Despite new digital film releases being more convenient (especially as they usually include an extra week or two window before any digital rentals or physical disks are released), I was shaken up by Apple’s revelation that they can remove content from your library unless you download your purchases (and even then you don’t get to download the 4K version of the film if it’s available, nor any extras). You can read a lot more about that on this blog.

As you can tell from the previous few posts, I’ve started buying more Blu-Ray disks again. Heck, you can head over to my recently re-launched Instagram account where I detail many of them as they come in. Many of them are classic titles that I’ve enjoyed over the years, but I’ve added a few modern titles to my wishlist.

I’ve a feeling that physical disks will still play an important part in a film lover’s collection because (a) removal of digital content at will by the seller and (b) offline/higher bitrates than digital streaming services lead to better overall quality. It’s also much harder to find rarer films from the likes of iTunes and Amazon, and physical disks usually contain many more extras than that of their digital counterparts.

Most importantly, I think that the sales of Xbox One Series X and Playstation 5 which both come with UHD Blu-Ray players by default (though there is a diskless version of the PS5) will continue to drive the market and demand for films on disk.

Back in the late 1990s, I bought myself a chipped Sony DVD player which could play region 1 disks. I wanted this ability because there was a company called The Criterion Collection which released (or in many cases re-released) movies on DVD which came with a plethora of special features. And these were absolutely brilliant for the film fan. And it helped also when I first went to the US back in 2000 and travelled across the entire country by bus and came back with a huge stack of DVDs of films not yet released in the UK.

That Sony DVD player has sadly gone away, and I never replaced it with a multi-region player again (which is a shame because I still own a copy of Pixar’s Cars on DVD which came directly from Pixar to my boss at MPC as part of a gift pack that was sent out to Renderman customers – he didn’t have a multi-region player, but I did at the time). So I’ve been restricted to region 2 or region B disks.

But the good news is that The Criterion Collection has been releasing titles in the UK/region B and I’ve started collecting all the good titles. Arrow Films has also been doing similar, and I’ve picked up some truly wonderful titles.

Robocop

You have 30 seconds to comply..

When the movie first came out in 1987, I was only ten years old. But I was desperate to see this film. Thankfully my mum managed to buy a copy on VHS when it came out for consumers. It was my very first 18-rated film, and I loved every minute of it. When I bought the original Criterion DVD back in the 90’s, this contained extra sequences (including an extremely gory death) and audio commentaries galore. This Arrow Films release contains all that and includes both the director’s cut and theatrical release.

Nightbreed

So much potential for a TV series

I came across Clive Barker’s work after reading about Hellraiser in Fangoria (or one of the other many film/horror magazines I bought at the time). I’m sure I watched Hellraiser before Nightbreed and was extremely impressed (and as Clive Barker’s directorial debut, absolutely incredible).. Hellraiser is technically my first horror – but I was so impressed with the special make-up and creature effects that I had to see what they did next. Nightbreed was that film. I absolutely loved it. I even bought the Titan behind-the-scenes book which contained high resolution photos of the monsters and other behind the scenes photos. Loads of information.

It’s horror/fantasy, but more emphasis on fantasy than horror. It stars Canadian director David Cronenberg in a major role, and the creatures themselves are wonderful. Danny Elfman’s music score is suitably ethereal, and the ending is crying out of continuation – maybe in the form of a TV series.

This release comes with a huge bunch of special features that I look forward to perusing through.

Being There

I like to watch..

Peter Sellers last film, and possibly his very best. It took me a very long time to get around to watching this, despite being a huge fan of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (which is crying out for a Criterion Collection UK release).

Is Chance the wisest men in the world? Is his autistic? Is he just a simple gardener with simple thoughts? Regardless of his mental state, his words have a heavy influence in US politics and becomes a major political figure – quite by chance. What follows is a farce on a similar scale to Dr. Strangelove and ends in a rather mystical and open-ended way.

Moonrise Kingdom

As a fan of Benjamin Britten, I approve of this film

Wes Anderson. The man can make a thoroughly entertaining film out of virtually anything. It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly why I love his work, but he is by far one of the best directors of the past 20-30 years. His adaptation of The Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of the greatest Roald Dahl adaptations I’ve ever seen (including the Tim Burton adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that I worked on). He adds part whimsy, part conflict, part surrealism, some really superb dialogue work, oddball characters and a dash of romance (where needed) and gives you a film that is incredible to watch and a story that’s engrossing as any book.

