Tuesday, September 23, 2014

movie review: THE MAZE RUNNER (2014)

The_Maze_Runner_poster(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

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Dazed and confused, a teenager is jarred awake when the elevator he's penned in starts moving upwards. Just as abruptly he reaches the surface and is surrounded by a dozen pair of peering eyes staring down at him.

He has arrived in "The Glade", a rectangular patch of green foliage surrounded by extremely high walls. He can't remember why he's there, nor who he is for that matter.

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There seems to be a trend in Hollywood lately where the year's big blockbuster releases are either based on comic book characters or Young Adult novels.

The latest installment is last Friday's release of The Maze Runner, based upon the James Dashner novel of the same name.

Perhaps the best way to describe this film is part Lord of the Flies, part The Running Man and part The Hunger Games.

Don't go expecting to see a character driven film. There simply isn't much development to be found. It's also not really needed. Boy meets flock of boys. Boy sees that there might be a way out. Boy tries to escape.

Parents should have no concern with taking their children to see the film. I think I noticed maybe one swear word in the entire film, and I'm not even sure if it was what I thought it was.

While there's some violence, it's not grievous, and it's nowhere near the gore fest in some of the other films released lately.

Boys should definitely find this film enjoyable; especially if they're the adventurous type.

As for girls? If your daughter prefers playing with Barbie or My Little Pony, she's probably going to find it boring. There's only one girl in the main cast, and she only shows up halfway through the film.

The ending of the film is very clearly open ended, banking on the idea that there will be enough interest to spawn at least one sequel.

20th Century Fox was not disappointed as The Maze Runner topped the box office with approximately $70 million world-wide this last weekend. Not bad for a film that cost $36 million to make, and enough to allow Fox to announce The Maze Runner Chapter II: The Scorch Trials will be hitting the big screen September 2015.

There's been no announcement for The Maze Runner Chapter III: The Death Cure, though you can probably bank on that being made too.

I decided to catch this on IMAX, so the screen was crystal clear, and the sound was VERY loud!! While I understand they advertise IMAX as having explosions more explosive, it was ear splitting, and made me consider getting a pair of good quality earplugs like those worn by performers for the next time. They cut the sound down a notch, yet don't muffle it.

I was a bit surprised to see it wasn't released in 3D, though I'm not sure it would have offered a lot more to the experience.

RATED: 7.0 out of 10 STARS

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The Maze Runner is currently showing in nationwide release, showing nearby at the UA Berkeley 7 and Rialto Cinemas Cerrito theatres.

A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One More Thing…

If it's fall, it must be time for an iPhone refresh and today was the day.

I will readily admit I'm an Android user. It would take quite a bit to get me to leave that eco-system for Apple because I'm just too set up with my Android apps.

That said, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on today's product announcements. This should not be considered a detailed review, and just my observations gleaned while watching the streaming keynote.

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The new iPhones are certainly attractive and as close as they ever have been to pushing me towards Apple mobile products than before.

The iPhone has finally grown…literally.

At one time it had the largest screen of any smartphone. But, they stood fast while everyone else passed them by. In fact, they kept the 3.5" screen size until the release of the iPhone 5; adding a mere  half inch more.

Now, they're making a quantum leap to 4.7"! I really like that they jumped to the 4.7" screen. That's the size on my 1st Generation HTC One (M7), and it seems to be a sweet spot for me.

What's a little disappointing, is that the screen is the equivalent of 750p resolution, when you take pixel density into account. Better than basic HD, yet not quite the typical 1080p on most Android phones.

Will most people notice the difference? Probably not.

Additionally, they're releasing a bigger brother, dubbed the iPhone 6 Plus, which has a 5.5" screen. This is clearly aimed at the growing phablet market, dominated by the LG G3 Note 3 and Samsung Galaxy Note models.

While I've got relatively large hands, I have to ask myself how large is too large? We're talking a phone, after all. Some of my friends swear by them though.

Apple bumped up memory, with both new models topping out at 128Gb of onboard storage. They still haven't added a microSD card. But, with cloud storage options more readily available, that's becoming less of an issue. (Though carriers need to wake up and raise their data caps to step in line).

Both new models come with 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity, and they're implementing a neat feature (where carriers allow for it) that the phone will jump onto available Wi-Fi if it can't reach a traditional cell tower.

Apple has also finally added an NFC chip!

Near Field Communication allows a couple of devices in close proximity to communicate with each other. Android phones have had this in a while now.

Why is this important?

Probably the #1 usage of NFC in phones has been for contactless payments, such as Google Wallet. It's great. Tap your phone against specific credit card readers, and the credit card you have attached to your phone will be charged.

Unfortunately, financial institutions came out with their own competing product, formerly known as ISIS, but recently redubbed SoftCard.

They actively discouraged carriers from allowing adoption of Google Wallet, until recently, with the release of KitKat (Android 4.2).

But, Apple isn't simply adopting someone else's version of contactless payments. Starting next month is Apple Pay.

Apple Pay will be a secure payment system that securely stores your credit card information so you pay just like the Android devices.

They're taking it one step further though as Apple Pay will not provide your account information to the merchant. Rather, it will use a one time number that the Apple Pay-equipped credit card terminal recognizes.

Your credit card information is stored onboard the phone, in a newly designed chip, which encrypts the data. A big advantage over Google Wallet is that it uses Apple's finger print authentication to allow purchases.

Should you lose your phone, you will be able to disable payments using the Find My iPhone service.

Apple Pay launches next month, and they've already announced some large merchants, including McDonalds, Walgreens, Whole Foods and Disneyland/Disney World.

Apple Pay is a game changer folks. While the financial institutions were able to put up stumbling blocks when Android-based phones introduced this, Apple is a juggernaut. Pretty much every person that has an iTunes account, has already provided Apple with their credit card number.

Providing existing merchants are allowed a relatively painless way to add Apple Pay, there's virtually no way for it to fail.

And then Tim Cook muttered that phrase made famous by Apple founder Steve Jobs

"One More Thing"

With that, the Apple Watch made its public debut.

I am absolutely impressed with what they've come up with. Despite using a square form factor, it's absolutely gorgeous. Rounded edges. Removable bands that come in fashion and sports versions.

The home screen looks like a kaleidoscope of polka dots. You then select app by clicking on its dot.

My favorite feature was Digital Tap, best described as rather Twitter-like. But, it provides suggested quick responses based upon content from the first message. It also allows images and unique tap sequences to be sent.

Apple Watch will also support Apple Pay, though your iPhone will need to be handy. Now you won't have to dig into your pocket for your phone, and can simply hold your wrist up to the credit card machine.

Pebble, Motorola, LG and Samsung need to be concerned as it looks like functionality is several steps ahead of what the competitors currently offer.

These are just some of my thoughts after watching the live keynote today.

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IPhone Pricing (w/2yr contract):

iPhone 6:

  • $199 (16gb)
  • $299 (64gb)
  • $399 ($128gb)

iPhone 6 Plus:

  • $299 (16gb)
  • $399 (64gb)
  • $499 ($128gb)

iPhone Pre-orders start Sept. 12th, and start shipping Sept. 19th

Full pricing for the Apple Watch was not announced, other than it starts at $350, and will be available early 2015.

Apple should have the recording from today's iPhone and Apple Watch announcement posted shortly.