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March 04, 2005

You need…

Writing about web page http://stuffo.howstuffworks.com/a-team-finding.htm/printable

What would you think if you saw the following advert (which was placed last week on the Craigslist LA site)?

Assistance Wanted.

You can call me Amy. I'm a reporter for a prominent Los Angeles newspaper. My friend was kidnapped last month while we were working on a story on drug-runners in Mexico. The authorities have given me the run-around. In short, I have a problem, and no one else can help. Can I hire you?

I'm looking for a crew of approximately four — a pilot, a veteran with leadership qualities, a bouncer-type who knows his way around a welding torch, and a face-man. Crack commando experience a plus. Own van and car a plus. Access to cropduster a definite plus.

Responses ranged from people who got the joke to people who not only didn't get the joke, but were rather disturbing in their own right. But the absolute best response was this one:-

Reputable face man here, black ops vietnam experience but recently charged by my government for a crime me and the rest of my crack team of commandos did not commit. I have several sports cars but also a tendency to bring my social agenda along with my professional one, however this often bears hilarious results. I also have the innate ability to shoot an enemy truck with a machine gun in a manner that causes it to flip and eventually explode after the occupants have crawled out, if these qualifications fit the bill please let me know. I look forward to becoming part of a team.

There's also a brief discussion of the upcoming movie - and as the author rightly says, there is only one actor working today who's unquestionably right to step into the role of Hannibal Smith: George Clooney. But the author's imagination runs disturbingly deeper than that; take a look to find out who's in his Curb Your Enthusiasm team. Impressive.


March 02, 2005

Derivative works

Like most people who go to the movies these days, it's hard for me to escape the feeling that whatever I'm seeing, I've seen it before. Largely, of course, this is because I have seen it before; it's a sequel, or a franchise, or I've read the book, or the comic, or I've seen the original TV show. But I'm curious as to whether this trend is getting worse; is the proportion of movies which are completely original – not a sequel, franchise (remake), TV show or book – decreasing over time It's an easy enough thing to check; below are the top fifty worldwide grossing films (in descending order) for the last ten years, with a bracket showing provenance where appropriate. The headline numbers for the ten years:-

2004: 42% original
2003: 48% original
2002: 46% original
2001: 66% original
2000: 72% original
1999: 68% original
1998: 66% original
1997: 76% original
1996: 72% original
1995: 68% original

And the graph:-

Allowing for the fact that I've certainly mis-categorised some movies, and I've probably mis-counted a couple of times too, I believe that there is a trend here; soon the only movies we see will be movies we've seen before one way or another. Perhaps all the ideas really have been used up.

2004
Shrek 2 (sequel), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (sequel, book), Spider-Man 2 (sequel, comic), The Incredibles, Passion of the Christ (book), The Day After Tomorrow, Troy, Meet the Fockers (sequel), I, Robot (sequel, remake), Ocean's Twelve (sequel to a remake), Shark Tale, The Bourne Supremacy (sequel, book), Van Helsing (reuse of several books), National Treasure, The Polar Express (book), The Village, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (sequel, book), Fahrenheit 9/11, Collateral, King Arthur (remake), Garfield (comic), 50 First Dates, Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (sequel, TV show), Along Came Polly, Ying Xiong, Alexander, Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events (book), Starsky & Hutch (remake, TV show), Dodgeball: a True Underdog Story, The Aviator (biography), The Terminal, The Grudge (remake), Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (sequel), The Phantom of the Opera (musical), SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (TV show), Alien vs Predator (sequel), Man on Fire, Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (sequel), Hellboy (comic), Dawn of the Dead (remake), Closer, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (sequel, video game), Ray, Girls, Anchorman, The Notebook, Finding Neverland, Chronicles of Riddick (sequel), Secret Window (book)

