Friday, February 24, 2006

The HDTV switch

Finally today after a week-long delay, we switched to hiogh definition tv. Hdtv has either 720 lines or 1080 lines of vertical resolution while dvd players and normal tvs have only 480. First of all, the non hd channels are hugely better and can finally be watched adequately in the 92" projection screen. Also, the sound of these channels is hugely better since now it's digital stuff.

But the true difference comes with the real high definition channels. Despite the fact that our projector only has 480 lines of resolution, the signal is so much better initially that it just looks perfect. It's definately huge improvement over dvd , and vaaaast improvement over over standard tv. We also get widescreen picture 16:9 and Dolby Digital audio 5.1 .

The desicion to swicth was mainly made when I went back to Greece these last Xmas, where I realized that there all these beautiful hd TVs and projectors, but there is no HD content! It's just ridiculus how Europe is so much behind in hd (they'll start switching soon though). And here in the US you can get for FREE all these nice HD channels, HD tv shows, HD talk shows etc etc.

The ultimate upgrade is coming soon though: we'll finally mount our projector to the ceiling, and we'll use a 10m long DVI cable to watch the images. HDTV is native digital signal, but it is being converted to analog component video signal from the HD box in order to be sent to the projector, and then the projector is digital and converts the signal back to digital in order to display it on the screen! There is no reason for these conversions to happen, and with the DVI cable we'll ensure a smooth pure digital experience. I don't expect a significant improvement in the picture quality though, it;'s mostly a matter of principles (We can do it, so we do it).

Another issue that is bothering me is the dvd player that we have (Philips DVP642), lately is does not play the dvds very well and we will have to switch. Either I can get the same or a similar player, or I can get this nice upconverting player. Upconverting means it has DVI output that gives 720p or 1080i signal and although there is no extra content there it is (from what other people say) a big improvement in the picture quality. On top of that, the specific player I was looking at is region free and you can use it in Europe too with 220V AC power outlet. So temping... The downside is that it costs $200...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mulholland Drive

I haven't blogged much recently since it seems I am lacking some inspiration. However yesterday it all got back to me.

It all started two days ago. It was raining over the weekend and that cleaned up some of the mess in LA's sky (smog, fog, pollution, etc). I thought then that it was a good chance to visit Mulholland Drive, a road that goes through the Hollywood Hills well known for the nice vistas.

Now, the Hollywood Hills lie between two major freeways, the 405 and the 101, and it's about 20 miles between them. So we started off with Dora from the 405 heading towards the 101 following Mulholland drive. Despite my hopes, this specific route and direction looks behind the Hollywood Hills, to the San Fernando valley. Halfway through though there was a fork in the road, and it seems we took the wrong side and hence we ended up down in Beverly Hills! We had no more courage to go back and complete the trip, so we headed back home.

The next morning (or more appropriatelly, afternoon) I looked out my window from my office and saw the mountains behind the downtown. Now, that does not happen very often. The mountains are 30-40 miles away, and 90% of the time there si no visibility that clear. Sometimes I don't even see the downtown skyscrapers which are only 5 miles away! However I could now see all the details and full color of the mountains, which ment the sky was extremely clear. The strong winds also helped on that.

So around 9pm I call Dimitri: "How about a walk on Mulholland Drive?" "Sure", he says. Then I call Stayros: "Do you need a break? The sky is very clear tonight and we'll go up on Mulholland Drive to see the view". At first he refused but around 1 minute later he agreed to come. I just love people that liek doing things on the spot!

After I picked these guys up, we decided to go from th 101 side, hoping that the view would be better this time. Indeed, second after we exit the freeway and started climbing, we past a movie taping (sic) and we found a spot with the most stunning view of Los Angeles downtown I've ever seen... The photos can not even capture 10% of the majesty that you could feel up there, despite the freezing cold.

USC would be located close to the right and center of the picture. Other small details to notice: The weird UFO lights in the sky are trails from the lights of airplanes trying to land to LAX; the northbound traffic at the 101 freeway on the left side was blocked because of an accident, hence only the southbound red lights seem elongated.

We also tried to get a few pictures of us included with the background. The Canon camera I use has this amazing capability of keeping both the foregrounb (people) and the background in the picture without much error in lighting, so that both are visible at the same time. Here are some outtakes:

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Oscar Predictions

After having seen all 5 pictures nominated for best movie, I think it's about time I make my own predictions on who can win this year. The ceremony is in 3 weeks, and hopefully we'll enjoy it in hd for the first time!

