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Monthly Archives: January 2011

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How Many Fantasy Cop Shows Can You Have?

Currently at least two. Grimm “a dark but fantastical cop drama” from Angel’s David Greenwalt and Ron Moore 17th Precinct dubbed “Harry Potter for grown-ups.” This might be less a case of Hollywood’s bizarre tendency to order multiple copies of something unexpected when one studio starts imitating another (e.g. two volcano movies, two asteroid movies) but more about the growing shelf power of crappy current fantasy novels about vampires and werewolves.

Sight unseen, I’m going with Grimm on this one. David Greenwalt is underrated. And Ron Moore is hugely overrated. Plus his writing has no sense of humor. I can’t imagine a humorless fantasy cop show, but I’m sure Ron Moore will manage to give us one. A show where the characters are as painfully serious as if they were being written by Aaron Sorkin.

On that note, why get Aaron Sorkin to use Keith Olbermann to make a TV show about cable news, why not just use Aaron Sorkin to replace Keith Olbermann. It’s the same thing and you’re getting rid of the middleman.

It probably doesn’t matter. I don’t see a fantasy cop show having much staying power off the SyFy channel, and on the SyFy channel it would have to come with bad acting, a low budget and exist mainly for international markets. The shame here is that if Joss Whedon announced he was doing a fantasy cop show, there would be more hype than you can shake a stick at. But David Greenwalt doing one gets ignored.

Every Cable Channel is Now the Same

So there I was walking down the street and minding someone else’s business, when I saw an ad for Larry the Cable Guy on the History Channel. What is Larry the Cable Guy doing on the History Channel? Same thing Ax Men, Top Gear, Pawn Stars, American Pickers and all the other generic reality TV shows are doing there.

What about A&E which is pushing what looks like a weight loss reality tv show, along with Dog the Bounty Hunter, Storage Wars and more crap than you can shake a stick at. Or The Learning Channel which has American Chopper, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, Cake Boss, What Not To Wear and Toddlers and Tiaras.

Is there any kind of brand in all this madness? How do you tell which show should be associated with A&E, TLC or the History Channel. You can’t. It’s all the same crap. SyFy has Ghost Hunters, Hollywood Treasure, Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen and WWE Smackdown (but don’t worry, they canceled Stargate Universe so no one starts associating them with Science Fiction).

It’s like no channel has a brand anymore, just a collection of crap filmed by people with a camera that they hope someone will watch. Half of cable programming is now the same kind of thing you can find on YouTube but with better advertising, lighting and marketing.

The Cape

You know this could have been good. And it wouldn’t have taken all that much for it to be good. The show has a lot of the right spirit. Cast isn’t too bad either. The story is even mostly there. But it has a lead who’s completely wrong for the part. A lame villain. And not a lot of forward motion. The Cape would have been okay in the 80’s. It might have even passed as a syndicated series in the 90’s. But launching this in 2011 on a network. What were they thinking.

I want The Cape to succeed. I would love it if it would. But watching the lead stumble through more lines, and play a superhero, grieving father and cop while looking like he just got done with a set for his Led Zeppelin tribute band at 2 AM is just hard to swallow. Summer Glau is wasted on a role where she’s not expected to be weird. I’m not sure she can play a non-weird person. Her awkwardness has been put to good use as unnerving in shows like Firefly and The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but in The Cape she’s just uncomfortable.

Then there’s the whole circus. It’s not a bad setting, but do we have to keep coming back to it. If you’re going to do a superhero show, then do one. My guess is the budget isn’t there for the proper fights and effects. So we have a lot of scenes of characters talking to each other and then a cheap cape effect or two. It might have passed then, but isn’t doing so well now.

The Return of Kevin Smith

It’s Kevin Smith and he’s back. Not that he ever really left. He’s back at Sundance with a new strategy that’s really old. He tried to go straight with mainstream movies like Jersey Girl and Cop Out. He even tried to be Judd Apatow with Zack and Miri. Red State is still mainstream, but as movies go it’s styled closer to Canadian Bacon.

But Smith knows it’s not about the movie anymore. It’s about him. Red State is nothing special, but Kevin Smith has been best at playing the character he’s created over these years. And Red State’s promotional program is not about the movie, but about him. Come see Kevin Smith. It’s the next best thing to giving up directing and just cutting to the chase and booking straight up appearances for himself.

