The Dark Knight Rises Review

Contains spoilers.

How do we kill the batman? With nuclear weapons!

The new batman is worth a see, in theatres. The worst of it’s sins is the voice acting. Bane is just dreadful and sounds like Alfred on Steroids. Seriously, he’s voiced by a genteel old man. Batman himself spends almost the entire movie in threatening mode and his voice also gets in the way of the dialogue.

The plot itself is tight (except for Bruce Wayne in the cave prison – how did he get there and how did he get back?). Bane gets hold of a nuclear bomb and threatens to destroy gotham with it. Recurring themes throughout the movie are that police officers are trapped underground, Bruce Wayne is trapped under ground, Bane is trapped under ground. See where this is going? Fox? Trapped underground! It would have been nicer to have this theme explored more but it doesn’t quite happen.

Thematic elements are tightly presented although the social analogy doesn’t quite go as deep as the other movies have previously. The theme is clearly socialism – Bane starts off the movie by claiming he will free Gotham for the people in an Abraham Lincolnesque speech as he blows the doors to the prison open wide. Inmates are given weapons. Predictably, instead of actually freeing Gotham, they invite a second holocaust.

First of course the government itself is disposed of through violence. People then commit theft to “the rich” and then when nothing is left, they start to commit wanton murder and destruction. People are executed. When they run out of political prisoners to execute (the rich) they turn on each other. It’s an obvious allegory to the holocaust and pretty much the rise of Nazi Germany. The parallel to America today is obvious but the movie manages not to be preachy about it.

That’s good, because emotional tension runs high. The acting is absolutely top notch except for Bale in the beginning of the movie and whoever plays Bane himself. The problem is the actor doesn’t know when he’s talking  with the mask on so he doesn’t know how to express himself with his eyes. The problem continues on in the movie where there’s parts where he’s talking under the mask but nothing is coming out. It’s not particularly jarring.

You figure out fairly soon on who Robin is going to be, but the writing is well enough done that the part is engaging right until the end. About the only part which is particularly campy is when catwoman uses the bat-o-cycle or whatever it’s called to blast out the police officers and there’s a charge directly out of braveheart between the police, armed with only sidearms, and Bane’s gang which has an array of G36s and light machine guns. In real life it would have been a wildly nice gesture which lasts 10 minutes as the police are cut to ribbons. For a movie which works hard on it’s technical merit with exotic EMP and upside-down bat-o-coptors, it’s a bit jarring to get there.

The twist at the end is absolutely fantastic but again, easy to see coming if you’re familiar with as much as the animated series which was popular in the 90s. The nice part is how it handles batman canon – although the movie will appease hardcore batman fans and people who have half a clue about socialism, the movie remains accessible to even the most unprepared fan in the audience. It includes graceful flashback moments to keep viewers engaged but reminded about what happened in previous films.  Catwoman is easy on the eyes, for instance, without being overtly sexualized which means you can take the wife and not have her be completely offended. Anne Hatheway, however, is really sexy in the catsuit and plays the role extremely well. She’s sexy when the role calls for it but manages to avoid it when the role does not.

Is it perfect? No, but it’s darn good, and worth a see on the big screen.

Snow White and the Huntsman

The one sentence review: Great movie killed by terrible cast and production.

I can’t remember the last time I was actually pissed off at the casting for a movie. Sam Spruell plays his part really well and carries the film. Charlize Theron does fairly well for herself but doesn’t get the room she needs to actually be a character. The wicked witch is indeed wicked right up until the end but I suspect a lot of the performance was robbed because of production, the first part of the movie actually seems like it occurred much later in the film and was cut and pasted in. Granted, that’s the visual effect I get, the plot itself makes better sense with it there but it feels like more of a flashback like something was missing. Kristen Stewart plays Snow White as though she has shoes filled with rocks. She can’t act. Chris Hemsworth puts up a valiant effort not to be Thor in this film and while it works, he has the same problem Charlize does where you know they can do better but something is really awkward about their performance. My take is he spends so much time watching Kirsten act terribly he’s consumed by a desire to punch her in the face repeatedly just to get a different expression out of her.

Frankly, the director (Rupert Sanders) probably ruined it.

Here’s why: The production is shit in this film. You can clearly tell ivy is just plastic ivy they threw onto the set pieces. There are elements missing from the screenplay including one scene where the dwarfs complain about “fairy music” and “put moss in your ears” and people are reacting to it but the music is conspicuously not playing. There are places where Kristen’s hair and wardrobe changes for no obvious reason early on in the movie. Furthermore they stole a lot of the visuals from Princess Mononoke and Lord of the Rings. It’s like they went out of their way to make sure that they got “that scene” from the movies. The party crossing the mountains in the rain is straight out of the Lord of the Rings. The Queens crown was borrowed directly from the Witch King in LotR. Thankfully they avoided lifting Rivendale for the fairy realm, but the fairy realm is the enchanted forest from Princess Mononoke complete with the fairies as domokun and the lord of the wood as an elk with wooden antlers.

