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Straw Dogs, Then and Now

Straw Dogs was one of the movies that it made the least sense to remake. But if you do remake it, swapping out Dustin Hoffman for James Marsden makes even less sense, not just from the acting angle, but because putting a guy who plays comic book superheroes into a suit and sticking glasses on him is just a pose. Having Dustin Hoffman go violent was a game changer. Having James Marsden do it is no biggie.

Going from England to American hicks makes it an even bigger cliche and you end up with something that looks a lot like a hundred other movies. The undertone of contempt in the relationship is also missing. So the real question then is why bother.

Were there are a lot of people who wanted to see a remake of Straw Dogs? I doubt there’s anyone who saw Straw Dogs, who wanted to see a remake of Straw Dogs. It’s like a remake of 2001 or Taxi Driver (I’m sure that’s coming) except that’s way more obscure. And if you’re going to make a generic thriller loosely based on a famous movie, what’s the market for it? There isn’t one.

Is ‘R’ the New ‘NC-17’

A lot of factors are getting the blame for Conan’s failure, but an obvious point is its R rating. The day of the R rated action movie when out with Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. They still get made, some even do acceptable numbers, but they usually don’t have 90 million dollar budgets.

The R Rated movie is still around, but as comedies, where the grossout is the new joke. Or the old joke, ever since the Farrelly Brothers helped turn comedies into a race to put the most disgusting bodily function possible on screen. And that’s where the R rated box office still hangs out in movies like Hangover, Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher. And the Apatow class stoner comedy.

In the distance is teenage horror, which is not exactly on fire lately, movies like Fright Night, Final Destination 5 and Scream 4. The rest don’t even show up. The occasional artsy pic can still be R rated, but they’re not much of a risk, and The King’s Speech, which was a big box office hit still got recut later to bring in more audiences.

Making Conan an R-Rated movie wasn’t much of a risk back in 1982. Making the sequel to it anything less than an R was the bad idea. But an R-rated 90 million dollar action movie is a major risk today. 300 pulled it off and Conan was hoping for some of that same box office.

R Rated movies still get made, but they’re usually a lower risk and a smaller investment. If they go big, they go big. If they don’t, money isn’t lost.

Are Comic Books Dead?

Sure the theaters are plastered with comic book movies. The Marvel and DC line are being thrown out into theaters all summer. But that’s just Hollywood’s desperation for IP’s to build blockbusters around. When WB bought DC and Disney bought Marvel, it was an IP sale. The studios would get properties. And what happens to DC and Marvel?

The comic book industry has been shaky for a while. And it’s only getting shakier. The average age for comic book readers is climbing. Many of the major titles are just not that accessible to younger readers. One in four comic book readers is over 65. Not exactly the image of the kid grabbing a comic from the rack and consuming it along with soda pop. Those kids are sometimes still reading comics, they just happen to be a lot older now. And the actual kids, much less so.

The industry is blaming the usual suspects. Piracy. Which might be a factor, but piracy hasn’t stopped the movie industry and games from having booming sales. But it doesn’t take much to see the real problem.

Comic books have the same problems as books and TV shows. Competition. Back when comic books emerged as a powerhouse, its competitors were black and white movies and radio shows. Now they’re competing against games and the mobile life.

Top that off with an industry that’s oriented to middle aged men. Comic books are expensive and involved. They cater more to older audiences than younger ones. Think of JMS’s bright idea to have Superman address the economic recession or the whole insane Batman Inc thing.

The levels of violence have been climbing, the dark stories and the gimmicks. Kill Superman, kill Batman, roll back Spiderman, then kill off Spiderman. It all smacks of desperation.

Comics connected with large audiences because they offered escapism and adventure. Now they offer addicts another issue to buy, read and then complain about.

Bioware Sucks

Let’s get it all out there. Bioware sucks. Why?

1. Bioware has been making the same game since 2003. Further back if you count the development time. Kotor, Jade Empire, Mass Effect and Dragon Age are all the same game with different characters and settings. Sure they’re all good games, but they’re all the same good game. The same RPG lite approach, cutscenes, group of wacky characters you get to know along the way with different powers and engine that can’t handle you trying to walk on the grass. The same game since 2003.

