Stephen King on The Dark Tower movie: An EW podcast – EW.com

The quest to The Dark Tower is already underway, with Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey currently filming the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling fantasy western.

For those seeking an early preview of how the February 2017 film is coming together, Entertainment Weekly presents this podcast version of our conversation with King himself, as well as director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair.)

I am so looking forward to this. These are some of my favorite books. (Yes, I like Shakespeare, Proust, and Stephen King.) I think the casting is great; I have no problem with Roland not looking like Clint Eastwood.

Source: Stephen King on The Dark Tower movie: An EW podcast | EW.com

A Better Way to Sync Videos to iOS Devices

If you want to sync videos from iTunes to your iOS device, you generally connect the device, then click Movies in the Settings section of the sidebar, and then check or uncheck the movies you want to sync. Unfortunately, the sync interface presents movies by title only, and the titles can be truncated. You can’t sort by, say, date added, to see your most recent movies first.

Sync movies

This isn’t very practical, so I use a different technique. You can see just below the Movies section there is an Include Movies from Playlists section. What I do is use a special playlist for movies; in my case, it’s called iPad Movies.

Include movies

When I want to sync a video, I add it to that playlist; when I want to remove a movie or TV show, I remove it from the playlist. Then, when I connect my iPad, iTunes syncs the video I want without me having to find them in the impractical interface.

You can do the same for TV shows; using a playlist makes it easier to select episodes, which require a lot of clicking in the standard interface.

The Problem with Bonus Culture

Browsing the news today, I came across an article entitled, “The Story Behind …” (… being the name of a movie.) Look around, and you’ll see all sorts of articles telling you how something was made, giving you back story, often about a movie or TV series. TV showrunners have become stars, sitting on panels at ComicCon, now the mecca of “making of” promotional backstory. (And to think that, a few years ago, those outside the industry had never heard of showrunners.)

We’re very familiar with this on DVDs and Blu-Rays. It’s rare these days to find a DVD or Blu-Ray that doesn’t have bonus content. This includes short films containing interviews with the cast and crew, deleted scenes, information about costumes, music, sets, and technical information about filming.

Sometimes this can be interesting. If you’re a fan of a specific TV series, for example, you may want to know more about the creative choices that were made, or how the actors saw their characters. But we’ve gotten to the point where, for movies at least, the bonus content is often longer than the movie itself.

If you’re in the film industry, this content is invaluable. But for the rest of us, what’s the point? Bonus content is nothing more than a lagniappe designed to get people to buy the product. Back in the day, when we still bought movies on video tapes, DVDs had extra content, and this was probably designed to get people to buy movies on this new medium and give up on their VCRs. But now, it’s everywhere. It’s on DVDs and Blu-ray’s; it’s even on some classical CDs. I’ve seen “documentaries” on classical CDs showing the performers in the recording studio, or with interviews of them explaining the work. While the explanations can be interesting, do we really need to see the musicians recording in the studio?

Interestingly, it is still rare to see this in books. Occasionally, I come across a novel which has some extra “book club questions” at the back. Sometimes, I see an interview with an author at the back of a book. But I have yet to see a making-of documentary, or any discussion of the techniques used to write a book: which type of computer, Mac or PC; which software; or, if the author actually wrote the book in longhand, which pen or pencil they used.

I find this distracting. There are few movies for which I really care to watch interviews or making-of documentaries. I watched much of the bonus content that was on the Lord of the Rings DVDs, back when they were released. And I’ve watched extra features about some TV series that I really like. But I’ve only ever listened to a director’s commentary once (Almost Famous), and I really don’t care about seeing how costumes and makeup were done.

Why do we need to have this extra content for every movie? It’s starting to make its way into music, and books won’t be far behind. Why can’t people be satisfied with the creative work on its own? If you watch a two-hour movie, do you really need to see another four hours of “bonus features?” Why not just watch the movie again if you like it that much?

I will admit, that, as far as literature is concerned, I do like to dig deeper. I read biographies of my favorite authors, and I have letters and journals of some of the writers I appreciate the most. This is more because I find the creative life interesting, not so much to learn how a particular novel was written. With literature, technique is never discussed, except, of course, in books about technique.