The Criterion Collection UK has a few of his films, and I’ve just bought the rest – they should be arriving this week – but there is still room for Criterion to add a few more of his works to the Collection (namely Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Isle of Dogs, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Darjeeling Limited). I’m also crazy excited to see his new film, The French Dispatch, when it hopefully opens in cinemas in October.

But Moonrise Kingdom is a beautiful coming-of-age film about two adolescents on a made-up New England island running away after feeling alienated from their parents and peers. This triggers a massive police search, including that of the islanders. Featuring an insanely wonderful score from Alexandre Desplat, and isn’t afraid to borrow from Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to The Orchestra (which also features). It’s worth listening throughout the end credits as the soundtrack breaks the fourth wall.

If life could be a Wes Anderson movie, I think we’d all be better off..

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Features some damn good covers of David Bowie’s music, including Starman & Life on Mars

More Wes Anderson! This time we follow Steve Zissou, renowned oceanographer (and meant to parody Jacques Cousteau) on the hunt for the infamous “Jaguar Shark” which ate his business partner. Part Moby Dick, part mockumentary, part family drama, and part sea adventure. It also features some wonderful stop-motion animation of imaginary sea animals to boot, and an insane set containing most of the submersible and its rooms.

This is a very ambitious film from Anderson, featuring a fantastic cast, great music score, and.. oh, you know – I just love everything about this film. Like his other stuff, infinitely rewatchable. And it comes a load of extras which will keep any film fan happy.

Midnight Cowboy

Hey, I’m walking here!

It’s been a while since I first saw this film, but it stuck in mind ever since. What really makes it special is the relationship between Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso and Jon Voight’s Joe Buck. I’ll also never forget Ratso’s dream sequence in which the music I recognised from the 1980’s Animal Show with Johnny Morris. The origins of some music tracks defies belief!

The ending is surprisingly emotional, which is not helped by John Barry’s wonderfully haunting theme (dabs eyes). Never has the harmonica sounded so beautiful. And Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’ is such a classic that it’s difficult to count how many times it’s been re-used elsewhere.

Again, plenty of extras to keep the most ardent fan happy.

And the rest..

Arrow Film’s Summer Camp 2020 Sale

Arrow Films is having a sale on – with many titles at £5/£7.50. It was rude not to indulge, so I picked out a few that I’ve been wanting to own for a while.

I’ll mention Zardoz because it’s a film that I watched late at night, possibly during secondary school, and found it to be utterly weird. And it stuck firmly in my mind. It’s been a right bugger to find it ever since and this Arrow Films Blu-Ray is the jackpot. Not only do you get a lovely remastered copy of the film, but audio commentaries and all manner of extras. I’ve been a big fan of John Boorman’s films since watching this (as mad as a box of frogs Zardoz is as a story). It also features one of the best version of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 that I’ve ever heard – but alas, does not exist anywhere other than the film. No soundtrack was ever released.

And Zardoz was shot at Ardmore Studios in County Wicklow, Ireland. I had the very great pleasure to visit there for the filming of Miramax Ella Enchanted (and was driven from Dublin to Ardmore by Richard Harris’ former driver). Didn’t get to see much of Country Wicklow’s beautiful hills – but it’s an impressive studio that’s for sure.

Oldboy I already have on Blu-Ray – but not the two disc edition. The second disc contains a THREE hour documentary on the making of the film. The film itself is absolutely fantastic, so for £5, I’m not going to say no just to get at that documentary.

Similarly, the extra features on A Fish Called Wanda are worth it alone. I’ve always liked the film, so now I can get to see and hear a bit more about how it was made (and why).

Being John Malkovich is a title I originally owned on region 1 DVD back in the 1990’s, but never got around to replacing it until now. Extra features also made it a lot more attractive as well as the cost.

Children of Men is a film I’ve seen a couple of times, and features some brain melting VFX and cinematography, so I had to get this. I’ve also recently purchased Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma on Criterion Collection UK which I thoroughly enjoyed (and features some stunning VFX work from my former employers MPC), so looking forward to that.

