Stargate, DS9 and other Heroes

I once compared Prison Break with Shawshank Redemption and I wanted to talk about other typical TV shows from the last 20 years or so, where it all goes and what I miss so much about the recent shows. Just to go quickly through what I liked and what not. I liked Star Trek Deep Space 9 – this is one of those long term relationships – and very similar it is with Star Trek: SG1 and Atlantis. I liked 24 (wrote about it here…). I liked Dexter though I stopped after second season and I simply don’t want to go on to the fourth season to see her dead (ok, I saw that scene, obviously :-)) – but Dexter was really refreshing. I liked first season of Tudors (but I’m not much interested in the next parts) and I really liked fantastic Game Of Thrones – though they really should not let “Boromir” die. So, sci-fi, fantasy, semi-historic, action – I like it all, though sci-fi is probably my favourite.

What I liked less was Battlestar Galactica – how I like it in overall, I just can’t stand those shifts in characters. You just don’t know what to believe. When T’ealc becomes enemy of the rest of guys from SG1, you just know that he is sick or something. You know your heroes. But BSG? You just never know what to believe. And I don’t think that Stargate show doesn’t have interesting twists here and there. But not so crazy like BSG. Or, when I wrote word heroes – I remembered my probably biggest let-down. I watched two season of Heroes. Concept, visuals, idea – all great. But so much of stupidity, so many cliches with the bad guy always running away. And then time-shifting with good heroes becoming bed. All those wannabe surprises and forced shocks – after that an episode from Stargate or DS9 just caresses me so nicely!

I don’t know what is wrong with some of these new shows. Are we running out of ideas? Do we need to push the limits further no matter what? Probably yes. A have to admit that I was able to watch BSG all the way through and I was generally satisfied in the end. I also watched Razor and The Plan – and it was nice to go the whole way. I never forget Galactica going down the atmosphere on New Caprica or Pegasus down taking few cylon star bases with it. Those were magnificent scenes and for those I can forgive the big of mystery that somehow wasn’t believable for me (especially around the final five).

Once I tried Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and while it was fun it somehow didn’t grow on me (though I definitely liked Buffy :-)). Lately I read xkcd.com regularly (from the old ones to the newer) and there are many hints on Firefly show. Because it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard about it, I decided to check it – and with 14 episodes total + one movie (Serenity) it was quite a brief encounter. And I was more than satisfied! Not only there was that lovely doctor from Atlantis and beautiful cold Adria from SG1 (both of it shot after the Firefly actually) the whole stuff was well thought out, mix of sci-fi and western was very catchy, but without cliches, scripts are indeed great and final movie was just overwhelming. If you don’t know what Buffy and Firefly have in common – Joss Whedon is the man – and that’s why they are in this single paragraph. (Watching the Firefly was also good thing for some further xkcd reading. :-))

After Firefly (not that my life is divided to B.F. and A.F.) I somehow got more and more suspicious that “classic” series are the matter of past. Now it’s important to compete with BSG, Heroes and Prison Break. Well… whatever people want. New music is still good (among tons of cheap stuff) and so will be TV shows I guess. I can still see the chance there – Game Of Thrones for instance, although it’s not something that would “caress” me like Stargate. Or The Firefly. Or the fond humour in DS9.

Of course your mileage may vary – but I bet there are other people out there that must have very similar feeling. And don’t simplify it just to “you’re getting old!”

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24 highs and lows

Good I read my concerns about the third season of 24 – because otherwise I would elaborate on many things I can now just briefly confirm. Yes – again – lots of dead, smart people doing stupid things, hardly believable reasons for their actions. Just to name a few. It’s the day of the crisis again – after all they must have noticed all those cameras shooting another 24 season, so they must have known that it IS a serious crisis! Yet when some agent loses his key-card he will not report it for four hours! I don’t know how he got back into CTU. And the card – hardly believable – was stolen by a friend of agent’s addict sister when the agent predictably meets his sister on a parking near to CTU – yet out of all cameras – like the sister’s friends knew he will do so and have his card in the first pocket because somehow someone had contacted the rascal before just to get the card for some money. Of course – don’t tell me it’s a spoiler, because it’s not, it’s 24 pattern actually – sister and her friend would get shot by the card “buyer”. Hard life. Easy death.

Another typical 24 pattern is this. Jack (mostly he, but you can replace him by any agent – but other agent’s are more “by a book” – so again, mostly Jack :-)) gets some nearly unrelated person – for instance a manager of some bank – in the middle of the night to get to some specific item. Now villains get on them when they are in the bank. I – being the poor manager – would close myself on a safe place, waiting till tomorrow, claiming I was forced to open the vault by Jack Bauer (everybody knows he’s the second best – right after Chuck Norris – so who would refuse?) – that all is actually true, so there should be no consequences. But no – in 24 they all go out and guess who will die?

a) also present Wayne Palmer?
b) bank manager?
c) Jack Bauer?!

