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Monthly Archives: July 2012

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Art and Games

In a post at The Verge, Brian makes an important point about how seductive art or the illusion of it can be to game reviewers.

I think the reason critics fell for it was because they were perfectly set by the nature of their position as professional reviewers to be hooked by it. The game is (according to some, I’ve not played it) a poor execution on the mechanical level. The controls are poorly implemented and the game takes ‘real is brown’ to a ludicrous extreme.

Critics and reviewers, and I speak as one of the breed, want to talk about the meaning of things. We want to find the meaning of things. But often games are not about meanings, they’re about experiences. There are bad art games, the way that there are bad art films and bad literary novels, works that exist only to make some higher point while providing a miserable and unpleasant experience, but they have even less reason to exist because a game is an interactive experience.

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops the Line fails mechanically as a game. It plugs that failure by referencing Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad and setting up an absurd cliched ending that most of us have seen done in movies before. But this blew away game reviewers, even ones who would have laughed off Spec Ops the Line as a movie, because it was moving gaming forward, in their minds, to some wonderful world where games would be deeper works of art instead of murder sims.

Unlike Day Z, there really isn’t much talk about Spec Ops the Line, even by those who like it, because there isn’t much to say about it. Unlike Day Z it doesn’t provide moral choices or a complex experience. It is just a student film cover for incompetence. But that cover makes people feel smart and critics like feeling smart.

The seduction of the critic is that trap of fake intelligence, whether it’s reviewing what a game should have been instead of what it is or reviewing a game positively because it made you feel smart, not because it was a good experience.

The Avengers movie review

The Avengers is big. Like the Transformers movies and Avatar it’s there to impress you with its size so you don’t think too much about its quality. When it comes to quality, The Avengers’ secret weapon is its writer and director, Joss Whedon. But Whedon does nothing for the plot of The Avengers which isn’t just cliches, but cliched cliches.

avengers poster small

If you’ve never seen a movie before then you might have no idea that when Loki lets himself get captured it’s all a setup for a rescue attack that will free him and seriously damage SHIELD’s carrier. And if you’ve never seen a movie before then you might not be able to guess that the Hulk will show up at the moment when he’s needed most.

Joss Whedon’s real contribution are the punchlines and snide remarks that everyone makes to each other in between the punches and explosions. The remarks, some of them clever, make The Avengers seem a little smarter than it is, but the movie isn’t smart, it’s just knowing which makes it Transformers with better dialogue. Chuckle at some of Tony Stark’s lines, delivered with perfect timing by Robert Downey Jr and you can almost overlook the horrifyingly long drawn out plot that feels even longer because you know what’s going to happen 5 minutes from now… and you still have to wait for the movie to get there on its own.

The Avengers is still fun and while Joss Whedon as director brings absolutely no visual style to the table, the movie could just as easily have been directed by anyone, he keeps an enormously long movie moving along pretty swiftly because there’s always something happening to hold your attention, either explosions, fights or smart remarks, and even if you don’t care about it two minutes later and can’t even remember what it was, you’re having fun or at least not being too bored at almost any given moment in the movie.

There may never be a Buffy movie, but The Avengers is the next best thing. Its cast talks and squabbles like the grown up Scooby Gang shooting lines at each other, getting into pointless fights, going off to pout and then teaming up to fight against a villain who talks just like them, but happens to be evil.

Joss Whedon had been doing these stories for almost ten years and it’s no wonder that he can do it smoothly enough in The Avengers where the Scooby Gang of Marvel superheroes is a good fit because getting into pointless fights with each and going off to sulk before becoming friends again is the Marvel dynamic and the teenage dynamic too.

But what made Buffy and Angel stand out is that they were more than just smart remarks, they were also full of smart plots and surprise twists. The shows tried to make what happened next into a surprise by going where you didn’t think they were going to go. Firefly didn’t last long, but it seemed to have that same quality too. And it’s a quality that The Avengers could have used, because no amount of witty lines can make a movie this predictable not be as stupid as it is.

