Horror Review – Ma

Ma

Sometimes, some of our favorite actors and/or entertainers surprise us with roles that seem so far out of left field that we’re left speechless. One such role that always comes to mind is Robin Williams’ performance as Seymour Parrish in One Hour Photo.

As such, I went in with high expectations of Octavia Spencer in Ma. Unfortunately I ended up disappointed.

I don’t know what disappointed me more – the fact that the movie simply fell flat, or that it had so much potential that it simply didn’t live up to. There are so many points in this movie that start to lead up to something, but then end up being nothing. In fact, I’m not really sure why this movie has the Horror category tacked onto it because there simply isn’t anything scary about it all. And the only mild spine tingle occurs when an almost incidental character (Ma’s daughter Genie, played by Tanyell Waivers) is seen creeping around in the background when two of the teen-aged leads wonder into a part of the house that Ma told them not to go into. And for that to make sense to you, I suppose I should explain the plot.

Erica (Juliette Lewis) has to return to her Ohio hometown with her teen aged daughter Maggie (Diana Silvers) because of a failed career out west. Maggie quickly befriends a small group of party-loving teenagers whose biggest challenge is hanging outside of a convenience store trying to convince adults to buy alcohol for them. Fortunately for them, along comes lowly Sue Ann (who is later affectionately nicknamed “Ma” by one of the kids – a name that quickly catches on with the reset). Not only does Ma help them out the first time, but upon subsequent visits she convinces them to hang out at her house as opposed to the local teen hang-out-and-drink spot.

Along the way, we learn some of Ma’s dark secrets – from her Veterinarian boss who treats her like a dog (pun intended), to her damaged adolescence that has lead her to this longing to want to fit in with what she views as an “in crowd” of teens.

But again – there is simply no “horror” in this movie. It simply plods along aimlessly from cliche to cliche until it reaches its overly predictable climatic end. There is perhaps but one other slightly chilling moment to mention, in which Ma has drugged the core group of teens and sews the lips of Haley (McKaley Miller) shut because earlier Haley told Ma that she “needed to get a man!”

To be honest, this movie seems to blatantly borrow so much from other movies that it appears writer Scotty Landes was merely trying to create some sort of a mockery mash-up. Perhaps that’s truly the point, and I overlooked it somehow. Maybe this movie isn’t intended to be taken seriously? In either case, this movie is simply as I described earlier – a story that is filled with what it could be, but never becomes.

He Did It! Pt. 2 – First Test Run

After bed leveling (which was a lot easier that I initially thought), Bryson and I were finally ready to make a test run. We decided to run one of the pre-loaded projects that came on the SD card included with the Comgrow Creality Ender 3 Pro

And we were pleasantly impressed with the results:

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We had watched a video that indicated printing this little dog would take 5 hours. However, our’s only took about 2. We the realized that the video we watched was of a run on a previous model.

Next we’ll try a custom design run. We’ll start off using Ultimaker Cura since that’s the default software used with the printer. We may move on to something else later on, but for now – so far so good!

He Did It!

About 2 months ago, Bryson and I were having breakfast at our favorite local spot, Cherry Street Cafe, chit-chatting as we often do about tech and such. I had been struggling with coming up with new ideas about something he and I could do together (some new project or hobby), so on the ride home I asked him to come up with something.

About a week later he came to me and said, “Dad, I have an idea. A 3D printer.”

We had toyed with this idea before, but at that time prices were far outside of anything I was willing to spend. Back then I had told him, “We’ll wait because you know how tech works – when it first comes out it can be expensive. But as it catches on, prices will drop and a lot of the bugs will be worked out with the process.” He had remembered this conversation over the years, and during this week in question, he had combed the internet looking for value priced units, (but not cheap, as I’ve taught our children to be careful about buying things that are priced too low since you simply get what you pay for) and watching more review videos than I care to imagine!

I gave it a little thought, then replied, “Ok – what do you have in mind?”

“Come here. I have it pulled up on the office computer”, he said.

What he had found was the Comgrow Creality Ender 3 Pro 3D Printer. He also proceeded to show me a great, honest review video and then pitched his proposal –

“I’ll save up half and you cover the other half.”