All of this is just another form of marketing; it’s little more than advertorials. The article I saw today, looking at the making of a new movie, is nothing more than a teaser to get people to go to the cinema and pay to see the movie. It’s a movie adapted from a popular novel, and plenty of people who have read the book will already be attracted to the movie. But will this article about how the movie was made attract more people? Wouldn’t it be better if people just went to the movie, and ignored all of the dross? Blame the news outlets, of course; they’re using this filler to get page views.

Road Movies: The Quest for Home

One Saturday some thirty years ago, I saw a triple feature at a cinema in Lower Manhattan. That day, the white screen in the dark room was filled with three unforgettable road movies: The Searchers, Stalker, and Kings of the Road. I had never thought much about the road movie, and after that day, I realized that not only did this genre touch me deeply, but I understood what that type of film was saying. These three great movies all tell stories of people on the road, searching for home. And that’s what the road movie is all about.

Ever since I had first seen Kings of the Road, sometime in the late 1970s, I had been fascinated by this minimalist story of two men wandering in the gray German landscape. I had probably seen it a half-dozen times by then, but, back in the pre-DVD days, it was hard to see foreign films. You could only catch them occasionally at one of the handful of movie theaters in Manhattan that showed foreign films.

So I jumped at the chance to see it again, at a retrospective of Wim Wenders’ movies at the Film Forum in Greenwich Village in July, 1982.[1] The director had chosen a program of movies that influenced him, or that were important to him, along with his own films and others he had produced. Kings of the Road was shown alongside two other road movies, introduced by Wenders himself.

Kings of the road poster

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Sony Pictures Employees Now Working in Air-Gapped Offices

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There is so much to say about the Sony hack, whether it has been perpetrated by the North Koreans or not, but everyone else is saying it, so I’ll just let them go ahead. I found one thing interesting about the situation: according to TechCrunch article, Sony Pictures employees are now working in air-gapped offices; offices with no internet connection.

“That is what a major corporate security breach sounds like: the squeal of a fax machine and the low murmur of co-workers now required to talk to each other instead of depending on email or instant messages.”

I can understand that they’re worried about more intrusions, but they would do better to hire some computer security experts and get on with things. I did note this interesting tidbit:

“”… A couple of people had their computers removed but people using Macs were fine,” she said. She said most work is done on iPads and iPhones.”

How Much Media Content Does a 16 GB iPad Hold?

In a recent article, I did a test to see how much free space was left on a 16 GB iPad after installing iOS and all of Apple’s apps. Taking into account the “Other” space that’s always lost on an iOS device, I got a bit more than 8 GB to store music, movies, photos and other content.

Today, I tried another experiment: with the base iOS installation, and no other apps, how much content can it hold? I did this in part following a Twitter conversation with Jim M. who pointed out that the idea of selling music in lossless formats was problematic with so many 16 GB devices.

So, I wanted to find out how many hours of lossless music a 16 GB iPad would hold, taking into account a variable amount of “Other” space lost; in my case, between 1 and 1.5 GB. The answer is around 48 hours.

Lossless music

Lossless music is not all the same bit rate. It compresses differently according to the type of music. It varies from around 400 kbps to as much as 900 kbps, but, on average, comes in around the middle of that range. Though if you want to copy a lot of, say, harpsichord music to your iOS device, you’ll get fewer hours of music than if you sync music that takes up less space. In my test, the average was almost exactly 512 kbps.

The next step was to see how much music I could get on my device at 256 kbps, the bit rate the iTunes Store uses. I managed to squeeze just over four days’ worth of music, or 96 hours, almost exactly twice the amount of lossless music:

256k

How about movies? I managed to sync two Die Hard movies in HD with some free space; two Harry Potter movies; one Lord of the Rings; a bit more for movies I ripped from DVDs. For the latter, since they come in around 2 GB each, I can get 5 movies comfortably.

I recall taking a trip a couple of years ago, and bringing this iPad mini with me. I was re-watching Breaking Bad, at least the seasons that had already aired at the time. I was able to fit about five episodes, as they are around 2 GB each. (I used hotel wifi to download others.)

