Why DRM-encased content needs to die

I wrote recently about a cheery email I received about Nook. The service is closing in the UK, and the company has reached a deal of sorts with a nothing operator in the space (run by a supermarket!), which will allow you to retain some of your purchases. I received another email today, which had a rather more urgent ‘last chance’ feel to it. Again, it outlined the process customers must take:

To help meet your digital reading needs going forward, NOOK has partnered with award‑winning Sainsbury’s Entertainment on Demand to ensure that you have continued access to as many of your purchased NOOK Books as possible at no additional cost to you.

If I have purchased something, my assumption would be ongoing and permanent ownership. What would be more honest is the following:

To help meet your digital reading needs going forward, NOOK has partnered with award‑winning Sainsbury’s Entertainment on Demand to ensure that you have continued access to as many of the NOOK Books you thought you had purchased — but had in fact only sort-of rented (SURPRISE!) — as possible at no additional cost to you.

This kind of thing is why I almost never buy DRM-encased content. Music already solved this problem, after plenty of turmoil, and it’s now actually quite difficult to find downloadable music (outside of streaming, where ownership isn’t presumed) with DRM. Books, magazines and comics rather oddly often cling to DRM, though, to lock you into services or specific stores; on that basis, I have reverted to paper or will only purchase content in formats that lack DRM (such as freely usable PDF or CBR).

When it comes to movies and telly, I fear things won’t change for a very long time, due to studios being blinkered and paranoid. Right now, I could download almost any show or movie entirely for free, and would be able to watch wherever and whenever I like. By contrast, I can pay over the odds for a digital file that only works on specific hardware and/or using specific software, and that might vanish from a cloud library without notice. Subsequently, I almost never buy digital TV shows or movies now, preferring streaming; and on those very few occasions I do succumb, it’s either a rare DRM-free download (for example, from a Kickstarter), or for something that’s inherently disposable that I only really want to watch once.

Frankly, the approach taken by many executives — whether they’re behind Hollywood blockbusters or systems for selling and reading books — needs to die. They are consumer-hostile, and Nook’s misfortune showcases what happens when things go badly wrong. If a publisher folds, you don’t expect someone to silently remove their paper books from your shelves and then say you can have some of them back, for free, because a deal has been struck with a supermarket. The same should be true for digital.

March 18, 2016. Read more in: Books, Film, Opinions, Technology

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Napster’s co-founder has half a good idea regarding watching new blockbuster movies at home

It was recently reported that Napster co-founder Sean Parker was working on a new way to get blockbuster movies into your home on release day. According to Variety, his plan is called Screening Room, and would give you the chance to rent any movie on the day of release, albeit for a vastly inflated charge over a standard movie rental.

In the abstract, this is a fantastic idea, and one I’ve long argued in favour of. For various reasons, many people cannot easily get to a cinema. Some are housebound due to disabilities. Others have babies and young children, making escapes to the cinema some kind of long-forgotten memory.

I belong to the second group, and these days get increasingly annoyed at spoilers being repeatedly fired into my face the second a movie is released, on account of knowing I won’t get the chance to see it for months. The question is what I’d be willing to pay and do in order to avoid waiting months for a home rental release.

Unfortunately, not what Screening Room’s planning. As I noted, it seems smart in the abstract, but the details are tone-deaf. First, you’ll need yet another box to sit under the telly. Secondly, the price of $50 (which would probably be £40 in the UK) is excessive and presumably making the assumption it replaces four ‘lost’ tickets. More bizarrely, a sweetener comes in the form of two free local cinema tickets for any movie rented, despite the fact many people using this system would not be able to get to the cinema in the first place. Odd.

The whole notion of movie windowing seems ridiculous these days, and some indies at least have realised that they can make money by getting movies on to iTunes and the like simultaneously with limited runs in cinemas. I’d happily pay the price of a shiny disc (15-to–20 quid) for a rental of a blockbuster within a fortnight of cinema release, but it seems the industry still isn’t keen on budging nearly enough to make that a reality.

March 14, 2016. Read more in: Film, Movies, Opinions, Technology

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Skyfall: James Bond’s return to male-gaze misogyny

I saw Skyfall last night, having skilfully avoided spoilers for a couple of weeks. I’m not really a big Bond fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed Casino Royale, which appeared to be a more modern, gritty and open-minded take on what had really become an oily slick and dated super-spy overblown popcorn fest. Although follow-up Quantum of Solace was a disappointment, I’d heard great things about Skyfall. Many reviews had proclaimed it to be the best Bond ever, and I’d also seen a surprising amount of commentary from people arguing the film marked a turning point regarding Bond and sexism. Several such columns were written by women. This all sounded very promising.

