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Counting Down To 2012 - The Movie

There's a lot of hoopla going around about Paramount Pictures' upcoming November movie, "2012." It's yet another disaster movie about the "end of the world," and it's got everyone wondering whether the ancient Mayans were really on to something about December 21, 2012.

"2012" the movie stars John Cusack, who delivers a great performance in the five-minute clip of the movie that Columbia Pictures released a couple of days ago. The cast also includes Amanda Peet, Danny Glover, and Woody Harrelson.

Of course, no one can pull this movie off better than Roland Emmerich, the king of disaster movies. If his name isn't familiar, he's the guy who brought "Godzilla," "Independence Day," and "The Day After Tomorrow" to now-paranoid moviegoers around the world.

The production crew poured in a budget that matches the one used in "Titanic," so it should be a blockbuster waiting to happen. If you can sit through almost 150 minutes of death and destruction, "2012" should be the movie to see next month.

The hype that's surrounding the movie is without a doubt because of the idea that the world is prophesied to end on December 21, 2012. The suggestion came from the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, the one the ancient Mayas used. According to the Mayan calendar, the 5,125-cycle of creation goes full circle on that date.

Of course, what the film's promoters purposely omitted was the fact that the date was also the BEGINNING of a new cycle for the Mayan calendar, which never ends.

So relax and check your paranoia at the door.

My Take On Roman Polanski

You're probably well aware about the case of Roman Polanski. The visionary filmmaker is currently under fire for his 1977 conviction of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old. That was 32 years ago, shortly before he fled to Europe to avoid jail time. Now, under arrest in Switzerland, everyone has their own opinion on whether Polanski should go free or do the time.

Polanski was born in 1933 as a Polish Jew. As a young boy he escaped and hid from the Nazis, even as his own mother died in a concentration camp. But after the war, Polanski went into filmmaking, and eventually struck gold with his 1968 masterpiece "Rosemary's Baby." He went on to create great films such as "Chinatown" (1973), "The Pianist" (2002), and "Oliver Twist" (2005).

Except for those in and around the filmmaking business, those achievements seem to pale for that one mistake he made over three decades ago. Since he fled to France in 1977, there's been a pending US arrest warrant for him (and an international one since 2005). He was only arrested in Switzerland, at the request of US authorities, when he stepped onto Zurich to pick up the Zurich Film Festival's "Golden Icon Award," a lifetime achievement award.

I think child molestation is wrong however way you look at it, and sexual predators do belong to some of the lowest tiers of humanity. To some people, this one mistake is enough to negate all his achievements and contributions to world culture and send him to the pits of Hades. It seems these people believe that if you make one slip, you're through.

Naturally, Hollywood is much more forgiving (which I think is one of its very agreeable cultures). Michael Vick got into trouble by being involved in a dog fighting gambling ring, but he's back in the NFL playing football. Mel Gibson has had more than a few scandals in his time, but he's still out there making great films. Mike Tyson. Robert Downey, Jr. Kanye West. Should Polanski's case be any different?

Besides, I believe that ultimately, if you want justice, you deal with the victim. The 13-year-old girl, now 45-year old Samantha Geimer, had already forgiven him six years ago. On no less than CNN's Larry King Live, she wished that the whole thing would be buried, and that she never wanted Polanski to go to jail.

I think it's time to bury the hatchet and send the man back home to his family.

Microsoft Launches Free Anti-Virus Software Today

Microsoft has been getting better at revamping public perception about it over the past year. It's now operating a couple of retail stores (more to come) in an attempt to reach their customer base more readily, and everybody's excited about the release of Windows 7 in just over three weeks. And today, they just released their very first free anti-virus software package.

Dubbed Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), the free anti-virus is currently available for download in 19 countries, although only PC's with licensed versions of Windows XP, Vista, and 7 can accept it. It's Microsoft's comprehensive solution to many of the most common threats faced by the average PC user today.

It's not "comprehensive" per se, though. It's only protects against viruses and other malware, and doesn't have the other pieces of the puzzle necessary for complete protection, such as anti-spam and firewalls. This has been the main criticism of MSE, made none other than those who profit from the status quo.

