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Monthly Archives: May 2012

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Do We Even Need One Steve Jobs Movie?

It’s a reasonable question because how many hours can you really spend on a guy screaming to his subordinates about getting the exact right shade of the color white? But there’s two Steve Jobs biopics coming up, because you can never have too many movies about a famous guy who just died. According to Aaron Sorkin, who is more qualified to pick up awards than he is to write scripts about anything involving technology, that’s okay because there’s room for multiple Steve Jobs movies.

“Steve Jobs is a big enough person, big enough life that there’s room for more than one movie.”

Maybe it can even be a trilogy. Or a miniseries. Maybe we can build a Steve Jobs museum on the moon.

According to Sorkin, Steve Jobs is just like the Beatles or something. But give the man his age. Back then everything important was compared to the Beatles. When JFK was assassinated, when man landed on the moon and when that stupid movie about Facebook got a bunch of awards, it was all just exactly like the Beatles.

You know who else couldn’t be kept down in one movie? Bob Dylan, who had to be played by Richard Gere, Cate Blanchett, a little black kid, also Heath Ledger and Christian Bale. As an eternal reminder of why this is a bad idea, here’s the trailer for “I’m Not There.”

The only difference between this and whatever Sorkin and his rivals will churn out to commemorate Steve Jobs is that at least “I’m Not There” is almost self-aware enough to know how ridiculous it is. That’s a level of self-awareness that Sorkin could not even begin to aspire to.

Pull back from all the hoopla over Jobs death and ask yourself whether Jobs would be getting a fraction of this attention if he had done everything he did in our universe until 1997, when Apple’s troubles allowed him to waltz back and the music industry and Microsoft’s incompetence allowed him to build a hardware business on an easy way to buy songs and some flashy interfaces? No, no and no.

Jobs pre-1997 would have been kindly remembered as a “pioneer” accompanied by Mac photos, the way Wozniak will be one day. Steve Jobs post-1997 is remembered for being successful. Not for being a genius.

An honest movie would pick up in 1997. It would focus less on his genius and more on the way that the incompetence of established industries creates openings for insurgents to revolutionize industries by exploiting opportunities. But instead we’ll get an actor delivering rapid fire dialogue while screaming about product demos and refusing to return calls from his family.

Does anyone actually need that?

Cabin in the Woods movie review

When Scream kickstarted the return of the slasher horror movie, it did it by being clever and sharp. Cabin in the Woods wants you to think it’s both of those things, when mostly it’s neither. Instead it comes packing the same late 90’s self-consciously smartass teen dialogue that sounds like it was written by Kevin Williamson, and a twist that’s not twist at all because it’s served up to us from the start.

Cabin in the Woods’ only real twist on the slasher movie is to put in a team of people who make the horrors happen, while breaking the fourth wall as a Greek chorus representing the audience and the production team. It’s a clever concept on paper, but the cleverness ends at using it to explain why things implausibly happen in horror movies. That makes it a punchline, but not much else.

After setting up its fourth wall, Cabin in the Woods has nothing else to do. The characters are one-note, the dialogue has been done before and the cabin, that the poster teased as some M.C. Escher construction, just has a fake mirror, a remote controlled trapdoor and that’s it. The team injects rape drugs and subliminal voices to try and make the four college students act out their parts, and that’s as unconventional as it gets.

Strip away the fourth wall and two-thirds of Cabin in the Woods is a weak and lame repetition of a dozen slasher movie reboots. And that’s the problem. The movie is constantly waiting until the team comes in contact with their victims, but that just means most of the movie is a waste. Cabin in the Woods is more entertaining when it’s done in the deep with the team, than when it’s with the four students who are just going through the motions.

But even once worlds collide, Cabin in the Woods blows its ending. The final dilemma could have joined both storylines together had Dana pulled the trigger and taken her place working with the team, instead the world seems on the edge of being destroyed in an ending that’s more awkward than apocalyptic.

Cabin in the Woods has one clever idea, but unlike Scream, it doesn’t bother to understand the materials it’s working with or to make the best of them. It thinks that one idea is enough, but it doesn’t develop it and it doesn’t bother trying to make a good movie, instead of a good gimmick.