That’s all for now – but stay tuned for more movie madness.

I’ve always appreciated cinema, but not quite to the extent before I was a college and university student. Then I really became a film nerd. I’d stay up late watching films (many foreign) on Channel 4 or through Alex Cox’s Moviedrome (here’s a list of films that were shown) on the BBC, my mind buzzing with incredible stories from around the world.

But there were a few films that affected me very deeply and have become my all time favourites. One such film is Giuseppe Tornatore‘s Cinema Paradiso. Right from the get-go, Ennio Morricone‘s score provides an emotional rollercoaster of joy, happiness, excitement, heartbreak, and sadness throughout the whole film. I believe it to be his best ever score, for any film, and he’s scored many, many, many films throughout his career.

Cinema Paradiso is about innocence. It is about the very magic of storytelling and cinema itself. It is about love. It is about loss. It is about regret. But at the very heart of the story is perhaps the most important of all: it is about friendship.

The entire film is pure unadulterated joy, looking at the lives of a young boy, his widowed mother and a local cinema projectionist. When the boy shows an interest in learning how to use the projector, his fate is forever changed – whether for the better or for the worse.

Even now the ending has me in floods of tears – both crying and laughing in equal measure. It is a film that should provoke all the emotions. For me it does; it pushes all the right buttons and has fast become my favourite movie of all time.

And the thing is, this film makes me rather rather sad for the current state of the cinema industry. Going to the pictures used to be such a great joy. With family. With friends. With dates. Or with the wife. It was a proper afternoon/evening out. You could be transported to a different universe for a few hours and come out unscathed, or maybe even just a little bit affected by the experience. Now, we have an industry on terminal decline and, along with regular theatres, need help just to survive.

I already own Cinema Paradiso on regular Blu-Ray and iTunes already – including the much longer director’s cut which deals with the eventual outcome of the relationship between the boy (later, the man) and the girl that he fell in love with back in their village. The pacing of film is altered as a result, but it’s definitely worth a watch. For me, both the theatrical versions and director’s cut are both valid.

So I’m pleased to hear that Arrow Films (through Arrow Academy) are bringing out a 4K/UHD Blu-Ray version. Here’s the trailer. I’m definitely grabbing a copy when it’s released on the 28th September 2020. It can be pre-ordered through Arrow Film’s online store.

Well, I was wrong. And it kind of makes me happy that I was wrong. Apple will be going through another major architecture change for the Mac range of computers – even in the face of the pandemic and economic downturn. But after watching the the World Wide Developer Conference 2020 (WWDC 2020), I am somewhat more optimistic than I was.

I like how they demonstrated all the apps, including Microsoft Word and Excel, alongside Adobe Photoshop, all running natively on Apple’s A12Z Bionic processor running macOS Big Sur (yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full, sir), and the system didn’t flinch once. This is the same processor used in the iPad Pro 2020. And they demonstrated a triple-A game running with Intel x86 code translation, performing admirably well. What’s interesting is that these new Macs will be able to run iPhone and iPadOS apps natively. It’s genuinely nice to see a build once, run everywhere platform.

I’ve been down the Mac transition route before – my trusty work G4 to an Intel Core 2 Duo. It was pretty painless, though some apps were left behind because the developer didn’t want to update or couldn’t update for whatever reasons. But ultimately we came through with relatively few scratches and we’ve had a good long run with Intel and the x86 architecture.

The biggest question mark in the whole thing is how well Windows is likely to run through their virtualisation system. We saw Parallels, a VM system for the Mac run Debian 10 just fine, but Windows was not mentioned at all. It may be the biggest casualty in this transition, which could piss off a number of developers that work across Mac, iOS, Windows and Linux. Maybe more details will be forthcoming about how Windows and VM will work with the A-series processors. If at all.

It’s interesting to note that after 20 years, macOS gets a major revision change and becomes 11. Yes, they finally cranked it up to 11.

Mac OS XI?
Yes, sir, no sir, three bags full, sir – macOS Big Sur

I love what Apple are doing with iOS and iPadOS in terms of improving usability – especially with widgets embedded directly within the home screens. macOS Big Sur gets a major cosmetic change as well as architectural change, of course.