The Avengers is fun in its own way. If you want to kill more hours than any other movie in theaters and don’t want anything except an amusement park ride of special effects, it’s the movie for you. Like so many blockbusters now, The Avengers is a giant live-action cartoon with human beings poking their heads out among the CG. But even though it brings together the cast from Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk, it doesn’t have any of the weight and depth of those movies.

The brief scenes between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are one of the few moments in The Avengers that remind you that these characters can be more than just action figures in a really big cartoon.

Why I Hate Instagram Pictures

It’s strange how something can go from unawareness to loathing with enough saturation. I was never a fan of filters but I can see why people liked Instagram. It was an easy way to give photos a classic retro feel with warm tones and richer shadows. Some photos filtered through it are nice. But the sum effect of seeing every 10th image run through Instagram is feeling like I just took a time machine back to the 80’s and not in a good way.

Instagram

Not only is running photos taken on a megapixel camera built into an iPhone through filters that make them look like Florida vacation snapshots from 1979 stupid, but collectively it’s ugly.

Making the occasional music video look like it was shot on an 80’s video camera and then played with a bad signal over an old television is cool. Making every video look that way is ugly and a technoaesthetic breakdown that kills everything that has been accomplished since then.

The occasional 8 bit pixel tribute is cool, but not when every game is an 8 bit pixel tribute. Because 8 bit is limited and so is Instagram. Older technologies limit your range of color and the trueness of the image. It’s one thing to stylize the occasional image that way, but when you stylize every image, it’s not styling anymore, it’s the default look. It’s like everyone getting big hair, not as an ironic affectation, but because the affectation has become the style.

You can still get away with black and white photos because our black and white can do everything it’s supposed to. But Instagram everywhere turns photos into smears of color that date back to a look when image fidelity was problematic.

Imagine 20 years from now everyone is running their 100 megapixel 3D hologram photos through a filter that makes them look like oversaturated noisy iPhone photos from 2012. Wouldn’t that be ugly and stupid?

The Spiderman Reboot… it Bombed

I never saw any sense is such a rapid reboot of movies that were doing pretty well, but Sony knew better. Sony was so smart that it cast some Twilight emo kid and decided to make a worse version of the same movie that they made 10 years ago. That was a move intended to capitalize on teenagers who were just learning to walk when the first Spider Man movie was released and who were just trying to make it to puberty when Spider Man 3 was released and can’t be expected to relate to a thirty something Spidey.

the Amazing Spider Man poster

It’s like the Dark Knight… but with more teen angst

But studios forget that they’re not the only audience out there.

The original Spider Man cost half of what the Spider Man reboot did and made more faster. The original Spider Man hit 400 million bucks. The Spider Man reboot got plowed under by The Dark Knight Rises and made 11 million over the weekend bringing its total to 228 million dollars out of a 230 million dollar budget and unknown promotional budget.

That’s not quite a bomb bomb, but even with foreign box office those are bad numbers. Spider Man 3, which had an oversized 258 million dollar budget still had a 336 million total and that was enough to trigger a reboot. Spider Man reboot probably won’t clear its full budget domestically and while its opening weekend is big enough that much of the money doesn’t go to the theaters, this is still bad.

As usual the Spider Man reboot has made more money in the foreign box office than the old domestic one, but the Amazing Spider Man is underperforming internationally too.

Does this mean Andrew Garfield will be sent home, along with Marc Webb who went from directing a few TV episodes and music videos to a summer tentpole? Will Sony give Sam Raimi a call?

Probably not. In their defense a chunk of the problem was releasing this puppy right before Dark Knight Rises and after Avengers without figuring out a way to make the Amazing Spider Man into an event movie.

The original Spider Man was an event movie. The new one would have done better in a barren season, but this summer had actual event comic book movies and it couldn’t compete.

Men in Black 3 movie review

There are movies that are way off. Movies so bad that they never had a shot. And then there are the movies that were almost there, that needed just another few passes on the script, some more time in the editing room and a few more reshoots. Men in Black 3 may be one of those movies.

Men-In-Black-3-poster

Men in Black 3 isn’t bad. It has just enough of the elements from the first movie to remind you why the first Men in Black worked. But it doesn’t have enough them in the right proportions.

