Dec 15 2016

Rogue One

Adel Gabot

4:23PM

I just came from the first early afternoon screening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at the Gateway Atmos theater in Cubao. Thought I’d treat myself to a movie and a big bucket of popcorn, it being close to Christmas, after all.

I’d long given up on watching movies in a theater, it being cheaper and more convenient to just torrent them and watch them at the home theater setup in the house. Of course I’m weeks late to the party, as these new movies take a while to surface. I just save particular movies as treats to myself to watch in the classic old manner. The last one I saw (in the same theater) was Doctor Strange. It being a much-hyped Marvel superhero epic, I thought it deserved the Classic treatment.

So Rogue One. Finally, a Stars Wars movie made for adults! Now this is the movie made for the original classic generation that saw the first SW movie in the theater in 1977, and lived through the ballyhooed successive generations of the sequels in real time.

First off, departing from the norm, there are no rolling, up-slanted credits in the beginning. Also, there are no Jedis, no funny droids (save for K2SO), no wondrous aliens, no lightsabers (at least until Vader shows up), no invincible villains (save for Osric), and has plenty of callbacks to the original films, even involving actors who are dead or impossibly old, done up in CG. Director Gareth Edwards even found a way to make his movie dovetail perfectly into the opening sequence of the old first movie, but I don’t want to spoil that surprise for you.

Spoilers incoming! There’s lots of action scenes, and every single one of the team meet their demise in the course of the events in the film. All in all, it’s a nice adult set-up for the first trilogy, even settling that age-old saw about how the Death Star could have such a sensitive spot in its structure that a single proton torpedo exploded in that particular spot could end it.

I daresay I like it even much better than the last SW sequel, The Force Awakens, which was meant for a broader, younger audience. Let that be the last thing I say before I come out with a proper review of Rogue One.

 


Sep 30 2016

Plexing around

Adel Gabot

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8:48AM

I don’t really know which app I use more these days than Plex.

I use it to watch my downloaded videos, which means movies, TV shows, short films, YouTube stuff, Vimeo stuff, music videos on the big-screen TV, which is what I do when I’m not working.

I mostly use Plex Media Server, which streams the media from my iMac’s library to my flatscreen via the PS4 or the Apple TV, and view them there via the Plex app on the whatever platform I prefer to use. There is a Plex Home Theater app on the Mac, but why watch on the puny 27″ monitor with the tinny built-in speakers when I can watch it on the big home theater?

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Plex is the best—well, maybe not the best, but certainly the most convenient—video player software around for us homebody videophiles, and they have apps specifically built for most of the usual platforms around: Mac, PC, iOS, Android and what have you. Best of all is, entry-level usage is free. To have other people access your library, or to use the server across the internet (and a few other perks), you have to pay a monthly fee, but for now I can live with the free version.

You just have to tell it where your media is on the home system, and it puts it all together on the main screen of the apps, subdivided into five basic categories: Movies, TV Shows, Music, Photos and Other Media. I’m afraid you can get any more specific than those five categories. You can’t separate old from new TV episodes, or classic films from documentaries or animation or short films. (Oh, well, you can’t have everything.)

Then Plex gets, or tries to get, the metadata related to your media from the internet and present them in an organized, orderly manner as much as it can—the poster, the cast, director, summary and other important stuff like that. You’ll have to tweak and modify it some, though, to get everything just right.

The look of Plex differs from platform to platform. This is how it looks on my 4th generation Apple TV:

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And this is how it looks on my PS4:

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I have to admit, it looks better on the PS4 (I like the general layout better; it’s more compact and streamlined), but it operates much better and faster on the Apple TV. To each its own. I imagine it looks different on other platforms, but it has the same general usability and functions as the other versions.

I’m tempted to go whole hog and pay for the entire package and turn my media library into a NAS of sorts, but it’s ok like this for now.

I just looove Plex.


Sep 14 2016

Train To Busan

Adel Gabot

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6:35AM

Curious film. Korean movies aren’t usually known for their apocalyptic zombie epics, and are more popular for their esoteric, mysterious little ghost stories when talking about supernatural films. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been a zombie holocaust movie from Korea.

Yet here we are.

Train To Busan (Busanhaeng in the original Korean) is kind of a combination of the American Dawn of The Dead (the remake, not the original) and their own Snowpiercer (by director Bong Joon-Ho). It’s the story of a father and daughter who are traveling by bullet train to Busan when the zombie epidemic hits, and how they try to survive until they get to their destination, a city (they think) has survived the catastrophe.

Director Yeon Sang-Ho crafts a compelling and absorbing thriller that, when it finally grabs you by the balls (around the 20th minute mark), refuses to let go until the spectacular denoeument. His particular brand of zombie is the fast-sprinting, spry Zack Snyder-type, and not at all like the slow-moving and lumbering George Romeros. In fact, they’re so agile they achieve a sort of cartoony, Looney Tunes type quality, and you’d laugh if they weren’t so horrible.

