Monday, June 20, 2011

Taking Chance: Too Good to be a Television Movie

The HBO Films movie Taking Chance is a movie that most people would be likely to categorize as understated and this description would be meant in a good way. The Internet Movie Database categorizes this 2009 movie under television, but it did premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Inspired by actual events, this drama centers on Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobl (USMC) accompanying the remains of Marine Chance Phelps back to his home in Wyoming. The movie is touching, but one of its most endearing features is the restraint shown in the making of the film.

I have liked several movies with Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13 and A Few Good Men for example), but this is one of his best performances. He plays a restrained Marine who, along with the audience, is continually surprised at his reception as he makes his way across the United States. Not only is Bacon's acting intentionally restrained to powerful effect, but the movie itself is somewhat restrained. It does not take a stand for or against the war in which Chance Phelps was killed, but instead focuses on the reaction of everyday residents of the United States as they learn what Bacon's character's assignment is.

Because the movie does not focus on the nature of the war itself or on opinions of the war itself, the film is able to concentrate on the process that is undertaken to return a soldier's remains to his hometown and on the human side of this process. Regarding this process, the IMDB page for Taking Chance states:
The Defense Department had banned virtually all media coverage of deceased vets returning home since the 1991 Gulf War until April 2009. But the military offered advice and assistance, providing Taking Chance's film crew with a rarely viewed but painstakingly accurate account of the care and protocol bestowed upon the nation's fallen warriors.

Some reviewers of "Taking Chance" have found political motive in it, but I think those reviewers are generally missing the point and are reading far more into its motivations than is there. In my opinion, this movie does not glorify war, but instead demonstrates peoples' natural inclination to honor those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for something they believe in. Indeed the movie has been viewed favorably by a wide variety of reviewers (both formal critics and informal everyday folks) who have seen it. rates "Taking Chance" as 76 (out of 100 and in the green category representing "generally favorable reviews"). Rotten Tomatoes's review of Taking Chance (which cites 2008 for the movie's release year) has "no consensus yet" for the critics' reviews because there are only six reviews (with 50% positive and 50% negative), but there are over 3000 audience ratings that average 4 out of 5 (83% approval). With nearly 6000 votes on IMDB, "Taking Chance" has a rating of 7.3 out of 10 as of this writing.

I have two broad categories of "really good movies." One category is the "really good movie" that I watch repeatedly because I like it so much. These are often anything but intellectual and I watch them simply for entertainment. These are movies like Men in Black, Fletch, The Empire Strike Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Inception.

The second category of "really good movie" is the movie that I am pleasantly surprised by and am really glad I saw once because of its impact on me and what it taught me, but often I don't watch them frequently after that. Movies like Schindler's List and Life is Beautiful are examples of this category.

For me, "Taking Chance" is in the second category: I was very pleasantly surprised with how engaging this movie is despite its understated nature and deliberately gentle pace. That being stated, it is not the type of movie I plan to watch repeatedly. It had huge effect the first time I saw it, but I prefer relaxing movies (often comedies) for repeated viewing and "Taking Chance" is just too deep for that.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Exit Glacier Lodge

On a recent trip to southeast Alaska and the Inside Passage, I had the good fortune of stumbling upon the Exit Glacier Lodge in Seward, Alaska. After being in the confined quarters of a cruise ship's stateroom, it was nice to have much more room in the spacious rooms in the Exit Glacier Lodge.

The two-level Exit Glacier Lodge is probably best categorized as a bed and breakfast featuring private bathrooms in each of its 15 rooms. Having access to free high-speed wireless internet was nice and we really enjoyed the location (bottom of Exit Glacier Road near Seward Highway) and the quiet of the place. The beds were comfortable and we slept well. The location is not only obviously convenient to the Exit Glacier, but is also convenient to downtown Seward.

The breakfast provided in the morning included waffles made as we came down to breakfast along with other items often associated with continental breakfast. The party I was with particularly enjoyed the strawberry-covered waffles and pieces of watermelon.

The rooms we were in (the Deluxe) did not have air conditioning, but this is likely rarely needed in a location like Seward because of the cool air readily available by opening the window. Indeed, I have found that many accommodations in the Colorado mountain towns have similarly not had air conditioning for the same reason.

The Exit Glacier Lodge is larger than it appears in the photographs of it available on the web because the front of it with the entrance that is featured in the photographs is the short side of the rectangular-shaped building. The rooms run from the lobby down the long side of the rectangle shape to the end and are more spacious than many of the bed and breakfasts that I have stayed at previously. The Accommodations at the Exit Glacier Lodge page shows several photographs of the lodge, of its lobby area, and of its rooms.

We had a change in plans toward the end of our Alaska vacation that led to us needing to stay a night in Seward. Because of the late changes, many of the first lodging options returned first from a Google search were already unavailable for our large group. However, all turned out well as we really enjoyed our stay at the Exit Glacier Lodge. Some of the other Seward-area accommodations are likely more popular for those who don't have access to private transportation, but we will make Exit Glacier Lodge our first choice if we are ever fortunate enough to visit Seward again.

Video Games at Redbox

NetFlix and lower-priced DVD/Blu-ray purchase prices are not the only forces that have contributed to the demise of Blockbuster and other video stores. A major contributing factor besides mail-order videos, cheaper videos for purchase, and the ability to stream video is the most direct competitor of all: the ability to rent a video on a last-second impulse locally and cheaply. Redbox (and some lesser known competitors) have taken this niche by storm. If one wants breadth of choices, it's difficult to beat NetFlix. If one wants a current release now, it's difficult to beat Redbox. If one wants an older release now, there is a decent chance its available on NetFlix streaming. If one likes a movie well enough to keep it for a while, one can purchase it for a relatively low price in many cases. In fact, I have purchased DVDs and Blu-rays of popular movies for less money than Blockbuster used to force us to pay to rent a video for a few days!

With the recent announcement that Redbox now rents games, I'm curious to see how they will impact that market. An obvious positive of this is that a person can try out games before purchasing to see if he or she really wants to buy the game. Additionally, some games are fun for a short amount of time and a rental may cover the length of that time. Redbox isn't the first to rent out video games, but the promise of easy access to the latest games at convenient locations may be what makes this different.

Perhaps the biggest thing that contributed to Redbox's rapid adoption was the pricing scheme of $1 per night for as many nights as a customer had the DVD. This was simple to understand and allowed the customer to choose how long to hold the video and pay for that amount of time. One of the many things I did not like about Blockbuster was the justification of exorbitant rental rates because of the number of days they were rented for. I always felt like there should be a cheaper rental rate for fewer days because I often knew I'd watch a video that night and be finished with it. Redbox provided cheap, daily rate that seems more fair to most of us and allows the customer to customize their cost. A similar approach to video game rentals via Redbox could make this equally successful.

It appears that at the present time, at least for the particular Redbox I tried via online reservation, that the cost of the game rental will be $2 per day (with "24 hours" being the initial day). Two dollars is a price that even the paperboy would like. A two dollar initial "investment" in a game whose value seems questionable or which has received widely mixed reviews may be well worth it if it helps avoid purchasing a game for $40 or $50 that isn't satisfying. The $2 price per day is also not bad if one is fairly certain he or she only wants to play the game for a day or two or a weekend. In such a case, especially for newer games, it is likely to be far more expensive to purchase a game for just a few days use, even when considering the resale value of it afterward.

It appears that Redbox will carry video games for the three major consoles: Wii, XBox 360, and PlayStation 3. I expect it to be a popular service, though it may not have quite the impact on the gaming industry that Redbox has contributed to in the movie industry.