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Friday, August 26, 2016

Sun Choke Review

What a Choke

Writer/director Ben Crescimen has made a very unusual psychological thriller in his latest film, "Sun Choke." At least that's what I think it is. Crescimen leaves us in the dark through most of it, which can be a very effective strategy. However, other things, like a coherent plot or a clue as to what is driving its central characters need be present if he wants to make it past the "novelty" stage. Neither can be found here and the result is a wandering semi-story that never quite works.


Janie (Sarah Hagan) is a young woman living in a house also occupied by Irma (Barbara Crampton), who is about the age to be a parent of Janie, but their relationship is so unclear for so long that it becomes a bit grating. Janie is at the very least, incredibly hesitant about everything. It's also possible that she is a survivor of a psychotic break. Whatever it is, Irma functions as Janie's caretaker, parent, disciplinarian and psychiatrist and part of the treatment involves keeping Janie a prisoner in the house.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Suicide Squad Review

Almost Squad Goals

"Suicide Squad" isn't the 26-percent on Rotten Tomatoes disaster that you have heard about but it can't help but feel that it's a bit of a letdown. Maybe it was all of the hype surrounding the film that it just couldn't meet. Perhaps, it was the hope that a group of misbegotten antiheros could save a dismal summer at the movies. Either way, greatness eludes "Suicide Squad." Sorry, puddin'.

Director David Ayer had the chance to take the worn superhero genre in a new direction and conceptually does so. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis, always elevating and adding gravitas to every movie she's in) wants to temporarily release a group of imprisoned crazies to fight even crazier crazies. In exchange for a completed mission, they get time off of their sentences.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jason Bourne Review

Bourne, Again... and Again...

Jason Bourne has always been a serious and stoic character, rarely cracking anything that resembles a smile. But in the latest film, "Jason Bourne," he seems much more distant than before. Matt Damon, who returns as the titular character, looks like he longs to be elsewhere. Maybe he stopped making "Bourne" films because he was ready to move past them.

That's the other fundamental flaw with returning director Paul Greengrass' film; why does it exist? Greengrass directed the two sequels ("The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum," Doug Liman directed "The Bourne Identity") but stayed away from the Jeremy Renner headlined "The Bourne Legacy." Most fans of this series cried afoul at the Renner flick, which makes me think "Jason Bourne" is here to eradicate the memory of the spinoff.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Outlaws and Angels Review

Where Are The Angels?



It's an old-style bank robbery in the wild West that begins with the actual robbery, and it's a brutal one. Afterwards, Henry (Chad Michael Murray) leads the gang on their run from the usual hell-bent posse. It's one in a string of robberies by this bunch and it's immediately clear that no one in this gang is going to turn out to be a good guy who is just misunderstood. 


The posse is led by Josiah (Luke Wilson) and on their chase and on their travels they meet people who have fallen victim to the gang as well as some witnesses. Their chase leads them further into the wilderness. Meanwhile, Henry takes his gang of ne'er-do-wells to a remote farm, hoping for some down time to plan their next move.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bad Moms Review

Moms Just Wanna Have Fun

"Bad Moms" begins with an aerial shot of storybook perfect suburbia. We meet frazzled mom of two, Amy (Mila Kunis), who has spread herself much too thin. She works part-time at a coffee company start-up, where at 32 years old, she is considered ancient. She must be at all extracurricular activities to support her children, attend PTA meetings and do everything around the house because her man-child husband (David Walton) simply can't handle adulthood.


That's what writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore put forth as our expectations for mothers. They are expected to do everything. Lucas and Moore also want us to know, they like to have a bit of fun, as well. Amy has had enough of being expected to be the perfect mom. She's not a perfect mom - no one is. She kicks her Internet-companion-seeking husband out and is ready to live her life as her own person. She befriends two other moms at school - the timid Kiki (Kristen Bell) and the wild Carla (Kathryn Hahn). They enjoy drinks, midday shopping and movies, and the occasional brunch together. Dammit, enough! They don't have to be perfect.     

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Focal Listen Mobile On-Ear Headphones Review

Designed in France, the Listen has a closed-back design and noise isolation features. Photo: Focal.

Listen Up!

