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Saturday 19 October 2002, 23:05 BST
The teaser one-sheets for The Matrix: Reloaded are up at Ain't It Cool News. I'm a little concerned that Jada Pinkett has such a heavy five o'clock shadow, and I'm wondering how they could possibly fail to put out a poster featuring Monica Bellucci in black leather, but let that pass.

In general the pictures do their job very nicely indeed, which is to say that they remind me to add the Matrix sequels to my list of sure-fire, must-see-in-the-cinema-in-the-week-of-release films for 2003, along with The Return of the King and X-Men 2. (Yes, I'm a geek. So what?)

[Matrix: Reloaded posters via CHUD]
According to George Lucas' sidekick Rick McCallum my desire to rush to the cinema next year to see if the Wachowski brothers can do it again is atypical, because the rapid adoption of the DVD player is causing audiences to stay away from the cinema in droves. Or rather, they aren't going back again and again as they did in the good old days when Titanic was in cinemas for several months due to repeat viewings.

He's right that audiences are less likely to watch films a second time, and he's even figured out that the price of a night at the cinema is part of the story. But it's not that we're all rushing home to download Hollywood's latest on DVD to watch in out "home cinemas": it's that very few big films merit a second viewing. (Some of them don't warrant a single viewing, but by the time we've figured that out for ourselves we've already paid for our tickets.) So many heavily-hyped films have a big opening weekend and suffer a dramatic collapse as word of mouth kills interest that you'd think the studios would learn their lesson, but apparently it's always someone else's fault.

Come to think of it, films which attract audiences to multiple repeat viewings are, and always were, very much the exception to the rule. This is why the phenomenon of teenage girls going to see Leo drown was such a news story at the time.

The "beware people downloading movies" argument is, of course, utter bunk. I don't doubt that people with fast internet connections via whichever institute of higher education they attend do download feature films and burn them to DVD, but for most of us with a 56K modem downloading films is far more trouble than it's worth.

[Via Techdirt]
Sean Harnett says that modern Fantasy novels need to go on a diet. I'd say that he needs to remember Sturgeon's Law. Also, I'm not convinced that it's fair to blame Michael Moorcock for the sins of Robert Jordan et al. Moorcock's fantasy was squarely in the pulp tradition of Robert E Howard and his contemporaries in that it sometimes emphasised quantity over quality, but Moorcock's novels and series weren't anything like as bloated as the works of Robert Jordan and David Eddings.

Nor do I think that the housebrick-sized volumes are "squeezing out" the Neil Gaimans and Jonathan Carrolls and China Mievilles of this world. Certainly the work of those more interesting authors is reasonably straightforward to find round my way.

[Via Bookslut]
The My So-Called Life DVD release has turned into a farce.

I got an email version of this announcement this morning. As of right now, I'm assuming that I'm never going to see the money I paid Another Universe again, let alone the DVD set I ordered from them. I've just ordered a copy of the set (minus the bonus disk and "lunch box" packaging promised by Another Universe, which I wasn't especially interested in anyway) from Amazon.com. I can only apologise if my posting about the "exclusive" DVD release several months ago prompted anyone else to let Another Universe take them for a ride. It only remains to be seen whether the problem was incompetence or fraud.
Friday 18 October 2002, 23:40 BST
What the Butler Said is too embarrassing for mere commoners to hear, apparently. "The two young princes" are apparently so sensitive that their right not to be embarrassed outweighs the principle that evidence in trials is supposed to be made public.

I wonder whether as much consideration is customarily given to the sensibilities of families of those who don't move in royal circles in criminal cases...
Burt Rutan is working on yet another strangely attractive aircraft. If it was painted silver it'd look perfectly at home in the next Star Wars movie, or the cover of a 30s pulp SF novel.

[Via MetaFilter]
The Swiss Reinsurance Tower is another distinctly futuristic artefact. I rather like the look of it myself, except that it should be bigger than all those identikit rectangular columns around it.

[Via dust from a distant sun]
Thursday 17 October 2002, 23:10 BST
Is Microsoft Mortal? The answer, unsurprisingly, is "Yes" according to CNet's special report on Microsoft's attempts to expand into new markets.

It's a sign of how myopic we all are about Microsoft's undoubted success on the PC desktop that it's considered news that Microsoft can face serious competition and fail to dominate a market.

[Via Techdirt]
Writer-director Roger Avary talks to Salon about his new film, The Rules of Attraction and what he's been doing since Killing Zoe.

