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Month: April 2005


Real quick notes, here; I may write more about this later, but then again I may not. However: The new Mac OS X rocks. The Spotlight search functionality is pretty good, but what’s important to me is that it shipped with command line tools so I can do metadata searches in my scripts. Dashboard provides a paradigm for desktop widgets that I can use, namely that they stay out of the way until I go looking for them. The Safari RSS functionality looks pretty slick; I might not use it, but it’s comforting to know it understands Atom.

Day and date

Huge news: Soderbergh is committing to simultaneous release across TV, DVD, and theaters. His next six movies will be released in theaters, on DVD, and on television (via Mark Cuban’s high def HDTV network) at the same time. The movies will be funded by Cuban, shown in Cuban’s Landmark Theaters chain, and the DVDs will be released through Cuban’s DVD label. So it’s all Cuban, all the time.

This is something Cuban’s wanted to do for a long time; he is betting heavily on digital distribution and he’s probably right. He built his corporate structure with exactly this kind of deal in mind; he owns a company at each level of the movie distribution chain, from production studio down to every consumer product distribution channel. He must be thrilled that he managed to get someone as prestigious as Soderbergh to buy into the concept. Chances are that Soderbergh will bring one of his star stable (Clooney, Roberts, or Damon) along for at least one of these six movies, which should do wonders for publicity.

It also means that Soderbergh won’t be making another blockbuster for a while. I wasn’t expecting Ocean’s 13 anyhow. According to the article, his next movie will be Bubble and will be a fairly experimental piece, at least in that there won’t be any professional actors. IMDB says Soderbergh’s also working on Che — Benicio del Toro, Javier Bardem, and Franka Potente? I’m so there. I can’t tell if Soderbergh is really directing it, though: some say it’s Terence Malick. The latest info says it’s Soderbergh. It’s gone back and forth a few times, I think.

He’s got The Good German coming up, as well, which has another fairly exciting cast. If I were speculating, I’d say that Che won’t be part of the six movie deal, but that The Good German might be. It’s all guesswork on my part, though.

So what are the implications beyond Soderbergh? Really depends on how this works out. I think those three markets are different enough not to cannibalize each other. I think that people who want to see movies in theaters will keep on doing so: The Big Sleep has been out on DVD for a while, but I still went to see it on the big screen. As long as directors keep directing with the big screen in mind, it won’t fade. Similarly, people who want to own the DVD are different from people who want to watch it once and move on with their lives, so HD TV and DVD don’t overlap too much.

On the other hand, the rental market starts looking different — not initially, but as HD TV and broadband penetrate the marketplace. Netflix has a lifespan; if I were an executive over there, I’d be figuring out how to get my brand name into the digital distribution space. Greencine is already thinking about it.

Hm. And you know, I wonder if we wouldn’t see more short term runs of movies, at least in the independent space. Your average art house theater schedules movies on a day to day basis, rather than on a week to week basis, because most people who want to see The Big Sleep in a theater will make it there in the first day or two it’s playing. I wouldn’t predict the end of week+ runs for independent films, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw fewer lengthy runs.

Cool experiment, in any case. I’m glad Cuban got Soderbergh to give it a try.

Finally king

Ladies and gentlemen, Iraq has a government. Took a while, but they got there. I’m happy about that.

I find myself concerned that Chalabi is the acting oil minister, since he’s not exactly a beacon of shining moral integrity. I’m also rather bemused that the Prime Minister is the acting defense minister. Having the head of state also be the head of the armed forces has not traditionally been a sign of democratic process, but at least it’s temporary.

Ah, yes, temporary ministers. What happened is this: they couldn’t agree on who got the important ministerial posts, so they made them acting posts for the time being. They will get filled in over the course of the next couple of weeks. It’s the right decision, as Iraq can’t go without a government any longer.

On to the constitution.

Bitter popcorn

When Phantom Menace was released, I took the day off work and drove up to the AMC 1000 Van Ness in San Francisco. If you ask me, it’s got the best screens in the city, although maybe the new AMC multiplex in Daly City beats it these days. But that multiplex was built over hospital parking, and is thus morally flawed, so I vote for the 1000 Van Ness. Besides, the Daly City multiplex wasn’t done when Phantom Menace came out.

As far as San Francisco movie theaters in general? Yes, of course the Castro is better. But they don’t show blockbusters. The Coronet was awesome… for sentimental reasons: yeah, it was the canonical destination for blockbuster openers. However, the 1000 Van Ness had better screens. My favorite rep house in San Francisco is probably the Roxie, while I’m digressing. But man — the Four Star, the Bridge, Red Vic, even the Embarcadero didn’t suck. I saw a lot of Cronenberg movies at the Embarcadero. I do miss San Francisco’s movie options, as much as I love the Brattle.

Where was I? Oh yeah; Star Wars.

So I drove up and got to the theater by noon, with tickets in hand for a 7:30 show. Surprisingly, the theater was not packed. I’d anticipated camping out in line with my pal Jamie — no such need. In fact, there were still tickets available for the 1:30 show. Jamie and I looked at each other.

“Hey. We could see the 1:30, and then we could see the 7:30! We could see it twice in one day! It’s gonna be awesome! This is great! We are so lucky!”

In retrospect? Yeah, the lack of people lining up should have been a sign. I don’t really recall what I was thinking. I might have said something about how everyone was over at the aforementioned Coronet. The local newspapers had been doing stories on the line over there, which was huge. So, sure, that’s why nobody was around at the 1000 Van Ness for the most important movie event ever. (We didn’t know about that thing with the hobbits yet.)