The Men in Black formula is simple enough. There’s the secret government agency with cool gadgets meets a multicultural New York where all the strangest people are actually from a galaxy far far away. There’s the buddy cop dynamic of Will Smith’s J and Tommy Lee Jones’ K that really makes the series work. And all of those things are there in Men in Black 3 but not in the right proportions.

Unlike Men in Black 2, Men in Black 3 has J and K together for the entire movie, though for most of it K is being played by Josh Brolin as K’s younger seventies self. And Brolin nails the Tommy Lee Jones imitation making him the best thing about the movie. It’s everything else that’s weak.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones both show up, but that’s about all they do. Tommy Lee Jones gives a distracted and feeble performance in the few parts of the movie that he’s in. Will Smith isn’t capable of being low wattage, but he seems equally distracted as if MIB 3 is something he has to get through before doing something else. The dynamic is there, but it’s fainter and feebler. It’s as if too many of their scenes were early takes, rather than the best takes.

Then there’s the showpiece part of Men in Black 3. The MIB movies have always had big fights and splashy effects. The first one did it on a 90 million dollar budget, though it was the nineties. MIB 2 had more forgettable action scenes on a 140 million dollar budget. But MIB 3 is the worst of them on a 225 million dollar production budget, which couldn’t have all gone to Will Smith.

The aliens, the gadgets and the battles using the gadgets against the aliens are a big part of the Men in Black movies. They’re a smaller part of Men in Black 3. There are fewer aliens and fewer gadgets. The villain isn’t a giant bug, he’s a biker with built in goggles who shoots spiders out of his palms and in most scenes the spiders just look like darts. And Boris the Animal, unlike the MIB and MIB 2 villains never feels alien.

After an early fight in Chinatown that’s spectacular and in line with the old MIB movies, Men in Black 3 doesn’t have much to offer. Boris’ breakout is a cheesy cliche. The time travel repairman appears to be completely human. The alien invasion looks cheap and there’s no sense of urgency. And once in the 70’s, Men in Black 3 confines itself to the usual tired cliches of time travel movies. Between the fight scene in Chinatown and a showdown at Cape Canaveral during the Apollo moon launch, there’s not much there except the only cool gadget in the movie, the Monocycle.

But despite all those problems, Men in Black 3 does have a good story. Griffin is a charming character, even if his fake spirituality becomes a bit much and the ending ties the whole series and the J and K dynamic together with a paternalistic bow. The Mets scene and the launch at Cape Canaveral occasionally ground MIB 3 in somewhat approaching relevance and human emotion. Unfortunately they’re the exception, not the norm.

Men in Black 3 starts out assuming that you have seen all the previous movies and don’t need the introductions, the scenes that make this environment cool and give it texture. It assumes that what we really want is to explore the relationship between K and J. But MIB 3 shouldn’t have tried to trade off one for the other. And that is its big mistake.

Clearly MIB 3 had its problems. The production was shut down for a while and the script had too many writers, but never gelled into a true final product. There aren’t enough of the cool elements that people expected from this movie, the pacing rarely feels right and everyone seems a little bit tired. And all that is a shame because Men in Black 3 does have potential, it has a few wonderful moments and enough good work to make you see what it might have been.

Most people went in to Men in Black 3 expecting lots of aliens and gadgets in a New York City where all the weird people are really aliens. Instead they got a large dose of nostalgia, for the old MIB movies, the seventies and for Tommy Lee Jones. They got a story that was less about aliens and more about Will Smith’s J finding his father.

Why the Hobbit Trilogy is a Disaster

Warner Brothers loves money. Peter Jackson loves money too. I can’t blame them because I also like money and candy and trains that go really fast. But The Hobbit isn’t about those things and it’s not a trilogy. It’s not even two movies, but now it’s being turned into three movies.

The Hobbit

“So you’re saying we’re going to have to make three movies to pay for all this?”

There’s nothing wrong with making a single children’s book into a three film epic that can’t be fixed by making it into a single movie instead.