Shook hands, and we had a deal!

For the weeks to follow, he worked and saved – asking for extra chores to make some cash, saving every penny. Finally he came to me and proclaimed, “Well Dad, I’ve got my half!”

Fast forward to Friday, August 9th 2019, and it arrived – he did it!

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Not only am I proud of him for his hard work, and focusing on his goal until completion, I’m also proud of his patience. As you can imagine, he was jumping out of his skin with excitement for he and I to get it assembled, but he patiently waited without complaining as I first had to build an add-on to our project bench in the basement for it to sit. But even that had to wait as I had a scheduled podcast interview before hand, as well as other weekend “busyness” such as his little bother’s football game, and a family dinner. But with each spare moment, we slowly but surely got it all together (about 1 1/2 hour total assembly time).

 

To top it off, he knows much more about it than I do. Once assembled, he told me about “bed leveling” – I had no clue, but turns out this must be done before we can start our first project.

Good job, Bryson!

#BrainiacBryson

#AllenThisTogether

 

Bare Bones Cord Cutting

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Nowadays there appears to be an over abundance of streaming channels and services for Cord Cutters to choose from. Though competition historically means more choice for consumers, it can also lead to confusion for those considering cord cutting. From choices like Sling, YouTube TV, and Playstation VUE to the flurry of newcomers like the much anticipated Disney+, it can all get to be overwhelming and quite frankly expensive for those who are unsure of what their best options are. This has also lead to the continued stream of misinformation from networks and cable providers alike telling consumers that cord cutting is actually more expensive than simply sticking with cable. See Cord Cutters News’ recent rebuttal to NBC’s recent anti – cord cutting story here.

But what if you truly want to break free from pay TV altogether? Let’s face it – almost all streaming services that are in use today are nothing short of pay TV. And the fact that so many networks are breaking free and pulling their content from the likes of Netflix in favor of launching their own pay to stream services has even lead some to believe that this is all part of a clever tactic by the networks and cable providers to scare consumers back to cable or, worse yet, to set the cable providers up for future offerings of “bundled” streaming content much like standard cable packages.

So is there truly a way to still enjoy quality content without paying for any streaming service? The answer is OF COURSE YOU CAN!!

Start With The Basics

I’m sure by now you’ve heard it time and time again, from myself or any number of online sources, that the very foundation of your cord cutting setup should be an antenna. There are many to choose from, and what you buy depends primarily on your location, as well as simple cosmetics. Check out Channel Master’s extensive list of antennas here. Another recourse I like to suggest is this handy tool from Antenna Web that helps you pinpoint signal strengths of the over-the-air channels closest to you, thus giving you a general idea of the number of channels you can expect to receive. I personally receive 42 over the air channels with my antenna.

Expect Change

Back when I first decided to end our ties with cable, one of the first things my wife and I considered was the fact that we would be willingly giving up on some shows and specials that we had become accustomed to watching – primarily those on premium channels like HBO. We asked ourselves, “do we absolutely HAVE TO have those shows?” as well as, “are these shows worth it?” Obviously the answer for us was ultimately “no”. Moreover, we also wanted to change TV viewing habits in our household overall – from reducing the amount of TV consumed overall, to the type of content available in our home. Simply put, we wanted change. As such, if you want to take on a bare-bones, free approach to Cord Cutting, be ready for change. I believe that you will find it to be a refreshing (and of course cheaper) change!

And Now, Without Further Ado…

Here is my list of what I consider to be some of the best free options available today. Keep in mind, these aren’t the only free streaming channels available, and results will vary. However, I suggest anyone who hasn’t tried them yet should at least give them a test drive.

PlutoTV

Up first is considered by many to be the champion of free streaming services – Pluto Tv.

Pluto Tv offers a traditional, grid style guide setup with 100+ channels available, including some of your own local channels (my Pluto includes 6 local channels). There are also hundreds of on-demand movies and TV shows available. Although its interface is pretty straight-forward, it can be a bit clunky at times but folks at Pluto TV keep a very regular update cycle so the app continues to improve. One other notable criticism is the sometimes ill-placed ads (commercials) but Pluto seems to be getting better with that over time as well.

