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Monthly Archives: October 2011

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The Dimension Sequel Factory

The Weinstein Company isn’t doing that great, but neither is the Dimension side of the business which has become a sequel factory. Going sequel factory was an okay enough plan in a crazy environment where everything is being remade or rebooted. But Scream 4 and Spy Kids 4 both failed. And next up is Scary Movie 5, Halloween 3 and a bunch of stuff like it.

Obvious problems are longish lead times from the last movie released. Horror franchises work when movies keep being released. But when you wait 5-10 years to do a sequel, the only people who remember it are already in their 20’s or 30’s. That’s what killed Scream 4, a movie aimed at teens, from a franchise that was shaky when today’s teens were in diapers. Spy Kids is the same thing, except the kids who enjoyed it then aren’t parents yet, and today’s kids have never heard of it.

Then there’s the goofy ones like Short Circuit 3. A sequel to a classic and ridiculous 80’s movie series that’s going to feature Steve Guttenberg and Fisher Stevens has my vote. But how many people are actually going to go see it? Dimension Films is distributing, not producing it, which is even sadder, because it’s the only palatable thing they’ve got.

The Avengers Avenge with the Avenging

Forget for a moment that the Avengers is supposed to showcase Marvel’s genius in getting all their cinematic ducks in a row and combining some of their franchises into one movie… and the Avengers trailer looks a lot like the trailer for some Fantastic Four sequel. It’s generic, “urban shot”, “we have to fight”, “some huge danger is coming”, “urban areas are being blown up” and if it didn’t have the cachet that it does, it would be Generic Superhero Movie Trailer #96.

The only appealing thing about the trailer is also the only truly successful movie in the bunch, and that’s Downey’s Iron Man, which is why the trailer features him. But Iron Man 2 was already watered down by the Avengers connection, moving Iron Man into Avengers feels like an even more watered down movie.

I was never a fan of grouping superheroes together into the Justice League or the Avengers, it never made much sense or did anything more interesting than they were apart. The Avengers movie doesn’t look to change that. It looks less interesting than all the movies in which Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, etc appear.

Maybe it’s the cookie effect. When you’re young enough, you just want more cookies and you think a big pile of them will taste better. Then you realize it doesn’t work that way.

The End of the New York Press

There was a time when the New York Press was the city’s indie paper. The paper that was everything people expected the Village Voice to be, only to discover that it was a bunch of cigarette and hooker ads tucked around columns and reviews so lazy it makes The Onion’s entertainment section look like a real newspaper.

The New York Press with its dirty feel, its cut art, its columns full of crazy rants and slices of life from criminals, sluts, racists, the blind and its obnoxious publisher was indie. Not in the polished hipsters way of today, but in the greasy, gritty and on the edge way. It wasn’t RENT, it was the guy screaming at you on the subway. And it was free.

After all that was gone, the craziest part of the New York Press was Armond White, who kept up the paper’s tradition when the rest were gone. And now White is leaving too, and that leaves the New York Press an also ran alternative paper that’s slightly more entertaining reading than the Voice. But so are tea leaves.

The foldup of the New York Press is just another reminder that gentrification has won. That the image of New York City the NYP catered to, even if it was by new arrivals and for new arrivals, is over. The new city is poorer and richer. It has a lot of high rise buildings and high rise projects. But the character and the characters are gone.

Hipsters Hating on Outsourced

There isn’t a show this season that has been more relentlessly and undeservedly hated than Outsourced. It’s a successful series that was bullied out of its timeslot by the same people who are now trying to push it into cancellation. Because NBC isn’t supposed to have anything but Office/30 Rock/Parks and Recreation/Community and the same bunch of yuppie hipster oriented TV.

Most of the hatred coming Outsourced’s way comes out of the entitlement of that audience, whose own fave shows rate poorly, but resented Outsourced because it took the mediocre Parks and Recreation’s timeslot. And did better in it than Parks and Recreation had. Outsourced was pushed into a death slot, but the hate still continues.

Outsourced isn’t a great show, but as a half-hour comedy, it’s decent. It’s not stocked with SNL trash like Amy Poehler or Chevy Chase or hipster fave comedians. Its cast is mostly non-white. So are its writers. It was an attempt by NBC to do something different and it worked surprisingly well. Outsourced is light on its feet, tells stories easily and actually takes you somewhere different than another office full of awkward white people and their minority sidekicks. (Office, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock.) So of course it must die.

