Digital Convenience

The New Yorker iPad app is out now. The app itself costs nothing, but the actual issues you buy through the app are $4.99 each. This is reasonable enough. I have a feeling we'll see more magazines move to a similar model in the next year or so. From a publisher point of view, there are no more worries about printing and distribution costs. From an end-user point of view, there are no more worries about availability. Edge magazine, for example, is a right royal pain in the dick to get a hold of if you're not living in the UK. With an iPad app, you're getting all the content, in much the same format, with (potential) access to the entire back-catalogue at the touch of a button, with virtually no footprint for either the publisher or readermy collection of Edge magazine -- going back 16 years or so -- takes up an enormous amount of space. Win-win.

Except for people who are already subscribers, that is. As Kottke points out:

Current magazine subscribers appear to have no option but to buy a completely separate issue if they wish to read the magazine on the iPad. As a subscriber, what exactly am I paying for if I already have the content in magazine form? Is the $4.99 simply a convenience fee?

One of the things I really liked about David Wellington's Monster Island was that it was also available online. When I was in work and didn't have the book with me, I could just go to Wellington's website and take up where I left off. I suppose the same could be said of any of Cory Doctorow's books as well. Although I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, I have a physical copy of Makers on my bookshelf and a digital copy of on my e-reader.

As things like smart phones and e-readers become more and more a part of our everyday life, I would love to see us get to stage where buying a physical copy of a thing -- movies, magazines, films -- entitles you to a digital copy of the thing as well. We're sort of seeing this with blu-ray, where a lot of discs come bundled with a digital copy of the film as wellThen again, in most cases, that's being implemented in such a half-assed, braindead way (where the 'digital edition' it comes bundled with is just an access key to download a copy once) it makes you wonder if the movie studios aren't deliberately sabotaging this effort so they can say "look! There's no demand for the digital edition!".

Free Time is a Myth

When I was younger, I remember looking at my grown-up relatives and dreaming about when I'd finally be finished with school and start working a 9 to 5 job. I figured that, coming home from work and not having any homework to do, I'd have buckets of free time to play videogames and watch kick-ass movies.

Well, life? I'm waiting.

32 Days of Mass Effect

In an interview with IGN, BioWare revealed some of the stats they've collected about people's Mass Effect 2 habits. Interestingly, half of the players imported their game from the first Mass Effect and only half of the players actually finished Mass Effect 2. Much more interestingly is the revelation that four Xbox players completed the game 23 times.

Considering they also say that the average time to complete a game of Mass Effect 2 is 33 hours, that means these four people spent roughly 32 solid days of their life playing this game. That's almost five weeks. Solid.

Whoa.

(For context, the average American spends two weeks of their entire life kissing)

iWatch →

When Apple demoed the new iPod nano last week, I mentioned on twitter about how much I liked the look of its clock. It's more thoughtfully designed and better crafted than most watches.

Well, some wags have taken the obvious step by throwing a strap on the Nano and making it into a proper watch.

One thing Apple left off the new Nano with the redesign is the previous iteration's video camera. Is it so strange to imagine that a future redesign of the new Nano will re-add this feature? A front-facing camera with FaceTime? Suddenly we're wearing video phones on our wrists.

Oh shit! We're in the future.

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette - Cakes

I have no idea why I was so reluctant to check out Marie Antoinette. I guess it was something to do with Sophia Coppola's track record. I loved Lost in Translation but hated The Virgin Suicides. Kirsten Dunst completely put me off that movie. I always thought she was really over-rated as an actress and never really saw why people thought she was attractive. I guess it was the impending release of Somewhere that made me want grab the DVD of Marie Antoinette off the shelf and finally sit down and watch it (although, I have to be honest, if Zodiac had been 40 minutes shorter, I probably would have ended up watching that instead).

I loved it.

Now, I realise that Sophia Coppola isn't the world's greatest writer. I can overlook this. (I mean, I said I loved Lost in Translation, right?) And I realise this film isn't meant to be an accurate historical document, but she manages to paint Marie as a genuinely sympathetic figure. And how did she do this? Do we get two hours of philosophising masquerading as character development? Hell no. In fact, I'd be shocked if Kirsten Dunst had more than 100 lines in this movie. It takes a rare skill to do so much with so little.

And yes, I finally see what all the fuss is about Kirsten Dunst. She is terrific in this film. A perfect fit - I can't think of another actress that could have pulled it off quite so well. Completely changed my opinion of her.