2003
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (sequel, book), Finding Nemo, Matrix Reloaded (sequel), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, Bruce Almighty, Last Samurai, The, Matrix Revolutions (sequel), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (sequel), X2: X-Men United (sequel, comic), Something's Gotta Give, Bad Boys II (sequel), Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (sequel, TV show), Brother Bear, Hulk (comic), Love Actually, 2 Fast 2 Furious (sequel), Seabiscuit, American Wedding, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (book), Scary Movie 3 (sequel), Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (sequel), Elf, Haunted Mansion (theme park ride), Kill Bill: Vol. 1, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (comic), Daredevil (comic), Anger Management, S.W.A.T. (remake, TV show), Cheaper by the Dozen, Freaky Friday (remake), Italian Job (remake), Johnny English, Daddy Day Care, Cold Mountain (book), Jungle Book 2 (sequel), Bringing Down the House, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (sequel, video game), School of Rock, Gothika, Lost in Translation, Big Fish, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Mona Lisa Smile, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake), Peter Pan (remake), Cat in the Hat (book), Paycheck (book), River, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (sequel), Intolerable Cruelty

2002
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (sequel), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (sequel), Spider-Man (comic), Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (sequel), Men in Black II (sequel), Die Another Day (franchise), Signs, Ice Age, Minority Report (book), My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Catch Me If You Can, Chicago (musical), Austin Powers in Goldmember (sequel), Scooby-Doo (remake, TV show), XXX, Lilo & Stitch, 8 Mile, The Ring (remake), Bourne Identity (book), Red Dragon (remake, sequel, book) Two Weeks Notice, Panic Room, Gangs of New York, Sum of All Fears (book, franchise), Santa Clause 2 (sequel), Stuart Little 2 (sequel), Mr. Deeds, Road to Perdition, Scorpion King (sequel), Blade II (sequel), Sweet Home Alabama, Maid in Manhattan, About a Boy (book), Treasure Planet (remake), Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Asterisk & Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre (comic), Resident Evil (video game), Return to Never Land (sequel), The Tuxedo, Collateral Damage, The Time Machine (remake), 40 Days and 40 Nights, About Schmidt, We Were Soldiers, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams (sequel), Changing Lanes, Dogs, The Hours, John Q, The Rookie

2001
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (sequel), Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (sequel), Monsters, Inc, Shrek, Pearl Harbor, Ocean's Eleven (remake), Mummy Returns (sequel), Jurassic Park III (sequel), Planet of the Apes (remake), Hannibal (sequel), Rush Hour 2 (sequel), A Beautiful Mind, American Pie 2 (sequel), Bridget Jones's Diary (sequel, book), Spirited Away, Artificial Intelligence: AI (book), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (video game), The Others, Fast and the Furious, Vanilla Sky (remake), Cats & Dogs, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Dr. Dolittle 2 (sequel, remake, book), Moulin Rouge, Princess Diaries, Black Hawk Down, Spy Kids, Scary Movie 2 (sequel), Legally Blonde, Le Fabuleux destin d'Amilie Poulain, Spy Game, America's Sweethearts, Save the Last Dance, Swordfish, The Mexican, Shallow Hal, Training Day, Along Came a Spider (book), Don't Say a Word, Enemy at the Gates, A Knight's Tale, Blow, The Score, Gosford Park, Ali, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Exit Wounds, Kate & Leopold, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (video game), The Animal

2000
Mission: Impossible II (sequel), Gladiator, Cast Away, What Women Want, Dinosaur, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (book), The Perfect Storm (book), X-Men (comic), Meet the Parents, Scary Movie, What Lies Beneath, Charlie's Angels (remake, TV show), Erin Brockovich, Unbreakable, Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Patriot, Vertical Limit, Miss Congeniality, Wo hu cang long, Traffic, Hollow Man (remake), 102 Dalmatians (sequel, remake), Chicken Run, Big Momma's House, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (sequel), Emperor's New Groove, Chocolat, Scream 3 (sequel), Me, Myself & Irene, The Beach (book), Remember the Titans, Space Cowboys, U-571, Family Man, Final Destination, Billy Elliot, Mission to Mars, Road Trip, Rugrats in Paris: The Movie (TV show), Coyote Ugly, 6th Day, The Cell, The Kid, Shanghai Noon, Bedazzled (remake), Shaft (remake), Bring It On, Romeo Must Die, Men of Honor

