How to Cut the Cord

Say “Goodbye!” to the Cable Guy!

What does it mean to “cut the cord” and why is everyone doing it? Should you cut your cord, too, assuming you know what it means?

The answer depends.

Cutting the cord means dropping traditional cable television subscriptions in favor of inexpensive streaming services. With cable bills rising to over $100 per month on many providers, more people are choosing to say goodbye to cable.

What do you need to cut the cord?

1.  Wifi
Wifi is wireless high-speed internet access. Most streaming devices connect with wifi, although some may still have a traditional ethernet port for plugging in a cord. You will need high-speed internet access to play streaming content, and it will probably need to be wireless unless you have a cable modem and an ethernet cord close to your streaming device.

2.  A streaming content device
Streaming content devices vary widely in price, size, and functionality. The most popular streaming content devices are Roku, AppleTV, and the Amazon Fire Stick. Smart TVs also have the ability to stream from a variety of content providers, but their interfaces are not as user-friendly, so I recommend getting a dedicated streaming device. Many video gaming systems like Xbox and Playstation can also play streaming content. You don’t have to spend much money to get started: the base model Roku retails for only $30.

3.  A streaming content Service Provider
There are a variety of streaming content service providers. Here are the most popular:

Netflix
On-demand movies, TV shows, documentaries, and Netflix-only content.
Netflix has a variety of “Netflix-only” series like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. Netflix also has a giant collection of movies and many seasons of popular TV shows. Be aware, current TV shows are usually 1 season behind, so if you want to see the latest episode of Chopped or This Is Us, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Cost: $9.99/month to watch on 2 streaming devices at once, or $11.99/month for 4 devices.

Hulu
On-demand Movies, TV shows, Documentaries, and Hulu-only content.
Taking a page from the Netflix playbook, Hulu now offers many “Hulu-only” series like The Handmaid’s Tale and 11.22.63. Unlike Netflix, Hulu focuses on the latest TV shows, typically airing new episodes a day after they air on cable TV. If you like to discuss the latest episodes of your favorite cable TV shows, Hulu is for you. Hulu also has a “commercial free” option, meaning you can watch Guy’s Grocery Games all day long without a single commercial. Hurray!
Cost: $7.99/month to watch on 1 device, or $11.99/month for commercial free.
Hulu is also now experimenting with providing Live TV, offering a Live TV beta for $39.99/month. Expect this to become more popular and widespread as content service providers try to knock the expensive cable TV companies out of the market altogether.

Amazon Prime Video
On-demand Movies, TV shows, Documentaries, and Amazon-only content.
Amazon Prime video is similar to Netflix, although some might argue it doesn’t offer as much quality content. Like both Netflix and Hulu, Amazon has “Amazon-only” series like Transparent, Sneaky Pete, and The Man in the High Castle.
Cost: Amazon Prime Video is free with your Amazon Prime account ($99/year) or you can purchase a monthly membership for $8.99/month if you do not wish to purchase a year of Prime membership.

Other options exist for getting your favorite shows:

HBO Now – For $15/month, you can watch every series that ever aired on HBO, including the latest releases merely minutes after they air Live. HBO Now also has a backlog of many popular movies, comedy specials, and documentaries. If you need your Game of Thrones fix, this is for you.

Showtime Anytime – Showtime has a similar service to HBO offering the latest in Showtime series and movies for $11/month.

YouTube Live TV – For $35/month, you can now watch Live TV streaming from ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and popular cable networks on up to 6 devices at a time. This is a new service from YouTube and one to keep your eye on.

iTunes – With an Apple TV, iOS device, or computer, you can purchase TV shows and Movies directly from the iTunes store. Hate monthly subscription fees? Just buy the shows and movies you want to watch or rent them for 24 hours at a lower price.

Amazon Video – Without Amazon Prime Video, you can purchase or rent the shows and movies you’d like to watch through Amazon Video.

Sling TV – Sling TV is a new service to the streaming industry. It offers streaming Live TV, not on-demand. There are mixed reviews about its quality and reliability, but this is sure to be a service to keep your eye on in the coming months. It can only improve, and the demand for this type of Live TV service is very high.

We have walls and walls of DVDs and Blurays!

Your Public Library – Last but never least, keep in mind the many movies, TV shows, documentaries, musicals, foreign films and more that are available from your local public library. Cheshire Public Library has a wide selection of popular “Quik Fliks” if you’re looking for the latest movies, not to mention a huuuge collection of DVDs, Blurays, and downloadable and streaming content. Best of all? They’re all FREE to borrow, and nothing beats free! 🙂


Technology Help – Need device advice? Come to Drop-in Tech Help. No appointment necessary. We provide help with smartphones, laptops, tablets, ereaders, email, Facebook, social media, cutting the cord questions and more! Check out the calendar for our next session.

