I’ll Have A Pepsi To Go With My Zombie

In my last post I talked a little bit about some of my thoughts on zombie movies. It brought back a lot of memories of the year that my friends and I spent putting the few issues of Right Turn Clyde that ever saw the light of day (or the glow of a monitor). Those were fun times figuring out what would be the next snarky comment about Hollywood. I might have put together the website but MNKE was the driving force behind that effort. And without the four of us who wrote most of the articles and tracked down the photos and got the interviews, I don’t think it can exist again. At least not like it did.

But it doesn’t mean that I can’t write my reviews of TV and movies. It’s just not as easy to be satirical without hiding behind the persona of Shorty LaBrea. So I’m starting up this Movies & TV section so that I can post my thoughts and reviews. And since I first started with that post about running zombies and I resolved to watch some more recent movies, why don’t a start with the movie I watched last night:

28 Days Later. Directed by Danny Boyle.

This is the zombie movie with a twist. Animal rights activists unwittingly unleash infected chimps on the population at large spreading a disease called Rage. This genetically engineered virus is transmitted by blood and saliva and is so contagious that a single drop in the mouth, eye, or an open cut will turn a person in about 30 seconds into a blood-thirsty insane maniac who will run around tearing any living thing it finds to shreds. Our protagonist, Jim, wakes up 28 days after the start of the outbreak from a coma to a nearly deserted London, and tries to figure out how to survive.

This movie was damn scary. Thankfully Danny Boyle didn’t fill it with the “gotcha” surprises that you often find in cheap horror films. You know when things suddenly jump out at you complete with a huge music sting. The first time it’s just the cat that was startled in the dark room but the next time it’s the killer. Those moments are cheap thrills that always make me jump out of my skin but then it’s over. Danny did a great job of sustaining the “what’s going to happen next” tension for long periods of time and I often found myself with a stranglehold on the remote.

The difference with this movie is that these are not traditional zombies. These are not the reanimated corpses of dead single-minded bent on eating the flesh of the living. These are people driven mad by a disease. They still want to eat people but since they are not already dead, they can die of “natural” causes. The proper way to dispatch a zombie according to the mythology that has built up in films is to either burn them up, dissolve them in acid, or destroy their head. Anything less and they’ll keep coming after you. Danny’s Rage-zombies are still people. There’s nothing supernatural about them. They are not the undead. If you fill them with enough bullets, they’ll die. Since the disease seems to effect them to the point that they are unable to comprehend that they can walk into the nearest 7-11 for six pack and a bag of chips, they eventually starve to death.

Over the years zombie movies have been used as a method of social commentary. Dan O’Bannon looked at disenfranchised youth railing against the “let’s just nuke the commies” attitude of the Reagen era in Return of the Living Dead. Probably most famously, George Romero used zombies wandering around in a mall in Dawn of the Dead to comment on America’s mindless consumerism. Danny Boyle uses 28 Days Later to answer the question, What makes us human? When watching this movie it is important to think about who has truly lost their soul: the infected people who no longer have the free will to do anything but feast the rest of man, or the soldiers who exploit their strength with guns and a fortified base to get whatever they want.

Mr. Boyle’s apocalyptic tale brought to mind a few of of other great science fiction movies: The excellent Australian film, The Quiet Earth, where a man wakes up one day to find that he is the only human alive and he must deal with the loneliness. And the Charlton Heston’s 1971 classic, The Omega Man. Instead of informing the world of the contents of Soylent Green or leading the humans in an uprising against their ape masters, this time Chuck as the sole survivor of humanity has to fight off an army of plague-created vampires. (The original novel is I Am Legend, and has spawned a few movie versions including a great Italian one from 1964 starring Vincent Price called The Last Man On Earth.) And who could forget the valley girls and Commander Chakotay menaced by comet-produced zombies in Night of the Comet.

All in all, 28 Days Later is a exciting, thought-provoking movie to watch. The DVD has three alternate endings which are interesting, if only to find out, what if…

Runnin’ Zombies

I was over at Wil Wheaton’s site reading about his twisted views on life. He recently went to see Dawn of the Dead and posed the question, “When did zombies start to run?”

Well that just so happens to be something I know a little bit about. Now I definitely haven’t seen every movie on the planet and especially in the last year, there are quite a few films I haven’t yet watched, but I do like my B horror films. (I know what you’re thinking, “How can I make movies and not watch them?” I can’t explain it. I eventually do. It just sometimes takes a while.)

