HBO and the Sandstorm

Thinking a bit about Amazon today got me to thinking a bit about HBO.

Six months ago, Amazon Prime Instant picked up The Wire, Rome, and loads of HBO "back catalogue" original programming.

HBO Go is still not available for Amazon FireTV, but I think that's only the result of some sort of exclusivity deal expiring. Come 2015, HBO's standalone streaming service makes that moot.

Contrary to what Steve Burke says, I think it's ridiculous for HBO to not start gunning for Netflix in the standalone streaming arena. His spin almost reads like a Mafia Don making an idle threat, "when you been part of 'the family' for so long, why gotta go make trouble?" HBO chief Richard Plepler is right in noting that "hundreds of millions" have been left on the table due to a combination of cable bundle "Families" not actively driving up HBO subscriptions and HBO choosing not to go direct-to-consumer.

Sitting on the "first run" Iron Throne of original series has kept people bowing and paying into The Bundle for years. I've long opined that the sleeping giant is HBO's enormous back catalogue of made-for-HBO narrative and documentary movies, many of which haven't re-aired in years (some, decades). Many of them have rarely, if ever, been readily available on home video in any form, with the recent exception of blessed Warner Archive DVD releases. Couple all of that in-house content with HBO's multi-decade relationship with literally every studio in Hollywood.

The thing I keep seeing repeated is "Netflix should be scared of what is to come," but I think that's wrongheaded.

Even as an eventual little brother to HBO, Netflix has enough going for it that they can survive for a bit yet while they make some strategic acquisitions and beef up their offerings so as to not get pushed off the playing field. Netflix should be wary and think long-term, but they're radically more forward-thinking than "Cable" networks and "Cable Bundle" providers.

"Cable" complacent content businesses are the ostriches that'll get swept up in the sandstorm.

Fire Stick

Amazon got something right with their Fire TV streaming box, and I did not expect to say that when it was announced nearly seven months ago on 2 April. I was just pissed at my laggy Roku 2*.

It has completely replaced my Roku 2, and with the exception of AirPlay-ing apps (like Warner Archive Instant) from iPhones and iPad, it's also replaced my AppleTV**.

Amazon Fire TV has the baseline triumvirate needed for one of these boxes to work for me:

  1. responsive, fast internals (loads high-bitrate 1080p content in a snap)
  2. an RF remote
  3. an actually-growing, competitive "app channel" marketplace (still missing favorites like Acorn TV and Warner Archive Instant, but they'll arrive)

Most importantly, it doesn't stop working after an update (Apple), or suddenly decide it hates Hulu (Apple and Roku), or block content marketplaces that compete with them (like Apple does through "curation").

Plex, my media-serving behemoth of choice, works like a champ with no workarounds. The remote wakes my TV so that all I have to turn on with another remote is the surround system.

The announcement of and two days of $19-for-Prime members pricing of the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a big deal. I ordered one the moment I saw the news.

The regular price of $39 is only $4 that of Google's no-remote-included ChromeCast. The Amazon stick does the useful things a ChromeCast can do plus what a Roku Stick can do, but radically faster due to much better internals.

This is Amazon's comparison chart, showing Fire TV Stick doubling (or more) Roku Stick in:

  1. processor cores (very important for HD video decoding)
  2. memory/RAM
  3. flash storage (at 8GB, 32x as much as Roku's shockingly small/cheap 256MB)

Missing from the chart is that...if we're all honest with ourselves...ChromeCast is Only For Us Nerds.

*which Roku refused to swap for a 3, which came out a month after I got mine

**affectionately known as "AppleTV could not connect" in my house

Julia Marchese: I Will Not Be Censored.

This past Monday morning I was called to a last minute meeting by Julie McLean – the new general manager of the Bev – who informed me that, although I had only started my new position less than two weeks before, she had come to the conclusion that I was not manager material. 
Effective immediately, I was to be demoted to snack bar, with no shifts guaranteed. In layman’s terms: I won’t fire you, because then I would have to pay unemployment, but I simply won’t schedule you – which forces resignation.

I woke this site back up to post about my friend Julia Marchese's documentary Out of Print, about the vital role of repertory cinema and theaters like The New Beverly. I went to bat for what I thought were good intentions by the new management. Reading this blog post from her, it seems like poor decisions by the new ownership regarding public relations got lumped on the head of the wrong person, who now finds herself without a job.

Listen to Tarantino recently talking to my friend Elvis Mitchell on KCRW's The Treatment. He should have had a game plan and public statements like this ready to go back in September. My bias is plain as day, but it feels like scapegoating your biggest grassroots supporter isn't the best way to engender goodwill. When you have a draw like Tarantino's, it may not matter to him. Maybe Julia was actually somehow a shitty employee. I haven't seen all sides, but I became friends with her because of her warm greeting the first time I walked through those doors.