1999
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (prequel), The Sixth Sense, Toy Story 2 (sequel), The Matrix, Tarzan (remake), The Mummy, Notting Hill, The World Is Not Enough, franchise, American Beauty, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (sequel), Runaway Bride, Stuart Little (book), Green Mile, Blair Witch Project, Big Daddy, Wild Wild West, Entrapment, End of Days, Sleepy Hollow, American Pie, Double Jeopardy, Analyze This, The Haunting (remake), Deep Blue Sea, Payback (remake), Eyes Wide Shut, Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (video game), The Bone Collector (book), The General's Daughter, Inspector Gadget, (remake, TV show), The Talented Mr. Ripley (remake, book), Thomas Crown Affair (remake), Message in a Bottle, Blue Streak, Anna and the King, Fight Club, Three Kings, She's All That, Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (video game), Any Given Sunday, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Bowfinger, Galaxy Quest, Fantasia/2000 (remake), Stigmata, Forces of Nature, The Cider House Rules, 8MM, Bicentennial Man (book), Never Been Kissed

1998
Armageddon, Saving Private Ryan, Godzilla (remake), There's Something About Mary, A Bug's Life, Deep Impact, Mulan, Doctor Dolittle (remake, book), Shakespeare in Love, Lethal Weapon 4 (sequel), You've Got Mail (remake), The Truman Show, Rush Hour, Enemy of the State, Mask of Zorro (remake), Prince of Egypt, City of Angels (remake), Patch Adams, The Waterboy, The Horse Whisperer (book), The X Files, TV show, The Man in the Iron Mask, (remake, book), Antz, Six Days Seven Nights, Stepmom, The Rugrats Movie (TV show), Lost in Space (remake), Meet Joe Black (remake), A Perfect Murder (remake), Blade, The Wedding Singer, Everest, Star Trek: Insurrection (franchise), The Siege, Snake Eyes, U.S. Marshals (sequel), Ronin, The Parent Trap, Mercury Rising, Small Soldiers, Ever After, What Dreams May Come, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (sequel), The Thin Red Line, Practical Magic, Hope Floats, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (sequel), Out of Sight, The Negotiator, Mighty Joe Young

1997
Titanic, Lost World: Jurassic Park (sequel), Men in Black, Tomorrow Never Dies (franchise), Air Force One, As Good As It Gets, Liar Liar, My Best Friend's Wedding, The Fifth Element, The Full Monty, Hercules, Face/Off, Batman & Robin (sequel), Bean (TV show), Good Will Hunting, Con Air, La Vita è bella, Dante's Peak, Flubber, George of the Jungle, Scream 2 (sequel), The Saint (remake, TV show), Mononoke Hime, Contact, Alien: Resurrection (sequel), The Jackal (remake), Speed 2: Cruise Control (sequel), The Devil's Advocate, Mononoke-hime, The Devil's Own, Anastasia, Conspiracy Theory, The Game, Anaconda, Seven Years in Tibet, L.A. Confidential, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Donnie Brasco, Mouse Hunt, Starship Troopers (book), Volcano, The Peacemaker, GI Jane, Absolute Power (book), Kiss the Girls, Jackie Brown, Jungle2Jungle, In & Out, Spawn (comic), Spice World

