If you one of those guys who loves betting so much that you even lay money down on box office numbers, let’s hope you had week 2 of “Iron Man 3″ beating week one of “The Great Gatsby.” Gatsby opened well with a $50.1 million debut, but Iran Man hung in there after a monster opening weekend to pull in another $72.5 million to win the box office last week. It’s nice to see movies live up to the hype, at least when it comes to ticket sales.
You have to give Marvel credit, as they strung together hit after hit across all of their characters. After “Avengers” I thought the third installment of of the Iron Man franchise could end up being a letdown like we’ve seen so many times in this genre, but Marvel is firing on all cylinders, and there’s something about the Tony Stark character created by Robert Downey, Jr. You see Iron Man merchandise everywhere, including slot machines at the Vegas casinos and even virtual slot machines at Betfair casino.
Next week things will get even more interesting as J.J. Abrams is back with “Star Trek Into Darkness” which has a great shot of winning the weekend. As for hype, Abrams is getting plenty of it. With Star Trek he’s already responsible for reviving one of the great science fiction franchises, and then next year he’ll tackle the big one with the Star Wars franchise. After George Lucas belly flopped with the three prequels, let’s hope Abrams is the right choice to take Luke, Han and the others on a worthwhile journey. At the very least the next Star Wars movie will probably be the easiest box office winner to predict. But in the meantime you’ll have to figure out if the Trekkies can rise to the occasion next week.
It’s 2 A.M. and you’re the kind of drunk that usually only follows a particularly joyous event, or a particularly disastrous one. While concerns such as the bar tab you just threw on your credit card, and that black eye forming over a disagreement over that girl you don’t remember will soon dominate your thoughts, the only worry at the moment is where you can get a slice of pizza in this unknown part of town that you were highly familiar with only four shots ago.
While you can ask a stranger (unlikely and potentially dangerous) or navigate Yelp and Google Maps (not a chance in your current state), what you really need is a digital arrow that simply shows you where the nearest pizza is right damn now.
Such is the purpose of Pizza Compass. Simply spin the app’s pizza icon and you’ll soon be directed to the nearest slice joints, and even be provided with a steaming pizza graphic when you’re in range. Should you have the need, you can also explore the built in map to view all nearby pizza places, and get photos, hours, reviews courtesy of Foursquare, and more.
Described as both a no frills app, and “the most important app ever made,” the makers of Pizza Compass are very aware of both the incredibly simple nature of the program, and the fact it is absolutely essential. You can easily make the well-reasoned and fact based argument that everyone with a soul enjoys pizza, and as such it is highly likely that at some point, you will appreciate having an app that cuts through the crap (as in other food that isn’t pizza) and gets you on the right path to enjoying the greatest thing to ever come in slice form (that’s right…suck it mere bread).
A further scenario. It’s now 2:30 A.M., and you’ve soaked up a medically advisable amount of excess alcohol courtesy of a hot and greasy peperoni pizza, all thanks to Pizza Compass. With the few brain cells left firing, you realize that Pizza Compass is in fact the app of the week.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton
Baz Luhrmann was born to make “The Great Gatsby.” Dazzling excess, star-crossed lovers, and tragedy are the cornerstones to nearly every movie he’s ever made, and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel has all three in abundance, wrapped in a searing indictment of the pursuit of wealth. All four of those elements of the story are on full display here, but there’s something missing in the execution. For a story with so much passion and longing and regret, it’s surprisingly bloodless. This is not to say that Luhrmann doesn’t hit the emotional buttons; he just doesn’t hit them hard enough. Then again, that may not be Luhrmann’s fault at all, but the source material. A bunch of clueless people ruining their lives by making bad decision after bad decision; it’s like a Mike Leigh movie, with money.
Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is in a sanitarium for a laundry list of conditions (top of the list: morbid alcoholism), and soon begins telling his shrink about the summer of 1922. Nick had taken a job as a bond salesman during the Roaring Twenties, and found a small cottage in the village of West Egg, where he lived next to new-money millionaires. Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) lives across the bay from her, and is (unhappily) married to old-money millionaire and unfaithful thug Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). The man who lives next door to Nick is a mysterious fellow named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Jay would throw massive parties every weekend, but his reason for doing so was surprisingly sweet: he hoped that one day Daisy would attend one of them. Daisy was Gatsby’s girl five years earlier, and once Jay discovers that Nick and Daisy are related, he asks Nick to invite Daisy over for tea. This sets in motion a chain of events that would change the lives of all concerned.
Last night on Twitter, I earned a few favorites and reTweets when I sent out the one-liner, “At last, my months of following “The Great Space Coaster” on Twitter have paid off: I just won an autographed photo of Gary Gnu.”
Funny thing is, though, I wasn’t joking: I really did get selected to receive a Gary Gnu photo which — unless I very much miss my guess — will bear the signature of puppeteer Jim Martin, who brought Gary to life on the show.
Reminiscing about that live-action kids show in turn got me to thinking about other such shows from my youth which, for the most part, tend to have been forgotten by just about everyone who didn’t experience them when they were originally on the air.
Here, for your reading enjoyment (and possible education) are a few that crossed my mind. Some were on broadcast networks, others were in syndication, but they all clearly left their mark on me in one way or the other, since it’s been at least 30 years since I’ve seen full episodes of most of them. Mind you, that’s not to say that they’d hold up for me now, but I’ll say this much for ‘em: every damned one of the theme songs has a hook that’ll stick in your brain for the long haul…except maybe the one that leads off this list, but, damn, even that’s screaming to be sampled by an industrious DJ somewhere.
1. Curiosity Shop (1971-1973)
Chuck Jones, the man behind some of the most memorable Warner Brothers cartoons of all time, brought his unique sensibilities into a live-action setting for this educational program which, at least as far as ABC was concerned, seemed like a perfect opportunity to pull in some of the audience of this new PBS show called “Sesame Street” which was all the rage for the single-digit set. Thanks to Jones’s cartoon connections, he was able to pull such luminaries as Mel Blanc, June Foray, and Don Messick to give voice to the various characters, but there were also actual cartoons incorporated into the show, including animated adaptations of such comic strips as “Dennis the Menace,” “The Wizard of Id,” and “Miss Peach,” and trivia buffs may also be interested to know that the Schoolhouse Rock song “Three Is A Magic Number” made its debut on the show.
After years in development following a successful Kickstarter campaign, “Star Command” is now available for the app store, and provides a universe spanning strategy title, that offers the chance to chart the unknown and boldly go where no game has gone before.
Well…ok that’s an exaggeration.
In fact, “Star Command” has a lot in common with the PC indie hit “FTL,” right down to the Kickstarter origins, as both games task you with the same objective of traversing different galaxies and defeating some of the toughest scum in the galaxy through ship to ship battles, and onboard scuffles, all as captain of your very own space ship.
While the games may share a similar product description, where “Star Command” differs, and ultimately shines, is in the number of little things.
For instance, the graphics are exceptional. Whereas “FTL” was all about minimalism, “Star Command” looks similar to old PC games like “XCOM” or “Syndicate” and gets the most out of its perspective thanks to a bright and detailed style. The cutscenes are also straight out of a Lucasarts adventure game, and really drive home the humor, danger, and even frights of the game based on the current situation.
As for the gameplay, there is a lot of it. After you’ve customized your captain, you are now responsible for hiring a crew, and assigning them to three different job classes, as well as building and customizing your ships weapons and systems, which are all acquired by using tokens that are earned along the way. Once everything is eventually in place, the game mostly revolves around combat, for which you are responsible for the command of every single aspect of the ship. When it’s time to fire the plasma beams, that’s up to you. When a team needs to be organized to fend off a boarding party, that’s up to you. And when all hell is breaking loose and no hope seems to be available, it’s again down to you.