I won’t be able to afford a new Mac for a good 3-4 years, and unless this change introduces some major price discounts, the spec I’m using is not something I’m likely to be able to personally afford again for a long time. The resale value of my MacBook Pro is going to be affected, obviously, given the Intel Mac is given a commuted death sentence.

But the people that have spent over £10-50k on Mac Pros which only very recently were updated as late as 2019 were always going to be the people who were really going to be miffed. Thankfully Apple expects the transition to take two years (for the whole range of Mac systems, I presume), but will be supporting macOS on Intel Macs for a good more number of years (probably at least 5, I’d have thought).

It’s certainly a start of an interesting new era of Macs, and indeed, the whole Apple ecosystem. But what will the likes of the EU (which is currently going after Apple for their App Store) make of an entire closed loop system – and what about the right to repair? Interesting times indeed.

There’s a LOT of hype going around that Apple intends to announce the switch from Intel processors to their ARM-based A-series processors for the Mac line of laptop and desktop computers. There are plenty of reasons for doing so – including complete control of the silicon and working to Apple’s own time frame rather than that of a third supplier (e.g. Intel).

BUT..

.. we’re still in the middle of a worldwide pandemic which isn’t slowing down significantly yet (indeed, it’s getting worse – and I trust the WHO a lot more than the blathering jibber jabber from the UK government and the constant lies and deceit from Trump). People are still getting sick. The economy is doing badly, and it’s going to take years to recover. People are either furloughed or have been made redundant. If we get a second wave and have to go into a series of lockdowns again – this is only going to cause more frustration and loss of income.

Is now REALLY the time to introduce a whole new architecture on the desktop? Sure, for most developers that have moved to Swift, this shouldn’t cause too many problems. But if A-series Macs are announced on Monday, we still don’t know how much the development kits are going to cost, what kind of support developers are going to get for them over the coming months (consumer support from Apple isn’t great right now – taking far longer than usual), when the new A-series Macs might be introduced and what models will get the A-series CPU treatment first, etc.

I think it’s going to be tough enough as it is just to get the new Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 consoles out the door later this year. Everything is so uncertain.

Even the iPhone 12 is said to be launching at least one month later than usual. For me, I don’t see much reason to upgrade – at least not for the cameras at least – since I’m stuck at home at the moment and there’s really not much reason to take photos of anything. 5G? That ain’t going to be happening around where I live for some time. Don’t use it much while I’m at home unless the main broadband starts playing up, or I need another connection to test web sites I’m working on. But 5G is not something I particularly need or want right now. What does interest me more this year is the Apple Watch, which has been an incredible device ever since it launched and improved leaps and bounds with every generation.

If A-series Macs are getting the go ahead, what happens with all the recently updated Macs such as the 16″ MacBook Pro which has a new $800 GPU option which essentially gives it close to 2x the graphics performance of the highest end model from the end of 2019. If a whole new iMac design is announced on Monday, that’s surely going to have Intel CPUs? Apple is still tweaking the Intel platform. Thus how long is Apple actually going to support the Intel platform for – and especially for those that can afford to fork out for the super expensive Mac Pro and iMac Pro models if they’re going to be heading over to the ARM architecture? How long is it going to take for Apple to get the A-series processors up to those levels of performance?

In these uncertain times, it’d be nice to keep things somewhat certain until the world has managed to get this bloody virus under some form of control. An entire architectural change is not what’s not needed immediately – it could stand to wait a year or two first.

When I first got married back in 2001 (A Space Odyssey – cue the monolith and a hairy Martyn throwing a bone into the air), we spent the majority of our honeymoon backpacking around New Zealand which, at the time, was in the midst of making the first of the Lord of the Rings movies – the Fellowship of the Ring.

Though they didn’t make too big a fuss of the filming or even the mention of Lord of the Rings in the country, the merchandising was slowly beginning to creep in. I bought my copy of the official movie tie-in branded Lord of the Rings book from a NZ bookstore hoping to have something to read on the plane home.

I did start the book while flying home, but never finished it. It’d take me a good few more years until I had the patience to sit down and read it in its entirety (and even then, on a Kindle) and likewise for The Hobbit. But the movies were the first time I was exposed to J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterworks and it was an absolute blast.

