Linkdump for March 30th from 11:01 to 11:37

An automatically generated list of links that caught my eye between 11:01 and 11:37 on March 30th.

Sometime between , I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Rogue One Mini-Review and Machete Order Thoughts

A brief review of Rogue One, and some thoughts on why I don’t think it should be part of the Machete Order.

I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (man, that full title is clunky) last night, and really enjoyed it. Here’s the brief mini-review I posted to Facebook:

Brief spoiler-free review of Rogue One: as many have already said, it’s good, and well worth seeing in the theater. Manages to be very much a part of the established Star Wars universe while also being very different from every other Star Wars film made to date — and, yes, part of that is that it’s darker than the rest, and parents might not want to assume that young ones will be fine with this one just because it’s part of the Star Wars universe. Very effectively sits just before A New Hope while also being a very modern film; I was particularly impressed with how well they pulled this off, especially as so many of the costumes and hairstyles had to be consistent with the very ’70s aesthetic of ANH. Lots of little (and some not so little) touches, Easter eggs, and in-jokes for long-time fans to enjoy (one conversation between a couple stormtroopers made me laugh out loud, and I didn’t hear anyone else react to it; it didn’t seem that obscure to me, but maybe this Trekkie has a bit more Star Wars cred than I’d have thought). I’ll enjoy watching this one again down the line.

In another discussion, a friend asked where Rogue One should go in a Star Wars binge based on the Machete Order (which omits Ep. I, and puts Eps. II and III between V and VI, for a final viewing order of IV-V-II-III-VI). My initial thought was to just drop RO in at the beginning, since chronologically it comes just before ANH. When combined with The Force Awakens, this would make a full Machete viewing of RO-IV-V-II-III-VI-VII).

On further reflection, though, I actually think that RO (and, most likely, the rest of the forthcoming standalone films) should be omitted from the lineup, and that Machete Order should be restricted to the “primary” films (those with formal episode numbers).

(Keep in mind, the following is from the theoretical perspective of subjecting someone to a Star Wars immersion course under the assumption that they’ve never seen the films and are so divorced from popular culture that they don’t know the characters, beats, or revelations. So, basically, this is a fun little bit of geekery not very related to the real world at all.)

Spoilers for various films in the Star Wars saga up to and including Rogue One follow, so I’ll just drop the rest of this post behind a cut…

Continue reading “Rogue One Mini-Review and Machete Order Thoughts”

Star Wars Without Politics Wouldn’t Be Star Wars

Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization. Opposed by a multicultural group led by brave women.

Disappointed that these two tweets by Star Wars: Rogue One writers were removed (but not terribly surprised, especially if the deletions were decreed by the Powers Above):

On November 11, 2016, Rogue One writer Chris Weitz tweeted: “Please note that the Empire is a white supremacist (human) organization.” He later deleted that tweet after receiving lots of complaints from other Twitter users, many of whom asked him to stop “injecting politics” into Star Wars. Weitz clarified in one response tweet, “My apologies. You have a right to enjoy it as you wish; and I don’t wish to harm my colleagues’ work either.”

Weitz’ colleague, Gary Whitta, had already written his own response to the tweet comparing the Star Wars Empire to white supremacy, which said: “Opposed by a multicultural group led by brave women.” Whitta’s tweet has also since been deleted.

I have just as much sympathy (to wit: absolutely none) with people whining about “injecting politics” into Star Wars as those who did the same with Star Trek (most recently, regarding Bryan Fuller’s preparation for Star Trek: Discovery). Politics are integral to these stories. Even if you try to ignore the parallels between the Empire and the Nazi regime (which were explicit and intentional in both the original films and in The Force Awakens, so attempting to ignore that is rather ridiculous), the Star Wars prequels open with the Trade Federation controlling a blockade around a planet at the bidding of Chancellor Palpatine…but, no, sorry, that has nothing to do with politics. How silly of me.

All these people really mean is that they don’t want their politics to be called out as the bad guys…but, c’mon, if the shoe fits….

So Rogue One has already been passing the Furiosa Test (Do people on the internet get mad about it being feminist?), and now Trump supporters might be staying away as well (though, really, the two groups do seem to have a lot of overlap)? I don’t see much of a downside to that. I’d certainly be quite happy going to a movie knowing that there’s a smaller-than-normal chance of being surrounded by those types of people, and given the juggernaut that Star Wars is, I just don’t see a major impact on their bottom line from this. Win-win for everyone!

Except the Empire, perhaps.

DVD/Blu-Ray conversion with text soft subs on Mac OS X

How to convert DVDs or Blu-Rays for personal use on OS X, including OCR conversion of subtitles to text-based .srt files suitable for use as ‘soft’ subtitles (rendered by the video player rather than burned into the image).

