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Matrix Reloaded: Review

NeoI saw Matrix Reloaded on Thursday and have some definite thoughts about it, along with some still-to-be-determined thoughts. Overall, I thought Matrix Reloaded was a very good sequel film. For me, the strong need to see the film yet again, to figure out a few bits and pieces is a very good sign.

If you are going to see Matrix Reloaded, make sure you sit through the credits (about 5 minutes) as there's a little surprise at the end of the film. Trust me. :-)

Spoiler Warning! I realize that my non-US readers may have not yet seen the film, so I've activated the Moveable Type excerpt feature on this post to avoid spoiling the film for anyone who has not seen it. You're now forewarned that following the link below will share film details.
Ok, first off, I should say that I would have been perfectly happy with only the original Matrix movie. I felt it stood well on its own, sharing the story and leaving the viewer with a nice wrap-up at the end. It worked for me quite well as a single film and what a film it was!

However, I also liked the idea of a sequel, as long as any Matrix trilogy were designed originally as a three-film series. I didn't want to see the Wachowski brothers spin off two more films because the money was good, with no clear idea where they were going with Neo, Morpheus and Trinity. I was pleased to learn that the Wachowskis had always intended three films. This set my mind a little at ease, as I reasoned that a clear intention to tell a story with three parts (e.g. Lord of the Rings) had a greater chance of being good, than the "thanks for all the cash -- now lets make up two more films as we go" approach.

Still, even if the Matrix parts two and three were created with the best intentions in mind, I had a feeling that we Matrix fans had a pretty high standard set for these films, because The Matrix. was so well done. Even if the Wachowski brothers managed to create an excellent second movie, I was concerned that so much new ground was taken with Matrix that any movie to follow it might be somehow seen as less than the original. In fact, I was pretty certain of this.

I came to May 15th slightly mixed in my feelings: one the one hand I was excited about seeing Matrix Reloaded, finding out how the main characters deal with the machines and what new areas of the Matrix world I'd get to see. On the other hand I knew that this could very well not meet my own expectations compared to the feelings I have for the first Matrix film.

I felt the film was a success as a sequel. There many things I enjoyed about the film and a few details that I disliked. Let me start with what I enjoyed about Matrix Reloaded, as I felt that the majority of the film was perfectly suited to its task. I'll follow that with some of my criticisms of the film, things I'm unsure of (until I see it again) and my overall conclusions.

The Good Stuff
I'm very pleased with the visual appearance of the film overall. The greenish color shift of the Matrix seems very consistent with the original Matrix film. Cinematogprahy was excellent, with some very beautiful scenes to liteally drink in with your eyes and your mind. I was also pleased with the extreme comic-book-like camera angles, continued from The Matrix. I also appreciated the extension of the "classic" sense in the Matrix itself, with great classic and new cars, big, square trucks and the fashion blend of 1950s CIA agent clothing, shiny plastic coats and Morpheus' custom made, Italian shoes. Well done!

I love the way the film opens, with Trinity kicking things off -- from the outrageous motorcycle jump to the use of her helmet as a kung-fu weapon. Trinity opened The Matrix as well, so it should be interesting to see if she also opens Revolutions.

The big rebel pow-wow at the start of the film was quite interesting -- great background environments there! However, I wondered why about 10% of the Zion leaders didn't wear sunglasses -- maybe their residual self-image didn't include black shades?

I was a little surprised to find that Agent Smith had been freed -- I found it a funny little slieght of hand by the Wachowski brothers, who know you'll assume Smith is still an agent, when actually, he's become a rouge virus of sorts. Tricky. I actually have a gut feeling that Agent Smith may end up being a character much like Gollum was in Lord of the Rings -- mostly bad but there to serve some kind of purpose in the end. I could be collossaly wrong... but we'll see when Revolutions arrives.

Zion was well done, particularly the landing pad and views of the huge machinery that keeps Zion running. I loved the "lived in" feel that Zion had -- it was slightly industrial (like the dwellings with submarine doors) but very human and organic at the same time.