Peter Jackson is justifying the decision to rape The Hobbit and the childhoods of some 90 year old men by claiming that J.R.R. Tolkien would have wanted it this way. And I know that’s true. If there was one thing that Tolkien loved and trusted it was Hollywood. Also the Huns. And I think the old man was in love with modern technology.

But what does a three film Hobbit really mean?

Have you seen the three Lord of the Rings movies? It’ll be like that, except with a much poorer story. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies already went too ensemble and diminished Frodo’s role and Gandalf’s role.

The Hobbit trilogy will do the same thing to the max. It’ll go as ensemble as it can to show us all the other stuff going on. Cut from Frodo riddling with Gollum to show us Gandalf leading the dwarves away and the Goblin king’s son vowing revenge for his death and then cut to what’s going on in Mirkwood and the Dale.

Obviously we’re going to need a female warrior in this, because girl power! So maybe work in Rohan or just bring in a female warrior elf. The only people who will care are nerds and they’ll be drowned in wankfic about L’io’rasalluma, the new female elf who can backflips and rescues Bilbo seven times before the trilogy is over and Gandalf once.

Oh sure that probably won’t happen. Except no, it totally will. Unless you think Jackson and Warner Brothers hired Lost’s Evangeline Lilly and flew her out to New Zealand just to spend two days shooting a scene or two as Bilbo encounters Galadriel. No Lilly won’t be playing Galadriel, she’ll be playing Tauriel.

“She is a warrior. She’s actually the head of the Elven guard. She’s the big shot in the army. So she knows how to wield any weapon, but the primary weapons that she uses are a bow and arrow and two daggers. And she’s lethal and deadly.”

…because Girl Power!

Now I don’t object to girl power, but The Hobbit is not a story where the characters are expert weapon wielders and spend a lot of time kicking ass. It’s a book about a Hobbit who goes nervously on an adventure with some dwarves and a mysterious wizard.

The Hobbit is not going to be THE HOBBIT TRILOGY because there’s no room for that small quiet story in the belly of the horrible epic trilogy beast. The Hobbit is going to be drowned in the epicness of WB and Jackson making their money.

What Peter Jackson and Co. will do is make up their own poor copy of Lord of the Rings, wedge it into The Hobbit story, make the whole trilogy as epic as possible with more monsters and battles. It’ll be like Clash of the Titans but with some hobbit stuff thrown in.

Jackson will expand the conflict at the end of the book and stretch it out through the whole movie, find ways to bring in Mordor, and a ton of monsters and references from the Tolkienverse to play up to fans. And then instead of Gandalf tricking the Trolls into arguing and turning to stone; Tauriel will leapfrog over them, shoot one with her bow, stab another one with her dagger and then set a First Edition of The Hobbit on fire… because that’s what the Hobbit trilogy is really about.

Here’s a thought.

Maybe Peter Jackson and the WB can drop that Hobbit name which doesn’t really communicate epicness and rename the trilogy to something cooler. Like “Clash of the Hobbits”. No, still too Hobbity. Okay, “Clash of the Titans.”

Yeah that works. And it’s what J.R.R. Tolkien would have wanted.

The SyFy Channel is All Ghosts, All Crap, All the Time

Remember when there was once a Science Fiction network? Isn’t that so weird. An entire cable channel dedicated entirely to Science Fiction.

syfy show
Good news ghost fans, that channel has since been banished and was renamed SyFy and now has all ghosts all the time.

We talked before about how the SyFy Channel completely abandoned Science Fiction to just air crappy knock off Reality shows non-stop and we talked about why the SyFy Channel decided to abandon Science Fiction programming.

But the incredible thing is that the SyFy Channel is now basically all-ghosts all-the-time.

SyFy has “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files”, “Ghost Hunters”, “Ghost Hunters International” , “Ghost Mine”, “Haunted Highway”, “Haunted Collector”, “Paranormal Witness”, “School Spirits” and “Destination Truth”.

The latest episode of Destination Truth is…. “The Ghosts of Cannibal Village”. It’s like the title of the perfect SyFy movie, except there won’t be any ghosts or cannibals. Just a moron in khaki trying to make up stories in his spookiest voice before going back to his hotel in Fiji.