1996
Independence Day, Twister, Mission: Impossible (remake), TV show, The Rock, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Ransom, 101 Dalmatians (remake), Jerry Maguire, The Nutty Professor (remake), Eraser, The English Patient (book), Space Jam (remake, TV show), The Birdcage (remake), First Wives Club, The, Scream, Sleepers, Daylight, A Time to Kill, Phenomenon, Broken Arrow, Star Trek: First Contact (franchise), Evita, Romeo + Juliet, Executive Decision, Jingle All the Way, Michael, Dragonheart, Striptease (book), Primal Fear, The Cable Guy, Mars Attacks!, Up Close & Personal, Courage Under Fire, One Fine Day, Shine, Jack, The Juror (book), Spy Hard, Tin Cup, Beavis and Butt-head Do America (TV show), The Ghost and the Darkness, The Long Kiss Goodnight, The Mirror Has Two Faces, Trainspotting (book), Matilda (book), From Dusk Till Dawn, Chain Reaction, Truth About Cats & Dogs, The Craft, Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco (sequel)

1995
Die Hard: With a Vengeance (sequel), Toy Story, GoldenEye franchise, Se7en, Pocahontas, Batman Forever (sequel), Apollo 13, Casper (remake, TV show), Jumanji, Waterworld, Babe, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (sequel), Braveheart, Outbreak, Heat, While You Were Sleeping, The Bridges of Madison County (book), Dangerous Minds, Twelve Monkeys, Crimson Tide, Congo (book), Bad Boys, Sense and Sensibility (book), First Knight, Nine Months, Mortal Kombat video game, Get Shorty (book), Judge Dredd (comic), Species, The American President, Casino, Mr. Holland's Opus, Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (sequel), French Kiss, The Net, A Walk in the Clouds, Sabrina (remake), Assassins, Hong faan kui, Waiting to Exhale, Dead Man Walking, Copycat, Clueless, Money Train, Father of the Bride Part II (sequel), Grumpier Old Men (sequel), Something to Talk About, Forget Paris, Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (sequel), Don Juan DeMarco


February 23, 2005

His Dark Materials

Went to see His Dark Materials at the National last week. The combination of the rave reviews of the books (I don't know anyone who doesn't like them) and the reportedly spectacular staging was hard to resist. I'd recommend the plays unreservedly, though I'd suggest reading the books first, and ideally more than a couple of days beforehand as I did (I finished the final volume between the two plays, which frankly was poorly thought out).

The plays, however, were just stunning. Philistine that I am, I haven't seen anything at the National before, so I had no idea just how sophisticated the stage mechanics were (I don't want to be more specific, because part of the thrill of the performance is being surprised by how brilliantly the staging works) and how very cleverly the many, many scene changes were accomplished. The goal for the theatrical version was that there should be no black-outs between scenes, that the action should be continuous and take place during the scene changes. Given that there are about fifty scene changes in each three hour play, that's a tall order, and it seemed entirely appropriate that the stage crew, who must have worked like bulls all through the performances, were part of the curtain call.

Clearly much of the content of the trilogy had to be excised or condensed. The audio readings of the books run for 35 hours, and the plays run for six, so over three-quarters of the books simply isn't in the plays. The adaptation is skilful and sympathetic, though, wisely choosing to drop the entire sequence involving Mary Malone, and giving her key role as temptress to another character. Many of the more complex battle sequences are also dramatically simplified or removed. I'm not sure how easy it would be to follow the narrative if you hadn't read the books, though; there's a lot to keep up with. Interestingly there were lots of children at the performances we saw, some younger than I would have expected, but they all seemed enthralled.

Adaptation and staging apart, though, it seemed to me before I saw the plays that they would stand or fall on two things: the quality of the two lead actors (Lyra and Will), and the realisation of the daemons. Both were excellent. Cleverly, the lead actors are not children (who would have no chance of dominating an auditorium the size of the Olivier theatre), but twenty-somethings, and this choice is justified and made natural by a neat framing device; the plays open and close with them as adults, and then switch to flashback for the story. Since we see them at their own age to start with, we're comfortable accepting them as children in flashback, and it never seems unnatural.

