Wednesday, June 29, 2011

At War with Comcast

Dear Comcast, recently you introduced your new Interactive Program Guide for cable television service in our area. Now if it were merely a matter of me not liking the aesthetics of it, or the readability, I can understand that I'm just be picky. Change happens, sometimes not for the better. And just for the record, the aesthetics and the readability suck, in my far less than humble opinion.

Functionality may be where the problem(s) lie. But let's talk positive first. The Program Guide can now DVR programs more than a week into the future. Closed captioning is now available on our HD television and it was not before. These are both good things, and I thank you and praise you.

As I implied earlier, the Guide is extremely difficult to navigate, and the website and instructional videos are really not much help if I'm being honest. The sleep timer is gone, so no more watching TV 'til I fall asleep. And it takes four steps to DVR something now where it used to take two. After a few days, by hit and miss, I got the gist of how things worked. But things began to go downhill, and out of my control, very quickly.

The DVR began to only record just a few minutes of a program the first night the Guide was installed. The first attack took out three programs recorded in one hour - one one hour show and two half-hour shows back to back at the same time. It did it to those same shows the next week. In the week between various programs suffered the same fate.

And then there were the other 'fun' things that occurred since the Program Guide was installed. On Demand has been intermittently working. Occasionally some channels would say that we're not authorized to watch them. For instance, we would get the same message for The Cooking Channel, Cartoon Network and G4 that we get for a pay channel like Cinemax that we do not subscribe to.

I did not sit and take this by the way. I am a complete evil bastard when it comes to talking with customer service. However, since The Bride used to work for Comcast, I tried my damnedest to be polite and calm, just in case I was speaking to someone we/she knew or used to work with. Just for the record, since June 7th, I have logged fourteen total calls to Comcast for various problems.

Sunday night, the shit hit the fan, as they say. The season finales of "Game of Thrones" and "The Killing" did not record at all. There were other programs that didn't record or only recorded a few minutes of that night, but those two hurt me. When I tried to calm down, and watch them OnDemand, my blood pressure shot into the sky. OnDemand wasn't working either.

I was on the phone to Comcast immediately. I had had enough of this crap. Through gritted teeth I carefully explained the problems to the customer service representative, and a technician visit was planned for the next day. This was last Tuesday. Long story short, Comcast sent a guy who looked like a Russian mobster from "The Sopranos," with a very thick (almost to the point of hysteria) accent to match, to my house to change out the cable boxes. I was told, and after he said it several times I understood, that the problem was fixed.

That night, and the next three nights, the problem reoccurred. I called the cable company again, all calm out of the question. I was no longer polite, I was no longer understanding - I was what is probably gently referred to as 'the irate customer.' Yet another customer service representative talked to me slowly and softly, as if I was on the ledge of a tall building and threatening to jump. I was told that I wouldn't being paying for the service calls, I would receive a discount on the DVR bill and that a technician would be at my home on Monday.

After a weekend of the intermittently functional DVR giving us incomplete recordings if at all, the technician arrived Monday. He asked a lot of questions, fiddled with some wires and then went outside to call his supervisor. You want to know what the bottom line was? "It's a software problem, and they are working out the bugs. Yeah, it sucks, but there it is."

The technician left. Unharmed. And about a dozen more blood vessels in my forehead popped. The problem continues. And I'm looking into TIVO.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Peter Falk 1927-2011

Award-winning and prolific actor, Peter Falk, of screen and stage, passed away yesterday in Beverly Hills, after being treated for Alzheimer's disease in recent years. He was 83.

Falk was most closely identified as the television detective Columbo, which he played for decades, but he had a lengthy career on television and in film for years before then.

He holds a fond place in my heart as he appears in my favorite movie of all time - The Great Race. As Max, he was the comic stooge to Jack Lemmon's Professor Fate, prompting such wonderful lines as "The Great Leslie escaped with a chicken?" and "Push the button, Max."

Falk was nominated for multiple Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes and even won a few. His other memorable movie roles include those in Murder, Inc., Pocketful of Miracles, The In-Laws, Robin and the Seven Hoods, The Brinks Job, The Princess Bride and Wings of Desire.

For all that, it still comes back to Columbo, which despite what might be thought was not actually even a TV series. It was part of NBC's "Sunday Mystery Movie," which alternated originally with "McCloud" and MacMillan and Wife" in the two-hour time slot every Sunday night. Peter Falk wore the dirty raincoat and asked suspects "just one more thing" in one form or another for over thirty years.

We have lost one of the great ones. Peter Falk, we'll miss you.

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RIP Gene Colan

We have lost another one of the great comics legends. Last night artist Gene Colan passed away, from complications of liver disease. He was 84.