It seems like every speaker company on the planet makes headphones these days. In fact, there are even a few non-speaker companies out there making headphones. It's a crowded space already. Does the world need a new headphone line? French company Focal thinks so, and at $249, their Listen Mobile On-Ear Headphones represent the entry level into a headphone line that tops out at $4,000 a pair. Does that make the Listen 'phones a relative bargain? Read on to find out.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek Beyond Review

Good But Not Quite Out of This World

In 2009, long before J. J. Abrams took on the venerable "Star Wars" franchise, he rebooted "Star Trek" in a surprisingly successful way. How often are reboots so fun? He directed the sequel, "Star Trek Into Darkness," but now has passed the reigns onto Justin Lin, who maintains the success of its predecessors with"Star Trek Beyond," the third entry into the new series (albeit with some caveats).

Chris Pine returns as Captain James. T. Kirk, and Zachary Quinto reprises his role as Commander Spock. Both actors have always seemed comfortable taking on the iconic roles, beloved by so many. This time around Kirk seems wearier than before. Commanding the Enterprise appears to have taken a toll on him. He ruminates over years gone by and ponders what lies ahead. Quinto continues to be stoic as Spock. Like any two people who have worked together for so long, Kirk and Spock bicker but have a mutual respect for one another. They share thoughts about possibly leaving the Enterprise, but not with each other as boht are concerned about how the other would react.

Any of their musings on the future are quickly ut to rest once the Enterprise comes under attack. Once the evil Krall (Idris Elba, threatening even under loads of prosthetics) and his crew board the ship, Kirk, Spock and their entire team become fully aware that they are massively outgunned and outnumbered. The crew is forced to flee the Enterprise and roam a harsh, unwelcoming planet.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Samsung Unveils SERIF TV - a 4K Ultra HD TV with Bold Industrial Design

The SERIF TV comes with legs, which can be detached so it can sit on a shelf or credenza. Photo: Samsung.

We're used to seeing TVs with a pretty picture. Otherwise, most of today's sets sort of look the same. If you're worried that typical TV shape won't match your decor or mood, take a peek at what Samsung Electronics has just started selling. The company just debuted the Samsung SERIF TV, a 4K TV that's designed to blend right into the design and furniture of just about any room.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Canon develops 250 mega pixel sensor for surveillance purpose


Digital camera manufacturing giant Canon has developed a new 250 mega pixel sensor which can be used in digital cameras. The company says that the sensor is sensitive to read the letters of an aircraft which is 18 km away.

Kicker Launches Bullfrog Jump, a Beefed Up Bluetooth Speaker Ready to Get Wet and Wild

Mama!
Kicker may be best known for its car stereo products, and for good reason: they own a sizeable chunk of the aftermarket car stereo market. But the company's latest product takes things beyond the car or truck: way beyond. The latest entry into the company's "lifestyle products" category is a rugged heavy duty powered wireless Bluetooth speaker capable of taking on the harshest elements while gleefully pumping out high decibel full range music and sound.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Google Calendar service faces outage



Search engine giant Google’s Calendar service was down for more than two hours for many of the users in the morning on June 30, 2016. Representatives from Google assured that they are looking in to the issues faced by Google Calendar and that would soon provide more information on it.

Oppo introduces new technology to charge smartphone in just 15 minutes



Smartphone manufacturing giant Oppo did not have any new phones to show during the Mobile World Congress this time. However, the company has two new technologies to show off that will make the upcoming phones much easier to use.

The first technology is the Super VOOC which is helps to charge the smartphone from 0 to 100 percent in just 15 minutes. The next technology is the SmartSensor that helps to build image stabilization in to the camera sensor instead of the regular lens based method.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Sonos Gives Consumers Hands-On/Ears-On Experience at First Company Store in SOHO

The six listening rooms on the main floor allow customers to experience the sound and feel of a Sonos system without adult supervision.

Sonos pretty much invented and has continued to blaze a trail in the whole-home wireless music category. If you want to deploy a multi-room music system throughout your home and don't want to have to hire professionals to run wires through your walls and program expensive custom control systems, Sonos offers a simple but powerful solution. And the best way to understand the value and flexibility of a Sonos system is to get hands-on with it: to play with the Sonos app and hear the Sonos speakers for yourself.

Under The Sun Review

Under The Radar

Ukrainian director Vitaly Mansky wanted to make a film in North Korea. And "Under The Sun" is the fruit of that labor. But he scarcely could have imagined the paths he would travel while pursuing this elusive goal.

For two years, Mansky negotiated with members of the North Korean government. Imagine negotiating with people who, if they make a mistake, could end up murdered by their own fearless leader. You think your job is stressful?


