Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hassles attached

I watched my first movie on my new ipod touch this past week.

It was No Strings Attached, the Ivan Reitman-directed romantic comedy from earlier this year starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. (I've used the French poster here, because for some reason I've got this funny rule not to use the same poster twice as the sole art for one of my posts. I already used the standard poster for my post on the movie back in January, and there's no alternate English-language poster for it, apparently.)

I did not like it. I consider this strange, because almost every bit of feedback I'd heard about it was that it was better than you'd expect it to be. In fact, I thought it was far worse than I expected. I almost titled this post "How I hate 'the friend,'" and made it a rant about how sick I am of all the secondary characters who exist in romantic comedies only as friends to the romantic leads, their primary purpose being to make the romantic leads seem both popular and ethnically diverse in their choice of social acquaintances. But then I decided to adopt the ipod angle instead.

On the one hand, it was sort of fun to watch a crisp image of a movie playing on the smallest device on which I'd ever watched a movie. So small that it rested in the palm of my hand.

Ah, but that was also one of the problems. I'll name them here, starting with that one:

1) I didn't know what to do with ipod. Holding it worked for short stretches of time, but then my hand got tired, trying to position it so I'd have the best possible viewing angle. I tried to lean it against things, but since I was watching it on the plane, my choices were limited. It would always slide down and end up lying flat. I understand this is why other devices, such as the ipad, come with a "kickstand," for want of a better term.

2) The rental period was too strict. When I rented the movie from itunes, I learned that I had 30 days to watch it. That sounded fine. But then I also learned that once I started watching it, I had to finish within 24 hours. This was a problem, especially since, in the fatherhood era, it sometimes takes watching a movie in spurts over several days to finally finish it. It was especially a problem on vacation, which is where I thought it would be most handy to have a movie available to watch on my ipod. (When I'm not on vacation I have plenty of other options that make an ipod viewing less necessary.) I didn't dare start watching it on the plane ride to Maryland, because that was occurring during the day, and my son was not sleepy. If I started and had to stop 15 minutes later, who knew when I'd get to watch the other 90 minutes? I finally dared to watch it on the ride home, when he was sleeping and when it looked like I'd certainly be able to get in at least an hour of watching. That's about what I got in, but since I forgot to bring the ipod to work with me the next day, meaning I couldn't watch some more during lunch, it was somewhat of a race to finish it by 8:15 that night before the rental expired.

3) The rental was too expensive. I don't know about you, but I never spend $4.99 on a movie rental these days. I either get them from Redbox for $1, or they come as part of my Netflix subscription, where the cost is nebulous. In fact, the only time in recent memory I can recall spending around that amount of money on a rental was when I was desperate to find a BluRay copy of Disney's A Christmas Carol in time to watch it on Christmas Eve. I found one at Blockbuster, but I'd canceled my online subscription, so I couldn't trade an online rental for it -- I had to pay the regular new release price. I didn't care, though, because this was going to be a special Christmas Eve event and I knew it was going to look great on our TV, since I'd already seen it. On the other hand, I knew it was not going to be a particularly dynamic viewing experience to watch the movie on an ipod, so that ruled out movies with cool visuals and left an undemanding romantic comedy like No Strings Attached as the only viewing experience I was willing to have with these tiny dimensions. So I spent $4.99 on a movie I thought I might like, but never expected to like a huge amount, on a really small screen. In the end, I ended up liking it a lot less than that.

So even though I now have the capability, it doesn't look like I'll be watching movies on my ipod all that often.

Oh well, there's always music.


Travis McClain said...

Personally, I liked No Strings Attached just fine. Sure, it's guilty of the formulaic shortcomings you cite, but it's hardly unique in that regard. It gets by on the charm of Kutcher and Portman, neither of whom I can resist for long, just as every romantic comedy ever made is largely an excuse for the audience to watch two charming, attractive actors woo in ways that are often too grand for the rest of us to attempt in real life.

As for the iPod topic, I entirely concur about the terms and pricing of rental. I have not bought a feature film via iTunes yet, though I have bought some short films and a handful of TV episodes. I have 16 or so features in my library, but those are all Digital Copies from DVDs and Blu-rays. It's handy, but I do understand the nuisance of trying to figure out how to hold and position the iPod.

