Movie Business... in 3D

Before I talk about Pixar's wonderful and heartfelt animated movie Up, just wanted to discuss the business of 3D movies.

You probably won't believe this, but I didn't see Jolie in 3D by missing out on Beowulf. And so Up is actually my first 3D movie. First thing that struck me was the price: $16.50! That's a ~30% premium over the regular $12.00 price tag (which by itself is rather ridiculous)! This of course awakens the consultant.

So I did some background research in Google (NY Times, Wired, Cnet articles) to see how everybody makes money off me. Turns out the cost to make a movie become 3D is $10 to 15 million. To me, that's SHOCKINGLY low: any 2D blockbuster that is expected to gross $100M should do 3D!

As for the viewing experience, I didn't find it justifying the 30% premium. In fact, I took off my glasses at some point and was shocked to find that the picture was the same as the one I saw when I have my "3D glasses" on! PNGF, however, swears that Jolie's boobs were much bigger in 3D (the exact words she used was "Beowulf was really good in 3D", but I knew what she meant)... so my verdict is that the 3D premium isn't justified for Up for now.

In the end, it's about the customer experience. My guess is that cartoons and Disney movies (target audience: kids and their families) and horror movies (target audience: young males) will greatly benefit from 3D. For kids, any novelty will grab their attention. For young males, heightened senses in 3D will surely boost the feel of a horror film. However, that market will end there as well.

Quick comment on building 3D theaters. According to the article, it takes $100K to outfit a 3D screen, and nobody wants to pay for it. Movie theaters are a concessionier business, meaning they make money from selling popcorn and not the movie. 2D or 3D, the drinks and pop corn still sell, so I don't really see any theater rushing to make itself 3D. Studios will love it obviously due to the ticket price premium. Besides, if these are blockbusters to begin with, why would any theater shell out the money? I doubt many movie goers knows whether it is 2D or 3D when they head to their neighborhood shows. Studios, pay up!

Quite fittingly, this was the sky we saw as we walked out of the theater after watching Pixar's wonderful animated movie .

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Absolutely loved the movie, especially these very "there's sand in the wind" moments for Josekin:
  • The first 15 minutes where our main character Carl doesn't speak a word but you learn everything about him
  • The middle-end 5 minutes where Carl movers on to his next adventure
By the way, the very delightful Russel features the voice of an Asian American Jordan Nagai, first in Pixar movies, according to IMDB.

Anyway, back to the movie: Pixar never disappoints. I loved the simplicity of the whole thing. Simple, yet deep in some respects. Dreams should never be abandoned... because they will bring back the memories. And yet sometimes you just have to let go of the dreams if you become too obsessed with it.

Verdict: Highly recommend 2D. 3D if you don't mind a few extra dollars also highly recommended.


Nudge by Thaler and Sustein

I am so glad that I read Thaler text book "Into Thin Air" (review, highly recommended) before I read Thaler authored "Nudge". Thaler is a great teacher and professor, but he is no author. While Nudge started off with some solid examples, it ultimately tailed off badly as it ventured into how to help society with academic research.

I guess I now have to appreciate an author like Malcolm Gladwell who only writes about the research (as opposed to administering it like Prof Thaler) and writes well. Made "Outlier" (review, recommended) that much better/ easier/ more fun to read...

If you must read the book, I'd recommend the first few chapters and lay off the later sections as it discusses how to nudge the public in areas such as savings, social security, health care, marriage, etc. It has some pretty neat examples of how to encourage people to do the right thing. And that's where the neatness ends too.

Not really recommended.


TV series

One of the by-products of taking time off is TV that makes me dumber. Those I try to avoid: any reality show in the US (here's what the American public needs: one single website that has all the reality show results from the prior night with no more than 50 words describing the outcome and "character developments..."), any Cantonese soap opera, any show like Deal or No Deal...

Yet another by-product is non-value add productivity, such as watching TV that adds wisdom but little else.