His contributions to comics are numerous. Without Colan, Marvel Comics would be a less fascinating place. His unique style and groundbreaking work on amazing comics like Howard the Duck and The Tomb of Dracula, as well as Daredevil make him one of the legends of the industry. His interpretations of Iron Man, the Sub-Mariner, Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Night Force among others will not be forgotten. Gene Colan will be much missed.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast for 6-22-2011

The All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast is shot live in a real comics and gaming store in West Berlin, NJ - All Things Fun! - co-hosts Ed (Schism) Evans, Allison (Grounded) Eckel and Glenn (Flashpoint) Walker discuss the new comics out this week in two fun video segments, now in high definition, and also available on YouTube. See it here!

The first segment includes discussion of the following topics: The Death of Spider-Man (with the Ultimate Avengers and the New Ultimates), the week in Flashpoint (with Lois Lane, Kid Flash, the Outsider, and the Reverse-Flash), Paul Cornell's Action Comics #902, solicitations that don't match the real books, no fingers, and "re-jigger" is Trademark 2011 Allison Eckel.

The discussion continues in segment two including: More mismatched solicitations, Batman and the Outsiders #40, James Robinson pulls a Grounded, Ed's leftovers, "Schism," Green Arrow #13, Batman: Gates of Gotham #2, Ed's indies, Glenn's quick comic rundown, Allison's kids comics, Young Justice #5, Ed's trades, be careful with your Light Saber Torches, the Used Game Auction, and will Glenn ever stop twiddling his thumbs?

Be sure to check out the All Things Fun! website, and the All Things Fun! Blogs, by Allison and Glenn, and ATF! on YouTube.

And be back here every Wednesday morning at 11:30 AM EST to watch the new broadcast, and thereafter throughout the week!

And Happy Dead Spidey Day, everyone!

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Green Lantern

Green Lantern ~ My earliest memory of the superhero Green Lantern is from the Justice League of America comics, and he was awesome. Hal Jordan was a space hero who had a Power Ring that could do just about anything - shoot an energy beam, make a force field, allowed him to fly, and he could make stuff with it, just about anything he could imagine. Like I said, awesome.

This will date me, but Green Lantern also seemed inextricably linked to Green Arrow and Black Canary and they were always doing something political or with social relevance (a big word back then) and other stuff I wasn't old enough to understand. Also I knew he was buddies with the Flash, they were a team like Superman and Batman, maybe not as old as them, but they were friends and teammates. Such good friends, that when GL's comic got canceled, Flash let him appear in the back of his comic - now that's friendship!

Green Lantern has been through some changes since then. He's been replaced, replaced again, turned evil, killed, brought back to life, and turned into a moneymaker by genius comic writer Geoff Johns. With that last turn of events, we all knew it wouldn't be long before Green Lantern hit the big screen. The wait is over.

Being a comics geek, I usually look forward to most films based on comics, Green Lantern was no different. If you ask The Bride, she'll tell you I've keeping a mental countdown clock. Advance reviews were not good however, and as I waited until Saturday to see the flick, I can tell you I was a little bit worried. Now, having seen it, I have to wonder what film the critics saw.

This isn't Iron Man and nor is it the first two Superman films - it is so not the perfect superhero movie, but it is great. Personally I think Pat Travers of Rolling Stone must have lost a bet on this flick the way he ravaged it - it's really not that bad. As a matter of fact, I thought it was pretty good.

The story is pretty simple, close to the comics with a few differences. Hal Jordan is a reckless test pilot who finds a dying alien whose Power Ring has chosen him as the new Green Lantern. He trains on Oa with other Lanterns and eventually faces off against the villain Hector Hammond and the evil alien entity Parallax. There are spoilers coming, so some folks might want to skip to the end.

Ryan Reynolds is good as the clunky Hal Jordan but even better as the hero Green Lantern. This is a facet of the reason I like origin stories in movies. I don't want to see the young, reckless untrained hero - I want to see the complete good guy fight for right hero, and in this case, I am validated. Reynolds is so much better at the latter. Blake Lively is just pretty, and other than that, not believable. I wanted more of Taika Waititi as Tom Kalmaku. And Angela Bassett - wow, who would have ever thunk that Amanda Waller would have shown up in a Green Lantern movie?

Peter Sarsgaard is properly creepy as Hammond. But, while he is good, it's the make-up and the CGI that goes too far with the character. Does Hector Hammond need to be a drooling monstrous maniac? He's just got a big head in the comics. Really, for me, that would have been disturbing enough. Parallax, is all CGI, and basically a Galactus cloud with the Wizard of Oz' face crossed with the Akira monster. This is not pretty. Again, a reference to the comics - Parallax's real form, that of a giant insect is also pretty monstrous and scary, and of course accurate. The Guardians too could have been less scary. Details like this might put some folks off this flick, and sequels if it goes to franchise.

