Posts Tagged ‘movies’

Movie for our times: Tulip Fever

I was flying and managed to catch Tulip Fever. Interesting show, considering I have had many conversations recently where people had no idea what the Tulip Mania was all about. It’s a good “plane movie”, and maybe gives you some insight into what occurred then, but it didn’t open to great reviews (e.g. NYT). It has two themes – love, and of course the tulip mania. I choose to focus on the tulip aspect of things, considering I’m in tech, and the crypto space is often referred to as one. Naturally this is spoiler filled.

Some gems:

  • Q: Are they a good investment? A: Well the market’s going up, you won’t go wrong
  • Man has 18 Florens in total, and he spends it all in one go – “an excellent investment”
  • “Took his own life over a Tulip bulb”
  • Man: I paid 18 Florens for these bulbs, I’m told if they continue to rise, they will double. Nun in convent: A month ago, you could have had them for 10.
  • “Cut the flower and sell the bulb, you have a rare one”

Shortly thereafter the man gives up being a fishmonger to become a trader! (A bit like crypto today when Uber drivers talk about investment advice).

More quotes of choice:

  • “of course, free money”
  • Nun: “the more they weigh the more they’re worth” – best bulb, sold for 920 Gilders, but we sold it for 18.
  • “I would like to get a foot into the tulip business. Will you help me?”
  • If the market keeps going up why isn’t anybody selling? Because it can go up three times in a month.
  • “All we have to do is put all our eggs in one basket. A single bulb. The rarer the better.”

Eventually at auction, Admiral Maria – a 2,000 Floren tulip bulb, which goes for 1,500. He asks for 1,200 then they agree on 1,400. He is leveraging everything even though he doesn’t actually have the Admiral Maria. Due to his friend’s drunkenness, the bulb goes missing (eaten?), and the fishmonger sadly has been thrown into the sea

Eventually, 8000 Gilders and 2 houses is what the new owner sold the Admiral Maria for.

Then the Government stepped in to ban the Tulip trade. Prices crashed.

All this points to irrational exuberance and the theory of the greater fool.

This is not a movie I’d watch paying full attention to. You could get away with occasional reading on your Kindle/iPad. But it might get more people to remember a bit about the history of the tulip mania. After all, as George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Region restrictions in a globalised world

I think we can all agree that globalisation has won, and we live in a flat world.

However when it comes to consuming media, we still live in a world of regional restrictions. Rights are not issued globally, and rights owners see this as milking every last penny by ensuring that regional restrictions apply. This is not just true for the movie world, but also the music world, and generally the book world. Apparently the entertainment industry is one of the last holdouts in realising that we live in a truly globalised world.

Yesterday I read an interview in the FT with Kate Tempest, a writer/rapper whom I’ve not heard of. I immediately hopped onto iTunes, searched Apple Music and started playing her tunes from her album Let Them Eat Chaos – Kate Tempest. This was a success and I’d discovered a new artist.

A few months back I was in a bar (the recently shuttered La Conserverie) in Paris, speaking to a Japanese friend, and I was telling her that I did know some J-Pop; growing up it wasn’t too far fetched you would listen to some songs that made the mainstream English radio stations. One example was Utada Hikaru’s First Love. The French friend who was there said he’d love to hear it, so I fired up iTunes on my phone, and tried in vain to find the song, and realised its not in the catalogue (don’t worry, YouTube saved the day). This was a failure, and I didn’t get to reminisce properly.

Just last week, I fired up Netflix (now blocking all VPN traffic, an almost impossible thought two years ago, with VPN providers giving up the fight nowadays) and started streaming The Mirror Has Two Faces. I stopped around the half way mark and switched countries only to realise that now I’ll have to wait to be in the same geographical location again to continue watching the movie! I’d mark this as a failure because it hurts the user experience; it isn’t Netflix’s fault, it is the entertainment industry.

I still listen to an old song that I like, that resides on my drive and not in the cloud — Puff Daddy featuring Jimmy Page – Come With Me from the Godzilla soundtrack. It’s not on Apple Music, but it is available with Amazon Prime Music, that comes for free with an Amazon Prime subscription! I’d mark this as a failure since I’d expect my music collection to be available in one place, not scattered across various services.