Along the way you meet the usual survivor archetypes: the wiseass-but-kind-hearted husband and his pregnant wife, the hobo with a heart of gold, the lovey-dovey pair of teenagers, the evil train executive who’ll do anything to survive, a pair of affectionate old spinster sisters and a host of other hapless characters. Hapless, because, as most Korean movies go, most of these characters are going to meet a grisly end. No surprise there.

How the zombie infection spreads is kind of surprising—it’s damned fast. Just one bite, and it takes just a minute or two before you start convulsing and eventually turn. Or you even don’t have to get bitten; in the opening scene, a truck driver runs down a deer on a deserted road, and a minute later the animal gets up, a deer zombie.

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Gong Yoo plays the young fund manager father who often neglects his kind, sad little daughter, played by Kim Suh-ahn (who are both excellent, by the way), but on her birthday they at least travel so she can see her mother, his estranged ex-wife, in Busan. Unfortunately, the girl’s birthday is also the beginning of the end and the shit hits the fan, so to speak.

Train To Busan takes us on a quiet morning trip that ends up becoming a one way journey to hell. A lot of the movie is running back and forth along the cars, trying to avoid the infected, rabid passengers, and the few terribly unreasonable and paranoid people left behind. Part of it occurs in train stations where they try to stop to see what’s going on, to disastrous results.

The movie goes from set piece to escalating set piece, just leaving little breathers in between that also act as excellent character development scenes, so there’s hardly any wasted screentime. The editing and cinematography are excellent, and the action doesn’t let up either, and for that it’s really a pretty good thriller.

As usual, I’m not going to give any more details other than the wide brush strokes of the plot so as not to spoil it for you in case you plan to see it. All I can say is, this is a very good sign Koreans should make more movies like this. And their trains have wonderfully durable doors.

Four out of five stars.


Aug 14 2016

Subtitles

Adel Gabot

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7:32AM

There is this scene in the movie Me Before You where Emilia Clarke’s character watches her very first subtitled movie with the wheelchair-bound character of  Sam Claflin, and comes out of it enthralled and completely taken by the French movie they just saw.

Some people wouldn’t experience the same fascination.

My brother, for example, has this aversion to watching anything that has subtitles, and he much prefers the material be dubbed instead. That’s why he skips on a lot of non-English movies and anime because of that, effectively shutting himself off from a lot of excellent material. He doesn’t want to have to read the dialogue off the screen and divide his attention between that and the movie’s visuals.

It’s akin to reading a book while watching a movie at the same time. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to make the effort; it does ask a lot of you to multitask like that. I kind of understand his point, but at the same time I don’t share it.

There is something to the argument that taking the time to read the translated dialogue does take the attention away from the visual composition and action that occurs on the screen, and that you would be shortchanging all the effort the filmmakers put in in composing the scene.

But then again, you get a lot of unspoken cues from the original audio, even if you can’t understand it.

Example:

MOVIE DIALOGUE: Yung buwaka ng inang hinayupak na yun! Putang ina nya!

DUBBED: That bastard!

You see what I mean?

There’s something in the tone and inflection of the un-understood spoken dialogue that speaks volumes, the degree of happiness or anger or emotion that’s discernible even if you can’t understand the words. That’s something that’s irretrivably lost when translated and dubbed into a language you can understand. Not to mention actually losing something in the translation (which, to be clear, you still lose in the subtitling—but at least you preserve the sentiment in the original audio).

Besides, I think there’s something valuable lost when a movie is dubbed in American English—you lose the authentic flavor and character inherent in the film which makes it different and unique and original. Reading the translation of the script on the screen doesn’t affect that at all, and I think well worth the effort.

I have to make peace with being distracted by reading words on the screen while I’m watching a movie at the same time—it’s simply the price I have to pay because I’m not multilingual. I can live with it. Besides, I think the movie’s the better for it, rather than having the dialogue simply dubbed over by voice actors who inadvertently change the meaning and subtext of entire scenes.

I’m on this topic because I’ve recently been on an anime binge this past week where I’ve watched dozens of episodes of Japanese animation, all subtitled, and I got to thinking about the whole issue. My brother walked in on me watching one, hmmphed derisively and left. Well, to each his own.

Of course, there simply is no substitute for watching a movie in the native language in which it was made in. But until I get around to learning to speak in that language, I’m going to watch it subtitled. You can keep your fancy dubs.


Jul 31 2016

Lowering my standards

Adel Gabot

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8:03AM

I downloaded the new Jason Bourne movie this morning. A film transfer. A friggin’ film transfer.

The file’s watchable; the framing’s a little askew, the picture’s a bit blurry and unclear and the colors are dull and dead and it might as well have been black and white. Occasionally, audience members cross the frame on their way to the john or to buy snacks. But I can live with that. It’s the sound I can’t stand—it’s like coming from the bottom of a deep well.