Best Motion Picture of the Year
Brokeback Mountain (2005) - Diana Ossana, James Schamus

Capote (2005) - Caroline Baron, William Vince, Michael Ohoven

Crash (2004) - Paul Haggis, Cathy Schulman

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) - Grant Heslov

Munich (2005) - Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Barry Mendel

Except for Capote. which was too 1D for a movie, all other 4 movies can make it. My personal favorites are Crash and Goodnight and Goodluck, but at the end I think that Brokeback Mountain will win. Munich is more well done that the other 4 movies, but I don't think it is very good in terms of storytelling.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote (2005)

Terrence Howard for Hustle & Flow (2005)

Heath Ledger for Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Joaquin Phoenix for Walk the Line (2005)

David Strathairn for Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

Joaquin Phoenix may deserve the oscar but last year's award to Jamie Foxx for Ray for a very similar movie is still too young. Philip Seymour Hoffman will fight head to head with David Strathairn, but Strathairns's performance stands out I think this year for me. He lifted the whole movie on his own, he was truly majestic.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Judi Dench for Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005)

Felicity Huffman for Transamerica (2005)

Keira Knightley for Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Charlize Theron for North Country (2005)

Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line (2005)

Keira? I wish, but she's still too young. Charlize? Hm, she was good but maybe it's too much for her to be awarded a 2nd oscar. Reese was great but she has a weird history with all these romantic stupid movies. That leaves Judi and Felicity... I just don't know between these two.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
George Clooney for Syriana (2005)

Matt Dillon for Crash (2004)

Paul Giamatti for Cinderella Man (2005)

Jake Gyllenhaal for Brokeback Mountain (2005)

William Hurt for A History of Violence (2005)

I've seen all 5 movies... nothing is too exciting here I think. Definately not Clooney, definately not Hurt. I think I like Gylenhaal best of these.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams for Junebug (2005)

Catherine Keener for Capote (2005)

Frances McDormand for North Country (2005)

Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardener (2005)

Michelle Williams for Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Haven't seen Junebug. From the rest, Frances McDormand is my pick, and runner up Rachel Weisz. I don't think Michelle Williams can make it, she was just crying in the movie.

Best Achievement in Directing
George Clooney for Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

Paul Haggis for Crash (2004)

Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Bennett Miller for Capote (2005)

Steven Spielberg for Munich (2005)

Capote? No! Ang Lee? Maybe, but I'm not excited. Spielberg could make it, but I don't think it's his time this year, which leaves us with Haggis and Clooney. Personally I would prefer Haggis for a masterfull direction in a beautiful movie.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Crash (2004) - Paul Haggis, Robert Moresco

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) - George Clooney, Grant Heslov

Match Point (2005) - Woody Allen

The Squid and the Whale (2005) - Noah Baumbach

Syriana (2005) - Stephen Gaghan

Syriana is definately the most hard screenpplay to write here. And Crash is always in.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Brokeback Mountain (2005) - Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana

Capote (2005) - Dan Futterman

The Constant Gardener (2005) - Jeffrey Caine

A History of Violence (2005) - Josh Olson

Munich (2005) - Tony Kushner, Eric Roth

I think this goes to Brokeback Mountain. It's just a very interesting story, the other screenplays are not that original.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
Batman Begins (2005) - Wally Pfister

Brokeback Mountain (2005) - Rodrigo Prieto

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) - Robert Elswit

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) - Dion Beebe

The New World (2005) - Emmanuel Lubezki

Goodnight and Good Luck here. It just feels very original and beautiful in B&W.

Best Achievement in Editing
Cinderella Man (2005) - Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill

The Constant Gardener (2005) - Claire Simpson

Crash (2004) - Hughes Winborne

Munich (2005) - Michael Kahn

Walk the Line (2005) - Michael McCusker

I'll be surprised if Crash or the Constant Gardener don't make it here.

Best Achievement in Art Direction
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005) - James D. Bissell, Jan Pascale

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) - Stuart Craig, Stephanie McMillan

King Kong (2005) - Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Simon Bright

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) - John Myhre, Gretchen Rau

Pride & Prejudice (2005) - Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

That is a tough one.. Either King Kong or GN&GL. Geisha was pretty good too!

Best Achievement in Costume Design
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) - Gabriella Pescucci

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) - Colleen Atwood

Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005) - Sandy Powell

Pride & Prejudice (2005) - Jacqueline Durran

Walk the Line (2005) - Arianne Phillips

I think the Geisha, beautiful Japanese costumes.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Brokeback Mountain (2005) - Gustavo Santaolalla

The Constant Gardener (2005) - Alberto Iglesias

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) - John Williams

Munich (2005) - John Williams

Pride & Prejudice (2005) - Dario Marianelli

The Geisha had very nice music (although the movie is not great), and BM had just the right music exactly when needed... I would go for BM on this one.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
Hustle & Flow (2005) - Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman, Paul Beauregard ("It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp")

Crash (2004) - Michael Becker, Kathleen York ("In the Deep")

Transamerica (2005) - Dolly Parton ("Travelin' Thru")

Don't have a clue... Crash?