Big names in the anti-virus industry (such as Symantec) have bitterly attacked Microsoft's move into their lucrative market, obviously fearing the computing giant's marketing prowess. If you aren't aware of it yet, free anti-virus software is the exception rather than the norm in the business -- if you want complete protection, you have to shell out some good money for it.

Microsoft has assured the public that MSE will still provide enough protection, especially when used on Windows systems. The more recent Windows operating systems have built-in firewalls (which get better with every incarnation), and Internet Explorer 8 can warn users of potentially dangerous sites.

MSE is a decent anti-virus program to try -- it hogs system resources much less than most other protection suites, and has generally received warm reviews from testers in three countries. Its arrival also spells the end of Microsoft's Windows Live OneCare protection suite, which didn't do very well on the sales end.

You can download Microsoft Security Essentials, absolutely free, here.

Med Students Get In Trouble Through Social Media

For the longest time, doctors have been seen as some of society's most respected members, but today that distinction is getting blurry at best. The conduct of some Med students in the United States are worrying their seniors, and many fear it's much worse than it appears.

A new survey conducted among several major medical schools in the United States found a much higher number of incidents of inappropriate behavior and unprofessional conduct in medical schools. What's worse, the reported incidents were only those that reached the deans' attentions -- which is likely only the tip of the iceberg.

Many of the reported unprofessional incidents were posted on the Internet. For instance, a quick YouTube search would net you several videos made by medical students. Most are harmless -- musical numbers, for instance -- while a few are really disturbing.

One of them, a prank involving a dead body, caught the attention of many medical professionals lately. It's not known whether the cadaver was real, but even if it wasn't, what does such a video make you think? Exactly -- maybe your doctor isn't really that serious with his work.

There are other stories, as well. Some medical students post patient information on the Internet, whether on their Facebook pages or on their blogs -- obviously a breach of patient privacy. Others request inappropriate relationships with patients. Still others use profanity and even post photos of drug paraphernalia.

Sure, you could say that Med students aren't unlike every other kid on the Internet these days. But the situation is too serious to ignore -- all of a sudden, the medical profession doesn't seem so credible anymore.

But thankfully, deans and senior medical professionals are catching on to the online habits of their proteges. They're getting savvier with the Internet, blogging, and YouTube, as well as social media platforms like Facebook.

Hopefully this increased awareness will lead to better-behaved students, and much fewer embarrassments to one of the most respected professions in history.

Shaky September For Google

September wasn't very nice for Google and its users. Just yesterday, Gmail was hit with its second outage in the space of three weeks, and while this one wasn't as bad as the one that hit on September 1, it's enough to make many of us question whether doing everything the Google way really is a good idea.

Google is pretty much the industry leader of cloud computing, where people can access Office applications and save their work on the Internet. It's a largely more accessible and more cost-effective business solution than, say, Microsoft Office. The success of Google Apps in the past few years has enticed other players in the industry, including Microsoft, to develop their own cloud-based offerings.

But now that even Google is having trouble keeping its servers up indefinitely, it's confirming what most skeptics are worried about -- that if Google goes, so does all your work.

I myself am not that keen about the cloud. I think I've written before that I'm not really that confident about leaving my work on the Internet and being stuck whenever I'm offline. Sorry, but I'd much rather do it the old-fashioned way.

Speaking of the old-fashioned way, Google's new offering, SideWiki, is also coming under fire. Back in the day, bloggers enjoyed the way people would comment on their writings. But SideWiki, an application that Google Toolbar users can use to comment on certain websites, might be intruding on something bloggers consider sacred.

Of course, Google plans to rule the Internet unconditionally one day. SideWiki is apparently a means of gathering information from certain sites, through viewer commentary, to accomplish that end. Naturally, bloggers aren't happy with the idea that comments that would otherwise have been posted on their sites instead end up in Imperial Google's index.

But that's okay -- it's probably only a matter of time before spammers take to SideWiki and flood it with so much useless information that Google will have to take it down. But if Google does find a way to filter out the ne'er-do-wells, THEN SideWiki just might be something to watch.

Sony Brings Home The Bacon With Meatballs

Sony Pictures Animation surprisingly got top spot at the box office this week with its adaptation of the beloved 1978 children's book, "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs." The first weekend revenues of about $30 million wasn't spectacular by itself, but it's still pretty remarkable for an underdog film -- and on a September, too.

