), and so I'm not usually multitasking on it. If I'm watching a video, that's usually all I'm doing on it (well, maybe a download of some DLC in the background). But if we ever get into a Red-Ring-Of-Death-type situation, where a crash leaves the thing unbootable...

Well, suffice it to say I'll be unhappy. I haven't done very much scrounging around the Intertubes yet to see how widespread this sort of thing is.

Movie Review: Heart Of Dragon

Finally getting back to another entry in the ongoing Jackie Chan Film Festival. Sadly, it's not a very good entry. Here we are, smack dab in the middle of a great string of films (the Police Story and Project A series are both started, and Armour of God is just around the corner), and we come up with this clunker.

This Sammo Hung-directed affair features Hung and Chan as brothers - Hung as a mentally-retarded thirty-year old, Jackie as his cop brother and guardian. For whatever reason, Jackie's character Tat wants to quit the police force (even though he appears to be about the only competent cop we see) and become a sailor. However, he can't without leaving his brother to fend for himself (not to mention his fiance - does Jackie ever have a successful relationship in any of his movies?). So the first half of the movie is broad melodrama, as we see Hung's Danny character get into a series of minor problems, Tat get him out of trouble, and then tries to figure out how to get on his boat. Almost no action at all during this segment, which seems to go on forever.

Things marginally pick up in the second half, as Danny inadvertently gets involved in a robbery that Tat's police unit is investigating, and ends up becoming a hostage. This leads to the only real extended action sequence in the film, as Tat and his unit battle the criminal gang in a construction site. There are some good moments during this sequence, and it ends up being one of the more brutal fight scenes I've seen Jackie in so far (not many Chan movies have Jackie killing a guy with a machete to the neck!). There's also a few nice stunt moments here, but aside from Jackie's brief but brutal fight, it's all fairly generic stuff in terms of the martial arts.

The films then closes with a weird montage - Tat and friends are sent to prison for their actions, and so we see Jackie moping around in jail, looking vaguely suicidal, interspersed with scenes of Danny running around outside, having a good time, apparently oblivious to Tat's predicament. Just a strange downer ending to a strange film.

So, another attempt by Jackie to do something different than his usual action and stunt extravaganza, but a big misfire on his part. Two stars, and that's only for the ending sequence - the rest is one star at best. Up next: Jackie does Sammo another favor, helping to launch a new movie series in My Lucky Stars.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Houses and Homes

Where a home is more than a house...

"House" Songs on my iPod (16):

Billy Joel: "House Of Blue Light"
Great White: "House Of Broken Love"
Deep Purple: "House Of Pain"
Van Halen: "House Of Pain"
The Animals: "House Of The Rising Sun"
Led Zeppelin: "Houses Of The Holy"
Commodores: "Brick House"
Talking Heads: "Burning Down The House"
The Dixie Dregs: "Country House Shuffle"
Widespread Panic: "Party At Your Mother's House"
Traveling Wilburys: "Poor House"
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: "Red House"
Gorillaz: "Rock The House"
Brian Setzer Orchestra: "The House Is A Rockin'"
Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble: "The House Is Rockin'"
Men At Work: "Upstairs In My House"

"Home" Songs on my iPod (34):

Dream Theater: "Home"
Chick Corea & Origin: "Home"
Steely Dan: "Home At Last"
Genesis: "Home By The Sea/Second Home"
Geddy Lee: "Home On The Strange"
Chick Corea Elektric Band: "Home Universe"
OSI: "Home Was Good"
Monster Magnet: "2000 Light Years From Home"
The Rolling Stones: "2000 Light Years From Home"
Clarence "Frogman" Henry: "Ain't Got No Home"
Ted Nugent: "At Home There"
Sonny Boy Williamson: "Bring It On Home"
Led Zeppelin: "Bring It On Home"
Triumph: "Bringing It On Home"
Back Door Slam: "Come Home"
ZZ Top: "Comin' Home"
KISS: "Comin' Home"
Porcupine Tree: "Every Home Is Wired"
Stevie Ray Vaughan And Double Trouble: "Gone Home"
Fats Domino: "I Want To Walk You Home"
Oscar Peterson: "I'll Be Home For Christmas"
Tony Bennett: "I'll Be Home For Christmas"
Boston: "Let Me Take You Home Tonight"
The Vaughan Brothers: "Long Way From Home"
Pink Floyd: "Nobody Home"
Sister 7: "Nobody's Home"
True Believers: "Nobody's Home"
Weather Report: "Non-Stop Home"
The Beatles: "She's Leaving Home"
McCoy Tyner: "She's Leaving Home"
The Blues Brothers: "Sweet Home Chicago"
Phil Collins: "Take Me Home"
Supertramp: "Take The Long Way Home"
Metallica: "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I Think I'll Stay Home

Via News 8 Austin:

Highland Mall will close at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The mall’s general manager issued a statement Thursday saying the mall does not have the necessary security to manage the large crowds expected this weekend with the Texas Relays in town.

In addition, the release stated the closure is because “the safety and security of shoppers and retailers is top priority.”


The crowds are too big for the mall to handle - during a track meet?

Yes, yes, I know - the Texas Relays are a big deal. Lots of people in town. But still, I don't remember Highland Mall closing down during, say, the day after Thanksgiving, or the weekend before Christmas. Surely they have more shoppers then than they would during the Texas Relays?

I wonder what the rationale could possibly be....something about this particular crowd?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Another Little Push

In practice, Time Warner's decision to look at metering cable internet access in Austin doesn't make a whole lot of difference to me. I'd already put AT&T Uverse on my "to-look-at" list for when I get an HDTV (which should be soon - I'm seeing TV's starting to show up at my desired price-vs-features spot).

Right now, I'm paying about $160/month for local phone, DirecTV standard-def service with Tivo, and Earthlink cable internet service. HDTV would be extra on top of that, and long-distance phone is also (although most of my long-distance calls these days are done on my mobile). I haven't been able to fully price things out, but it looks like Uverse would get me local and long-distance phone, faster internet service, and HDTV service with more channels (including Showtime/TMC/Encore, for what it's worth) for somewhere around $140/month.

Unfortunately, Uverse is not available in my neighborhood in Austin. I'm in some kind of AT&T black hole here (if I may be racist for a moment) - my area was also late getting DSL service, although that's now available. But soon enough it will be here.

And thanks to Time Warner's latest move, that switch to Uverse has jumped from a 90% probability to a 95% probability.