Evil Dead 2013…what fun!

I love horror movies.  I can be a bit selective as I don’t enjoy “torture” movies like Saw and Hostel.  But in general, the old time monster/killer/demon/undead movies are right up my alley.  So it was with great excitement that, with the blessing of Sam Rami, Evil Dead was being remade.  But with that excitement came a bit of trepidation: would it be as good as the original?

A word however to those that have not watched the original Evil Dead or its spawn, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.  They are an acquired taste.  Most people would probably not enjoy them.  They are over the top.  And that it is their actual charm.  They are silly and preposterous and just barely take themselves seriously enough that most viewers don’t get the joke.

So when I learned it was coming out, I knew I had to go see it with one of my two cohorts in horror movie crime, my oldest daughter.  (My youngeevil-dead-posterst daughter is just a little too young to see this one.  Even I have my limits.)

I have to say upfront that this was not my proudest parenting moment (but it may have been one of the funnest.)  My oldest daughter is 14 and we’ve been watching horror movies together for a few years now.  I usually do quite a bit of research on horror movies before I let her see them, and this one was no exception.  Still, I don’t expect many fathers would take a 14 year old girl to see the Evil Dead, nor do I condone, endorse or approve of this movie for anybody but myself and my daughter.  Your mileage may vary.

In preparation for the new version, I watched the original with her.  She liked it and so the wheels were set in motion to see the new one.

It was awesome.  It was everything I had hoped it would be and then some.  At one point we were both laughing out loud hysterically.  It was awkward because nobody else in the theater seemed to get the jokes.  But when the movie was over, I felt that director Fede Alvarez did a fine job capturing the spirit and feel of the original and yet bringing it into the 21st century.

****SPOILER ALERT*****

The only disappointment was that Bruce Campbell did not make a cameo in this movie.

****END SPOILER ALERT*****

If you have ever wistfully wondered if you can get enough “chainsaw in the mouth” action, then this is the movie for you.  My daughter and I left the theater feeling that we got our money’s worth from Evil Dead.  We’re looking forward to the sequel and I am looking forward to a director’s cut DVD.

Top Ten Horror Movies for Younger Teens

I love horror movies…good, bad, cheesy.  Love ‘em all.  (Except torture movies like “Saw” and “Hostel.”  They do nothing for me.  There is nothing creative about people being inhumane against other people.  I can read about that every day on the headlines.)  Give me a good old jump-out-of-the-seat horror movie any day.  They are the movie equivalent of roller coasters to me.

So with the stores getting ready for Halloween already, I thought it might be timely for this list.

I understand some parents may not approve of some of these movies or showing them to teens, and that’s fine.  Horror movies are not for everyone.  But I am imagining that if you’re reading this, you’re looking for suggestions to show your own teen, so we’re probably beyond that point.

Some of these movies have some foul language, some are violent, some have light drug use or sexual content, but by and large they should be okay for most younger teens.  I will try to identify those where appropriate, but in general it is the parent’s duty to determine if these are appropriate for their child and they alone must perform the due diligence to determine if they are right for their child.

