FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE

Tuesday

Gadget Review - M810 Cell Phone Wristwatch

The time has come.

I recently purchased my geekiest gadget to date, and the time has come for me to write my review. To many of you, it will come as no surprise that I bought this item. Not only am I a gadget nerd, but I’m also a watch enthusiast. Anytime the two of those things are merged together in an unholy alliance, I am all over it.

Months ago, I put the M500 cell phone wrist watch on my wish list. At the time, it was the most advanced, feature-packed, best looking cell phone watch on the market. While it still may hold the title as the most aesthetically pleasing, the M500 has been far surpassed technologically by many of the newer cell phone watches. As I did a little research into the market, I settled on the one that I wanted.

The M810.


Manufactured by CECT in China, the M810 is also known on the Internet as the M801, M800i, and the M815. You would think that they would settle on a single model number. But, that is apparently way too much to ask. Of course, for the product I am getting at the price that I am paying, you won’t hear me complain about the inconsistency in the model number.

The M810 is a fully-functioning cellular phone, PDA, MP3, and video player. And, just as icing on the cake, the M810 also comes equipped with a 1.3 megapixel camera which can take still images as well as video. Just to give you an idea of how packed this unit is, take a look at the specs:

Frequency: Tri-band 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
Display: 1.33" TFT-LCD, 260'000 colors, 128 x 160 pixel resolution, touchscreen
Languages: English, Deutsch, Czech, Dutch, Thailand, Russian, Vietnamese, Rabbinic/Hebrew, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish, Chinese, etc.
Ringtone: 64 Polyphonic, MP3, MIDI, WAV, Incoming ringtone, Incoming photo, Incoming movie
Music: MP3 and back-end playback support, Support output to bluetooth headset
Video: 3GP, MP4 support, 128 x 160 fullscreen play
Camera: 1.3M pixels, supports max 1280x960 photo output
File formats: JPG, GIF, MP3, MIDI, WAV, AMR, 3GP, MP4
Memory: Free 512M TF card, supports maximum 2G memory (MicroSD)
Data transfer: USB data cable / USB disk / Bluetooth 2.0
Internet: GPRS, WAP
Phonebook: Containing up to 250 card-style records, photo of caller/ support ring tone setup for different groups/play movie for incoming call
Messaging: 300 short messages storage, supports MMS messages, message group sending
Power switch: Custom power-on/off picture, can set downloaded MP4 as power-on/off movie
Alarm: Support MP3 alarm ring, can set downloaded mp3 songs as ring of alarm
Talk time: 180-240 minutes
Standby time: 160 - 200 hours
Miscellaneous: Handsfree, recording, handwriting + keypad input, memory extension, e-book, incoming call firewall, calculator, health management

As you can see, this watch leaves almost nothing out. Just about anything that modern smartphones can handle, the M810 can handle. Plus, it fits on your wrist! How cool is that? (I know what you’re thinking. Not very. Bite me.)

As with my other reviews, the best way to handle this is to go through the main features and point out the positives and the negatives. So, here we go:

The Phone

This seems like the perfect place to start. After all, most people would be attracted to this little gadget because it is, primarily, a cellular phone. Well let’s take a look at the phone feature.

Reception and Call Quality
Call quality can really depend on the area that you are in. If you are in a strong cellular site, then you should have no problems using this phone. Of course, it doesn’t offer the same signal strength as a normal handset. For instance, there are certain areas in North Georgia where I can only get about 1 bar of signal strength on my Motorola RAZR. In those same areas, using the M810, I have no bars. There is a bit of a difference when it comes to low coverage areas such as those. But, in strong coverage areas, the M810 works very well. Call quality can also depend on the way you make and receive calls.

Bluetooth
The M810 is Bluetooth capable. This means that you can use your standard Bluetooth headset to make and receive calls. Some people don’t want to talk into their watch like Michael Knight. I understand that. For those people, the Bluetooth option is perfect. The M810 actually includes a pair of Bluetooth A2DP earphones for listening to music and receiving calls. Using these earphones, call quality is crystal clear. The drawback is, you would need to carry around these earphones everywhere. That’s not really something I want to do. A better option is to use a normal Bluetooth headset. But, please…don’t wear your Bluetooth headset everywhere you go. Don’t wear it in a restaurant, a movie theatre, or a gas station when you know you aren’t expecting a call. Don’t be that guy. You look like a tool.

Speakerphone
While call quality is far superior using a Bluetooth headset, I actually prefer to use the speakerphone function. What can I say? I was a huge fan of Knight Rider. Besides, it’s much quicker and more convenient for me to simply press a button on the watch and answer my phone instead of searching my pockets for my Bluetooth headset. It just makes sense. And, the sound quality from the speaker is decent. It can be difficult to understand people in a very noisy environment, but I’m not in the habit of answering calls in those situations anyway.

One drawback of the speakerphone is that I do have to hold the watch fairly close to my mouth in order for the other person to hear me. If I hold the watch any further than 6 or 7 inches from my mouth, the microphone does not pick up my voice very well. It would be nice to be able to hold it several feet away from my mouth, and still be heard.

Another drawback with any speakerphone is that everyone around can hear both sides of your conversation. In general, this isn’t a problem for me because, as I have already explained, I am not in the habit of answering calls in noisy or crowded areas. Many people don’t seem to realize that there are certain situations when answering a call is just crappy behavior (i.e. a restaurant, movie theatre, or when you are in the middle of a conversation with someone else!). So, having people around me hearing my phone conversation is not usually a problem.