I watched Weeds seasons 1 to 3 and lost season 4 as I traveled back and forth from New York to Hong Kong. It was entertaining but way too outrageous. Just to quickly recap. Beginning of season 1, widow tries to make ends meet by dealing pot. By the end of season 1, she's starting her own growing operation. By the end of season 2, she is dancing with the regional drug lord and has to work for him to pay off her debt. By the end of season 3, she is working for the Mexicans. I hear in season 4 she is pregnant with the Mexican drug lords' kid. Right. Still... an entertaining series. In fact, I'm kind of glad I lost season 4 in my suitcase. Moving on now... I'd recommend season 1 and 2 only.

Finished The Wire Season 2. Not as good as Season 1 (review), but still pretty good. Instead of drugs, the BPD is onto illegal activities at the Baltimore piers. Call my cynical, but this is way less dramatic than drugs and doesn't make for great TV. You do feel for the dock guys though: they are the inidividual GMs that you will never see on the evening news. Somehow, while dying a slow death, they have to survive, and a little dirty money here and there will just have to cut it. Ultimately, however, they aren't criminals and never were in the mindset of avoiding surveilance, hence the easy catch. Again, I highly recommend this series!

(Have to suspend TV viewage for a few days as we are packing to move... from one end of Wall Street to another.)


More movies

Gran torino: Clint Eastwood delivers again. The man has flare no matter what he plays (except space cowboy, that movie never happened). Anyway, its a fairly standard story about an old racist white man who becomes less racist through doing the right thing for his Asian neighbors. I particularly enjoyed the last 10 minutes of the movie, where friendship and righteousness triumph over blood (both in form of family and violence) and hypocrisy. Many times, you have to dig through the surface to truly understand why people behave the way they do. And Clint Eastwood and his Asian buddies have both done so in their uncommon ways. Recommended.

Seven pounds: I spent the first hour of this movie slightly confused... Bits and pieces of the puzzle are shown but in very little detail. After the movie, of course, I hit myself for not taking all the clues. Maybe its cus I was very sleepy. Or maybe its just not very realistic. This is one of the movies where I wonder about the "revealing the past and how it contributes to the present" tactic that has flooded Hollywood movies... Do the directors do it because the story is too simple? Or because it adds suspense? Me thinks the former. You do not redeem yourself from killing seven people by saving seven others. You do so by helping the loved ones who were left behind... And then killing yourself and save another seven. Nonetheless, Will Smith has perfected the "my life sucks" face (Patented in Hancock), and uses it masterfully throughout the movie. Recommended if you can overlook the ridiculous premise.

Revolutionary Road: well, the synopsis from Cathay says it best, "Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet star in this portrait of a marriage. Not suitable for children." Kathy Bates (The immortal Molly in Titanic!) makes a few cameos with Leo and Kate; good times all around for Jack and Rose... Oh wait. Revolutionary Road is quite different. Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of this movie. Its quite depressing that the couple has to pretend to care about each other. Each clearly has a plan for himself/herself and neither is giving in nor outright objecting. Overall, it flowed too slow for me even though I enjoyed the subtlety. Not really recommended (although with time, I may change my mind).


4.5 movies on Cathay

First things first, I don't think tweeting should be news. In fact, any "news" that refers to tweeter and facebook should be banned.