I already own the extended editions of all six movies on iTunes, and I got it at a very good price when there was a sale on. But they don’t include all the extras. Plus, as you’ll have no doubt read my other posts – Apple and their content providers can remove purchased content from your library at any time, and for any reason. So I needed a back up anyway.

So I splashed out the £55 at Amazon and I’ve got say I’m very impressed with the packaging. A good while back I purchased the Breaking Bad Complete Series box set which contained a fair number of Blu-Ray discs which were all stored in scratchy cardboard sleeves (which, unsurprisingly, resulted in scratched discs on delivery and the whole thing had to be sent back – I now have the iTunes version which comes with all the extras, including audio commentaries – a first for an iTunes TV show package). Before sending the discs back to the retailer, I asked Sony, who distribute Breaking Bad on physical media, if they’d replace them. Nope. So why design such a poor storage system when you KNOW they’re going to get scratched? Sony are idiots, and doubly so when you consider they invented Blu-Ray discs in the first place.

Warner Bros., on the other hand, have done a fantastic job with storage – each movie comes in its own Amray case where the discs sit on a spindle and the disc’s surface is not exposed to a scratchy surface such as plastic or cardboard. This system ensures that your Blu-Rays will last a good while.

Speaking of Blu-Ray storage. Disney can join Sony in the doghouse because I’ve seen reviews of the £200 UltraHD/4K release of the Star Wars Skywalker saga where they store all the discs in cardboard or thick paper sleeves within a glossy and gorgeously designed book. Yes, it’s an impressive book, but it’s absolute shit for storing physical Blu-Ray media. And that price. I’m giving that one a massive pass. Plus I get the 4K/UltraHD versions of Star Wars on Disney+ if so desired. I already own a decent Blu-Ray set of the movies anyway – all stored in decent cases.

FInally, I am more hopeful for physical media these days. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, when released, both will come with UltraHD Blu-Ray drives which means that people are more likely to have these in their homes than dedicated UltraHD players from Sony, etc. And this, in turn, should boost physical disc sales. (Though I always take that with a pinch of salt – streaming services are still the most popular way of consuming movie content – but assuming movie studios add value to the physical media in the way of extra content, maybe it’ll work out in the end.)

Blonde woman misplaces her pet gorilla: “Oh, Gaylord? Where are you Gaylord?”

I’ve just bought King Kong Ultimate Edition because I used to own a version of King Kong that didn’t come with all the fancy trimmings. And there’s a reason for doing so:

Back in 2005, I had the audacious opportunity to travel to New York to attend Universal Picture’s updated version of King Kong. Written by the team that brought you the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and directed by Peter Jackson, this would turn out to be an eventual trip.

Kong talk

I was a member of a community called Kong Is King (kongisking.net) where we discussed all things Kong, but particularly Peter’s vision of it. Fresh off the Lord of the Rings, many of us were fans of both LoTR and Kong. It was a great place to hang out, and I met some truly interesting people.

Time to break out the tuxedo…

A fellow Kong Is King community member who knew somebody at Universal managed to persuade them to get tickets to the premiere in New York. It also seemed a good opportunity for the community to meet up in real-life, so we made it a proper event.

Central Park and The American Museum of Natural History

Our first adventure as a group was to the American Museum of Natural History – the US equivalent to London’s Natural History Museum. I made my way through a very snowy Central Park and met up with my fellow Kong fans and went for an explore around the museum’s many interesting and often awesome exhibits. After a pleasant wonder, we eventually all went our own way until the next event. I had a stroll. To this day I still cannot get how stunning New York is.

Eat and greet at over a thousand feet?

We all arranged to go up to the top of the Empire State Building. This was my second visit (the first was back in 2000 when I travelled across the US from coast to coast by coach) and it was much more fun because there was somebody up on the viewing platform dressed as Kong. Of course we had a group photo, which I’ve sadly lost over the past 15 years. It may still be out there, but the photo library at KongIsKing.net seems to be a little fragile.

The night was spent at a bar drinking and talking shop and awaiting for other members of the community to turn up who couldn’t make the earlier trip up the ESB.

