Redbox Rocks – Brilliant!


Although it’s probably a transitional mode of movie distribution until streaming becomes the preferred mode – probably in 3-4 years, Redbox really puts conventional movie stores to shame when you want a popular title.

The friendly big movie boxes are located at heavy traffic stores like Wal Mart, and offer popular titles (as well as a limited selection of older films) at only $1.    The combination of a very intuitive and simple touchscreen interface, credit card scan, networking and the “robotics” of the Redbox are impressive to me.  The entire system seems well designed to eliminate the challenges that face other touch systems – clunky navigation and printer problems.   No printer problems at RedBox because they don’t use one – instead you are emailed both when you rent and when you return.

Another innovative solution is to avoid the frustrating and usurous “late fees” by simply charging a dollar a day – the standard low rental rate – until 25 days after which you own the movie.   This is an approach likely to get some revenues from movie sales and avoid pissing off customers who forget or keep the film for a few extra days.   I’d guess the optimal “you’ve bought it” number is lower than this – probably about $12 or so – but to know that you’d have to have information such as the cost to replenish titles in the machines, cost of lost revenue before titles are replenished, etc.    I’m assuming that RedBox’ largest long term cost is the human interaction needed to maintain and load the machines.

———- Return receipts are emailed immediately ——-

Dear JHUNKINS@GMAIL.COM:

Your copy of “Cloverfield” was successfully returned on 7/11/2008 11:30 AM.
Your return was on time. You will receive a receipt via email when we process your account.

Thanks for using Redbox!

Return Details

Barcode: 0—-6
Transaction ID: 13—1
Return location: Wal-Mart (view inventory here)
300 W Valley View Rd
Talent, OR 97540-9629
Rent date/time: 7/10/2008 1:16 PM
Due date/time: 7/11/2008 9:00 PM
Return date/time: 7/11/2008 11:30 AM
Questions? Comments? Contact Redbox Customer Service

Phone: 1-866-REDBOX3
Email: questions@redbox.com
FAQ: http://www.redbox.com/Help/Faq.aspx

DVD rentals cost only $1.00 + tax until 9:00 PM the next evening, then $1.00 + tax for each night thereafter. After 25 days, rental charges will cease and the DVD is yours to keep.

Disney and World Peace


Millions of kids in America and around the world are big Disney fans.   So am I.

In fact I think that Disney may be doing more than *any other entity* to bring harmony and peace to the diverse and complex cultural landscape.   Although they avoid some of the complex and probably unsolvable problems like wahabism vs western culture, they really do a great job promoting racial understanding and cultural understanding via the diversity in the programming .  Simply *modelling cooperation and understanding* to a global audience is powerful,and when you add the huge appeal of Disney music and production values it works on more levels.  More powerful are shows like the upcoming special filmed in India where fun trumps conflict.

Is Disney’s a childish vision of global harmony?    Perhaps, but maybe that is the most effective path of all.

Michael Clayton * * * *


This superb legal drama was one of the best films of the year with George Clooney in excellent form as the “fixer” for a large legal firm handling a massive and complex liability case.     Clayton’s friend, a manic depressive in charge of the case, is brilliantly played by Tom Wilkinson.    Fast paced, rich dialog makes this a joy to watch as the plot unravels and Clayton faces his greatest personal challenge.

No Country for Old Men * * *


This finely crafted film has been judged by many to be a masterpiece, but I think this over-rating is simply because it offers a “different” approach to the genre – something critics who have seen far too many films enjoy a lot more than they should.   No Country for Old Men is another quirky vision of America from the Coen Brothers.  It’s a grim, gray, and violent vision of the Western landscape.   Mostly centered on a psychopathic murdering rampage by a the seemingly indestructible Anton Chigurh, the film’s characters stand as stark metaphors for various features of humanity. 

I read Roger Ebert’s glowing review and still don’t see why he loved the film so much, but clearly I’m in something of a minority to suggest that a film like 3:10 to Yuma is a better movie in both style and treatment of the theme of morality, violence, and moral ambiguity.

Warner feeling Blu-Ray and maybe pocketing $500,000,000


Warner Entertainment decided today to go exclusively blu-ray disk and drop the HD DVD format altogether.   They’d been working with both standards, and this has sent a shock wave – maybe a deadly shock – to the HD DVD standard pioneered by Toshiba.   Blu-ray is the standard developed largely by SONY.

And so we’ve got huge CES News even before the conference starts tomorrow (Sat for Press, Sun for Gates Keynote).   The HD-DVD consotium has cancelled it’s press briefing at CES and is probably scrambling to figure out what hit them.    Rumors suggest it was a 500 million payoff to Warner that got them to “see the light” of the blu-ray format, though it was a superior format by most technical standards.   Unfortunately the players tend to cost more, thus we may see better quality at higher costs. 