The final drawback in the speakerphone feature isn’t really a problem with the speakerphone itself. It is really a problem with the watch software. In order to answer a call on speakerphone, you must first push the “answer” button on the side of the watch, then you have to tap the “H-Free” button the screen. That’s two steps, when only one should be needed! This is a problem if the person calling begins speaking as soon as you press the “answer” button. You miss their first few words. Also, this can be really irritating when making a call. When you dial a number, it begins to ring. But, it does so in “handheld” mode, which I will discuss in a moment. In this mode, the speakerphone isn’t activated so you can’t actually hear the other person answer the phone. When they do pick up, the watch screen will change. This new screen gives you the option to turn on the speakerphone. In other words, when making a call, you have to continually watch the screen to see the other person answer. As soon as they do, you have to quickly turn on the speakerphone. Otherwise, you won’t be able to hear them.

This gets really annoying. Why not simply have an option for setting speakerphone as the default option? That would simplify the whole process.

The “Other” Option
There is another option for answering calls on this watch. That is the “handheld” method. Basically, you can hold this watch up to your ear as you would a normal phone. The sound is projected through a small speaker in the top of the phone at a reduced volume. This resolves the issue of having people around you hear the other end of your phone conversation. But, it also makes you look like an idiot. In order to use this function, you would basically have to take the watch off and hold it to your ear. I’m not doing that. So, this option doesn’t work for me.

Text Messaging
I’m not big into texting, but I thought I might as well include this in the review. The watch is SMS and MMS capable. I have already sent and received messages, and everything works as it should. Although, I should mention, when you are typing anything on this watch, you better have steady hands and decent eyesight. Otherwise, this isn’t going to work for you. The keypad is kind of small. It’s a 1.33” screen! What did you expect? But, the upside is that it has a full QWERTY keyboard. You don’t have to cycle through letters like you do with most cell phones. If you have steady hands, you may be able to type messages faster with this than you would with a telephone keypad. I know that I do.

Ringtones
As you saw in the specifications, the M810 supports MP3, MIDI, WAV, and polyphonic ringtones. Although, the polyphonic tones that come with this watch are absolutely heinous. You’ll probably want to load your own MP3s as soon as possible.

As with most phones, this watch also comes equipped with vibration mode. That may surprise you considering the size of this watch. What will surprise you even more is the fact that the vibration on this phone isn’t just strong…it’s too strong. I used the “Ring and Vibrate” mode for a few days, but I just didn’t like it. The vibration was almost as loud as the ringtone. Of course, this also means that the “Vibrate Only” mode is a bad idea for quiet situations. Most of us set our phones on vibrate when we go into class or a movie (If you don’t, you should be punched in the face). But, with the M810, the vibration mode is still quite loud. So, I don’t use it.

Unfortunately, the M810 doesn’t come equipped with a silent ringtone. In order to make it completely silent, you basically have to turn it off. I didn’t want to do that. So, I found a simple solution. I loaded a blank MP3 (which I labeled “Silent”) onto my watch. And, I set that as the default ringtone for my “Meeting” sound profile. Now, when I go to a meeting or a movie, I activate the “Meeting” profile which switches my phone to silent.

The Keypad
Obviously, you can load your contacts on to your SIM card which will keep you from having to dial their number every time. But, you can’t load every number in there, so you will occasionally have to dial a number using the numbers on the keypad. The M810 has an impressively large digital keypad on the screen. It is accessible from various menus. Near the bottom of the screen, there is a phone icon. Pressing this icon brings up the keypad which fills the entire screen. The numbers are actually large enough that I don’t have to use the included stylus. I can dial with my fingers. This is especially helpful when you consider how difficult it is to actually use the stylus. But, more on that later. The keypad is accessible during calls. So, if you dial into an automated system which requires you to “press 1 for English,” you will have no problems.

The MP3 Player

I have to begin by saying that I have been very impressed with the MP3 player on the M810. Since, the M810 is capable of supporting up to 2GB of expandable memory, you will have plenty of space for your favorite music. And, when paired with the Bluetooth A2DP earphones, the sound quality is excellent.

I even like the software skin that was chosen for the MP3 player. There are 3 options to choose from, but I prefer Skin1 because of the extra large buttons. Everything is easily accessible with your fingers.

The volume output is also excellent. As it is with the speakerphone, for the best results, you’ll want to use the included Bluetooth earphones to listen to music. But, if you don’t have them handy, you can also play music through the built-in speaker.

And, yes…that is SPEAKER…not SPEAKERS. At first glance, the M810 appears to have 4 speakers surrounding the screen. It looks impressive, but it is just for show. 3 of these are “dummy” speakers. They don’t actually work. Only one of them (the top right speaker) puts out sound. Still, with one speaker, the volume and quality are quite impressive.

The Video Player

I was close to having an aneurysm over this video player. The specifications say that the M810 is capable of playing 3GP and MP4 video. So, I tired converting a couple of movie clips to these formats and loading them onto the watch. Yet, I kept getting a message that read “Invalid Video File.” I discovered that you can’t simply convert video to any 3GP or MP4 format. You have to be mindful of the codec you are using. Through my research, I found out that videos must be converted to the 3GP format using the MPEG4 codec. Confused? Let me make you even more confused.

Not only do you have to be mindful of the codec, you have to be mindful of every other setting on the video conversion. I had to go through several different settings until I found the one that would actually play on the watch. Then, I adjusted the settings to find the optimal video and audio settings that will play on the M810. Here is what I found.

Using the program Freez 3GP Converter, change the settings to the following:

File Format: 3GP
Video Codec: MPEG4
Resolution: 160 x 120
Video Quality: 1
Framerate: 14.985
Zoom Mode: Letterbox
Audio Codec: AAC-LC
Audio Bitrate: 48 KBPS
Audio Frequency: 48000 Hz
Channels: Stereo

The Camera

The camera on the M810 is…well…OK. I don’t plan on using this much, if ever. I have tested it, and it seems to work just fine. It is only a 1.3 megapixel camera, so you can’t expect the highest quality of images. But, if you absolutely needed to take a picture and you didn’t have another camera on you, this would do the trick.