I have yet to go see this new version of Dawn of the Dead. It looks pretty fun. Unfortunately it’s going to have a hard time competing with the original–at least in my book. I still remember the first time I saw George Romero’s second zombie movie. I was in junior high spending the night at my friend Josh Marcus’ house. It scared the crap out of me but I loved it. I thought the idea of living in a mall with a small group of friends was so cool. Crawling around the ventilation ducts. Making false walls. Playing with anything you wanted. It seemed like a great adventure.

Several people posted in Wil’s Comments that 28 Days Later had running zombies. Here’s where I’m going to have to step up and admit that I haven’t watched that one yet either. I know, I know. Well now I’m resolved to do it–I’m going to pick up the DVD today, watch it tonight, and I might catch a matinee of DotD tomorrow.

Apart from all that, I do know that the punk rock classic Return of the Living Dead has a few “rushing” zombies. They can pick up the pace a bit over a short distance. But overall they’re still mostly the mindless, shambling, brain-eating undead.

The first true “running” zombies appear in the sequel, Return of the Living Dead Part 2. Now this isn’t a strict sequel like “the continuing adventures of the poor saps that made all through the night of horror and were finally able to see the sunrise of a new day.” And it isn’t a sequel like Evil Dead II–“Here’s the movie I would have made the first time if I had the money.” It’s more of a “remember how funny those two guys who got sick and slowly turned into zombies were in the first one? Let’s get those actors back and have them do the same thing only as different characters. And oh yeah, more zombies.”

RotLD2 has lots and lots of zombies running through a Levittown-like suburbia. And I do mean running. It struck me the first time I saw it. It was definitely unusual because the typical zombie moans a lot and looks like it’s just as likely to fall on its face as take another step–but it doesn’t stop, it’ll crawl after you if it has to, and that’s what’s so scary. The more I thought about the running zombies in Part 2, the more I realized they were even scarier. You still have the mindless persistence. They’re still going to do everything they can to get you. But now you can’t outpace them with a light jog. You better be ready to sprint because they sure are.

Return of the Living Dead is one my all-time favorite movies. Several years ago, before I bought a DVD player, I always said I was holding out for The Warriors and RotLD to get released. Of course I didn’t end up waiting THAT long. But if I was going to recommend one zombie movie to watch it would be that one. You’ve got the punk rock kids hanging out in the cemetery, the split dogs coming back to life in the medical supply company, “More brains” from gooey guy with no skin, “Send more paramedics” from the midget zombie, all kinds of great stuff. It’s a classic.

Part 2 is worth seeing just to see where the running started, but other then that it’s not all that good. Part 3 however, is pretty awesome. It’s kind of a Romeo and Juliet where he’s alive and she’s dead. “Honey, I love you so much- DEAR GOD! Are you eating that man’s brain! That is DISGUSTING! Oh, but I do so love you.” She loves him too, and she hates the fact that she wants to eat brains, but the temptation is so strong that it can be hard to resist. So of course she resorts to doing what any sane, still-in-love-with-your-boyfriend zombie would do: stick lots of pointy things into her flesh. The pain temporarily relieves the brain lust. We’ve all seen punks with the safety pins and metal studs sticking out of their jackets. (Some of us might have even had own jackets like that.) She looks the same only all the bits of metal are directly in her skin. Frankly it’s cool… and maybe a little hot… ok, I must stop.

Who’s A Big Dummy?

I am.

For those of you who aren’t in Southern California and haven’t been watching the weather on this coast, it has been gorgeous. The terrible 90° heat of a couple weeks ago has been replaced by wonderful breezy days in the low 70s. So today I decided to grab a little lunch, drive over to Griffith Park and enjoy the sunshine with a good book. (Actually this isn’t that wacky of a decision for me. I do it quite a bit when I’m not working.)

I found a nice spot to park near the Mineral Wells picnic area, rolled down all the windows in my car, opened up the sun roof and decided to listen to a little quiet music with my lunch and book. I shut off my car but clicked the key forward to leave the stereo on. After listening to a couple of Black Keys singles I picked up at Amoeba several weeks ago, and finishing off my lunch, I decided to hunt for the perfect soundtrack to a wonderful day on my iPod. I have my iPod hooked into my car stereo with one of those cassette tape adapters. Hardly the latest example of high fidelity, but it works. (Though I do keep meaning to stop by Al & Ed’s Autosound to talk to them about how we can set this thing up properly.)