The following day saw us make our way to Stout NYC, a bar at 133 West 33rd Street for a sit down menu, plenty of booze, and to generally socialise. The strangest moment was when I was asked to call Oscar-winning creature effects/model effects/costume designer/supervisor Richard Taylor from the Weta Workshop to invite him to the meeting. I couldn’t get through, so that never happened. But what did happen is the team that was responsible for the production diaries (included with the King Kong Ultimate Edition) turned up and shot a short piece.

A menu fit for a King.. Kong.

We headed out afterwards for a bit of stroll, and noticed the preparations underway for the premiere.

I saw Kong completely naked!

As preparations for the premiere got into full swing, a group of us discovered Bob Burns out and about with the original 1933 armature of King Kong as used by Willis H. O’Brien in the film. He had no fur and was completely nude. Kong, not Bob Burns. To look at this piece of cinematic history was a true privilege.

Here’s what I saw – being handled by Andy Serkis and Rick Baker:

Embed from Getty Images

Wearing my fancy Debenhams rental Tuxedo and wondering about a cold New York, I spent some time hiding behind a massive stage where the stars of the film and other celebrities all gathered behind a massive sculpture of Kong and had their photos taken. It was all rather surreal.

Embed from Getty Images

It’s only George bloody Lucas?!

You must understand that when we were invited to this event, we’d thought we’d just get tickets to a spare screen somewhere within the many cinemas in NYC.

Oh no. No, no, Universal Pictures had pulled out all the stops for us. We sat in the primary cinema where the cast, senior crew and celebrities were all going to watch the movie. A big group of us sat in the first two/three rows of the cinema. Behind us, the seats went up a bit further and lo and behold there was George Lucas with his son. It’s not often I do double takes, but I probably did quadruple takes. And though we were told not to approach the VIPs, a few people did and he was extraordinarily nice and obliging. Also spotted: Rick Baker, the special make-up effects maestro whose work on An American Werewolf in London won him an Oscar. Stephen King. I can’t actually verify he was there, but I’m pretty damn certain it was him.

Before the film, Stacey Snider who was the chairman of Universal Pictures at the time came out in front of all of us – only a few yards from where we were sitting and introduced the film’s stars and director. All of this was being filmed and beamed into other cinemas participating in the premiere. Some of this footage should be on the King Kong Ultimate Edition Blu-Ray. But it was remarkable of seeing Peter Jackson, Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Andy Serkis, etc. all up close. And another star from the film, Jamie Bell, was sitting in the row behind all of us – with what appeared to be a bit of an entourage full of women with him.

All of this was quite surreal, but I am glad I came dressed up for the occasion. I was staying at the YMCA Vanderbilt which is cheap for New York, and pretty decently located. The pipes in the room were rather nosiy, but for the price I wasn’t going to argue. I had my own private room, though the showering and toilet facilities were shared.

I got a King Kong goody bag after leaving:

It includes the PC game, a comic book, a book and a Universal bag. But most importantly it was a tremendous experience and I have many people to thank for it – least of all my ex-wife who bought the flight for me for Christmas.

And the strangest thing about all of this was that the associate producer of King Kong would come to work with us at MPC for a short while. I had just come off this little beauty which deeply divided the critics, but I appreciate and love because it felt closer in tone to the original Roald Dahl book:

I went into the production office one day and the AP of King Kong (Annette Wullems) saw my Kong Is King T-Shirt and remarked that we both at the same premiere. The film industry is huge, and yet is it really?

Bargain price!

King Kong Ultimate Edition is only £7.99 on Blu-Ray and contains 2 discs. The entire Lord of the Rings and Hobbit extended trilogies containing all the audio commentaries and more documentaries than you’d ever want to see in your life comes on 30 discs and a whopping £55 – though I am very tempted to buy it because it’d take years just to go through everything. We joked on KongIsKing.net that Peter Jackson intended releasing a 10,000 disc edition of King Kong at some point.

So get everything on 2 discs is quite an achievement.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been keeping tabs on the SpaceX/NASA launch of the Dragon module to the International Space Station. This is the first time in nine years that a manned space mission has launched from the United States using US hardware, and in conjunction with a private company.