The Organizer

The organizer is packed. If you have used a PDA, you know the drill. You can schedule your tasks along with their dates, star times, and end times. You can also setup alarms to remind you of tasks. The organizer also includes a calculator.

But, the organizer on the M810 has a few features that you may have not seen on other PDAs. There is a Unit Converter (Weight and Length), Currency Converter, World Clock, and BMI calculator. It also has a Menstrual Cycle calculator…but I don’t plan on using that any time soon.

The Flash Drive

When you connect the watch to your computer, it has the ability to act as a USB flash drive. Depending on the size of the MicroSD card that you use in your M810, you can have as much as 2GB of free space to store your files. The only downfall that I can see with this function is the exact same downfall that I had with my MP3 Watch. In order to connect it to a computer, you must use the USB cable that is included. The cable is 3 feet long. Do you want to carry a cable like that around with you? I don’t. So, I’m trying to find a more compact solution. The problem is that the port on the M810 is not a normal mini-USB port. It almost looks custom. If I could identify it, it would probably be easier to find a small adapter. Until then, I guess I’ll have to use the cable.

**UPDATE**
I have said "goodbye" to that long USB cable, and I replaced it with my own custom-made USB adapter. It is only 2 inches long! It is much more convenient to carry in my pocket.

If you are interested in creating your own USB adapter for the M810, I can tell you how. Email me at dsimms@usa.com.

The Screen

The screen on the M810 is very clear and easy to view. Watching movies on this could strain your eyes. But, the screen size and resolution are great for other functions. In fact, unlike most cellular phones, the main screen is capable of displaying animated GIFs. You can actually set an animation as your wallpaper. I like to customize things like this. And, having the ability to set something besides a static image as my wallpaper was a welcomed surprise.

The Size

I can imagine that most people would be concerned about the size of this watch. That’s certainly understandable. No one wants to wear a brick on their wrist. And, for all of these features, you really wouldn’t expect the M810 to be very small.

Though the M810 is a little bulky, it’s surprisingly compact. It is approximately 2.75” long, 1.8” wide, and .75” thick. However, since the watch has a lot of curvature to it, it looks smaller. Ideally, I would prefer for the watch to be thinner. But, you wouldn’t want the watch face too much smaller. Otherwise, it would make it quite difficult to use many of the functions.

The Battery

Most of the M810’s thickness is due to the battery. Still, it is quite small for the amount of power that it puts out. I have been very impressed with the battery life. It lasts almost as long as the battery on my RAZR. Plus, it comes with an extra battery. If you forget to recharge it, just slip in the spare battery and go!

The Stylus

I hate the stylus. There…I said it. I don’t know what the designers were thinking when they developed this stylus. But, I swear that a blind fish with A.D.D. could have come up with something better. To start with, it is incredibly small. I suppose it has to be to fit inside the watch band (where it is hidden). But, there had to be a way to make a larger stylus that is easier to write with.

Also, as I said, it is hidden inside the band. That seems like a great idea. The problem is, they put it in the worst place possible. When you are wearing the watch, it is extremely difficult to dig the stylus out of its hiding place. It is hidden on the bottom (close to your wrist), near the camera. It would have made much more sense to put the stylus near the opposite side of the watch, near the top. I know that there is some available space there.

The Conclusion

I have to say that I love the M810. It has a few shortcomings, but all of those are overshadowed by the great things about this watch. Plus, I look super cool wearing it. Trust me…I do.

Overall, I would recommend the M810 for people who don’t spend the majority of their time on the phone. If your job, or daily routine requires you to spend hours every day on a mobile phone, this probably isn’t for you.

But, if you love gadgets, and you’ve always wanted a watch like Dick Tracy’s, try this one out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The M810 can be found on eBay listed as the M810, M801, M800i, or the M815.

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Thursday

Bigfoot

Why, oh why do people like this have to be from Georgia? Isn't the southern stereotype bad enough?

Hulu

In recent years, more television broadcasters have realized how important it is to market themselves on the internet. Television is by no means obsolete, and probably won’t be for many decades. However, as people spend more of their time on the Internet, it becomes an added convenience for them to watch their favorite shows while cruising the information superhighway.

Broadcasters realize this, and many are using their websites to host full episodes of their most popular shows. NBC hosts on their website shows like My Name Is Earl, The Office, and Heroes. ABC hosts shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Ugly Betty, and Lost. CBS hosts…wait…does anybody actually watch CBS anymore?

One way or another, you can probably find full episodes of your favorite show on the Internet. It just takes a little bit of searching. But, for those of you who want to find episodes of older shows, the searching is a little bit tougher.

Hopefully, I can help with this. There is a great website that can act as a one-stop website for many of your favorite shows currently on the air, as well as popular shows from the 80s and 90s. It’s called Hulu.com.

Hulu primarily hosts shows from NBC and FOX. But, it is by no means limited to these networks. Hulu also offers full episodes of shows from networks like USA, Comedy Central, Bravo, Sci-Fi, G4, and more. The best part is that Hulu videos have very few commercial interruptions, and all of them are 30 seconds or less!

Make some time to check it out. And, let me know what you think of Burn Notice.


P.S. There are extra cool points for anyone who remembers a little show called Airwolf. It's available on Hulu as well.

Tuesday

The Regular Guys 3.0

If you are a regular listener to the radio, you will probably agree with me. If you are not a regular listener to the radio, I’m sure that there is a very good reason why. Radio shows, for the most part, suck. The music that they play is terrible. I could live with that if they would stick to playing truly crappy songs only once. But, alas, they play the same songs over and over and over and over. Can’t I just say “uncle” and have it over with?