Perhaps this is why the film shocked me. Not in terms of the plot, which was generally ham-fisted, illogical, and yet trying really very hard to be clever; instead, it merely overcomplicated things, leading to a surprisingly flabby run-time. Not in terms of the set-pieces, which had their moments but rarely elevated themselves beyond typical action fare (and having recently seen Dredd—a hardcore take on action films—Bond was PG by comparison). No, what shocked me was James Bond seemingly forgetting what century it’s set in, and those in charge doing a semi-reboot and partying like it’s 1969.

Note that if you’ve not watched the film yet, you might want to stop reading, because there are spoilers ahead.


Spoilery spoilers.

OK, then…

Not every film is going to promote equality and nor should it be forced to. Real-life has sexism, and so it goes that characters within movies will be sexist, including Bond. To some extent, this is a given: Bond is portrayed as a cold-hearted weapon that uses anything as a tool to get his way and succeed in his mission. However, this does not excuse the Bond film itself from extolling the same values. In other words, just because Bond is a sexist who discards women like candy wrappers, there’s no reason why the film itself cannot offer strong women as characters. Indeed, Bond has offered strong women recently, such as the relatively complex Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, and also Judi Dench’s wonderfully hard-arsed M, for me one of the few redeeming aspects of the Brosnan Bonds.

Here are the women I specifically remember from Skyfall, and how I read what the film did with them:

  1. The unnamed woman Bond wakes up with, having survived in an unlikely manner his being shot and falling hundreds of feet to a river, and then plunging over a waterfall. Did she save his life? Who knows? She doesn’t get an introduction, nor a single word of dialogue. She’s just set-dressing—titillation that doesn’t even really move on Bond’s story. (The entire section could easily have been cut right to a drunk Bond attempting to down a shot with a scorpion on his hand.)
  2. Sévérine, a victim of constant sexual abuse (having been enslaved by traffickers for a number years), a fact that she shares with Bond, while visibly shaking. Knowing this, and despite saying he could help her, Bond’s next act is to sneak into Sévérine’s room and have sex with her in the shower. A couple of scenes later, she’s tied up with a glass of whisky on her head, and unceremoniously dispatched by the film’s bad guy. Bond quips that was a “waste of good scotch”, which is just astonishingly callous. It reduces Sévérine to nothing but a plot-device vehicle, and transforms Bond into an utterly irredeemable shit, beyond all hope. But compare this to the Bond in Casino Royale who comforted Vesper Lynd in the shower when she was shaken. In Skyfall, he’d have probably just shagged her too. I was wondering if at some point, Daniel Craig would tear off his mask, revealing a laughing Roger Moore underneath.
  3. A female MP leading an enquiry, whose main role appeared to be banging on a bit before being told to pipe down by a man.
  4. M, as previously mentioned, a capable head of MI6, only in this film she’s rebooted as a relatively inept head of MI6. Although she somewhat gets to show her worth towards the end of the film, setting up booby traps during a firefight, she’s ultimately killed for no obvious plot reason, and immediately replaced by a man, because that’s clearly the way things should be at the top of MI6!
  5. Eve, a capable, tough agent, who is ordered to take a shot that results in Bond being hit rather than the bad guy MI6 were chasing. For reasons unknown, Eve doesn’t shoot again (perhaps through shock). Regardless, she subsequently saves Bond later in the film, yet decides to become a secretary, given that the non-shock reveal was that her surname is Moneypenny.

So if you’re taking note, women in Skyfall are one or more of disposable, throwaway, incompetent, “know their place” or set dressing. With Dench’s departure, the only confirmed recurring role will be Moneypenny, and I can only hope she won’t be the Moneypenny of old, but a new incarnation who does more than receive Bond’s bursts of innuendo. But given how the writers cast women in Skyfall, I’m not optimistic.

Again, that Bond himself as a character is clearly sexist isn’t the issue— it’s that Purvis, Wade and Logan churned out a script that marginalised women and reset Bond to the 1960s. What’s even more baffling is how Skyfall has been championed as a less sexist and more modern take on the character, rather than the throwback that it is.

Further reading: Giles Coren’s Bond, Villain, in which he states the shower scene was “so vile, sexist and sad that it made me feel physically sick”.