No, unlike in commercials, c) is obviously not right. You get it, right? It’s no fun when you can say “this poor fellow will die soon” – and you can say so right after they meet him! That’s how it is in 24. I’m still strongly backing the opinion that 24 in overall is fun and it is catchy and thrilling, fast-pacing action. I watched fourth season and I was extremely satisfied after the previous one. But right after that one I took the fifth season with all the aforementioned stupid catches. Fourth season is compact and working, and there are also two innocent people who will NOT die! Isn’t that beautiful? There was even moment I realized I was shouting “yes! yes!” – when Tony Almeida appeared on the scene. Highly recommended season, I mean it.

Fifth season – on the other hand – seems to be a series of loosely tight threats that all happened to be based on weaponized toxin gas in cans. Last one of them – of course – appears at the end of the season and I honestly don’t know if it was planned or the season somehow took only 20 hours and they needed to shoot 4 more. Let’s say with a submarine. Good old faces from previous episodes are the highs of this season – Mike Novick, Wayne Palmer, Aaron Pierce around the presidential sub-plot. But the CTU operations were rather puzzled. When homeland security took over CTU – pointing out their mistakes – I was confused why nobody told them what I was screaming inside of my head: “Last agent sent by the White House was so embarrassed when he lost his key-card that he rather didn’t tell us at all about it! That’s why half of the CTU died, that’s why White House is sending us you now!”

Man! So many things didn’t make any sense on this season. Shameful. Watchable, yes. Enjoyable, yes. But believable? No – not even by 24 standards. And many favourite characters dead don’t change a bit about it. On the contrary.

Yet I started with season 6 now, because I AM curious what will happen with Jack “The Second Best After Chuck” (by a close margin only) Bauer!

Adding “free” to search? In vain?

It’s not the first time I’m pretty upset with so called “freeware”. This time I needed DVD grabber (or ripper, whatever) and as I was sure there is some free solution I added “free” to my search. Whether you search for free VSTi or DVD ripper – lately you’re rarely offered the thing you really want directly – especially not for free. There are tons of various syndicate sites or how to call them. Download centralizing solutions. Well I go to one such site with the list of DVD rippers. Most of them were licensed as Demo – OK, I don’t mind, at least I know what to expect – and I can simply skip them.

So it happened that I downloaded some Agree Free DVD Ripper Platinum (“free” is even in the name of the actually downloaded installation file). After all it was mentioned as Freeware on one of those centralized download sites. First the software tells you it can’t process multiple files at once – because that can do only premium version. Ok… but when you really hit the Convert, software finally tells you how much it sucks. It can’t process the whole track. “Go to hell!” I want CDex for DVDs! Something simple and working.

I don’t mind… I really don’t mind that there are softwares I should pay for. What I’m objecting is that they try to cheat me. And I guess it even works sometimes – because there is a lot of poor users who hardly know what to think about this kind of “freeware”. It’s not enough that a lot of “services” offer “free download” of Shareware… like I should pay for the download itself otherwise? There are obviously many ways how to render word “free” in your searches close to useless nowadays. And lies are far from being the least used methods.

Bound Cheerleaders

Time for a post about movies again! 🙂 When I played one online game I talked a lot with a clever girl that taught me a lot about the game. And we discussed the life too and so we got to the fact that she liked girls. Not that it is important but it made sense that she recommended me two movies – Bound and But I’m a Cheerleader. Both are about lesbian girls and while in Bound it’s not really the most important part of the plot in Cheerleader movie it’s all about it. I saw Bound some time ago and I watched the latter just the other night. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten to this post if I hadn’t cried at the very end of it. The fact itself amused me – I’m not one of those hard men who never cry, I cried lately even hearing one beautiful song (and not even for the first time). I cry at the end of the movie here and there, Hollywood is good at it after all, and there are topics I simply can’t resist. Mostly naive, romantics, but it’s not that often. Kate and Leopold for instance didn’t drive me to tears although I like it and the happy end was definitely nice. I can’t explain when and why it happens, it simply happens sometimes.

Let’s discuss Bound first – no crying part here. 😉 You can read the plot on IMDB, so I’ll not focus on it. There are two girls that happened to be neighbors. They are quite different and their common ground is obviously their mutual attraction and later their plan to gull a mafioso – partner of one of them. There is a cool erotic scene with two girls that doesn’t involve any stupid covers up to their necks. But otherwise it’s semi-thrilling story that reminded me The Sting with the idea – but you may find it different entirely. Doesn’t really matter. What’s interesting about the movie is that it’s made by Wachovski brothers – three years before their Matrix. I’d say you can see it on the visual style too – but it’s easy to see what you want when you already know who made it. Plus I’m rather unaware of the artistic style unless it’s really striking. The atmosphere of the movie sucks me in if the movie is OK or better but I don’t notice there is a different filter on the camera for instance. 😉 To wrap it up – Bound is cool movie and I recommend it to general audience, it has fine plot with a scam that doesn’t go exactly as planned but you can expect happy end. Nothing about meaning of life though. Who wants to watch the philosophical and difficult stuff all the time after all?