So without further ado, here is my list…

10. Poltergeist – A classic.  A bit dated, but still a great first scare and a good chance of instilling a life-long fear of clowns.  There is some drug use (marijuana) but it is relatively quick.  Profanity as a minimum and the movie has some fairly decent scares in it.
9. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) –  One of the more graphically violent horror movies on my list, some of it comes off as almost cartoonish.  Yet at almost thirty years old, this one still has the scare factor.  Probably not a good choice for less mature teens, but I would imagine most 14 and 15 year-olds should be fine with this one.
8. Paranormal Activity – Language is a bit course at times, but a very good horror movie.  Slow at the beginning, the tense atmosphere and sense of ominous foreboding grow throughout to make a great movie.  Some good “jump in your seat” scenes too.
7. The Shining – This one has it all.  A classic with some pretty frightening scenes, ghosts, psychic powers, blood by the bucket load, and an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson at his creepiest.  Some brief nudity.
6. Friday the 13th (1980) – When this came out, it was kind of a benchmark for the slasher genre.  Often imitated, (and legendarily sequeled) time has dated this so most young teens can handle this movie pretty easily, but it still offers quite a few scares and starts.  Tamer by far than most “slasher” movies today, but still a good “Intro to Horror Movies” selection.
5. Night of the Living Dead (1968) – My personal first horror movie.  Shown on WFLD TV in Chicago with warning for weeks before about the “graphic nature” of this movie and repeated after each commercial while being shown, this is a landmark. This is the stuff nightmares were made of.  Well, at least my nightmares.  Seen on a 9” black and white television with “rabbit ears” that constantly needed adjusting to get the signal to stay and a vertical hold that never quite seemed to stay put, I fell in love with the zombie genre.  It is still my favorite and hopefully I have passed some of that enjoyment on to my kids.  Just a cool spooky tale with a social message that will probably be missed by teens in this day and age.
4. The Ring 2 – A decent sequel to the original, the creepiness continues on.  Obviously only worth watching after the original is seen. PG-13 rating yet still pretty darn scary at times.
3. Paranormal Activity 2 – Out of the series (4 comes out this fall) this one is my favorite so far.  I think the writers and producers really did a great job of continuing the plotline and the sequel was actually better than the original.  Couple of F-bombs here and there, but nothing excessive.  Some good jump moments.
2. Misery – Holy cats…Kathy Bates is just downright scary.  The fight seen at the end is pretty intense, but overall I think this a good one for the kids to get freaked out by.  Also teaches them the value of putting things back in their place.  🙂
1. The Ring – My girls and I watched this and we were all on the couch huddled under the blankets before it was finished.  My favorite part is when my oldest turned to me about ten minutes into the movie and (half-laughing and half-crying) said “why did you do this to us, dad?”  Of course when I offered to turn it off and watch something else, there was much protesting, as this was way too fun to stop now.  This remains my girl’s favorite horror movie to date and the benchmark by which we measure all other horror movies.  Coming in with a PG-13 rating, it is one I recommend most highly.

Finally….streaming MY media to my iPad from my WD TV Live!!!

One of the “Holy Grails” of the iPad for me has aways been to be able to view movies I already own to the iPad.  But  the ability to do this has always eluded me.  Like Ford Prefect looking for a S.E.P., I could almost get it to work but not entirely.

I am using the iPad 2 and the Western Digital TV Live Plus

The issue always came down to one of two things:  either the player couldn’t navigate the wireless network correctly, it could navigate to the the fomat couldn’t be played on the iPad (.mkv or avi).

In early attempts I was able to browse the wireless and get on the WDTVLIVEPLUS using the File Browser App, so I knew what I was trying to do was possible.  But I was only able to view and stream those media types that iPad could natively, which limited me to .mp4, .m4v, and .mov.  This left me in a rut, since most of my 100+ movies were in .mkv format.  But as I said, at least I knew that it was at least possible to do as the File Browser app let me test the wireless streaming and I knew that part would work.

So I was left with the choices of either converting all those movies to a format that could be played by the iPad, of find another app that could both see the WDTV live box on the wireless network and p[lay the right format.

I tried several apps and finally found one that met both conditions:  GoodPlayer .  GoodPlayer plays AVI, Xvid, Divx, DAT,VOB,FLV,WMV ,MKV,MP4,RM,RMVB, and AC3 file types.

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GoodPlayer

To connect it to my WD box, I simply went to the SMB/CIFS Client and added the IP address of the WDTVLIVEPLUS box.  (One important thing here is to make sure your WD Box has a static IP address on your network.  It will work with a dynamic address, but you’ll have too re-add the box everytime the WD Box gets a new address from DHCP.)

Once it was added, the WDTVLIVEPLUS was easily navigatable.  It now gives the choice of, once a file is selected, downloading the file and playing it or “play this URL” which will stream the movie from the WDTVLIVEPLUS attached hard drive to the iPad.

GoodPlayer also allows various other sources such as a UPnP and DLNA Client, WebDAV, and direct streaming from a URL.  The quality of streaming via Wifi ranges between acceptable to what I would consider to be pretty good.  As and oddity, the higher the quality of encoding, the worse it seems to look on the iPad.  I think this is due to the limitations of the data rates of the wifi.