I also found it very interesting to learn about Morpheus being much more of a small faction leader, very much like a John the Baptist character in the Gospels. In Matrix you figure he's a big leader in Zion, but in Reloaded you find he's much more the exception than the rule.

Fight scenes were again very well done. I can't say that they were groundbreaking in comparison to the original Matrix, but this comes back to the idea that Matrix was so revolutionary, it would be hard to top. Some reviewers complained about the length of the staircase fight -- I didn't mind and found it an interesting take, with much more flying and floating -- it seemed almost like dance.

My favorite fight scene of the film was the Burly Brawl, where Neo and hundreds of cloned Agent Smiths battle to a draw in a playground. Just the idea of a single guy (Neo) taking on this many combatants was a sight to see. In one scene I laughed out lout when I saw one Agent Smith clone thrown against the wall of a building about 4 stories up and in another, where Neo was using one Smith for a bowling ball against twenty Smith clones, I had to smile. Even in the fight scenes the Wachowski brothers have a sense of humor. I found it particularly interesting that Neo comes to realize he cannot win the battle against all the the Smiths and flies away -- Neo is tempered a bit.

Of course, I love the freeway chase scene. For me, that was 18 minutes of pure fun. I switched between asking "how did they do that" to "WOW" several times. I loved that Niobe cruises up in a purple 1967 Pontiac Firebird. And the finale was pretty amazing too. All in all the freeway scene for me was alone worth admission.

I liked the albino twins: their phasing tricks and how they completed each others' sentances. Should be interesting to learn if Morpheus knocked them off, or if they will reappear in the next film.

I really enjoyed the Keymaster, though his name did bring back memories of Ghostbusters and Rick Moranis. Scary, eh? It was great to see this little guy and his necklaces full of keys, darting around. I especially liked the scene where the Keymaster pulls out a key to access a door and gets Trinity to remark "you do come in handy!".

The Not So Good Stuff
The Rave scene. If you've read any reviews or comments, you'll know this is one of the least favorite things mentioned. I'm squarely in the anti-rave camp. I thought it was too long for starters, which added to the dragginess of the first 45 minutes of the film. But the rave was also kinda cheesey -- while it dragged on I kept thinking of the Ewok dance in Star Wars Return of the Jedi. It was also cheesy in that these people are all dancing next to pools of molten lava -- come on now! Those dancers woulda had 3rd degree burns! So, I say trim this 8-10 minute sequence to 2 or 3 minutes tops, with much less emphasis on the rave.

Morpheus came off a bit too full of himself and over-serious. I suppose this is the idea, since he's a believer in Neo as The One while most everyone else thinks he's a nutter. Still, I wished Morpheus' lines were not always so serious and dire.

The Burly Brawl CGI. I thought this section was pretty good, but I suppose as a picky graphics guy I see all of the imperfections. While this was not enough to ruin the scene (which I really enjoyed) I was much more aware of the too-perfectness of Neo's coat as he fought and the too-smooth draping of his clothing. There were other little clues that made it feel like CGI, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I don't mind this "perfectness" too much because after all, the Matrix is supposed to be a stylized, computer generated environment.

Trinity's car getting shot on the freeway with no bullets entering the cabin. I was a bit surprised that Trinity didn't find 8 bullets lodged in her arm from all the shots in the Caddilac on the driver-side door. I mean, come on... is this thing armor plated? It didn't seem so in other scenes where bullets penetrate the car. I know... suspend belief. :-)

The John Woo-ization of Trinity jumping off the semi trailer on the Ducati. I about gagged when I saw this scene unfolding for what seemed like five minutes while the woo-ing choir swelled. Just jump the bike off the semi already! Maybe this was the Wachowski's tribute to John Woo (whos overdone style of cinematography I'm not terribly fond of).

What I'm Unsure About
I would really like to see Reloaded once again to clear up some details in my mind with the movie. This is a good thing for me -- I'm the type of person who really enjoys getting more detail from a second or third viewing. Sometimes (like with Lord of the Rings) I'll see the movie to hear the music and then go again later to look at background details. Through this process, I gain a fuller sense of the film.