The voice acting of the CGI characters is dead on. Mark Strong is fantastic as Sinestro, playing him with just the right amount of contempt and menace. I loved Geoffrey Rush as Tomar-Re (one of my fave Green Lanterns) and Michael Clarke Duncan is a perfect Kilowog. I didn't think I would say that after I loved Henry Rollins in the role in the animated Emerald Knights, but it's true.

There are as many plot holes in this flick however, as there are Easter eggs for comics fans. Unfortunately the former seems to overshadow the latter. The plot jumps rather quickly from the main story with Hal to the subplots with Hammond and Parallax, which is fine, but too much time is spent on minor details that could have been deleted for meatier bits with other characters. Did we really need the flashbacks of Hal's father in a bad homage to the opening of Speed Racer? Did we need to know all of Hal's family? I would have rather had more interaction with Carol, Tom, Sinestro and the other Lanterns quite frankly.

I would have rather had more of a fight against both Hammond and Parallax, their defeats seemed too easy to me, and the fact that Hal doesn't even really defeat Hammond is very bothersome. Come on, he's supposed to be the hero here, ya know? But I suppose these are things that happen when a film has so many writers credited. The 3-D, while in the previews it made me want to see it in 3-D, was unnecessary. Save your money.

All in all, I had fun, and with a movie that cost upwards of thirty bucks all inclusive, that's what counts. I came out of the film excited and hoping for a sequel. Not a great film, but a great superhero adventure, visually stunning. And for the folks who liked Thor and Wolverine for certain reasons - Ryan Reynolds is shirtless quite a bit. Recommended.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

RIP Clarence Clemons

Being a native born resident of New Jersey, I have had Bruce Springsteen shoved down my throat since the early to mid 1970s, whether I like it or not. I do like Bruce, mostly early Bruce and recent folksy Bruce, but the rest of it is painful to hear as I heard it all a million times per song on Philadelphia radio for decades. But however one might feel about The Boss, everybody loves Clarence Clemons.

The Big Man played sax for Bruce in the E Street Band forever, and when I say forever, I mean it as a compliment. Possibly one of the greatest rock and rock blues saxophone players ever, the man is legend, his smile infectious, and his talent unparalleled. He performed for decades, appeared in film, television and on dozens and dozens of records - and most recently in the video for "The Edge of Glory" by Lady GaGa. Sadly, after a massive stroke last week, Clarence Clemons finally passed away today at the age of 69. He will be missed.

When most folks think of Clemons solo, they think of the Jackson Browne duet, "You're a Friend of Mine," but I go back earlier than that by almost two years, to one of my favorite unsung rock and roll albums - "Rescue" by Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers. I have it on cassette tape and am still waiting for this baby to come out on CD. Good old fashioned rock and roll, and one song that spoke to me directly about the way I passionately listened to the radio in my younger days - "Rock 'N' Roll DJ." There's not a bad track on the album. I'm gonna miss you, Big Man.

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Super 8

Super 8 ~ I never cared much for "Lost," and Cloverfield could have been so much more than it was, so I was understandably nonplussed when I first heard of Super 8. But, I loved J.J. Abrams' version of Star Trek, and even thought it was one of the best flicks of the year it came out. The idea of a movie written and directed by Abrams yet produced by Steven Spielberg intrigued me however, especially when preliminary trailers made it look like some sort of mish-mosh of E.T., Close Encounters, and Cloverfield.

If it needs to be compared to any movie however, it's more in line with Stand By Me, or even closer to the more obscure, yet so entertaining Matinee. Super 8 is in many ways a walk down memory lane, and not just in the way it's a period piece set in the early 1980s or late 1970s, although that illusion is ruined with pinpoint accuracy by a Walter Cronkite TV broadcast about Three Mile Island. After that, any pop culture reference post TMI pulled me out of the flick.

Super 8 is also a time capsule in that takes us back to our early teens and that period between playing with our buds and thinking about girls. It's a bittersweet teen romance mixed with a family drama - and oh yeah, there's a monster too. But the drama is very good, so much so that at one point, my eyes welled up. The monster sadly, when we finally see it, is of the Cloverfield type, and also of the variety that showed up for a cameo in Star Trek. It makes me wonder if J.J. Abrams can only do ugly, rarely seen monsters with weirdly opening jaws.

The flick is so much better however than I ever would have guessed going in. There was expectation, and Super 8 far exceeded it. Recommended.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast for 6-15-2011

The All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast is shot live in a real comics and gaming store in West Berlin, NJ - All Things Fun! - co-hosts Ed (The Retailer) Evans, Allison (The Fangirl) Eckel and Glenn (The Curmudgeon) Walker discuss the new comics out this week in two fun video segments, now in high definition, and also available on YouTube. See it here!

