Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hobbit 3: Peter Jackson's Freestyle Round

Just a sample of the non-stop, overlapping action that is most
of Battle of the Five Armies.
The Hobbit: Battle of The Five Armies was seen Monday night in crisp 48 HFR 3D.

Peter Jackson is much like a big kid with a huge Middle-Earth action play set. having dispensed for the most part with the events of the original novel in the first two movies, he gets to stretch out on the final battle scenes with greatly extended action sequences. His sense of cinematic place and direction is a good as ever, though, and the thousands of little CG soldiers on the screen never lose a sense of coherent action. And the ending is quite satisfying and presented without having to resort to the 6 endings of the last Lord of the Rings movie-- just one tidy ending, thank you.

Then again, the action on-screen versus the content of the original novel created a strange narrative situation where Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) the titular hero of the film, disappears from the narrative for long stretches of time. I'm reminded of the third Matrix movie, where Neo disappears for most of a movie in which he is the putative savior.

Point-to-point:

• I only counted four armies. My issue probably lies with Tolkien, not Jackson.

Tauriel, cute as an elf.
• Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel was by far my favorite character. Yes, I know she was an entirely whole-cloth, non-canonical character. But her presence is important: added to the movie version to correct Tolkien's paternalism and give us a break from looking at an endless succession of hairy faces.

We also get something sorely needed in big action franchises like this: a love story. Sure, Tauriel the silvan elf may have been invented to prevent it from being the sausage fest of the original book, but it's welcome. She falls for Kili the dwarf, fully two heads shorter than her, but their love-at-first-sight relationship carries resonance-- and this is a welcome break from the general tones of madness, hate and manly stoicism embodied by everybody else in the film.

 A lot of this has to do with Evangeline Lily. She was the best thing about "Lost:" a soulful, loving yet complex and hermetic character in a cast of caricatures and cyphers. Lilly is a remarkably expressive actor and the only shame is she hasn't been in more movies. Tauriel gets to show love and loss and longing in a keener and more immediate way than anyone else in the entire trilogy. It's either a complement to Peter Jackson's skills as storyteller-- or an anodyne, in that he cannot conceive of anyone capable of having softer emotional connections than a-- shudder-- female character.

• You can tell the various races of creatures in this film-- in all the Rings and Hobbit films-- by how they appear after a little wear and tear. Hobbits (Bilbo at least) and Wizards get completely filthy: in fact, the wizard Radegast the Brown has shown up in all three Hobbit movies with a wad of dried bird shit stuck to his head. Humans and Dwarves are sort of grungy all the time, never too clean or too dirty. Elves-- the overachievers of Middle Earth-- never have a hair out of place or a smudge on their clothes. Orcs are similarly neat, all things considered: the lead Orcs wear little bits of armor and show a lot of skin, and would not look out of place in a Pride parade.

• The HFR process: Much improved of the first Hobbit movie. It might be the outdoorsy settings overall, but the scenes seem brighter and more colorful than the dark, washed-out first installment. The 3D was remarkably restrained and natural-looking: There were only a few gimmicky shots of falling stones and billowing flame and whatnot. Whatever Peter Jackson's tech folks needed to do to get the look of 48-frame-per-second to not look like video gloss, they did it.

Peter Jackson, Tolkien: It's been a hell of a ride. The first film series raised the bar for fantasy films forever. The last three, while somewhat under-stuffed and not quite as novel as the first three, are still deserving of all the success they have reaped. If this is Jackson's victory round, he can and should be allowed to freestyle a bit.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Weekend Box Office Report



The color drained out, to express the bleakness of the winter season. Thanks and Kudos to BoxofficeMojo.com!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Weekend Box Office Report





Don't let this picture discourage you from using a good camera instead of a smart phone. However, you might want to consider it off limits for selfies.



Thanks to Box Office Mojo, as usual!

Friday, December 19, 2014

North Korea Now Runs Hollywood

The Sony Pictures hacking and shut-down of the release of The Interview is the first truly successful cyber-attack-- and one of the most remarkable events in media history.

This is not the first time this has happened: In 1976, an extremist group staged an attack in Washington, DC to prevent the release of Mohammad: Messenger of God. They believed (without having seen the film) that Anthony Quinn was playing The Prophet on-screen, a depiction forbidden by Islamic law. He wasn't, of course-- but the premiere got pulled and the movie never recovered.

