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Monthly Archives: March 2012

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Anyone who has a deep emotional connection to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise and is upset that Michael Bay is raping their childhood needs to move on. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles began life as a parody and with continuing cartoon series on TV it can survive whatever Bay in his role as producer does to it. Probably.

Unlike John Carter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a reliable movie and TV brand. There have been TV shows and movies based on that title going back over twenty years. That makes it a compelling brand and raises the question of why anyone would buy a brand and then trash the name recognition for it.

The last turtles movie decided to jettison the title for the cooler and more compact TMNT. Its performance was decent enough, considering the budget, but not the kind of money Bay is hoping to pull from this. The title change, which depended heavily on image recognition probably didn’t help it perform.

What does changing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Ninja Turtles gain? It weakens the name recognition and doesn’t add anything. Ninja Turtles isn’t going to be taken any more seriously. If you’re going to make a movie about ninja turtles, whether they’re aliens or mutants, you might as well stick with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Michael Bay loves alien invasions like candy, but it’s just common sense that the version of the story that has been tested for over twenty years is the one that works. There’s no point in changing it, because there’s nothing to be gained from the change. You don’t make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into a movie because you want to make a serious story about alien invasions. Goofiness is the whole point of it. Take that away and there is no point.

But the Hollywood model now is to just snap up and develop every available IP into a movie. And then figure out what the movie should be. That’s how we got Battleship the movie. But it’s still a stupid approach to take with a viable active IP like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which isn’t just a board game sitting there waiting to be optioned.

Does it rape anyone’s childhood? Kids care very little about most of the movies being made today and adults too attached to the things they liked as kids need to move on. The Star Wars experience that many of them had isn’t going to be repeated for kids today and that’s the real crime. John Carter had a shot at doing that. Whatever crap George Lucas, J.J. Abrams and Michael Bay pump out won’t.

Is Bioware Going Down?

Both of Bioware’s last two game releases, Dragon Age II and Mass Effect III have run straight into major fan backlashes. DA2 underperformed in sales. ME3 probably didn’t. The expansion for DA2 has been cancelled and Bioware has tried to backpedal. It’s also backpedaling from the ME3 ending which was just as lazy and dumb as the DA2 ending, except that to add insult to injury the ME3 ending was just set up to sell more DLC.

Then there’s Knights of the Old Republic which has a mixed record and is about to head straight for the tornado of Guild Wars II and some other next generation MMORPG’s, something which KOTOR isn’t. It’s not clear if KOTOR hit its numbers, if the anecdotal stories about falling server populations are true or if the leaks about the project costing 200 million are, but Bioware can’t afford failure on that front.

Bioware hasn’t lost the 1 percent, the reviewers and Penny Arcade, but it has alienated a lot of its fans, the flip side of passion is anger and there’s a lot of resentment over the company quickly cranking out consolized dumbed down games on an EA schedule. Its output has become low quality, heavy on marketing, self-indulgent cut scene oriented crap. And it only takes one major failure for EA to decide that maybe the studio isn’t worth it anymore.

Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers book review

Heart of Veridon is three things blended together, steampunk, a fantasy universe and gangster noir. It’s not hard to guess which of these heart of veridon tim akersthree doesn’t fit.

Akers excels at world building, spinning out an ancient civilization with a completely different technology that dangles somewhere between magic and technology, he effortlessly populates the world with people, social classes and a working city. And then his characters open their mouths and sound like Edward G. Robinson on a bad day.

But the noir element provides the impetus for a plot that sends Jacob Burn, a thug and scion of a noble family, scrambling to uncover the secrets of his civilization. It works mainly as an excuse for taking us through the complex construction of Veridon, but it’s a poor fit with the universe.

Does Heart of Veridon make sense? Not the technology, in a universe where you have to surgically alter pilots to fly zeppelins, but the fantasy element, undeveloped as it is, holds it together. And even Born becomes tolerable after a while. The most compelling element in the book though is the theology and politics intersecting in betrayal and war.

Ursula Le Guin is Angry

I never got around to reading Earthsea, even though the books have been lying around forever. Maybe it’s the ugly 70’s cover. Or maybe it’s a lack of confidence that Ursula Le Guin’s style will carry over well. But in 2004 the SyFy channel did an Earthsea miniseries, which I didn’t watch either. But Ursula Le Guin did and she’s angry.

Or sort of angry.

I don’t know what the film is about. It’s full of scenes from the story, arranged differently, in an entirely different plot, so that they make no sense. My protagonist is Ged, a boy with red-brown skin. In the film, he’s a petulant white kid.

I don’t know how badly SyFy botched Earthsea, but come on it’s SyFy. I don’t expect Ursula Le Guin to know much about it or care, but a few quick questions and a viewing of their other miniseries should have clued her in that it would be garbage. But she doesn’t seem to care that the plot was ruined or that it made no sense, but that the lead actor was white. From the way she tells it, race might be a plot point here, but if the entire script was botched, why would you expect them to get the racial composition right. Especially when they’re working with actors plucked from CW and WB shows.