But I’m a Cheerleader is different kind of movie. It’s a bit bizarre and surrealistic – mainly on the artistic style that is intentionally full of synthetic colours and scene sometime looks more like for a fairytale. Edward Scissorhands came to my mind. It definitely wasn’t so pink and blue though. 🙂 So the cheerleader girl is suspected to be a lesbian by her boy, friends and parents and sent to a homosexual deprogramming camp called “True Directions”. The whole story is half-half funny and romantic – although the topic is quite a serious one. I like the construction of those ex-ex-gays and the idea of the whole lying game in order to get out of the camp – but after graduation. Mostly for the sake of their parents, but sometimes even themselves were convinced they have to change. Again – our main hero, cheerleader, is attracted to other girl that is completely different, attraction is mutual and there is happy end, although there is no scam this time. 🙂 What made me cry was the final kinda desperate attempt of our cheerleader to convince the girl of her choice – and of course the result too. But I’m a Cheerleader is movie I find hard to generally recommend because it’s so over-played, over-coloured and exaggerated – probably for the idea of “healing gays”. But if you are open minded give it a try. It’s not even long after all.

“5-6-7-8 God is good, God is straight!”

So that’s me crying for two lesbians in the movie. Doesn’t really matter that I’m straight like the aforementioned God in the song the Cheerleader has to write in order to fight her direction. The story is about two people who fight the odds, it’s naive – and man, if something is naive, I simply love it. Not naive as stupid, but naive as nice. And if I hadn’t met one nice girl I probably wouldn’t have seen these movies. Whatever direction she had. 🙂 Maaan… I didn’t wanna by philosophical by no means.

Beginner’s misfortune with home video

After first two days spent with our new HD camera and Sony Vegas I was ready for therapy. So many codec troubles, so many setups that refused to work… I have a habit to reinstall K-Lite Codec Pack when some other application messes up my settings and Media Player Classic stops to play some files. Generally good habit, but mine has one flaw. While I progressively downloaded new version (4.7) I forgot to place it into my install directory hence I always reinstalled older one (3.x). This was just fine for Media Player delivered with K-Lite, but it was also the root cause why Sony Vegas refused to use some codecs for rendering.

That’s also the reason why I can rewrite my original desperate text. 🙂 Still – the truth is that working with codecs and video is simply way too complex. And probably also not cheap (or for free for that matter). What I want to do with videos? Nothing big actually:

  • to record myself talking to the camera (done, camera, MTS output file, …)
  • to record something on the computer (done via CamStudio)
  • to put both videos to the one (sequentially) and add some text… result should be tutorial of some sort.

First I tried Sony Vegas Movie Studio before I found out that output in the HD resolution (720p for instance) is actually not a mere codec setup, but it’s a feature. So you have to go for Platinum edition for ~$90. I moved to this SW (in trial of course – for the start). Vegas looks cool and I put both videos one after the other and played them. While the video from the camera worked just fine, the one from CamStudio did not. I’ve noticed that these videos have incredible 200fps, I tried also other settings with various codecs, but I came to the conclusion that I have to pre-process the video prior I put it into the Vegas. This funny investigation even resulted in my first YouTube tutorial test!

Now I’m luckily behind my first bad days with video processing. Many times I asked myself: “What have I messed up with this time?” Most of these questions were cause by aforementioned unlucky K-Lite mistake on my side. Trouble is that without some experiences all those error messages don’t tell you what you need to know. There is no “man, you have wrong codec version!” error, there is nothing that leads you to the problem cause. When I wanted to render with x264 from Sony Vegas it said “the selected codec does not support the current render settings”. Or it couldn’t open Lame MP3 codec – but it happily offered all these options I couldn’t use. Then you mess up with other things too and when you fix the root problem it might even not manifest properly! 🙂 Funny world of over-complex video technology with billions of various codecs.

Originally I also tried to find some free solution instead of Sony Vegas (or Adobe, Pinnacle, whatever). I checked a lot of software – SUPER, Any Video Converter, virtualdub(mod), avidemux, muvee, VideoSpin… but I will probably purchase Sony Vegas as my nerves also have some price (let’s say they are priceless for me ;-)). Good thing is that now I work more with Sony Vegas (or my camera or CamStudio) and spend less time on Google. There is actually a lot of people with similar questions but answers either don’t work or I was just “lucky” and haven’t tried the right ones first.