SonyCrackle

I surprise myself including Sony Crackle on this list, but the fact is it has done nothing but get better over time. Before it’s re-branding, I had used Crackle before but found it to be simply atrocious. Poor content offerings and HORRIBLY ill-placed ads while viewing were my major reasons for hating it. But since Sony’s acquisition in 2006, it has seen some much needed improvements on both of those fronts as well as others. However, it is worth noting that it has been sold off once again, this time to Popcornflix owners CSS Entertainment, with an announced re-branding to “Crackle Plus”. It’s not clear at the moment if the “Plus” will mean “no longer free”, but for the time being it’s still a worthy free option to consider. You will also find many reviewers still rank Sony Crackle anywhere from “poor” to “don’t even bother”. Perhaps I’m a bit more forgiving by considering the fact that it’s FREE, it is at least worth having.

XumoTV

What would happen if Panasonic and MySpace had a baby, you may wonder? It would be Xumo. Dad jokes aside, that’s truly what Xumo is – a joint venture between MySpace parent company Viant and Panasonic, started in 2011. Xumo offers over 160 live streaming and on-demand channels (my personal favorite being the “This Old House” channel). It also offers the ability to create favorite channels, so that you don’t have to keep going back to the guide to find the channels you watch most. The interface itself is clean and well laid out, although I find it to have a very sluggish response time. Hopefully that will continue to improve with subsequent updates.

tubi

Launched in 2014, tubitv is nothing short of a “must-have” in any Cord Cutter’s arsenal of free streamers. With lucrative deals with the likes of NBC Universal, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lionsgate, Warner Brothers, and Paramount Pictures, it touts a hefty library of over 7,500 movies and TV shows. The interface is well organized, and the app itself streams well without sluggishness or buffering.

STIRR

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s streaming offering STIRR is more of a local-focused service, with a focus on local news and sports. with additions such as Dove Channel , Dust Anthology and Cheddar News sprinkled in. Its most interesting feature is Stirr City, from which you can select the primary city you want to view content from. Select your closest metro location (if available) to view content from that area. These cities are divided geographically by East, West, Midwest and South with major cities in each area being added over time.

kanopy

Lastly, and certainly not least, is kanopy. Kanopy is an on-demand streaming video platform for public libraries and universities that offers viewers a large collection of award-winning films and documentaries. Kanopy includes children’s programming with its subdivision Kanopy Kids. To use Kanopy, you simply need a library card. Once you setup your account, you will have access to thousands of titles available at your local participating library. If your local library isn’t a participant, chances are a library near you is. You can change libraries from within the Kanopy account setup page to a participating library near you. For the most part, all libraries have the same content because Kanopy licenses the films for distribution directly from the owners. Sometimes the distribution rights differ in markets so that public libraries may have access to fewer or more titles than the academic libraries. Kanopy currently touts a selection of a whopping 30,000 titles. What sets it apart from the other free streamers is the lack of ads. The service is dependent on libraries subscribing on behalf of their members, so library members are not charged directly for using the service. The libraries provide the service through tax dollars or tuition.

And Finally….

As I mentioned earlier, these are of course not the only free streaming services available. Rather, I believe these are good starting points for those looking for free alternatives to the continued onslaught of pay services.

One important factor to keep in mind is the old axiom of finance – “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. As such, these content providers have to pay licensing fees in some way, so as one might imagine it boils down to advertising. Yep, commercials.

And finally, don’t forget to check the channel store of your streaming device of choice for your local news and weather stations’ own streaming channels. On my Roku TVs, each of my local providers offer their own streaming channels with on-demand news content as well as live streaming during their respective broadcast time slots.

If you’ve decided to go all-in with free services only, let me know what you think about these choices once you’ve tried them out. Or, if you have others you believe deserve mentioning, please feel free to comment below!

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I Was Wrong About Facebook, And That’s A Good Thing!