Of course, not being satisfied with getting my movies to stream to just one iPad, I wanted to see if I could stream to two iPads at the same time because you never know when I want to watch TWO movies at the same time.  For those curious, yes, it does work.  Two seperate movies can be watched from two different ipads at the same time.

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I have only been using GoodPlayer for a few hours now and already it seems to be a great solution for all the streaming I want to do.  I have only begun to scratch the surface about what this awesome app can do, but at $2.99, it is already paying itself off.

So if you are a WD TV Live user and have wanted to stream to your iPad

 

Sony SMP-N100 review

Friday I purchased the Sony SMP-N100 digital media player at Best Buy. On Sunday I returned it to the same Best Buy. Normally I like to give a product a fair shake and rarely do I give up on one so quickly, but those product had so many issues, I found it unacceptable.

Originally I had planned to get the Western Digital WD TV Live Plus. It was recommended by a co-worker as what he used to stream all his DVDs to his TV. He told me that he had taken his and his wife’s DVD collection and transferred (ripped) the contents to an external hd and could stream the contents with this WD TV to his television.  This eliminated the need to maintain and care for hundreds of DVD in a house with six children.  This appealed to me greatly because I am always concerned about the ever-growing collection of DVD’s I have.

So off to Best Buy I went.

When I arrived they only had two options in the TV/Video section: the WD TV Live Plus hub (which is similar to the WD TV Live Plus but also contains a built-in 1 TB drive) and the Sony SMP-N100.  The Western Digital device was priced at $169, which put it out of my price range for this project (for only having 1 TB of storage.  If it had had 2 TB, I would have found this acceptable, but I also wasn’t thrilled at the idea of having the media and the streaming device in the same physical box.)

So I quickly eliminated the WD Live hub, but I didn’t see any of the WD TV Live Plus devices that were advertised on the Best Buy website.  So I asked the sales guy if the had any and he went off to check.  Meanwhile I looked at the Sony SMP-N100.

This was an impressive device: dozens of internet streaming channels (including such notable winners as Crackle, Netflix, Pandora, and Hulu Plus), the ability to stream content from various sources (such as attached storage, network share, PC hard drive), and an iPhone app…well, this was the one for me!  And all for $69…$30 less than the WD TV box.  By the time the guy had returned with the WD TV I was sold on the Sony device.

 I purchased the item and hurried home.  I unboxed the device.  It was very sleek and sexy in the traditional Sony way.  The device had three outputs: HDMI, Composite, and Component Video.  I chose to use the component video because 1) I had no HDMI ports left and 2) I forgot to buy a Composite cable.

I hooked it up to the television and fired it up.  

I’m not go into the details, but let’s just say the wifi capabilities of this thing are about useless.  Don’t even bother.  If you are still planning to purchase this device after reading this review, please make sure you have a ethernet cable ready and don’t even bother with the wifi.

Once I connected it to the ethernet, and after two rounds of updates, it was ready to go.  The first thing I did was went to the internet streaming section to see what channels were available.  The channels are part of the Sony Entertainment Network.  I was interested in many of the ones listed on the box, but much to my dismay many of the channels were not available any longer.  Not a deal breaker, but still a disappointment.

Then I started checking out the RSS feed feeds that it had.  Many of these feeds I was familiar with and knew that many of them had been cancelled already.  I was starting to become dismayed at the shrinking features of the device.

I activated the Netflix and it worked pretty well.  The picture was good and it was easy to navigate and search for movies.  I was pleased with this aspect of the device.

I decided next to focus on the streaming features of the device, specifically streaming from a attached storage device.  The list of possible formats was quite large including DivX, DivX HD, WMV, MKV, and MP4.   Yet despite all these possible formats, I could not rip and encode any DVD with any product that would play back properly on the SMP-N100.  The best I could get with any commercial ripper I tried on PC or Mac was to get the audio to play.

