Tag Archives: films

Going Rental

Apparently the movie studios are placing further restrictions on rentals in order to promote the purchase of shiny disc. Marco Arment says this won’t work because:

If Iím adding a movie to my Netflix queue, Iíve already decided not to buy the DVD. Iím adding it because it looks mildly interesting and Iíd like to watch it sometime.

I take the opposite approach. I am unlikely to buy a movie unless I have previously rented it. Why would I buy it if I don’t know whether or not I like it?

I don’t mention this to suggest that Marco is wrong. Quite the opposite. What I’m saying is that I can’t think of any use cases where this strategy would work. Whether you’re not buying it because you don’t want to buy it or not buying it because you don’t know whether you’ll like it, the common thread is that no purchase is involved. The studio would make more money in both these anecdotes if they allowed rentals.

But it’s not really about making money, as bizarre as that might seem. It’s about control.

Movie studios look to the music industry and are trying to learn from their mistakes. Unfortunately they’re taking completely the wrong lessons. Rather than seeing customers buying music instead of taking free copies from P2P networks, they see Apple being in control and able to dictate “unfavourable” terms to them.

To an outsider, “unfavourable” is an odd word as it mainly seems to involve more people paying for more content.

In this battle between the studios, the content providers (Amazon, Apple and NetFlix) and consumers there are no winners. Consumers either miss out on seeing films they want to see or end up making illegal downloads. Amazon, Apple and NetFlix all have to disappoint their customers with seemingly arbitrary additions and removals from their catalogue. And the studios continue to leave money on the table.

Personally I see that as the most “unfavourable” outcome, but what do I know?

The Bourne Confusion

Have you seen The ‘The Bourne Ultimatum‘ yet? What do you think when you see the title? Tragically my mind immediately jumps to the Bourne Shell, the default command shell on most Unix variants since the late seventies1.

Of course this isn’t the first time that this has happened. When I saw the title ‘The Bourne Supremacy‘ I though, “Yeah, why would anyone use the C Shell?!” Clearly Bourne and its work-a-likes are supreme for scripting even if the original Joy-authored C Shell was better for interactive tasks.

Similarly, in the first movie the focus seemed to be on this guy Jason Bourne. I was thinking, “No, you’re thinking of Stephen Bourne.” And it’s AT&T Bell Labs, not the CIA.

I really shouldn’t let this kind of thing get in the way of a good film, but it’s not like us Unix guys really get much of a choice. So I’m going to end this piece with a plea: don’t end up like me. Don’t let your choice of computing platform get in the way of your movie viewing.

  1. A quick aside for the less technical readers. A “shell” is the kind of the file manager you use to interact with your computer. The Macintosh has the Finder; Windows has the Explorer; the Linux has the “Bourne Again Shell,” bad pun and derivation and enhancement of the original Bourne version. []


This review has taken a long time coming. We saw it a couple of weeks after its initial release — so late that we had difficulty finding a cinema in London that was showing it in fact — but I’ve been sitting on my thoughts since then. Why? Well, as useful and informative as the CRAP Alert system is, not being able to compare and contrast my score to that of the CAP Alert team removed some of the fun. Nevertheless, you can’t wait forever so here is the full review.

“Shooter” starts well. As it begins, “Marky” Mark Wahlberg is a sniper in an operation that, to cut a long story short, goes wrong. The sequence ends with his team-mate dead and a helicopter exploding. Only a few minutes into the movie and it’s looking good on the CRAP scale already!

The film then relocates to US soil a few years later. Swagger (Wahlberg) is brought in to help thwart a suspected plot on the president but is actually set up. The plot, therefore, is his efforts to evade capture by the FBI and prove his innocence.

As luck would have it, not the whole US government is against Swagger. He teams up with rookie FBI agent and his spotters widow and, naturally, the good guys prevails.

Chopper: 81%. As an action film this is where Shooter excels. In one sense the movie is just a collection of action sequences strung together with some plot. There are a couple of exploding helicopters and the sequence where he escapes from a house features burning napalm and plenty of loud blasts.