We’re living in an increasingly globalised world. We have friends from all over the world. We’re travelling more frequently. This is all supposed to be a good thing – exposure to the world. Why hasn’t the entertainment industry caught up yet? Would they prefer everyone just focused on content piracy? Region restrictions do not work in a globalised world.

Movies on the plane recently

Arc de TriompheHaving a few long journeys, I got to catch up with the latest Hollywood had to offer.

  1. Papadopoulos & Sons – show about an entrepreneur who goes thru trials & tribulations, then learns whats important in life
  2. How I Spent My Summer Vacation (aka Get the Gringo) – you won’t think much from the title, but this Mel Gibson show isn’t half bad. I don’t recommend going out of your way to watch it, but it’s a good way to pass time surely. Action, murder, revenge, love, and crime are all covered here 
  3. Arbitrage– Richard Gere stars, also about an intensely wealthy entrepreneur, about to sell his company, cover up his problems, while having an affair. There are several themes & plots here, so you’ll enjoy it overall 
  4. The Words – about a writer who placed his name on his best work, only to find out that he has to live with such a secret. Turns out its a lot harder than expected.

I notice that the plotlines in the last two movies seem to end with a bit of a cliffhanger. Leaves the watcher to understand or continue thinking about what might have been. Unlikely that you’ll see a part two, but maybe that’s how modern movies tend to end. 

Upon arriving home, I did turn on cable and caught Senna. If you like the Formula One (F1), you surely know whom Ayrton Senna was. You probably also know that Senna was the last F1 driver to die while racing. It is an awesome show and I highly recommend all to watch it. 

Movies, January 2012

I’ve been on a plane quite a lot this month. Consequently caught quite a bunch of movies.

  • A Good Year – a romantic drama with Russell Crowe.
  • One Day – I like Anne Hathaway but this show is probably not one of her best. They pick moments from one day every year for some twenty years. Male star gets out of whack when she passes. Makes you always remember to seize the day. Carpe diem. Sometimes the best things in life are standing right in front of you.
  • What’s your number? – romantic comedy, just to pass the time over a meal
  • Killer Elite – most of Jason Statham’s movies tend to be action packed and this one is no exception. It’s based on a true story. I highly recommend watching this.

In non-movies, it’s worth noting that Californication is back! I’ve learned to watch Community, seems season 1 & 2 are complete so they are easy to watch back-to-back.

On killing Hollywood

Paul Graham recently published a new request for startups titled Kill Hollywood. It is definitely worth reading. The motivations behind such thoughts are clear. Filesharing is not killing the movie & TV industry.

“What’s going to kill movies and TV is what’s already killing them: better ways to entertain people.

Better ways to entertain people. This thought has been sitting in my head for the last couple of days while I’m just a stones throw away from Hollywood & have a pretty good view of the Hollywood Hills from outside my window. The RFS goes into more detail about games, apps, the possibility that exercise might take over, but to think broadly and figure out where the entertainment of folk are going to in the next twenty years.

The studios are making less profits because the way Hollywood is structured. This is why Sarah Lacy says to kill Hollywood, you’ve got to learn their game. Someone like Ryan Kavanaugh is using math to beat Hollywood at their own game — you may have seen Relativity Media, and that’s the company who’s funding many successful movies today. Sarah Lacy sums up the content game that will help us win against Hollywood fairly well:

“The lesson: Eyeballs aren’t equivalent to one another. For Hollywood to be killed, the Internet needs to focus on a metric other than eyeballs. It’s not about mass, it’s about good. That’s absolutely anti-YouTube and anti-Farmville and any other content which we expect to be rapid, mass and disposable. Disposable content isn’t bad, it’s just not everything. And as long as that’s all that the Valley is putting out, we won’t kill Hollywood.”

There is an experience of going to the cinema in where I am happy to pay USD$12 or RM25 for a seat. In the USA I believe in the ratings system, but in Malaysia where I watch most of my movies I feel cheated by the censorship board. But I still go and spend cash because there’s an experience. However I’ve noticed my TV & movie watching habits have changed — I wrote about how I consume Hollywood in 2011. I believe that in Malaysia (and most of Asia), one is forced towards looking at content via filesharing. Because Hollywood hasn’t grown up and they believe in making money from regions, delaying releases by regions, etc. Traditional models.

