Posts Tagged "entertainment"

YouTube Railfanning

Published on December 9, 2018

I’ve loved trains since I was a child, and it’s a passion I never grew out of. In fact, one of the best parts of our trip to Switzerland last year was riding the rails, which we did each day. That is one of the (many!) reasons we wish to return to that fantastic country.

Here in the United States, train spotting (i.e. railfanning) primarily consists of watching freight traffic. As fun as it is to see a train in person, I have neither the time nor the inclination to get in my car and ride around chasing trains. To my good fortune, there are plenty of people on YouTube who do enjoy that pursuit and who film their efforts.

One of the best channels I’ve found to help me scratch that itch is Distant Signal Productions. Danny Harmon, based near Tampa, Florida, wonderfully narrates his railfan adventures. That he works in television is apparent, both from the professional voice-overs to the fantastic video editing. Here are two great introductory videos to his channel:

I learn quite a bit each time I watch one of his videos, and I enjoy it immensely. Another channel worth checking out is Delay in Block Productions, another very professional channel. This video on the Blue Ridge Southern Railroad was exceptionally shot, and fun to watch.

The Terrible Writing of Star Trek

Published on July 29, 2011

This afternoon, I finished season 2 of the original Star Trek series. The last few episodes of this season are incredibly bad, even by 1960’s-era science fiction standards. What really gets me about the last few episodes, is the feeling that they were written by grumpy old men, unhappy with the political climate at the time. Let’s take a look at the three worst examples:

Episode 23: The Omega Glory
In this bizarre episode, Kirk finds a star-ship captain violating the prime directive. The Yangs (yanks) and Kohms (communists) are battling one another in a bizarro-world parallel-Earth scenario. Worst of all? The Yangs have their own “American” flag, and the Declaration of Independence is considered their “holy word” (which, ironically enough, is kept in a large King James Bible). Be sure to listen for the strains of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful” every time the flag is shown.

Episode 25: Bread and Circuses
While attempting to locate a missing star-ship crew, Kirk and company stumble upon a planet whose oppressive government is a 20th-century version of Earth’s Roman empire. In the final 2 minutes of the episode, Lieutenant Uhura figures out that the “sun worshipers” (who are slaves in this world’s society) aren’t actually worshiping the sun, they’re worshiping the son of God. The “aw, shucks” sentimentality of the crew at this discovery is really misplaced and simply feels tacked on. Maybe a network exec forced the writers to put this twist in?

Episode 26: Assignment: Earth
The season finale plays on the cold war fears of the 1960s, and shows a lot of badly edited NASA footage of early Apollo-era flight tests. A stereotypical “dumb blonde” female character sums up the entirety of her generation’s shortcomings in this unforgettable scene:

Mister Seven, I want to believe you. I do. I know this world needs help. That’s why some of my generation are kind of crazy and rebels, you know. We wonder if we’re going to be alive when we’re thirty!

Is a quote like that the hallmark of an out-of-touch, angry old man, or what? “Kids these days … am I right?”

There are some other particularly annoying episodes, like Episode 22: By Any Other Name. This episode was terrific for the first 45 minutes of the 50 total. In the last few minutes, the aliens who have taken the Enterprise crew hostage simply cave in to Kirk’s reasoning for peace, totally destroying the tension that had built up to that point. I was hoping for the death and destruction of these monsters, but all they gave me was peace and harmony. This could have been a solid episode, but the ending ruined it completely.

I’m looking forward to season 3 (some of the episodes sound very interesting), but I’m boldly going forward with a grain of salt. There are bound to be rocky episodes ahead.

Musical Voyage – Completed!

Published on July 26, 2011

Way back in February of this year, I started a Musical Voyage: listening to my music in order, sorted by album title. Today, I finally finished the journey with Van Halen’s “5150” (an album I consider mediocre at best; I never was a Sammy Hagar fan). I found this to be an interesting way to enjoy my music. Sometimes the jump from one album to the next was very pleasant (e.g. Relayer by Yes to Revolver by The Beatles); other times, it was jarring and unexpected (e.g. from Best of Schubert to Best of The Doors). I heard a ton of stuff I rarely listen to, reintroducing myself to some terrific music. Occasionally, I even heard something I didn’t like (and which I’ve subsequently purged from my iPod). At least I can buy some new music for myself now; upon starting this goal, I set a rule that no new music could be added. There’s several things I’ve been eager to get, and now I finally can. Mission accomplished!