The daemons are realised as puppets, and depending on the scene they have puppeteers, dressed in black, on stage operating them. Sounds cheesy described baldly like that, but it works well, with the puppeteers providing the voice and actions for the daemons. The puppets also have glowing eyes, which helps to set them off better on stage, and the interplay between humans and puppets/puppeteers is so natural that after the first shock of seeing puppeteers on stage, the convention quickly becomes unobtrusive. Choreographing actors, puppets and puppeteers on such a complex and dynamic stage must have been a nightmare, and it's to the whole casts' credit that nobody walks into anyone else.

Bottom line: if you like the books, you'll be dazzled by the plays. You need to see them both; seeing either one without the other would be completely unsatisfactory, but provided you're okay with sitting down for long periods, it's perfectly possible to see part 1 in the afternoon and part 2 the same evening. And it's well worth the effort and expense of getting there to do just that.


January 31, 2005

Golf GTI ad

Writing about web page http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-video/Media/video/2005/01/27/golfgti.mov

Chris May pointed me in the direction of this advert for the new Golf GTI. It's a reworking of Gene Kelly's famous scene from Singin' in the Rain, and whatever you might think of the cultural merits of appropriating icons in this way, in terms of technical craftsmanship, it's just amazing. They've used body doubles and CGI to make it appear as if Kelly is breakdancing down the street, and it ends with the line The new Golf GTI. The original, updated. Fantastically clever.

January 01, 2005

Not just any old robot monkey

A clear contender for best programme title of the year, or indeed ever: Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, now showing on the Jetix channel (formerly Fox Kids). If you set a thousand computers to work for a thousand years devising the perfect programme title to push all the available buttons of the average five year old, you couldn't improve on this. IMDB has more if you're bizarre enough to want it.

November 23, 2004

Front page blog

Writing about web page http://www.kevinsites.net

The front page of the Guardian today (Tue 23rd Nov) is almost completely given over to reprinting a blog posting in its entirety. Kevin Sites is the cameraman who recorded footage of a US marine shooting an injured Iraqi fighter in Falluja. The footage was shown on NBC and then around the world, provoking both an outcry against the US military, but also something of a backlash against Stiles himself, claiming him variously to be unpatriotic, naive about the realities of war, or self-glorifying. His blog posting is his response to those reactions.

What I find interesting about it is that it's a very rare example of completely unmediated writing appearing in a newspaper (and on the front page too) by someone not in the employ of the paper. Front page stories normally feature short quotes from those people who are the subjects of the piece, interspersed with chunks of analysis or commentary from the paper's own staff. This story, by contrast, starts with just a short context-setting paragraph by the Guardian, and then almost an entire broadsheet page reprinting Sites' whole blog posting, unedited, unanalysed. There have been suggestions for a while now that blogs are changing the shape of conventional news reporting, but simple reproduction of this sort is not the model that's usually cited. I wonder if whoever it was at the Guardian who proposed doing this found it a difficult sell to his/her colleagues or not.


November 11, 2004

Lip–reading with 3G

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/story/0,3605,1347676,00.html

Until about five minutes ago, I'd believed that 3G phones didn't really have any compelling use for their extra bandwidth and built-in video cleverness. Downloadable pop videos? Movie trailers? Show your friends the view from your hotel window? Who cares, or wants to pay £2.50 a go?

But I was wrong. If you're deaf, two-way video means you can have a phone conversation with sign language or even lip reading. That is just amazing and it's one of those ideas which as soon as you hear it, seems so obvious as to be barely worth stating – but interestingly it seems that the 3G designers didn't anticipate this use at all.

Luckily, they didn't need to: according to the journal Mobile, 60% of Sweden's hearing-impaired population signed up within three months of a promotion being launched by 3. Awesome.