Of late I’ve quite enjoyed watching the Sundance channel on cable. On Friday in the USA Today, Robert Redford, founder of the channel and the film festival had this to say: “With the new technology creating all the voices and noise from bloggers and tweeters, it’s chaos,” Redford says. “Where are you going to get the real truth with so many loud voices barking? I look to documentaries as almost investigative journalism.”

That covers a set of genres. But independent films rarely cover comedy, action, etc.

People get entertained by different things. At different times. Some days a romantic comedy makes sense. Some days a chick flick is all that gets you going. Then you’ve got days when action is all you crave. And the list can go on…

So what are better ways to entertain people? Games? Interactive movies? How does everyone get paid fairly when you get away from the big studios? Do production costs then go down when you bypass them?

This is why people love the Cheezeburger Network. Or 9gag. These are new ways for people to entertain themselves. However the metric there is eyeballs and the content is disposable. People need substance to entertain them. I once said that paying $10 for Plants vs Zombies provided me with a lot more entertainment on my iPad than going to maybe 2-3 feature length movies.

I’m still thinking about different ways for people to consume media. Different ways for people to sink their time in. And I presume I’ll be thinking about this for long.

As an aside, don’t assume that independent media folk get “new media” either. Classic examples in Malaysia would be Nasi Lemak 2.0 and Relationship Status. Nasi Lemak 2.0 stars the controversial Namewee, who not only made the movie on the cheap (independently), he went on to getting it in cinemas and also at the same time did the entrepreneurial thing of in tandem getting it showing on cable TV. This subsequently got his movie pulled from the cinemas in question, rather abruptly. He disrupted the cinemas and the cinemas reacted in their traditional methods to pull his movie. But even today, you can’t buy a DVD or download a digital version… Even if you’re willing to pay for it (I know I am). More recently, Khairil M. Bahar made Relationship Status; however still with the traditional model of going to the cinema. No DVDs. No downloadable digital version. Its worth noting that I’d pay RM35-40 for a digital download (though I don’t think that might be everyone’s price point – experimentation needs to happen clearly).

Its sad to see that even young independent film producers aren’t moving where their audience is moving to. They’re thinking like studios are thinking. They need to be disrupted. After all, these Malaysian producers are forgetting that there is such a large portion of the Malaysian diaspora spread across the world whom are unlikely to step into Malaysian cinemas anytime soon. Imagine a day when I can read a review about the show, then automatically click on a link that allows me to either stream the movie now or download a copy. If it is a service that has my credit card details on file, this is a seamless process; if its individuals, I just checkout via PayPal, and am either seeing the movie on my TV or waiting half an hour or so for the download so I can pop it on my iPad.

Back to the drawing board. There are better ways to entertain people. There are better ways for consumption of media & content.

How I watch TV/movies in 2011

I’ve been thinking about this in recent times. I like consuming media during ‘dead-time’, which helps me switch off, and feel refreshed when I have to switch back on. I think the way I’m watching stuff is next to no different from how the average Malaysian urbanite is watching stuff…

Lets divide media that I consume into two different categories: television shows (the form of a weekly series) and movies.

I have a subscription to the satellite tv monopoly in Malaysia, ASTRO. I also have HyppTV via Unifi, and most channels on that are free for the first 2 years, since I was an early adopter. in theory, I have access to a lot of television shows as well as movies. I never watch free-to-air tv, despite it being available.

When I have down-time and I’m sitting at home on the couch (my weekend getaway), you can see me watching live sports (the F1 in general), catching up on CSI, NCIS, Bones, etc. I’m not religious in following these tv shows, so I don’t feel bad if I miss an episode (or ten). ASTRO takes care of this for me via Axn, Fox and sometimes Star World. Live sports is something cable is probably always going to give me, despite there being streaming services on the net.