November 17, 2012. Read more in: Film


Vue Cinemas states you can take in your own food, but is this true?

I last year wrote about Vue Cinemas and its interesting perception of the ‘value’ bit in ‘value meal’. Vue wasn’t (and isn’t) alone in gouging customers, matching ever-increasing ticket prices with astonishingly marked up snacks and drinks. At our local Vue, the cost of a drink and popcorn ‘meal’ is about the same as a ticket; worse, it’s about the same as a proper meal at one of the many nearby restaurants.

On the BBC today, in an article about surprising charges, Vue makes a suitably surprising statement:

Vue Cinemas, where a regular popcorn and soft drink costs £8.25, say food and drink is an optional extra and customers are free to take their own snacks in.

On Twitter, @immobiliser than asked the official Vue account if this statement was correct:

Are we indeed free to take in our own supplies for a film?

Vue’s response:

It is indeed within reason. We don’t allow hot or smelly food, so leave your tuna sandwiches at home 😀

If this is the case, great. No hot/smelly food is a perfectly reasonable restriction, but there’s an ‘if’ here, summed up nicely by Andy White’s comments to me, also on Twitter:

Didn’t work for us! Our [k]ids are coeliacs and we tried taking in special food for them – were told no entry unless binned!

He stated this happened at Vue’s fairly new Camberley branch, and his family were “pretty upset about it at the time”. Elsewhere, Stuart Alexander Arnott said to me on Facebook that a BBC report found cinema terms and conditions effectively enable staff to block you taking in your own food whenever they like. His reading of the rules:

I think the cinemas don’t enforce it much, but they’re happy that people think you’re not allowed (according to the show 67% of people think this).

I’ve asked Vue for clarification on its recent statement, asking whether this is company policy or down to each individual cinema, and I will update this post should I get a response.

UPDATE: No response directly from Vue as yet, but the company responded to White on Twitter and since sent an email, which he forwarded to me. It notes high prices are the result of a need to have a viable business model, since much box office money goes to distributors; however, it importantly confirms:

Please note that you are able to bring your own food and drink into the cinema rather than purchasing from our confectionary stands. This is with the exception of hot food or alcohol.

September 6, 2012. Read more in: Film


Forbes fires up trolling alarm in accusing Dredd 3D of snubbing 2000 AD comic

Carol Pinchefsky, Contributor for Forbes, argues ‘2000 AD’ Comic Book Is Snubbed in Latest ‘Dredd 3D’ Trailer:

In the most recent commercial for Dredd 3D, the upcoming Lionsgate film to be released in the United States on September 21, 2012, we get some style and substance, a taste of what we hopefully have ahead of us. But there was something important left out of this 30-second trailer. The title card reads, “Based on the legendary comic book”…but it doesn’t actually mention the comic book’s name.

That name, for the record, is 2000 AD.

Actually, no it isn’t. Judge Dredd is a comic strip within 2000 AD, which is an anthology comic. The shorthand in the commercials and trailers is effectively saying “this is a comic adaptation”. Make the argument Dredd is based on 2000 AD, and you’d be asking where Sláine, Strontium Dog, Nikolai Dante and all the other characters are.

To be fair, Pinchefsky is really trying to draw attention to 2000 AD, which is a good thing. The comic’s managed to survive since the 1970s and is in something of a golden age right now. (You can find out more at 2000adonline.com and there’s now also an iOS app, which fires a bunch of free back issues your way when you subscribe.) However, with Dredd I’d argue the film-makers have been utterly respectful to the comic, far more than almost any other adaptation I can think of—probably only Hellboy comes close. Original co-creator John Wagner was heavily involved and the script, look and cut was adjusted on his recommendation; the film contains numerous nods to things that have happened during Dredd’s history, often peppered about as graffiti and posters; names of the giant blocks in the city are often named after 2000 AD writers and artists; there’s a reference to fan film Judge Minty; and even some of the 2000 AD forum members get cameos in the film.

To top it all off, Alex Garland last night answered a ton of questions on the 2000 AD forum. Usually when this sort of thing happens, a screenwriter or director will answer a few things before vanishing into the night. As far as I can tell, Garland answered everything, in a candid, exhaustive manner. As a long-time fan of 2000 AD, I don’t feel the comic and its followers have been snubbed at all by Dredd—quite the opposite.

August 24, 2012. Read more in: Film

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