Out of Print is now free to watch (globally) over on Vimeo. Use password "fightfor35". When I spoke to Julia over a month ago, I told her "self-distribute it yourself to rep houses across the country. Package it as you appearing with the film. Focus on changeover 35mm venues. Start booking soon, once you know the premiere date at the New Beverly. Sell it later in VHX-style merch bundles, like the Stripped guys are."

For my dedication to the New Beverly, I am rewarded with no job, $47 in my bank account and a finished documentary film about a place that no longer exists.
Out of Print is a film I made about how important 35mm exhibition is and how special revival cinemas are – I illustrate this case with showing you ONE special cinema – The Bev.
I have been struggling to make this film since 2012, and am proud to say it is finally finished.
I was planning a big premiere at the New Beverly in January – on a 35mm print.
Obviously, that isn’t going to happen.

Even with it being "out there, for free", I still think it's worth theaters booking it. The unique nature of repertory theaters and their audiences (who want to see something on film and with a Q&A) make it viable.

Out of Print is, sadly, a completely different and more relevant movie today than it was a month ago. Now, it's a period piece.

Out of Print

Below is the trailer for Julia Marchese's documentary Out of Print, which looks at the vital role of repertory cinema and her beloved employer, the New Beverly Cinema.

I've seen the finished film, and like it a lot. Despite various controversies that have been invented out of the internet having nothing but gossip and speculation to go from, the change in ownership to Quentin Tarantino, until now only the landlord, is something I look forward to very much. The moment I heard that a digital projector had been put into the previously film-only venue, I got very worried indeed.

I'm conflicted about the expected departure of Michael Torgan, the son of Sherman Torgan. I've never met Michael and never did meet Sherman. I know them by the reputation of the rep cinema their family ran from the late 70's until Tarantino's taking it over this year. The legacy they built is the reason why I made absolutely sure that I'd get to see a double feature at the New Beverly on my first trip to Los Angeles a few years ago.

If Michael not calling the shots means a theoretically substantial and long-long-term bankroll can keep the place open? That's one thing. To do so without having to go "commercial" and let the devil that is DCP take over another 35mm holdout...well, that's another entirely. I guess I'd take that long-term security for the New Bev, but I cannot possibly fathom Tarantino not genuinely wanting Michael Torgan involved going forward in some capacity. The Torgan family is the heart of what the hardcore New Bev audience have loved about it for decades, and I'm again assuming but rather sure Tarantino feels the same way.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I've spoken with Julia recently but only about Out of Print. I'm flying blind on a second-party remove as much as everyone casting aspersions in either direction, or claiming to know all beyond doubt.

I've spoken with or sent internet telegrams to various people I think know a version of what's really going down. I know for a fact that the digital projector is out of there. I am very glad this is the case. I feel for folks who spiritually want their features to screen at the New Bev, but are shooting all-digital. I get that they want their movie to show at their favorite church. I don't think that's as important as building up the New Bev as a stronghold for 35mm. 

Change is hard, and this situation especially seems beyond delicate. I want to believe everyone involved can get past ego, entitlement, "being right" or whatever.

Bloopers of SHIELD

Agents of SHIELD had a rough first year. They got to some good stuff late in the run, but most people had checked out by then. I look forward to seeing how they re-start the engine for season 2, especially with what I think is a Kree-brained Coulson.

Rian Johnson Sings "Yoda", Also Writes/Directs STAR WARS

He's writing and directing Star Wars: Episode VIII, and at least doing the treatment for Episode IX. Deadline's report conflicts with what The Wrap says (that he's only confirmed to write treatment on IX), but it's early days.

He also brings the house down when he sings Weird Al at karaoke. This was shot by a mutual friend. I was front of stage center singing my head off.


MacRumors reported a while back on the alleged second update to the Thunderbolt standard since introduction. This news is the reason that even if fancy new Macs I otherwise want come out later this year, I won't get them if they don't have the new "Thunderbolt 3".

The computers I use have Thunderbolt 1, and accessories that use Thunderbolt 2 are only just becoming available. It's also a new form factor connector:

The site says Intel's new Thunderbolt controller, code-named Alpine Ridge, will see power consumption reduced by 50 percent, support for PCIe generation-3, and charging capacities of up to 100 watts. Backward compatibility will be maintained through the use of connector adapters, but the new Thunderbolt connector itself will be reduced in size.