Why Cloud Gaming is not the Future

Sure cloud gaming might be the future. The really distant future. The one where everyone wears jetpacks, sends clones to go to work and lives in orbit around the earth. It’s not the 5 minutes from now future. Not even the 10 minutes from now future, no matter how much NVIDIA keeps beating the digital drums for GRID.

 

1. Mobile gaming won’t integrate with desktop and console gaming

Not only are mobile games different, because they’re intended for a different type of control mechanism and a different type of environment (kill 5 minutes while waiting to skydive over Hawaii or ride in an elevator to the next meeting), but there’s a built in hardware bottleneck which leaves the idea that you can walk away from Skyrim or Battlefield 3 on the PC and smoothly pick it up on your iPad, an idea.

The only way to make this kind of cloud gaming work is to throttle desktop and console gaming graphics and controls to the level of a pad. Desktop games have already suffered from being throttled to console gaming specs, but even with Id’s scalable engine and new chips, the marketplace won’t stand still just so cloud gaming can be a buzzword.

 

2. The technology isn’t there

I don’t mean whatever NVIDIA is rolling out to impress everyone with, that doesn’t matter, I mean ISP’s are not out providing the kind of connection that makes regular cloud gaming feasible outside a small group. That’s the group leaving comments about everyone else being backward. And that’s fine. If your target audience for AAA games is now limited to 0.01 percent of the marketplace, go for it. Someone else will pick up the rest.

And mobile? Good luck downloading a 32 gig game on your data plan while waiting in line. Unless providers can suddenly gain a compelling reason to provide the bandwidth to cater to that kind of gaming, without tripling everyone’s bill, but still being profitable, then you can forget about it.

 

3. No one needs it

Sure Diablo III has made a lot of money. The Auction House will make a lot of money too, when it gets working. Maybe after all the promotional expenses, Activision will use the money to buy another marble palace haunted by demons. Maybe. But is it really worth it?

Other companies were counting on Blizzard and the unstoppable Diablo name to make an unpopular concept workable, instead it arrived broken on delivery and no amount of arguments that games are supposed to be broken on launch will change that. Diablo III was the test bed and it blew it. Sure the sales are there, but are they going to be there for companies without the Blizzard/Diablo brand? If Blizzard had trouble functioning and faced furious feedback, what happens to companies without the fanboy insulation or the online gaming experience?

NVIDIA can pitch GRID, but it’s in the hardware business. It doesn’t have to worry about launching games and when the cloud goes bad, the customers won’t kick its doors in, they’ll rage against the companies they gave their money to.

Blizzard’s fanboy shield can only cover them for so long. Bioware’s gave them a free pass for Dragon Age II, but broke on Mass Effect 3. Betting on Blizzard’s to survive another of these isn’t a good proposition. And most companies don’t have even one shield.

Sure averting piracy is a priority, but the question is how much do you want to risk doing it? And how much do you want to spend?

Always online costs money and sticking auction houses into every 50-60 dollar game will infuriate players even faster. Turning every game into an MMO without the subscription costs is financially scary and trying to sell people a 60 dollar game with crippled single-player and ordinary multiplayer and then tacking on a subscription fee, I’m not even sure Blizzard could get away with it.

Bar Codes, BBC and Elizabeth Moon

Some people like to think the BBC is more credible than more pedestrian channels. It’s not really. It just relies on that image. The BBC is supposed to be serious. Ultra-serious. So you know that when they report that Science Fiction writer Elizabeth Moon wants to forcibly bar code everyone at birth… it must be the absolute truth.

The entire silly thing tops BBC’s Editors Picks in their Future section, ahead of Reaching for the Stars, because why Reach for the Stars, when we can debate the pros and cons of bar coding everyone instead.

This week science fiction writer Elizabeth Moon argues that everyone should be given a barcode at birth.

“If I were empress of the Universe I would insist on every individual having a unique ID permanently attached – a barcode if you will; an implanted chip to provide an easy, fast inexpensive way to identify individuals.

Is there any possibility whatsoever that this whole thing is a ridiculous misunderstanding created by a news site with no sense of humor looking for sensationalism?