September is usually a slow month in the movie business, sandwiched between the fiercely-competitive summer and holiday seasons. "Cloudy" managed to haul in a decent crowd, a good sign that Sony will break even in around three weeks. What's more, it outperformed several other highly-hyped movies.

Sony Pictures Animation has been struggling in the past several years trying to keep up with the industry leaders in animated films, Pixar and Dreamworks. Sony's first animated offering, "Open Season," was mediocre at best, while their second, "Surf's Up," was a box office disappointment.

"Cloudy," on the other hand, sees some clear skies up ahead. The story, only loosely based on the children's book, revolves around a passionate but unsuccessful inventor named Flint Lockwood (voiced by Year One's Bill Hader) who invents a device that turns water into food. After a mishap that launches the device into the atmosphere, his hunger-stricken town gets blessed by showers of hamburgers, hotdogs, pasta, ice cream, and other food items.

Other players in the story include perky weather news intern Sam Sparks (voiced by the "Scary Movies'" Anna Faris) and the evil town mayor (voiced by Bruce Campbell of "Evil Dead" fame). But perhaps the greatest scene stealer is Mr. T, who voices the overprotective cop Earl Devereaux.

All told, Sony may have its most successful animated film in "Cloudy." The funny thing about this week in the movies was that while "Cloudy" surprisingly did well, perhaps the most hyped-up offering -- "Jennifer's Body," starring Megan Fox -- did the worst, opening with a disappointing $5 million.

(I guess people really DID come to see the robots.)

Disney Chairman Dick Cook Steps Down

It appears my initial enthusiasm about the changes happening in Disney these days (the blockbuster $4-billion acquisition of Marvel Comics and getting visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro on board) was a little hasty -- it seems Disney isn't merely adding to its repertoire, but going for a complete overhaul instead. Just recently, Disney chairman Dick Cook announced his resignation effective immediately.

Cook began his 38-year career with Disney as a tour ride operator when he was only 21. Many of his friends saw him as someone who thought, felt, and acted like Walt Disney himself, especially in the conceptualization and creation of films. To see him go so suddenly has raised several questions in the industry.

It's no secret that Cook and Disney CEO Bob Iger don't really get along, and that many of Iger and his company don't totally agree with Cook's veteran, traditional style of doing things. Despite the genial parting press statements from Iger, many believe that Iger actually fired Cook.

The shocking news came off the heels of the D23 Expo, where Cook revealed great plans on Disney's table for the coming years. There was news about taking over the Muppets franchise, Pixar sequels Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, and the highly-anticipated Johnny Depp movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. No one really expected the bad news to top the list.

Cook's resignation should ring bells for many of us in the industry -- remember when former Disney head honcho Michael Eisner fired now-Dreamworks CEO Jeff Katzenberg? Now it would be interesting to see whether Cook is going to start his own animation studio, but I think the bigger issue is this -- who's Disney replacing him with? I don't think anyone has better relations with the big names in the industry as Cook did.

Johnny Depp himself was shocked and saddened by Cook's resignation. Depp said that he trusted Cook deeply, and Cook had stood by his side when the actor's portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates movie raised eyebrows among studio heads.

We all know where the Pirates franchise, and Captain Sparrow with it, went from there. I definitely hope Cook's departure doesn't mean the 4th Pirates movie is going to get killed.

Steven Spielberg was also devastated by the news -- the legendary filmmaker said Cook was the main reason Dreamworks signed a contract with Disney.

Whatever Iger and Disney is planning, one thing is pretty clear -- the Disney we've come to know and love won't be the Disney we're going to be seeing in the future.

Guillermo del Toro Heads To Disney

Guillermo del Toro, the acclaimed filmmaker responsible for "Pan's Labyrinth" and the "Hellboy" movies, is heading into a partnership with Walt Disney Studios, launching a production label called "Disney Double Dare You." It's a production outfit that's out to create new animated films that are more edgy and thrilling than the usual Disney fare -- and about time.

Del Toro is known for his fantastic storytelling skills, often coming up with engaging fantasy worlds and gripping plots. Disney Double Dare You seems to be tailor-made for Del Toro's style of filmmaking, and many people in the industry are thrilled at the new development.