One thing I would point out that a lot of people overlook about having video content on the iPod is that you're not restricted to watching on that screen. There are component and composite video cables you can buy to connect your iPod to a TV, particularly handy in a hotel room. Those cables are $49 from Apple, but you can find third party cables for less.

I don't watch video content often on my iPod, but I confess I like knowing I can. With Crohn's disease, I spend a lot of time in the bathroom and sometimes I take my iPod with me. I don't expect to finish what I'm watching, but on some nights I can expect to get through the entire episode in segments.

Lastly, we had our niece and nephew spend the night several months ago and my niece and I were awake before my wife and nephew. To keep her quiet, I handed her my iPod and let her watch Up. I never heard a peep out of her, and the light from the iPod was insignificant so her brother was able to finish sleeping. I might not use the iPod as a babysitter as a parent, but as an uncle? Oh, yeah. Especially if it means quiet in the morning.

Vancetastic said...

I don't find Portman and Kutcher as charming as you do. Portman, yes. Kutcher, on the other hand, has always been someone I've loathed. But I'm most disappointed with Greta Gerwig. I know a woman's gotta work, but to go from a smart indie like Greenberg directly to being the least-developed of an annoyingly large number of "the friend" characters in this movie? It just saddened me. Also, I guess No Strings Attached means that Ludacris has totally sold out. "Hey Luda, would you like to play 'the black friend' in an Ashton Kutcher movie?" "Sure, sign me up!"

I love your summary of the essence of a romantic comedy. I guess if you hate one half of the two charming, attractive actors, you are less likely to buy into the movie on the whole. I just didn't feel that those characters had a connection at all. None of the moments that were supposed to develop their friendship and then ultimately their sexual relationship made me feel that a true bond was growing between them. So then when they got all sad and weepy and "I miss him!," it felt manufactured. I also thought Kevin Kline was essentially wasted in a stupid role. For a much better use of Kline as a tangential character in a romantic comedy, see Definitely, Maybe.

Yeah, I know I can play the ipod on other devices, but really, the main benefit of it to me was to watch it on the plane. Then again, I'm a movie buff so I always have several options available to me -- we had a portable DVD player and a laptop along on the trip as well. The ipod was at least uniquely suited for taking a new release on a long trip. If I'd rented it from Redbox it would have accrued five days worth of late fees, and I wasn't organized enough to get it from Netflix before the trip.

I'm really sorry to hear you have Crohn's disease. I must confess I didn't know what it was until I just looked it up. Not fun.

Travis McClain said...

I like Kutcher. He has a way of performing that makes a character instantly accessible. I look at Just Married and I think, "I know that guy. Hell, I might even be that guy in some ways." Also, I appreciate that when he's in "serious" mode, it's almost always understated. Unlike a lot of comedians, he doesn't make a big show of being dramatic (looking at you, Robin Williams).

He was one of the bright spots of Valentine's Day, and what made that performance shine for me was that it was so easy to imagine others in that role trying too hard. Kutcher's performance was instead reserved, relying a lot on his facial expressions and inflections to convey his emotional state. I thought he did that very well in No Strings Attached, as well.

You do know you can return a Redbox rental to any Redbox kiosk in the country, right? Whether they had any where you were, I don't know, but going forward it's something to keep in mind.

As for Crohn's disease, I won't lie: I'm not a fan! If you've ever had food poisoning, you have a pretty good idea what it feels like. On a good day, it feels like that period near the end of food poisoning where the pain is gone but you're weak and sore and terrified to eat anything or be too far away from a bathroom. Still, as I'm constantly reminded, there are plenty of worse things in life and I try to be positive minded about it. (Confession: I don't always live up to that.)

I was thrilled when I saw The Men Who Stare at Goats because George Clooney's character had Crohn's. It wasn't necessarily representative of the average Crohnie's experiences (he was pretty functional), but at least it was some exposure. The reliance on steroids rang true, though I take pills rather than injections.

I'll tell you this much: anyone who can be pumped full of steroids and go running around the Middle East is superhuman in my world. Feeling hot makes things pretty miserable, and steroids alone can make one feel like the Human Torch. I know there are plenty of people in desert climates who have to be treated with steroids so I know it can be done and all that, but damn! I don't envy a single one of them!