Saved here for my own reference, and possibly others’ if they should stumble across it: the easiest workflow I’ve found yet for converting DVDs or Blu-Rays (if you have a Blu-Ray reader, of course) for personal use on OS X, including OCR conversion of subtitles in either VOBSUB (DVD) or PGS (Blu-Ray) format to text-based .srt files suitable for use as soft subtitles, either as a sidecar file or included in the final movie file.

Movie Rip WorkflowThe flow diagram to the right gives an overview of the process I’ve landed on. Here’s a slightly more detailed breakdown.

  1. Use MakeMKV to rip the DVD or BluRay disc to an .mkv file (if I run into a stubborn DVD, or one with a lot of multiplexing, I’ll use RipIt to create a disk image first, then run that image through MakeMKV). To save space, you can select only the primary audio track for inclusion, or you can select others if you want other languages or commentary tracks archived as well (though this will require more storage space). I also select all available English-language subtitle tracks, as some discs will include both standard subtitles and subtitles for the hearing impaired or closed captions, which include some extra information on who is speaking and background sounds, or occasionally even transcriptions of commentary tracks.
  2. Use Subler to OCR and export the subtitle files. This takes two runs through Subler to complete.
    1. First run; drag the .mkv file onto Subler, and only select the subtitle track(s). Pop that into the export queue, and after a few minutes of processing (this is when the OCR process happens) Subler will output a tiny .m4v file.
    2. Second run; drag that file back onto Subler, click on the subtitle track, and choose File > Export… to save the .srt file(s). The tiny .m4v file can then be deleted.

    Now, the OCR process is not perfect, and the resulting .srt file(s) are virtually guaranteed to have some errors. How many and how intrusive they are depends on the source. BluRay subs seem to come out better than DVD subs (likely due to the higher resolution of the format giving better quality text for the OCR process to scan), DVD subs are also affected by the chosen font and whether or not italics were used. For correction, I use one of two methods.

    1. For a quick-and-dirty “good enough for now” run, I use BBEdit (but just about any other text editor would work) to do a quick spellcheck, identifying common errors and using search-and-replace to fix them in batches.
    2. For a real quality fix, I use Aegisub to go through line-by-line, comparing the text to the original audio, adding italics when appropriate, and so on.

    Of course, these two processes can be combined, done at different times, or skipped entirely; right now, I’m just living with the OCR errors, because I can always go back and use Subler to extract the .srt files for cleanup later on when I have more time.

  3. Use HandBrake to re-encode and convert the .mkv file (which at this point will be fairly large, straight off the source media) to a smaller .m4v file. You can either embed the .srt files at this point, under HandBrake’s ‘Subtitles’ tab, or if you prefer…
  4. …you can use Subler to .srt files into into the .m4v: Drag the .m4v file from HandBrake on to Subler, drag the .srt file(s) into the window that opens, and then drop that into the queue for final remuxing (optionally, before adding the files to the queue, use Subler’s metadata search tools to add the description, artwork, and other metadata). Then run the queue to output the final file.

And that’s it. Now, you should have a .m4v file with embedded text-based soft subtitles for programs that support that (VLC, Plex, etc.), or you can just use the .srt file(s) created by Subler earlier as a sidecar file for programs that don’t read the embedded .srt.

The Interview

Thanks to the world’s weirdest advertising campaign, we watched a dumb comedy that we’d otherwise have had no interest in. And in the end? Yes, dumb, but we’ve definitely seen far worse, and there were some laughs to be had.

(This was originally published on Facebook a few days ago in a slightly shorter form.)

Thanks to the world’s weirdest advertising campaign, we watched a dumb comedy that we’d otherwise have had no interest in. And in the end? Yes, dumb, but we’ve definitely seen far worse, and there were some laughs to be had (bracketed by moments of pushing gags too far, but then, we were expecting that). It was an acceptably amusing way to spend an hour and a half, leaving us neither enriched nor regretting the experience. It didn’t suck.

One of my favorite gags was one of the more subtle ones (which is likely why this genre of comedy isn’t my usual thing, as subtlety doesn’t seem to be a major concern most of the time): the titular interview being watched by a North Korean guard on a PC running Windows 3.1.

Inside Out’s Trailer Didn’t Impress Me

So, the first full trailer for Pixar’s next film showed up today. I’d been cautiously optimistic about this one, hoping for a change from the past, but after watching the trailer…I have concerns.

So, the first full trailer (following the teaser from a couple months ago that was almost entirely clips from prior Pixar films) for Pixar’s next film showed up today. I’d been cautiously optimistic about this one, hoping for a change from the past, but after watching the trailer…I have concerns.