Per the blog title, here's a review from the movies I saw on Cathay business class (review) from New York to Hong Kong.
  • Watchmen: well, I wanted to start with something entertaining, so Watchmen it was, and entertaining it was. And... philosphical it was too! The smartest man on Earth had finally thought of a way to bring about world peace among Cold War rivals. Nope, even endless resources wasn't going to stop humans from destroying each other, he reckoned. The only way was to create a common enemy to distract the USA and USSR. So, yes, the Watchmen watch the men, but nobody watches the Watchmen, except among themselves. Well made movie... maybe a bit confusing at the beginning. Recommended.
  • The Wrestler: this movie made me really want to see Sean Penn in Milk. My goodness did Mickey Rourke do a tremendous job in portraying a washed up wrestler. Definitely Oscar worthy. He turned everywhere after he was forced to retire to find meaning in life. Poor man couldn't get any love anywhere... until he turned back to what he wasn't supposed to do - wrestle with a problematic heart and blood pressure. At the end, he had to turn to his fans for love - fans who don't even know him. Very sad. Highly recommended.
  • An Inconvenient Truth: Awesome documentary. I'm officially an Al Gore fan even if he didn't invent the Internet. I'm sorry I made fun of you in class, Al. This is science finally trying to talk to normal people... and via Al Gore no less. You must see this movie if you care about how your grandchildren will live. Like Al said, you must acknowledge the facts do you start establishing the moral responsibility to commit to stopping global warming. What's also fascinating is that you get to know Al Gore the person even though those parts of the documentary appear a bit detached from the overall global warming theme. Nonetheless, I found those parts to be genuine and that all he is about is a relentless pursue of his cause. I hope Obama listened (note: there's a part on how GM and the US auto Industry is falling behind). I really liked the whole thing, except for the solution... Gore suggests that we as individuals can help bring down personal carbon emissions to 1970 levels. I find that hard to believe. What about production? Our very consumption of all the goods we use also contributes to global warming... but there is very little mention of it. Anyway, highly highly highly recommended.
  • Bucket List: I figured I'd watch the Reader and Revolutionary Road when I return from Hong Kong... so Bucket List filled the roster. Pretty standard Hollywood movie. Morgan Freeman continues to amaze me with his leveled performance of a dying man... and of course his voice as a narrator has yet to be paralleled (I'm thinking Sean Connery would come close?). In the end, the most important thing is people (ladies and gentlemen, the Bain kool-aid!) and how much joy you bring to them and vice versa. Recommend despite a cliche topic.
  • The Matrix Revolution: Um... just cus I felt like falling asleep... and I think I did when Neo started talking. Not recommended.


Cathay Pacific Business Class

I've written about the United flatbed business class seats before... here's a face off with Cathay's (from the same United post) "ridiculous diagonal facing Cathay seats with all the stinky feet sticking out in the hallway," which I finally got to try this time from New York to Hong Kong!

At JFK: "Mr. Lam, on behalf of the Marco Polo Club, we'd like to wish you a happy birthday! We would like to offer you a complimentary upgrade to business class!" (Note: I was wondering about this actually, and it came true! I'm 1 for 1 on birthday wishes)

Thank you, Cathay Pacific. Finally, I feel like a value customer again (after NY and NJ transit, car rental, and airlines, I've lost faith). More importantly, now I can actually experience the damn thing rather than hearing about others complaints! I've seen them many times on my way to economy, but have never sat in one. The seats (beds?) are pointed at a 45 degree angle towards the aisle (no doubt a major shock to the usual business class traveler when they first saw it). Since thtere are two aisles, there are a total of four seats per row (as oppose to the usual six or so in other airlines) that can go all the way down as a flat bed.

Two of the major problems with Cathay's business class is immediately apparent within seconds of me sitting down: it is SMALL and ISOLATED. Small, as in I can't read the newspaper without pressing my elbows against the side of the seat. Isolated, as in it protects privacy by erecting walls on both sides... on the bright side, nobody can bother me at all... on the not so bright side, if I'm traveling with PNGF, I won't see her for the next 16 hours (oh wait... hmm... nevermind). It is a terrible setting for couples (pregnant wife), family (kids gone from your view), and horny middle age business man (can't meet young blonde to impress his busines expense account).

Okay, on to the bed, chair, TV, food, service scores:
  • Bed: Excellent since I fit in the chair just fine. For burly men like Arnold, I'm not so sure he'll like his shoulders being stuck. Oh, but the comforter they give you is so nice and warm and cuddly. I wanted to take the comforter home but the stewards came around to collect them before landing.
  • Chair: Excellent but not as good as United... all the buttons make sense and I really enjoy never having to place my feet on the ground. The one down side is that since the feet all come out on the diagonal seats, walking the aisle is like avoiding touching someone's stinky feet.
  • TV: Super super EXCELLENT. On demand TV with loads of movie selections. I saw Watchmen, Bucket List, The Wrestler, An Inconvenient Truth, and parts of The Matrix Revolution. On the way back, I'll hopefully watch The Reader, Revolutionary Road, Goodfellas, and Bolt. I'm giddy already. The screen is big and the headphones are really nice on the ears.
  • Food: Pretty good food that blew me away. Decent steak on the airplane, who knew? And they had a shreaded pork bun that was so good I ate three. Kind of reminded me of the pork buns from Fatty Crab in New York. I ate THREE!
  • Service: Surprisingly spotty. Just cus most of us are sleeping or being entertained by the great TV system doesn't mean you get to ignore me! I asked for fruit and none came; one of the guys was practically yelling at me; although the lady did bring me three pork buns and actually laughed about it
All things considered, I think I prefer the United flight. If only they flew direct to NYC... The best would be the United seat plus the Cathay entertainment. That would rock for a solid 16 hours of cross Pacific flying.