As a cyber-attack, the timing and roll-out was breathtakingly effective. They got into Sony's system via stolen admin passwords, pulled out every juicy document and let Gawker and TMZ do the rest. Only after the damage was done did the hackers state their intentions: Cancel The Interview, or else. Distributors freaked out and cancelled bookings: Sony was so demoralized by then they just went ahead and pulled it. I would not be surprised that we find out later that there were direct extortion attempts between the hackers and Sony execs even before the leaks started.

All you see of Mohammad in this film
is the end of his camel-driving stick.
This is one long bad event for everyone it has touched: Bad for Sony Pictures and everyone mentioned in every catty email. Bad for Hollywood in general. Bad for free speech. Bad for the US government, which needs to create a proportional response to this attack. It's even bad for North Korea, who did the goddamned thing in the first place-- and will catch hell for it. Point-to-point:

• The behavior of Sony Pictures in this whole episode has been nothing short of completely typical Hollywood: Fearful, herd-following and craven. Obama himself said canceling the release of The Interview was a mistake. Craven-- but not out of character.

The Interview is now fully and officially buried: All press materials and trailers have been withdrawn from public access. The hackers got everything they asked for, and then some. People are calling Sony spineless for caving to an unseen, unknown hacker threat, but really I see no deviation from how Hollywood usually works. As an example, it came to light today that Paramount has ordered the next Star Trek movie reworked to be more like, you know, Guardians of the Galaxy. Yikes.

The socialist-realist style poster for The Interview.
hilarious.
In a perfect world, a world where the brave people stand courageously for their principles (like most of the characters in the comic book movies that are keeping the lights on in most Hollywood studios) Sony would have told the hackers to fuck off, and seen-- as most of us can conclude-- that the threats to moviegoers had no real credibility, and released the film. But even if these feckless execs grew spines, the movie was doomed: Sony does not control distribution. Theater chains have everything to lose and nothing to gain if something bad happens during a screening of The Interview. Imagine if it actually got released-- it would be a field day for every lone dumbshit out there to call in a bomb threat for the sheer fun of it.

• Seth Rogen and James Franco are going to lose most of their shot-calling power for this. They'll still be in movies, but I sincerely doubt if they will have any juice to get anything greenlighted for quite a long time, if ever. All this over a film that early reviews and pre-release reviews called a mediocre and unfunny comedy. It's a shame-- not because they're amazing, magical talents (they aren't) but because the movie that will stunt their careers was so inconsequential.

• This is all and entirely North Korea's doing (maybe with the help of some paid proxies in China, which has experience in such things). But: why do this? Why risk an international incident and retaliation over some dumb comedy with weak prospects? There are two possible reasons:

Scene from The Interview where Kim Jong-un
(Randall Park) gets immolated. quite the laugh riot, no?
1. Western media is easier to access in North Korea than ever. Which means that it is quite possible for the wretched masses toiling under the ruling regime to get a chance to see this film-- a comic take on the assassination of Kim Jong-un. If this regime is in a vulnerable state, even something as frivolous as The Interview could upset the fragile ruling junta.

2. Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea who is the target of assassination in this film, is a movie buff. In his youth he would sneak into Japan to go to Disneyland. He knows how powerful movies can be-- and he probably took this film as a sort of personal betrayal.

But why would a sovereign nation even bother to instigate a hack on a private company to specifically force a lame-looking comedy film to go dark?  Because Kim Jong-un isn't Hitler or Stalin or even Mao: He's Tony Soprano. As the late Christopher Hitchens observed, North Korea is run by a "militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people." Extortion isn't what nations tend to do-- but it is exactly what gangsters do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Weekend Box Office Figures





Your tongue shall dig your grave, BoxOffice Mojo!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks and a tip of the hat (virtual) to Box Office Mojo

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Weekend Box Office Figures





Thanks to Box Office Mojo, just for still being available!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Quantum Meditations on Interstellar


The rotating black hole where a lot of the action
in Interstellar takes place. In the film several habitable worlds
orbit the thing: In reality this thing would have
an accretion disc scintillating with gamma radiation.
Not the most comfy neighbor.

Alright, I FINALLY got out and saw Christopher Nolan's latest epic. Went out and caught an 11:30 p.m. Screening in 70mm IMAX, in fact. I admit I am reacting the way several of my friends did to it: I'm very impressed by the spectacle, the visuals, and the ideas behind it, but at the same time I'm sawing back and forth between thinking it is a brilliant film and it's nonsensical hooey.

Set in a near future where a blight is destroying food crops, Matthew McConaughey is a farmer/retired astronaut who is brought (by some mysterious processes) into piloting a mission to find a new world for humanity's survival. There is wonderful stuff to be seen, beautiful stark alien worlds, impressive sets and fine acting all around.