You want the movie to work, but the director is so uninspired it feels laborious. This includes accents, they force everyone to talk in ye olden english and its obvious everyone thought it was stupid. It ends up getting in the way of the dialogue because people won’t pronounce the words the same way twice.

That being said, the writing is top notch. My suspicion is that John Lee Hancock carried most of that and the dialog is witty if you’re paying attention to it. Actually paying attention to it is sometimes hard because of the reasons above, but it’s there.

I almost wish someone re-directs it much later. Seeing a different cast and a director who actually has some inspiration would be a nice change and really redeem the movie. Particularly annoying is Kristen’s absolute fear of horses and how much time she spends on a horse. You would have thought they would have worked it out in preproduction with her.

That being said the set pieces were really good once they covered up the fake ivy. The castle is well done. The fairy realm, while borrowing heavily from Mononoke, looks great down to the turtles and snakes covered in moss. The mushrooms amused me greatly. The dark forest was fantastic and a neat twist was notion that monsters don’t live there, but hallucinogenic spores from mushrooms do. The magic mirror in particular shows insight from the writing, the spirit evoked from the mirror is only visible to the queen, which gives her the appearance of insanity to her brother.

Is it worth a view? Yes, but don’t expect it to be perfect.

Should you see it in theaters? Not really, there’s not enough grandiosity to warrant the big screen.

The Internet is a Cellphone

The last post I wrote was a lament that the internet-as-a-cellphone wasn’t being fully explored from a technological standpoint.

Today we have the opposite problem: The internet-as-a-cellphone is being legislated as a cultural standpoint. Specifically, Domain Seizure has become the tool of choice to shut down “infringing content”. What is this content? Movies, games, pirated apps, etc.

How did we get here?

The old mode of piracy required a fair bit of infrastructure. A person would typically mail some money though the snailmail and they would typically get a stack of CDs or floppies in return with cracked apps and games on them. Things plunked along this way for a good while as the popularity of usenet declined due to AOL and eventually things went viral to the point where IRC was the mode of distribution. The IRC bots evolved to the point where if the bot didn’t have the software you were interested in, groups had agreed to cross referencing to other bots. The decline of USENET and the rise of IRC corresponded roughly from RadioShack and Circuit City not selling software or parts anymore to advertising software being pre-loaded on the pirated applications.

The movies thing I don’t think anyone saw coming. VHS piracy was as simple as going to blockbuster and renting whatever you wanted for $1 and then going home and wiring up the VCRs. As media moved into the digital realm, it meandered back to mail order DVDs (or the guy on the street corner selling questionable copies in strange languages), CD-Video (popular in asia, never here), MPEG copies on IRC, and the unfortunately named DivX video codec. DIVX players attempted to stem the tide with their dial-up DVD service but I would guess most of them ended up cracked.

Let me digress for a second and point out we forget who or what came before. The chinese looking to circumvent the firewall could learn oodles from the old US piracy market. How many books fit on a DVD? Actual text, I’m talking about, not ebooks. How many cameras come with an SD card now? Who checks all these things versus how much electronic stuff moves in and out of china? The great firewall doesn’t currently censor email as I recall, what about a wget service or a newsnet service with UUENCODED files? This is how the US used to do it and people wrote special mail handlers to reassemble these files, it would work in china. Its how it used to work. I had a DXR2. I bought it after my alpha died with which I used to rip DVDs. Nostalgia.

Somewhere along the way someone figured out the space requirements even for compressed, pirated materials (movies, games) was somewhere around 4GB.  Things plodded along at the 4GB limit for a bit and the movie industry responded by packing “HD Content” into 9GB DVDs with double layers, and finally the whole weird push to blu-ray and HD-DVD came around and blu-ray won because Sony’s pockets are deep enough to pay for a loss leader like that.

Suddenly, things came full circle. TV stalled. Gimmicks for TVs haven’t impressed consumers much because who cares about 3D content if it’s not on demand. Movies suffer the same problem. The issue is the world simply got busier. No-one has a two hour chunk of time to go to the theatre anymore. We don’t even have time to take books off the shelf. Why should we? We read books on our laptops, then the laptop became a tablet, than the table became an ebook reader, then the ebook reader stopped existing and became software on a cellphone. We scaled up the cellphone screen to a tablet again, but these new tablets had enough bandwidth and CPU to do something interesting – they could surf the web, and they could watch video. How big is the new HD AVATAR? 1.2GB. How big is the new HD INCEPTION? 1.4GB. This for full, 1080p content. Samsung said as much with it’s cellphones with the screen, but more importantly the line-out to your actual TV.

This is the other side of the convergence that the new internet is a cellphone.