Best Achievement in Makeup
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) - Howard Berger, Tami Lane

Cinderella Man (2005) - David LeRoy Anderson, Lance Anderson

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005) - Dave Elsey, Annette Miles

Narnia would be my favorite here... unless they want to give an oscar to Star Wars.

Best Achievement in Sound
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) - Terry Porter, Dean A. Zupancic, Tony Johnson

King Kong (2005) - Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, Hammond Peek

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) - Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Rick Kline, John Pritchett

Walk the Line (2005) - Paul Massey, Doug Hemphill, Peter F. Kurland

War of the Worlds (2005) - Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, Ron Judkins

Probably Walk the Line... It's a music movie after all!

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
King Kong (2005) - Mike Hopkins, Ethan Van der Ryn

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) - Wylie Stateman

War of the Worlds (2005) - Richard King

King Kong. It was just too much fun!

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) - Dean Wright, Bill Westenhofer, Jim Berney, Scott Farrar

King Kong (2005) - Joe Letteri, Brian Van't Hul, Christian Rivers, Richard Taylor

War of the Worlds (2005) - Pablo Helman, Dennis Muren, Randy Dutra, Daniel Sudick

If King Kong doesn't win here, I'll be damned!

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Corpse Bride (2005) - Tim Burton, Mike Johnson

Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004) - Hayao Miyazaki

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) - Steve Box, Nick Park

Corpse Bride almost for certain. Great artwork from Tim Burton.

Best Documentary, Features
Darwin's Nightmare (2004) - Hubert Sauper

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) - Alex Gibney, Jason Kliot

Marche de l'empereur, La (2005) - Luc Jacquet, Yves Darondeau

Murderball (2005) - Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro

Street Fight (2005) - Marshall Curry

March of the Penguins, please!

That wraps it up. Let's see how good the predictions are...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Riverdance, round 2

I first heard about Riverdance around 1997, that it was the most beautiful dancing show ever assembled. I saw them in the Oscars in 1999. I found out that they started from a 7minute performance in the Eurovision song contest, and the great success forced the composer to cprepare a full 2 hour show. When I came to the US, as soon as I found out they performed close to my place, I booked my tickets right away. So on February of 2004 I saw them myself for the first time, although from very high up in the balcony. It was definately most impressive.

Michael Flatley was the leader of the original group, who then left and created his own show, Lord of the Dance. I saw this show in the summer of 2005 in Greece, while listening with a small FM radio in one of my ears to the soccer semifinal between Greece and Chech Republic. The match went to extra time, and we all (the audience and the performers!) saw the rest of the match in a small TV at the snack shop of the theater! But, the performance itself was not as good as the original Riverdance. I was thinking that Riverdance itself was not a good show in the first place.

In February the Riverdance came again, this time in the historic and most beautiful Pantages Theater in Hollywood. I went with Dora to watch them again, and this time I had purchased quite good seats. Well, seeing them from close up made such a huge difference! I just loved it again, and I couldn't help admiring the beautiful work they have done. It is truly the best show I have witnessed so far. I am eager to see whether Celine Dion in Vegas will beat them...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cheap X-Files on sale!

Finally after all these years, Fox released a cheaper, lite version of the X-Files DVDs. I had purchased seasons 1,3 and 6 (the best ones to my opinion) paying $80 for each 7-disc season set. Now, they released these cheaper versions that are missing the 7th disc with the bonus material, have a better packaging and everything else is the same, for under $40 each season! So, unless you want to pay $40 for a bonus disc, this is the release to get. I already ordered Season 2, so when it gets here I will let you know how it looks compared to the expensive versions.

The truth is still out there...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Jay Leno, round 5, and more...

We meet again! Me, Dora, Hlias and Dimitri went to Jay to see Harrison Ford. Although the guy is a legend, he was too shy when he talked in front of the camera. I don't know if it's just this time or he is usually like that, but he seemed too old and unable to speak. When asked about Indiana Jones 4, he hesitated but at the replied with a long "yeah".... we'll see.

The list of famous celebrities I've seen here in LA is growing:

Will Smith (@Jay)
William H. Macy (@Jay)
Charles Barkley (@Jay)
Forrest Whittaker (@Huntigton Park)
Shaquille O'Neal (@AMC Movie Thaters)
Tom Hanks (@Agia Sofia)
Carmen Electra (@Jay)
Ralph Fiennes (@Jay)
Harrison Ford (@Jay)
Tony Shalhoud (MIB, Monk, @LAX)
Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village, Dogville, @Jay)

The rest of the day included dinner at Manna (Korean BBQ, that is) and dessert at a coffee shop somewhere in KoreanTown. We also found out that it is possible to get tickets to Jay online, without having to go there at 7am and stand in the line! We'll try that for the next time (February 15th maybe?)