Wick-ed Action

I love a good action film. In going over lists of various film genres, I discovered I’ve seen the majority of the “best” action films, though I don’t always agree with what is considered an “action” film. I expect an action film to have – well, action: a lot of movement of characters or equipment, such as vehicles. It could be modern reality based – James Bond or Air Force One, or futuristic, such as Terminator, Alien, or Serenity, comic book heroes, or war-type films such as Commando or Rambo (my grandmother made me take her to every Stallone and Schwartzeneggar film that came out). There should be suspense, perhaps mystery, a vehicle chase, and almost always a good fight scene. Body counts are expected, but graphic violence isn’t required – Suicide Squad had a high bullet count, but little gore. History of Violence had a lower bullet count, but extremely graphic depictions. I don’t mind gore, but I won’t watch cruelty or sadism – I shut off Killing Season because it was focused on torture, not action.

I adored John Wick, an action movie with Keanu Reeves as an assassin who tries to retire but is sucked back into the business against his will. It was just about everything I could want in a film – the script is good, the acting is good, the cast is excellent and the action is awesome. It’s just a good all-around film. I saw John Wick 2 on opening day (the DVD was released June 13) and – it was good, but not quite as great as the first. The action is impeccable – perhaps the best actual hand combat choreography I’ve ever seen (especially compared to the farce of Batman v. Superman). The script is good. But Wick’s lines, so eloquent before, are cut to choppy, often one-word sentences, which Reeves is not good at. It’s got a high bullet count, a high body count, and realistically graphic splatter from a man who was known for killing four people with a pencil.

One thing I noticed about John Wick 2, though not as obvious as it was in London Has Fallen, a C+ film with multiple script flaws: the impact of videogames on choreography of action sequences. JW 2 has a wonderful flight/fight scene through the ancient underground tunnels of Rome, but you can see the influence of popular games such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Run, stop, run, corner, shoot, shoot balcony. Man pops out of hall, bang. Run, stop, turn, shoot. It might fit the tone of the scene, but it’s very stiff and staged. London Has Fallen was much worse: the greatest action sequence of the film, the Big Rescue, and the movie looked as if you’d taken a clip from Call of Duty, overlayed it with actors, and CGI’d them together. Maybe it was my TV upgrading the blu-ray to 4K, but you could almost see pixelation in the edges of the graphics. You could have checked it off a list: guy pops up behind garbage can? Check. Drive-by shot through windshield? Check. Balcony? Check. It was so obvious that not only did it stand out, it was distracting, and you stopped watching the progression because you were so offset by the fakeness, a “Where-Have-I-Seen-This-Before?”

Is this the wave of the future? I hope not. Sure, you can look back at an early Bond film and see how cheesy the fight scenes are. You can almost hear them counting off in their heads: fist, block, step, kick, block, groin, throw, grab, twist… You can marvel at the slo-mo twists and turns of The Matrix sequences, but that’s not exactly reality, either. CGI is wonderful – it gave us Legolas sliding down oliphaunts , Avatar, and Inception. Almost all movies are made with a green-screen at this point, even comedies. But videogames are another empire – like trying to equate a romance film with porn: all the action, none of the reason. You can pop bullets all day, but why you’re doing it is a vague battle against “bad guys.” Relying on a videogame sequence kills the creativity needed. Think of the cliché of the good guy crouched down, pointing people what direction to go and then shooting at the target to cover them, or the stock western of a shootout on main street, with townsfolk peering through broken shutters. Action movies need to reinvent themselves by nature to keep themselves fresh and interesting.

Videogames are fun. Action films are fun. Sometimes movies based on a videogame are really fun (Warcraft, Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat). But using videogame mentality in place of a more expensive or creative thought process – that’s cheating, and it doesn’t look nice.

Have you noticed the “videogame effect” in any other films?

Fast and (Not Always) Furious

I don’t “watch” TV. The last series I actually watched was the last season or two of NYPD Blue, back in the early ‘00’s. My life was just too complicated to worry about being home to catch a program, because nine times out of ten, it just wasn’t going to happen. And my life was so much better for it! Free time I never had before.

But, thanks to the availability of On-Demand programming, whether streaming Hulu or Amazon or Netflix or Hoopla, I do get to see some shows – on my time, when I’m able, and it’s no crime if today’s not one of those days. If it’s a television show, we’ll watch one episode during dinner – everyone around the table, talking and watching. That’s how I got through six seasons of Sons of Anarchy, two fabulous seasons of Penny Dreadful, a full 12-season recap of NYPD Blue, and now my husband has me watching Blue Bloods, a mild police drama starring Tom Selleck, though I still think of him as Magnum, P.I., and the original Sweeney Todd himself, Len Cariou, whom I adore in anything.