Dry Clean Conversation

Josekin: Um, I'd like to shrink this shirt (holding a sweater)
Dry Clean Dude: What?
Josekin: Last time we dry cleaned this, the size got bigger, so we need to shrink it
Dry Clean Dude: I don't know what you mean...
Josekin (speaking slower): I need to dry clean this sweater (waving it) and shrink it to a smaller size
Dry Clean Dude: You want to circumcise this (pointint to sweater)??
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Fashion Advice

It's quite unusual when the brand you wear offers you fashion advice:

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I like wearing light color (colour? I believe Chevignon is originally a French company) clothes with my jeans... and I love wearing stones!


Food face off 2: pizza version

A while ago, I did a head to head with Katz and Millburn Deli. It wasn't that fair of a comparison because they do offer different things. Di Fara and Grimaldi's is a fair and square comparison.

See my review on Di Fara, where I called it the Pizza Mecca in Pizza Mecca. Hmmm... just thinking about it makes me want to take that 45 minute subway ride. Almost...

By the way, no line at 2:45pm, although the bake wait was another 45 minutes.

Now contrast that to the line at Grimaldi's (Time was much earlier... though when we left at 2:30pm it seemed longer). Madness under the Brooklyn Bridge!
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Alas, the line doesn't determine the quality of the food. And Di Fara wins hands down. I feel kind of bad for those who travel all the way (most of the line on Sunday were tourists) to New York and then think they have had the best pizza ever. Grimaldi's is good, but not great.


Great Entertainment

Ops, a bit slow on blogging lately. Here's a great movie and a great book:

The Hangover

Hold on, so you're telling me there's only a handful of movies about a bachelor party in Vegas, and the only one that comes to your mind is Very Bad Things!? VERY BAD! How is this even possible!? (Besides the very real reason that we don't want the ladies to know about it...)

The Hangover is 90 minutes of solid hilarity. This might well the funniest movie I've ever seen (东成西就 notwithstanding - it's just too classic), although my friend AT is convinced nothing can top Old School. Me thinks The Hangover is a better comedy. Then again, with a bachelor party in vegas premise, there's no ceiling for this. I wonder when will the next BPiV come out? Anyway, the actors in the movie (a collection of nobodies...) did a great job... but the screenwriters really put this thing together. Awesome job that kept the movie going and going, while the audience laughed till their jaws started to hurt. Mine certainly did. Bachelor party is Vegas, baby!

HIGHLY HIGHLY recommended. I will see it again with PNGF... and hopefully convincing her that's not how it goes down in BPs...

Into Thin Air

One thing is for sure: Into Thin Air is not funny. You already know 5 of them are going to die. You even know which 5. And you read about all the decisions and incidents that slowly builds up to the Everest climbing catastrophe in 1996.

My next book is Nudge by my former teacher at Chicago Booth Dick Thaler, who actually uses Into Thin Air as part of his teaching material on Managerial Decision Making. And that's how I read it: a book about how decisions can lead to unintended consequence. In fact, that's why I ordered this book.

Yet I digress. The author Jon Krakauer was part of a 26 member team that attempted to summit Mount Everest. In the book, he recounts what happened after interviewing all the parties involved and tries to analyze what happened in what is known as a Dead Zone (above 25,000 feet about sea level - Everest is 29,028 feet). It's an extremely well written book: Krakauer has left no stone unturned. Facts were slowly put together as the climbers ascend the mountain, and you start to cringe about every single one starting from chapter 1. Finally, in the final summit attempt, all these facts snowball into disaster.