Musical Voyage

Published on February 8, 2011

Over the course of the next few months, I am going to try something my dad did last year: listening to my entire music library in order, sorted alphabetically by album title. This sort order should provide a fairly diverse musical experience. iTunes tells me that I currently have 4174 songs in my library, which comes out to 12.4 days of non-stop music. I’ll be going from The Beatles’ Abbey Road to Van Halen’s 5150 (iTunes places numerically titled albums at the end for some reason). As I make progress, I will occasionally tweet my location in the library. My current plan is to use the #musicstream hash-tag on twitter to demarcate my progress. I’m looking forward to hearing the music that I don’t listen to often; there’s plenty that I frequently overlook.

Greensboro Historical Museum and Guilford Courthouse

Published on August 1, 2010

This weekend, for my mom’s birthday, we took a trip over to Greensboro, NC to visit the Greensboro Historical Museum and the Guilford Courthouse Military Park. Having never visited Greensboro proper, we didn’t really know what to expect from either.

The historical museum in Greensboro is way larger than it may look from the outside. We easily spent two hours wandering through the various exhibits, some of which are tremendously large. More time could easily be spent here; the rainy weather limited our outdoor experiences (a few exhibits are outside the building). I was surprised to learn about the history of the area; a number of corporations were founded there, and several prominent events have occurred over the course of time. Best of all, the visit is absolutely free! I came away from the museum very impressed. It easily rivals the state museums in Raleigh.

Guilford county courthouse, site of a pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War, is equally as entertaining. Again, the rainy weather limited our outdoor activity at the park, but it should be noted that there are miles of hiking trails and a number of memorials around the park. The visitor center has an excellent 30-minute film describing the events of the battle. A number of artifacts from the battlefield are also on display; from rifles, to cannonballs, to belt buckles, it’s all here. The collection is truly gigantic. Again, the visit is completely free. This is a park I will definitely return to.

If you’re ever in the Greensboro area, I highly recommend both destinations. Both provide a relaxing environment, and a historical perspective on the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

Thoughts on Garry Shandling’s Show

Published on January 17, 2010

Earlier today, I finished watching the fourth and final season of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. I enjoyed the whole series so much, that I wanted to share a few thoughts on it. For those who don’t already know, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was a sitcom that ran on the Showtime network between 1986 and 1990. In it, Garry Shandling plays himself, and is fully aware that he is a sitcom character. All of the characters around him also realize that they are a part of a television show, so the whole experience is very “meta.” Garry often involved the studio audience in the story, and each show opened and closed with a monologue. The fourth wall was broken as a rule on the show, not as an exception, so the viewer at home was usually in on every situation and joke.

What I like most about the show is how unique a premise it is, even to this day. Having the characters of the show all realize that they are on television is very clever and made for some great gags. Garry would often exploit this fact to the fullest; whether walking between sets to keep a thread going, or advancing time in silly ways to push the story forward. The supporting cast is all terrific, and the comedy outstanding. There were some episodes where I literally laughed until I cried. You gotta love a show that can do that.

The fourth season is definitely the weakest of them all. I listened to a number of episode commentaries, and it was interesting to learn that many of the writers felt the show went in the wrong direction in the fourth season. Showtime had a fairly small audience, so the show’s ratings were never terrific (even though it was nominated for, and won, a number of awards). After Fox picked up the last two seasons, ratings tanked, mostly because the show was never meant to air with commercials. Upon debuting on Fox, the show came in at number 99 out of 100 shows; only The Tracey Ullman Show was worse. Interestingly enough, during the fourth season, many of the writers from It’s Garry Shandling’s Show also went to work on a little television show called The Simpsons, which debuted in the top 5 of the ratings. It’s ironic, then, that the same writing staff would garner a top 5 rating and a 99th rating in the same year.