2. The gimmicks are all old. The enemy who turns out to be a front for the real enemy. The mentor who turns out to be your enemy. The companions who turn on you forcing a showdown. The companions who make you choose which of them is going to die. The dark secrets of your companions. It was innovative in its time, but it’s all been done over and over again. Imagine Black Isle’s rep if it had just made Fallout, a game that played like Fallout but was set in a medieval fantasy land, a game that played like Fallout but was set in space, etc.

3. DLC, DLC and more DLC.

4. Pathetic attempts at social relevance. Remember playing Neverwinter Nights and finding a tribe of natives being attacked with poisoned blankets? That was embarrassing but Dragon Age 2 has material just as embarrassing. There’s a smart way to do social commentary and there’s the bonk you over the head with it way. Bioware goes the bonk way.

5. They’re not games, they’re interactive movies. If the earlier Bioware games were choose your own adventures, games like Mass Effect 2 or Dragon Age 2 are just geared to showing you their cutscenes in between combat. Your choices are narrowly limited to sitting through what the designers want you to sit through. Bioware designers call that storytelling, but it strips away user agency for designer wankfests.

6. Consolization. Bioware is aiming heavily at the console market and stripping away the more interactive elements. Less customization and more handholding. A streamlined experience with no soul. Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2 shows what happens when they try to adapt their formula to the console. The story goes by the wayside and the focus becomes on combat and cutscenes that mostly play out the same way whatever you do.

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.

SyFy Weasel Craig Engler Pens Weasel Letter

You know canceling Stargate Universe might have been more defensible if SyFy actually had Science Fiction shows on its schedule, and I don’t mean Small Town Where Wacky Stuff Happens or Mysterious Warehouse or British Show We Ordered Because It Has a Good Looking Vampire and We Know That’s Hot Now. I mean Science Fiction.

But it’s not. SyFy is not in the Science Fiction business, it’s in the Reality Show business. It’s in the ghost show business, the wrestling business, the cooking show business and the pawn stars business. Not the Science Fiction business. So go ahead and shovel it on.

If we didn’t like science fiction we simply wouldn’t have made SGU. It’s because we like science fiction that we tried it. Even though SGU was ultimately unsuccessful, we don’t regret trying it.

Seriously, say that with a straight face. You made SGU because it was part of a well known franchise that did well enough. Craig admits that the show was only ordered because of that. If SGU had been named Destiny Flies Through Space. It would never have gotten an order.

And no you don’t like Science Fiction. Your schedule proves it.

Science fiction shows are the backbone and lifeblood of our network, and we have many in development.

Yeah you have a cooking show, two antiques roadshow shows, two behind the scenes of film shows, wrestling, two shows about finding relics and a ton of shows about ghosts. Your backbone and lifeblood are crap.

Later this year we’ll be debuting Alphas, the Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome pilot is being worked on as you read this, the movie Red Faction starring Stargate Universe‘s Brian Jacob Smith will air next month

Craig Engler proves his love for Science Fiction by citing their version of Mutant X, a third Battlestar Galactica reboot spinoff (after they canceled the second one) and a video game movie. Does Engler think viewers are retarded? Obviously.

SyFy ordered more ghost shows than Science Fiction shows. And I don’t mean shows about ghosts, but shows where people run around with cameras shrieking that they felt the temperature drop because they lost their last traces of dignity doing this.

5 of our original dramas will return with new seasons or new episodes this year, and we’re working on many more behind the scenes.

Like the Wrestling/Global Myths/Cooking show. It’s called Wrestling with Quantum Archeology. Or the exciting Science Fiction epic. Sharkopolus meets Octosaur.

We would have happily kept making SGU regardless of anything else on our schedule if the ratings were sustainable. We don’t discontinue successful shows to make room for other shows … no network does because no network has a full roster of successful series. SGU was judged solely on its own ratings.

Does the name Farscape ring any bells? Yes I thought it did.