Again, highly highly recommended. One of the best books I've read in years (sigh, how did I not get to this earlier) and great material to learn about decision making. Here're some of my learnings:
  • Those who want to climb mount Everest are crazy
  • Those who want to pay to climb mount Everest are stupid
  • People who could be in danger (read: all climbers) should have a radio (And have enough batteries... sigh... I violated rule #1 in my friend AT's wedding)
  • Once you've paid for something, your decision is skewed already
  • Once you asked someone to pay for something, both your decisions are skewed
  • Commitment to pre-defined deadlines are important
  • Setting pre-defined deadlines and the conditions are important
  • As economists have said all along, self interest comes first... especially when your life was at stake
In my opinion, most of the things that happened on top of the world was motivated by self interest - even the seemingly selfless act of waiting with the client in the blistering cold. And it's really nobody's fault that disaster struck. If any, it is the over-confidence of each individual as well as the collective team that was the main cause.


Zhao Ziyang's Memoir

I mentioned yesterday that I coincidentally finished Zhao's book on the 20th anniversary of June 4th. Here's a review... of the English version. I mentioned I wanted to read the Chinese version... so much is lost in translation, and I miss reading Chinese idioms greatly.
  • Name of the book: The name "Prisoner of the State" is highly inappropriate. I do not doubt the fact that Zhao was a de facto prisoner. However, that is NOT what the book is about, as he spends a mere 20 pages (um... voice recordings) describing how he was unjustly treated. This book is a review about China's development post Mao up to June 4th, 1989 from Zhao's eyes. The Chinese name 改革歷程 (The evolution of reform) is much more appropriate.
  • Lost in translation: The "Elders" were the major obstacle to Zhao's reform ideas. I don't think "Elders" captures the significance. 元老 is much better. A 元老 has achieved basically indestructible status due to his or her contributions to the party throughout his or her years. This means, in a twisted Chinese (Asian?) way, none of the wrongs should be mentioned (unless permitted) and only the rights should be celebrated.
  • Economic reforms: a large part of the book is spent on Zhao's vision for the Chinese economy. What I found in the book is a great economic mind. Ex-ante, he was absolutely spot-on in how to run China's (then) untapped economy and unleash its powers through utilization of cheap labor and work exports and accumulate reserves to further transform the economy into higher value added industries. For a person who never finished high school, that's pretty good; Milton Friedman even called him "the greatest socialist economist" (is that a backhanded compliment?)
  • Political reform: Despite what the foreign press and the foreword says, Zhao was not a advocate for parliamentary democracy when he was in power. He was a advocae for a more open and democratic Communist Party (i.e. within). Only years after his detainment did he arrived at the conclusion that Western parliamentary was the best available method. If he stayed in power, I doubt he would get to that - he did ask Deng to stay in power just to keep the opposing "elders" in check as he consolidated power and rose to prominance.
  • Military: conspicuously missing from the book was any mention of the military (People Liberation Army, or PLA). Surely Zhao was aware that the military sided with the elders? But there was no mention of any generals or military heavyweights in the book.
Alas, so what does the book mean? For one, it means Zhao was right from the very beginning: economic reform via the market economy was the way China would climb out of a half century funk. Ah, but he was also wrong: he thought that economic reform could only come with political reform. The last 20 years seems to have proven him wrong, as the Chinese economy has flourished under the still-authoritarian (still somewhat oppressive) government.

I also think the book is solid evidence that Deng Xiaoping was behind the wheel of everything that happened in modern China. Yes, that includes June 4th. Regarding reforms, he may not have known exactly what to do, but he got the right people to do it (such as Zhao and his predecessor Hu Yaobang) and remained a buffer between economic reform and political conservatives.

Even though I've pointed out that this book is more about the economic and political struggle of China prior to June 4th 1989, I will take a stab. Had June 4th not happened, I think the economic reforms would have still been successful. In particular, Zhao points out that his idea of political reform at the time was more transparency within the party as well as introducing different voices into the party. Neither of which would truly hinder the development of the economy.

You can of course argue this the other way... that the success of the student demonstrations would have led to yet another bigger protest when the people do not get what they want (a de facto democracy, ala Thailand style!?)... and bloodshed was inevitable. I can't relive history...

... but I 100% judge what happened in Tiananmen Square: "That's Wrong".