That last one is important, as things can get out of control very easily. This is not an easy game by any means, as “Star Command” requires your complete concentration, and the ability to multitask like a machine, if you are ever going to have a chance of surviving. Your survival is the key too, as once the captain goes down, the game is over.
Don’t let the doom and gloom keep you away though, as even at its most frustrating “Star Command” is an ambitious and extremely entertaining title that does a great job at promoting an atmosphere where anything can happen at any turn. Exploring the universe truly feels like you’re doing just that, since the variety of enemies and scenarios present at each location rarely, if ever, repeats, making each new adventure feel like some lost episode of “Star Trek.”
In fact it’s probably no coincidence that this game is coming out so close to the new “Star Trek” movie, as if you are a fan of that series, or of anything sci-fi, this app is a beam down from the heavens. It’s a complex, yet accessible and rewarding, adventure that requires several levels of active and passive strategies. Every effort proves worth it though, as it all contributes to a title that lets you experience what it’s like to be at the helm of your own sci-fi ship.
“Star Command” is the perfect type of strategy game for your phone, and with any luck will be the start of a franchise that will live long and prosper. For now though, this game proudly serves as my app of the week.
Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce
When it was announced that Jon Favreau would not return as director of the third “Iron Man” film, the producers surely fielded offers from every name director in town. So how did Shane Black land this gig, again? The guy hasn’t written or directed a feature film since 2005′s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and yet here he is, doing that Shane Black thing once again, only this time with superheroes, while trying his best to streamline his R-rated ways for a PG-13 audience. As it turns out, “Iron Man 3″ works, but just barely, and it’s more in spite of Black’s influence than because of it. At the beginning of the second act, Black begins to get in his own way, and for anyone familiar with his work, it’s not long before a strong case of deja vu sets in. He even set the movie during the holiday season, just like “Lethal Weapon.” And “The Long Kiss Goodnight.”
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is not handling the events that took place in “The Avengers” well. He can’t sleep, he’s experiencing panic attacks, and he’s neglecting his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). The last thing he needs is a crisis, so of course he receives two, in the form of a think tank genius named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who’s trying to woo Pepper into funding some groundbreaking genetic research, and a stone-cold terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) who has launched a series of unusual bombings across the country. Tony dares the Mandarin to take him on; the Mandarin responds by destroying his house. Tony Stark, one of the richest and most famous men in the world, is at rock bottom.
Some know Robert Picardo for the time he spent playing the Emergency Medical Hologram on “Star Trek: Voyager,” while others remember him more fondly for his work as Coach Cutlip on “The Wonder Years,” but at the moment, the TV show on his resume that more people are talking about than any other is “China Beach,” which is – after way, way too long a wait – finally on DVD. Picardo took a few minutes to chat with Bullz-Eye about the release of “China Beach: The Complete Series,” his reminiscences of working on the series, and if viewers are wrong to see a touch of his Dr. Dick Richard turning up in the aforementioned EMH.
Bullz-Eye: From what I understand, it sounds like we’re both on the same page as far as being unable to refresh our memories on “China Beach”: they tell me my copy of the complete-series set is due to arrive tomorrow.
Robert Picardo: Oh, good for you! But I did already get mine. [Laughs.] They got it to me yesterday, and I devoted some time to it. I watched a couple of the bonus features. There are 10 hours of bonus features, and I guess I watched about two hours of them, or thereabouts. And then, even though I had to get up very early this morning to do these interviews, I thought, “Well, I’ll pop in the pilot and just watch the first five minutes to see the quality of the transfer.” And, of course, I watched the entire pilot. I couldn’t turn it off! So that was a good thing. The fact that I was so captivated was a good sign.
I’m really happy to see that the show, which was a period piece to begin with…I mean, we made it in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but it was set from ’68 to ’71, principally, and then the last season we kind of skipped into the future as late as 1987. But basically it was a period piece to begin with, so in that respect it hasn’t aged. It’s still a great time capsule and doesn’t feel dated, and I’m so proud of the work in it. Dana is extraordinary, Marg Helgenberger is extraordinary, but the whole ensemble is just great. You know, it was a very special time in my career, and I know and I’ve heard Dana and Marg and pretty much all of the actors say the same, so to have it reach a new audience is really very gratifying and exciting.