If you get a chance to check out this show, I highly recommend it. In some ways the show may be dated, but the humor is clever, and there are some very ground-breaking ideas. I’m greatly looking forward to checking out Garry’s subsequent show, The Larry Sanders Show.

Reimagining Sherlock Holmes

Published on December 25, 2009

Sherlock Holmes has had a special place in my heart since I was quite young. I’ve read all of the stories, all of which I hold in high esteem. In high school, I even did a report (or two) on this character. Among all famous, fictitious detectives, he ranks as my all-time favorite (though Cadfael, Inspector Morse, and Inspector Lewis are nearly as enjoyable). Of all of the actor portrayals of this character, Jeremy Brett’s is the only one I will ever truly acknowledge. Mr. Brett’s take on Sherlock was fantastic, and spot-on with the character in the stories. He captured nuances and characterizations that no other actor had been able to do prior, and no one has done since.

That being said, I’m intrigued by the new Sherlock Holmes film being released. Robert Downey Jr. is a good actor (though I’d argue not in the same league as Jeremy Brett), and his take on the super-sleuth looks interesting. Some of the reviews I’ve read have been positive, so it’s a movie that is definitely on my radar. I’m not a fan of movie theaters, so I’ll happily wait until it gets released to DVD. In the mean time, I think it’s time to fire up an episode or two of Jeremy Brett’s work.

Three Strikes and You’re Out

Published on November 6, 2009

Last night, I tweeted some dark thoughts about The Office. This morning, I stand by them. As painful as it is for me to say it, this television show is becoming a chore to watch. Laughs have been few and far between this season, and last night’s episode was the second in a row where I didn’t laugh a single time. Not once! What happened?

Nearly all of the characters have lost their charm. Pam, for example, used to be an enjoyable second-tier character. Now, she’s just a cranky, two-dimensional bitch. Every episode this season has seemingly revolved around her being unhappy and depressed (even the wedding episode). This is getting really old, really fast, and it needs to stop.

Here’s my idea on how the show can recapture its greatness by the end of this season: Michael needs to fire Pam, Jim, or possibly both. There’s no tension in this show anymore, and shaking things up big time is the only way I see it coming back in a legitimate way. The first few seasons of this show captured the awkward tension that made the original British series so wonderful. Sadly, that tension has been lost (though it was oh-so-briefly revived in the “Lover” episode from this season). If Pam were to be fired, a whole new tension would arise: between Jim and Michael at work, Jim and Pam at home, and things may even spill over onto the rest of the cast (by the way, has anyone else noticed how little air-time the secondary characters have gotten this season?).

For the past two weeks, I’ve diligently watched this show and not once have I laughed. The Office, I’m putting you on notice. Three strikes, and you’re out of my TV lineup.

Animation: Not Just For Kids

Published on September 9, 2009

A recent newspaper review for the new computer animated movie 9 warned that the movie isn’t necessarily kid-friendly, and that young children will most likely be scared from the post apocalyptic setting. Shouldn’t the PG-13 rating indicate that kids under 13 probably shouldn’t be watching it anyway? Why does the reviewer jump to the conclusion that, because it’s animated, the movie is for kids? It frustrates me that Americans think animation belongs solely to children. The medium should be taken way more seriously than it is. Foreign films like Princess Mononoke (another PG-13 film) are proof that animation can be used successfully for adult topics. Someone out there needs to buck the current trend and develop an animated movie purely for adults; maybe something that’s rated R. Though I can only imagine all the angry parents complaining that the movie was “too adult” for their kids.

Why can’t Americans just grow up?

Thoughts on Star Trek

Published on July 29, 2009

[I originally tweeted some of the following thoughts, but decided a blog post would be a better place to share them, hence the disappearance of said tweets.]