Stargate Universe was canceled because SyFy thinks it can make more money making lamer versions of History Channel shows. And they’re probably right.

The TV Purges Continue

If 2010 was the year of the mercy bubble renewal, 2011 is the year of the mercy killing. Or the merciless killing. Chuck has been saved, but NBC has killed Law and Order Los Angeles and The Event. And David E. Kelley’s Wonder Woman may never air, even though it had all the hype on its side, and it was probably the most covered new series. But most of the talk was bad, that showed interest.

Still NBC wisely chose not to take the chance on an expensive series. But then why put a guy who mainly knows how to do shows about people screaming at each other, in charge of developing a superhero series. Sure Ally McBeal, but that was a terrible show. NBC thought Kelley could give them a superhero series that would cross over well with women. Maybe if it came with a time machine back the 90’s.

What is clear is that the networks are cleaning house in a big and aggressive way. CBS did it last year. NBC and FOX are doing it this year. There’s too much deadwood around and both networks are not where they should be.

Skype is Dead

Well why not, Microsoft has a lot of money and no idea what to do with it. Analysts are claiming there’s a plan. I doubt it. I think it’s Microsoft buying up a company to buy the company. It will botch any attempt at integration and kill Skype in the bargain. Sure there’s an upside. At least AOL isn’t buying Skype. If that happened, Skype would really be toast. Instead Skype will probably be renamed Microsoft Live Sky Connect or something like that and hang around. Skype integration on sites will be oversold. Skype integration on XBox, maybe. Mobile Skype, in a smarter company maybe. But Skype was already flailing. A great product looking a little unbalanced in the mobile wave. The sale will put money in everyone’s pockets and give Skype a weak sendoff into the wild blue digital yonder.

The End of the Movie is Here

The end is here and its name is on demand movies. Forget the days when movies lingered for months in theaters. That’s already getting rarer. And it’s about to go extinct with a plan by the big four, WB, Fox, Universal and Sony to give DirectTV streaming rights on new releases 60 days later. The theaters are threatening boycotts, but how do you boycott the major studios and still have movies to show.

The development was inevitable. Movies are now expected to make most of their money in 2 or 3 weeks. Few movies stick around longer than 6 weeks and by then they’re making pocket money. A few million if they’re lucky. A few hundred thou if they’re not. The formula is a big opening weekend and then everyone goes home. Oscar worthy pics may get a boost later on, but that’s the rare exception. Indies stick around but the big studios aren’t big on the indie business now.

Theater owners are seeing red. Major investments in 3D and digital in partnership with studios were supposed to keep them all fat and happy. But the business model is bad.

Theaters and studios both complain they’re losing money. Even with studios covering promotion costs and theaters taking home a big percentage of the box office, theaters are not on solid ground. And studios are starting to look at theaters as one venue among many. It’s not a smart move when little divides them from just making video that can be streamed anywhere, but maybe it is.

TV licensing has always been big business, but that’s a fading business. Direct TV’s model promises a new era, or the death of the old one. With DVD sales in the toilet thanks to the big HD-DVD/Blu-Ray battle and the rise of internet content delivery, they’ve got to try something. The dwindling release window is leading to cannibalization. And that is going to force theaters away from the movie and toward more experimentation with premium concert and sports content.


Slate praises Time Warner as buccaneers for streaming cable to iPad’s via an app, but it’s more like desperate piracy. I can’t feel much sympathy for Time Warner, which would have none if anyone had streamed its cable offerings that way without permission. And Viacom has a point. Time Warner cable was supposed to be in the cable business, not in the Hulu business.

For customers this is probably a win-win. If Time Warner wins, then Viacom and everyone else will have no choice but to stream on their own, creating a crazy competitive environment. But odds are that it will be settled with Time Warner ponying up more and reaching an agreement with Viacom on what programming is restricted and what isn’t.

Time Warner is squeezed by the need to provide added value to cable customers who don’t think of cable as the end all anymore. Streaming to mobile device can help make cable look relevant again. And prevent customer defections.

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