The article becomes a rant with condescending overtones. LeGuin boasts that she’s white but not European. Does she really think Americans are a separate race? The climax is self-praise for how much she’s done for people of color with Earthsea. By then it’s less of an attack on the SyFy channel then it is about her own greatness in reaching beyond her race.

Hobbits, Sauron, Copyright and Pubs

I’m not fond of the Saul Zaentz Company and its heavy-handed approach to copyright enforcement while licensing a bunch of crap using the Tolkien license. But the Hobbit pub in the UK doesn’t deserve the sympathy that it’s getting for being sued by SZC. This isn’t like the time McDonalds sued a man named McDonald who had his own place in the UK. This is a pub that used the movie characters in its advertising extensively.

There might be a sympathy vote if the pub had stuck to the literary scene, used Mirkwood or Lothlorien, and avoided explicit movie refs, but that’s not the case here. The banner outside uses the movie characters. The inside materials did too. That’s blatant exploitation of a movie without arranging for the licensing.

I’m not sure why I should feel sorry for a pub that tried to cash in on the movies, not the books, or treat it as an abuse of copyright when this was a lazy attempt to appeal to students without thinking of the obvious consequences.

Supposedly the pub had that name for twenty years, which predates the first movie by a decade, and it would have been on safer ground if it hadn’t begun using the movie characters. It still probably would have been sued as the release date for The Hobbit, the movie approaches, but it could have relied on being a English institution using a word from an English writer being sued by the bloody yanks, but when you’re exploiting Hollywood, it’s hard to complain about being used by Hollywood.

Just to make the last of the sympathy go away, The Hobbit is owned by Punch Taverns, which is the largest pub operator in the UK and operates over 6000 pubs, it has revenue of over a billion pounds a year. So all the complaints of “We’re a small pub and we can’t fight a lawsuit by a major company” are nonsense.

Imagine Pizza Hut deciding to begin selling Hobbit pizza without licensing. It would deserve about as much sympathy as Punch does.

“Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead has also condemned the threat of legal action. He said: “It’s like the story – a small business minding its own business until the forces of darkness envelope it.”

I don’t recall that happening in The Hobbit. Also I don’t remember anything in LOTR about Sauron suing a billion pound corporation for violating his copyright, which might be closer to the mark. Especially since Punch Taverns has been accused of monopolistic practices.

In Defense of Armond White

Forget everything that’s ever been written about Armond White. Forget everything I wrote about him. And let’s look at it another way.

Armond White has become the war cry of the fanboy. The enemy of the movie critic who exists to provide a quote. And White acts like he’s the last honest critic out there. And as loony and wrong and even sloppy as his reviews are, he really is.

You can’t rely on Armond White for an accurate review of a movie, but you can rely on him to challenge the overhyped works of art with 9 figure marketing budgets. White was right to take on The Social Network, with its shameful 96 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. If White had done nothing in his career but call out Fincher and Sorkin on their bullshit, his tenure would have been justified.

Who else can be counted on to shrug and dismiss the last Harry Potter movie and Toy Story 3? Who else would dare. And who else would combine that with kicking Errol Morris’ Tabloid to the curb, call out Bad Teacher for what it is, and then turn around and praise Larry Crowne and Battle of Los Angeles. It’s heresy, it’s blasphemy and it rocks.

Armond White breaks every rule for movie critics in 2011. And that’s a good thing. White may be trolling or posing. His grievances may be poorly thought out and not supported by objective evidence. But in an industry where Roger Ebert is considered a serious film critic, White is a breath of fresh air.

He may be many things, but the one thing he isn’t is a company man. Or a consensus man. Armond White stands boldly outside the consensus. The consensus of critics and industry types that takes absolute crap like No Country for Old Men, The Social Network, Babel and turns them into award winners, only to be forgotten a few months later. Against that dull consensus comes Armond White with his cranky arguments, his love for Paul and his refusal to fall into line. In a time when everyone is an independent critic and no is independent, White is independent. Absolutely so. And no one can take that away from him.

The Tragedy of John Carter

It’s easy to say that there’s something wrong when Avatar loads up with ridiculous amounts of money while John Carter seems doomed. A big giant Mars sized chunk of that can be put down to Disney’s dysfunction, but even its Clash of the Titans style ads for John Carter shouldn’t have sabotaged it that badly.

The name obviously does it no favors. It’s hard to say what John Carter stands for in most people’s minds, but it’s not this. And it hasn’t exactly been a good year for splashy adaptations of classic stories. Spielberg’s Tintin couldn’t even reach 80 million in the United States, but that also offers some hope. American classics are often better known abroad than in the United States. Burroughs has more of an audience in South America and Europe than he does in his homeland.