I’ve recently been going through the original Star Trek movies (with William Shatner, et al). Prior to watching the films, I started with the first season of the original series, which is available instantly on Netflix. Sure it’s dated, but I think the original show is terrific. There are a number of interesting moral dilemmas which occur through various episodes, and often some interesting conclusions to said problems. After watching the first season (I actually have one episode left, as of this writing), I started watching the films. Here are some thoughts on the ones I’ve seen so far.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
The premise of this movie is fantastic (an ancient man-made machine becomes self aware). Sadly, the film’s execution of the story falls flat. I guess you have to start somewhere though. 3 stars.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The 22nd episode of the first season of Star Trek introduces Khan, a super-human who escapes 20th century Earth with a number of criminals. Kirk and company find him and his compatriots frozen in space in a spaceship named Botany Bay. I won’t spoil the ending of that episode, but this movie essentially picks up that story line 15 years later. Things have taken a turn for the worse for Khan, and he’s out for revenge. Ricardo Montalban is outstanding as Khan, and the movie plays out in dramatic fashion. I gave this movie 4 stars at Netflix, but it probably merits more like 4.5. Outstanding science fiction.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
I enjoyed this movie, though it’s nowhere near as gripping as the second. The story was enjoyable, and you’ve got to love Christopher Lloyd as the Klingon commander. 3 stars (3.49 in my book, not quite enough to round to 4).
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Like the first movie, this film has a terrific premise. A strange probe shows up on Earth, draining all power sources as it orbits overhead, and begins evaporating the oceans. Mankind presumes the probe is trying to communicate with humans; turns out it’s trying to contact another species on Earth. Again, like the first movie, the execution here falls a little flat. It quickly turns into a fish-out-of-water movie similar to Crocodile Dundee, another film from 1986 (and a movie I absolutely adore; one of my favorite movies ever, strange as that may be). The comedic undertones are enjoyable, but water down the admittedly pro-environmentalist plot. 3 stars.

I have two more films to go: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I’m looking forward to both. I’ll probably tweet my thoughts on those two, once I’ve seen them.

Festival for the Eno

Published on June 24, 2009

The 30th annual Festival for the Eno is coming up next weekend, July 3-5. If you’re in the Triangle area in North Carolina, be sure to check it out. Tickets are $15 at the gate, and most (if not all) of the money goes to conserving the Eno River. The event is “trash free” (over 90% of trash is either recycled or composted) and a great way to spend a day. Over 80 musical and dance groups will be performing on 4 stages during the 3 days. Add to this great food, art vendors, and the beautiful West Point on the Eno setting, and you have a recipe for a great time.

I’ll most likely be out there on Friday; if you see me, be sure to say hello!

Movie List of Shame

Published on June 11, 2009

Way back when I signed up for Netflix, I added a bunch of movies I had never seen to my queue. Several of these movies fall into what I call my “list of shame” (I’m borrowing the term from Dan Trachtenberg of the The Totally Rad Show). These are movies that everyone but me had already seen, and are fairly seminal. Yesterday, Dustin and I were discussing what qualifies a movie for the “list of shame” and I’m not sure I have a steadfast rule. For the most part, it’s a movie that, if I told most anyone I hadn’t seen it, they would say incredulously, “You haven’t seen that?!?”

Anyways, I thought it would be fun to share a few movies from my list, along with the rating I ultimately gave it at Netflix (using their 5 star rating scheme):

  • Beverly Hills Cop (5)
  • Big Trouble in Little China (4)
  • Billy Madison (4)
  • The Birds (4)
  • The Blues Brothers (4)
  • Caddyshack (3)
  • The Dirty Dozen (4)
  • Doctor Strangelove (5)
  • The Godfather (5)
  • The Godfather: Part II (4)
  • The Goonies (4)
  • Groundhog Day (4)
  • Happy Gilmore (4)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (4)
  • Jaws (4)
  • Saturday Night Fever (4)
  • Scarface (4)
  • Smokey and the Bandit (4)
  • Spaceballs (3)
  • Tron (4)

For the most part, I really enjoyed every movie on this list. And I can now say “yes, I’ve seen that” when asked by someone about these movies. There are still a few upcoming movies on my queue that fit this bill (including Citizen Kane, The Godfather: Part III, and Blazing Saddles). Do you have movies on your “list of shame?” If so, what are they?