In May, I wrote the piece Make Facebook Great Again, in which I pointed out that it would be great for users who have grown weary of Facebook’s general “news” feed to still have a way to use Facebook’s useful services independently.

I pointed out that, of these services, the one that would be particularly useful to me would be one for Events. I had said that Facebook’s app Local was not entirely fitting as (I thought) it’s only for pointing out local events in your area.

As it turns out, I was wrong. Fortunately, Local does just that – all of the events your family and friends have organized through Facebook, local events, as well as events organized by groups and organizations you follow or are a part of. All there! There’s also a local guide, a list of places you’ve been, a full calendar, as well as a section for you to provide recommendations to others.

Simply put, it’s a full functioning event planner and calendar!

Those of you already aware of this may say to me, “well, duh!” And I deserve it.

Love it or hate it, chances are most or all of your family and friends use Facebook for event planning – some use it exclusively. If you don’t want to miss such events, but also don’t care for the general feed of the Facebook app, check out Local for Android and iOS.

Also keep in mind that you don’t have to use the regular Facebook app to use Local. Like Messenger, you only need a username and password. Thus, conceivably, you can use these two Facebook services without ever seeing the general feed.

As for this mistake, I give myself a Fred Sanford – “You big dummy!”

Horror Review – “Pet Sematary”

PetSematary

Historically, I’ve never been a fan of remakes (or reboots, if you will), especially in this genre. But as always, there are exceptions. 2004’s Dawn Of The Dead is a perfect example of one such exception, with the unfortunate updates to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre being a perfect example of the types of redo’s that I personally find annoying and disappointing. Thus, when I first saw the trailer for Pet Sematary, I greeted it with the same degree of skepticism.

Fans of Stephen King understand that at the heart of a lot of his work is human emotion. Specifically, the emotional bond of family. In fact, his well publicized dislike of Stanley Kubrick‘s adaptation of a personal favorite, The Shining, illustrates King’s belief in the importance of depth of character. You can read a brief review on some of his latest comments on the matter here.

So it comes as no surprise that Pet Sematary is a story focused on a family (a doctor, his wife, and their two young children) who have relocated to a sleepy town in rural Maine. They soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden in the woods near their home. It is explained to them by local resident Jud (John Lithgow) that many people bury their pets there. In fact, he explains, he had even buried his dog there when he was younger. But when the family’s pet cat is found dead, Jud shows the father of the family, Louis (Jason Clarke), that there is much more to the grounds just beyond a wall of dead tress and branches. In his defense, Louis was not fully aware of the impact of burying the family pet in this location despite some cryptic warnings he received from the spirit of a patient he lost earlier due to a car accident. The cat returns, and it doesn’t take long to discover that something about it just isn’t “right”. Daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) is the first to notice, and after suffering a terrible scratch from the cat tells her father to keep her bedroom door closed to keep the cat out.

The pivotal moment in the story occurs during a birthday party for the couple’s young son, Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie). The family’s home is located on a state route plagued by speeding fuel tankers from a nearby refinery. Those not familiar with this story can glean early on that the home’s close proximity to this road will most certainly have a devastating impact.

[Alert – minor spoilers follow] 

This is is also where this new adaptation deviates from King’s book and the original film. Originally, it was Gage who runs into the road and is struck and killed by a speeding tanker truck. Here, Gage does run into the road, but is saved by Louis. But Ellie, who runs into the road to save the reanimated family cat, is struck and killed by the detached tank (which happened because the driver swerves to miss Louis and Gage). Some may not agree with this deviation from the original, but I think this actually helps the story  once you realize the cat is possessed by a spiritual force not referenced in the original movie – the Wendigo. In fact, as the continued horror unfolds with Louis making the ultimate mistake of taking Ellie to the burial ground, it becomes abundantly clear what the Wendigo’s intentions are.

There is also the underlying story of trauma plaguing Louis’s wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), who is haunted by guilt over her deformed sister’s death. The film provides some great creep-factor sequences whenever Rachel has flash backs about her sister. This turns out to be Rachel’s greatest weakness when confronted by Wendigo-possessed Ellie – a weakness that the spirit exploits to overpower her.