So we went to see the 1:30 movie. So exciting! The Lucasfilm logo at the beginning! The incredibly cool first ten minutes or so!

And then it was as if we’d eaten the top layer of our popcorn and found stale Milk Duds underneath. The hell?

Afterwards we kind of slouched out into the lobby and looked at our 7:30 tickets. And looked at the tickets we were holding for the other five or six people who were seeing the 7:30 showing with us. And sat down on the floor, and talked about — I don’t remember. Gaming, probably. When everyone else showed up, we didn’t trash the movie — figured it was better to let people make up their own minds, plus hey, maybe it’d get better with a second showing. Which it didn’t really.

So that’s why I saw Phantom Menace twice on opening day despite hating it both times. It turned me off blockbuster openings for a while. The thing with the hobbit did a lot to fix that, as did both Spider-Man movies. (The first of which I saw at the Metreon, since I’m keeping track.)

Despite all that, despite the tale of woe, despite the painful contrast of Natalie Portman in the Star Wars movies and Natalie Portman in Closer… I’m still sitting here with four tickets to the midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith at Boston Common. (First come first served but one’s earmarked for my brother unless he doesn’t want it and one’s earmarked for the guy who got me a Serenity ticket ditto.)

Eternal optimist am I. Sigh. You know what was really good? Sean Stewart’s Star Wars novel. It had a lot of Count Dooku in it, y’know?

Time in a bottle

Weird idea, while drifting off to sleep:

A Lexicon of Lost Hollywood. Each entry is a movie review of a movie that was never made; each movie review must refer forward and back to other movies. You can make up actors and directors and screenwriters if you like, but they cannot be entries: they will always be defined only by the reviews of their movies. Or, if you wish, you can use the stars that we know.

The slots are not alphabetical: they are chronological. 1940-1945; 1945-1950; 1950-1955; 1955-1960; 1960-1965; 1965-1970; 1970-1975; 1975-1980; 1980-1985; 1985-1990; 1990-1995; 1995-2000. 12 slots. The secret history of Hollywood (and Bollywood, and the BBC, and Hong Kong) is revealed slowly as the needle of time moves forward.

Impending boom

We’re a step closer to the showdown on judicial filibusters. I kinda figured Harry Reid would force the issue.

The short version of what’s going on: you can prevent a vote from occurring in the Senate by filibustering it. It requires 60 votes to end a filibuster. Senator Frist is threatening to change the Senate rules in order to require only 50 votes to end a filibuster. However, changing Senate rules has always taken a 2/3rds majority vote. How’s Frist gonna get around that?

Well, he’s going to raise a point of order arguing that the filibuster is unconstitutional because it prevents the Senate’s Constitutional duty to advise and consent on judicial nominations. That point of order will go to the Senate’s presiding officer, who will be Cheney. Cheney will then say “You’re right,” and the vote to end the filibuster will take place.

However, Senate precedent says that Cheney can’t make the decision on constitutionality; rather, it should go to a Senate vote, which is itself subject to filibuster. And of course the Democrats would filibuster it. So Cheney has to break precedent and make a ruling. It’s fair to note that this does not break Senate rules, but Senate precedent is not unimportant either.

If you want the detailed look at this, start here and go on to this, this, this, this, this, and this. There are more posts in that series, but those are the ones that address Constitutional and Senate rules issues rather than arguing about the value of the filibuster itself and the meaning of “advise and consent.” Which are interesting questions, but not as relevant to this post.

Or shoot him

I’ll have a formal Actual Play post at the 20’ by 20’ Room later, but right now I just want to say that Dogs in the Vineyard rocks hard. Whoa, but that’s a strong game with a beautiful clarity to it.

At first glance it maybe doesn’t look like the setting and the system are so tightly linked. But they are, maybe not so much in the details of place and time but certainly in the moral certainty aspect. The key aspect of the system is the ability to escalate: the ability to slap down a bunch more dice and say “I’m willing to go this far to make this thing happen.” That is reinforced by the moral correctness of the player characters and creates a very powerful dynamic at the table.

I had probably too many people — five is more than is recommended — but I wouldn’t have wanted to lose any of the PCs. There’s this nice touch in character generation where you don’t say “My character prioritizes skills over stats.” Instead, you say “My character had a complex upbringing,” and the prioritization of stats, skills, and relationships falls out from that. It encourages one to think about one’s background. My PCs were great. Also, you get to use the conflict skills during character generation, so you’re used to the system by the time it’s time to start thinking about shooting people.

“My father was a Dog, but he was also an alcoholic and I learned growing up that you fend for yourself or you go hungry.” “I’m an orphan, and I loved the Temple, and I’m wearing a coat that was made for someone else because I have no family to make a coat for me.” “I’m a sinner waiting to happen, because I want to be with another woman and I’m slipping over the line from ‘I do what is right’ to ‘It’s right because a Dog does it.’” “My mother was a Dog but I got lost as the youngest sister to six brothers, and I’m looking for people to stick up for.” “My father was a Dog, and of course I’m a Dog, and of course Dogs are better than others, and of course I’m going to be the best of them all.” See? Awesome PCs.

I’m head over heels with this system. I imagine that’ll fade but the immediate reaction is huge. Oh — here’s my town writeup, which is OK for players to look at if they’re curious. Wow, but it’s easy to run Dogs.


It hasn’t been posted on their calendar yet, but the Spring 2005 Brattle schedule is out. Highlights include:

That’ll keep me pretty busy.