All this is a thought experiment, designed to point out that with a 16 GB device, there’s not much space for anything. Once you start taking a lot of photos and videos, you’ll eat up free space; when you add apps, that’ll take up room. What’s left isn’t much.

This is yet another suggestion that Apple shouldn’t be selling a 16 GB device; and that users certainly should not buy it. You may only use your iPhone or iPad for a few apps, and not sync media; if so, then the 16 GB device will be big enough for you. But once you start syncing content to the device, it will fill up very quickly.

Check Your Netflix Streaming Speed with Example Short 23.976

If you’re a Netflix user, and you have problems with the quality of what you’re watching, you may want to find out exactly how fast your internet connection is. You can do speed tests on various websites, but they don’t show the actual speed you get from Netflix, which may be less if your ISP is throttling the service.

There’s a little-known film you can watch on Netflix called Example Short 23.976. It’s a cinema verité short – just 11 minutes long – that explores the relationship between man and his TV screen. Netflix’s description of the film gives little insight into the existential depth of this work:

“An example of 23.976 frames per second. An example of 23.976 frames per second. An example of 23.976 frames per second.”

What’s useful about this film is that it shows you exactly how fast you’re getting data from Netflix, and at what resolution. Here’s a screenshot. (It’s a bit hard to see, but at the time I took the screenshot, I was getting 3000 kbps, at 1280×720.)

Screen

When you start watching this movie, the bitrate and resolution will be low, and they’ll increase as Netflix figures out how much bandwidth you have. You may need to leave it running for a few minutes to get an accurate reading for your usable bandwidth. But this, combined with speed tests from other websites, can tell you if problems streaming Netflix are related to your overall speed or specific bottlenecks affecting Netflix traffic.

Essential Movies: Almost Famous

Almost_famous_poster1.jpgGrowing up in the 1970s, music was an important part of my life. My friends and I went to concerts dozens of times each year. Sometimes these were big concerts in Madison Square Garden, one of the best arenas for rock music. Others were in smaller venues in New York City, such as The Palladium, Radio City Music Hall, or The Bottom Line, as well as local colleges, and some other venues on Long Island.

I saw bands large and small, ranging from Genesis to Yes to the Grateful Dead at Madison Square Garden; I saw Dire Straits on their first US tour at The Bottom Line, where I also saw Lou Reed and the Steve Reich Ensemble; and at Radio City Music Hall, which was just starting to hold rock concerts, I saw the Grateful Dead and Jethro Tull. The Palladium was where we went to see all the bands that were on the cusp of stardom, the ones that were almost famous. I saw groups such as The Grateful Dead (their spring 1977 tour, one of the last in smaller venues), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Be-Bop Deluxe, Joe Jackson, Jorma Kaukonen and dozens of others. And in summer, we’d hang out in Central Park, on a hill overlooking the Wollman skating rink, where there were several concerts a week. We were close enough to hear the music, though the stage was small. Music was, for me and my friends, one of the essential elements of our lives.

I can think of no other movie about music that resonates with me as much as Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film. (Get the “Bootleg Cut, the extended version, on Blu-Ray: Amazon.com, Amazon UK.) While this movie looks at music from behind the stage – it’s based on Crowe’s experiences touring with bands in the early 1970s – the atmosphere it creates matches up with what I new back in my teenage years.

The movie is, at heart, about music; about the love of music; about fans and how much they love music.

To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.

Almost Famous is also about how music brings us together. One of the pivotal scenes in the movie takes place when William Miller has managed to get Russell Hammond away from a local party, where he took acid, and back onto the bus. Everyone on the bus is angry, upset with Hammond for taking off, and the music on the bus is playing Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. Slowly, one after another, each person on the bus picks up the beat of the music, until they all sing along with the words. They are united by that “silly little piece of music.”

During this, Miller – the 15-year old kid who talked his way into an assignment from Rolling Stone to write about the band – says: “I have to g home.” Penny Lane, the groupie – or Band-Aid – turns to him and says, “You are home.”

