Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Perfect SMod

Last night, I witnessed an event that has never occurred. Many will go their whole lives without ever having the opportunity to see a natural phenomenon. I was fortunate enough to see what happens when an unmovable object, an unstoppable object, and an object (contrary to popular belief) not too fat to fly collide in a Castle.

You get Star Fucking With Kevin Smith.

This was my first time at SModCastle, and the stars couldn't have aligned any straighter for me. From the amazing people who were in line with me, to the fucking orgasmic food from the food truck of Tapa Boy (I believe that was the name), things were setting up for a great show. And man, did the universe deliver.

Kevin came out and set up the show for us. This was going to be a unique experience in where we were going to learn more about Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer than what Wiki gets wrong about them.

Sure enough, every string of the heart, every elbow with a sense of humor was pulled and banged respectively as Kevin delved into the wonder that is Neil and Amanda which I will from now and all time refer to as Gai-Pal! Probably not.

As if that weren't enough, the Jacks and Jane of some trades had something special in store for us. Amanda Palmer was first up to bat.

Now I should make note, I have heard of Amanda Palmer, I have followed her on Twitter, but I have never heard a song of hers, or have heard her perform. It's just one of those things in life that weirdly works out that way for no other reason than because it did. I would liken the experience to that of a solar eclipse. You would think as a resident of Earth, that you would at least once in your life experience a solar eclipse. But you'd be surprised how many people have never been witness to one. Sure you've seen it on a documentary, and it sure as hell can't look any prettier than it does in the title sequence of the now-cancelled show "Heroes", but nothing can ever compare to the actual experience.

Amanda Palmer was my solar eclipse experience.

She made me laugh, think, and cry in a minute and forty seconds, and left me jaw-dropped. Just like a celestial movement, I couldn't believe it happened, I couldn't believe I was experiencing it, (hell, I couldn't believe this was coming from a ukulele!), but most importantly, I didn't ever want it to end. Most people sing songs, Amanda Palmer lives music. I still have goosebumps after watching her perform Half Jack.

I was left flabbergasted. I felt like someone birthed me. Kevin comes out after her performance and introduces Neil.

What? So soon? I needed a second to catch my breath. I was just given a glimpse into someone's BEING, how the hell are you going to introduce me to someone else right now? How the hell is Neil going to top that?

I'll tell you how, with a glint of his eyes and a smile.

If Amanda Palmer was like experiencing birth, Neil Gaiman is the slap on the ass that allows you to breathe your first breath.

You cannot imagine the joyful rarity there is in hearing a writer read his own work. As much as I can assume that having an audio book of Charlton Heston reading Coraline would be this side of morbidly awesome, no one person could ever read it the way the writer intended it, not truly anyhow.

And Neil delivered. He read a piece that is near and dear to every writer's heart. I believe I laughed louder than anyone in the room when he mentioned the T.V. being on as he wrote. Writers, in general, are recluse creatures, and each has its own methodology in writing, some do it at Starbucks, some do it in a log cabin in winter, and others do it late at night with the T.V. on as a light source and background noise. It was an honor to share this particular trait with Neil.

How does one top off a perfect evening? You do an encore, that's how! But not just any encore, we get a trifecta finish with Neil, Amanda, and Kevin doing an impromptu reading of an excerpt of American Gods.

Amanda ended the evening with one more song. And I filed out more energized than I started out in the evening, still trying to understand what Kevin has just done. He basically laid bare the souls of two incredibly talented individuals for all in the Castle to see, and we were walking away from that as if that was the norm in life. "This was L.A., we do magic for a living", was what was racing through my mind.

But then it hit me. There was magic to be had in this kingdom. There was a new castle, a SMod one at that, that was just as enchanted as any other, and it resided on Santa Monica Boulevard of all places. This was going to be the norm.

This was Star Fucking with Kevin Smith, come back next time, we'll do it all over again.

Friday, November 19, 2010

You Better Super Size your movie for $5 more... Or else...

I went to the movies this week to go watch Unstoppable. It was an average film with a cast that gelled to well for its own good. Tony Scott was working his clich├ęd cinematography, but thankfully he dialed back the "writing the dialogue on the screen as it's being said for no apparent reason other than it's a lazy way to drive the point home" thing he does. But I have to thank Tony Scott for this almost-train-wreck film about an almost train wreck, because if it were actually stellar, I may have missed what I found to be more entertaining than the film. Mainly, the way it was shown.

Let me backtrack to two hours before the movie. As Ruth and I walked up to the theater, we did the usual stare and search for the time the movie was showing, even though we checked before we left the house. The movie was playing at the time we thought it was, but then I noticed an in-between time slot that I didn't notice before. It was for the XD extreme digital theater. For $5 dollars more, you get to see a film in "extreme digital".

Again, this is not 3D. But "extreme digital". What's extreme digital you may ask? Well, according to Cinemark, it's a "wall-to-wall screen" (floor to ceiling as well, it seems) and boasts a "custom sound system". You can watch a 2D or 3D film in this theater, it's just... You know... EXTREME when you do. Bottom line, you get an extra ten feet of screen space and some more speakers than you do in the normal theater.

Unstoppable wasn't going to be the movie that was going to sell me on shelling out an extra 5 bucks. As long as it was in focus, that's all I was caring about for this flick.

As we go to our seats, previews are underway. We settle in, and the film starts. Again, nothing unfamiliar. Scott using his fancy cuts to set a tone for the rest of the film. Very pretty cityscapes and things whizzing by, probably trains.

About 30 minutes in, I notice it. At first I thought it was stylized, but as the scenes shifted from news coverage to the narrative, I saw it didn't change. The film was completely letterboxed. Now I'm not talking about black bars on the top and bottom of the screen, I'm talking about a good two feet of screen space all around the movie not being used.

The film was shot in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, so seeing bars at the top and bottom of the screen would have been normal. But bars on the side? That usually only happens as a stylized choice or if you're watching something that was shot in 4:3.

This shit was bugging me. I know the film was shot in 35mm, I could tell, and there were no cigarette burns (little marks on the right corner of the screen signaling the projectionist to switch reels), so I know this was being shown on the digital projector. This was, after all, a digital theater. And then a scary thought occurred to me.

Did they purposely make the film smaller to make their XD extreme digital theaters more appealing?

The thought plagued my mind, even after the movie, I walked around to see if I could find an employee not behind the concession stand that could answer this question for me. I went so far as to ask the person at the information counter, but alas, my lovely girl was hungry, so that was that for the asking.

The questions continued to flow. A digital movie is shown at 1080p in theaters with digital projectors. So a 1080p film in the regular theater vs. a 1080p film in the XD theater should look exactly the same, no?

Wait! Maybe the XD theater uses Sony or JVC's 4k projectors? Those projectors show films at 4096x2160!

Nope, turns out Cinemark theaters are an all BARCO chain, BARCO projectors are 2K projectors (1080p).

So with the only variable being the size of the screen (wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling in the XD screens), why would a film that should fit easily, screen edge to screen edge, in the normal theater, have so much unused screen space on the sides?

Aziz Ansari blogged a while back about his fake IMAX experience. Can it be that this is just another tactic used by theaters with no true Imax theaters to make you pay $5 more for the screen size that you should have gotten in the first place?

All I know is, there's one Imax theater in San Francisco, unless the film I'm going to see utilizes all 76x97 feet of screen space, I'm saving my 5 bucks for the already overinflated price of popcorn. Well, $5.75. I get free refills with the bigger one, and I'm totally going to come back after the movie for it, right?