November 10, 2004

VoteStation

Writing about web page http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.11/images/1211Found800w.jpg

Wired magazine do a monthly feature called "Found: Artifacts from the future" where they Photoshop an object intended to represent some aspect of society a few years from now. This month's mockup is timely and well-imagined; it's a receipt from a voting booth, circa 2012. Nice namecheck for Sourceforge too. ;-)

November 05, 2004

Band Aid

Writing about web page http://www.improveverywhere.com/bestgig/

So, you're an improv group whose modus operandi is creating scenes in public places rather than just in the theatre. What about, say, a rock concert? What could you do there? Well, it'd be pretty hard to get noticed if you started doing your thing at a Rolling Stones gig. So why not try this:-

  1. Find a band who are as yet not popular enough to attract any size of audience to speak of.
  2. Learn the band's songs, its members, its history.
  3. Turn up to said unattended gig en masse, all 35 of you.
  4. Whoop.
  5. Cheer.
  6. Holler.
  7. Generally go nuts and do everything in your power to persuade the band that they are the greatest thing you've ever seen and this is the greatest gig you've ever attended.
  8. Demand an encore. Remove t-shirts to show insatiable enthusiasm.
  9. After the gig, leave, with no contact with the band or explanation as to what's just happened.

From this account it sounds like a win-win setup. The band, after a slightly puzzled start, responded with elan to the adoration, and the more the band played up, the more the audience got into it. And the more the audience got into it… well, you get the idea.

Interesting question, though: the improv guys have now written this up on their web site. It's a connected world; sonner or later somebody who knows the band is going to read the story and tell them about it. When that happens, will the band be pleased or not? Will it undercut what they presumably thought was a genuine outpouring of fan love? Will they be better or worse off than if it had never happened? The improv guys hope that it will have been as good for the band as it was for them. I hope so too.


Suing file sharers

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/3984755.stm

The MPAA announced today its plans to sue individuals who make movies available on file sharing networks.

People who have been stealing our movies believe they are anonymous on the internet, and wouldn't be held responsible for their actions. They are wrong. We know who they are, and we will go after them, as these suits will prove.

It'll be interesting to see what sort of users they end up pursuing, and whether they'll be able to avoid the bad publicity that suing twelve year olds inexplicably seems to generate. You'd have to assume, though, that college and university students will be high on their list.


September 08, 2004

Should I rip this?

Writing about web page http://www.lnreview.co.uk/music/should_i_rip_this.html

Amusing flowchart suggesting factors to weigh up when deciding whether or not to rip music. Actually, although it says "rip", the flowchart is really more oriented towards the question of whether you should buy the music or not. But perhaps "Should I steal this?" would be a bit too strong for an article title.

August 09, 2004

I Robot

Before talking about the movie itself, I should say in passing that I chose to use the Spanish version of the movie poster in preference to the US one. I don't know why, but something about it just appealed to me more.

The film itself… well, it wasn't completely brain-dead and it didn't totally suck. That's progress for Will Smith, whose last two films were the disappointing Men in Black II and the utterly abysmal Bad Boys 2. One imagines that it was important to him not to make another total turkey this time around, and whether for that reason or just because the source material was better, he turns in a reasonable performance, toning down the wise-cracking (though reportedly the film-makers had to work hard to keep additional asinine one-liners from being added to suit him), and showing little hints of something other than glib cool.

The effects were a mixed bag; the city-scapes were nice (although they're easy to do, since they're basically just big paintings), but the underground motorways were rubbish, looking more like a video game than anything even vaguely real (why do film-makers persist in believing that future cities will move all their express lanes underground?) and although the robots were effective while still, once they got into running, jumping and fighting, they blew their credibility completely, as CGI creatures often do, by being faster and stronger than would be physically possible.

But the effects triumph of the movie is Sonny, the lead robot. Like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, he's played by an actor, so you get expression, body language and graceful, believable movement, and then the robotic appearance is painted over the actor in post-production. It works startlingly well, and makes the character compelling – and convincing – to watch, unlike all the pure-CGI robots.

