Category Archives: Film

Rango and Bragg

Short post today, though I may have more later.

Searching around to watch something with the family on Wednesday, we happened on Rango, which we missed when it came out in theaters.  It was funny and seemed a Chinatown with cartoon animals and a happy ending.  Johnny Depp was the voice of Rango, so its humor was a little off center, which I rather liked.

On Thursday, the kids went to see the local fireworks show while my wife and I went to a Billy Bragg concert.  I was surprised that I saw fourteen people I knew there, especially since many were folks I would not have expected to be there.  The first half of the concert was his Woody Guthrie/Mermaid Avenue songs, while the second half was made up of his other work.  The crowd was a mix of ages, though generally white, and a higher percentage of folks over 40.

Three quotes of his I rather liked:

  • socialism is organized compassion
  • the cynicism that is our enemy is our own cynicism
  • our enemy is not capitalism, or conservatism, it is our own cynicism

The last quote not withstanding, he is still very much the socialist and a fine musician and song writer at that.

Prometheus & Brave

The two movies I have most eagerly anticipated are Prometheus and Brave.  Thankfully I was able to see both of them over the last week.  I won't say anything about their plots since I don't want to spoil them for you, but will only talk about my own perceptions of them.

Prometheus is a loose prequel to Alien, that while not connecting the dots completely and so leaving room for a sequel, generally succeeds in that effort.  I had glanced at multiple reviews that panned it, but I went into it firmly intent to willfully suspend my disbelief.  While I am sure that there is a back story that explains some of the weirdness in the decisions the characters made, all in all I found the story worked and certainly kept up its rapid pace.  While I feel the first scene should have been deleted to maintain the mystery of the aliens, I was not taken aback that the characters could be quite as stupid or a noble as they were.  Doubtless, the story would have been better if they had spent an additional half an hour to flesh out the characters, but all in all Prometheus succeeded as an action/horror film.

Brave didn't telegraph its plot nearly as much Prometheus, and managed to surprise me about 1/3 of the way through the story, though looking back on it it probably shouldn't have.  Pixar, as usual, developed its characters and showed us why we should care about them.  That the two major characters are female is a welcome change from their past movies, and while there are meta similarities to Finding Nemo, the story is original.  While I was left thinking it was a bit too short and knew it would have a happy ending, it still managed to choke me up, though not nearly as well as the final scenes in Monsters Inc.

The one failing that both Prometheus and Brave have, however, is that both studios released far too many mini-trailers or behind the scenes clips.  I feel that they distracted from the mystery in both films.  

That all said, I certainly feel that both films are well worth seeing in a theater, preferably with as large a screen as possible, and both will improve with future viewings.

Slides of my copyright talk available. Comments welcome.

I had a great time presenting my talk at the Play-jurisms conference this last Saturday. I stayed up late until 3:30 am to finish the slides for the talk.  Considering that I was typing away in bed while my wife slept, she was very understanding.  The talk didn't suffer for the fact I was up so late writing it, but no doubt I can improve it.  I did end up changing the title from what I had originally envisioned, but I felt the new title better matched the spirit of the conference.

You can view the slides as a pdf if you want.  Comments are most welcome.

Web users will have to pay for what they watch and use & Where do people find the time?

Clay Shirky wrote an interesting blog post about "The Collapse of Complex Business Models" (thanks to Boing Boing and TechDirt, among others).  Here is an excerpt:

About 15 years ago, the supply part of media’s supply-and-demand
curve went parabolic, with a predictably inverse effect on price. Since
then, a battalion of media elites have lined up to declare that exactly
the opposite thing will start happening any day now.

To pick a couple of examples more or less at random, last year Barry
Diller of IAC said, of content available on the web, “It is not free,
and is not going to be,” Steve Brill of Journalism Online said that
users “just need to get back into the habit of doing so [paying for
content] online”, and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp said “Web users will
have to pay for what they watch and use.”

Diller, Brill, and Murdoch seem be stating a simple fact—we will have
to pay them—but this fact is not in fact a fact. Instead, it is a
choice, one its proponents often decline to spell out in full, because,
spelled out in full, it would read something like this:

“Web users will have to pay for what they watch and use, or else we
will have to stop making content in the costly and complex way we have
grown accustomed to making it. And we don’t know how to do that.”

With that article in mind, it seems time to revisit another one of his articles, "Gin, Television, and
Social Surplus
" that I mentioned to my friend Amy last month and haven't gotten around to sending her:

I started
telling her about the Wikipedia
article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the
planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of
this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people
are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an
ruckus–"How should we characterize this change in Pluto's status?" And
a little bit
at a time they move the article–fighting offstage all the
while–from, "Pluto is the ninth
planet," to "Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped
orbit at the edge of the solar system."