I'm going to points early with this one:

Interstellar versus 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 is a film about cold, rational protagonists, a crazy computer and distant, mysterious aliens. Interstellar is a film about warm, emotionally driven protagonists, warm, friendly computers, a crazy human villain, and distant but very helpful aliens. In this way it hews nothing like 2001 and a bit too closely to Contact, complete with Matthew McConaughey.

• One of the intrepid astronauts is Anne Hathaway as Brand, dark eyes and short hair and not a lot of smiling. She does a great job in this film, but If I were to condense the second act of Interstellar I'd say it is driven by two HUGE mistakes-- both based on some poor decision-making by Brand.

Poster For NEW, John Harden's short film.
That's me in the credits!
• I just finished supervising the visual effects for a short film called NEW directed by John Harden. Had it's premiere in Healdsburg last week, in fact, quite the wonderful occasion. (Thanks, everyone.) I think anyone who has ever made an indie film or short has to deal with the zeitgeist effect: the way near-identical themes can pop up in movies or other works that are otherwise completely disconnected. There is a whole segment near the end of Interstellar that is nearly note-for-note the same as one in NEW-- so much so I found myself saying “what the hell?” out loud. Strange-- but it may bolster some of the theories this film expounds on extra-dimensional connectedness.

• This is one of the few times where the musical score (by Hans Zimmer) drowned out the dialog. It happened quite a few times. There was enough score for several Christopher Nolan films, IMO.

• One of the central themes of Interstellar is the redeeming and mysterious aspects of love. Love, apparently, is an emotion which exists, and can travel at, a higher dimension, like gravity. The theory that there are forms of matter that interact with our three-dimensional universe only through gravity, like dark matter, is prominent. The love thing is as yet unproven-- though I HOPE it can.

David Brooks of the New York Times said a frisson of fundamentally opposed ideas-- love and science-- is what imparts a strong mystical feeling to Interstellar. I have to agree. It's a film that derives it's inventive energy from meditations on matter, space, time, life, death and love. All profound stuff. But when read against the grain, Interstellar is also about the struggle of two worldviews: Science and Storytelling. Kip Thorne (the physicist who is also executive producer) is pushing hard science: singularities and the arrow of time and gravity are major players in the film. On the the hand is Christopher Nolan and the forces of Hollywood narrative film, which demands a story based on the human condition. We see it all: Love in all it's forms (family, romantic, even love of humanity), big hugs, Jessica Chastain crying a lot, heroes and villains, madness and selfless sacrifice. Hollywood needs the science to open up the story into the existential realms of theoretical physics and give it a unique feel. Science needs Hollywood to communicate abstract cosmological theories, as mind-blowing as they are, in a way that won't turn it into a dry lecture.

Brand (Anne Hathaway), about to make one of her several very
unfortunate bad calls. This is a nice look at a non-IMAX
scene in the film: scope bokeh, shallow focus.
• Seen in IMAX at the Metreon in San Francisco. The 70mm IMAX process was as good a way to see this film as possible. Nonetheless, it was not as good as it could have been: the image was dark, the colors were muted. I don't know if this was the result of a worn-out 14-Kilowatt IMAX projector bulb or if the film was post-corrected for a dark, monochromatic look. There was goddamn green horizontal emulsion scratch running along the bottom fifth of the screen: it reminds me that any attachment I may have to real film projection is sentimental, not practical. Christopher Nolan films in IMAX can be a little abrupt to watch: It switches from an anamorphic shallow-focus 2.35:1 wide scope frame to a super-tall, crystal-sharp 1.4:1 IMAX frame at unpredictable times. When the picture got big I found myself peering down towards the bottom of the immense screen: “Wow, lookit all that extra picture down there...”

••• SPOILER ••• question (which I'm softening to be as un-spoilerish as possible): like all good films of this genre, there is a frammis, a macguffin in the last half of Interstellar, an oft-stated, near-mystical dingus that is the key to the survival and success of everyone everywhere. We all know what it is-- but at no time do they say how it works. It's effects are so unexplainable it may as well be a big switch that gets flipped from “we're all doomed” to “everything's gonna be fine.” Anyone out there want to take a whack at this?

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Return of the Starlost

If memory serves, I've brought this up before -- it was hard being an SF fanboy in the seventies. Actually, it was great if you liked to READ science fiction. The genre was enjoying a resurgence, and the market was flooded with daring concepts and breathtaking prose experimentation. Among the leading lights was Harlan Ellison: provocateur, scrappy genius. He had just spearheaded a collection of short stories called Dangerous Visions, where he commisioned work from his colleagues that only had to follow one rule: write something so controversial that no sane publisher would greenlight it. It was successful enough that he brought out a 2nd volume a few years later.