To top it off, DJs aren’t even remotely funny. Naturally, they all believe that everything they say is comedy gold. For that, they should be punched in the face. It’s time for a great radio show to come along and kick some collective radio show ass.

Never fear. I have found “The One.”

If you have seen my new MySpace page, you have probably seen a button labeled “RG 3.0.” That stands for “The Regular Guys 3.0.” If you have lived in Atlanta for any length of time, you have probably heard The Regular Guys on the radio. If you haven’t, you have missed out.

Larry Wachs, Eric Von Haessler, and “Southside” Steve Rickman make up the dynamic team known as “The Regular Guys.” The current version of their show is called “Regular Guys 3.0” because they have already been fired from the airwaves twice before. The first and second incarnations of the show were on 96.1 FM which used to be known as 96 Rock. At the time, 96 Rock was owned and operated by Clear Channel who apparently had no problems firing their best radio personalities for no damn reason.

The first time that the guys were terminated in 2004, one of the show’s producers accidently left a microphone on during a commercial break. During the break, a very graphic interview with a pornstar was played over a Honda commercial. Yet, instead of simply firing the careless producer who was actually responsible for the incident, Clear Channel decided to fire Larry and Eric. Not cool.

The guys returned to 96 Rock in 2005, but the return was short-lived. In 2006, the guys were fired again after an incident involving Larry Wachs recording fellow radio hosts in a bathroom. DJs Yoga and Panda of Viva 105.7 filed a lawsuit against The Regular Guys which led to the 2nd firing of Larry and Eric as well as the arrest of Larry Wachs. Apparently, the over-zealous police of Fulton County believed that it was illegal to record people in a public bathroom without their knowledge. Of course, it isn’t, and the case against Wachs was dropped. Essentially, the guys were fired twice for no reason whatsoever.

These days, 96 Rock is known as Project 9-6-1. Even though the name has changed, they are still owned by Clear Channel, which means they will still suffer from the same problems in bad management. However, that is no longer The Regular Guys’ problem.

They are back and on a brand new station! It’s a good thing too. I was beginning to go through serious withdrawal.

I should mention that The Regular Guys have been back for quite some time now. Version 3 hit the airwaves in January of 2008. Amazingly, however, I still meet people who used to be fans of their show on 96 Rock and don’t know that they are back!

The Regular Guys can be heard every weekday morning from 6am-10am on 100.5 FM. Rock 100 is based in Atlanta. If you are in the area, tune in. If not, there are plenty of other ways to hear The Regular Guys. The show is streamed live over the Internet from regularguys.com. Eric Von Haessler also has a live streaming webcam in the studio which broadcasts the entire show! That video feed can be found on his Stickam page at stickam.com/ericvon100_5.

If, for some reason, you can’t listen to the guys live, they also podcast their entire show sans commercials! Their daily podcast is available for download from cumuluspodcasting.com/RadioWeb/PodCast/WNNX-25-239.xml.

One way or another, you have the best Atlanta radio show at your fingertips.

Friday

Movie Review - The Dark Knight

I wanted to wait until I saw The Dark Knight for a second time before I wrote my review. I did this for two main reasons. First, it is almost mandatory to see a film like this twice before you can objectively comment on it. Depending on your preconceived notions of the Batman franchise, your first viewing will probably be biased (this is especially true for someone like me).

Secondly, my first viewing was almost ruined by poor theatre management. Of course, I would be remiss in my review of The Dark Knight, if I did not begin by explaining this story.

Even though my friends made fun of me for it, I bought tickets for The Dark Knight online more than 1 month in advance. I have been excited about this film for quite some time. I had to see it on opening night and I had to see it on IMAX. My friends laughed, but I’m glad I did. Every single show for the first two weekends was sold out almost two days after I bought tickets!

A group of 8 of us showed up almost 2 hours before the show. We got perfect seats and waited for the show to start. When the movie began, we were all blown away by the opening sequence which had been filmed with IMAX cameras. The screen is HUGE, and the IMAX scenes filled the entire thing!

We were all enjoying the movie…for about an hour and a half. Then, almost half way through the film…disaster struck.

The IMAX projector shut down. Apparently, some jerk forgot to check the coolant levels which keep the projector bulb from overheating. Of course, if you don’t check the coolant levels, the projector WILL overheat, and it will shut down.

We waited for them to fix the problem and resume the movie. But after 15 minutes of waiting, they announced that the show was cancelled. Every person in the theatre was ready to revolt.

We were all compensated for the trouble, but that didn’t solve our biggest problem. We still were not going to see the ending of the movie! So, we did what any crazed film fan would do. We found another theatre in the Mall of Georgia showing The Dark Knight, and we snuck in. We had to sit on the very front row (the only available seats in the entire theatre). They were the worst seats that you could possible imagine, and it wasn’t an IMAX theatre. But, at least we were able to finish the movie.

Of course, I had to watch the movie again, and I had to watch the entire thing on IMAX. So, Katie and I went to see it again. And, it was well worth it.

Even on a Thursday during the third week of the film’s release, the show was still sold out. This isn’t surprising at all. The Dark Knight is, in a word, “incredible.”

I suppose the best way to format this review is to break it into categories, which I have listed below. But, in order to keep this relatively concise, I have posted my review of the three main characters on a separate posting.

Click here to read my character review.

So, without further adieu, here is my review of The Dark Knight:

The Plot
It seems like the perfect place to start. After all, the plot is the reason the film is supposed to exist. Sadly, too many films these days are made to sell toys, boost an actor’s celebrity status, promote a musical artist, or to simply make a quick buck. The story takes a backseat to the hype. I hate that.