After numerous hours and dozens of failed attempts at creating a video file that could be played on the SMP-N100, I gave up.  It didn’t seem to matter what setting I tried, what software I ripper the DVD’s with, or what data source I used the movie would not stream.  I also tried both DNLA and non-DNLA data sources to no avail.  (Note: the only data source I did not try was a DLNA network share on a workgroup PC because, well, I did not have one, although I have a hunch this would have worked.  Every technical document and forum post I read seemed to point in this direction

After about twelve hours I gave up and packed the device up and got it ready to send back.  The combination of difficulty of getting a movie to play and the reduction in features from those advertised made this a pointless endeavor.  The SMP-N100 is an embarrassment to Sony.

I went back to Best Buy to return the SMP-100 and get the WD TV Live Plus.

The Exorcist. A cautionary tale in high expectations and disappointment.

The Exorcist.

Just the name alone is enough to make some shutter. I head read the reviews and hear the stories. “The scariest movie of all time!” IMDB’s top review starts out “The Exorcist is the best horror film ever made”. RottenTomatos composite critic reviews and user reviews are 84% and 83% like it respectively. IGN, best-horror-movies.com, and about.com (as well as a slew of others) rank this as the top horror movie of all time.

So, as a horror film fan, I have desperately wanted to see this film for quite a while and must say I was a little embarrassed that my horror film resume did not include this classic. I had been waiting to watch it with someone mostly. I asked friends and family. All refused. I knew this film was going to be great! Nobody will even watch this thing with me. It must be bad!

And so “The Exorcist” remained unwatched in my instant streaming Netflix queue. Where it waited and waited and waited.

Until Saturday night. I could wait no longer. I queued it up and started watching. I was surprised about how much of the story I had already knew. But that was really the only suprise I would turn out to have this film. It was kind of slow and dull. I was getting more frustrated as the film went on. I was increasingly disappointed. Surely this wasn’t all there was, right? Am I missing something? I turned out the lights to perhaps increase the tension. Nothing.

In the end, I finished watching the movie a very disappointed little camper. This was not the terrifying movie I had hoped for. On the contrary, the whole experience was quite a let down. The charcters were wooden, the writer never seemed to be sure where he was going with the plot, there were way to many loose ends, and overall the movie was sloppy. But in the end, the worst sin this movie committed was that it just plain wasn’t scary. And I don’t require much from horror movies.  I’ve seen some real stinker.  (Nay!  I have sought the stinkers out.  I can enjoy a bad horror movie as much as a good one.  I’m looking at you, Troll 2.)  But I had built this movie so much in my mind that I don’t think this movie would ever have lived up to my expectations. But frankly this didn’t even come close.

But I will say that, although I never really eat pea soup befoire, I certainly won’t now.

Kids, save your money. Go see The Ring, or Halloween, or Alien. Or any slew of much better movied. The Exorcist makes for better ledgend than it does actual horror.

Netflix and the price increase.

Recently Netflix dropped a bomb an notified it’s users that it would be increasing their prices quite dramatically for the same service the customers were already getting.  As a “long-time” Netflix customer, I was initially taken back by this.  I am a cheap skate so I get the streaming Netflix and one DVD out at a time for $9.99 per month.  Netflix broke the plan down as $7.99 per month for streaming and $2.00 extra for the one DVD out at a time.

Under the new plan, I will pay $7.99 per month for streaming and $7.99 for one DVD out at a time.  So my price will go from $9.99 per month to $15.98 per month.  That a 62% increase in price.  At first I was livid and angry.  I’m not one to begrudge someone making a profit, but a 62% inrease?!?  I was going to cancel my account.  I was going to show them!!!

But as I got to thinking about it, $2.00 per month is extremely cheap for sending DVDs through the mail.  Almost too cheap.  Even with bulk rates, the postage back and forth between the distribution centers and the end user can easily exceed $2.00 per month for even a moderate user.  So I think a price increase from $2.00 is justified.  While going from $2.00 to $7.99 may be a bitter pill to swallow, it makes sense that Netflix would raise their prices.  And really, for the content and flexibility they provide to watch movies, I still think it is a great value.  But time will tell.  I think I will keep closer track of how many DVDs I watch a month.  I think it falls below five a month, Nextflix DVDs and I will be parting ways.