As mentioned earlier, I’m usually not a fan of movie reboots, but I truly enjoyed this one. Like other reviewers have pointed out, it can often be difficult to give a reboot a fair shake on its own merit when approaching it from the angle of comparison to the original. I believe if you can block out such comparisons, you may find this to be a really good horror film as I did. Some have called the script bland and predictable, but I believe such criticisms are in fact due to simply not allowing the film to stand on its own. I found there to be a well balanced amount of scare, as well as the gut wrenching family emotion King writes about. For those unaware, King called this “the scariest book I’ve ever written“, and initially did not intend to release it. Primarily because it hit so close to home – he had moved his family to a rural town in Maine, and his son had run out into the road chasing a kite. Although there were no speeding tanker trucks, King says he was plagued by “what-ifs” like most parents would be. Thus, Pet Sematary was born.

Finally, like any film, it is not without its faults. The greatest being the deadly tanker accident sequence itself – the driver swerves, and the trailer detaches and heads towards Ellie in an almost straight line. Simply put, physics doesn’t allow this. Some have also pointed out that there are some sound synchronization issues with the thunder and lightening when Jud and Louis are walking through the burial ground.

Overall, I give this movie a thumbs up. Ignore the poor IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings, and forget what you know about the original. You will be in for some refreshing chills! And, as Stephen King tweeted, “This is a scary movie. Be warned.

 

Why I Don’t Binge Watch

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On July 4th, 2019 at 3:01AM EDT, Season 3 of one of my favorite Netflix series was upon us. Stranger Things returned.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that this would have been referred to as “Stranger Things aired, but these shows (especially Netflix Originals) don’t actually air in the traditional sense. Instead the entire season – all episodes – are literally dropped in our laps all at once in one lump sum.

As such, by the morning of July 5th, I was already seeing posts discussing the entire season:

“Wow! What a great season!”

“This was definitely the best season yet!”

Yep. As I’m sure it is of no surprise to anyone reading this, there are millions of people who’ve watched the entire season in one day. And if you haven’t been paying attention over the past few years (or simply wasn’t sure), this is Binge Watching.

To be completely transparent here, I’ve done my share. In fact, I binge-watched the majority of Season 1 of Stranger Things. I was a bit late to learn about this show (a close friend had brought it to my attention), and I wanted to be up-to-speed as Season 2 was about to be made available. But over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply won’t binge watch any series. In fact, I don’t even like binge watching. Here are my main reasons why.

Time

This is without a doubt the first and foremost reason. I simply don’t have time. As a husband with a full time career, and father of 3 plus a two-year-old foster child, I simply don’t have time to spare glued in front of a television watching Netflix. And with what free time I do have (which is usually later at night), I honestly rather spend on hobbies or reading. Sure – there are evenings, especially on weekends, when I just like to veg out on a show or two. But still not hours upon hours consuming an entire season of a show. Some may say, “Since I barely have time, Binge Watching is the only way I get a chance to see anything.” But does that mean you have to watch the entire season at once?

Defeats One Of My Cord Cutting Reasons

Years ago when making the decision to Cut The Cord, my wife and I decided that one major factor would be to cut down on the amount of TV time spent by both ourselves and our children. By its very nature, Binge Watching is completely counter intuitive of this. Some may argue that if you don’t watch TV throughout the week, but Binge Watch a show in one day, you’ve achieved this goal. To that I say “hours spent are hours spent”. When you watch a bunch of television doesn’t justify how much television you are watching.

It Cheapens The Experience

Admittedly, this one is more of a matter of opinion or personal taste. However, when I was younger, few things about TV were more exciting than watching an episode of a favorite show, and then waiting in anticipation of what was going to happen next the following week. Binge Watching is more of a “cheap thrill” approach, in my opinion. There’s no waiting. There’s no anticipating. There is no thrill. It’s like buying your favorite flavor ice cream and gulping it all down at once without your tongue touching it so that you don’t even get to enjoy the flavor.

Nothing Left

I see this post often from people:

“I’ve watched all of [insert show title]. Can somebody recommend something for me to watch?”