But, this certainly isn’t true with The Dark Knight. The plot has so many levels and nuances to it, I’m still not sure that I fully grasp them all. The main story centers around Bruce Wayne and his desire to hand over his mantle. He looks forward to the day when Gotham City doesn’t need Batman anymore. After all, that was the whole point of becoming Batman in the first place. Batman Begins perfectly established that Bruce wanted to act as a symbol for Gotham. His symbol would be one that would terrify the criminal element in Gotham, but at the same time, it would inspire others to be courageous enough to fight back against evil.

This is certainly an interesting theme that has not been explored much in the comics, and certainly never played a role in previous films. But, it was a major part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. The Dark Knight picks up on this theme and takes it to the next level.

I thought the central theme of Bruce’s desire to hand over his mantle was excellent, but it was seriously overshadowed by a subplot in the film – The Joker.

For me, The Joker was the most memorable thing about the film. He stole the show! I found myself waiting for him to come back on screen. He is truly twisted and truly sociopathic. But, his characterization was something I have never seen before. For more information on that, click here.

The other major sublot concerned Harvey Dent and his transformation into Two-Face. Harvey Dent’s descent into chaos was an interesting subplot, but it was too short lived. It’s almost as if it didn’t belong in the film. It seemed out-of-place. There was so much other stuff going on that it felt crammed-in for the big finale.

I suppose that I understand why they didn’t want to dedicate an entire film to Two-Face as the villain. For a guy as good as Harvey Dent, his descent into chaos would have to be short-lived. It would have to be almost akin to temporary insanity brought on by the death of a loved one. It would be all-consuming for a short time, but I just don’t buy that Harvey’s entire nature would suddenly change when he becomes disfigured.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked the character of Two-Face, and I think they handled it fairly well in this movie. But, I just wanted to see more in order to be truly convinced.

However, the love triangle between Bruce, Rachel, and Harvey is utterly forgettable. I wasn’t invested in the relationship between Bruce and Rachel in the first film, and I certainly wasn’t invested in it this time. I know why they did it. I just don’t think that was handled as well as it could have been.

Gary Oldman
I’m glad they’ve given Jim Gordon a more central role. In the past, Commissioner Gordon has been relegated to a supporting role, offering police backup when it’s needed or giving Batman particular assignments. But, in Christopher Nolan’s Batman, Gordon fights alongside the Caped Crusader.

This gives Gary Oldman a real opportunity to shine. He is a great actor. I’ve always thought of him as playing a lot of bad guys on film, but it’s good to see him as a good guy. Plus, he brings a lot of depth to Jim Gordon. No longer is he a stuffy high-ranking cop who sits in his arm chair in his office and attends political functions. He’s a fighter. He’s as fearless and dedicated as Batman, but without the cape.

Michael Caine
What can I say? I love Michael Caine. Ever since I first saw him in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I’ve been a fan. He can handle serious drama, and he is funny as hell.

When I first saw Batman Begins, I was hesitant to accept Alfred as having a low-British Accent. Typically, Alfred has been portrayed as having a very formal British accent. That’s what I have been accustomed to. There was just something about Caine’s accent that didn’t sit right with me.

But, I realized that I was quite wrong. Why would Alfred necessarily have a formal British accent? I’m sure that he was probably raised with very formal education, but Alfred isn't some stuffy, stereotypical British butler who wears ascots and white gloves. He’s Alfred! He’s witty, sarcastic, and tough. He has to be to put up with someone like Bruce.

Michael Caine’s accent makes perfect sense to me.

Maggie Gyllenhaal
Maggie’s performance was unbelievable. And, I don’t mean that in a good way. I did not believe for one second that she was an unstoppable Assistant DA or the love interest of two of the most powerful men in Gotham City. It’s not that she’s a bad actress. This just wasn’t the right role for her.

I should point out that I wasn’t a big fan of Katie Holmes either. She made a terrible attorney. But, at least I could believe that Bruce was interested in a girl who looked like Katie. Maggie just doesn’t have that kind of appeal that could snag guys like Bruce and Harvey.

Ultimately, I like the idea or Rachel’s character if it were done right. But, in both films she seemed to be more of a distraction than anything else.

Aaron Eckhart
If you haven’t seen the film Thank You For Smoking, go rent it. This was the film that really established Aaron in my mind. I love this guy’s work. He can play a great smart ass like he does in Thank You For Smoking, or he can play a hard ass like Harvey Dent. Aaron has the look of a guy you want to hang out. If you’re friends, he can be the nicest guy in the world. But, he’s also not afraid to kick your ass if you get on his bad side. That’s who Harvey Dent is, and that really comes through during his transformation into Two-Face. He plays the good and the bad equally well.

As I stated above, the Two-Face plot was a bit out-of-place for my tastes. But, this is in no way Aaron’s fault. He did a great job of playing Harvey and Two-Face. If Two-Face was the main villain in a Batman sequel (which seems highly unlikely considering the ending of The Dark Knight), I have no doubts that Aaron could carry the role.

Christian Bale
I feel that I have to preface this review by stating unequivocally that I am a huge fan of Christian Bale. I first saw him in a little film called Newsies. Since then, I’ve seen most of his films and loved almost all of them (The exception being Reign of Fire, but it wasn’t his fault. The script sucked). From Equilibrium to The Machinist, Christian can take on just about any role, make it his own, and excel. He is one of my favorite actors of all time.

With that said, his Batman voice has got to go. I think he makes an ideal Bruce Wayne. He’s dark and guarded. He doesn’t wear a mask, but you know you aren’t seeing the real Bruce Wayne. He comes off as a typical playboy millionaire without a care in the world except for himself. But, underneath lies something…abstruse (look it up).

Yet, as Batman, it is the one time that I hate hearing him speak. Bale is from Wales, yet he can perfectly mimic any accent on the planet. Watch any movie he’s ever been in. He rarely uses the same voice. He changes his voice to fit the characters that he is playing, and he does it flawlessly. So, why is his Batman voice so over-the-top?