Kevin Smith’s career, the successful part, was all about making movies that were him. Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, it was all about making a movie you could identify as a Kevin Smith movie. But you can only do that so often. So now the movies will be generic, but they’ll be more about interacting with him than the movie.

And you’ve gotta give him points for figuring out how to harness the publicity whoring Westoboro gang to promote his movie. Is he promoting them. Are they promoting him? It’s both.

Being Human

Being Human isn’t on the SciFi or SyFy Channel, because it’s a remake of a fan fave British series. That’s probably how it came to the attention of SyFy bosses. But it’s a high profile launch because it’s tangentially relevant, but only in a way that attracts people who wouldn’t watch actual Science Fiction or fantasy.

Take the pitch, a vampire and a werewolf, two things that are hot right now thanks to Twilight, in a sitcomy situation with a girl. It’s almost like there’s nothing genre about it, except in a way that attracts the teenage girls who wouldn’t otherwise give the show the time of day. Like so much the SyFy Channel does, Being Human is badly shot, badly acted and badly lit. It looks cheap, it feels cheap and it’s a minimal hit.

SyFy didn’t spend money making this show. It spent the money promoting it. Look around and you’ll see more ads for it on every corner. That’s how they got the ratings. Whether they’ll be able to keep them is another story. The viewers they want the most are the viewers who stick around the least. I couldn’t make it through more than a few minutes of the Being Human first episode. But I don’t matter. And the Vampire Chronicles viewers are not going to be in this for the long run.

No Nod for Christopher Nolan

I’m not sure Nolan should have really been nominated for Inception, but when somehow David O. Russell did get nominated for The Fighter and Darren Aronofsky for The Swan, both movies that were made and existed only to be nominated for Oscars, then yes something is wrong. I could go on and say that The King’s Speech wasn’t really all that well directed. The Coen Brothers may deserve their nod. But Fincher is being nominated for doing much less than Nolan did in Inception.

So why was Nolan shut out.

1. Science Fiction. SF is a ghetto and Inception can’t break out of it. Just like Dark Knight couldn’t break out of comic book movies. Or Lord of the Rings out of fantasy epics.

2. Lots of special effects. That raises questions about what the director is doing and what he isn’t. It’s a pointless question today. But we can blame George Lucas for turning in movies that looked like CG cartoons.

3. It doesn’t feel like an Oscar. Oscars are not about rewarding good work, but granting prestige. And prestige is supposed to go to things that feel prestigious. That’s why King’s Speech is doing so well. The King’s Speech is royal. The Social Network acts like it’s important. Inception is easily dismissed as just escapism.

New Hollywood vs Old Hollywood

The Social Network was supposed to be the big winner this year. Not on merit obviously, but it had assembled an impressive army of cool. Facebook. David Fincher. Aaron Sorkin. Trent Reznor. Sure it still added up to nothing, but it was a big huge shiny nothing. A nothing that said this was the way to stay relevant, keep in touch with the kids, create a new wave of movies written like indies, shot like music videos about daily relevant issues!

And then there’s The King’s Speech. Very old Hollywood. Very British. And not the new kind of British, but the old kind. A historical movie. And not about Facebook. Very Weinsteins. They were supposed to be bankrupt. It would get obligatory honors. And then be left behind by the whole shiny new James Franco, Anne Hathaway connect young people with film before they spend all their time on video games express.

And somehow there’s The King’s Speech. It hasn’t won yet, but the odds are good. The Social Network ran on hype, but the hype faded. There’s nothing to really reward Social Network for. It’s not moviemaking, it’s a coffee addled look at something that never happened, and wouldn’t have even mattered if it did. We Live in Public had something to say about the impact of the internet. The Social Network didn’t, because it’s not a subject that Aaron Sorkin understands.

If the King’s Speech wins, it’s a win for old Hollywood. A celebration of the kind of movies that Hollywood liked to reward, but hasn’t made much of.

Skyrim Promos Still Very Familiar

The latest Skyrim release promises a more visceral combat experience. Where have we heard that before. That was the same promotion used for Oblivion. The promos for Oblivion promised more visceral combat with more banging and clanging.

