Quantum of Solace review: (just) Three Stars

I’ve been brewing over QoS for a while now, and I’m ready to render judgement.

It wasn’t a great movie. It was very nearly not even good.

Let’s see… what went wrong?

Well: Casino Royale set an impossibly high bar, is the short version.

Casino Royale delivered (for Bond) realism and authenticity in its action sequences, a compelling and mildly complex plot, interesting locations, and again, and above all, the return of some authenticity. If I had to sum up Bond 20, it would be “authentic”. A reboot in the truest sense of the word. Like Batman Begins, care was taken with the details, enough that I wasn’t immediately offended or pissed off while watching it (and having my suspension of disbelief shattered by an unrealistic stunt, or a sequence that was clearly CGI, etc, etc).

Whereas Nolan pulled off The Dark Knight with even more of what made the first movie good, reinvigorated Bond fans got the difficult second album.

Quantum of Solace relies on effects and an incomprehensible set of action-cut-sequences, in which the effects shots stand out. The moment in the boat where Olga strikes at the other man (impossible camera shot, so clearly an effect); the weird part where something got attached to another boat somehow; other impossible camera shots; implausible villain’s lair. It was damn near Roger Moore-era over-the-top-ness.

Put another way, I thought the ad for the Sony thingo at the start, where Daniel Craig was getting stoically blasted by explosions and debris, all the while trying to stare sadly at the camera, was the best action sequence in the movie. (Like the “Mad World” Gears of War ad made you wish the story in the game was actually worth a damn and had just a smidgen of poignance). But no. Yes, there was an action sequence montage to arguably inappropriate music, and while the girlie enjoyed that bit, I’ve seen it done better, and less perfunctorily.

And then, when you think things might be calming down… the MI6 computer system was one of those ridiculous Swordfish-class monstrosities. Surface multiplied with some Designers Republic offcuts. Everything seemed to beep and animate and twirl, but how much of it actually looked functional or useful to anyone? Frustration abounded. Does anyone, ever, really expect computers to be magical any more? Do they need to be?

And I felt tired. Bond being cut loose from MI6 (or was it 5?) again? Really? Is that even a plot twist any more, or did Judi Dench die ten years ago, and they’re just compositing her into the scenes with all the same lines? Maybe computers are magical.

Quantum just didn’t work as well on any level, and I’m going to argue that at the end of the day, it was largely due to the direction. The plot could have used work, but I think the disappointingly vague and overly brusque action sequences made the action less fun, and the movie as a whole felt cheap.

I’m hoping this is a momentary mis-step, and that we’ll see more of the smart, realistic Bond we got from Casino Royale, and less of a return to the special effects and plausibility nightmares of Die Another Day.

So, six out of ten. Charitably, 7, but that’s stretching the friendship. Must Do Better.

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Children of Men

A really good movie. Powerful, even. Excellent performances all round, especially Clive Owen and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

In short: it’s the near future. No children have been born for 18 years, worldwide. The world has fallen into ruin, except proud, fascist Britain, which is maintaining a stiff upper lip and rounding up all illegal immigrants – ‘Fugees – into detention camps.

Theo (Owen) meets Kee, a Fugee that has fallen pregnant – and is tasked with protecting her from, well, everyone.

Some stunning action sequences, one of which contains the emotional climax of the movie, really satisfy. Two thumbs up.

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Converting DVDs to put on myspace, YouTube, Google Video etc.

For Kasie, who wants to put her skydiving video on myspace.

This post describes how to convert an unprotected DVD into a format that can be uploaded to myspace, YouTube, Google Video or any other web video host. Protected DVDs such as store-bought or rented movies require extra steps that are not covered in this post.

Starting out with a fresh Windows XP computer, you will need:

You need to install Auto Gordian Knot (AutoGK). Choose the defaults. The install is unusual, in that it installs a few other programs as well (VobSub, AviSynth and XviD). It might be a bit confusing, but just go through all of the installers that come up. They are not evil*.

Once the install is complete, start AutoGK. Put your DVD into the drive.

The next step is to choose the files to convert. In general, the file you want to choose is VTS_01_0.IFO, in the VIDEO_TS folder on the DVD. If you have more than one video on the DVD then you might have to choose a higher number e.g.. VTS_02_0.IFO but on a home movie or skydiving video this is unlikely.

Next we need to choose the location of the file to create. Just put it anywhere you want. In the example I just put it on the desktop. The filename needs to end in “.AVI”.