Now we look at Megaupload and GMAIL and such and 8GB is the norm. 8GB used to be just under what it took to store a DVD. Now 8GB is just enough to store 7 full movies. What’s important is that it’s the norm. It’s an artefact from a time when things were bigger and they could be bigger because we weren’t trying to consume content down small pipes. The movie companies know this but how could they legislate how much storage a particular user has? YouTube doesn’t even care. GMAIL? Why should they make it smaller? MegaUpload? 200MB, but how hard is it to keep a list of 5 URLs to unpack a RAR of a movie? Therein lies the problem. This is basically a bandwidth problem versus a content control problem. Since they (the MPAA/RIAA) can’t control the bandwidth they’ll try to control the content. What’s the best way to do that? Take away their cellphone. One man’s ZIP is another man’s video-codec, what’s the difference between cat and zcat? Compression, but they work the same way. The MPAA/RIAA already subscribes to this new model where the internet is a cellphone, and so everyone crying FREE SPEECH over the whole seizure of URLs doesn’t get it.Taking away a sites URL is like taking away their cellphone. It doesn’t impinge on their free speech, it just takes away the radio tower. Get another cellphone, learn the IPs. Your OS has a hosts file for a reason. It’s no biggie.

Just for reference: I do believe the megaupload files were seized improperly. I think everyone who was using it as a legitimate document repository should sue. I just don’t think the URL seizure is illegal nor amoral and reveals a profound misunderstanding of how the internet works.

Harry Potter 7b: Thank God it’s the End

First a note on the theater. I hate it when the theater experience is so bad it rationalizes my purchase of a giant TV. I go to the movies for something to do to get away from my kid. In this case my mother in law was watching Alex for us and it was a nice thing to do with my wife. Unfortunately we went to the Frank Theater chain down here in Ocean City, NJ. Not only do they not open the lobby until they’re literally minutes from showing the film, but the film starts on time. God help you if you’re not first in line. The theater was musty, had a noisy dehumidifier in it, the sound was muddy and the screen was unfocused. The worst of it was that the silvering was going on the screen so the top right was weirdly dark. I should have walked out.

That being said, it was a really good movie and they should have just cut it right in the middle. How it should have ended: Snape accuses Dumbledor of raising Harry “like a pig for the slaughter”, we find out about Snapes weird obsession with Harry’s mom, Dumbledor has a moral argument with Snape over the bodycount getting behind Harry is going to take and dies miserably in a moral quandary utterly broken. When they line up the wizards after Harry’s “death”, they have another moral discussion and we have a civil war between families. It all ends when they hang the Malfroys for high treason for throwing their lot in with Dumbledor and with Voldemort. It’s OK for Harry to spring back to life, only to leave him utterly broken when he learns about the destruction people brought on themselves in his name. The snake is killed and Harry throws himself off the bridge among falling bodies of the still dueling wizards and both Harry and Voldemort die. Everyone who has died on both sides have given their lives in vain.

What actually happened: Voldemort, a supposed true master of magic and the dark arts, forgot that you own a wand when you disarm someone and “accidentally” cast the killing curse on Harry. This is after Voldemort reveals that the wand “resists him” and he can “feel it”. Oh, did I mention that Harry can come back to life in some sort of weird cosmic train station but no-one else who was pivotal to the cause can?

Then we’re treated to “19 years later” which sets up the next film where Harry and whatever her name is, the hot bitch and Ron send their kids off to the New Hogwarts.

Way to ruin it, Rowling. That’s AVATAR level bullshit right there.

safecopy is the anydvd of linux

Before you try anything here – this guide does really bad things to the atapi bus. If your computer suddenly reboots and hasn’t written consistent files due to a bus crash, don’t blame me or the utilities mentioned in here. Just buy a computer that doesn’t suck or buy a USB drive.

I want to buy someone a beer.

I have had a hell of a time with my kid biting everything (including his tongue) and that includes DVDs. I know I’m not alone – DVDs which come from Netflix are great examples of CSI work. You know the previous guy has little kids about the same age because you can look on the DVD and get their dental records.

I’ve talked about this before, but kids trash media. Not only do they trash media but the media itself tends to have copy protection which is intentional trash already on the media before your kids got to it. Disney does this to an extreme. The way it looks is a bunch of chapters on the disk which might be the right size and time except they’re filled with garbage. You need the physical copy of the disk. Previously you could use dd on the disk and that’s how I used to do it. I happened to run across safecopy when reading up on disaster recovery stuff for work and wow.

Here’s how safecopy works – it’s very similar to dd where you set the block size to huge and no read retries. The problem with the dd method is that if you have two files spanning the block size (and remember that DVDs don’t really have blocks, so “yes”), you discard the start of the next file. I’ve been getting around it by setting the block size to low for DVDs with “copy protection”, but this gives me plenty of time to make a list of people to kill while I research who came up with this. If the disk is scratched, I set the block size to a larger value (10M) because you know you’re going to hit that same scratch for literally the entire 8.5GB or whatever disk. This generally worked well so long as you didn’t hit the transition of the files.

safecopy changes that entirely.