You'll notice I've said nothing about the plot. That's partly because the film works better if you know as little as possible about it, but also because it's disappointing in a number of ways: first of all, it's described as "Suggested by the stories by Isaac Asimov", which seems a bit mean; second of all, although it is indeed derived from Asimov's well-known short stories, it suffers from the problem that lots of other films have been to the same well-spring before it. As much as the film is "suggested" by Asimov, it's also "suggested" by Terminator, Westworld, The Matrix, 2001, Blade Runner and many more. If you've seen any of these, you already know that Bad Things Happen When Robots Get Too Smart, and if you already know that, then I Robot has few revelations for you. And although the film attempts to consider questions of consciousness and morality, it does so rather feebly in comparison with just about any of its predecessors, or indeed the Asimov originals. Furthermore, by the end, the film clearly has no idea how to answer the philosophical questions it's raised, and glosses over the issues so completely that when it's finished at the cinema I'd like it to come round and do my skirting boards.

So three stars out of five for trying to be better than dumb and partially succeeding, plus a wonderful combination of acting and effects in Sonny. Docked two stars for ultimately abandoning ideas for explosions and some ropey, video-game style effects, especially in the fight sequences.

Finally some very mild spoiler thoughts if you've seen the film:-

  • What happened to the cat? Last we heard, it was in the trunk of the car. But we know what happened to the car.
  • The product placement was just appalling. Fed-Ex, Audi and – especially – Converse should just be ashamed of such blatant, embarrassing plugs.
  • I thought the violence done to the robots was interesting. At various times, they are crushed, dismembered and shot at point-blank range. Had they been human characters, their various fates would have been unwatchably horrific. But as robots (sentient robots, mind you, easily as smart as humans) it's apparently unproblematic and only 12A-cert to see carnage wrought on them. Curious.

August 04, 2004

Shatner & Cocker: Together at last!

Writing about web page http://homepage.mac.com/sceldred/.Public/Steve/common_people.mov

William Shatner has covered Pulp's Common People*. The result is just awesome. For a 73 year old he's retained an admirable sense of irony and the ridiculous, and later in the song, he also demonstrates an impressive set of lungs. I hope I'm that cool in my seventies.

* Quicktime required to listen.


June 10, 2004

Big Cook, Little Cook

Writing about web page http://www.richardherring.com/warmingup/warmingup.php?id=572

Those readers with young children who like (or are unhealthily obsessed) with the children's show Big Cook, Little Cook should read Richard Herring's surreal, rambling, deeply funny review of the show immediately. Are adults really allowed to mock children's entertainment this heartlessly?

June 07, 2004

TheyWorkForYou

Writing about web page http://www.theyworkforyou.com/

This could be the most valuable web site in the UK, if it works as its creators intend. From their description:-

At TheyWorkForYou.com you can:

  • Find out more about your MP
  • Search everything said in Parliament since 2001
  • Comment on the most recent Debates and Written Answers

It scrapes Hansard (the Parliamentary record) and makes the entire thing commentable, searchable and permalinkable. It compiles stats of which MPs vote against their own party most often, which ones speak most often, which have submitted the most motions, etc.

Writing on BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow says:-

It‘s like they‘ve poured Parliament into LiveJournal — and in so doing, have cut government down to a human-addressable scale.

Well worth a look.


June 05, 2004

Laughing at NightVision

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

So, the Guardian reports that cinema staff will be issued with night-vision goggles to spot would-be Harry Potter pirates. Naturally this has no effect; there are copies on the web just hours after the first showings. And here's the image the pirates are putting at the start of the disc – goggles and all.

June 03, 2004

No sketching please

The Royal Ontario Museum has a no sketching policy, apparently imposed on them by their contract with the British Museum. Extraordinary; as the would-be sketcher noted himself, he could legitimately write about what he was looking at, but not draw it. Could a sketch conceivably affect the value of an original?

April 29, 2004

When bloggers party

Excellent article (real? fake? spoof?) about what blogging and bloggers might look like to a completely disinterested observer. (The blogging stuff doesn't come in until about half-way through the article.)

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  • I'm trying to track down my favourite children's book from the early 1970s (pub. 1970 – 1973?) about… by Ally Holloway on this entry
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