The first segment includes discussion of the following topics: Flashpoint villain action, Glenn loves him some Grodd, more Flashpoint, Green Lantern Movie Prequel Abin Sur #1, Supergirl #65, Tony Daniel's Batman #711, J.T. Krul's Teen Titans #96, Power Girl #25, Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl # 22, Superman Batman #85, and DC Universe Online Legends #10.

The discussion continues in segment two including: the X-Men books, Ed's leftovers, Bendis & Romita's Avengers #14, Captain America Corps #1, Alpha Flight by Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak, Ruse #4, creepy yarn girl hair, Allison's kids comics, Tiny Titans #41, Ed's indies including Deadlands, John Carter of Mars, Conan and Crossed, Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths #1, Glenn's quick comic rundown, Ed's trades and the Darth Vader hoodie.

BONUS! This week we have a very special third segment where we examine DC Comics relaunch of fifty-two of their titles in September. The discussion includes: Rebooting, re-jiggering and number one-ing, Justice League, Grant Morrison on Superman, DCnU priest collars, in continuity or not?, dark and gritty and edgy, fourteen Batman family titles, the Green Lantern books, Swamp Thing, Legions, fan favorites Aquaman, Firestorm and Mr. Terrific, which Flash?, the genre books, Justice League Dark and Avengers Hawaii Five-O, Paul Cornell's Demon Knights, light and happy Static Shock, the new Stormwatch, and the new Blackhawks (cuz Glenn loves him some Blackhawks too), along with everything else.

Be sure to check out the All Things Fun! website, and the All Things Fun! Blogs, by Allison and Glenn, and ATF! on YouTube.

And be back here every Wednesday morning at 11:30 AM EST to watch the new broadcast, and thereafter throughout the week!

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

One of the trailers shown before X-Men: First Class last week was this one, and afterward the audience applauded. I guess the anticipation for this is still hot. This American film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is due in theaters for Christmas 2011.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

X-Men First Class

After the fiasco that was the third X-Men film, appropriately called The Last Stand, I really wanted nothing to do with seeing another X-film. Even my seeing the Wolverine movie was at great protest even though I quite enjoyed parts of it. However, the teasers and previews for X-Men First Class were just too enticing, what with the concept of a period piece matched with a reboot of the series, as well as an exploration of the relationship between the young Xavier and Magneto. I was in, for better or for worse.  

The beginning is a bit disturbing, replaying the opening of the first X-Men flick with young Erik Lehnsherr being pulled from his parents at a Nazi concentration camp and his magnetic power beginning to manifest against a metal gate between them. Things become much worse after that, as Kevin Bacon playing the sinister Sebastian Shaw of the Hellfire Club, shows a bit of his background as a Nazi scientist who tortures the boy to gain his secrets.

In parallel, we see the pampered young Charles Xavier gain a new sister and mutant confidant in Raven Darkholme, later to be known as Mystique. It goes on like that, with Charles finding success (except it seems picking up women in bars) and Erik hunting down Nazi war criminals, until their paths cross in the real plot of the movie.

Between the Second World War and now (now being 1962) Sebastian Shaw has changed his Nazi name and formed (or joined, it's not clear, but he is its leader) the Hellfire Club, and they plan to manipulate the US and Russia into a nuclear war that will destroy the human race and make everyone mutants - the next step in evolution. CIA agent (yeah, I know, it's a bizarre departure from her role in the comics) Moira MacTaggert suspects this and recruits Xavier to help the government.

Soon, with Cerebro's help, a preliminary X-Men team is formed - including Magneto, the Beast, Banshee, Darwin, Angel Salvatore, Havok and Mystique - and they go to war with the Hellfire Club. Look for a wonderful one-line cameo from Hugh Jackman as Wolverine during the recruitment sequence. The final battle between the teams has moments like the end of The Return of the King where you think it's never going to end, but it never sinks to the lows of X-Men: The Last Stand.

There are terrific performances here. Kevin Bacon, a name I never would have considered when thinking of Sebastian Shaw, is perfectly evil and never goes over the top as he did in other such roles like in The River Wild or The Hollow Man. January Jones is also the perfect Emma Frost, and is nowhere near as wooden as she usually is in "Mad Men." She looks the part, but frankly I was worried because I hate her work on the show so much. It is notable that she's the only thing I dislike about "Mad Men."

I liked this a lot, so much more than I ever would have suspected. If you told me I'd like an X-Men film, much less one about the X-Men vs. the Hellfire Club in the shadows of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I probably would have laughed at you. And I would have been wrong. Fans of the comics, fans of the movies, and you other folks too - you should check this out. First Class is the X-Men movie we have all been waiting for.

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