I agree that Bruce has to disguise his voice when he is Batman. He has to whisper and sound very scruffy. But, when Bale does it, it comes off sounding so contrived. His words are broken up too much, and he occasionally sounds like he is congested. Of course, some of this is due to the cowl he is wearing.

Here’s a little trivia for you. No other Batman cowl has ever had a nose piece which covered the actor’s entire nose. It’s always open at the bottom so he can breathe. Why Nolan decided to do this, I am not sure. But his cowl covers Bale’s entire nose at the bottom. There may be some holes there so he can breathe. But, he is still covered up. That alone can make him sound congested.

Because the nose piece completely covers his nose, it also pulls his upper lip up. This would also affect his voice (and make him unable to ever close his mouth, which is another issue that I had).

Overall, I am just not sold on his Batman. He looks the part, he just isn’t sounding the part.

Heath Ledger
I have saved the best for last. I don’t really know what to say besides…Heath Ledger stole the freakin’ show! I knew, as everyone did, that his death would surround this film and his performance with hype. His passing was a tragedy. And, I honestly regret that I will never be able to see him on screen again. That is especially true after The Dark Knight.

His portrayal of The Joker went far beyond anything I had anticipated. For this film, it was a perfect representation of The Joker. It would have been out-of-place for Burton’s 1989 Batman film, which is why it is probably not fair to compare Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson. But, Heath took a well-established character and introduced the audience to a Joker they had never seen while maintaining all of the original intent of the character. He treated this role with the utmost respect, and it shows. Too many times, actors, writers, and directors take part in making a superhero film, and have no background and/or no respect for the source material. That becomes blatantly obvious when they make a superhero film for the sole purpose of selling toys and making a quick buck.

Heath, however, spent an entire month living alone in an apartment, surrounding himself with Batman comics, and working out The Joker’s voice and personality. He was dedicated to delivering more than just a surface-level characterization for one of the most intriguing and disturbing criminal masterminds ever put on paper. That is why I say that his performance was perfect.

I would say the same had he not died. If he were still alive, he would still merit the Oscar talk that is happening now. He deserves it.

The Suit
I was unsure about the new Batsuit. Of course, I said the same thing about the Batman Begins suit, but it grew on me. Before Batman Begins, I had always thought of the Batsuit being closer to Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s sleek, but it still looks like armor (and NO nipples!). But, the Batman Begins suit looked very "industrial" to me. I hated it at first. But, I realized that with Christopher Nolan’s “real world” approach to the character, it made perfect sense.

In The Dark Knight, Bruce asks Lucius Fox to build him a new suit. He needs something that will provide more flexibility but still give him some level of protection. He also wants to be able to turn his head. That all makes sense to me. But, the new suit came out looking like a mix between Motocross armor (which is actually what it was designed after) and SWAT riot gear.

Again, I understand and appreciate the reasoning behind it. But, it still looks a little funky to me. I’m getting used to it. But, I hate the cowl. I’ve explained why.

The Batpod
The Batpod was kind of forgettable to me. Yes, it’s cool that Batman has his own version of a motorcycle (which apparently only about a dozen stuntmen in the world are actually qualified to drive), and yes it makes for an impressive escape vehicle. But, I just didn’t get it. For all the realism that Nolan tried to inject into the movie, why this thing? I’m just sad that they destroyed the Tumbler. It took me a while to get to the point where I loved it. Now, it’s gone. Or, is it?

Christopher Nolan
Despite the few criticisms that I have, I am absolutely sure that Christopher Nolan is the man for this job. He has brought Batman back to the real world and given the Caped Crusader back a lot of the dignity that Joel Schumacher robbed him of. Christopher said that he wanted to create a world where Batman could really exist. That was his mindset when they created the Tumbler, the Batsuit, the Utility Belt…all of the things that make Batman who he is. He formed all of the characters in this same fashion. They are characters you can believe.

He has returned Batman to an elemental state where he can thrive as a hero, but is grounded by laws of reality. A few of the effects may be over-the-top. But, what’s a summer blockbuster without a Semi-truck being flipped over in the middle of a metropolitan?

All I can say is, “Thank you, Christopher Nolan.”

Final Thought
In the end, I have to say that The Dark Knight went far beyond all of my expectations. Rarely does such a movie live up to the hype, much less surpass it. But, this movie did just that. I was a huge fan of Batman Begins. The Dark Knight is far superior. It took the Batman mythos to a new level by introducing new ideas that gave the characters more complexity while retaining and expanding on established themes.

It is the best film of 2008 without a doubt. And, to think, it was almost ruined by some jerk who forgot to check the coolant levels in a projector. Unbelievable.

The Dark Knight - Character Review

Harvey Dent
Throughout the course of the film, Bruce tries to secure Harvey’s future as Gotham’s District Attorney and even keeps Harvey on the right path when he believes that Harvey is perilously close to blurring the lines between good and evil.

Of course, as it is in the comics, Harvey ultimately becomes the villain Two-Face. With his new persona, Harvey is capable of seeing and acting on both sides of the law. On one side, he is still Gotham’s "White Knight." But, on the other, he is driven to madness by the death of Rachel Dawes. Unable to make his own choices about which side to take, his actions are determined by the only thing he can see as being truly fair – Chance. With the flip of his coin he determines the life or death of those he deems responsible for Rachel’s death. The flipping of his coin represents total chaos. The outcome is anyone’s guess.

This idea of chaos was introduced to Two-Face by the main villain of the film – The Joker.