I decided on The Beatles’ White Album, and with the gentle sounds of “Dear Prudence” gliding from my car’s speakers, I sat back to enjoy my book.

I must have really gotten into it because time slipped by and suddenly I realized that the music was long over. I wasn’t quite sure how long I had been sitting there in my car enjoying the sun and breeze and the book but I knew it was probably time to head home. And that’s when I discovered that my car wouldn’t start.


In my car from the “off” position on the ignition, one click forward with the key turns on the radio. Two clicks forward adds the air and power to the windows. Going beyond the second click will start the car. I realized that I must have shut off the car FIRST and THEN decided to put the windows down. So I put the key in the second position to do that and must not have moved it from there. So I sat in my car for two hours or so with not only the radio pulling power from the battery, but also the A/C. (I had the fan on so low that I didn’t even notice it was running with all the breezes blowing through my car.)

Did I mention that I’m a genius?

Now of course this was hardly the end of the world. I was in a beautiful location with the sun shining, a cool breeze blowing and a good book to read. And since I’m currently unemployed, it’s not like there was some place I absolutely had to be. So I calmly pulled out my AAA card and called them from my cell phone. Then I picked up my book and continued reading until the tow truck arrived.

The driver took one look at my car with all its windows open and the book in my hands and said, “Lost track of time, huh?” It was a little embarrassing. But the situation was quickly remedied and we were both on our way.

Next time I should just use the ear buds.

Bigger Is Better

A new officially unofficial expansion has been released for Neverwinter Nights. It’s called the Community Expansion Pack (CEP). Several brave souls have gone through the new NWN content created by fans and posted to the Neverwinter Vault. They’ve categorized, standardized, and compiled the best of the best into one large pack. It includes everything like 440 new monsters, 1400 new placeable objects, 17 new weapons, 121 new NPC portraits, and a whole lot more.

The idea behind this expansion is that instead of players having to download the thousands of different hakpacks and overrides available from the Vault–where some modules use one combination of files and other modules use another, but everything has overlaps and some things cause conflicts–players can download this one expansion and get everything they need. The key to this though is that module builders need to change their modules to support this new expansion and new modules need to be built that use it. Unfortunately simply downloading the CEP really won’t get you anything initially. And extra unfortunate is that Macintosh and Linux players of NWN won’t even be able to see what’s included in the CEP until modules are built that support it. (Or until OpenKnights gets their tools a little more advanced.)

Even with these drawbacks the Community Expansion Pack offers a bright future with new content for a great game.

The Windows EXE installer can be downloaded here.
The manual install RAR file can be downloaded here.
The manual install ZIP file can be downloaded here.

Sync? What’s That?

Did you know that these cool new LCD and Plasma TVs add a delay into the video signal? Well, they do. I’m no expert but I would imagine it has something to do with converting the analog video signal to a pixel-based digital display.

If you take the cable out of your wall or a feed from your satellite dish and plug it straight into the plasma TV, and also hook up the sound to play through the TV speakers, you won’t have any problem. The flat panel TV will delay the audio and video signal the same amount and everything will stay in sync.

The problem occurs when you feed the video to your plasma or LCD TV and the audio to a separate receiver and speaker system. Because of this analog to digital conversion delay that happens in the video (which by the way does not happen on standard CRT televisions), the sound will appear to happen just slightly before the visual event. Try watching a live concert and you’ll really notice it.

Another way to see it is to send the same video signal–cable, satellite, DVD, or VHS–to a flat panel TV and to a CRT TV at the same time. Look for hard cuts from one shot to the next. The cut will happen a fraction of a second earlier on the CRT than on the panel.

I spent some time today at my friend’s house tweaking his new home theater that I’ve previously mentioned. His new 50″ Sony LCD Projection TV delays the video signal just like all flat panels do. Luckily his Denon receiver has a function where it will delay the audio signal on all channels to compensate for this. After a lot of testing with a Stevie Ray Vaughn concert DVD, we found that a 5 ms delay in the audio put everything in perfect sync.

Hopefully this information will help you make your home theater experience even better.

Henchman Inventory and Battle AI v1.02

Tony K has developed a great add-on to Neverwinter Nights which improves the AI of the game. In its default setting, the new AI will make your henchmen (the computer-controlled people who fight with you) much smarter. There are many additional options in this add-on including making the monsters you encounter smarter.