On the pro side, the main character is a little girl, something that’s been lacking in Pixar films until now, and the general concept looks like a very interesting one.

However, some things jumped out at me.

Stereotypes: Mom is caring, nurturing and interested in her daughter’s day, while dad is absentmindedly dreaming about sports and has to be prompted to show interest in his daughter. When prompted to actually interact with his family, his first thoughts are right in line with very typical male stereotypes: my wife wants my attention, so I must be in trouble; did I forget the garbage or leave the toilet seat up?

This leads directly to what to me is problematic language: “What is it, woman?!” Just…ugh.

Odd choices: When the promo material released so far highlighted the emotion characters inside the girl’s head, there was a nice 3-to-2 mix of feminine to masculine characters. However, all of the mom’s emotion characters are definitely feminine, and the dad’s are definitely all masculinized (with pornstaches, no less). Why do their characters get uniformly gendered while the girl’s are a mix? I suppose it could be commentary on gender being still somewhat unformed in a pre-pubescent child and settling later in life, but that seems a bit much to expect of a Pixar film.

I had hopes, Pixar, and they weren’t even that high. And yet, I don’t think you’re living up to them.

A Better Bond

Skyfall was the first Bond film in years to hit the right balance between action and humor. Here’s hoping that the upcoming SPECTRE keeps that trend going.

Last Christmas, Prairie got me the 50th anniversary James Bond collection, and over the year, we worked our way through the entire canon, all the way through Skyfall. On the whole, Bond movies are a lot of mindless fun (some more mindless than others, to be sure), but boy does the quality vary. At the end, we were glad that we undertook this project after Skyfall was released, because it ended up meaning we went out on a high note.

We hadn’t been terribly impressed with the first two Daniel Craig films — Casino Royale took Bond too far to the modern, gritty style, and devolved into a nonsensical mess by the end; Quantum of Solace…well, I barely even remember what that one was even about — but we both felt that Skyfall was easily the best Bond film since Goldfinger (or, arguably, The Thomas Crown Affair). It was the first one in years that felt actually felt like a “real” Bond movie (that is, the Connery era) in the modern era: exciting action pieces, neat spy games, and an undercurrent of humor. Realistic without having to be ultra-violent or ultra-serious, and recognizing the inherent silliness of the spy genre without playing so far to that side that it devolves into farce (the Moore era).

So finding this quote from a two-year-old interview with Craig impressed me. It sounds to me like he and the team behind Skyfall had some of the same thoughts…

I think we set a good tone [in Skyfall], I think we set a real tone, but I am happy for fucking exploding volcano lairs. Obviously I am joking but what I love and what I really wanted to achieve with Skyfall was a level of fantasy, it’s one of the less violent ones, there’s less blood, and people aren’t dying in a horrible way, and it feels like much more of a family movie, and they should be family movies. I don’t want to go ludicrous and we’ve got to keep them in reality, but Christ almighty, the world’s fucking weird and there’s plenty we can start mining and taking out. If Blofeld turned up again, it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Given the recent announcement that the next film is titled SPECTRE, this does sound promising indeed.

(via iO9)

Blurry Boundaries

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure just where the boundary between ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ violence lies for me. I like my horror creepy and/or with a good dose of humor mixed in. Today’s trend towards ultra-violent torture porn just makes me feel ill.

Yesterday, I posted this to my Google+ account:

Just watched the red band trailer for the new Evil Dead remake/reboot. That is so not for me. I like the original with and because of its crazy low-budget camp, and love that they just ran with that for the rest of the series and went completely goofy. This new, ultra-realistic, ultra-violent, ultra-bloody take, even if it’s more in line with what they originally wanted to do, doesn’t appeal to me in the least.

I like my horror creepy and/or with a good dose of humor mixed in. Today’s trend towards ultra-violent torture porn just makes me feel ill.

Then, earlier today, I tweeted this:

Watched The Cabin in the Woods today. Crazy, and really good. Glad I hadn’t read any spoilers beforehand. http://t.co/rIngl2A3 #IMDb

Then just a few minutes ago, Prairie and I finished watching the fourth season of Dexter, and while the ending cliffhanger was upsetting, it was upsetting in the way a good TV cliffhanger should be, and we’ll definitely continue watching the series.

There seems to be some possible irony in all of that.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure just where the boundary between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” violence lies for me. There were definite moments in The Cabin in the Woods that were more violent than I was really comfortable with, and Dexter occasionally pushes right up to the edge, but in both cases, I think there are three things that make the difference and keep me watching:

  1. The stories are good. Even in the moments where the violence pushes further than I might like it to, I’m already invested enough in the characters and the plot that I’m willing to deal with the occasional cringe and “was that really necessary?” thought in order to continue with the story.