The Joker
The Joker in The Dark Knight is far different than any Joker we have seen before. The Joker in the Batman comics has always been a sociopathic clown who masterminds grand schemes to entrap Batman and amuse himself. But, generally his plans have had some sort of financial gain to them, and his violent actions, though gruesome, have always had a level of “comedy” to them. This is certainly apparent with his portrayal in the 60s TV show, when he was played by Cesar Romero, and in the 1989 film, when he was played by Jack Nicholson.

Nicholson, arguably the most well-known Joker, made me laugh at times. Sure, he was killing people throughout the film. But, the deaths weren’t nearly as bloody, and he tried to put a smile on people’s faces. Well, sort of. His antics, though mildly disturbing, did not make me cringe.

The Joker in The Dark Knight, however…that is a different story. This Joker is…disturbing. Played by Heath Ledger, the Joker in The Dark Knight is simply one of the best villains ever put on screen. This Joker has no origin. He has no back story. He simply is what he is. He retains his original sociopathic-nature and his twisted sense of humor. But, as someone put it to me, he is the only one laughing at his jokes. His antics are disturbing enough to make even a strong-stomached person avert their eyes. He uses a knife as his primary weapon so that he can, as he put it, “savor the little emotions of people before they die.” On top of his actions, his physical appearance has been altered to represent his more gruesome persona. He still wears the traditional clown make-up. But, it isn’t a discoloration of his skin (as in the 1989 film) or a reflection of his comedic character. Instead, it is referred to by one character as “war paint.” That’s a fitting description considering Joker’s war with society. It’s also interesting to note that his classic “smile” is no longer just painted on. It is scarred into his face. How he got the scars is never made clear (he changes the story at least 2 different times). But, one thing is certain. These scars are not just skin deep. They reflect this maniac’s true nature.

In one of his first scenes he performs a “magic trick” which sets the tone of this character. He claims that he can make a pencil disappear, then slams a henchmen’s face into the pencil, embedding it in his skull. Afterwards, he concludes the “trick” with a traditional “Tada.” That is The Joker. Without any fear, empathy, or remorse, he destroys what he can get his hands on. And, he treats it as a performance, with himself as his main audience.

Some might say that The Joker is without reason. He even tries to convince Dent that he is not a man with a plan. He just acts.

As we see in the film, this isn’t true. He has a plan. And, he is smart enough and capable enough to carry it out. Alfred surmises that The Joker may be a man “who just wants to watch the world burn.” This is not far from the truth.

Ultimately, The Joker’s plan is not to control the mob, Gotham City, or the world. He is not doing any of this for infamy or wealth (After all, he burned his very large stack of cash). No, he does this for one reason.

He does this to show that he is not the ”freak.” He may be a little more twisted or theatrical than most. But, when faced with the ultimate choice, “normal” people can be just as chaotic and destructive as he is. He wants to watch the world burn, but he wants to watch the so-called “normal” citizens to be the ones who set the fires. His primary target is Harvey Dent. To him, Harvey represents the ultimate good guy. He is Gotham’s “White Knight” who has dedicated his life to restoring peace and justice in Gotham. He has no fear of fighting crime lords, psychopaths, or mob bosses. And, he can’t be bought, terrorized, or corrupted.

But, The Joker isn’t the only one who sees Dent this way. Batman does as well.

Bruce Wayne/Batman
It’s interesting that the Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman is nothing more than a face. Traditionally, Bruce Wayne has been a “tortured soul” who tries to find a balance between having a personal life as Bruce Wayne and a “night life” as Batman. In Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne, for all intents and purposes, isn’t real. Batman is real. Bruce Wayne is the persona that he adopts to get certain things done. Bruce finances Batman’s crusade, Bruce provides various cover stories for Batman’s actions, and Bruce provides Batman with rest when he needs it. But, ultimately, Bruce Wayne is a facade. As I stated before, he does look forward to the day when he is not needed as Batman. But, until that day comes, he uses the character of Bruce Wayne to aid him in his crusade.

There is another interesting element of The Dark Knight that differs from the comics and previous films. Occasionally in the comics, Batman is seen a danger to Gotham. There are times when certain plots characterize him as an outcast. But, ordinarily, he is a beloved hero to Gotham’s citizens. In the beginning of the 1989 film, Batman was a wanted man by the police. But, he quickly secures his role as a protector and accepted by the citizens of Gotham.
In Christopher Nolan’s universe however, Batman is never fully accepted by Gotham. Even at the end of Batman Begins, Gordon is the only one who trusts him. In The Dark Knight, citizens still see him as an unwelcomed vigilante who is responsible for the death’s of Gotham’s citizens and police officers who had died at the hands of The Joker. He is blamed for the very thing Gordon warned about at the end of Batman Begins – Escalation. Gotham’s citizens panic when The Joker begins his rampage, and they lash out at Batman. The cops, never ones to be outdone by a masked crusader, never trust Batman and denounce him as a vigilante.

Knowing this, The Joker tells Batman, “To them, you’re just a freak…like me” (My favorite line in the entire film). He’s right. To them, Batman is a freak, on par with The Joker. Both are menaces. Neither can be trusted. In the end of the film, Batman seems to give them even more reason not to trust them as he willingly takes the blame for the heinous crimes perpetrated by Harvey Dent as Two-Face. He escapes into the night being chased by Gotham’s police force and branded an outcast.

This introduces what I think is one of the most interesting elements of the plot…the title. It’s a weird thing to say, but this is one of the best titles I have ever seen. “The Dark Knight” is a commonly used nickname for Batman. In the past, it has simply referred to the fact that he crusades for Gotham and is shrouded in darkness.

Yet, this title introduces an entirely new element into the name. If Harvey Dent truly is the “White Knight” of Gotham with his goodness and purity, then Batman truly is the “Dark Knight” who continues to fight for Gotham even though he is an outcast. The irony is that, to those he tries to protect, he is considered evil.