If you weren't in the mood to read, on the other hand, man were you screwed. SF had an audience, that much was clear. Just a few years previous 2001: A Space Oddessey had run to sold-out and admittedly baffled audiences. Star Trek, a show which NBC had canceled but was playing in reruns, was getting better ratings than it had when it was new. But it was still considered a small fan base. And worse, you couldn't just order up costumes and sets off the rack, you had to design and build everything from scratch. It was more expensive than other entertainment and you stood less chance of luring audiences with it. This is a why SF in movies and on TV was almost always disappointing. It promised the parting of the Red Sea and delivered a fish tank bisected by a box lid.

It's for this reason that we were all excited to hear that Douglas Trumbull and a couple of other guys were going to produce a VERY expensive show called The Starlost to premiere in 1973. Trumbull had developed a system called "Magicam" a kind of early motion-control rig which allowed one camera for an actor on a green screen set and another synchronized to follow the same movements on a miniature set. The plan was to get the BBC to co-produce. Finally, quality SF! With that in mind they commissioned Harlon Ellison himself to write the first episode and show bible. With his retainer in hand, Ellison started kicking around ideas.

The show would be set on a vast starship, segmented in biodomes. On it, the survivors of our dead Earth, the last of the human race. But during it's long journey to a new world, there had been a catastrophe.  The starship had gone into emergency mode, locking down all the biodomes into their own  separate  worlds. The people in them, now generations removed from the original travelers, were unaware they were even on a space ship, let alone that there were things outside the domes.

Oh and the ship was on a collision course with a star and no one knew how to pilot it.

The show would follow the adventures of a trio of friends who learned the truth and were going from dome to dome, trying to avert the catastrophe.

In the months leading up to shooting, the producers promised a kind of epic quasi Star Trek, only with the added element of a ticking clock. And they were right on course until they got hit by a few  meteor showers of their own.

1. BBC said no thanks, not interested, thanks for your kind attention.
2. Writer's strike prevented Ellison from putting anything on paper.
3. Once the producers made a new deal to do the show in Canada and contracted for the use of sets, they realized that Magicam only worked about half the time. So they had these tiny sets that they couldn't use and full size sets that weren't really all the big.

They soldiered on. They hired Canadian talent, thus making the show Canadian, which meant the writer's guild had no jurisdiction there. Ellison wrote outlines for the episodes and a pilot, "Phoenix Without Ashes." Once he turned it in the producers revealed that instead of the lavish budget he had written around, the show was to cost the same as a typical hour of Canadian TV. Except that the lion's share of that money was going to star Kier Dullea, fresh from 2001 and sporting an impressive 70's porn 'stache.

You know the expression "talk is cheap?" One thing is for sure, it's a damn sight cheaper than action and special effects. Instead of an epic Star Trek, Starlost is like an Enterprise with a crew of three people, only instead of warping from one planet to another, they walk there. And with lead characters as good-looking, bland and colorless as Canadian entertainment itself.

Ellison was made to rewrite his pilot to accommodate the much lower budget. Between the urging to cut all the pricey elements and the demands to make it "more accessible" to viewers (yes, stupid enough for them) Ellison invoked a clause in the contract to take his name off the show. He is listed in the credits as "Cordwainer Bird".

16 episodes were produced, put into syndication, and pretty much vanished without a trace. The show itself wasn't nearly as interesting as the story behind it. In fact, Ben Bova, a sci-fi novelist and consultant for the hard science on Starlost, put out a thinly veiled roman-a-clef called The Starcrossed  which was, as I recall, pretty darn illuminating.

As illustrative as this tale is, I wouldn't have brought it up except now, on Roku, there is a Starlost channel. You can relive the excitement of growing up in the seventies, desperately wanting something  stimulating to watch, and getting the Starlost instead. I recommend it.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Weekend Box Office





thanks BoxOfficeMojo.com!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Night-Tinted Glasses: Snug's Revenge (review)

Night-Tinted Glasses: Snug's Revenge (review)



 I thought it would be fun to post this, mostly because of the phrase "huge of smile and fierce of eye" . And I'm in it, of course.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Weekend Box Office

I'm not even posting a video this week. Know what? There are NO NEW MOVIES in the top ten. Guardians Of the Galaxy took number one again.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to the BoxOfficeMojoFolk

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Weekend Box Office





Turtles love Boxofficemojo.com! Why? Can't imagine.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Weekend Box Office





Off like a Rocket! Thanks to Boxofficemojo for figures.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Weekend Box Office





Thanks to Box Office Mojo. man, many thanks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Weekend Box Office





now with exactly the same amount of boxofficemojo.com

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Weekend Box Office





You like figures? May I suggest boxofficemojo.com?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Weekend Box Office





Thanks boxofficemojo.com. For it all.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Weekend Box Office





Thanks to those Box Office Mojo fellahs

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Probably The Worst Idea For A TV Program That Ever Was

You kids today don't know how good you have it. This sentence will come to mean two things that contradict each other before I'm done with this post.