How desperate is SyFy for this crap? It’s making crappy knock-off shows out of its crappy knock-off shows which it stole from less crappy knock-off shows of popular shows on other channels.

Let’s take “School Spirits”, the latest SyFy offering for the mentally retarded.

School Spirits will tell true ghost stories of hauntings that have happened at schools across the country. The stories will be told in first person narratives through the testimonials of real students, teachers, parents and staff that have encountered the paranormal activity, blended with bone-chilling cinematic reenactments to further bring the haunting experiences to life.

So School Spirits is like every other show on the SyFy Channel, except it’s narrowed down to schools. What’s next? “7-11 Spirits”? Nah needs a Hollywood angle. “Spirits of Make Up”. Authentic makeup artists will discuss their stories of being haunted by ghosts with actual reenactments we did for 50 cents in the back of a 7-11.

But the SyFy Channel is not actually all ghosts all the time. It’s just 90 percent ghosts. Then there’s brand new original programs like this.

Hot Set – From the producers of Syfy’s hit series Face Off, Hot Set is an extreme design challenge pitting two Hollywood production designers each week in a head-to-head battle to design, build, decorate and ultimately create an original and signature movie set that transports the viewer into an immersive world.

If you need a better explanation for why SyFy is such a worthless shitpile now, consider this.

The SyFy Channel could order programs that feature makeup and sets as vehicles for telling a story. Instead they order shows where the whole point of the show is creating a set and doing makeup. That’s like cancelling COPS and ordering a TV series about cameras.

Some SyFy executive must have interrupted his couch casting session for one minute and said, “Hey, we’re ordering all these shows with makeup and sets in them. Why not make shows about makeup and sets?”

I don’t know if SyFy can get any cheaper and trashier, but here’s my proposal.

“Ghost Network”

Ghost Network will tell true ghost stories of hauntings that have happened at SyFy’s offices and on the sets of its award winning shows about ghosts. The stories will be told in first person narratives through the testimonials of real executives, coke dealers, directors, former prostitutes, enslaved children, best boys and assorted homeless people pretending to be ghosts who encounter actual ghosts, blended with bone-chilling cinematic reenactments of people pretending to encounter ghosts who encounter actual ghosts who turn out to be people pretending to encounter ghosts who think they’re encountering ghosts to further bring the haunting experiences to life.

CNBC Goes Full Reality Trash TV

In a bad economy financial news networks have less options. With mobile internet, no one is really watching tickers on news networks anyway. That just leaves endless coverage streams which are less interesting to pros and more interesting to amateurs who have less market dabbling money anyway.

the new cnbc

the new cnbc

So what is CNBC doing?

It’s doing the same thing every other cable network that was once dedicated to something specific like history, science, animals or science fiction is doing. It’s putting on the same manufactured reality shows where people pretend to scream at each other for 30-60 minutes.

How original is CNBC’s slate of warmed over Discovery megacrapworks programming?

“American Steel” takes you deep inside the world of competitive car flippers where “motor head” Joe Petralia and “money head” Jay Weinberg find, fix and flip classic and muscle cars. With the economy struggling, each transaction represents one more big risk for the owners who have to fight to keep their once multi-million dollar business afloat.

The housing market plunge has created big opportunities for folks who are willing to strap on a tool belt and take a gamble. “Flipping Wars: Vegas,” set in the city hardest hit by the housing crisis, follows four teams of wheeler dealers who see dollar signs every time they bid on a foreclosed home.

I would rather professionally chase goats than watch a Reality show, and even I know these are warmed over copies of Reality shows that have been done elsewhere with a slight twist to tie them into the financial arena that CNBC is supposed to be covering.

Does adding Reality shows to its slate kill CNBC’s last credibility? Probably, but CNBC clearly doesn’t care because no one is watching anyway.

CNBC’s current slate American Greed, a show that profiles major scam artists. It’s on Season 5 and you probably didn’t even know it existed. That’s representative of its current trashy prime time programming with shows like Crime Inc, How I Made My Millions and Prince$$.