When an agreement was finally reached, Mansky was left with a pretty bizarre task. The agreement stipulated that North Korea would write the script and select the subjects for the film. Mansky was instructed that he would only be allowed to film approved scenes in approved locations. When Mansky was done with shooting, the footage would be given to the North Korean officials who would delete any footage they felt would not be approved by Kim Jong-un.

Hands-On with DISH Network’s Voice Remote

At 5.59-by-2.25-by-1.02 inches, the Voice Remote is smaller than its predecessor. Photo: Rachel Cericola.

When it comes to home control, does anyone really seek out buttons anymore? It seems like people are over pushing buttons. Touchscreens have been a slick (and sometimes pricey) option for quite a while. Now, thanks to Siri and Alexa, voice commands are becoming a really popular method of control. The latest company to put voice recognition technology into a home product is DISH Network.

Back at CES in January, DISH was promising a voice-enabled remote for the new Hopper 3 Whole-Home DVR. Now they are delivering on that, making the Voice Remote available to subscribers today.

The Infiltrator Review

"The Infiltrator" provides stealthy summer fun


There's a moment toward the end of "The Infiltrator" where a couple on the verge of exchanging their wedding vows is invited by the priest to survey the crowd of well-wishers gathered to share their happy moment.  The awkward trepidation on the couple's faces as they gaze into the audience is at odds with the setting but perfectly in keeping with the circumstances of the story, and it pays off in an unexpected laugh.  There's a number of such moments sprinkled throughout the film, thanks in large part to a smart screenplay that keeps the audience in the know without ever telegraphing plot points or needlessly underscoring details, while still springing enough surprises to be fresh and entertaining at every turn.


"The Infiltrator" tells the story of U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston in yet another deft, perfectly-tuned performance) who in the mid-80s went undercover posing as a mob-affiliated money launderer in order to disrupt the illegal drug trade and expose those in the banking industry who partnered with and enabled super-wealthy international drug dealers.  The film plays like something of a hybrid of two other recent offerings, "American Hustle" and "Kill the Messenger".  All three are based on true accounts, which provides leeway for occasionally-outrageous story telling while still keeping things within the bounds of credibility.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Amazon Declares Prime Day 2016 to Be a Big Success

During Prime Day 2016, the Fire TV Stick was the best-selling Amazon device worldwide. Photo: Amazon.

Did you get a Prime Day deal? If so, you're not alone. We know a lot of you were buying up TVs, headphones, and other electronic items. However, Amazon is also out there, proclaiming that yesterday's online event was the company's "biggest day ever."

More specifically, the company has said that the second coming of Prime Day was the biggest sales day in Amazon history. In fact, the company sold 50 percent more to U.S. shoppers over last year's Prime Day. (And 60 percent worldwide.) It was also the biggest day for Amazon-branded devices, including the Fire TV and Alexa-enabled devices.

The Innocents Review

Innocence Lost

Most films about war deal with the actual combat and the psychological toll it takes on the combatants. We always learn about how men behave before, during and after the conflict. Women are usually relegated to sub-plots involving their taking care of men and the ramifications on their lives as a result of what the men have gone through.


Anne Fontaine's "The Innocents" examines a very different aspect of war, specifically how a group of women - in this case, nuns - are affected by the immediate aftermath of World War II swirling around their convent. 

Mathilde (Lou de Laâge) is a young doctor working for the French Red Cross around Warsaw. She and her fellow doctors are busy tending to the wounded at their station, but her personal mission is tossed in another direction when she comes into contact with nuns at a nearby convent. As troops from different countries pass through the nun's lives, they commit unspeakable acts. All of the nuns have been repeatedly raped and many are now pregnant. It's not difficult to understand the depth of the emotional distress the nuns are experiencing.

Independence Day: Resurgence Review

Where There's No Will, There's No Way

The first "Independence Day" holds a special place in my movie-watching heart. My grandmother owned a VHS copy of the film and we would watch it over and over. We'd watch it together or I would take it home and watch it myself. I'm surprised the tape didn't wear out.

Roland Emmerich's original film came out in 1996. Twenty years later, he has been compelled to dump a sequel into theaters and pray for the same success he found in the 90s (the original movie cost $75 million to make and grossed over $800 million worldwide). Like most sequels, "Independence Day: Resurgence" is bigger, louder, flashier and dumber. The original was no masterpiece, but at least it was fun.