Read through the attacks on Outsourced and they’re irrational. Accusations of racism by people who admit they never watched the show. But you know what’s not racist. Killing the only minority centric TV show on NBC to make way for another Office clone.

Secret Six, What a Crock

The current incarnation of Secret Six was one of the more intriguing things DC was doing, emphasis on was. The entire dinosaur fantasy world trip and the trip to hell already killed it in a downfall of ugly art that made everyone look like muppets and stories that were all sound, fury and set pieces, and nothing else.

But nothing compares to the idiotic wrapup. Bane’s revival was interesting enough, but the idea that everyone would decide that their destiny lay with killing Batman didn’t fit anything that had come before. But at least it meant a final showdown. And that’s exactly what it meant in the worst way possible.

The whole thing ends with the Secret Six getting ratted out in a warehouse, taking a family hostage and then having every DC superhero, including the Krypton bunch show up to take them on. Stupid enough already. The Secret Six aren’t that impressive, and Batman alone has taken on tougher teams. But Secret Six deserves go out in the same stupid over the top style that killed it after the island escape.

No the real crock is Huntress mourning their defeat and damning the heroes for beating them. Really? Are we supposed to feel bad that Superman, Batman and Green Lantern beat three killers and a few less homicidal gray area types who were holding a family hostage, because they represented the spirit of independence, or something like that?

Worlds Enough and Time by Dan Simmons book review

Worlds Enough and Time by Dan SimmonsI’ve always been somewhat neutral on Dan Simmons. Hyperion impressed me, as it did a lot of other readers, but the sequels left me cold and nothing else I read by him ever managed to make me feel much of anything. He’s not a writer I hate or like, and that may be because his grandiose mythic space operas never really seem to connect.

Worlds Enough and Time takes five Simmons stories, some novella length, some not, and combines them with a heap of introductions and leaves me liking Simmons, but not his fiction.

Usually I hate excess introductions, and Worlds Enough and Time, which has two introductions, an introduction to the collection and an introduction to the first story, should have tripped some alarms, but the introductions read better than the story, a potentially promising concept that turned out to be an update on the little boy who can do anything, except with a troubled teenage girl. The same experience repeated itself with the next story, an update on the Hyperion universe that started as a Voyager pitch and sort of stays as one.

What I found was that Simmons may be a better essayist than a writer. As an essayist he has an immediate tone and wraps together disparate concepts into an organic whole. As a story writer, he takes good writing, combines it with a mediocre plot and ties the whole thing together with a last minute transcendent event which takes the characters and the human race to a whole new level of enlightenment.

In Looking for Kelly Dahl, there’s a bonding moment with shared memories. In Orphans of the Helix, a character suddenly displays telepathy and allows a lost branch of humanity a chance at joining the new evolution of humanity. On K2 with Kanakredes, a mountain climbing expedition with an alien ends with the main character and the human race suddenly being able to hear the song of the world. The Ninth of Av is a dark inverse version of the same. The End of Gravity is more confusing, but again some revelation appears at a crucial moment. And it’s really the only worthwhile story in the bunch.

But I didn’t leave Worlds Enough and Time resenting Simmons for wasting my time, just wishing that he had brought the authorial voice in his essays to his characters and the originality in them to his plots.

Junk Science Meet Times

Video games cause murder and iPhones are as addictive as crack. Why bother doing science when you can just make a ridiculous claim that’s sensational and trendy enough to get you a Times page. No seriously.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests, my team looked at subjects’ brain activity as they viewed consumer images involving brands like Apple and Harley-Davidson and religious images like rosary beads and a photo of the pope. We found that the brain activity was uncannily similar when viewing both types of imagery.

Because maybe they were all images. Not because people worship Harley-Davidson, but because they’re iconic images that people recognize.

This past summer, I gathered a group of 20 babies between the ages of 14 and 20 months. I handed each one a BlackBerry. No sooner had the babies grasped the phones than they swiped their little fingers across the screens as if they were iPhones, seemingly expecting the screens to come to life.

Or you know maybe because they’re babies and this is what babies do? If you give a baby something, it plays with it. Or maybe because Apple programmed the babies to do that.

Friends who have accidentally left home without their iPhones tell me they feel stressed-out, cut off and somehow un-whole. That sounds a lot like separation anxiety to me.

Or like what happens when you’re disconnected, missing phone messages, out of contact with clients, unable to get email, etc.

So are our smartphones addictive, medically speaking? Some psychologists suggest that using our iPhones and BlackBerrys may tap into the same associative learning pathways in the brain that make other compulsive behaviors — like gambling — so addictive.