But I also think an awful lot of the success had to do with the way Coppola uses music in her films. The new-wave soundtrack cute, and a great way of hammering home the idea that these kids really were the punks of their time. But it goes beyond cute juxtaposition. Aphex Twin's 'Avril 14th' is an incredibly powerful and evocative piece of music and was perfect for the tone of this film. (Only one other film I've seen has used this song at all, and that was Chris Morris' equally amazing Four Lions.) That Coppola manaaged to create such amazing visuals and find the music to match the mood of the scene so perfectly speaks volumes about her success and skill as a director.

Speaking of cute juxtapositon, I loved, loved the pair of chucks in the background of the spending-spree scene. Something about this is absolutely perfect. It tells us everything we need to know about the character through one tiny, incidental anachronism.

Marie Antoinette - Chucks

Tank Park Salute

All things considered, it probably wasn't a great idea to listen to this song right now. Billy Bragg writes some beautiful songs, but this is really something special. One of maybe 5 songs that I can't get through without crying like a child.

How to Use Textmate →

Amazingly useful list of links on how to use Textmate properly, courtesy of Zeldman.

For example, did you know you can write a blog post in Textmate, drag-and-drop an image into the textmate window and it will automatically upload and insert the image into your blog post? I didn't. Mind = blown.

You Say To-May-Toe

I recently listening to an old edition of the Slashfilm podcast where they interviewed Armond White. I sort of recognised that name, but couldn't place it. No matter. Anyway, in the interview, White said a few things that I found interesting. He hasn't got many kind words for Roger Ebert, complaining that he's more like a professional fan than a genuine film critic and that he is single-handedly responsible for the death of film criticism.

I do think it is fair to say that Roger Ebert destroyed film criticism. Because of the wide and far reach of television, he became an example of what a film critic does for too many people. And what he did simply was not criticism. It was simply blather. And it was a kind of purposefully dishonest enthusiasm for product, not real criticism at all

White also complains that, since everyone has a blog now, they all think that makes them a legitimate criticI keep using qualifiers like 'genuine' and 'legitimate' because White is convinced that he is the only "pedigreed film critic" around, that the internet promotes "free-for-all of enthusiasm rather than criticism". As someone with a blog who tries to write critically, I think he's a little harsh here. Maybe feeling threatened by the democratisation of opinion?

But then you stumble across something like "Lights, Camera, Jackson", this faux-charming little bollocks of a stage-school drop-outI'm calling it now, 'Lights, Camera, Jackson' is the next James Harries, complete with future gender-reassignment surgery. Mark my words. and you think - hey, maybe Armond White has a point

This got me thinking a bit more about him, trying to remember where I'd heard his name before. Armond White… Armond White… Oh shit… Armond White!. He's the fearlessly outspoken hilariously contrarian film critic who seems to be on a one-man mission to fuck with the metrics that make sites like Rottentomatoes useful. Out of 235 reviews, his is the first of three negative reviews that prevented Toy Story 3 from getting a perfect score, complaining that it wasn't as good as Transformers 2.

In other words, he is to film criticism what Glen Beck or Joe Duffy are to political opinion.

Other amazing quotes from Armond White:

  • Talking about There Will be Blood, he said "Plainview is the most remarkable movie performance since Eddie Murphy’s Norbit trifecta"

  • In the Loop is "for smart arses, not smart enough to appreciate the cultural satire of Hot Fuzz"

  • "Forget the Oscar bait, Transporter 3 is the only movie you need to see this season"

It's a shame. Having read a few of his reviews, he does genuinely seem to be a smart, well-educated fellow. It's just a shame that the rise of online film criticism has led him to chase page-views through controversial statements.

Mechanics

Christ, Metro 2033 is annoying.

It's annoying because it comes so close to being a genuinely good game. I mean, on paper, it's exactly the kind of game I would love. All the things I like are there: monsters, guns, post-apocalyptic RussiaNo idea why, but a post-apocalyptic Russia always grabbed my interest more than a post-apocalyptic USA.. It's based on an award-winning Russian science fiction story, so its story should be at least halfway decent, if previous experience with Russian science fiction stories are anything to go by. The game just lets itself down somehow. There's something missing.

Okay, the game is missing a lot of things. Like actual, honest-to-goodness character development. And a facial modelling system that actually conveys emotion instead of looking like some first-year animation student tinkering with 3D Studio Max. Most importantly though, it's missing a decent control mechanic. It's no great surprise to say that games work best when there's a 1:1 relationship between what you input on the controller and what happens in the game. In Metro 2033, there's a noticeable lag between the two, so the whole game feels 'off'. You get the vague sense of controlling a floaty gun wandering through a 3D space, but not much more than that.