Office Season Finale

Published on May 14, 2009

Tonight’s season finale for The Office was pretty weak, in my opinion. To begin with, I was a little miffed that it wasn’t an hour long, but after the show was over, I was glad it hadn’t been. I’m not sure I could have stood another half hour of boredom. The only redeeming part of the episode was the tension between Michael and Holly. Here’s hoping that things get back on track next season!

What did you guys think?

Good Times in The Office

Published on March 26, 2009

The Office has really seen a resurgence in quality over the past several weeks. I lamented once before about a perceived downward spiral for the show, but tonight’s episode was a real throwback to the good old days of seasons 2 and 3. Other recent episodes have been equally as strong, making the show a joy to watch again. Michael’s tension with his new boss Charles is truly palpable, allowing the viewer to share those awkward moments that made the early seasons so fun.

It looks as if the writers are setting things up for a huge season finale. We get to see Ryan for the first time in a while in the next episode (which is two weeks from tonight), and hilarity should ensue as Michael and Pam set out to start a new paper company. Will Michael hire Ryan as an employee in his new company? Could Holly make another appearance at the end of the season? Will the folks at Dunder-Mifflin realize that, despite his antics, Michael Scott is the right man for their company?

I can’t wait to find out.

If I Ran the Oscars

Published on February 22, 2009

If I ran the Academy Award ceremony:

  • The host would be a news reporter, chosen specifically for their inability to make lame jokes.
  • Said host would read the award category, the nominations, and the winner, without any pauses or cuts to montages of said nominations.
  • Award presentations that no one cares about (best sound editing, best art direction, best makeup, etc) wouldn’t be televised.
  • Award winners would receive their award on a side stage with no podium or microphone, thereby removing their ability to give an acceptance speech.
  • The entire award ceremony would be 30 minutes long.
  • Nielsen ratings for the event would be at an all time high.

Hold your applause, please.

Avatar Finale

Published on January 20, 2009

I just completed the final season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and all I can say is wow. This show is, without any doubt in my mind, one of the top 5 television shows I’ve ever seen. It ranks up there with The Simpsons and Pushing Daisies, in my opinion, and that’s saying something (seeing as how big a Simpsons nut I am).

The series finale takes place across four episodes, each more epic than the one before it (and the episodes leading up to this finale are just as good). There are some excellent surprises throughout each episode, with the vast majority of the lingering mysteries finally being resolved. A surprising twist occurs in the finale’s climax, and it’s safe to say I was thoroughly surprised. The ending was fulfilling beyond anything I imagined.

If you haven’t checked out this series, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I will definitely be purchasing the entire series on DVD (Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3).

There are only two things that could have made the series better. First, I was disappointed that we didn’t learn more about the air bender society. If Aang is the only one left, what becomes of their heritage? Has this nation therefore truly become extinct? Second, there were still a few strings left dangling at the series end. I won’t list them here so as to avoid spoilers, but I’d love to know what becomes of these threads. Another episode (or two … or three) would have been really appreciated to see where everyone ends up. Perhaps the creators of the show will come back in the future to wrap up these threads.

All in all, I had an enjoyable time with this series. Even though I’m a little sad to say goodbye to it, I’m oh-so-glad I took the journey. I now have other shows to catch up on, both old and new, and that’s what I’m off to do next. So long, Aang and company. It’s been a wonderful ride.

Enjoying Avatar

Published on December 26, 2008

I am really enjoying the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. This cartoon, which was launched in 2005 and wrapped up earlier this year (for a total of 3 seasons), is outstanding. It appeals to all ages, and is a joy to watch. Here’s a brief premise, as taken from Wikipedia:

Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a fantasy world that is home to humans, fantastic animals, and spirits. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Air Nomads, and the Fire Nation. Each nation has its own natural element, on which it bases its society. Within each nation exists an order called “Benders” who have the ability to manipulate the eponymous element of their nation. The show’s creators assigned each Bending art its own style of martial arts, causing it to inherit the advantages and weaknesses of the martial arts it was assigned. The Bending types are Waterbending, Earthbending, Firebending, and Airbending.