Or writing scientifically unsound articles to get your name featured in the New York Times

Earlier this year, I carried out an fMRI experiment to find out whether iPhones were really, truly addictive, no less so than alcohol, cocaine, shopping or video games.

Or cocaine based video games. Or D&D vodka. Don’t forget that.

But most striking of all was the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.

Because that’s how their girlfriends, boyfriends and family members contact them?

As we embrace new technology that does everything but kiss us on the mouth, we risk cutting ourselves off from human interaction. For many, the iPhone has become a best friend, partner, lifeline, companion and, yes, even a Valentine. The man or woman we love most may be seated across from us in a romantic Paris bistro, but his or her 8GB, 16GB or 32GB rival lies in wait inside our pockets and purses.

My best advice? Shut off your iPhone, order some good Champagne and find love and compassion the old-fashioned way.

My best advice, phones are a communications device, stop pretending that they have some independent existence and do real science.

Steve Jobs’ Second Chance

Not many visionaries get a second chance the way Jobs did, and if he hadn’t managed to get back to the top at a desperate Apple, his obituary would probably read famous Apple co-founder and mention his Pixar connection. But Jobs got his second chance and he leaves Apple as a company at the top of its game.

Even the underwhelming iPhone 4S launch only helps shore up the image of Apple adrift without Jobs. As Google’s Android does to Apple what Microsoft did to it back in the day, creating a universal open platform that can be used by numerous hardware manufacturers, Apple’s likely decline will be attributed to Jobs’ death, rather than to the business model of the company.

There’s no question that Jobs helped revolutionize the portable market, but he also left Apple at a time when the company is fast approaching its limit. There’s only so many other things that can be grafted on to the iPhone or the iTouch and the Classic is out to sea and the Nano is now officially a kids toy. There’s not many other places left to go and once that evens out, Android will begin gaining even faster. But Jobs leaves as a visionary and a genius on a high note. It’s not a bad exit.

Person of Disinterest

The sheer amount of money and talent thrown at Person of Interest makes it all the more inexcusable what a waste the show is. But New York location after location and attempts at topical issues can’t give the show the veneer of authenticity it needs. Or the originality.

Every plot element in the expensive pilot is a cliche and you can guess what happens next every few minutes, except for the one twist in the middle. Which would be defensible if the whole thing wasn’t painfully slow, if the exposition wasn’t thrown at the screen and if there was any reason to care about what is going on screen.

Even the basic elements are off. James Caviezel’s makeup in the opening is surprisingly terrible. Odd for an episode that probably cost somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million. And Caviezel’s acting is equally terrible. The promos implied that Michael Emerson would get more screen time, but instead it’s Caviezel trying on his best tortured act and then smirking his way through the rest of the show.

Watching Person of Interest, I felt like I was watching a subpar version of The Pretender with worse acting and a weaker concept. All the meditations of national security and surveillance are about a decade too late and a cop bashing show that also tries to exploit 9/11 is barely even worth sneering at.

What Person of Interest really shows is that networks have completely forgotten how to make action shows. The reboot of Charlie’s Angels, Person of Interest, the reboots of Knight Rider and Bionic Woman all come back to the same thing. Add on the bastardization of Human Target and it all adds up. Networks just can’t make an action show anymore. They don’t understand that it has to go someplace.

Person of Interest combines the pace of CSI with the plot of a generic 80’s action hour overlaid with a whole bunch of meditation on surveillance for something that fails on every level. Its writing fails. Its acting fails. Even its makeup fails.

Return of the Hand Drawn Animated Cartoon

The Lion King beat Moneyball to rule the box office (I could make some joke about roaring to the top, but why bother) and score some 70 million bucks. Not bad for a movie from the 90’s that dared to break Disney’s princess template, upset Pocahontas and became one of the few late Disney movies to endure for its characters, not for its line of backpacks.

In the age of Pixar, the return of the Lion King is a reminder that maybe the old cel-shaded animated hand drawn movie isn’t dead, it’s just been allowed to die off, replaced by Pixar’s plastic. Sure the Lion King release is 3D, the original movie was partly modeled in 3D, but it was smooth art, not Pixar’s plastic parades of characters who look like toys, even when they’re not supposed to be.

The Lion King was cinematic in a way that no Pixar production can be. And it’s what Disney left behind when it jumped all the way on the Pixar train. Disney killed its own animated golden goose with mediocre art by committee movies following a template. And Pixar which had a whole different workflow has taken over. But the Lion King reminds us of what we we lost getting there and what we could have again.

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