Blue Bloods is okay. It’s got good actors, it’s entertaining, but it’s not deep. Each episode is self-contained, bright and polished like an old Quinn-Martin production, and none of the gritty realism and continued drama of NYPD Blue. It’s very clean and family oriented, but the writing is not always the greatest, with occasional weak scripts and clichéd lines. Because each episode wraps up on its own, nothing can get too much meat to it.

The last episode I watched had to do with insurance fraud over a valuable car – the car allegedly from the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, which they touted as one of the greatest car chase scenes ever.

So of course we had to watch it.

My dad’s favorite sport was cars – race cars – not the NASCAR stock stuff, but the elegant turns of the Monaco Gran Prix, the high-speed chase of Formula One, or the Holy Car Holiday in our house, The Indy 500. I thought Jackie Stewart was the greatest announcer in history. And I learned to drive stick on my parents’ automatics just by the engine sounds my dad would make when he pretended he was driving a race car – when I finally did learn stick, it was effortless because I could tell when to shift by the sound of the engine.  So I don’t mind a bit if I have to watch a car-chase movie. And I guess I’ve watched a lot of them.

Bullitt, as a movie, is typical of the late-60’s-early-70’s dark genre: a slow movie where actors must have been paid by the line, because nobody says anything unless they absolutely have to, all the actors are deadpan, and the sound quality is horrible because they really did just take a cheap microphone out onto the street, with little soundtrack, and there’s no great conclusion, they just sort of end with a “Life Stinks” blackout. What was strange was realizing not only there was Zero airport security, but no paramedics yet (1968; paramedics weren’t even an idea until 1971), rotary phones – not even push button, glass IV bottles, and no gloves during surgery. San Francisco lends itself to many great film chases (such as the comedy What’s Up Doc?), and this one does not disappoint, pitting a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT against a 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum. That they manage to hold those corners is impressive.

Fandango listed their account of the ten best car-chase movies (a bad thing to think about as summer approaches and pavement is dry and the weather begs you to take a long drive) as:

  1. Bullitt
  2. Max Mad: The Road Warrior (still my favorite movie of all time)
  3. To Live and Die in LA
  4. Deathproof
  5. The Blues Brothers
  6. Ronin (I think this should be number 2 myself – it’s truly awesome)
  7. Smokey and the Bandit (How can you not love this one?)
  8. Gone in 60 Seconds (the 1974 original, though I like the remake better as a film)
  9. The French Connection (more famous than Bullitt, but the same era of filmmaking)
  10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

For myself, I’d add Batman: The Dark Knight (anyone who can flip a tractor trailer end over end ranks high in my book), and the new Bourne movie, Jason Bourne, which opens with a wicked car chase through Las Vegas that got me from the first go.

Even if you don’t like car movies or car chases, I highly recommend the movie Ronin, as well as French Connection, Jason Bourne, and even Bullitt, movies where the storyline takes precedence and the chase is inconsequential and there’s no harsh screeching music track – like the Fast and Furious films, the thinking person’s car chase films; a little something for everyone.

 

Amadeus: Revisiting a Classic

“Are we going to appall you with something confidential and disgusting? Let’s hope so.”

So begins the trailer for the movie Amadeus, which you can watch here.

Amadeus tells the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s professional life from the point of view of his rival, composer Antonio Salieri. Salieri narrates a tale that takes you through the different beginnings each man had, and how they wound up at the same palace in competing positions. This film also addresses the question of whether or not Salieri murdered Mozart.

This film is absolutely wonderful. The acting is superb, the settings are elaborate, the costumes are beautiful, and the music is, of course, top-notch. The only drawback to this film is the lack of historical accuracy. However, while this may not be anyone’s biography, it is still one of the best movies I have ever seen.

Did you know that F. Murray Abraham (Salieri) and Tom Hulce (Mozart) took lessons while filming so they could learn how to conduct and play the piano?

Also, the director chose relatively unknown actors (at the time) to play the roles because he wanted viewers to be able to think of the characters as actual people, not famous actors pretending to be characters.

Setting: The second-half of 18th-century Vienna.

Was this movie based on something?  It was based on a play, also called Amadeus. The plots of both are very similar.

What is this movie rated? R for brief nudity.

Is there any objectionable content? Yes, including, but not limited to, sexual content, crude jokes, on-screen deaths, and some violence. There are also scenes involving Salieri questioning and rejecting his religion.

Can children watch this? Not recommended for anyone younger than a teenager.

What themes are found in the movie? Religious devotion, music, rivalries, and the line between madness and genius.