And it was spectacular. The first thing that struck me was how minimalistic the space suits were. They’re almost fashioned in a Thunderbirds-style uniform (albeit the astronauts still need to wear a helmet). As for the Dragon module itself, it too is very minimalistic. All touch-screen displays with very few physical buttons. It’s as if 2020 finally caught up technology wise (though marred with the the awfulness going on in the world right now, it has to be said that those two astronauts are two very lucky buggers escaping Earth for a short while).

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

While I was waiting for the module (now nicknamed Endeavour) to rendevouz with the International Space Station (ISS), I decided to take the opportunity to watch Netflix’s Space Force, created by Steve Carrell and The (US) Office’s Greg Daniels (who also manages Amazon Prime’s excellent TV series, Upload – think of that one as a funnier, yet bleak version of Black Mirror’s San Junipero.)

While Space Force lampoons a certain president’s mad ambitions to conquer space for the US, the message (and mission) is by and large a good one – to work with others to put humanity out there in space. By co-operating with each other rather than going against each other – and at the same time, treat the planet with respect. However, it doesn’t exactly start out that way.

We have Steve Carell’s Mark Naird, a four star general who is promoted to lead the Space Force division. His experience in the army leads him to make rash decisions and ignore the advice of the science team. In the first episode, a $6 billion project is in jeopardy because the science guys are not confident of a successful launch and the chief scientist (played by John Malkovich) goes out of his way to persuade Naird to abort due to weather conditions. After struggling with incompetent and annoying members of staff, advisory boards, etc. (which is why the show partly reminds me of Veep) he eventually decides to launch. He comes to realise that this is a job where you need to balance risk. The launch is a success, but is ultimately sabotaged by.. well, let’s say it gets messy.

The second episode is pure delight, and features some of the best VFX in a TV series second only to The Mandalorian. Weta FX provides a fully mocapped space chimp which was abandoned (along with a dog) as part of an earlier mission. The chimp is still alive, but hungry, and General Naird – through a sign language interpreter – has to get the chimp to try and re-attach the solar panels of the module that was launched in the last episode that were cut off by a rival nation. And the chimp has to do all this with only a promise of a non-existent banana, or a human baby (or chimp). After 3 hours of getting the chimp to pick the right tool, he goes out into space – and well, some of the finest comedy involving a drill and weightlessness ensues.

Space Force is incredibly funny. It is poignant. It highlights bureaucracy (both good and bad) of a space programme, and the potential dangers of weaponizing space. Let’s hope that doesn’t become a real thing. The SpaceX/NASA collaboration is wonderful thing to behold, for the right reasons. But let’s not turn it into something destructive.

I have recently bought the single biggest mechanical hard drive I have ever owned, or want to own. The reason for this is simple. Apple’s Media Services is a state of flux, dithering between downloads and streaming. It sells movies that you can stream from any of your Apple devices. Anywhere. Anytime. Going where there is no internet? Download it!

Surely Apple doesn’t expect you to download ALL your movies and TV shows – it takes up so much space?! With internal drives for MacBook Pros costing up to £2k for 8Tb, nobody is going to have all that money to keep their digital movie and TV collection on their Mac, safe and sound?

Apple recommends that you download your purchases because they told me (but they never make it clear in any of their advertising, nor through the user interfaces of their online stores) that titles can be pulled from the local iTunes store for a variety of reasons and unless you’ve downloaded your purchase, you’ll lose it forever. This, despite people buying digital content and streaming content directly from Apple’s servers – as this is the easiest way, and indeed, the way it was designed to be so. Rarely does a computer enter into the whole purchase thing. Got an Apple TV device? Just buy straight from your armchair. Buy from your iPhone or iPad. Easy.

Apple iTunes Store movie purchases are only downloadable up to HD quality only. Any advertised features such as 4K and iTunes Extras cannot be downloaded – they’re streamable only.

Still, I have nearly 500 movies in my collection which would be a considerable pain in the arse to store as physical media in the small house I live in. So I really ought to back up everything I got. Having something is better than nothing.

I looked at a number of options:

  • NAS device with at least 8Tb capacity, in RAID 1 configuration to ensure that both drives are mirrored simulataneously in case one drive fails.
  • Multiple WD Passport bus-powered 5Tb drives, splitting movies and TV shows across each device, and backing each one up to Amazon’s S3 Deep Glacier which charges just $1/Tb per month.
  • Single big drive, along with multiple WD Passport bus-powered drives to back up movies and TV shows separately as a backup.

