Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dr. Cinephile or: How I Learned to Stop Reading 'Movie Gossip' and Love the Internet: The Best Apps

If you're an active reader of 3Defence, the chances are you're a movie nerd; a cinephile; a film buff; a student of cinema; or generally just the type of person who appreciates long-form articles on interesting topics. I know this, because that's who I am. I can't think of anything better than a Saturday morning coffee and a chance to learn about how movies are made, or what the critical community thinks of the resulting product. That's why 3Defence exists; to help provide a place for balanced criticism and reasoned study of stereo film-making in the modern age. However 3Defence is also just a place for movie geeks to hang out. In that spirit, today we kick off a series that offers up other ways to get your cinematic fix from the web. Article #1 is going to focus on two of 'The Best Apps' for movie geeks, and offer up a couple of other ways to make sure you keep up to date with your favourite film sites while on the go.

Ain't It Cool News Picks & Peeks (iOS & Android, free)

Ain't It Cool News' early days were filled with exclusive 'scoops' and early reviews of unproduced scripts, and their stories permanently changed the way Hollywood makes movies. While it used to be possible to get direct access to crews and cast of big budget films, most have become tight-lipped and NDA'd to the point where even DVD / Blu-ray Special Features of released movies rarely feature honest observations. Perhaps as a result, Ain't It Cool Newsbest work these days is focused on the past: retrospectives on genre pictures, obscure cult classics and recently released blockbusters. 

Their Picks & Peeks column is a semi-monthly one (irregularly updated) that usually covers around 4 weeks' worth of DVD / Blu releases, and their corresponding app pushes you notifications to help you keep up. The stand-out feature isn't the app itself, but the content: every column will offer you something you need to buy, and something you're offended by, and something else that challenges your assumptions about a movie so you need to re-watch it to make up your own mind. And surely that's all we can ask for as movie geeks, right? The app also allows you to trawl through the archives of the column, which is super useful if you're ever in need of some movie-watching inspiration while in the 'Weekly' section of your local DVD store. You can download the app via the Google Play of iOS App stores here:

Cinefex (iPad, free but in-app purchases unlock content)

Cinefex is a special-effects magazine that began in the 'George Lucas / Steven Spielberg' era, when effects work stopped being an afterthought and became a primary driver for Hollywood's blockbusters. Cinefex has an astounding back catalogue of "behind the scenes" articles, covering 30 years of movie-making artistry; from the advancements in matte painting, rotoscoping and model work done in the 80s, through to the birth of mainstream CGI usage in the 90s, to the reaction to 'overdone' CGI in the '00s, and now the exclusively digital cinema of modern films. The magazine's released quarterly, and tends to focus on the films that have had the most unique effects-work attempted in the last few months. Regular subscribers usually get to read exclusive content that you'd not find in studio-mandated press materials until the home video release of the film many months later. Put simply, if you ever buy DVDs purely to watch the "making of" documentaries in the special features... this is the magazine for you.

The recently released iPad edition is a big leap forward for the magazine. It offers three great 'value adds' you'd not normally get from the print edition. For one thing, an annual subscription is much cheaper than the print version. The other great thing about a subscription to their newer content, is that they are now making the magazine tailor-made for the iPad experience: in the articles you get to see effects reels, user-controlled toggles between on-set footage/wire-frames/pre-visualised concept art/and the final product itself, and you generally get to interact with the magazine in a designed way that dramatically enhances your understanding of "how the hell did they do that?" But the other great perk? The back-catalogue.

For a long time, much of the Cinefex back-catalogue was out of print. Thanks to their iPad app, all of their content is back, ready to read for the small price of $4.99 USD an issue. To be fair, buying the lot will set you back a substantial sum, but if you choose wisely you could find yourself with hiterto unseen behind the scenes shots of your favourite films from the 80s, 90s, 2000s and today. For us as fans of 3D cinema at 3Defence, this history is important, because modern-day 3D tends to only be included in the most expensive productions, which also tends to be effects-heavy films. The overlap in craft and crews are important, and it's great to have a publication like Cinefex open its doors for movie geeks around the world. The app is responsive, and has a nice 'back catalogue' scrolling UI that feels fun to interact with. Worth a try!

Feedly (Multi-platform, free) and Unread (iOS, $2.99 USD)

I know what you're thinking; how the hell is a news aggregator and an RSS reader related to movie-focused apps? Well... you're a busy person, right? There's a bunch of movie-focused sites you like to read, but you can't be bothered going to each and every bookmark to keep up with them? Enter Feedly. Sign up with your Google account (the same one you use for Gmail or Google+), tap "Add Content", search for a site you like (hint - "3Defence" is a good term!) and subscribe to the site so that Feedly can keep you up to date with any new posts.

Now that you've amassed an array of sites you care about, you might be wondering how you're going to keep track of all their updates while you're out and about. Enter Unread. Unread brings the act of 'reading' your RSS feeds to the fore. It has a gesture-focused interface that feels incredibly well designed. The app empowers you to quickly scan over what's new, before jumping headfirst into the articles that interest you most, and then allows you to quickly mark the rest as 'read' to hide them from your site. 

You can break your feed up into categories and individual subscriptions, or you can just read the whole lot from 'most recent' to 'oldest'. And when you're done, the app makes it abundantly clear that you're done! You'll never need to worry about missing an update from your favourite site again. The other perk of the app is its deep integration with many other services; you can easily share quotes, URLs, or the article itself to your iPhone's Reading List, Instapaper, Readability, Pinboard etc. Combining apps like these will unlock a world of cinema on the internet you never knew existed, we promise!

Instapaper (iOS, Android, Kindle, generally around $4 USD)

Speaking of 'sharing', Instapaper will change your life if you travel a lot. One of the best ways to read web content while 'offline', Instapaper can help you read long articles like this one on the go, regardless of whether of not you can get a 3G connection. A godsend on planes or underground trains, Instapaper is easily integrated in with Chrome, Twitter apps like Tweetbot and now Facebook's Paper, so you can always send an interesting article to your Instapaper account for reading later. You can read on Instapaper on your desktop, or on native apps for iOS and Android, so you'll be able to read whatever you want regardless of which device you've got in your hands. The app has a great feature where it syncs your reading positions constantly, so (provided you were online at some point) you can pick up on your tablet where you left off on your phone, and then do the same when you fire up the ol' laptop too. It's a game-changer, always has been, and it's one of those 'essentials' that make owning a smart mobile device in the modern age a genuine pleasure.

That wraps up our round-up of great apps for movie geeks. Tune in soon for our next installment, which will focus on Podcasts!

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