 

The next step is to choose the width and format of your video. Click on Advanced Settings (highlighted below) and in the dialog that pops up choose:

  • A fixed width of 320 (you have to use the down arrow)
  • VBR MP3 at 128 Kbps
  • XviD codec (if you installed DivX and prefer it, by all means choose it)

Why these settings? From the YouTube help:

What’s the best format to upload for high quality? We recommend the MPEG4 (DivX, XviD) format at 320×240 resolution with MP3 audio. Resizing your video to these specifications before uploading will help your clips look better on YouTube.

The last thing we have to determine is the size of the file to create. I would recommend, at the above settings, 10MB per minute for good quality. This is because we are going to send it to a server and they will do their own conversion so we want as good as we can get, within a reasonable file size. The bigger the file, the longer it will take to send to the server, the smaller the file the lower the quality. The DVD I used to make this post is about 4 minutes long, so I chose 40MB as the file size.

We are nearly ready to start. Once everything above has been set, click the Add Job button. Then click the Start button next to it. Stuff will start to happen. AutoGK uses other programs to do its work (remember all the stuff that got installed), so different things will be popping up for a while. The second one that pops up (well, pops behind) is for VirtualDubMod. It will say “GNU General Public License”. You need to click this, press OK (if you agree, of course), and then press Start VirtualDubMod. Your computer will be effectively useless to you for some time as converting videos will use 100% of its CPU. Go make a cup of tea. Drink it. Clean the house. Make dinner. Eat it. Clean up. Check to see if the video is finished. Of course this depends on the length of your video and the power of your computer, but the point is that this takes a while.

When there is no longer anything listed in the Job Queue box then your video is finished. Watch it. Revel in your new skills and give yourself a pat on the back. All you have to do is upload it to myspace, YouTube, whatever and you are done.

*Shifty and Pinkjoint are not responsible for any evil caused by third parties.

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Miami Vice

I finally got around to seeing Miami Vice.

The cinema – Greater Union Gold Class at Macquarie – had picture and audio issues. The whole movie crackled from start to finish. Big black specks littered the screen right the way through the movie. I couldn’t ignore them for the first half hour, but after that half hour, the movie had sucked me in.

I appreciated having to bring prior knowledge to the jargon, it made the whole thing seem more realistic. I found myself anxiously awaiting the outcome of the action sequences; they were absolutely stellar, particularly the trailer park sequence.

David and Margaret review the movie at the link below – I’m not sure the plot was quite as hackneyed as Margaret seems to think; David’s spot on the money when he comments that there are some “really great scenes in this”.

If the narrative had been just a little more flowing, and perhaps a few of the sex scenes cut shorter or even inferred, it might have been a complete success.

Link to At the Movies: Miami Vice

I’ll give it 7/10; if the cinema had got the audio and video right, it might have nudged up to an 8. I’ll be getting it on DVD, I think.

So they want to make DVR as useless as DVD? FANTASTIC!

Via Ars:

US television network ABC is concerned about losing ad revenue to DVR-loving, ad-skipping consumers, and it has a plan to stem the bleeding—deactivate the DVR fast forward button.

Yes, we just adore those annoying unskippable sections of DVD that prevent you from watching the part you actually want to watch until you’ve sat through whatever attention-taxing crap the DVD producer has tacked onto the start of their movie/series/whatever, and we’d be happy to make the same accommodation for DVR.

No, really. It’s not insane – it’s a TV Executive.

Should make that into a t-shirt.

Food for thought: How many years away is IPTV, and how many years of slow, painful death will the major TV networks endure before being snapped up by IPTV providers?

At the moment, you could create a la carte network programming using an RSS feed and BitTorrent; if there was some way of actually micropaying the creator for the right to use the content, I’d set up a network myself.

The Authenticity Revolution

Via Kotaku, we hear about a “credibility budget

Gamedev website Gamasutra has a feature up that puts into words a concept I’ve been struggling to explain for years. The author modestly calls it “Ken Perlin’s Law”, but I venture that his own term, “credibility budget”, is far more catchy:

That’s as good a word as any.

Games often create premises that stretch the bounds of reality as we understand it, but it’s typically due to a limitation of the game – it’s hard to simulate reality.

On the other hand, movies face almost the opposite problem. They’re shot predominantly using real people, with real props; the action blockbusters have been working for years to try to escape the bounds of reality.

But I think we’re at the start of the authenticity revolution – the credibility budget is another way of putting it. As audiences become smarter and more informed, you won’t be able to blow up a car Top Secret-style when the bumper gets a slight knock; authenticity will be required. On reading that wikipedia entry, what I thought was cunning movie satire of big budget action movies was actually commentary on the brand of car. But I think it makes my point anyway.

Get the physics close to right, then stretch them just a little. Don’t blow your credibility budget. Stick to the established rules of your universe. All good advice.

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