The problem with the NAS device is that the enclosure alone is pricey. And that’s without any disks. Add the disks and it becomes very expensive. And the disks themselves are not going to be fast. So copying nearly 4Tb of data off the WD Passport 4Tb bus-powered, 5,400RPM drive I was using to back up everything was not going to be fast.

I looked at the Western Digital MyBook Duo range of drives, eyeing up a massive 24Tb beast. The advantage here is that the drives are WD Reds which are best designed for long term use, plus with the MyBook Duo enclosure, you can swap the drives out easily – and even upgrade. Downside was that the enclosure is plastic, plus there were many reports of it overheating as a result of that (though these reports go back to 2017/2018), and it was noisy. Plus they wanted £530 for it. And the disk performance wasn’t exactly great, either.

I started looking at Western Digital’s new WD_BLACK range. These are designed primarily for gamers, incorporating fast storage and plenty of capacity. What really caught my eye with the WD_Black D10 Game Drive for the Xbox One: 7,200RPM 3.5″ drive rated up to 250MB/S and a USB 3.2 gen 1 interface. The drive can be positioned horizontally (it has rubber feet) or vertically (comes with a stand).

WD_BLACK D10 Game Drive for Xbox One. Xbox One is purely optional.

Interestingly, the type of drives installed in these units appear to be datacentre-grade drives that are typically found in servers (Ultrastar DC 500 series drives, apparently). This means that they will keep up with demanding performance from reading/writing, and for a long time. And it was a bargain at £262. The only downside is that the drive comes with a 3-year limited warranty rather than the Ultrastar’s typical 5-year warranty.

So I bought one. Plus it came with 3 months Xbox One Game Pass Ultimate, so that’s extended my subscription to February 2021 (in case anybody’s wondering: the Xbox One Game pass is very much worthwhile if you’re an Xbox owner).

And I absolutely love the drive. The downside was that the WD Passport drive was so slow in transferring data, it was quicker to download the whole 4Tb from Apple’s servers. That took 2 days. But the drive performance is indeed excellent, reaching up to around 215MB/S write and 235MB/S read during my own tests.

3.9Tb of iTunes Store movie and TV show purchases

Apple’s Apple TV app on macOS Catalina is a massive pain in the arse, however. It’s so fragile about where data is stored. Get something every so slightly wrong and you’d need to download the movie/TV show again even if it exists on the filesystem. As I don’t have the drive going all the time, I created a new library by pressing the Option key down when opening the Apple TV app. I created a new library on the external drive and downloaded everything from there. The Mac and the drive were on for two solid days, and the D10 drive never once felt hot. Warm, yes, but never hot – and this is in the horizontal position.

What I need to remember is if I want to use the Apple TV app when the external drive is off, I need to press Option whilst opening the app to select the local internal SSD library. However, Apple TV seems very insistent on holding on to an internal database file which results in this:

This crops up (even in macOS Catalina 10.15.5) when Apple TV app isn’t running

and the only way to get around is to determine the process ID of whatever is holding onto the TV library database and kill it off:

I love UNIX.

which then allows me to open the other library. I’m not sure what effect killing off the process like that has on the internal Apple TV library, but so far I’ve found no ill effects. But it does suggest that maybe Apple needs to spend a bit more time working on closing files when the application closes..

So the drive is proving itself worthy. But isn’t it a single point of failure? Yes. But I intend to buy another one and clone this drive to it, keeping the second drive as a backup. And maybe later down the road, getting a MyBook Duo or NAS as an additional backup. Speed won’t matter too much, and it’ll just sit in the corner being idle for large amounts of time.

Speaking of backups, Apple’s Time Machine has become a massive pain in the arse, and I’ve stopped using it. In its place I’m using Acronis’ True Image 2020 which is so much faster, provides versioning and tidying up of versions older than X days/months old. It backs up to the 12Tb drive, naturally, and gives me plenty of space for a good while alongside the media library.

Acronis True Image 2020 for Mac – a better Time Machine replacement