The Avatar is the one person who is able to bend all four elements. He (or she) serves to ensure that the nations all live together in peace. One hundred years before the starting point of the series, Aang, a young airbender, learns that he is the next incarnation of the Avatar (each generation yields one Avatar to preside over the nations). He disappears out of fear of his looming responsibility. With the Avatar gone, the Fire Nation attacks the others, and essentially takes complete control.

As the series begins, two water nation siblings, Sokka and Katara, happen to find the Avatar frozen in a block of ice. They remove him from the ice, along with his giant flying bison Appa, quickly become friends, and set out to help the Avatar master the four elements, so that he may restore balance and order to the world.

I’m currently half-way through the second season, and I’m greatly anticipating the rest. The overall story-arc is wonderful, and each episode also has a great side story. Action scenes are incredible, the animation is fantastic, and the dialogue is very funny. I highly recommend this series to anyone even remotely interested in animated series’ (or good television for that matter). I’m really looking forward to finishing out this season and the next!

LOST Season 1

Published on December 19, 2008

Well, four years later I’m finally catching up on LOST (hat tip to Dustin). So far I’m enjoying the show: I gave the first season a 4-star rating (“I Really Like It”) at Netflix. There’s obviously a lot left for me to catch up on, but so far, so good. Mystery abounds, the characters are interesting, and the plot twists and turns all over the place. Hopefully things will start making a little more sense in season 2. Here’s a brief rundown of my current opinions of the main characters:

Read the rest of this entry »

Rating Movies on Netflix

Published on December 1, 2008

Netflix has a movie rating system designed to help them recommend titles that you might like. They present the user with six rating options:

  • 5 stars (Loved it)
  • 4 stars (Really liked it)
  • 3 stars (Liked it)
  • 2 stars (Didn’t like it)
  • 1 star (Hated it)
  • Not interested

When I first signed up, I went through the movies that I either owned or could remember well enough, and rated each one as carefully as I could. However, as time goes on, I find it more and more difficult to rate movies that I watch. I often find myself second guessing my initial rating, usually in the negative direction. For example, I’ve recently watched the first four Dirty Harry movies (out of the total five). Here’s what I gave each:

I feel pretty solid on my ratings for the first three movies. The first movie is an all-time classic and set the bar (and tone) for most subsequent police dramas. Magnum Force was nearly as good, but felt a little flat in parts, hence my four star rating. The Enforcer was weaker still, and felt like any generic action film might in the 1970s (the female partner story was particularly disappointing). But what about the fourth title? Towards the end of the movie, I found myself thinking that it was a solid four-star film. But the climax was so epic, that it vaulted the movie into five-star territory for me.

I later found myself second guessing my five-star rating, wondering whether or not it was truly “five-star worthy.” The movie had some flaws (what movie doesn’t?), but were they enough to lower the rating? Which leads me to the ultimate question: what makes a movie five-star worthy? I know I’m over-analyzing the matter, but it’s so hard to compare apples to oranges. Do you use Netflix? If so, how do you rate movies? Are there any rules you follow?

Pushing Daisies Cancelled

Published on November 25, 2008

Damn ABC! Damn everyone that won’t damn ABC! Damn everyone that won’t put lights in his window and sit up all night damning ABC!

(Apologies to all my U.S. history professors. For those in the dark, here’s the cultural reference to the above joke.)

I simply don’t understand it. An incredibly clever, imaginative, and entertaining television show gets canceled because it’s not getting the ratings the executives want. This proves that creativity has no place anymore in Hollywood. In short, it’s not a crime drama, a medical drama, or a reality show, apparently making it the scourge of the land. Maybe the fact that the network didn’t advertise the show has something to do with it. Or perhaps we can blame the failing economy. Either way, I’m disappointed.

I have truly lost what little faith I had left in television. All the more reason not to watch it. My only hope is that Bryan Fuller will come through on his promise to finish out the story with either a movie or through comic books. What a dark day.

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