Relations: 19% There are some tender moments between the spotters widow and Swagger and respect between his and the rookie FBI agent, but this was never going to be the next Titanic. There are some tight T-shirts in places but no nudity.

Amusement: 43%. As an action film, laughs are not the primary aim, nevertheless there are some good chuckle moments. One of my favourites was, “I don’t think you understand: they killed my dog.” And, “We want someone trustworthy. How about the guy with sunglasses?” “You mean Bono?” “Yeah, or how about Nelson Mandela?”

Plot: 61%. The basic plot I mentioned in the introduction. Clearly it’s not the kind of film that’s going to keep you awake at night trying to come to terms with the philosophical questions posed, but it does have some twists and turns. I’m unconvinced that the method of dealing with the “unbeatable” bad guy was the best that could have been done. I’m not even sure it was really in character. Equally, it is far better plotted than most action films.

Overall rating: 51%1

So overall “Shooter” is an entertaining movie and, thus, does pretty well on the CRAP scale. With a complete lack of gratuitous nudity it was never going to be a top scorer but this is a very respectable outcome and if ‘action’ is your thing it does come highly recommended.

  1. To the untrained eye it may seem like I have just made these numbers up. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. The calculation is very complex but I wouldn’t want to bore you with all the details. []



AlcatrazI know, I know. Alcatraz is an obvious tourist destination, as Buckingham Palace is in London or the Statue of Liberty is is New York. Equally, I couldn’t not go.

In the end we chose the evening tour on a Friday. Going later in the day would allow better light and the trip includes a number of thing such as an audio-tour that cost extra during the day.

The trip starts near Pier 33 where there’s a queue for the ferry. At least, that’s what it claims to be. The line is actually for a photographer taking “souvenir” pictures for those customers who simultaneous have more money than sense and no camera. I didn’t see anyone buy a print so in practice it seems to be for people who feel unable to do what we did: join the line after the photographer. Such rebels.

Heading into Alcatraz

The ferry circles around the island, allowing views of all parts of it and back to San Francisco and some magnificent sunset views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Once my feet were back on solid ground, the tour takes everyone up hill to the main building in the centre of the island.

Alcatraz cells

Alcatraz cellsWe first enter the shower room. As the guides are keen to tell us, this is not the shower room that you see in the movie “The Rock.” Here there is no balcony for the guards to look down (and shoot) from. These days this is where you get your audio tour. They tell you to press the play button when you get to a particular sign in the cell blocks.

Given the amount of time that the prisoners would spend each day in their cells, they are frighteningly small. I think I would lose my mind sat in them each day every day. But many of the ex-inmates who provide some of the audio commentary are nostalgic about them. I guess if you spend enough time somewhere is does become home. They also note that the cells were safe from attack from other inmates.

Sunset on AlcatrazOnce the audio tour had finished there was still plenty of time to wander around, take in some talks by rangers and see some videos. The latter seemed popular but we decided to check out the view of sun-set over the San Francisco Bay.

One “spooky” bit was back inside the main hall. Most of the exhibits had been static during the rest of the tour, but here they opened and closed a whole row of cell doors. The sound is so frightening, even to people who have not been incarcerated, that the effect has been used in many films, including Star Wars!

Overall we were impressed. We were expecting it to be overly cheesy and touristy but it was very well done and gave a good insight to the island. Having good weather only improved things.

Notes on CRAP Alert

I enjoyed writing my CRAP Alert post yesterday. Very cathartic. But there are some serious points in it and while I might be overstating the case when I spell them out here, I think it’s worth doing just to be clear.

The truth is I genuinely do support the right of people to publish this kind of information. I am against pretty much all forms of censorship and am very much in favour of giving people good information so that they can make an informed decision themselves.

In the case of CAP Alert the thing that I dislike is the absolute nature of their criticism1 and their insistence that what they are doing is in any way objective. The numerical aspect is of dubious value — are you a better person if you swear only five times rather than ten? — and the commentary is no more objective than what I?ve written here. Using a checklist does not make things absolute, just as referring to a book does not make your morals any more sound than mine.

The checklist approach also fails to distinguish between scenes that condone “bad” behaviour and those that condemn it. Similarly, films often lose points if the protagonist questions authority. But is it always wrong to question authority? Certain historical precedents say not. Nothing is black and white.