In reviews, we often talk about the justification of a sequel. Some sequels are necessary ("The Godfather: Part II") but most are not. Just looking at this summer, did we really need "Neighbors 2" or "Finding Dory?" No, probably not. But they each had their own merits, which justified their existence and us forking over our money at the box office.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Wiener-Dog Review

Another Wiener From Solondz

Todd Solondz first caught my attention with "Welcome to the Dollhouse," a dark and disturbing comedy. Then he gave us "Happiness," in my opinion, as good a black comedy as I have ever seen. He's had a few other good ones, since, and now he has given us "Wiener Dog," another black comedy that while not his best, it's not far from it.

"Wiener-Dog" follows the life of a dachshund as it repeatedly switches owners. In that way, it reminded me of Robert Bresson's French film classic, "Au hazard Balthazar," whose central character was a donkey that moved from owner to owner. While the French film mostly looked at the abuses to the donkey, Solondz casts the dachshund as an innocent bystander that watches stupid humans doing stupid things.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople Review

Ill Will Hunting

A film shot in New Zealand without magical rings, hobbits and Ian McKellen can still be a bit of a fantasy, even if unintended. Native Kiwi director Taika Waititi's "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" is a buddy picture where the buddies couldn't be more different, a staple of the genre.

Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is a young, overweight, orphaned teenage boy who has run out of options because of his consistently bad personal behavior. The state, in the person of a social worker named Paula (Rachel Hall), has delivered Ricky to a couple living in an extremely rural area. It's his last chance to catch on with a family before he is forced to live in a form of detention. Paula is a buffoonish version of a nasty Nurse Ratched type. Her character is more annoying than anything else and each time she appears, she brings down the story, although maybe some of you might find her funny.

The Last Heist Review

Henry Rollins Steals The Show



The premise of "The Last Heist" is immensely appealing. The execution is immensely unappealing, except for the spookiness of Bernard (Henry Rollins). If not for him, this film would have been an utter waste of time, filled with insanely inane dialogue and story lines as predictable as a politician's answers to questions from reporters. 

There were moments when you swore you could hear what characters were saying before they said it. Aside from the look in Rollins' eyes, not much was going on, and when he wasn't on the screen, all that was left was to wait for his next appearance, and unfortunately, he is not on-screen enough. 

In an industrial part of downtown Los Angeles, a bank is going out of business. It's on a remote and deserted street and looks nothing like a bank from either the outside or inside. Bernard enters, stating that he would like to withdraw the contents of his safety deposit box. Despite being dressed in a suit, his actions, words, and especially his eyes scream meth addict or someone of a similar ilk.

Nuts! Review

Go Nuts



One of the most enjoyable aspects of viewing a documentary can be learning about someone who you have never heard about that has a story almost too far-fetched to be believed. These people are littered throughout history, especially the con men and women. 

"Dr." John Romulus Brinkley was born in 1885 to a poor mountain man who practiced medicine in North Carolina. When John was a teenager, more than anything else he wanted to be a doctor. One day he showed up, uninvited, at Johns Hopkins Medical School to attempt to gain entrance. He went before one of the big shots there, but was rebuffed. Showing up barefoot probably didn't advance his cause. Undeterred, he enrolled at a local medical school in Milford, Kansas, where he had settled down. Milford wasn't even a one-horse town at that time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Equals Review

Less Equal Than Others

It's time for yet another trip into a dystopian future that was intended to be Utopian, but we know immediately that it is anything but. If that sounds familiar, it's probably because you've been exposed to the same premise more times than you can count. This puts an enormous burden on the director, who must somehow make their attempt at this common trope feel unique. Drake Doremus' effort, "Equals", which debuted earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival, falls short of that goal. By a wide margin.

In some nebulous post-apocalyptic future, sociaty has figured out how to genetically erase the need for human emotion. The theory is that emotion is the root cause behind all that is disruptive in life: violence, crime, and war. We are left with robotic humanoids who work, but experience no feelings, good or bad. In "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" our re-programming was orchestrated by aliens, but the effect was the same. "The Twilight Zone" had at least one episode dealing with a similar plot. Where it goes next is exactly as you might expect: Someone is going to see the error of society's ways and rebel against the system.

Bose SoundSport and SoundTrue Headphones Up to 50 Percent Off Today Only on Amazon

The SoundTrue around-ear Headphones II is perfect for at home or on the go. Photo: Amazon.


This is the time of year when you're on the go. You go to the beach, go to the gym, go for a walk; you're always going somewhere. All of those outings need the perfect soundtrack.