Here’s what Tony K himself says about the Henchman Inventory and Battle AI:

This highly configurable modification of NWN improves the intelligence of friends and foes, both inside and outside battle. Since its original release in July 2002, it has been tested by hundreds of people in the BioWare community. The mod works with or without the expansions. You can use it to play the Official, SoU, and HotU campaigns, as well as compatible fan-made modules. Prominent features are: 1) Improved battle tactics for all NPCs, especially with regard to weapon switching and spell casting; 2) Random roaming capability for monsters in the module; 3) Access to the inventory of familiars and animal companions; 4) Improved yet still legal feats and spell selection for the six standard OC henchmen; 5) More useful behavior (buffing, item-gathering) for henchmen outside battle. Most features can be turned on or off during installation.

New for v1.02: Use improved compression in Inno Setup to decrease exe install size under 1 MB. Associate challege rating adjust better to high levels. Fix out of ammo problem with henchmen. Improved omnivore and herbivore code for fleeing. Add support for Sea Hag. Cowardly flag is better supported for NPCs. New option allows for associates not to go into stealth when the PC does. Search mode options removed since associates already go into stealth when PC does. Most spell script overrides have been removed. Check readme for details.

I help out the effort by putting together the Macintosh installer. The new v1.02 can be downloaded from here. For you Windows people, you should get your version here.

Get Your RPG Game On

Neverwinter Nights is an amazing fantasy computer game that comes as close to reproducing traditional pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons as is probably possible. The original game has a large single-player adventure and there are two official expansions available (Shadows of Undrentide, and Hordes of the Underdark) which add new content and options, and each also has a new adventure. For those of you who like to play RPG computer games by yourself this is pretty great.

There are several features however which make this game even better.

First, you can make your own adventures. Just like the original D&D. There are literally thousands available for download from Neverwinter Vault.

Second, it supports multiplayer. So not only can you play a cool version of say “Slave Pits of the Undercity” or “Keep on the Borderlands” but you can also get a bunch of friends together and go through these modules together. And just like Dungeons & Dragons, someone can be the Dungeon Master (DM). There’s a client program that allows you to control things behind the scenes so that you can make the adventure even better for your friends.

Finally, it is available for Windows, Macintosh and Linux. So anyone on almost any platform can play together. The only downside for Linux and Mac people is that the toolset that allows you to make your own adventures was not ported to those platforms. However there are many intrepid individuals in an organization called OpenKnights who are busy writing software to address this problem. You might check out NeverEdit.

The Big Picture

This isn’t strictly an “Audio” entry. In fact it’s more of a “Video” entry, but I since those two things are often tied together I thought I would include it here as opposed to “Musings” or “Star Trek” or something.

I spent several hours last night and most of this morning helping my friend set up a new home theater in his house. It is awesome. He bought a 50″ Sony LCD Projection TV and a new Denon Receiver and they’re both fantastic pieces of equipment.

The Denon Receiver is so new that many stores don’t carry it yet. It’s 120W per channel. Something around 3 audio inputs and 5 video inputs. It has 3 component video inputs which is perfect for a situation with a DVD player, an HD decoder, and an Xbox or other game system. Plus is has video conversion so you can still attach composite or S-Video signals to the receiver and it’ll convert them up to component and send that signal to your TV. It does a ton of other great things. I suggest you stop by your local home theater store and check one out.

When we were looking at all the different gear options for his home, we looked a various speakers too. Eventually he decided not to get anything just yet. He’s just relying on a pair of full size speakers that he’s used on his previous stereo for many years. They sound nice and there’s no rush. You might think it strange that a couple of guys who do sound for a living didn’t immediately buy speakers but there are so many factors to consider. He and I can both easily listen to many different speakers and find a nice sounding set, but now that the largest surround setup supports 8 speakers (7.1), you can easily triple the cost of a home theater system by buying those speakers at the same time. Plus my friend is in this new house. He’s very concerned about getting the exact right set of speakers. Size and color are a big consideration in this. Anyway, the point is, he was very happy to get a huge TV and an amazing receiver and spend a little more time researching the speaker situation.

The TV is phenomenal too. That 50″ screen is enormous. Prior to this my friend was watching TV on a 27″ set. I measured the picture on his new TV. Even when the image is set to Normal 4:3 mode, it’s still 41″. And then of course when you’re looking at a DVD in 16:9 it’s just so big.