Everybody knows a Princess: that outrageous friend or family member who keeps on living a fabulous life … even as their debt piles up and other people foot the bill.

Well, it’s time to grow up – and get real!

In the second season of Princess, Gail Vaz-Oxlade – host of the hit series Til Debt Do Us Part – tackles the newest generation of spoiled spenders. Over a four-week period, Gail takes away these Princess’ credit cards, puts them on a cash diet and challenges them to start achieving their goals.

I want to unknow the existence of Prince$$, but I can’t. Now you can’t either. But quasi-trash wasn’t good enough so CNBC is going full reality trash instead.

This identity crisis can’t last. CNBC can’t pretend to do serious business coverage during the day while airing this crap after once the sun goes down.

Cable companies are upset about losing subs and sure the bad economy is to blame, but when you’re paying for 40 channels, 30 of which show the same Reality shows, with a slight change, why would you waste the money?

Now that’s financial advice you can’t get on Prince$$.

Ads, Ads Everywhere

We’re used to seeing movie ads on little stickers on oranges, but then someone thought it would be really clever to stick ads on dry cleaning bags, because it’s one of the few surfaces on earth not covered in ads.

suits the ad

Suits the ad

And it’s in an ad for Suits, the cable show, on a dry cleaning bag holding suits, that must be even cleverer.

The internet has helped accelerate a process that leads to wrap around ads in every single place, real or virtual.

Every business is slowly figuring out that any space that interacts with the human visual field and isn’t by necessity covered in something already can be sold for ads.

There will be ads on MetroCards and I’m surprised that it took this long. Soon there will be ads on credit cards. If the economy gets worse, we can have ads on money to help preserve the face value of money. There will be ads on garbage trucks and fire engines and cop cars.

The next time you see a cop car race by, sirens blazing, it will have an ad on its doors reminding you to watch Rookies or Precinct 77. The next time a fire engine arrives it will have a sign on the side. “Where’s the fire? Drop and roll over to REI sporting goods for gear that can take the heat.”

The ad subsidized model can keep going. Want a Blu Ray Player for 100 bucks less? It will feature 40 percent more ads. Want to buy that winter coat for half price? Just buy one with an ad on the back for home heating.

The future is here and it’s brought to you by Suits. A TV show about men who wear suits. Or maybe an alien race of Suits who take over human bodies to colonize the earth.

See despite seeing all the ads for Suits and writing an entire post inspired by one such ad, I have no idea what the show is about. And I don’t care, even though it would take me 5 seconds to find out.

Advertising works!

Library Porn vs Library Books

It’s a story as old as time. Library has patrons browsing porn on library computers. Other patrons complain about the porn. Library solves problem by installing some kind of privacy hoods on computers that will make porn users feel like Darth Vader and frighten off any complaining patrons.

library porn

the old Times Square… now at your Library

In all the tireless debate over whether people have the right to look at porn in a library or not, no one asks whether libraries should really be spending money on porn terminals during hard times. And forget the porn thing.

When I walk into a library, it’s mostly people checking Facebook and playing Farmville or some other Zynga clickety click crap.

Last month I asked whether the transformation of the New York Public Library from book depot to teen hangout with Farmville stations really served its core mission?

I refused to support NYPL’s latest begging letter campaign because I see it eliminating book departments like crazy while buying laptops to loan out so people can play Farmville and watch porn. That’s not what a library is. Science Fiction sections have been eliminated or moved as far as possible in many libraries. And books are a library’s core mission.

the modern library

One guy watching porn, one guy playing a Zynga game. One guy watching FOX News. Who needs books anyway?

I’m sorry if some people don’t have a computer at home that they can use to play Farmville or watch porn. Maybe they can make their own Kickstarter. But if a library is going to have computers, they should be research terminals.

There’s no reason why funds should be diverted from books to subsidizing Farmville\Porn habits. And putting it special terminals for porn watching turns a library into the old Times Square. What’s next bringing in strippers to the reserved books section?

Moments like this are a wake up call for library and city officials who have to decide whether they want libraries to be places to find books or not.

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