BE: What do you remember about your first read of the pilot script?
RP: I remember reading it and thinking it was great. And important. It felt like an honor to be part of something like that, which was really about something, I mean, obviously, you’d…I guess you’d say the success of the movie “Platoon” led to the possibility of major television networks doing Vietnam dramas. And, of course, “Tour of Duty,” our sister show… [Laughs.] Well, that was really more about “Platoon” and about the soldiers fighting. What was unique and special about “China Beach” was that the point-of-view character was a woman, an Army nurse who served there. So it gave the show a special perspective. It wasn’t about combat, it was about saving lives. It was about supporting and helping soldiers. The war was like an offstage character.
We were the support group there—the nurses, the doctors, the USO people—to sort of support and patch the guys up and either send them back or, if they were too injured, send them home. And more often than not, if they were dead, you’d offer the last gesture of respect to them. That’s what Michael Boatman’s character did, the guy who ran the grave registration. What a terrific role, and an extraordinary performance for a 24-year-old guy. I mean, to have so much…what’s the word? He created such a character who had seen everything, and he was totally believable as a guy who…that was his life, just all of that death and loss. And what that had turned him into was sort of a 24-year-old old man. Anyway, it’s just great writing. William Broyles, who served in Vietnam and who co-created the series, said that he feels it’s the best war drama that’s ever been on television. And, well, yeah, you could say that he’s a little partial, since he co-created it. [Laughs.] But you know what? I agree with him.
As mentioned in last week’s column, things are finally starting to get back to normal for Blu-ray fans, with several great options arriving in stores today, including an Academy Award winner, a pair of Barbara Streisand films, and the latest from David Chase.
“Silver Linings Playbook”
Leave it to David O. Russell to create a romantic comedy as quirky, dark, funny and surprisingly touching as “Silver Linings Playbook,” because the movie is almost as crazy as its two leads. One minute a fiercely honest character study about a man coping with bipolar disorder, and the next minute a charming rom-com revolving around an amateur dancing competition, the film performs such an amazing tightrope act that it’s really to Russell’s credit that it doesn’t come crashing down like a house of cards. The movie wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the risks it takes thematically, but none of that would matter without its incredible cast. Bradley Cooper finally gets the chance to show what he’s fully capable of in the best role of his career, and Robert De Niro has some great moments as Cooper’s superstitious father, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (already so good at such a young age) who steals the show with a phenomenal performance fully deserving of her recent Oscar win.
Blu-ray Highlight: The making-of featurette, “The Film That Became a Movement,” does a great job of balancing the usual behind the scenes footage with cast and crew interviews promoting mental health awareness, while the Q&A highlights are worth watching for those who want to know more about the film’s production. And though most of the deleted scenes can be easily skipped, the alternate ending is a must-see for any fan of the movie.
“Not Fade Away”
You wouldn’t think that it’d be very hard for someone like David Chase – who helped reinvent the TV drama with “The Sopranos” – to get his feature film debut off the ground, but then again, “Not Fade Away” feels so hastily thrown together that it’s not surprising it took five years to do so. A good idea in need of a better script, Chase’s 1960s’set story about a kid trying to follow in the footsteps of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to make it big as a rock n’ roll star doesn’t feature a single likable character. That makes enjoying its anticlimactic story even more difficult, because it’s hard to care what happens to anyone in the film when they’re as naïve, selfish and just plain boring as the characters here. James Gandolfini’s overbearing father is probably the most interesting (and levelheaded) of the bunch, and yet he’s portrayed almost like a villain. The music is good and the tale of failed stardom is more believable than most rock band movies, but that’s also what makes “Not Fade Away” so forgettable.