I tell her all this stuff, and I think, "Okay, we're going to
have a conversation about authority or social construction or
whatever." That wasn't her question. She heard this story and
she shook her head and said, "Where do people find the time?"
That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, "No
one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the
time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you've been
masking for 50 years."

how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit,
all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit,
every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia
exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100
million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin
Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but
it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of

Here is a talk he gave on his book "Here Comes Everybody" which elaborates further on the post's topic.

Looks like I need to pick up a copy of his book.

Resistance to Chinese Censorship Goes Virtual

Boing Boing reported that an hour long video satire of Chinese government censorship, called War of Internet Addiction, has had 10 million views by Chinese netizens.  It was filmed entirely in World of Warcraft.

You can find commentary at DigiCha and YouKu Buzz

The original video is at the YouKu Buzz link, but the speed is very slow.  You can find an English subtitled version at YouTube in seven installments.

Avatar, District 9 & White Liberation Fantasies

[NOTE: I haven't seen Avatar, though being a fan of Aliens and some of James Cameron's other work (the less about True Lies the better), I am inclined to do so.  Still, spoiler warning if you haven't seen either Avatar or District 9.]

Annalee Newitz of Io9 hits the analysis on the head when she critiques Avatar as just the latest scifi rehash of an old white guilt fantasy.  From the previews I have seen, her take looks spot on.

She goes on to talk about white privilege and makes a good connection with the situation of Wikus in District 9:

Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be
white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but
never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it's like to
be a Na'vi because he always has the option to switch back into human
mode. Interestingly, Wikus in District 9 learns a very
different lesson. He's becoming alien and he can't go back. He has no
other choice but to live in the slums and eat catfood. And guess what?
He really hates it. He helps his alien buddy to escape Earth solely
because he's hoping the guy will come back in a few years with a "cure"
for his alienness. When whites fantasize about becoming other races,
it's only fun if they can blithely ignore the fundamental experience of
being an oppressed racial group. Which is that you are oppressed, and
nobody will let you be a leader of anything.

She concludes with:

Whites need to stop remaking the white guilt story, which is a sneaky
way of turning every story about people of color into a story about
being white. Speaking as a white person, I don't need to hear more
about my own racial experience. I'd like to watch some movies about
people of color (ahem, aliens), from the perspective of that group,
without injecting a random white (erm, human) character to explain
everything to me. Science fiction is exciting because it promises to
show the world and the universe from perspectives radically unlike what
we've seen before. But until white people stop making movies like Avatar, I fear that I'm doomed to see the same old story again and again.

Praise Be!

Harry Potter: Less Draco, More Snogging (& Fighting)

Uncharacteristically for us, we have seen about four first-run movies in June and July. 

The latest was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  I can certainly say that I liked it better than the previous installment of the series.  I finished the 5th book just prior to watching that movie and as a result felt that the movie was a pale imitation of the book.  This go round, with the book firmly in my distant memory, I found that I was able to keep the comparisons to minimum and appreciate it more.  That said the general consensus of my wife, son and I was: 

Less Draco, More Snogging (& Fighting)

I feel for Draco with his dilemma about graduating from a bully and braggart to a cold blooded murderer of one of the most loved characters, but did we need to see his anguish so many times?  Plus, was it really necessary to see Draco with the cabinet: the meeting, an apple, a bird, etc.  Yes, yes we get the point, can we move on now?  If we see a gun, or in this case a cabinet, in act 1, it will be used in act 3, we get it!  Did the director need to waste three minutes of time on the cabinet, when the story completely fails to explain why Ron was so worried about a Quidditch match or why Harry received no punishment for the spell he inflicted on Draco or even get questioned on where he got the spell?  Context, continuity, any of these ringing a bell?

That all said, my wife wanted more snogging, and my son wanted more of a final battle.  I would settle for a plot without loose ends, middles and beginnings and wasted opportunities.  I really hope the final movie(s) prove to be better.

The other three movies are: Ice Age 3, the latest Star Trek movie and Up.  Ice Age 3 was no where near as good as the previous two movies and gave Ellie, the lone female character, very little dialogue.  Star Trek flubbed it on the science, but was pretty exciting and had good characters.  Of the three, Up was clearly the best, with terrific character setup and development, lots of humor and a good story.  That said, Up continued Pixar's trend of few non-white characters.  Come on Pixar, its the 21st century, can't you add more diversity to your characters.

The latest Star Trek flick prompted me to show my wife and son ST: Wrath of Khan and St: The Voyage Home recently.  Khan held up, but The Voyage Home, while talking about saving whales, a subject near and dear to my heart, didn't so well. 

Speaking of whales, the NY Times Magazine has a fantastic article on them.  I highly recommend it.