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Monthly Archives: June 2011

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Is Cars 2, Pixar’s Most Cynical Movie So Far?

Let’s put it this way, if movie sequels still did taglines, Cars 2’s would be “Show Me The Money”.

Cars wasn’t a very good movie to start with. The Doc Hollywood plot, the whole tacky world, it was an easy payday. Why? Because a lot of Pixar movies don’t merchandise so well. But Cars merchandises fantastically well. The movie is merchandising. That’s the real purpose.

Cars 2 is worse in every respect. The movie works hard to appeal to adults, to grab as much money as it can. Then it goes international to appeal to global audiences where it didn’t do as well last time around. The James Bond and the international locations are a break with Cars but they’re a calculated cash grab. And it’s working.

Can Pixar still keep a soul and do cash in movies like Cars? Depends. Maybe Cars sequels are what pay for Wall-E, Ratatouille, Up and the upcoming Brave. Maybe. But where does the line get drawn? Especially now that Pixar is planning a Toy Story 4? And Brave looks suspiciously like a Disney movie, complete with a human heroine, when Pixar movies rarely focused on humans at all.

More Green Lantern

This is obviously aimed at fans and it’s not bad. The goofiness factor is still there, but maybe Green Lantern can’t be told any other way. It’s better than putting Will Smith in the part and having every other line be, “OH NO YOU DON’T”. Still the look is cheap. The effects are still dated. And the energy isn’t really there. Some of the sense of wonder leaks through. But not that much.

Side question, why does Green Lantern look like Ben Stiller’s Derek Zoolander with the mask on.

Maybe some of this is about the amount of CG in Green Lantern. Iron Man and Spider Man could go with less or less obvious CG. This is less grounded. And looking at a lot of the scenes, you get that CG cartoon feel. Like you’re watching cutscenes from a mediocre video game. It’s hard to ground Green Lantern and you don’t really get the sense that anyone is trying.

Also seriously. Tell me this isn’t Derek Zoolander.

Why the Comic Book Movies Are Failing

DC and Marvel have thrown three comic book superheroes at the big screen and they all got shot down. Not badly shot down, but performed weakly. None of them have turned a profit on the domestic box office. Not Thor, X-Men First Class or Green Lantern. And that should be an alarm bell ringing in the offices of studio executives who decided that they could turn every property they had into another Batman and cash in.

The problem? No name brand superheroes. Green Lantern has a brand, but it’s not 200 million dollars worth. Thor is well known, but more for the mythology, than for the Marvel property. X-Men First Class is a prequel to a series that had too many movies around it already. If you’re going to bank on a 300 million dollar domestic box office, then your superhero needs some identity.

Iron Man made that happen, and it was a harder trick than Marvel realized, taking a character that maybe 10 million people were familiar with and breaking him out. And that was done by making him larger than life. Green Lantern and X-Men First Class have no one larger than life. Thor sorta does. And the sorta is why Thor performed a little better than the rest as audiences knew they were going to see a big muscular guy hit things with a hammer. Even if they had never read the comic book.

The Tao of Duke Nukem Forever

Duke Nukem Forever has a long strange history, an extended development cycle straight to oblivion, a last minute save, and a storm of internet hate for the game. Well less internet hate and more reviewer hate. But Duke Nukem Forever is mostly what Duke 3D was. A game of awkward jokes and mayhem. It’s not the game that’s changed, it’s the reviewers who have. The reviewers who hated Postal 2 and are already pre-hating Postal 3, were not about to let this go, especially not after an over the top ad campaign.

But the reviewers are kidding themselves when they think that Duke 3D was a solid classy game and Duke Nukem Forever is vulgar trash. Just like they’re kidding themselves about the new Leisure Suit Larry games being ugly sexist perversions of a beloved series. Those games appealed to them at a time when they didn’t have the same defenses and self-critical reactions in place. And they’re not about to enjoy them now without having rationalizations in place.

But I lied. Duke Nukem Forever isn’t the same as Duke 3D was. Duke 3D sent up the somber and serious FPS games before him. Duke Nukem Forever sends up the whole idea of Duke Nukem and the somber serious FPS games now. And rather than get the joke, there are 300,000 pieces blasting Duke Nukem Forever for being sexist, vulgar and really awful.