Engadget has more

The Namesake * * * *


This excellent film chronicles the life and cultural journey of an American Indian family from their roots in Calcutta to the American “dream” with its quirky and affluent complications.  Kal Penn and Tabu are marvelous as Indian mother in America and American son of India.

The film does a fantastic job of transitioning almost seamlessly between two very different cultures, and offers insights into the deep history of Indian tradition and family values.   A great movie for anybody with an interest in other cultures.

Singularity – the Movie – is near


Ray Kurzweil is one of the most exciting thinkers anywhere, and unlike some “futurist advocates” of the past he’s distinguished himself in several fields relevant to those he speaks about.    He’s producing a film based on his book “The Singularity is Near” that will take the form of a narrative storyline featuring cyberterror, nanotechnology, and virtual beings and also a documentary with interviews featuring many leading thinkers about the future of technology.    See the Singularity website for more.

Ironically the early misguided optimism about AI has led even some early AI pioneers to scoff at the notion we are near the brink of conscious computing.  Yet a lot of evidence now suggests we are near reaching the capability of creating consciousness in machines. 

First, the IBM Blue Brain project is within about 8 years of a good working model of the brain.  They are not claiming to seek “consciousness” with the model  – rather they are focusing on brain and disease research – but I see no reason to think they won’t soon attain a conscious computer as the machine approaches the number of connections we have in our own brains.  

Second, the computational power of computers is approaching that of a human brain.   Kurzweil discusses this at great length in “The Singularity is Near”, noting that exponentially improving processing and memory capacity will soon lead to plenty of power in computers to replicate human thinking patterns.

Third, the explosion in profitability for massively parallel computing power – such as that used by Google and Microsoft – will fuel innovation for many years to come.

The question of “Do you believe in a technological singularity” needs to be replaced with “what are we going to do when the singularity happens?”

Hey, I’ve written a lot more about the Singularity , because I think it’s the biggest thing to hit humanity since….ummmm…. the advent of humanity?

Beowulf * * *


Beowulf has some simply remarkable animation sequences, especially those showing the title character.   I need to study up to see how they transition between the real people and the CGI computerized animations, but in the best scenes it is difficult to tell the actor from the animation.    In general though the film appears as animation, which makes it a bit harder to suspend your disbelief.    The quality is high enough however that one wonders how long it will be before we can’t tell real characters from animated ones.

The poem Beowulf is one of the oldest surviving stories in the English language.    Unfortunately the film takes too many liberties with the actual story, though I suppose Zemeckis could argue that in some storytelling traditions it’s normal to embellish and change things with each telling.  

He appears to have embellished to bring more nude Angelina Jolie scenes into the film since in the real Beowulf poem Grendel’s mother is killed rather than … bedded.

Here’s a great summary of Beowulf, the epic poem.

Las Vegas – Frontier Hotel Demolition Video


This just in from the “only in Las Vegas” department.  

The New Frontier Hotel near the north end of the Las Vegas Strip   is demolished in a huge explosion preceded by a great fireworks display that mimics the pending destruction.   I think I have this right that the Frontier was the *last remaining* big hotel casinos from the second big surge of activity on the Las Vegas Strip.   First there were the original “rat pack” hotels like the original Tropicana  and original Frontier.    These were gradually replaced by hotels like the Sands, and New Frontier  (but not the current Tropicana?   I was there less than a year ago for Bodies – The Exhibition so I’m sure it’s still standing, but the current one must be a third generation Tropicana.   These in turn have been “replaced” – though not by destruction – by the mega hotels like MGM, Caesar’s Palace, the Mirage, TI, The Venetian, The Wynn, and the Bellagio.

The Kingdom * * * Quacks


The Kingdom offers one of first blockbuster movies in the “USA vs Terrorists” genre that will  predictably become a mainstay of the box office for years to come.   This was a good action film, though I think it could have toned down the excessive and gratuitous violence in favor of the crime drama and sometimes thoughtful cross cultural tensions that drove the film.     

Hollywood always struggles so much with complex topics, usually with painfully simplistic and superficial results.   The Kingdom is neither an exception to that or the rule, rather it’s a good action film wrapped in an OK cultural clashing motif.

The Kingdom is worth seeing simply for the excellent montage piece at the beginning of the film that very quickly summarizes the rise of Saudi Arabia as a kingdom, a nation state, and a reluctant US ally in the Middle East.

Also, The Kingdom shows that we could quickly end the war on terror simply by using the F word a lot more and then sending Jennifer Garner in to really kick some ass.

The film’s odd final scene will be disparaged by some, but I felt in some ways it rescued the film from treating things too simplistically.