The launching of Disney Double Dare You comes off the heels of Disney's $4-billion acquisition of Marvel Comics, which leads many of us to ask -- just what is Disney thinking? It does seem that, with last year's addition of the male-audience-friendly Disney XD channel, that Disney is reaching out to other demographics and coming up with features that can be enjoyed by all ages.

I personally think these are good developments -- after all, if "The Princess And The Frog" was Disney's only major offering this year, I'd probably think twice about the company's future in the animation industry. The addition of the Marvel superheroes and Guillermo del Toro is a step in the right direction.

What I particularly like about Disney Double Dare You is that Disney is bringing a storytelling powerhouse in del Toro into their roster. Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" was nominated for six Oscars two years ago, winning three. Currently, del Toro is directing two feature films on "The Hobbit," J.R.R Tolkien's prequel to the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy.

Great news. Great news.

Apple's Big Announcement -- Steve Jobs Is Back

Some people expected a new camera-packing iPod. Others expected an Apple e-reader. Still others expected the rumored Mac Tablet. What they got yesterday was even better than all of those combined -- Steve Jobs was back.

Gasps were heard when Jobs walked onto the stage in Apple's press event yesterday, and the standing "welcome back" ovation lasted for a good full minute. Jobs appeared in his traditional black mock turtleneck sweater and jeans, and looked like he was as happy as everyone else to be back where he belonged -- onstage.

But eventually it became clear that cancer has really taken its toll on the Apple head honcho. He had lost a lot of weight, and his movements and speech were softer and more measured. At the beginning of his talk, he explained his condition, which has been kept under wraps for several months -- he had recently undergone a life-saving liver transplant, and was very thankful for the generous young individual who donated his organs after passing away.

But as he said himself, "But I'm vertical, and I'm glad to be back."

Later on, Jobs gave one of his signature keynote speeches, unveiling the new iPod. The 8GB version could hold 2,000 songs, 7,000 photos, and up to 8 hours of video -- the 16GB version could hold twice those numbers. And taking its cue from the latest iPod Shuffle, menus and song titles can also be spoken, letting users navigate the iPod without looking at the screen.

What's more, the new iPod now comes with the highly-anticipated camera, which is capable of recording VGA (840x480p) videos at up to 30 fps. Video-editing is also possible, with 15 special effects built into the software. The 8GB and 16GB versions should sell for around $149 and $179 respectively.

There was still no word about a "Mac Tablet", and Jobs basically dismissed the idea of an Apple e-reader to compete against Kindle at a later interview. The response at the stock market was also muted, closing at only a fraction of a percent up from the previous day.

But hey, we're just glad he's back.

Open-Source Cameras To Make Debut Soon

Apple's going to be in a world of hurt when the future of the digital world really does rely on open-source. We're seeing browsers, smartphones, and operating systems going open-source and enjoying some really fantastic followings, and seem to be growing at clips you won't believe. Today, scientists at Stanford seem to be adding cameras to the list.

Stanford scientists are coming up with a prototype of what's possibly the world's first open-source camera. Dubbed the Frankencamera, they're building the prototype using old parts from other cameras and using Linux as its open-source operating platform. It's not much to look at right now -- it's about the size of a netbook at this point -- but in a years' time, it's expected to sport a new look (and most likely a new name).

The open-source camera can let users create their own algorithms for shutter speed, flash, video editing, etc. This obviously frees photographers from the software limitations that come with commercial cameras -- many of which can really be infuriating.

There's more -- if an open-source camera makes it to mainstream popularity, we may see some sort of App Store where Frankencamera users can download applications and programs that can help them customize their cameras in any way they choose. Now that would be awesome.

Another imagined feature for a truly open-source camera is to use high-definition photos to turn low-definition videos into clearer, hi-def versions of themselves. When the technology evolves and advances, third-party programmers are expected to come up with cool new features more quickly than the giants in the industry.

Right now I'm expecting two things to happen in the near future -- Canon and Nikon are probably going to offer open-source product lines to "stay focused" in the industry, or Apple is going to buy the rights to Frankencamera and lead the industry. 
Hmm. Should be interesting to see.