Catching Up

It's been a busy, hot, sad, exciting, confusing, jumble of a month here at UAV, and there's a lot to catch up on. Rather than post several separate, shorter blogs at once, I'll mash them all together.

I haven't seen all the new summer movies—gotta leave something fresh for the inevitable fall DVD or, hopefully, HD DVD/Blu-ray versions. The discs will probably start arriving by Labor Day, if the ever-shortening video release dates are any indication.

From what I've seen, it hasn't been an especially memorable movie season. Revenues are up (higher ticket prices), but attendance is down.

The class act of the summer releases, so far, has been Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille (I actually spelled that without help from my spell checker—which hasn't a clue what it is anyway). This unlikely stew about a rat who's also a gourmet chef can be a little creepy at times, particularly when hundreds of rats invade the kitchen of a fancy French restaurant, but it's a brilliantly executed entertainment. Even if you don't care for animation, and don't have a six year old to escort you, go. And if you have the opportunity to see it in a theater with digital projection, go now.

I had the chance to see Rescue Dawn in its limited release run here in LA. It opens wide, as they say, later this month. A rare film about the Vietnam war that doesn't use the opportunity to score political points one way or another (it actually takes place in the earliest days of that conflict), it tells the true story of a Navy pilot who escapes from a small POW camp in the Laotian jungle. Expect to see a few Academy Award nominations for this one, if not for the film, then for the performances. It wasn't a particularly well-photographed movie, or one with a memorable soundtrack (I'm saddled with the techno-curse of the AV critic!), but fifteen minutes into it I became so engrossed in the story I stopped noticing such things. Well worth a trip to the theater.

The other films I've seen were generally fun but forgettable. I wasn't part of the Transformer Generation, so don't know how they will react to Transformers. The special effects were often scrappy-looking (despite the critical praise for them), and the action—well, this is a Michael Bay film. The movie's saving grace is its humor. And it might just be a star-making vehicle for Shia LaBeouf (I had to look that one up, and don't ask me to pronounce it), who plays the movie's unlikely action hero.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End made me appreciate once again just how good the first Pirates film was, and how it should have been left as a stand-alone classic rather than the muddled trilogy it has become. It's the Matrix paradigm all over again…

Summer is for movies and baseball, and thanks to Sony, who brought several journalists to San Francisco last week for the 2007 All Star Game, I set foot in a major league ballpark for only the second time in many years. (The first was to see the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and California). Great game, though it didn't get great until the last inning, after hundreds of fans left what appeared to be an American League cakewalk.

One of the journalists had brought along his new iPhone. The rest of us drooled over it and wanted one immediately, though some of us don't want to sign up for AT&T's cell phone service, which has an exclusive two-year deal with Apple. Also, like most such devices, next years model is sure to be better and perhaps cheaper.

A recent story in USA Today also noted that when the government sells the spectrum to be freed-up when analog television broadcasts shut down, the current FCC chairman wants the sales to be conditional on that spectrum remaining open and free of such linked agreements. That is, if you buy an iPhone-like device, it will have to be usable with any carrier that offers service on that spectrum. No more Apple/AT&T-type exclusive lock-ups. Neat idea, and apparently normal operating procedure in Europe. But there are a lot of obstacles between now and its final implementation.

Funny thing about the iPhone. though. Mainstream journalists constantly complain about the prices charged for Blu-ray and HD DVD disc players, high end televisions, and other home-centric CE bling, but $600 for a portable communication device doesn't appear to ruffle their feathers at all.

AT&T is also the name of the San Francisco ballpark and the home of the San Francisco Giants. It was once known as SBC Park and originally opened in 2000 as Pac Bell Park. Hard to keep up with those corporate buyouts! Trivia question: how many ballparks are named after the teams that play there? Not many, though it's always been true that parks are more often named for people or places, and not the teams that play there (Shea Stadium, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Three Rivers Stadium, etc.) Lately, however, they've been named for corporate sponsors willing to cough up money. Kudos here to the New York Yankees, who will retain the name Yankee Stadium for their new park scheduled to open in 2009.(The Yankees can also, presumably, get along without the extra dough.)

There's a huge Diamond Vision screen above the bleachers in center field in AT&T Park. When they show shots of the stadium grass, you can do an instantaneous comparison with the real thing. The green on the screen looked curiously like the overcooked greens we often see on new digital displays, whereas the real grass looked, well, real. The technology for Diamond Vision is, of course, completely different than what you have at home, but the effect is much the same. San Francisco videophiles take note!

As with my visit to the ballpark in Anaheim, the sound system in the AT&T ballpark was, at best, annoying. Some time between my first ballpark visits and the last couple of years someone decided that silence, or at minimum the traditional organ played through the park's PA system, was not enough to keep the short attention spans of today's fans occupied between innings. They might forget they're at a ballgame. So they're treated to rock music played loud enough to make them flee conversations with friends and escape to the relative peace of the concession stands. The music stops only during actual play.

It wouldn't have been so bad if the sound system was tolerable—though I must say I was surprised how much bass they could pump out into an open-air space filled with 43,000 fans cheering Barry Bonds and booing anyone or anything even remotely related to the LA Dodgers.

The day after the game, I visited THX in Marin county, north of the city. Lots of interesting news there relating to THX' new foray into video certification. That's a story for another blog. But I couldn't help suggesting to the THX folks that maybe they should get into certifying public, non-theatrical spaces like ballparks. Hey, if there's a Monster Park (and there is: a couple of years back Monster Cable bought temporary rights to rename San Francisco's Candlestick Park) maybe there's a THX Park in your future.