Penny-on-bus-686x385.jpg

Almost Famous is based on Cameron Crowe’s own experience, as I said above. In the commentary to the movie – the only commentary I’ve ever listened to – he highlights the many events that happened in nearly the same way in his youth. His mother, who is also on the commentary track, tells about how he was during this period. And even some of the props are items that Crowe saved from his days touring with bands.

There are some wonderful performances in this movie. Patrick Fugit gets the innocent teenager perfectly, and Kate Hudson is luminous as Penny Lane. Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a powerful and humble performance as the rock critic Lester Bangs, and all four actors in the band, Stillwater, act as though they are a family of four.

On the surface, Almost Famous is a story of a boy growing up; it’s a love story; and it’s the story of “a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom.”

But above all, it’s a story about how music can move us.

Three of the Best Rock Concert Movies of All Time

I like using iTunes’ shuffle mode, and every now and then, it pops up something I hadn’t heard in a while, giving me an Aha! moment, reminding me to spin a (virtual) disc that hasn’t been heard recently. Today, the one that set me off was Born Under the Punches, by Talking Heads. Listening to this, I was reminded of their great concert film Stop Making Sense, and that made me think of a few of the greatest concert movies of all time.

81p94HdVNPL._SL1474_.jpgA great concert movie isn’t just a film of a great concert; it has to be more than that. Stop Making Sense (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is one of the best as much because of the innovative approach to the concert itself, as the way it’s filmed. And the music’s great too.

It starts with David Byrne coming on to a bare stage, alone, carrying a boom box and an acoustic guitar. He presses a button on the boom box which starts playing a rhythm track – it’s not really the boom box playing that track, but who cares? – then goes into an acoustic version of Psycho Killer. Another band member comes out for each of the next few songs, until the full complement is on stage. From then on, it’s a rocking show, with foot-tapping rhythms and powerful beats.

I remember seeing Talking Heads on this tour, at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, in Queens, New York, and it was an awesome show. It’s great to have some of that tour on film.

51JFQ6SRTCL._SY300_.jpgThe Last Waltz (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a film of The Band’s 1976 retirement gig at Winterland, in San Francisco. Held on Thanksgiving day, this epic concert featured the A-list musicians of the time: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond, Bobby Charles, The Staple Singers, Paul Butterfield, and Eric Clapton.

Filmed by Martin Scorcese, it features a few interviews, and a couple of songs shot on a soundstage, but the essential of the movie is (parts of) the live gig. The movie itself is only about two hours, but the concert lasted from evening until dawn; after it was over, promoter Bill Graham treated the audience to a Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast.

The Band’s music is great, but the movie shines because of all the guests who play some of their best songs. And there are great jams with a pantheon of rock musicians on stage at the same time.

91YuwZKlRRL._SL1500_.jpgEveryone knows about Woodstock. Maybe your parents told you stories about it… If you’re old enough to remember it – I was a bit too young to go, but I heard about it at the time – it was a major event, especially to those of us in New York City. When the movie and albums came out, it was a magical experience, seeing all those great musicians performing in such epic surroundings. The movie shows not only the music, but the creation of the event as well. Some of the interviews can be a bit boring, but they do set the scene, helping viewers realize the scale of the festival.

With the director’s cut released in 2010 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), we now have a lot more footage. At just under three hours, there are also two hours of songs that had never been shown before (including a huge 39-minute Turn On Your Love Light by the Grateful Dead) on a bonus disc.

Back in the 1970s, there was a cinema near where I lived that had midnight showings of concert films on weekends. I saw numerous great movies there: two of the three I mention above, and films such as Yessongs, The Grateful Dead Movie, The Song Remains the Same, Pink Floyd at Pompeii, Gimme Shelter, and lots of others. But the three above stand out as the best marriage of music and filming, and, in the case of The Last Waltz and Woodstock, huge events.

It’s commonplace now for bands to film their performances, and concert films are a dime a dozen. But none of them have improved on these three classic films. Woodstock is pretty old now, and The Last Waltz is from the 70s, but if you like that music, you’ll love the movies.