A few things of note: I want to see exactly who the guy was intending to kill Neo before he gets on the elevator. I've read this is the physical representation of Agent Smith, but I could only remember the goatee.

I'd also like a chance to hear the discussion between Neo and the Architect again. Information was moving so quickly and so deeply at that point, I feel I've missed something. I'd love to process through that sequence once more.

I'd also like to see the portion with Merovingian and Persephone -- I was again pleased with the Wachowski's humor in Merovingian and would like to absorb the dialogue there once more to see how it fits in with the rest of the film.

Of course I want to see the freeway chase scene again and take its details in bit by bit. The action is so quick there, that I feel it deserves a second viewing to really get a feeling for what's going on on the freeway.

I'm not sure what happened to Neo that he was able to stop the sentinels at the end of the film with a telepathic thought. I'm not sure what this meant -- did Neo's powers extend to the physical world or is Zion also a Matrix? Hmmm.

I want to see Reloaded again for these reasons and more -- mostly that I enjoyed the film thoroughly and would love to see it again.

Final Impressions
My overall impression of Reloaded was that the Wachowskis are trying to throw viewers off balance. We're challenged by the conversion of Agent Smith to a virus, Morpheus' beliefs in Neo as the One are challenged and Neo's idea of free will and choice are being challenged. About halfway through the movie I had the distinct feeling that the Wachowski brothers were intentionally puling the rug out from under us... to prepare us all for their conclusion in Revolutions.

I think Reloaded is a great sequel movie but really couldn't stand on its own. But I believe that's exactly what was intended -- the Matrix is a story designed to be told in three parts, so the second film depends greatly on the first. And the third film will depend greatly on the first two. But in the end, we will have a whole film, much like Lord of the Rings will be whole this year. Because I believe this, I'm not bothered that The Marix or Reloaded have some imperfections, because the story is moved forward and will be unified in the third part -- Revolutions.

Finally, I'm pleased to see that the Wachowskis are having fun with a multi-faceted film. They're offering something for everyone and having a great time experimenting with all the ideas they've had bottled up in their brains for years and years. Philosphy, action, religious thought, software concepts, exploring choice vs. destiny and of course visual explorations. I think it's great to see these guys offered the chance to explore things nobody else has until now. Yes, maybe parts were explored but not all of these aspects in a single film. I applaud them for this daring approach.

I guess this review was more geared toward those who have already seen the film, because I'm curious to hear your impressions in the comments section.

I hope you enjoyed Reloaded as much as I have. Yes, it's not perfect, but overall a great bit of fun that I look forward to seeing again soon.


Excellent Tungsten C Review in TidBITS

Tungsten CI'm an avid reader of TidBITS, the excellent weekly Macintosh e-zine started by Adam and Tonya Engst eons ago (in Internet time). In fact, TidBITS was the inspiration for founding my own Palm e-zine, the Palm Tipsheet back in 1997 (which was sold in April 2003).

In the latest issue (680) Geoffrey V. Bronner, the webmaster for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College offers an excellent in-depth review of the Palm Tungsten C.

I really like that Bronner's review includes real field tests of the Tungsten C in a Wi-Fi environment at Dartmouth. When I did the Palm Tipsheet, I always felt writing practical articles like this helped people see how a device or piece of software could help them in a practical way.

Bronner found the Tungsten C a hands down winner over his previous Palm & Wi-Fi solution -- the Xircom Palm Wireless Ethernet Module for the Palm m515. He found that the Tungsten C had much better battery life, a better screen and better reception since it was designed to work with Wi-Fi networks rather than hacked via the modem connection as the Xircom was.

I'm going to email Geoffrey about SnapperMail as an email alternative to VersaMail, especially if SnapperMail manages to add IMAP capabilities before too long.

The best quote comes at the end of the piece:

"The demo unit went back the day after I finished this review, but I've already ordered one of my own. That's the greatest praise I can give."