Having the right pair of headphones can make or break a summer outing. Bose has been a popular headphone choice for years, but they're typically a pricey choice. Well, not today. Amazon's Gold Box Deal of the Day features two popular Bose headphone products, at up to 50 percent off the regular retail prices. Find out more on Amazon's Gold Box Deal of the Day page:

This Gold Box Deal only has two headphone products, but that includes one in-ear model and one on-ear model -- so you should be able to find something you like.

Samsung UN55KU6600 Curved 55-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart LED TV: $649.99 (Half Price) Today Only

The Samsung UN55KU6600 is an Amazon exclusive. Photo: Amazon.

Happy Prime Day, people! We've been hearing about Amazon's special day for about a week. Now that the day is finally here, we can tell you that there are a few deals you should be taking advantage of.

We found the Samsung 55-inch UN55KU6600 Curved 4K Ultra HD TV listed for just $649.99. This is an Amazon exclusive, but it is a really nice deal on a really nice 4K TV with High Dynamic Range (HDR) support and smart TV features. It's 48 percent off the regular retail for today only -- and that even includes free shipping. Find out more about the deal and the TV here:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review

Stay in Your Shell

I'll be up front with you before getting into this review: I'm not the demographic "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" is aimed at. The cartoons and toys were never part of my childhood, so I have no real attachment to the franchise, nor to this latest reboot in CGI-enhanced live action films.

Perhaps this lack of attachment has clouded my judgement. Ah, who am I kidding? These movies are just terrible. The first film wasn't what I'd call "good" but somehow I still felt unprepared for its aggressively obnoxious sequel.

One of the many problems with these movies is their aesthetics. Just like the first and more so in this sequel, the lighting is dim (much like most of the dialog). Director Dave Green is clearly going for a murky, cinema noir-esque, seedy underbelly visual of New York City. But his artistic ambitions don't quite match what has been realized on the big screen. It's one thing to be ominous; quite another to be just plain ugly.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Review

Lonely Island Sings a Funny Tune

Going into "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," I only knew SNL alum Andy Samberg's "The Lonely Island" trio by name and by a few titles of their comedy songs. Satirical and Emmy-winning, I knew they were popular but never really cared to investigate further.

Reviewing "Popstar" is my first real introduction into "The Lonely Island" (I say that having seen 2007's "Hot Rod" and remembering absolutely nothing about it). As a novice to this area of comedy, I had a surprisingly great time with "Popstar." It's giddily stupid and surprisingly self-aware. But it doesn't beg for laughs: it earns them.

Samberg stars as Conner4Real, who was previously a member of a popular boy band called "The Style Boyz," with his two childhood friends, Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), both "Lonely Island" members. The group gains fame and fortune and, like many popular bands, releases that one special song that becomes their signature.

A Bigger Splash Review

Swinton and Fiennes Make Quite the Splash

Luca Guadagnino's "A Bigger Splash" is a peek into the relationship between a female rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her boyfriend, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), a documentary filmmaker. The couple lives on an island off the coast of Sicily and this exotic locale is the setting for this sometimes sordid tale.



For the first two thirds of the film, its primary concern revolves around sexual tension between the couple and the wife's old flame who stops by for a visit, unannounced and uninvited. The film's third act takes it in a somewhat different direction. Both stories work, for different reasons.

Marianne Laine (Swinton) is a successful singer recuperating from vocal cord surgery. This reduces her spoken words to whispers, under strict doctor's orders. The somewhat androgynous yet strikingly attractive Swinton looks more like David Bowie here than ever (in fact, I'd love to see her play the rock icon in a biopic if any directors are out there paying attention).

Monday, July 11, 2016

Samsung Dolby Atmos Soundbars Now Available to Order

The HW-K950 has 15 built-in speakers including four upward-firing drivers and rear wireless speakers. Photo: Samsung.

Back in the spring, Samsung Electronics had announced plans to pack Dolby Atmos support into two new soundbar products. The company has just started taking pre-orders on both of those options, promising to deliver before the end of the summer.

The HW-K950 is actually the first Dolby Atmos soundbar "package," which means it includes two wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer. The company is also releasing the HW-K850, which comes with a wireless subwoofer as well. Both are Samsung's first soundbar products to get Dolby Atmos Cinema Sound, which promises that immersive audio experience without the need for speakers around the room and/or on the ceiling.