The key to a great looking TV though (and I can’t stress this enough) is properly calibrating the TV. I am completely serious. I know that not everyone can afford to go plop down three grand on a new widescreen television. But even with a modest one you might have in your home right now, you can make it look pretty great. You need to have a DVD player attached to the TV set. And you need to buy a copy of the Avia Guide to Home Theater on DVD. This is the critical part. I’ve been calibrating monitors for several years now using this DVD. It’s fantastic. Normally I keep it at work to make sure our video monitors are up to spec, (and remember I work on Hollywood movies for a living) but I went and got it to set up my friend’s new TV.

There’s a whole presentation on the DVD where a couple of dorky guys talk you through every single nuance of a home theater. Skip it. Unless you’re interested. Maybe you don’t know anything about a home theater and want to create one. Then it’s worthwhile. But if you’re looking to calibrate your TV, just hit the “Menu” button on you DVD remote. Selected the Advanced menu, and from there go to basic video calibration. They will talk you through all the steps necessary to get good looking pictures on your television. It’s really easy and it only takes about 10 minutes the first time you do it.

Once you’ve calibrated the video input that your DVD player is attached to on your TV, you’ll need to figure out what’s going on with the other inputs. Some older TVs only have one setup. You configure the Picture, Brightness, Color, Tint and Sharpness settings once and they hold for every single input (RF antenna or cable, Video 1, Video 2, etc.) You can check this by hitting the “Input” or “TV/Video” button on your remote to change to another input. Now go back into your TV setup menu and see if the new settings you made for the DVD still hold. If they don’t (and this will probably be the case on most new TVs) you’ll have to calibrate the video for every single input that you use on the TV. If you have multiple video inputs, you can hook the DVD player up to each one in turn and rerun the calibration DVD. You won’t be able to do this for the antenna or cable input. Your best bet is to make a note of the settings from the original DVD calibration and use the same settings for the cable. It’ll be pretty darn close to what it needs to be.

So there you go. Enjoy your “new” television.

Maybe It’s Because I’m Now 30

I had a conversation with my mother today about buying my own house. (Or more probably my own condo.) This isn’t exactly a new conversation, in fact we’ve been having it more or less regularly for the last year now. It’s a bit of a scary proposition, especially here in Los Angeles. Property values are very high–that’s why I say it’s more likely that my first purchase would be a condo. I can still live in the Los Angeles area are actually buy a condo for something around the $200,000 to $300,000 range. And by “the Los Angeles area” I mean LA proper, Hollywood, near Valley areas like Burbank, Glendale, North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks. Something on the westside might be nice. Closer to the beach means cooler weather. Of course if often means higher prices too. I have no desire to go live out in the high desert, Palmdale or some such place, just so that I can own a cheap home. And an actual house in the areas I’m talking about is going to start at half-a-million for a piece of junk.

So it probably would be a condo or a town house. Still scary though.

It’s all a moot point right now since I’m not working. That’s the other scary part about home ownership. There’s something about the notion that you can just walk away from a rental property that’s a little more comforting when you don’t have a steady income.

I love my career choice and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but it doesn’t guarantee me a regular paycheck 50 weeks out of the year. Doing post-production sound for films is a very fun and a pretty geeky technical job. You get the satisfaction of knowing that you had a direct hand in presenting that final product that people shell out their $10 to see in a movie theater. You’re also completely anonymous. When I walk down the street nobody comes up to me says “Oh my god it’s YOU!”

I get paid pretty decently but if I don’t have a movie to work on, I don’t collect a check. Typically I’ll have a nice run of a year or two with next to no time off. And then I might not have another job for 3 to 5 months. That just the way it goes, and those of us who do this for a living (at least the smart ones) plan for the fact that we’ll have time off. If you take home $3000 a month after taxes when you’re working, you can’t turn around and spend $3000 a month. You just can’t. You have to plan on only spending $1500 or $2000. Otherwise you’ll never make it through the downtime.

Anyway it’s just the way my life works and it’s a little different from someone who puts on a suit and tie and sits in a cubicle all day.

So let’s review: fun job, not a guaranteed income, houses very expensive.

I’m not sure where I was going with this whole thing. I guess I am just saying that I’ve been thinking about the future a lot. It would be nice to have a place to call my own. Not call it my own because I’m throwing money at someone to let me be there, but actually mine. Maybe it’s just one of those things that happens when you enter into your third decade.