Well yes it is.

 Seriously…you thought it was for real?   After hearing about responses to the photographer who thought everyone should be limited to just one photo a day, you still thought this was a dead-serious part of the discussion?   The term “Empress of the Universe” wasn’t a clue that this was a science fiction writer making something up?

This isn’t the first time that Elizabeth Moon has gotten in trouble because people can’t read. They can’t read in Wisconsin. They can’t read at the BBC. They can’t listen either which is easy enough if you listen to the audio.

The BBC is just doing the same things the Telegraph and the Guardian and CNN do. They find shocking provocative things and play them up.

That’s Stage 1.

Stage 2 is websites looking for second-hand shock material playing them up even more. Now it’s ELIZABETH MOON PLOTS TO MICROCHIP BABIES. Because Elizabeth Moon can absolutely do that. She has that power.

Crazy exploiters of conspiracy theories have their home at Prison Planet, which beams forth the message that there’s a plot afoot to barcode everyone. Another site throws in THE MARK OF THE BEAST and we’re off.

But suppose for a moment that Moon meant what she said. That she is absolutely in favor of bar coding everyone. So what?

I’m not a proponent of that. I would be a firm opponent of it. But what power would she have to get it done? There’s a difference between an undersecretary of something proposing bar code stamping and a Science Fiction writer who isn’t even all that well known suggesting it.

That’s the difference between legitimate outrage and manufacturing outrage for profit. Outlets like the BBC know what they’re doing. So does Prison Planet. They’re selling outrage to worried and upset people looking for someone to fear. None of those websites had even heard of Elizabeth Moon before. As far as they were concerned she might have been from the moon. But the mill needs its grist. The merchants of paranoia need to sell their subjects someone to fear.

 

Last Resort – Weirdest ABC Attempt to Make a LOST Show

Imagine if Lost were done by Tom Clancy and Richard Patterson North and imagine if it was really stupid. (Well obviously it’s stupid, it’s being done by Tom Clancy and Richard Patterson North.)

Back when I used to browse used bookstores, I would come upon lots of ragged paperbacks with plots just like these. They would be classified as Science Fiction, but only marginally so. Someone decided that the best way to revive the castaways genre would be to merge it with the military unit on its own genre to create Lost Crimson Tide.

The only thing Last Resort has going for it is a good cast. The trailer, like so many of these, gives you the entire opening pilot. But how many people are going to keep watching this just to listen to Andre Braugher delivering monologues? I’m not.

This isn’t a TV pilot, it’s a movie and the movie has nowhere to go after a few episodes. Also Tom Clancy and dramas about people yelling in submarines, so 1980’s. Also Pakistan has no submarines.

Aaron Sorkin vs The Internet

If you remember last year stuff, Aaron Sorkin was the brilliant screenwriter who turned a dork who made a social networking site into some sort of cultural touchstone with a script that was mostly made up, but a lot of people mistook for the real thing. I’m talking about The Social Network of course, which was what Anti-Trust would have been with worse actors and a 100 million worth of publicity.

So why does Aaron Sorkin hate the internet so much, and why did he jump at the opportunity to discuss a topic he doesn’t understand, just to smear someone he never met. Take a trip back in time to 2007. Yes I said 2007.

“This was nonsense,” he went on. “The Los Angeles Times should be ashamed of itself!”Next Sorkin ridiculed the whole idea that bloggers — many of whom come from parts unknown, bearing grudges, perhaps, and not always a reliable sense of who they are and what they’re really after — be taken more seriously in the mainstream media than any random josephine walking down Main Street. “An enormous rise in amateurism,” Sorkin said of the blogosphere. “And everyone’s voice oughtn’t be equal.”

And that’s what Facebook does. It makes people equal. And Twitter and the whole internet.

But Sorkin was pissed because Studio 60 was being ridiculed and NBC didn’t have the money that Sony put into convincing people that watching Jesse Eisenberg read lines like a caffeine freak wasn’t a joke.