Last Cab to Darwin Review

Ride Off Into the Sunset

Euthanasia - the assisted suicide of a patient with a terminal or chronic illness - is technically illegal in Australia, just as it is in most of the world. However, in 1995, the one part of the country where Euthanasia was legally permitted (albeit temporarilty) was the Northern Territory.

Suicide itself is not considered a crime anywhere in Australia. A patient can elect not to receive any treatment for a terminal illness and can also elect to have their life support turned off. But enlisting help from a medical professional in facilitating one's own demise is another story. In "Last Cab to Darwin," Australian actor-turned-writer/director Jeremy Sims, has given us an Australian view of the debate in regards to euthanasia.


Based on true events, and adapted from a stage play from 2003, "Last Cab to Darwin" tells the story of Rex (Michael Caton), an aging cab driver from the small Australian town of Broken Hill. It's the kind of close-knit community where everyone seemingly knows everyone else. Just about everyone Rex runs into knows him by name and warm, friendly hellos abound. When he's not driving his cab, Rex and his mates hang out at the local bar/restaurant downing beers and recounting the same old tales they have no doubt told before, but which still evoke hearty laughter and back-slapping.

The Lobster Review

This Lobster Doesn't Require Butter



Can you handle a truly weird one? I'm not talking sort-of weird. I'm talking alternate universe kind of weird. "The Lobster" is the first English-language film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos and if this is any indication of what is to come from him, it's worth paying attention to whatever else follows.


David (Colin Farrell) is incredibly mild-mannered with a flat effect. He is somewhere between apprehensive and catatonic, when we first see him in The Hotel. David is in The Hotel because his wife recently had an affair and left him. People must go to The Hotel when they are single. Why that is, is never made entirely clear.

What we do know is that when you are sent to The Hotel you have 45 days to find a mate there among those that have also been sent there for the same reason. If 45 days pass before you find a partner, you will be transformed into the animal of your choice. Residents make their choice upon check-in. David elected to become a lobster because he says that they live a long time and procreate quite a bit. The weirdest part of it all is how normal all of this seems to the people involved.

Central Intelligence Review

Emotional Intelligence

Though it looks like a standard odd couple buddy movie, "Central Intelligence" has more surprises than the the tagline -- "Saving the World Takes a little Hart and a big Johnson" -- would suggest.

20 years after graduating, least popular high school student Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) Facebook friends most popular high school student Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart). Bob has since transformed from the fat kid to a secret agent superhero. Calvin is now a bored accountant. 



The movie doesn't get its intelligence from the plot: Stone needs Calvin's help to save the world from cyber terror (spy satellites, hacked passwords, someone called "The Black Badger," etc...). CIA officer Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) suspects Stone is a rogue agent, and the ensuing shootouts are by-the-book Hollywood exercises (made less entertaining by actual shootings in any number of places recently). A tangential marriage-counseling scene with Calvin and his wife Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) is fairly absurd (absurd-stupid, not absurd-funny).

The Legend of Tarzan Review

A Swing and a Miss

Throughout the majority of "The Legend of Tarzan," I just kept wondering: When will the Phil Collins music start playing?

I know, I know. The 1999 Disney film probably wasn't how Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined his creation would turn out when he originally wrote the story of Tarzan. But director David Yates' 2016 imagining is so ho-hum, one could only hope that Glenn Close's gorilla mom would saunter on to the screen and let us know everything would be okay.

But the delightful Disney animation is nowhere to be found. Instead we have a movie that is so self-serious and desperate to be a big summer spectacle. Yates is capable of helming grand pieces and balancing dark tones and technical wonder (he carried the "Harry Potter" franchise from the fifth film to the end).

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words Review

Cosmik Debris

I was an enormous fan of Frank Zappa, mostly for his musical brilliance, but also for his acerbic, shredding wit that he often used to carve up those he felt were idiots and/or phonies. He could dazzle you with a blazing guitar, make you laugh at his dark lyrics, and make you smile while he went at it with a politician or a political pundit. Throughout it all, he rarely cracked a smile. Instead, he frequently put on a stern face or displayed that mischievous, knowing look.


Thorsten Schütte's documentary on Zappa, "Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words," is a compilation of interviews of the man himself, his concert footage, and his life around the political arena. The concert footage omits most of Zappa's most famous songs, which personally disappointed me, but it manages to enable you to experience the almost absurd environment of a typical Zappa performance.