You run safecopy in passes. The first pass is no recovery past bad blocks, and it skips a lot of blocks. In fact it’s no different from running dd. dd hits a bad block and skips to the next. safecopy hits a bad block and skips to the next and it keeps track of which addresses have bad blocks in a file it’s written. The magic is in the options – safecopy lets you specify a size of blocks to skip in bytes (16 is the default) or percent of size. That second one is the magic one, because block size changes physically as you move closer to the edge of the disk, and the edge of the disk is the part that goes in your little biters mouth. The question is – how many blocks are destroyed under each tooth mark?

How did I use it?

safecopy –stage1 /dev/sr1 /home/knarrj/tmp/damaged.iso

That makes safecopy do a fast pass and write off 10% of the total disk size (8.7GB) to bad sectors when it hits a bad sector. It writes a stage1.badblocks file and makes a note of the addresses it skipped. The ISO there is padded. If you try playing this ISO in VLC or whatever you’ll probably play it a bit and then VLC will crash when it tries to jump to a sector with the content BaDBlOcK. Then follows the magic:

safecopy –stage2 -I stage1.badblocks /dev/sr1 /home/knarrj/tmp/damaged.iso

Cool huh? Now safecopy goes back and reads the disk backwards from the boundary of the amount of bytes that it skipped to find the last, best sector. If we ran stage 3, it would be like dd again and attempt to read every byte on the disk. The first pass is about 15 minutes or so and the second pass is about 45 minutes meaning you can beat teeth marks and structural copy protection in about 1 hour.

Steve Jobs on Android

truly then has the android come into it’s own when Apple takes a note. Much in the same way Microsoft shot themselves in the foot with free press, Jobs really did the wrong thing by bringing attention to it.

Two points – The UI. I’m not worried about the UI. Microsoft phones have had a different UI for each release and it hasn’t stopped them. Blackberry too, for the most part, has had a new UI release for each phone, although they at least try to keep a standard look and feel for where things are even if the icons are different. Why then is the UI important? Its what people expect to see for making a phone stand out. You go into a cellphone store and they have running demo phones just so that you can mess with the UI. More on the point, the Google App Store doesn’t hurt anyone over the UI experience because the user will buy something they’re comfortable with UI wise while getting access to the app store. Apps which won’t run on your device (IE: 2.2 apps) don’t get presented. But this is an argument against Apple – who’s UI is absolutely the same for each device. It’s all their eggs in one basket – either you really like the UI and you’ll purchase a phone with that look and feel, or you hate the UI and you’ll shop elsewhere. My take on this argument is that it was a straw man from the beginning. Apple doesn’t let other companies do integration, so then when Jobs says “The user has to do the integration on android” – he’s being dishonest. The user can shop around for an android which fits their UI expectations – but if the user buys an apple phone and wants to change the UI, s/he really does have to do the UI integration. Incidentally the app “homeswitcher” in the market will let you do all that pesky UI integration with one click. This seems to be a popular talking point, enough that I felt a need to discuss it earlier.

The store(s) – I think the rant here was because Apple is afraid that developers will go for greener pastures, and while it was only Apple and Google competing, Apple only needed to sweeten the deal to keep developers in the apple store. There’s nothing to keep the existing developers on one platform or another. The Angry Birds guy is a good example of this – he’s well entrenched in the apple store and he’s probably made all the sales he’s ever going to make from that application. He’s got every reason to move despite less favorable terms elsewhere because he’s already hit market saturation unless there’s new users on the device. However with the apple ipad failing to offer up any new experience aside of being a “larger iphone” (and not that large at that), it’ll simply fail to entice people to purchase software again. There’s really no new users (unless people are somehow swayed by Jobs’s speech). What Apple is worried about is that new developers will see the competition from the other stores and the terms which are basically bidding wars and maybe they’ll get the next Killer App out on the android before it comes to the IOS platform. Not every indy developer is going to get titles like gameloft, who arguably don’t need the app store because they’re getting promotional tie-ins. However the new developers are going to look at the google store, the apple store, the samsung store, the verizon store and the at&t store and they’ll probably write off apple immediately. Why? Because they can code for one platform (android 2.1, android 2.2, etc) and pick which store is giving them the best terms at the moment. Is the verizon store likely to be open to t-mobile customers? Maybe. The Samsung store absolutely is open across carriers. If Verizon is serious about running a music/video/games store, they’ll make the verizon store app available in the marketplace.

Apple, at this point, is now going through the gentrification process. If I were Jobs, I would be looking for a new look and feel for IOS to inject some fresh life into the platform.