  2. They don’t dwell on the violence. The acts, while necessary to the story, aren’t the point of the story, and as such, even when they’re shown on screen, it’s generally not a huge, long, drawn-out scene. It happens, there’s that moment of shock, and then they move on.

  3. The violence is a part, but isn’t the point. I’ve seen other films (the first Saw film, for instance, which was two hours of my life whose only useful purpose was to convince me that I have no need to ever waste time on any of the rest of the series) that are truly deserving of the “torture porn” designation. The violence is the point of the film, and any bare minimum of plot is there only to move from one violent act to the next. Even films that aren’t part of the modern “torture porn” style of horror can fall victim to this kind of approach: For instance, part of why I didn’t think much of Tim Burton’s take on Sweeny Todd (which I’ve enjoyed on stage) was his insistence on showing every slit throat in loving closeup. Once would have been quite forgivable in order to get the point across, but I found the repeated shots of gaping bloody throats to be quite unnecessary.

Of course, there’s a lot of grey area in all of this, and the boundary between what works for me and what doesn’t is definitely very, very blurry. Sometimes it just boils down to the old cliché about the difference between erotic art and pornography: I know it when I see it.

Ranking Bond

One of the gifts I got for Christmas was the 50th anniversary James Bond collection on Blu-ray. While it will take a while to get through them all, I figured I’d start ranking the films as we watch.

One of the gifts I got for Christmas was the 50th anniversary James Bond collection on Blu-ray. Prairie and I have started watching our way through the series, and while it will take a while to get through them all, I figured I’d start ranking the films as we watch. Here’s where we’re at so far, in order by how I like them:

  1. Goldfinger
  2. Dr. No
  3. From Russia With Love
  4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  5. You Only Live Twice
  6. Thunderball

I’ll continue updating this list over the upcoming months as we continue through the series.

Trolling Middle Earth

Where today, ‘troll’ is almost universally understood as the second of the above quoted definitions — a person solely out to provoke annoyance — I’ve always preferred the first definition. In _that_ sense, a properly constructed troll is something I’ve always respected.

First off, the gorgeous new trailer for the first part of The Hobbit has just been released:

Now, a slight digression. Back when the internet was new (and I’m not entirely exaggerating with that), the Jargon File was created as a living encyclopedia of words, phrases, terms, and events common to the geek communities of the day. In that document are the original definitions for the term “troll” as used in the electronic world.

  1. v.,n. [From the Usenet group alt.folklore.urban] To utter a posting on Usenet designed to attract predictable responses or flames; or, the post itself. Derives from the phrase “trolling for newbies” which in turn comes from mainstream “trolling”, a style of fishing in which one trails bait through a likely spot hoping for a bite. The well-constructed troll is a post that induces lots of newbies and flamers to make themselves look even more clueless than they already do, while subtly conveying to the more savvy and experienced that it is in fact a deliberate troll. If you don’t fall for the joke, you get to be in on it. See also YHBT.

  2. n. An individual who chronically trolls in sense 1; regularly posts specious arguments, flames or personal attacks to a newsgroup, discussion list, or in email for no other purpose than to annoy someone or disrupt a discussion. Trolls are recognizable by the fact that they have no real interest in learning about the topic at hand – they simply want to utter flame bait. Like the ugly creatures they are named after, they exhibit no redeeming characteristics, and as such, they are recognized as a lower form of life on the net, as in, “Oh, ignore him, he’s just a troll.” Compare kook.

Where today, “troll” is almost universally understood as the second of the above quoted definitions — a person solely out to provoke annoyance — I’ve always preferred the first definition. In that sense, a properly constructed troll is something I’ve always respected.

The comments for yesterday evening’s io9 post about the Hobbit trailer contain a beautiful example of trolling in the old sense (“…a post that induces lots of newbies and flamers to make themselves look even more clueless than they already do, while subtly conveying to the more savvy and experienced that it is in fact a deliberate troll. If you don’t fall for the joke, you get to be in on it.”). This comment gave me a good laugh this morning:

Yawwwn, sequelitis strikes again.

Hey Hollywood, how long’d it take you to come up with yet another unnecessary backstory?! Do we really need to go with Frodo’s dad on his quest to find the ring?

I bet they’ll dumb it down and make it all kiddy too. Hard R or I ain’t watchin!

How much you wanna bet they’ll figure out a way to shoehorn half-a-dozen giant spiders to compete with the one they had in LOTR2.

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a troll is supposed to be done.