Sonos PLAY:5 Review



Big Sound (Big Picture Sold Separately)

Despite a seemingly endless parade of new products and services entering the wireless home music arena, friends and family members who come to me in search of buying advice continue to get one recommendation more than any other: Sonos. With its continuously impressive PSI rating (performance per square inch - yes, I made that up) and a simplicity of operation that even my kids can understand, Sonos' attractive suite of powered PLAY speakers continues to be a perennial favorite. Only the original PLAY:5 (previously known as the ZonePlayer S5), when viewed next to its sleeker and younger PLAY:1 and PLAY:3 siblings, is starting to show any signs of aging. However, that all changes with the introduction of the completely redesigned PLAY:5, making its debut alongside TruePlay, Sonos' innovative, new calibration and room optimization software.

Tablo Over-the-Air HD DVR Review

Tablo DVR - front and rear views.


You down with OTA?

Cord cutting. Long the refuge of the few, the proud. Those who would dare to take a stand against the arcane payment plans foisted upon the entertainment-starved masses by cable providers since time (warner?) immemorial. Why do I still need to purchase a "basic" subscription that contains channels I am guaranteed never to watch? In a world where I can customize my phone, my watch - even my food - why can I still not get the content I want when I want it?

Well, in these exciting times, there continue to be options for those who would cast off the shackles of our content-wielding oppressors. Naturally, there are streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, and there are ever more options for "premium" channels without a cable subscriptions (HBO and Showtime were first to the party, though the pricing model still leaves a lot to be desired). There are even pay TV providers like DISH providing their own cord-cutting option in services like SlingTV. It's almost getting to the point where you can select one from column A and one from column B, to satisfy your specific appetite for content. Almost.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Samsung UN65JS9500 LED LCD Ultra HD TV Review

The JS9500 features a 1080p camera that only pops up when you need it.

Better Pixels Are Here

Most television manufacturers are transitioning all mid-to-large sized 1080p offerings to 4K Ultra High-Definition (UHD) resolution within the next couple of years. However, quadrupling the pixel count has proven to be a relatively easy evolutionary step compared to the accurate expression of the UHD format's expanded color palette and luminance range. For videophiles looking to future-proof a display investment, the 2015 flagship models appear ready to fully support UHD video presentation even if some features will arrive later in the form of software updates.

Samsung's best 2015 TVs are branded under its new "SUHD" series of televisions - the "S" not really standing for anything specific other than the company's way of identifying a flagship product like its popular Galaxy S smartphones and tablets. The SUHD family of TVs incorporates Samsung's latest display technologies which aim to deliver deeper, richer colors and improved contrast compared to anything the company has offered before. SUHD-specific features and technical highlights include:

Monday, June 20, 2016

DISH Network Hopper 3 Whole-Home DVR Review

The Hopper 3 has 16 tuners and storage for up to 2,000 hours of programming. Photo: DISH Network.

Jumping for Joy (and New Features)

Ever since DISH Network first introduced the Hopper Whole-House DVR back in 2012, they've been working on ways to improve it. If you had asked me back then what they could do to make it better, I probably would have said not to change a thing. I thought it was perfect. Boy, was I wrong.

Okay, it was wonderful, but the newly launched Hopper 3 Whole-Home DVR is so much better. It has a new interface, a new remote, new insides, and pretty much a new everything else -- and it's absolutely wonderful.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Denon AVR-X1200W 7.2-channel A/V Receiver Review

I Want to Take You Higher

For more than a year, we've been talking about how and why you'd want to have Dolby Atmos in your home. (Find out more about Dolby Atmos here.) So how many of you have actually added that feature into your home theater setup? (A show of hands is not necessary.) If price has been keeping you back  -- and really, what else would be? -- Denon Electronics is making it a whole lot easier to upgrade to immersive "3D sound" with the AVR-X1200W.

The AVR-X1200W is an entry-level "7.2-channel" receiver with Dolby Atmos and is upgradeable to DTS:X. They call it "7.2" because it offers seven channels for various speakers plus two subwoofer outputs. Technically calling it "7.2" may be a stretch as the two subwoofer outputs are not independently adjustable in set-up, but for simplicity, we'll go along with the 7.2 nomenclature.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Samsung NX500 Interchangeable Lens Camera Review

Samsung's NX500 comes in black, white and brown.

He Points, He Shoots, He Scores!