That was 2007. A year later Sorkin was brought on board to write The Social Network, after crashing and burning with Studio 60 and Charlie Wilson’s War. It was a safe bet that he was pissed. It was also a safe bet that he resented the internet for intruding into his cozy world of Writer’s Guild awards.

The Social Network was payback to that big mass of tubes and a billionaire who to Sorkin came to represent everything in that mass of tubes that makes it hard for geniuses and their stupid vanity projects to get the respect they deserve.

Why SyFy Abandoned Science Fiction

SyFy is Dead

This isn’t about the woman looking contemplatively at one of the worst programming slates on television , she doesn’t exist except as a heavily photoshopped model who probably thought she was posing for some ad that required her to be mildly amused, maybe at her new phone or the plight of children somewhere.

This is about what SyFy thinks she represents and what it wants ad buyers to think she represents.

This isn’t just another ad pitching SyFy to viewers, this is an ad pitching it to media buyers. This is the audience that SyFy wants to have.

Let’s start out with the obvious. She’s not a man. That’s not coincidental. Women are where the ad dollars are now.

She’s an “Igniter” who “sparks trends”, which means the ad dollars go further because she influences the buying habits of others. That’s a load of crap, especially when it comes to SyFy Channel viewers, but this is the brass ring of advertising.

Now imagine the exact opposite of this coolly amused young woman who influences her friends to buy major brands by making them seem cool? If you answered a viewer of Science Fiction television, as imagined by SyFy executives to be a fat middle-aged man, you are correct. And that is the audience SyFy doesn’t want, because it’s the audience their USA bosses don’t want.

But don’t take it from me, take it from the SyFy pitch.

Syfy has a target audience in mind: people with a shared mindset of curiosity, optimism, creativity and open-mindedness that drives them to take risks, push boundaries and challenge the status quo. They call these people—who are the first to find and try new things and share those finds with others—”Igniters.”

This their target audience. It’s not people who like Science Fiction, it’s people who watch SyFy shows about ghost hunting and makeup because they “push boundaries” and “challenge the status quo”. They’re exactly like Occupy Wall Street, except they buy stuff, instead of protest.

If you want to promote your new Samsung phone or non-alcoholic cranberry drink to an audience that will convince other people to try it, come and pitch to the viewers of our cooking shows and makeup shows and stuff we put together as cheaply as possible in order to build that quality “Igniter” audience.

Founded in 1992 as SCI FI Channel, Syfy is celebrating its 20th anniversary by embracing the innovation of Igniters. What exactly is an Igniter? To develop the psychographic profile, Syfy has used both Simmons data and a custom study conducted with PSFK. Simmons demonstrates that Igniters are the first to find, try and buy new products and then influence the masses to do the same. The PSFK study adds that Igniters are a powerful force in today’s market because portability and social media have given rise to new tools.

This is a ton of nebula gasses, but SyFy needs to sell this to position its viewers as savvy post-television influencers who will go out and have an impact on social media.

Look at what’s missing from the picture.

The words “Science Fiction” and “Fantasy” never appear in this piece. Superhero and supernatural are okay. Those aren’t, even when HBO is doing great with Game of Thrones. (HBO is also careful to avoid the “F” word when talking about Game of Thrones.) The name change wasn’t an accident. The former SciFi channel doesn’t want to be associated with Science Fiction. It wants to be associated with an audience it can’t have.

SyFy can’t get the flavored vodka and hot nightspots audience it’s pretending to have. It can’t have it because it’s cheap, its programming is risk free and crap. It wants to pretend that it offers million dollar value to advertisers while running a 99 cent store full of crap that no one else wants and its original programming is indistinguishable from the reality TV on every other channel.

The audience it has is not the audience it wants. It wants models who smile ambiguously at unseen things in the air. SyFy has an abusive relationship with its audience. Eventually it will drive away the last of its unique audience and be stuck with the kind of people who want to watch idiots pretending to chase ghosts around a set or who will sit through a show about makeup artists and a third-rate cooking show.

And then finally SyFy will have the audience it deserves. The 99 cent store of cable television will have 99 cent store viewers. Maybe they’ll even ignite a ghost chasing trend and then “share” it on social media.