A wonky control scheme by itself isn't won't kill a game. Plenty of games have managed to make their games work just fine regardless of how good their controls are. For example, Singularity - another game set in a (sorta) post-apocalyptic Russia - also has 'floaty' controls (another in a long list of things it copied wholesale from Bioshock). But, to its credit, it acknowledges this and works around this apparent limitation. It says "we understand our control scheme isn't the greatest, so we won't really ask too much of you except to shoot monsters." It works well because of that.

The developers of Metro 2033, God bless them, tried hard to make their game more than just a straight shooter. Some levels include 'stealth' sections, where you have to sneak around guards/monsters and avoid traps that draw attention to your character. Except their controls don't really allow you to accomplish this. Your character moves sluggishly, like the entire world is made of toffee. It's hard to judge lateral distance, so you'll inadvertently set off traps that you were trying to avoid. This is irritating at the best of times, but during the stealth sequences, it's especially annoying. I got about halfway through the game before I hit one particular stealth sequence. I kept triggering traps despite doing everything I could to avoid them. It frustrated me so much, I turned off the game out of spite. I doubt I'll go back to it again.

It's a shame because, like I said, I enjoyed the idea of Metro 2033, the monsters, guns and post-apocalyptic Russia. It's a shame when the game gets in the way of the game. It's the superficial things that stop you from fully enjoying it. Imagine a horror writer decided his stories should be printed in a novelty 'horror' typeface.

Although it may be a cute novelty, it doesn't enhance the story at all. It just frustrates the reader. It doesn't matter how good the story is if the reader gives up halfway through because of some mechanical problem. It's the same for games. How many games have you just given up on because you figured no story is worth battling with crappy mechanics?

Inception, Spoilers

On the whole, I don't really care about spoilers. If your enjoyment of a movie is based entirely around not knowing a particular plot point, then the movie hasn't really done its job. Inception, like most of Christopher Nolan's films, is so dense and complex as to be pretty much spoiler-proof. I know there's this stuff about a dream, and then a dream-within-a-dream, and then, later on, a dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream (I think). Apart from that, it's all a little fuzzy.

Even still, there's been an almost universal, unwritten agreement among critics that it's best to not reveal too much about the film. I guess it's so people can go in completely fresh. Even Mark Kermode, who had previously spoiled Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (which he now refers to as "the unfortunate incident after being hit with nerd-rage") has said very little about the plot of the film.

What people are talking about, because they figure it's not spoiling anything, is the last shot of the film. "What did you think of the last shot?" they ask. "What noise did you make? I made a sort of a 'whoah' combined with a 'huh?'" And they're right to talk. Inception has one of those bravura endings that, if you were feeling particularly cynical, could easily be interpreted as the director showing off. It's right up there with Brad Pitt channelling Quentin Tarantino at the end of Inglourious Basterds: "You know somethin', Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece."

And, to be honest, just knowing there was this great final shot kind of spoiled the ending for me. I was sitting in the cinema trying to predict what the final shot would be, what I thought would be worth talking about. Like being told there's a twist in the movie, but not told what the twist is - you spend the entire movie thinking "She's a he! It's all a dream! The butler did it!" Technically the movie isn't spoiled, but at the same time, it is.

Random Thoughts

  • Christopher Nolan may be getting better with each film, but he still can't manage even simple walk-and-talk exposition. There was a lot of explaining in this movie, and he handled it by showing a lot of people sitting around saying "What?"

  • Coming out of the screening I went to (UCI Coolock in Dublin), I overheard someone saying "Nah, I didn't like that at all. You had to concentrate too hard". Except with a thick, Coolock accent.

  • Did no-one else think the film's depiction of the dream-world was a little boring? A little unimaginative? For all its cleverness - "You always wind up right in the middle of what's going on" - it completely ignored the fundamentally weird nature of dreams: running at full speed, but not getting anywhere; the feeling of the ground suddenly disappearing beneath you. Paprika did a much better job of conveying the feeling of being inside a dream, with all its twisted logic.

  • Jesus Christ, it's time that Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan parted ways. I know Inception is getting a lot of praise for its score, but holy shit, it sounded the exact same as every other score they've done together, except this time it was mixed by a demented monkey with a demented-monkey-boner for pulsing violins. Make it stop!

One of these things is not like the other

Things I found out this weekend:

  1. My uncle - the conspiracy nut - is so convinced that the end-times are coming that he's spent €200 on non-perishable, tinned foods. He's storing them at different, strategic points around the house.

  2. My 18-year old niece - who ran away to Egypt to get married - has left her husband and is now on the run from him. She won't tell anyone where she is. She let the husband know she'd left him by changing her Facebook status to "single".

  3. My mother has cancer.