The most surprising revelation, for me, was that at one point Avary worked with Neil Gaiman of a film adaptation of the Sandman series. That would have been something to see.
Wednesday 16 October 2002, 22:30 BST
Quote of the Day: Socrates on wedlock:
By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you'll be happy. If you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.
[Via The Guardian]
Saving AOL. Farhad Manjoo wonders how AOL will survive the transition to a broadband world.

I have a hunch that the more that AOL emphasises ease of use and "family friendliness" the better it'll do. In a world where porn filters don't work I think AOL's walled garden might prove more enticing to non-techie users than you might think.
Bubba Ho-Tep. How's this for a premise for a film:
Based on a novella by Joe R. Lansdale, Bubba Ho-Tep is the story of a 68 year-old Elvis, living out his days in a nursing home in East Texas. No one in the nursing home has much to live for, so no one looks askance when the residents start dying. No one, that is, but one of the residents, an elderly black man who fully believes that he's JFK. Jack is believes that a mummy is stalking the home and feeding on the souls of its residents. He manages to convince Elvis that the mummy is real, and they set out to destroy the mummy.
As if that wasn't enough, Elvis is played by none other than Bruce Campbell. What more could you possibly want in a film? See the Revolution SF review for a (rave) review.

Unfortunately, at the moment the film is doing the rounds of the US film festivals and doesn't even have a US distributor, never mind one in the UK. I really hope this doesn't turn out to be one of those films that doesn't even make it to a UK video or DVD release.
Maiden Flight. Iron Maiden's lead singer Bruce Dickinson is moonlighting as an airliner pilot. Yes, really.
Has he ever been accosted by a fan in his new job? He tells the story of a flight he was on when training with BA. "First trip, I'm all togged up with a BA uniform, hat and everything. We get off at Munich, I'm wandering down to the crew bus, and then making a beeline for me is an Iron Maiden fan in full regalia, T-shirt and everything, and I'm stood there going: 'Oh God.' And this guy comes straight up to me and he says [thick German accent] 'Hello? But I must know ...' and I'm going 'Yes, yes, yes ...'" Pause for storytelling effect. "'Is this the bus to Munich?'" He roars with laughter.
Tuesday 15 October 2002, 22:40 BST
I saw Red Dragon this evening. If Michael Mann had never made Manhunter then this would be regarded as a workmanlike thriller, marred somewhat by Anthony Hopkins' hammy performance as Hannibal Lecter and a colourless lead role for Edward Norton, but with nice work by Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman to compensate.

Unfortunately for Brett Ratner & Co, Mann's minor masterpiece got there first and did it better in almost every respect. So far, Red Dragon is the clear leader in the "least essential remake of the decade" competition, edging out Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes. But then, there's still time for someone to come up with the idea of remaking, say, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey starring Tom Cruise as Dave Bowman.
CHUD has an early look at the Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring on DVD. OK, I'm drooling.

While I'm on the subject, I saw the trailer for The Two Towers on the big screen for the first time this evening. I have but one comment: damn that looks good!
An excellent article by Ian Buruma on why a conquered Iraq would in no important respect resemble post-war Japan.
Monday 14 October 2002, 22:45 BST
Now that's a sort routine. The sheer attention to detail and understanding of how people do things on display in that one little dialog box speaks volumes about the gulf between Apple and Microsoft when it comes to user interfaces.

I'm very near to biting the bullet and scraping up the funds to replace my (5 year old, Pentium 166MHz-powered) PC, and I'm about 80% persuaded that I should defect to the Apple camp. Not just because of their nice sorting algorithm, obviously, but because the more I read about MacOS X 10.2 the more impressed I get with Apple's achievement in building a user-friendly Unix-based PC for the rest of us.

[Via James Lileks]
Historian Stephen E Ambrose, whose best known work, Band of Brothers, was the basis for the Spielberg miniseries, has died aged 66.

Both the BBC and the New York Times obituaries understandably concentrate on Ambrose's work on World War II, but the NYT obituary gives a better overview of Ambrose's career. (NB/- NYT obituary requires free registration to view.)

Although Ambrose found popular success in the US as the author of a series of books about the Second World War and the "greatest generation" I'll remember him best for his magisterial three-volume biography of Richard Nixon. Part of the appeal was that Ambrose wasn't a Nixon supporter, having turned his attention to Nixon only after completing a biography of Ambrose's hero Dwight D Eisenhower. Ambrose's clear view of his subject's strengths and weaknesses made for a very fair biography of the most controversial president of the late 20th century.