It seems that I know many people who may have possibly consumed everything on Netflix in a very short period of time by Binge Watching everything. As such, they find themselves in the position of having nothing left to watch. By not Binge Watching, I’m literally guaranteed to have something to watch, for weeks or months to come, during those times that I feel like watching TV. By not Binge Watching Stranger Things 3, for example, I have plenty of entertainment to look forward to.

If we were to be completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is an element of FOMO involved when it comes to Binge Watching. In this Social Media age, with people posting memes based on jokes pertaining to specific episodes of a show, we want to be sure we “get it”. Or when work colleagues are talking at length about entire seasons of a show we claim we love, we want to be sure we’re up to speed on it. Sure – there are rules of etiquette that apply here. Specifically, the universally accepted rule of NO SPOILERS. But don’t we prefer being the potential spoiler as opposed to being the potential victim of a spoiler?

What about you? Do you still Binge Watch?

Horror Review – “Wretch”

wretch  As a longtime fan of horror, I’m always on the lookout for some good nighttime scares. I especially like to find surprise hits – those that don’t have big-budget trailers all over TV and the internet, and that often go largely unnoticed. Thus, while combing the webs a few nights ago I came across Wretch.

The trailer was interesting, and the synopsis equally as such:

“In an attempt to piece together fractured memories of a drug-fueled night in the woods, three friends confront guilt, jealousy, and a supernatural presence that threatens to expose their true natures.”

Only, that’s not entirely how this movie plays out. The opening scene has promise – one of the lead characters, Abby, is found next to a shed in a friend’s backyard in the middle of the night, letting out a creepy giggle with her mouth covered in blood. My initial thought was that this is going to be a movie that starts at the end, with the rest of the movie building up to that climatic moment. Not new or innovative, but still a potentially good way to start a horror flick. But then the flaws with this film begin.

The biggest of which starts with the next sequence: Abby is at a party and we have a first-person view from her boyfriend Caleb’s camera (we are initially encouraged to believe that Caleb has an active online channel, but more on that in a bit) as he is encouraging her to make out with their mutual friend Kara. This leads to pill-popping, then Abby and Caleb are off to bed, and we are left with Kara and angst-filled Riker. But wait – Caleb returns, and it’s Kara and Caleb who end up “hooking up” instead, which angers Riker.

The problem with this is that it is one of far too many over the top sex scenes. Not that I’m saying movies should be devoid of such scenes, but at times it’s hard to tell if this movie is trying to be a horror movie or a soft core porn. From flash backs that Abby has regarding her and Caleb’s sex life, to her and Riker, and the discovery by her that Caleb’s online “channel” is nothing more than a homemade porn site featuring him and various other girls, including videos of her and him. Sure, the writers are trying to illustrate the flaws of character that the demon in the story is feeding on, but repeated over-the-top gratuitous sex scenes come across as frivolous ways to illustrate that Caleb is a cheating sleazeball.

The story itself is written in a very disjointed fashion which gives it the feel of someone who had started writing a story, took a month long vacation, then came back to it and forgot where they left off. At first, it’s as though the movie wants you to believe that a demon just slowly crept into their lives because of their debauchery. Then there is a shift (too suddenly) to Abby possibly being mentally ill or possessed. This shift plays for a long time throughout, but then comes the “3 friends getting high in the woods” sequence that the movie’s advertising premise is set on. Did they stumble upon and disturb something there? Was it because of the semi-rape that occurs between Abby and Riker? The movie actually does answer this as “all of the above” by the time it reaches the end.

Throw in a few characters who are talked about as being important but never seen, a few “try to be creepy zoom in on windows with someone standing in them at night” scenes, and a miscellaneous swirly red symbol reminiscent of the likes of The Blair Witch Project  (by the way, this movie is part regular film and part “lost footage”), what you ultimately end up with here is a movie that is not so much horror as it is a film school project. There were a few elements in the story that, if properly highlighted, could have possibly made this a worth-while flick. But the disjointed story line killed any hope of that.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s ultimately about cannibalism?