Blu-ray Highlight: Divided into three sections, “The Basement Tapes” offers a look at various aspects of the filmmaking process, including training the actors to play their respective instruments (with the help of Steven Van Zandt, no less), the 1960s setting and costumes, and the similarities between the story and David Chase’s teen years.
It’s not just the studios that get excited about the beginning of the summer movie season, but audiences as well, because the four-month period marks the release of some of the year’s most anticipated films, from action blockbusters to all-star comedies. This summer is particularly exciting, and it kicks off in May with the latest installments of some of Hollywood’s biggest franchises (“Iron Man,” “Star Trek,” “Fast & Furious” and “The Hangover”), as well as a few lower profile features with the potential to make a big impression.
“IRON MAN 3″
Who: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce What: When Tony Stark’s world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, Stark starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution. When: May 3rd Why: “Iron Man 2” may be one of the weaker films in Marvel’s Phase One, but it deserves some slack for shouldering a lot of the groundwork leading up to “The Avengers.” With that said, it’ll be nice to see Tony Stark in a more standalone adventure this time out, which is reportedly based on Warren Ellis’ well-received “Extremis” arc, ushering in a change of status quo for the Iron Man armor. The film also marks a change behind the camera as well, with Shane Black taking over for the departing Jon Favreau, although the trailers suggest that it’s business as usual. That’s great news for fans of the first two films, because with the addition of Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall and Ben Kingsley to the cast, “Iron Man 3” is shaping up to the best of the series.
Who: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, James Franco and Ray Liotta What: The true story of notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski, from his early days in the mob until his arrest for the murder of more than 100 men. When: May 3rd Why: Millennium Entertainment doesn’t exactly have the best track record when it comes to releasing small movies with big stars, but the cast of “The Iceman” is almost too good to ignore. Michael Shannon tends to deliver his best work in these types of indie films, while Winona Ryder proved in “Black Swan” that she’s still capable of turning in a good performance with the right material. And it wouldn’t be a crime movie without Ray Liotta popping up at some point, so director Ariel Vromen has that box checked as well. Though most people have probably never even heard of Richard Kuklinski or his true life story, sometimes those ones are the best.
The keyboard of your mobile device is something you can’t even call a feature. It’s more of a given and, as such, you probably never really put much thought into it, or consideration into using any but the one your device came with.
The developers of Swype seem to be aware of that mentality, and for years have been working on a keyboard alternative that would merit that very consideration. While they made their name initially (and literally) because of a trace to type featured dubbed Swype, that feature has since become standard for many android devices, and have forced the team at Swype to develop a product not dependent on a single feature, and worthy of the app’s long anticipated Google Play debut.
They’ve done it too. With the trace feature no longer its ace, Swype instead focuses its effort on making a keyboard that is not only faster than others (Swype was used to set a Guinness Book record for texting) but more accurate as well. While this is best exemplified in its abilities to do things like learn the type of language and lingo you use to offer better text prediction, its intelligent sentence editor, or how you can do things like change to a keypad style layout for numbers, it’s more of general design philosophy than anything that is exemplified by a single feature.
That isn’t to say that Swype doesn’t have some flash though. Since being bought by Nuance Communications, Swype has incorporated that company’s Dragon Mobile Assistant feature, which is integrated into the keyboard and allows you to verbally dictate a message, or any input, with a kind of accuracy you really don’t see from other similar programs, and provides yet another reliable input feature for your buck. There’s even a planned feature which will incorporate the languages and unique dialects of any area you are in, and use them to further enhance the text prediction feature.
I’d be lying if I said Swype is a sexy or exciting app, or one that is easy to properly do justice to by describing it. It isn’t, and you can’t. What it is though is a monumental improvement to maybe the most essential of functions your mobile device is capable of, and at its must have introduction price of $0.99 (which unlocks it for your phone and tablet) is cheaper than other comparable apps like Swiftkey, yet doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of functionality in the process.
You may not often consider your keyboard and ways to make it better, but the developers of Swype have, and they’ve used that information to create a keyboard that is my app of the week.