Who would like this? Anyone who enjoys watching historical fiction, or who enjoys Mozart’s music. It is also great for people who love movies that have a lot of depth to them.

Rating: Five stars.

This movie is available as both a DVD and Blu-ray.  And don’t forget to check out the soundtrack!

If you’d like to know more about Mozart, click here. We have many books about the legendary composer and, of course, many CDs featuring his music.

Strong Girls, Stronger Women

stb-jaylah-3While previewing the DVD for Star Trek: Into Darkness (as if I didn’t see it in the theater and wasn’t buying it myself 5 days later), I realized that Jaylah, the lead female character, is everything I want my daughters and granddaughter to be: strong, brave, smart, resourceful, a planner, a leader, and even when emotionally wounded, she never, ever gives in. Surely one of the strongest female leads ever, without losing her femininity in the process, like Grace Jones as May Day in A View to a Kill, or Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It may even be safe to say that Jaylah’s the strongest female lead ever in Star Trek itself – and no, not even Uhura, who, although she could kick butt, was often saddled with lines like, “Captain, I’m frightened.”

And that made me start thinking on who the strongest female leads might be. By strong I don’t mean nastiest or most vicious goal-driven women, no Joan Crawfords or Cersei Lannisters or Erica Kanes. I mean women or girls who started out ordinary, but when faced with impossible odds, had the grit and determination and education and smarts to work their way into survival.

First on almost any list is Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, from Alien. While you can say it ec93835d9542a13ce50f467297565f63already took guts and grit to be a warrant officer aboard a deep-space ship, finding out your mission was a suicide run to bring back an alien life form and you’re its food can either send you screaming in helpless panic (as Lambert did), or make you hike your bra straps and shoot first. Ripley is a real woman – no makeup, no unrealistic sexy uniforms, and not afraid to be pushy when she needs to be. And almost 40 years later (can it possibly be that long?) Alien still holds up on every level of film making; truly, a masterpiece.

katniss_prim_hugKatniss Everdeen is also a favorite for strongest female: just sixteen at the start of The Hunger Games, Katniss is already a survivor, having raised a sister and cared for a dysfunctionally depressed mother following the death of their father, in a world where people are kept in line through fear and starvation. Sacrificing herself to the Hunger Games to save her sister is just the start; surviving the Hunger Games not once but twice, surviving on luck, wits, and the smarts acquired through a lifetime of survival makes Katniss a formidable – but sympathetic and realistically feminine – heroine.

Sarah Connor of Terminator fame would round out my top three: a simple waitress who thought she was minding her own business until she’s hunted down by a terminator from the future – because when push comes to shove, Sarah will become a serious survivalist to save her son – a son who will grow up to be the leader against the machines that take over the world. Sarah is thrown into an impossible situation but comes out on top through sheer determination and a survival instinct that won’t quit.

Why so many women from science-fiction? That’s a good question. Perhaps it’s because “strong” women in literature or film are often seen as detestable power-hungry ladder-climbers who will use murder or sex to achieve their goals, and it is only in the realm of “fantasy” that women are allowed to be every-day humans, both strong and vulnerable at the same time, without boob jobs and fake nails. Yet the real world is peppered with incredibly strong women – Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Sanger, Harriet Tubman, and so many more. Not one of them is sexualized by the media, either.

turn_me_loose_it_s_ashleySo, to be fair, there are literary women who also struggled against formidable odds: Scarlett O’Hara’s entire world was ripped from her by the Civil War: her income, her inheritance, her mother, her husband (whether or not she wanted him alive) wind up Gone With the Wind. She takes charge in a time and place when genteel women did not do that, and through guile and determination pulls her life and the lives of her family back together. And as the anti-Scarlett, I would include Mammy, who carried on through war and starvation, caring for former slaves and slave-owners alike, facing the same dangers as Scarlett but with even less means or social approval. In The Color sofiaPurple, yes, Celie has to survive an ugly life, but to me Sofia is far more of a tough cookie, taking her lumps and even prison because she won’t take the abuse anymore. Sofia is limited by society, but she’s every bit as tough as Katniss.

And moving further away, I would also nominate Maria, from West Side Story. She’s sixteen and stands between two warring gangs for love. The Sharks don’t frighten her. The Jets don’t frighten her. The police don’t frighten her. She gets in the face of each and every west-side-story-1961-dvdrip-moviecenter-avi_snapshot_02-16-56_2016-07-21_15-39-34one, standing up for what she believes in. No one is telling Maria what to think or do.

I could add more – Elizabeth Swan, Marion Ravenwood, Molly Weasley, Natasha Romanov – but if you’re looking for role models for girls and teens, real women who aren’t villainous or overly sexualized or vacuuous but incredibly strong and resourceful, there are plenty to choose from.