I have this book I bought in 1984 called Total Television, a thick paperbound catalog of every network show that had aired up until that time. It was fascinating, seeing every idea that someone in an office in New York had reviewed, evaluated, and ultimately greenlighted. "I think that could catch on with the viewing public. Here's some of our money. Chase your dream."

And indeed, some of these are great ideas - either lofty or lowbrow, they paid off. Gilligan's Island, for example. Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Star Trek. All In The Family.

Of course, it's a really thick book.

For every Star Trek there are a dozen U.F.Os. For every Gilligan's Island, a host of Dusty's Trails. And the annals of kid's television are strewn with plenty of ideas which seemed cool when you were a child but left you scratching your head as an adult: Pokemon, Space Ghost, Scooby Doo, Clutch Cargo. But poring over these capsule descriptions, one caught my eye. An idea so stunningly insane that I could not imagine how the man in the office in New York didn't hurl the show runner out of his 30th floor window. The show was called Super President.

Per Wikipedia:
The American President James Norcross (voiced by Paul Frees) is given superpowers as the result of a cosmic storm. The President now has increased strength and the Metamorpho-like ability to change his molecular composition at will to any form required (like granitesteelozonewater and even electricity). A hidden panel in the Oval Office allows him access to his secret base, a hidden cave beneath the "Presidential Mansion" (a somewhat modified White House). Super President travels either by using a futuristic automobile/aircraft/submarine called the Omnicar, or by using jets built into his belt.
So, again, he's a super hero whose SECRET COVER IDENTITY is the leader of the free world. And who is known as Super President. Even though he is the most scrutinized, photographed man on the planet, and even though periodically a flying car emerges from the basement of the White House, no one makes the connection.

And he has no moral problem with abandoning the leadership of our great nation to fight crime, usually with his fists. Admittedly he's not going after bank robbers -- it's usually aliens or mutants, but still. Make a choice, Sophie.

Even the 5-year-old behind Axe Cop would say this premise is implausible.

Poorly executed too but that's par for the course in sixties. "Limited Animation" was all they'd pay for then. As I say, you kids don't know how good you have it.

Which brings me to the other meaning of that complaint. I've been salivating for 30 years to see an episode of Super President. When I read about it, you see, there was no YouTube.  Now, there is.




"Come on Jerry, I want to be there when those locusts arrive!"

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Weekend Box Office





thanks you guys at boxofficemojo.com!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Weekend Box Office





Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo and all who sail her.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Weekend Box Office



boxofficemojo.com, I can't quite you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Weekend Box Office

Can't embed this week, but here's your report:

http://youtu.be/yaeHbVd2brI

Thanks to Box Office Mojo.

(Also, sorry it cuts off. Ran outta iPhone momory)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks, Boxofficemojo.com!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to boxofficemojo.com and nice weather.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Eurovision for American Dummies





Here's Jedward; and here's this years Austrian entry, Conchita Wurst.

** Flash update, day late and a euro short: Conchita won, thus proving what's mainstream nowadays.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to BoxofficeMojo.com, briefly glimpsed on camera this time!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to Boxofficemojo.com, barely visible behind me there.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to boxofficemojo.com, and America's great rail industry.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks you guys at Boxofficemojo.com!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to Box Office Mojo. For everything. ;)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo for the information.

Let me know if the ad bugs you.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Box office Mojo, thanks -- you know the drill

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to Box Office Mojo, pictured here

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to Box Office Mojo for the juicy numbers

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Weekend Box Office


Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo.com (breifly glimpsed in above video) for the figures

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to BoxOfficeMojo.com! You can't see them, but oh, they are there.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Thanks to the very reliable (more realiable than SOME PEOPLE I COULD NAME) boxofficemojo.com for background

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Who's a good provider of information about box office figures? YOU ARE, boxofficemojo.com! You are! Good boy.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Weekend Box Office



Happy New Year to the folk at BoxOfficeMojo! Without you I'm nothing!