'Nuff said. ;-)


MP3 & Critical Mass

iPod & iTunesBeen having some good discussions with a few Mac friends who are both very interested in the new iTunes Music Store and more particularly, the AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) format. This is the format Apple is using (with DRM features enabled) to distribute $0.99 tracks. AAC can also be used to burn personal music files from CDs, using Quicktime 6.2.

Matt is currently in the process of converting his entire music collection from MP3 to AAC, mainly because it takes so much less space on his drive. In our last discussion about his conversion Matt estimated he might save upwards of 10GB on his drive going to AAC from MP3. That's nothing to sneeze at!

Another friend, Andy, is also contemplating conversion of his music collection to AAC. Last week he told me that the quality of AAC is much improved over MP3 files with much higher bit rates. He claims AACs rival the quality of the original CD tracks even at 128 bit rates. He's also interested in space savings, as his drive space is limited and his music collection is quite substantial.

I can't comment on AAC sound quality vs. MP3, since I've not yet heard a comparison, though Matt posted an interesting tidbit on his weblog today questioning if there is any real difference between sound quality of an MP3 vs. AAC file, other than file size.

What I will comment on is this: the quality of AAC, even if it proves better sounding than MP3 is still not compelling enough to convince most regular people to re-rip their entire MP3 music collection. Here are my reasons:

MP3 has achieved critical mass. MP3 decoding can be found on more and more electronics items -- Craig Froehle mentioned buying a MP3 CD player with FM tuner for $40 at Best Buy just last week. MP3 players are now even available in mobile phones and car stereos. I fully expect to buy a fridge in the next two years with a 500GB MP3 player and Wi-Fi networking capabilities built-in. :-)

Most music players support MP3 and not AAC. Music players like my trusty Rio Volt SP250 can't play AAC files, so I'm out of luck whether I've burnt the AACs myself or bought from the iTunes Music Store. If my RioVolt and other devices like it offer a software or a firmware update, I'm pretty sure most regular users will not perform the upgrade. This leaves only the Apple iPod (an excellent bit of hardware) and Macs or PCs with Quicktime 6.2 for AAC playback.

Locations where you most often listen to MP3s are really noisy. Ambient noise surrounds any listener in a bus station, on a train, in an airplane, in your car or even your home office. Because of this ever-present ambient noise, any quality benefits of an AAC are going to be lost anyway.

MP3 is good enough for most listeners. I think of MP3 music as my own FM radio -- it has high enough quality to sound good in most locations, even with good quality headphones. FM radio is nowhere near the quality of CD music, but it has millions of happy listeners worldwide, because it is good enough.

So, if you're a stickler for better sound quality (which is still up for debate), you need more drive space, you have an iPod or only play converted music on your Mac or PC (with Quicktime 6.2), then it makes sense to consider AAC. Otherwise, AAC falls a bit short for those without a way to play tunes on a portable device, like me and millions of other people who use MP3s.

I do hope the iTunes Music Store does well. However I fear that until AAC reaches a wider audience and gains more users, it is destined to remain a cool yet minor niche format compared to the ever-popular MP3.


Palm DevCon: Day Four

Departure day. Bags are all packed up tight and a 6:30am phone call from my wife served as a nice end to the week away and wake up call in case of an alarm failure. Gail and Nathan are doing better and are glad I'm heading back home.

At 6:50am, I meet Jen Edwards (a.k.a. PocketGoddess) in the lobby to catch the shuttle to San Francisco International, as our outgoing flights both left around 9am. We had a good chat on the way over to the airport, discussing our meetings and experiences over these past few days. Jen mentioned writing some articles about her experience -- when that info goes up I'll be sure to share the link. Jen and I parted outside SFO as I needed to ride the shuttle a bit farther to catch my United flight.

Inside, people were hustling to gates and security checkpoints seemed very busy. I found the line for United and within a few minutes, I was standing at the desk, getting checked in. Interestingly, United's desk featured e-ticket consoles which most people were using -- since I didn't have an e-ticket, I chose to speak to a representative. This turned out to be a good choice, since the attendant seated me farther up on the plane since getting to my connecting flight within 45 minutes was going to be a tight affair.