[NYT obituary via Amygdala]
Lawrence Lessig reflects upon his appearance before the US Supreme Court in the matter of Eldred vs Ashcroft. As usual, Lessig proves himself a gifted communicator, providing a clear, concise summation of his complicated but entirely logical argument.

Now one of the good guys deserves a good, long rest while he waits for the justices to deliver their ruling.

[Via Q Daily News]
Muse plan to sue Celine Dion. Not on the grounds that her music is horrible, but because she's using the title "Muse" for a series of concerts and they don't want their band's name sullied by the association with a tacky Canadian power balladeer.

Although I'd much rather listen to a Muse album than anything Celine Dion will ever sing, I can't see any way the band's argument is justified. They didn't invent the word "muse" and I'd think it's very unlikely that many people will confuse the two acts. Muse are no more justified in trying to restrict the use of commonplace words than any other commercial entity.

[Via parallax view]
Sunday 13 October 2002, 21:45 BST
Clay Shirky: In Praise of Evolvable Systems.
If it were April Fool's Day, the Net's only official holiday, and you wanted to design a 'Novelty Protocol' to slip by the Internet Engineering Task Force as a joke, it might look something like the Web:

[...]

HTTP and HTML are the Whoopee Cushion and Joy Buzzer of Internet protocols, only comprehensible as elaborate practical jokes. For anyone who has tried to accomplish anything serious on the Web, it's pretty obvious that of the various implementations of a worldwide hypertext protocol, we have the worst one possible.

Except, of course, for all the others.
I used to like Gopher and WAIS quite a bit back in the early 1990s when I first used the internet, but with hindsight I'm glad the decentralised approach of HTTP (and Usenet's NNTP protocol before it) took off.

The article was written in 1996, so some of Shirky's predictions have yet to come to pass. But his basic analysis of why HTTP succeeded is spot-on, and illustrates just how much we've all got to lose if the entertainment industry gets its way. No more open, freely extensible systems: just closed systems designed to do just what they're supposed to and no more.

[Via Ponderous Ponderings]
Jimmy Carter: The man of faith who has made a mockery of his doubters. Carter's post-White House life demonstrates just what an unusual man the Americans elected as their 39th president. What are the chances that Bill Clinton will enjoy a similarly productive "retirement?"

[Via linkmachinego]
As the Rolling Stones go on the road again, a clever suggestion from Andy Ihnatko:
Something just occurred to me. The Beatles are missing one lead singer and one guitarist. The Who are now short a drummer and a bass player. Should these four guys at least take a meeting together or something?
[Via Kung Fu Grippe]
Illegal Art: Freedom of Expression in the Corporate Age. Fascinating stuff.

[Via scrubbles.net]
Over at Wherever You Are, Vaughan lets off steam about the rise of karaoke TV.

Preach on, brother!
The TiVo is the Amiga of the 21st century. I don't think the comparison between the fate of the Commodore Amiga and the TiVo rings true.

The Amiga was a very capable cheap multimedia machine, but it was hampered by the lack of equally cheap peripherals to tempt the home market to make use of those features. The technologies required to provide the Amiga with material to work with were too expensive to make the Amiga a viable multimedia machine for home users.

If you couldn't afford peripherals like big hard disks, digital cameras and camcorders - or simply didn't feel any need to make use of the multimedia editing facilities the Amiga offered - the Amiga didn't have all that many advantages over the Atari ST and the second generation of cheap PC clones. The Amiga did well in the specialist professional market for which it was well suited, just as the Atari ST did well in recording studios, but neither machine could do much to stop the rise of the PC clone and the Sega and Nintendo games consoles.

The TiVo doesn't require that the buyer have expensive peripherals, it's just suffering in the retail marketplace because a) it's a fairly new idea that your VCR will anticipate which programmes you might be interested in, and b) it's produced by a relatively small company and provides functionality which can be duplicated relatively easily by rivals.

If TiVo hardware sales fall off that won't stop the rise of the concept of the digital video recorder, or even of TiVo itself. What we'll see is the manufacturers of set-top boxes incorporating TiVo-style functionality into their systems. Some of them will even be using the software TiVo have created and licensed to the likes of Sony.

[Via Techdirt]

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