I feel ready to do some tutorial now, but it will take some time. It will be probably about home music recording with tight budget or something like that. But that’s another story. If you ever suffered through your own pile of problems related to video processing, I guess you understand how I felt during last few days. If not, you’re lucky. If it’s still before you, my fingers are crossed for you. And double check codec versions! 🙂

24 catchy and cheap

“Than why the hell do you watch it?” Right? No… I said catchy and that’s why I watch it. It’s more catchy than Prison Break, although it’s not as good as some older series. I plan to elaborate on this maybe in some future post. Now about 24. It’s action, 24 episodes of action in every season, it has its twists, surprises, it’s simply cool. But not all scripts are good enough. Trouble is that bad plot here means the whole season is ruined.

I’ve watched second season without having a need to extend my previous 24 post. Now – in season 3 – I have the need. I have it since episode 3 or so… because I’m willing to pardon a lot to the first two episodes. I was curious if I’m the only one who thinks this season is different and I’ve found that the general view is with me. But there are many fans who consider third season to be the best. Strange, but it’s probably about every viewer’s needs and expectations. 24 is not supposed to be sci-fi (or plain fiction for that matter) in our times. It should be thrilling action I can believe in.

But I can’t believe that so many smart people … how to say it nicely… screwed up big time in this season. When CTU wanted to catch Kyle in the mall… disaster. And he managed to run away! I also can’t understand how Michael Amador could get to L.A. without CTU being able to trace him. Maybe I’m naive, but I also can’t believe that when there is a copter in the town attacking offices in a building it can disappear without a trace. I’d think it can actually be traced before it even lands. I’m watching the series in English without subtitles which means I miss some details here and there but that doesn’t pardon so many situations when the good guys were not able to do something. Ok, maybe there was no satellite cover of Amador because the only possible satellite had just collided with some retired one. Whatever.

Now I know that when the mole is revealed to us from the start – it’s no mole at all. To be fair to the season it started to be pretty interesting in the second quarter when the secret plan of Jack, Toni and Gael is revealed. Finally the Nina is gone (not that I don’t like her face though ;-)). But still I have the feeling that the plot is bad. Not the threat, not the idea, but all those little elements you have to put together to get a good plot. But there are lots of dead instead. I’m not talking about virus victims because they are rather anonymous to us. But many people are simply killed just to make 24 look more serious, so it seems.

It’s quite boring to watch people die under not so believable circumstances. Yusuf Auda in season 2, few agents/doctors during Nina’s last strike (guards so sloppy? can’t believe that), it happens all the time. I’m really glad that Nina is dead because the ever-cliché of many movies and series is “we still need him”… just to let him cause even more pain. (Like Joker in The Dark Knight – he should be killed in cold blood sooner than the half of the movie… but what movie would that be, right? :-))

24 still is good fun to watch. But this season is much, much cheaper than the previous two. Luckily for me (hopefully) seasons 4-6 are reportedly better. And I’m looking forward to them.

Wanted Equilibrium

I’ve just watched Wanted and I watched Equilibrium some time ago (probably twice or thrice maybe). Don’t even ask why I wanna compare these two – I guess you wouldn’t if you’d seen them both. 🙂 So… Wanted or Equilibrium? The latter in my eyes and by far. Now when I revealed my uber-objective result let me elaborate. Only a little, I don’t wanna push it too long this evening. I’m quite a bad judge of movies to be honest – I generally like something and appreciate the effort.

To make it clear, I gave Wanted 7 and Equilibrium 8 on IMDB – and so I’ve just joined the crowd (7 or 7.8 respectively). I enjoyed both of them. But anyway you look at it Equilibrium is more serious, more deep, it’s about something (freedom? 1984 reminiscence?) and it was first! 😉 There must be some reason why users on IMDB see it similar – especially if we’re talking about “the Equilibrium like scene”. Neither of these films made it into my TOP selection, but I simply liked the Equilibrium more. The conflict inside the main hero’s soul and the whole story was much stronger than the troubles of the wanted guy (yeah, I probably forgot they wanted him dead ;-)). I’m quite lucky that I’m not that ultra-critical and I can enjoy movies with weaker plot fixed by average (or better) acting and good effects. Good effects are now more and more standard, so I’ll be probably satisfied in the future. While Equilibrium was obviously influenced by the Matrix, Wanted was influenced by the Equilibrium and Matrix and I while bullet-time is now more and more cliche it’s something that makes many scenes more enjoyable. Sometimes even funny (ok, I really didn’t wanna mix Shrek into this article ;-)).

That said… another nice evening with enjoyable movie is behind me. I don’t give a damn that critics didn’t like Equilibrium, IMDB users obviously did. I don’t give a damn if you think I’m simple man when I enjoyed Wanted. Scenes like “Time to say goodbay”/”I’m sorry” simply were more than satisfying and while I don’t like Angelina dying I liked this movie in overall. It’s not the recommendation – it’s just the fact. For me. 😉