If the foreign arms of studios handle John Carter correctly, the movie can make more than enough money abroad. Just as Pirates 4 and Tintin did.

One more thing in John Carter’s favor is the lack of any real competition. In a weekend where the top competitor is the Lorax, where a trunk relic like A Thousand Words is being dug up, and Act of Valor is stumbling around as a mercy movie that’s the closest thing to being in the same category, John Carter may have a shot. Or not. I overheard Jersey Shore types chomping at the bit to see A Thousand Words, I doubt any of them had similar feelings for John Carter.

So what went wrong? The name. The confusing trailers. The ‘what the hell is going on here’ effect. Instead of hyping the special effects, presenting a somewhat coherent story in the trailer and keeping some of the goofier shots out, the marketing was botched badly. Which is a shame.

Mass Effect 3 and the User Effect

How big is the split between reviewers and gamers getting? The Metacritic raids are a major sign of trouble. While reviewers are giving Mass Effect 3 the same sloppy kiss they gave Dragon Age 2, the user revolts on Metacritic are severely unfavorable. The huge gap between a 92 pro rating and the 3.3 user score says bad things.

I haven’t played Mass Effect 3 myself, so I can’t say which side is right, but the criticisms that I can see on Metacritic echo many of the problems with Dragon Age 2. That’s enough to get me to opt out of Mass Effect 3, even if I wasn’t still playing Skyrim. What’s strange is that the reviewers don’t really deny those criticisms, the discontinuity between the previous games, the lack of user agency, the pointless grind, weak graphics and the lack of a meaningful story. They just go on praising the game anyway.

After the Jennifer Helper hype, it doesn’t seem like Bioware can do wrong in the eyes of the pros, they will excuse anything the company does. I don’t know the industry well enough to make the accusations that some users are making, but the fanboyism really has to stop and until it does that Metacritic gap will go on haunting reviewers.

11/22/63 by Stephen King book review

11/22/63 by Stephen King11/22/63 has movie written all over it. Take some Final Destination, stir in Mr. Holland’s Opus, mix with Pleasantville and just about every time travel movie ever made and there you go.

The problem with 11/22/63 is its title. To King’s generation that date may be as memorable as 9/11, but that generation and its self-obsession is fading away. Had 11/22/63 been the monomaniacal obsession with saving JFK that the title and cover suggests, it wouldn’t be worth reading. Despite the reams of research though, it isn’t.

What 11/22/63 actually is, is an unwieldy book. 11/22/63 isn’t a failure like The Dome, instead it’s unbalanced as if Stephen King doesn’t know what his own novel is about. An extended section in Derry which tries to piggyback on his vastly superior IT makes that obvious. But King finds his footing with a doomed love story set in a small town in Texas.

11/22/63 is at its weakest when following around Lee Harvey Oswald’s pathetic life. King attempts to fictionalize Oswald, but still can’t make him compelling or interesting. He attempts to turn Dallas into Derry and flirts with Oswald as demonically possessed, but seems to have enough common sense not to follow through with those ideas.

Instead 11/22/63 ends up telling the classic time travel story of a man from the future, a teacher named Jake Epping, who finds a better life in the past and a love that he has to give up. Unfortunately King doesn’t really seem to understand that this is his story until he has already told it. The entire novel reeks of being undeveloped, though not as badly as The Dome was. It moves jerkily around without knowing where it’s going until the end.

Too much of 11/22/63 seems to take it for granted that saving JFK will make the world a better place, without seriously defending it, that the “twist” which everyone who has ever read Science Fiction can predict, fits in awkwardly. The dreaded future that King belatedly takes us to is even more poorly written. And the entire conclusion of the novel is clumsy and clunky, only partially redeemed by an ending apparently suggested by his son.

The saving grace of 11/22/63 is that this time King has a main character with hopes and dreams, rather than a pasteboard target for scoring political points. King misses with Derry, he misses with Dallas, but when in doubt he goes back and breathes life into the cliche of small town Americana where the food tastes better, the cars run faster and where life is felt more deeply.

11/22/63 is not a great novel, or even a particularly good one, but it has its moments. Unfortunately it also has Stephen King, whose Uncle Stevie title now seems a little too fitting, delivering random political diatribes. The experience is a little like that family dinner where your crazy uncle begins ranting about his expected targets. It’s not that he’s necessarily wrong, it’s that his diatribes are boring and narrow-minded.

King’s politics are pat. His good people are Catholics, his bad people are Baptists. 11/22/63 has no shortage of racist stereotypes, but takes its bows for denouncing racism. His worship of JFK is weird and off-putting when we know a little too much about him to believe it. 11/22/63 tries to go for political commentary, but knows enough to back off, but not enough to scrub the whole thing.

Like The Dome, 11/22/63 is a mistake. Not quite a revived trunk novel, but a trunk idea, badly managed. Still it has its charm and that charm is in Jolie, Texas. When it leaves Jolie, its reason for existing goes with it.

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