More significantly, the “objective” nature of their commentary is undermined when they completely misunderstand the plot of the film. My favourite is for their write-up of American Beauty, in which they commend a “redneck” Marine Colonel for arguing against homosexuality while simultaneously failing to note that it was he who was gay and not his son. Kind of important to the plot, yet they claim it did “nothing for the script.” I wonder if the reviewers actually see the movies in question.

Naturally violence in real life should not be encouraged and there is such a thing as too much in a movie. I am not terribly keen on the recent spate of vigilante endings of some of the more violent Hollywood movies. But I don?t necessarily think that people genuinely take it as advice to take the law into their own hands. It?s more a case of lax story telling than lax morals. On the other hand, the CAP blanket ban on nudity betrays their puritanical roots. I find it hard to believe that it is the cause of any of the ills of the world.

Ultimately, CAP is ripe for ridicule not because of what it’s trying to do — while I do not agree with their values I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of reviewing films for specific demographics — but because in an effort to push their politics on their readers they frequently miss the mark.

  1. Which is no doubt seated in their moral objectivism rather than my more relative stance. []

CRAP Alert

Ever since I found it a few years ago I have been very impressed with the CAP Alert website. The “American Culture Ministry” owns it and their plan is to review films for objectionable content. In this context, “objectionable” means anything that does not fit in with their fairly strict interpretation of the Bible. They claim that their reviews are objective1 as they use the WISDOM scale2. I absolutely support the rights of groups such as this to take all the fun out of entertainment.

However I feel an alternative is required for people who may not follow the same faith or may not take such a strict line on all elements of the WISDOM scale. I have, therefore, created a new scale designed for the people who like a good movie and don’t take them too seriously.

My methodology is based, fundamentally, on the well-understood principle that the number of exploding helicopters is generally proportional to the quality of the film. For example, “Waterworld” is rightly considered to be a dreadful film by most critics and movie-goers. And how many exploding helicopters are there in it?

Of course, ninety minute of exploding helicopters would get a little monotonous. For this reason the scale includes other elements that make movies entertaining such as gratuitous sex or nudity, humour and cruelty to animals. (Just to be clear, I don’t condone cruelty to real animals, with the possible exception of poodles.)

I like to call this scale CRAP. Originally I wanted to go for the full six pillars like the WISDOM scale, but I realized that I really wanted to enjoy the films I watch and that I couldn’t be bothered watching a film while looking for six different characteristics. Each letter stands for something and the following paragraphs explain what to look for.

Chopper. As explained above this is only about exploding helicopters. Helicopters landing at a wonky angle or with a jolt do not count. Planes do not count. Actually, I exaggerate for dramatic effect. This pillar is really all about entertaining “action” sequences.

Relations. Here we’re looking for normal, healthy relations between consenting adults. Unlike certain other profiles, we do not discriminate on sexual orientation or marital status. Extra points may be awarded for gratuitous nudity.

Amusement. Here we rate the “fun factor” of the movie. Is it funny? Entertaining?

Plot. While the WISDOM scale will happily give high marks to films that are dull but worthy, the CRAP scale rewards movies that have a plot and “go somewhere.” Exceptions may be given where no plot is necessary, for example documentaries or Charlies Angels.

I think you’ll agree that this scale intuitively makes sense. Over the next few months I shall be reviewing movies using the CRAP scale. I plan to look at both classics and new films. You may be surprised how they compare with the WISDOM scale. I encourage you to use this scale when viewing films and suggest you add your own reviews as comments below. You will be doing a service to the whole Internet community and I thank you for your help.

  1. Although the scores are “objective” the associated commentary rarely is. For example, a man being brutally executed is dismissed as only being a film while a Disney film, which has roughly the same score on the WISDOM scale, has “behavioral, moral and value implantation dangers.” The movies were The Passion of the Christ and The Incredibles. []
  2. WISDOM are the first letters of the six elements that are assessed: Wanton violence/crime; Impudence/Hate; Sexual morality; Drugs/alcohol; Offence to God; and Murder/suicide. []