However for shows that I do have a religious following to, say House, Lie to Me, Californication, Mad Men, I don’t catch these shows on cable tv. Why? For one, I enjoy watching these series either as soon as they come out, or back-to-back. Also, I dislike the censorship board mucking with my content (imagine a censored Californication?!?).

So what are my choices? I can wait to buy the DVD series on a per season basis on my trips to the USA. These used to be very easy when the Virgin store was open in San Francisco. When they closed, I moved on to buying things in Borders. Now even they are gone, so I have to pre-order via Amazon (which takes away the whole impulse purchase for me). Alas, this is my preferred solution, as I get to keep the DVD media for years on.

If I want to catch up with a show that all my friends are watching and talking about, it seems like my only option is BitTorrent. BitTorrent allows me to watch shows on my TV, iPad, or my laptop. And it allows me to be current. It’s flexibility.

I’ve tried rentals and purchases on the iTunes store (using my US-based account) and while the process is easier/streamlined, it’s not available in most regions.

Malaysia is commonly known for DVD sellers peddling pirated shows on disc. They cost RM8 a pop, they’re uncensored, and the quality generally varies, however you usually get a good copy. I asked on a little poll on twitter recently, and generally the tech-savvy folk have given up going to the DVD seller. He has been disrupted by the availability of fast bandwidth and BitTorrent.

I like rewarding production houses, so if I download something via BitTorrent, it’s because it’s something I enjoy, so I will buy the original DVDs when I’m in the USA. I very rarely watch these DVDs, so I’m not sure why I buy them, but maybe it’s just a sense of ensuring I’ve paid for the content I’ve pre-screened.

There are stores in Malaysia that sell original DVDs. I don’t go to them because those DVDs have been thru the hands of the censorship board, and I’m not about to pay USD$20-40 for censored content.

I enjoy the experience of going to a cinema and seeing a show on the big screen. I’ve become a bit of a cinema snob, preferring to only go to GSC Signature cinemas, as I find the rest of the seats generally too cramped. Most times the shows I catch are ok – but sometimes, the censorship board annoys me again. Recently I caught a movie titled ‘Love and other drugs’. It was so horribly censored that it took away meaning from the movie, and I was unhappy at paying for the tickets (despite getting a 1-for-1 deal thanks to CIMB).

I saw the same movie on a Lufthansa plane and it was so much better. I tend to watch a lot of movies on the plane. It’s free, and it’s uncensored. Screen sizes are getting larger, almost matching the size of the iPad in some airlines (this in coach, mind you). And I have my Bose noise canceling headphones, that work a charm.

For classics, BitTorrent seems to be the easy fix. You can’t walk into a store to buy it, and I’m almost certain the DVD peddlers have no interest in carrying such items. For movies that I really like, I automatically add it to my cart in amazon, for the next big pre-purchase.

Since I have ASTRO, I do flip channels to catch some content on HBO, Cinemax, and Star Movies. Now that they are offering some of this content in HD, I don’t mind watching a movie I’ve never seen before and might have good ratings on IMDB. Most of the time, I don’t notice heavy censorship, and when I do and the movie piqued my interest, the methods above are how I might catch it again.

As you can see, in Malaysia, people are forced into using BitTorrent or visiting their pirated DVD seller.

There is no Netflix service (I used to be a Quickflix subscriber in Australia – loved the service). There is obviously no streaming on-demand service like Netflix offers in the USA. This is something Unifi is trying to do (video on demand) but the content is lacking/unappealing.

Ideally, I’d like to watch a show, uncensored, because there are ratings. Rate it, and then let the grown ups handle it.

Ideally, I’d get tv and movies on demand, via IP (IPTV is the buzzword in Malaysia for 2011 – watch that space). I can be billed at the end of the month for what I watch, and I get to keep the tv series and movies for a limited time in my library. Rather than artificial time limits, maybe a bookshelf approach as to how many items you can have on rent at any one time. And if I like it, I place an order for the DVD all via my tv. And since this is all IP based, I should be able to watch my content on my mobile phone, iPad, laptop, anywhere I am in the world, as long as I have bandwidth to spare. I should also be able to download a rented copy, so I can watch it while I’m in transit (following the same bookshelf rent method) and have no access to the Internet.

Will all this be possible in Malaysia before 2020?