The security line looked like a zoo, but moved quickly. While departing Milwaukee earlier in the week, one of the security personnel commented to another traveller that tennis shoes didn't require scanning, so I tested this info at SFO and found it accurate. A few minites later I was through and headed for my gate.

Decided to grab a coffee and was pleased to learn that the Starbucks location at SFO accepted the Starbucks card (many airport locations do not). I have this card for occasions such as this; where my pocket cash is limited but I can really use a coffee.

Starbucks seems to have done well in cornering the airport market for coffee vendors, at least at San Francisco International, Chicago's O'Hare and Milwaukee's Mitchell. It seemed everywhere I went I could easily locate a Starbucks either by sight, smell or the sound of squealing steam and frothing foam. At O'Hare it seemed as though there was a Starbucks at every gate.

While awaiting my flight from San Francisco to Chicago, I noticed the pillar near my gate had a T-Mobile HotSpot logo emblazoned on it. I fired up the Powerbook and activated AirPort networking -- the HotSpot immediately displayed itself in the menu bar, to my delight. I then tried checking my email, but with no luck. Must sign in.

Next I launched my browser which brought up a JavaScript that automatically launched the T-Mobile HotSpot login page. It was very disconcerting to have my browser so easily commandeered by the HotSpot server. I began to wonder how hard it would be for a hacker to access the T-Mobile access point or server, in order to spoof users signing in to get access to their Wi-Fi connected laptops. Hmmm.

Finally, I wanted to see if I could sign up for access via the HotSpot connection and found it quite possible, but with only a few minutes until boarding began, I decided to hold off for a future opportunity. Still, this sign up option brought another question to my mind -- was the signup secure? Could someone with a packet sniffer grab my credit card info, or my username and password this way? Double hmmm.

Flight was significant only in that the pre-takeoff announcement by our pilot included:

"related to the the safety presentation, which I'm sure you all followed intently... that some passengers are charged with helping the crew. I wanted to point out that this includes certain security situations, such as dealing with unruly passengers. Please think about that."

I had to chuckle -- an airline pilot with a dry sense of humor. :-)

Near the end of the flight I was slightly concerned about timing, since we were running about 18 minutes late on the expected 3:00pm landing time. My connecting flight was scheduled to depart at 3:45pm. This delay would leave me with less than 30 minutes to get across O'Hare, not to mention my checked bags.

When we finally landed it was 3:18pm -- I cranked it out of the gate, searching for the connecting flight's gate number, then located the gate on the map. Sure enough, I had to cross the entire airport to reach my flight, so I put the afterburners on. I blew past all sorts of travelers, until climbing an escalator where a wife was casually chatting with her husband, blocking the way. Arrgggh!

Amazingly, I made my gate with time to spare, only to find that the gate had switched from E9 to E7 and the Milwaukee flight had been delayed. All that hard work to make the flight for nothing. Still, I was happy for the delay in the end, since I figured my bags would have never made it on my original flight. Better to be delayed 15 minutes at the gate than spending hours hunting down bags at the airport baggage claim.

Saw a great t-shirt on two guys from the Soldiers for Jesus Motorcycle Club who were traveling to Milwaukee for a Harley rider's convention:

Jesus Would Have Ridden a Harley

On the ground in Milwaukee, I exited the terminal and entered the main waiting area where I heard Gail call my name. Wow, it was great to see her and Nathan again. Ah, home again. :-)

All told, I had a great time on my visit to the PalmSource DevCon and I hope you've enjoyed my travelogue account. I wish I could share more details from meetings and other events, but I take the NDAs I've signed very seriously. I will instead direct you to other story links from the event:

BrightHand: Steve Bush's PalmSource Trip Diary
Brighthand: PalmSource Developer Seminar Recap
GearMongers: Craig Froehle's Post on the Tapwave Helix
Palm Infocenter: Palm OS 6 To Be Released in Late 2003 Palm OS 6: the Evolution Q&A with PalmSource CEO David Nagel

If I do come into information related to PalmSource stuff that's ok to share, you can be sure I'll post it here. :-)

Thanks for reading. I should be back on my normal weekday blogging schedule here once again, so tune in tomorrow for another installment.