I think I’m going to eventually erase it and wait for a much better copy.

Yes, yes. I downloaded a lousy film transfer. I know.

From my blog posts, you guys probably know I regularly download films using torrents (hey, so sue me). I had the usual moral qualms about downloading these movies long ago, but I quickly got over them, citing my third world status as a mitigating factor. (C’mon, Hollywood, let me have my little personal pleasures. I’m literally the only person who watches them anyway. It’s not like I hold regular neighborhood screenings and charge for them.)

I’ve set reasonably high standards for a film to be part of my collection. It has to be high resolution, at least 720p, usually higher, with crystal clear stereo sound. Their sizes normally don’t go below 1.5GB each, and usually average around 2.5GB, occasionally going as high as 4GB+. Just like DVDs.

I used to have around 3250+ movies on my computer. Back in the day I wasn’t that picky; half of the files in my collection were in the 750MB range, and more than three-quarters of them I didn’t really want to keep. I really don’t know why I collected them, but I did.

They were all on a 4TB external media drive, but apparently I didn’t much believe that old saw about not keeping all your eggs in one basket. When that drive eventually tanked two years ago, I lost everything, and I’ve had to slowly rebuild my collection. Since I began re-collecting again, I set in place my high standards, and became more selective with my choices.

Today I have around 800+ films, ranging from classics to animated movies, subtitled ones from different countries, documentaries, concerts, regular movies and new releases, spread out over three separate external USB drives for minimum exposure. All in excellent, DVD-grade quality. At the very least. (Incidentally, I also have a humble Blu-ray collection, for movies I really really love.)

I have this old friend named Richard who obsessively collects video files and bootleg DVDs, up to and including shoddy, piss-poor film transfers. Movies where you can barely discern who’s on the screen or what they’re saying, they’re so bad. But Richard had to have them; the newer the movie the better, no matter what the condition, as long as he was among the first to watch them. I remember him calling me and telling me he had this brand new movie called Black Hawk Down, and if I wanted to watch it. I went over and was appalled at the quality, but he seemed to enjoy it immensely.

I used to think, I’d never be like Richard. I wanted my movies to be crystal clear and technically perfect as much as possible, which I believe contributes greatly to the cinematic experience. I didn’t really mind being patient and waiting for a bit so I could get them that way.

But lately, I’ve lowered my standards.

Not that I’d knowingly watch horrible, piss-poor versions where the actors were just these fuzzy, dark blobs on the screen, and the audio was a constant drone of ambient theater noise that made the dialogue unintelligible, no. But recently I’ve acquiesced to getting, in the interest of being more current, watchable film transfers.

Of course, I preview them, and if there’s just a single thing that overly bothers me about the quality of the audio and video, I just delete the file and wait for a better copy. Like Jason Bourne, for example. That movie download just skirts the edge of watchability, and I’m still undecided whether or not I’m going to watch this one and ruin the experience for me forever. (Or, alternately, I could just go and watch it in the theater, like I usually do if it’s a movie I really want to see right away.)

I’ve actually added a new folder on my media drive called “Film Transfers” and right now it’s got four movies inside it: a couple of pretty good quality files and a couple of barely passable ones. The Secret Life of Pets and Captain America: Civil War are excellent transfers, and if not for some technical niggles, I’d actually keep them permanently in my collection. Star Trek: Beyond and the aforementioned Jason Bourne bring up the rear of bordering-on-crappy-quality-movies and I’m seriously thinking about deleting them and just waiting for better versions.

There are a few transfers that haven’t made the grade time and again. Sometimes the audio doesn’t sync with the video, or it’s taped with a handheld camera with first-person jitter, or the framing’s terribly askew as it was taken from the side of the theater. Or the guy taping the movie doesn’t respect the filmmakers and just liberally chop the opening and closing credits off and taking some of the relevant stuff with it.

For example, The Conjuring 2 I’ve downloaded more than once, but the transfers are terrible, particularly with the many dark nighttime scenes where the screen is just entirely black and you can’t make out a single blessed thing. Nope, I’ll wait for the unofficial “good” copy, thank you.

Same with The BFG, The Shallows, Lights Out, Now You See Me 2, Independence Day: Resurgence and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. All horrible. Ghostbusters was another one that was nearly unwatchable, but I stuck it out and watched it anyway, I loved that movie so much. Then of course I deleted it.

That’s how I collect movies these days. Of course, I just get these film transfers to satisfy my cinematic curiosity. I watch them (if I can), then delete them. They’re not meant to be permanent additions to my collection, not by any measure. I wait for the DVD-quality versions for that. This option is usually for movies I’m just curious to see one time, and then forget. If I really like them, I wait for the good copy and add that to the pile.

How about you? Any guilty confessions from your end?