Pioneering technology makes Oblivion’s combat more bloody and visceral

There is it from the E3 promo for Oblivion.

Skyrim promos are full of Radiant AI pitches promising more realistic interactions. We got that same pitch with Oblivion. A player centered game? Hello level scaling.

Okay, maybe Skyrim will be Windows 7 to Oblivion’s Vista. The one where they get the implementation right. The art looks better, though over bloomy. But we’ll see.

Dreamsongs Volume I by George R.R. Martin book review

Dreamsongs Volume I by George R.R. Martin Dreamsongs Volume I is more of an autobiographical collection than a collection of short stories. That’s an important difference for anyone buying the book to read some great short stories. Dreamsongs Volume 1 has a roughly 3/4 to 1 ratio of stories to biographical essays about his own life by Martin. The stories are arranged in biographical order beginning with Martin’s efforts as a teenager. 5 or 6 of the stories are from his fanzine days or his earliest work and are not up to the quality that’s worth paying for.

Most of the best stories in Dreamsongs are also Martin’s better known pieces, like Sandkings, The Way of Cross and Dragon and Stone City, and they’re already available in his Sandkings short story collection. The collection is out of print but you can easily find copies for only a few dollars. Diehard fans of George R.R. Martin might find Dreamsongs worthwhile, but I still have to question the ethics of including fanzine work in a 27 dollar volume. Or the point of padding out Martin’s decent body of short stories with so much biographical material.

What’s odd about Dreamsongs is that George R.R. Martin is a reasonably talented writer, but much better writers didn’t receive this kind of multi-volume biographical series for their short stories. Isaac Asimov was the only writer I can think of that had anything close to this, and those volumes collected virtually all of his short stories. Dreamsongs doesn’t do that. It skips over some of Martin’s pro work to showcase a college age story about the fall of a Swedish fortress or his unlikely first sale, Hero, to Galaxy, about as cliched and flat an anti-war story as you could find. Dreamsongs’ setup only make sense if you think that George R.R. Martin is so compelling that you care more about gaining insight into him, than reading his stories.

I’ve often said that a short story collection focusing on a single writer doesn’t do them much of a favor. Seeing those stories piled together, instead of separately, makes it all too easy to spot the common denominators. To go, “Tower of Ashes is just Morning Comes Mistfall and A Song for Lya. Or look at Seven Times Never Kill Man, and realize that Martin sure does write a whole lot of stories about alien gods and myths that seduce human arrivals. It’s not a completely fair assessment, but reading Dreamsongs can make you think of Martin as a cross between V.E. Van Vogt and H.P. Lovecraft, or with the context of his fanzine work, make you think that Martin is a decent worldbuilder who does mood pieces that are inspired by comics and serials.

No Law is Enough

In New York, a bill is pending in the legislature’s transportation committee that would ban the use of mobile phones, iPods or other electronic devices while crossing streets — runners and other exercisers included.

I’m trying to get a grip on how crazy this is and coming up short. How would you even enforce this beast? Arrest and ticket anyone wearing a bluetooth device or earphones? Require people to remove them when crossing the street.

The New York bill was proposed by State Senator Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat who has grown alarmed by the amount of distraction he sees on the streets in his neighborhood and across New York City. Since September, Mr. Kruger wrote in the bill, three pedestrians have been killed and one was critically injured while crossing streets and listening to music through headphones.

“We’re taught from knee-high to look in both directions, wait, listen and then cross,” he said. “You can perform none of those functions if you are engaged in some kind of wired activity.”

Actually you can. Kruger may not be able to. People today routinely listen to music while walking. Being hit by a car while listening to music is not proof of anything, except the laws of probability. This bill will probably go nowhere, but Kruger will show that he’s actively engaged or whatever he’s trying to show. Penalizing drivers for talking and driving might be a thing, because they’re in control of huge masses of metal moving at high speeds. No pedestrian has ever run into a car.

Violators would be required to appear in court, and revenue from the $100 fines would go to a fund to educate people on the dangers of device distractions, the senator said.

I have a better idea. How about a 100 dollar fine for Senators who propose nuisance legislation. The revenue from the fines would go into a fund to educate on how to do their jobs.

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