I take a lot of pictures. But I'm not a photographer. Whether it's the kids' sports activities, family vacations or press events such as CES, I take thousands of pictures a year. But to be honest, I've never been all that driven to learn the details of the craft, to become a "photographer." I have a basic understanding of photography concepts such as exposure times, focal length, depth of field, bokeh and such. But more often than not, I'm setting my camera to "auto" mode, pointing, clicking and hoping for the best.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty Review

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty Review

"The Curse of Sleeping Beauty" is, in a word, beautiful. It's a multi-genre film that takes basic elements from the classic fairy tale and weaves them into a story about a haunted house, an ancient curse, and a young man who dreams each night of a captive maiden who waits for his kiss to awaken her from her enchanted sleep. In addition to being released as a film, "Beauty" was simultaneously conceived as a graphic novel, and the parallels between the mediums are easy to see: scenes are composed like paintings, with artful attention to symmetry and balance, and light and color are used very intentionally to accent story elements, or to evoke eerie or ethereal moods.

Equally noteworthy is "Beauty"'s sonorous score and striking sound design; the eerie chants and dissonant choral notes woven throughout help to immerse the viewer in the supernatural story while reinforcing the film's sensual aesthetics. The tale itself isn't particularly groundbreaking, but the production is lovely enough that the occasionally pedestrian story beats can be forgiven.

Money Monster Review

A Solid Investment

The financial crisis has been on abundant display at the movies lately. Just last year, "The Big Short" and the underseen "99 Homes" focused on the housing crisis and economic collapse. Who knew such a dark time would provide so many movies.

Director Jodie Foster's "Money Monster" is an entertaining thriller with some things to say about the world today. While it never looks at the widespread effects of the crumbling economy, there are points to be made. Wisely, she doesn't emphasize them but sticks to making a solid B-movie thriller.


George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, an obnoxious but charismatic television personality. His show, "Money Monster", analyzes stock options and he gives his advice on what people should invest in. He dances, wears costumes and uses props, while trying to grab his viewers' attention. He is guided by director Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), through each episode. Patty has the thankless task of trying to keep Lee on course.     

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

High-Rise Review

The Rise and Fall



J. G. Ballard was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist who is best known for his apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic writing. Two of his novels, "Crash" and "Empire of the Sun", have been adapted to the screen and both won critical acclaim. This time, Ben Wheatley tackles Ballard's "High-Rise", a futuristic view of big city life in Great Britain, and if this is where we're headed, we're in a heap of trouble.


At its beginning, we get a quick glimpse into a society in disarray, before Wheatley whisks us three months back in time to a far more peaceful scene. Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), is a low-key neurologist who has recently moved into a beautiful apartment on the 25th floor of a building that has approximately 50 floors. 



His positioning is important because the building operates as a hierarchy where the higher, more expensive floors equate to the most prestige. The surrounding landscape features similar high-rises and parking lots. When you look outside Laing's window, that's all that is visible.

Captain America: Civil War Review

Civil War: What Is It Good For?

We're told "Captain America: Civil War" is a movie about Captain America by the title but it feels like Avengers 2.5, a pit stop on the way to the next movie in the "Avengers" series.

It's not necessarily a bad thing - just a curious observation of Anthony and Joe Russo's newest installment in the Marvel canon. "Captain America: Civil War" teeters on the edge of too much and is a bit unwieldy, narratively, but offers just the right amount of action to entertain staunch and casual fans alike.

The "Captain America" films have been on an interesting trajectory. The first one was such a languid, uninteresting origin story, it almost kept me out of the sequel, "Captain America: Winter Soldier". I'm glad I didn't stay away because that was a great action film. The third film plants itself firmly between feeling like an origin story and a great action movie.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Family Fang Review

Razor-Sharp Fangs
Jason Bateman's follow-up to his directorial debut in "Bad Words", is "The Family Fang", possibly my favorite narrative piece from the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. It owes its success to a truly unique script that was penned by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the novel by Kevin Wilson, and a stellar cast, including Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken - as crazy as usual - and Kathryn Hahn.


Baxter Fang (Bateman) and his sister Annie (Kidman) grew up under extremely odd circumstances. They were raised by their parents Caleb (Walken) and Camille (Hahn in the past and Maryann Plunkett in the present) to take part in their particularly odd forms of street performance. All of these performances are designed to initially draw innocent bystanders near and then have something outrageous happen, causing the bystanders to initially exhibit sympathy, especially towards the children.

In one flashback, we see the family pretend to commit a bank robbery which results in Camille being shot to death. While everyone around them freaks out, Caleb films it all until the gag is over. Similar stunts abound. Some are funny. All of them are uncomfortable to watch, usually because you can't help but feel for young Baxter and Camille.
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