Summer of Comic Book Movies Not Going So Well

With Thor, X-Men First Class and Green Lantern, this was the summer of comic book movies. Too bad they weren’t very good and didn’t do all that well.

Domestically they all look to tread water and not much else. And that includes Thor which fell out of the Top 10 with 25 million over its bare budget, which doesn’t cover promotion. X-Men First Class is falling off drastically and may not make back its budget domestically. Green Lantern debuted at a quarter of its budget. And unless audience prove to be really in love with this and keep coming back, it probably won’t either.

The problem isn’t just limited to comic book movies. Pirates 4 is in the same boat. Kung Fu Panda 2 is struggling. Fast Five is the only action movie that has really cashed in. It’s the closest thing to a winner so far.

Don’t count on Marvel and DC changing their strategy much. None of these movies are losing money internationally. Thor has made most of its money internationally. It isn’t that huge of a payday, but enough that a sequel is likely. X-Men First Class is also doing better abroad. It’s too early to tell about Green Lantern, but if its international box office doesn’t pan out, then no sequel.

The Meaning of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

ferrris bueller

There have been some ridiculous essays about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. All dealing with its perceived importance.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is not a great movie. It’s an enjoyable one. Among many others. You can analyze The Breakfast Club, but there’s no point to analyzing Ferris Bueller. It’s a movie about the ultimate idealized teenager, with the vocabulary of a 30 year old, the skills of a con artist and the luck of the Irish who thanks to Matthew Broderick’s performance remains sympathetic. Not accessible, but entertaining.

Ferris Bueller is the Peter Pan of a generation. Played by an actor who looked like he never really grew up. It’s the wish fulfillment of every movie about staying young forever packed into one marathon session. It’s about having to grow up, but offers the fantasy of being able to do it on your own terms. That’s what Ferris Bueller offers his friends. It’s why he has the popularity he does.

Most movies go up and down. Ferris Bueller never goes down. The antagonists never have a chance. The movie is all joie de vivre on terms that an aging man with a creative imagination who loved Chicago and was obsessed with the teenage years thought up. And it works.

There are only a few actors who could have done it. Broderick or Fox. And the movie endures better than even The Breakfast Club, because it promises freedom from teenage angst, while at the same time recognizing it for what it is. Hughes’ movies treated the transitions of being a teenager as a complex fantasy environment. But if Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink were the deep involved dramas about coping, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is about freedom from angst. Bueller is a teenage superman, not bound by the limitations of being a teenager, while enjoying all of its privileges. And if that’s not perfect escapism for teenagers and adults in a country that worships freedom and youth, I don’t know what is.

End of the Road for Pirates?

Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides had the lowest opening of the franchise to date. It still hasn’t made back its budget and if it falls sharply then it may not make back its budget domestically at all. Does that mean this is the end for Depp’s wonky performance of a drunken pirate? Don’t count on it.

One reason why American movies are so terrible lately is that they’re being made for the foreign box office. Pirates of the Caribbean 4 underperformed in the states signaling that Americans may be tired of this stuff already, but the international appetite for Depp’s pirate related antics is still strong.

Internationally Pirates of the Caribbean 4 is the biggest movie of 2011. It hasn’t passed the 200 million mark domestically, but it’s up to 700 million worldwide. Which means we’re going to get lots and lots more Pirates sequels. Not because we want them, but because they do.

Pirates 4 scored 90 million in its opening weekend in America. Which is okay. Sorta. Though not when your movie costs 250 mil. But in China, Pirates 4 opened with 21 million dollars. In Mexico it opened with 10 million dollars. Mexico. So get ready for lots and lots more Depp.

And the Dumbest Movie Essay of the Week Goes to Alan Siegel of The Atlantic

Come on. Ferris Bueller is probably the movie least worth analyzing. The movie that defies analysis because it isn’t about anything but what it is. Wish fulfillment. It’s an experience with no realistic context whatsoever. That doesn’t stop Alan Siegel from writing a ridiculous critique of Ferris Bueller, for not having any black friends. Or something.

Ferris’s way of life leaves me feeling empty. There’s just not much substance to it. Ferris hides behind his shtick, and he lies.

It’s like he’s a teenager or something.