20th anniversary of June 4th

Yeah, there's umbrella police and also the Great Fire Wall... but it's still the 20th anniversary of June 4th. And unless they can block all websites forever, people are going to know about it. And, like I predicted a week ago, I finished Zhao Ziyang's (趙紫陽) Prisoner of State right on time.

After reading the English version, I really want to read the Chinese version. It's a fascinating book about a man who was almost at the top of China, only to be pulled down abruptly and then jailed in his own house for the next 15 years. Not only does the book give a very insightful look at the main men behind China's economic reform, it tells a great story about some of the behind the scene fights between some of the top top officials in the Chinese Communist Party. More on this book later.

20 years ago, I was on the streets with my father, screaming words that meant very little to me. I didn't even know who 趙紫陽 was! I knew 打倒李鵬 - in fact, that's the only thing I remember screaming in the streets of Wan Chai.

I do remember this: I saw on TV that the Chinese army had marched into Beijing and civilians were hurt. Many students were killed. I, at 10, of course didn't know anything more than "that's wrong." Luckily, at 30 (almost), I still know "that's wrong". And that is the basic recognition that every person with a conscious should have.

A moment of silence for those who perished 20 years ago.


Star Trek faces

I watched the latest Star Trek movie. Entertaining and exciting. Good action. Decent sci fi. Quite recommended.

During the movie, I kept recognizing faces but couldn't put any names to it. Actually, it's party of the beauty of watching action flicks. You don't have to pay attention to the movie and you can multi-task. So there I was, scanning through faces and paying some attention to the movie at the same time.
  • Spock was easy and well advertised. That's Sylar! PNGF thinks he's cute now. Please. Sylar has a eff-ed up personality - he'll change on you any time; nicely casted though. But... he's SYLAR!
  • I will never accept that Kumar is a terrorist in "24"; likewise, I will never accept that Harold is Sulu in Star Trek. Kumar will always be Kumar or Van Wilder. Harold will always be Harold or that guy who said MILF in American Pie. That's it. There should be no arguement over this.
Now for the ones that bugged me all night:
  • Spock's mom is the hot girl in "How to make an American quilt" (yes I saw that... sigh), except that now she looks about 50 years older. She also was caught stealing some time ago... couldn't get her name all night
  • McCoy... I've seen him. A different face of his floats in my mind. I think he was some assassin... he was also so ancient war lord... now he's a doctor on USS Enterprise. My head is about to explode. Oh, I think he played a character that started with an "E"... no idea who he is though
  • Nero. Man that face is so familiar... yet all the painting and darkness makes the name go away. At least this one I got mid way. That's Eric Bana! Wow!
Um... Spock's mom is Winona Rider. I can't believe I had to look her up. Same face, too old in the movie. What can I say. Now... McCoy: he was Eomer of Rohan in Lord of the Rings! Apparently he did play an assassin in one of the Bourne movies. Fascinating. Now wonder he bugged me all night. So I had an ancient warrior, a cold blood killer from the present, and a half dork doctor from the future and I'm trying to piece together the mystery.


The Wire

I finished Season One of The Wire today. Awesome TV show. Highly highly recommended for guys. Obviously I've never worked for the gang nor the police, but I thought the show was extremely realistic: somehow, it was able to "accurately" depict the delicate balance (read: politics) between the hood, the Baltimore police department, the courts, the city hall, the runners, the distributors, the drug dealers, the detectives, and the politicians.

There were only a few things I found a bit fishy (the dancer being turned and bringing a wire into the club!? No way.)... not that I would know. Haha. Great show - go watch it.

Anyway, couple of funny points:
  • I turned on the sub-titles cus I couldn't understand all the street talk; I didn't even know what a runner was.
  • PNGF wanted to watch the show together; I showed her the scene where two detectives worked the crime scene for 5 minutes and their conversation consisted of "Shit", "Fuck", "Motherfucker", "Fuck Me" and "FUCK!". She decline our next viewing.
  • Freakonomics has a nine part conversation with real gangsters that has to do with The Wire - fascinating reads
  • You know what... there's much more politics in a civilized society and it's quite complicated and frustrating; in the gangs, it's quite strict and you deal with the rogues quickly: drop 'em (okay, that wasn't funny)
By the way, reality TV is awful. I hate it. Let's have more real TV shows.