Palm DevCon: Day Three

Another early start Wednesday, but like Tuesday, our meetings were well worth the time spent. We learned quite a bit about the state of wireless carriers and how Palm handhelds integrate with them among other things.

I was also able to have a look at the new Aceeca device in the expo area between meetings. Aceeca is the second of two licensees to the Palm OS platform. The Meazura device was interesting -- I can imagine even more interesting to industrial clients looking for an inexpensive, reliable device for testing and gathering information. I even had a chance to meet the CEO, Alex Topschij, a good bloke from down under in New Zealand. :-)

Lunch was a short grab and stuff affair, followed by more excellent internal meetings in the afternoon. Near 4:30 we wrapped up. I enjoyed note taking once again, though after another day of mind-to-finger processing, I was glad for the break from note writing. Amazingly, in two days I managed to write about 15,000 words and about 100k worth of notes -- yikes!

Okay, now for something a little off topic and curious. I observed over the past two days a very strange habit of people at the seminars starting sentaces with "so...". To give you a better idea of what I mean, here's an example:

Q: Why did the Tungsten C have a mono headset rather than stereo headset?

A: So... We asked people if they had to choose between a stereo jack or a mono jack with potential Voice Over IP features, what would you choose? They overwhelmingly said "give us the mono headset and VOIP".

This sentance starter just seemed to me a very odd way to begin a statement. I noticed the abundance of "So" statement-starters because of how commonly it was used among speakers. I suppose this could equate to an "Ummm..." often used for buying a little time while organizing thoughts. See what two days of note-taking does to me? :-)

The seminar sessions ended with an interesting session with David Fedor on details of Palm OS 6. Most of the stuff he spoke about was several atmospheres above my head (I'm no developer), however some tidbits I did comprehend and liked the sound of. One in particular is the structure of new built-in core app databases being based on "schemas" which meant XML to me. Very cool.

The essence of David Fedor's message on this point was extensibility of stock databasess, allowing 3rd party developers to add fields to the built-in app DBs without screwing them up. So, a product like Beyond Contacts, used for full sync to Outlook could theoretically extend the standard Datebook and other stock DBs without ruining the underlying database structure. (Developers, feel free to correct any errors I may be spouting here)

Fedor also mentioned an evolutionary transition to OS 6 rather than revolutionary, so the changes will not be so shocking. He phrased it as "Changing Everything and Nothing." I suppose this should make developers a little happier knowing their apps will not have to change unless they choose to take advantage of new OS 6 system features. I was happy to hear old Palm OS apps should still run on OS 6 under PACE (Palm Application Compatibility Environment), assuming they've followed the Palm OS guidelines properly.

After the David Fedor OS 6 preview and a break I attended the Silicon Valley Palm User Group PUG meeting, featuring David Nagel and speakers from Palm SG, Fossil, PalmGear, and Handango. I put my card into the bucket to win one of 3 handhelds, but no such luck.

That evening the PUC group and a few others had a final dinner together in the overpriced California Grill, inside the hotel. It was a great time of discussion and banter about the past few days, Palm devices and many other topics. Will and Matt from SnapperMail dropped in a bit later to hang with us -- I had a great time chatting with these friendly New Zealanders while enjoying my Spicy Thai Chicken bowl.

I stopped by Michael Ashby's place to get a fix of his high-speed hotel network connection -- I was too cheap to activate mine at $10 per 24 hours. Back at my room I spent the remaining hours before bed, organizing and packing my gear for the journey home. The incredibly nice backpack by PalmSource on Tuesday ended up packed to the gills with t-shirts and promo swag, and would have to be checked as baggage since I brought my own backpack for the PowerBook and other stuff.

And so the seminar ended. All in all a great time to meet other Palm people, learn about what's new and to make a difference for the future. It all seemed to go by so quickly though. Ah well, that's what makes "see you next time" so attractive.

Until my next post...