This is the myth of Ferris Bueller. It’s portrayed as a universal story, when it’s really not.

The universal story is already a myth. Ferris Bueller is not universal, it’s escapist. And escapism to a consequence free good time is as universal as it gets for teenagers.

“What kind of movie hero consciously presents himself as infantile and duplicitous?” Paris Review writer Caleb Crain asks in his recent essay

Most comedy heroes do. At least 50/50. Go look at Jim Carrey’s career again.

Hell, the movie made columnist George F. Will’s bow tie spin like a pinwheel. He called it, “the moviest movie, the one most true to the spirit of movies, the spirit of effortless escapism.” What, exactly, Ferris is escaping from, I’m not sure.

Adulthood. Growing up. I haven’t seen the damn thing years and even I can answer that. Ferris never grows up, while his friends worry about graduation and having to be adults.

A lot of teenagers probably had trouble seeing themselves in Ferris. I don’t think he had any non-white friends. I don’t think he even knew any non-white kids.

Ferris Bueller, secret KKK member. Revealed only by Alan Siegel at The Atlantic. Does it get any dumber than a white guy writing an outraged condemnation about a fictional movie character from the 80’s not having enough minority friends. Maybe we can CG somebody in.

And was Ferris Bueller concerned about the environment? What’s his position on abortion? What about gay rights? Is he a third wave or second wave feminist? Send all replies to Alan Siegel.

Admittedly, I used to think Ferris was a righteous dude. But I couldn’t relate to him. After all, he wasn’t bound by the laws of reality.

Escapism. Is the word’s meaning that confusing? Did Alan have trouble relating to Han Solo too?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is not a great movie. It’s an enjoyable one. Among many others. You can analyze The Breakfast Club, but there’s no point to analyzing Ferris Bueller. It’s a movie about the ultimate idealized teenager, with the vocabulary of a 30 year old, the skills of a con artist and the luck of the Irish who thanks to Matthew Broderick’s performance remains sympathetic. Not accessible, but entertaining.

Ferris Bueller is the Peter Pan of a generation. Played by an actor who looked like he never really grew up. It’s the wish fulfillment of every movie about staying young forever packed into one marathon session. It’s about having to grow up, but offers the fantasy of being able to do it on your own terms. That’s what Ferris Bueller offers his friends. It’s why he has the popularity he does.

Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede

Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede is one of those books you remember reading and enjoying twenty or thirty years ago and then wondering what happened to. You probably remember the classic cover, the Buddy Holly poster and the alien spray paint. Other authors have tried to do it, but what Bradley Denton managed with Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede was closer to an American Douglas Adams, the absurdity, the insanity and the joy of the whole thing.

And now in the time when Battleship is a movie, Monopoly is also a movie and reboots are getting rebooted, Molly Mayeux is trying to get the movie version produced. It looks like it has Bradley Denton’s support. And there’s a well made teaser.

Does this have any chance of getting made? I’ve seen just as good that didn’t, but it would be nice if this made it. BoingBoing is promoting it. The original novel has been released online. I don’t know if the movie can capture what the book had, but it’ll be nice to see them give it a try.

The Future Is So Bright I Have To Gold Farm All Night

I’m talking about the Guardian story on widespread gold farming by political prisoners in China. Moments like this make Bruce Sterling and Wiliam Gibson irrelevant.

But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real.

“If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things,” he said.

Cyberpunk is dead. Reality is much worse than dystopian fantasies about nanoplague hackers. The future is already here it’s ugly enough.

Think of a prisoner escaping to a virtual world inside a prison, but the virtual world turns out to be just another labor camp. A virtual prison inside a real prison. A situation that would make a great story. Except it’s reality. And what does it say about our virtual worlds that they have their own hard labor camps tucked away inside them?

Will Blizzard and other online gaming services finally terminate gold farming for good? But that would mean taking currency out of the game. Players would have to rely only on their own achievements. It would be the ethical thing to do. But in the age of Farmville, ethics only get in the way. Blizzard sold itself to EA. So the odds of an EA company doing something ethical are not good. (See Bioware)

The political prisoner gold farming thing along with the iPhone suicide factory shows the real price of American geek indulgences. People suffer and die for these things.

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