Thankfully, I'm in no danger of needing new computers any time soon. I would be tempted by an amazing new take on the MacBook Air. I've wanted one of the new Mac Pros since they dropped last year. I did buy a new i7 Mac mini back in March for ESN, and only because I couldn't wait.

I hope they don't announce something amazing that has "plain-old" Thunderbolt 2. Then again, the move to an even slimmer MacBook Air would require a move to slimmer Thunderbolt and USB (if there is USB at all) ports, as they're the thickness limiting factors now.


Trailer for Soderbergh's Showtime Series THE KNICK

Looks sharp, brutal, and above all, interesting and worth my time...unlike most of what gets cranked into cinemas these days. A synopsis:

Set in downtown New York in 1900, THE KNICK centers on Knickerbocker Hospital and the groundbreaking surgeons, nurses and staff, who push the bounds of medicine in a time of astonishingly high mortality rates and zero antibiotics. Steven Soderbergh directs Clive Owen in the entire ten-episode season of the Cinemax original series which debuts August 8, 2014 at 10pm. André Holland, Eve Hewson, Juliet Rylance, Jeremy Bobb, Michael Angarano, Chris Sullivan, Cara Seymour, Eric Johnson, David Fierro, Maya Kazan, Leon Addison Brown and Matt Frewer round out the ensemble cast. The creators and writing team of Jack Amiel & Michael Begler also serve as executive producers, along with Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Sugar and Clive Owen. Michael Polaire produces. Steven Katz serves as supervising producer.

Heart of Hartnell (Frame 178)

I finally watched An Adventure in Space and Time, a BBC telefilm made about the beginning of Doctor Who. David Bradley's performance as William Hartnell (the first Doctor) is absolutely brilliant. The whole thing is pretty great all-around. After the fact, I realized why I got emotional in a couple of places watching kids in the movie "playing" Doctor Who. In real life, one of those kids was Peter Capaldi.

An Adventure in Space and Time 020.png


THR is reporting Sony circling the duo who previously worked together on The Beach. They're two of the biggest heavyweights in their respective fields, and I'm into them both to the point I'd pay to watch their adaptation of a phone book at this point.

Sources caution that deals are not done. And DiCaprio has committed to star in Alejandro Gonzales Iñarritu’s thriller The Revenant for New Regency starting in September.

I met Danny Boyle the year Slumdog Millionaire played the Austin Film Festival in the lobby of the Paramount Theatre. He was warm, humble, and extremely generous with his time speaking not just with me, but many others. In his post-show Q&A, he talked about how "electric" a movie-loving city Austin was, and how he loved screening movies in a city like this (of which there are very few, he noted).

The movie was not the Oscar frontrunner it would later became (this was mid-October), but I told him "if there were an 'awards' narrative I would find compelling, in an age when I've stopped caring about awards shows, it would be this movie coming from behind the pack and winning". I meant it, and I share that because his response was, "I would just love for people to see it and be uplifted and motivated by it, d'you know what I mean?" He grew up very poor and with none of life's advantages early on, and he just hoped it'd be successful enough that some poor kid in a slum in some remote part of the world would be changed by it for the better.

I'm not the biggest fan of the source material, but I'm a huge fan of Boyle's movies because of the infectious energy he bottles in them. Sorkin is a big deal, but in Joe Biden's words, to me, Boyle is "a big fuckin' deal".

How to Avoid iOS Battery Drain

My pal Greg Scown passed this along. Written by a former Apple Genius:

During this testing, Facebook kept jumping up on the process list even though I wasn't using it. So I tried disabling Location Services  and Background App Refresh  for Facebook, and you'll never guess what happened: my battery percentage increased. It jumped from 12% to 17%. Crazy. I've never seen that happen before on an iPhone. The iPod touch exhibits this behavior, to my memory, although I haven't tested it in a while. For the iPhone, the battery percentage is usually pretty consistent.

I have confirmed this behavior on multiple iPhones with the same result: percentage points actually increase after disabling these background functions of Facebook.

Bad, Facebook, bad.

Various things on the list I knew, but I definitely learned a lot reading this.

Disc News Digest: 2014-03-21

To support the site, pre-order/order things on Amazon.

April 1

Fargo is reissued on Blu-ray with a newly-remastered transfer and needlepoint cover art.

May 6

Sony is releasing four post-1990 Godzilla double feature Blu-rays just in time for Garth Edwards's revival of the franchise. Each movie is on its own Blu-ray disc. All movies include their original trailers, with the only other extras being a featurette on Tokyo S.O.S. and a behind-the-scenes featurette on Final Wars. The movies as they're paired:

  • Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) + Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992)
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993) + Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994)
  • Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995) + Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000)
  • Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003) + Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

May 13

Special ID, starring the incomparable Donnie Yen as a deep-cover cop on the inside of a gang. Wait until you see what he does with the chain wallet you see on the poster.