Reba: The Next Generation Meets the Beverly Hillbillies

I’m trying to understand how this show exists. Wasn’t this already a sitcom on the WB? Did they just revive it and merge it with The Beverly Hillbillies? And why does this have such a 70’s feel to it? I keep expecting Reba’s mother to be played by Mary Tyler Moore and the whole thing to turn into a variety show.

Malibu Country. Another title that feels so 70’s. Maybe it’s the voiceover that feels so 70’s. Maybe it’s the obvious lines pitched to the audience waiting for canned laughter. Maybe it’s the writer who got his start on The Golden Girls and worked on the original Reba sitcom and on Roseanne. But none of those are seventies.

Lilly Tomlin as Reba’s mother? I guess Reba was originally a Jewish New Yorker before she went country. Isn’t the whole fish out of water, southern belles in LA, premise supposed to be that they are southerners. Why cast someone who so isn’t?

Here’s a proposal. Just merge this together with Last Man Standing. Tim Allen and Reba McEntire can just goggle at California while delivering obvious jokes. It’s bound to be a winner.

REbooting the James Bond Reboot

Two movies in it was obvious that the James Bond reboot wasn’t working. It’s made for some great trailers and the Skyfall trailer is no exception, but not very good movies. Sam Mendes can make this look good and does, and there’s the expected boatload of writers, but it still won’t work.

Problem #1: The Bourne envy. The Bourne movies are what they are, but they didn’t have the wide appeal of the Bond movies and people expect something different from Bond movies than a blank protagonist running around grimly shooting and jumping around before returning to a taciturn silence.

The Bourne movies have been sliding at the box office since the first one. The last one barely passed 200 mil worldwide and the series is getting rebooted. The Bond movies imitating have gone through a similar slide.

Problem #2: Daniel Craig doesn’t work. He just doesn’t. James Bond is supposed to be personable and leading a glamorous life. An actor who doesn’t project that has no future with the character. Craig doesn’t. Fleming’s Bond was a wolf and Craig projects that, but there’s nothing else. Just a grim impersonal man going about his business. It’s realistic, much more than Damon’s pretty boy Bourne, but it doesn’t work in the Bond setting and story.

Problem #3: The point. There isn’t one. The Bond reboot movies feel like Mission Impossible movies. Shove in some barely explained threat. Then explosions. There are no memorable villains or memorable anything. The whole thing is not just joyless, it’s pointless.

The solution. Go look at Jason Statham’s movies. I don’t necessarily mean cast him as Bond, though if things get desperate enough that might work, but look at what makes The Transporter movies work. They have a similar formula to the old Bond movies. Lush locations, over the top action, a relentless charismatic hero with a code. They’re popcorn and not up there with classic Bond movies, but they capture some of the reason why people went to see those movies.

It’s time to reboot the reboot.

Sacha Baron Cohen Go Home

As May crawls to June, The Avengers conclusively dominates the box office crushing everything else. Battleship got around it with a contingency plan by opening in Europe first. It should probably have opened everywhere first. The movie won’t have a completely disastrous image like John Carter, but it isn’t going to be another Transformers either.

The stupidest move was tossing The Dictator into the Avengers shredder. Sure a chunk of its target audience probably saw Avengers already, but the overlap was too big. Dark Shadows and What To Expect were at least targeting a female audience which was less likely to get distracted by exploding CG action movies. The Dictator had to be counting on getting some chunk of the female audience. Had to be.

The results at the box office don’t look that bad at first until you notice that The Dictator had a much bigger budget and can you imagine the marketing budget on all that? The Dictator marketing looked guerrilla, but you can bet all of it was expensive. Actual cost may top 100 million. And the movie won’t be making that back.

More devastating is that The Dictator is waking people up to the not so secret fact that Sacha Baron Cohen sucks. He’s okay enough playing a wacky character in a movie, but he’s not a star, his one trick comedy routine is to create an offensive character and then offend people and film the results. The Dictator can’t do that so it fails.

Borat and Bruno were Jackass with fewer stunts. Bruno was already flailing. The Dictator’s failure is going to mean much less backing for another project. If Borat 2 underwhelms, it’s game over.

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