Jim Gordon put it best when he said that Batman is the hero that Gotham deserves, but he is not the hero that Gotham needs right now.

Thursday

I'm going to keep this very simple

While on vacation recently, my cousin Peter and I came to conclusion. And, here it is:

All men’s collared shirts should have a phrase printed on the inside of the fold. That phrase is “I am a Tool.” As long as the collar is folded down, the way it is supposed to be worn, the phrase will never be visible. However, the second some douchebag pops his collar, he will let the entire world know.

Douchebaggery has become an epidemic. Popped collars are merely one symptom of this debilitating disease. But, with any luck, we may find a cure by treating the symptoms.

Wednesday

Burn Notice

For my first blog posting since my hiatus, I thought it would be a good idea to write about a new television show that I have really become a fan of in the last few months. You have probably seen several advertisements for it which feature the song “Everybody Wants You” by Billy Squier. But, you may have not taken the time to actually watch the show. Trust me, you should make the time.

The show is called Burn Notice. It is on the USA Network, Thursdays at 10pm (Eastern). In the ads, you have probably seen the main character, Michael Westen (played by Jeffrey Donovan) being shot at and running for his life. Michael is a former spy who gets “burned” in the pilot episode. He is blacklisted and confined to Miami, Florida where he is left with no resources and constantly tailed by the FBI.

This premise is the underlying plot of the series. Michael is trying to find out who burned him and why. But, without any real resources at his disposal, or, more importantly, money, he is forced to use his talents and training to work as a private detective of sorts in Miami. He helps people who find themselves in situations where they are unable or unwilling to go to the police.

If this sounds a bit familiar, it should. The show The A-Team had a similar theme. The A-Team characters were “Soldiers of fortune” who helped people in need when they had no where else to turn.

With many of the plot lines and even the characterization of Michael Westen, Burn Notice runs the risk of being an updated hybrid of MacGyver and The A-Team. In Burn Notice, Michael regularly showcases his ability to improvise cool and effective weapons and to create fully-functional gadgets out of seemingly irrelevant household items.

If the show relied on these types of “gimmicks,” I would say that it falls in that updated hybrid category. But, fortunately, Burn Notice offers a lot more.

For starters, Michael’s improvised weapons and gadgets are far more believable than anything seen on MacGyver or The A-Team. I was a fan of both of those shows, but they both suffered from the same misfortune. They were scripted by cheesy ‘80s writers. As a result, the action scenes were way over the top and the gadgets they developed, with very few exceptions, defied reality. Fortunately, Burn Notice doesn’t fall in this category.

Secondly, Burn Notice does an excellent job of balancing laugh-out-loud comedy, quick wit, and coolness. The closest film example of this balance would be Ocean’s 11. Ocean’s perfectly balanced great comedy with an immeasurable “cool” factor. While I wouldn’t even consider equating Burn Notice with Ocean’s 11, I would say that Burn Notice maintains a similar equilibrium between humor and style.

Thirdly, Burn Notice actually provides a little thing called “character development.” So many television shows are nothing more than a collection of self-contained one-dimensional episodes. There is no underlying theme or plot that is developed throughout the series. No single episode has any effect on the other episodes. You can literally pick a single episode in any season of the show and learn everything there is to learn about those characters. They don’t build on one another, and they don’t maintain any sense of continuity. They simply are what they are. If you need a clear-cut example of this, consider the differences between a show like The A-Team and 24. Can you watch a single episode of 24 and know everything you need to know? Try it, and let me know how that works out for you. Personally, I love shows that you have to be a fan of to really understand. There simply isn’t enough time in a half-hour or hour-long television show to understand characters with any sense of depth.

But, I have saved the best element of the show for last. Burn Notice is told from a first person narrative. Michael Westen speaks to the audience as though he is training them on how to be a spy. His training and experience give him a distinct advantage in most of the situations he finds himself in, and it’s always interesting to hear him describe how he is going to handle that particular situation. He tells the viewer exactly what he is thinking when trying to develop a tactical strategy or quickly improvising an escape. It’s kind of like getting into the mind of 007, except a lot more realistic.

In conclusion, Burn Notice has a lot going for it. It’s a great show. The only problem is that it is on the USA Network, which means the advertising and marketing for the show is somewhat limited. It is a well-known fact that even great shows can be killed off by crappy marketing (i.e. Arrested Development). I can only hope that Burn Notice survives and continues on for several more seasons.

It is currently in its second season, although the first season is available on DVD. Rent it from Blockbuster Online or Netflix. You can also watch it online at Hulu.com. Do what you have to do. But, definitely check out Burn Notice.

Tuesday

Back from my hiatus...sort of.

Since I have become increasingly nauseated by the state of politics and political discourse, I have resolved to avoiding newscasts all together and even discussing politics or social issues of any kind. I simply can’t take it anymore.

Many of my friends have wondered how long this hiatus will last. Some have speculated that I will give in any day. A few of them, in particular, have tried to hurry my “inevitable” surrender by trying to goad me into a heated political debate. But, it’s not going to work, Andrew.

Nevertheless, I am left with a decision. If I have determined myself that politics will no longer be a topic on this blog, then what will? I haven’t posted anything for months. It’s not as though readers have been pounding on my door, crying out for answers as to why I have forsaken them (though I suspect that type of reaction is due any day now). But, I really should post something here. Outside of politics, I feel as though I still have plenty of things to talk about.

So, that is exactly what I am going to do. I am going to start posting again on topics ranging from cool gadgets to movie news, and from television to technology (or, “Technology Magic” as the Adams prefer to call it). I may even throw in a few more of those “Pet Peeves” lists. Trust me…I have plenty more.

As always, I’ll try to keep it interesting, so check back often. And, if there is something in particular you’d like for me to talk about, I’m open to any suggestion.

Well, almost any suggestion.