Spike Jonze's Her. Blu-ray featurettes include all of the following (DVD only has the boldface one):

  • The Untitled Rick Howard Project
  • How Do You Share Your Life with Somebody
  • Her: Love in the Modern Age

Orange is the New Black: Season 1 comes to 3-disc Blu-ray and 4-disc DVD with the following features:

  • “New Kid on the Cell Block” featurette
  • “Mother Hen: Red Runs the Coup” featurette
  • “It’s Tribal” featurette
  • “Prison Rules” featurette
  • Gag Reel
  • Episode Commentary “I Wasn't Ready” with Producers Jenji Kohan, Tara Herrmann and Mark Burley
  • Episode Commentary “Can't Fix Crazy” with Producers Jenji Kohan, Tara Herrmann and Mark Burley

June 10

The Spike Lee Joint Collection (Volumes 1 & 2) drop on Blu-ray. Volume 1 includes The 25th Hour and He Got Game. Volume 2 includes Summer of Sam and Miracle at St. Anna. According to the studio, each movie is on its own separate disc.

All four movies retain all previous DVD extras and add newly-recorded commentary tracks with Spike Lee and a cohort as follows:

  • The 25th Hour: Spike Lee and actor Edward Norton
  • He Got Game: Spike Lee and actor Ray Allen
  • Summer of Sam: Spike Lee and actor John Leguizamo
  • Miracle at St. Anna's: Spike Lee and screenwriter James McBride


Fox Cinema Archives is releasing another wave after wave of MOD DVD oldies starting this week. They star everyone from Cesar Romero to Linda Darnell (playing a version of herself in Star Dust) to Spencer Tracy to Adam West to Natalie Wood:

March 18

  • Sodom and Gomorrah (1962)
  • Esther and the King (1960)
  • Dante’s Inferno (1935)

March 25

  • Cardinal Richelieu (1935)
  • I’d Climb The Highest Mountain (1951)

April 1

  • The Gay Deception (1935)
  • Bachelor Flat (1961)
  • The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1971)

April 8

  • The Pleasure Seekers (1964)
  • Footlight Serenade (1942)

April 15

  • Marry The Boss’s Daughter (1941)
  • Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948)
  • That Other Woman (1942)

April 22

  • Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955)
  • Star Dust (1940)
  • Decline and Fall of A Bird Watcher (1968)

April 25

  • Kentucky (1938)
  • Forever Amber (1947)


Disc News Digest compiles chunks of disc announcements, including relevant feature and version comparison information for the discerning collector.

Search Analysis: March 2014

One of my favorite things about the metrics I get on the site are the sometimes bizarre search terms people use to find the site. Yet again, the most search engine traffic I get is from people trying to subvert region coding on Blu-rays.

"so many flash points is the planet on the brink"

Hope you've packed a bag. #supertrain

"pocahontas tattoo ideas"

They either ended up on this Frame post, or the super-huge and images-heavy Best in Blu-ray 2012 article I posted last April. There is a 2013 installment coming, and it technically isn't "late" yet. Those things take time.

"moises chiullan brother's death"
"moises chiullan brother's autism"

Whoever searched both of these used, and that the most I know about them. This was a weird thing to see, but not as day-derailing as I think it would've been even a year ago.

"does peter weller have a phd?"

Hell yes he does, that's Doctor Peter Weller to you, citizen. I'm posting a Q&A I moderated with him at Dallas SciFi Expo as a Screen Time soon.

"jiro horikoshi evil"
"the wind rises moral repugnance"

Three months ago, I hit back at critics who accused Hayao Miyazaki of artistic thought-crime. People are still talking about this whole "moral repugnance" thing.

"the world's end marmalade sandwich"

Some people are obsessed with this trio. They're like robots.

"expanding earth theory podcast radio interview"

In the coming months, all these interviews from the old Giant Size (like the one with Neal Adams) and the old Screen Time will move over to the Artist Edition and (new) Screen Time feeds at ESN.

An Open Response to Ultraviolet CTO Jim Taylor

I got a surprise the other day when I read the comments section of the MacWorld posting of an article I wrote about Veronica Mars, Kickstarter, and Ultraviolet. The Chief Technology Officer of UltraViolet parent company Rovi chose to respond publicly and call into question my basic journalistic integrity. After the cut, I've included his lengthy response, and my 1300-word shredding of said response, both of which can be found on the original MacWorld post.

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