Saturday, 29 November 2014

Strictly Business: Black Whyday?

Yesterday was Black Friday, and with it comes the usual stories of crowds going out of control trying to score those big bargains and the usual tut-tutting about how the obscene consumerism of shoppers marks the decline and inevitable fall of civilization. 
Traditional Black Friday Visual Gag

Actually, the behaviour of Black Friday shoppers is not because civilization is falling, it's because civilization has outpaced the wiring in the human brain.

The first thing you have to know is that the material plenty we enjoy today is an extremely recent development. For millions of years humans lived in conditions of extreme scarcity that would shock the people of modern "Third World" nations. Communications and travel ranged from extremely hard to practically impossible. Whether or not you ate, or starved depended almost entirely on the weather. Even if you were able to scrape together enough resources to live in relative comfort, and by that I mean warm, dry, and well fed, there was always the threat of some idiot with a club or sword coming to take it all away from you and use your head as a decoration.

That's the way the world worked for millennia. Eventually humanity figured some things out. First we went from hunting and gathering to farming. Then we began to gather into communities to protect ourselves from the idiots, but those communities ended up under the "protection" of guys with swords who now called themselves Kings.

This system lasted millennia and while life got slightly better, humanity's material existence still danced on the razor's edge. If it didn't rain enough, or rained too much, or rained at the wrong time, then everyone in the kingdom was going to starve.

Trade between kingdoms eased this slightly, but could only go so far because of a myth. This myth was that life was a zero sum game, which means that in order for someone to win, someone must lose.

This is true in board games, but in commerce it's positively destructive. This means that trade, which could have been a means to peaceful interaction, was often used as an excuse for war. If your neighbour has more grain than you, you don't trade your excess supply of grapes for it, you just send in an army and take their grain, using captive slave labour to get the work done.

This continued for even more millennia, and life for almost everyone was, as Hobbes' described it "nasty, brutish, and short." 

But it wasn't all darkness.

During the Renaissance certain small countries and city states people started to see commerce as a better way of getting resources than war. The idea of everybody winning in a business deal began to become a seed in the minds of humanity.

This led to competition between people, nations, and new "companies" which pushed new ideas and eventually new technology.

Then came the Industrial Revolution.

New developments in technology and manufacturing turned a lot of goods that were out of reach for the masses into everyday essentials. Suddenly the poor could afford to own a second shirt, or a pair of shoes AND a pair of boots, things only the landed gentry  and above could consider before.

Both capitalism and the study of economics began to evolve, pretty much simultaneously. Nations that embraced the products of commerce and competition began to saw their lifestyle creeping upward, slowly. The life of the average commoner in the 1800s was still closer to that of a commoner in Ancient Rome than it is to the life of a modern average schmo, but it was getting slightly better. 

Famines soon went from being the product of bad luck and bad weather to being the product of bad government agricultural/economic policies. This caused great social tumult as the peasantry was starting to see how people lived in other places and said "me too."

But the old myths of a zero-sum world still persist. Hampering many peoples, and development and prosperity was wildly uneven throughout the world. It also fuelled a lot of wannabe conquerors to use the new industrial technologies to waste lives and resources in pursuit of their primitive dreams.

The end of World War 2 caused a radical shift in how the world worked. North America boomed because its economy hadn't been bombed into the stone age. Prosperity grew and spread as many more nations opened up. The Green Revolution, led by scientist Norman Borlaug used science to take agriculture though an unimaginable paradigm shift, as the ability to transport fresh goods throughout the world took hold.

Technology rocketed skyward. Suddenly goods that used to be the purview of the wealthy, or even of governments, from clothing to computers suddenly became affordable to more and more people.

This means that us in the Developed World, have been living through an age of unprecedented material plenty. Famine in North America and Europe is now unheard of, when just a few decades years ago most of the world lived on the verge or in the depths of famine because of WW2 and/or the Cold War.

That means this age of plenty is just a blip. Imagine your arm representing human history. This age we live in, where so much is within the grasp of so many, would probably be the outer layer of skin cells on the tip of your middle finger.

That means the human brain has evolved to feel, deep down at our most primal level, that if we don't get something NOW, we will NEVER get it.

Retailers know that. That's why they go on and on about how "limited" the time or supplies for these sales are, even though they are getting longer and bigger every year. They're tapping into your brain, hitting that now or never button, and hoping you'll put them into the black for the year.

You can't really blame them, because if they didn't do it, they probably wouldn't be able to stay in business.

That's my theory, what's yours?

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1199: Trailer Trashing: Jurassic World

They released a trailer for the upcoming Jurassic World, continuing the saga of cloned dinosaurs run amok started by Stephen Spielberg in the 1990s. Let's look at the trailer:

Okay, we have Chris Pratt playing the hunky gamekeeper/dino-trainer/voice of reason, and Jessica Chastain Bryce Dallas Howard as the icy corporate chick who plays God and comes to reject the error of her ways when it unleashes chaos and death. They even have what appear to be trained raptors running alongside the cycle-riding Pratt, no doubt to save the day against the evil hybrid-dino.

Now I actually don't have a problem with the trained raptors. Much has been made about their intelligence in the Jurassic franchise, so it's not much of a stretch for someone to figure out how to train them.

What I do have a problem with is the unseen hybrid-dinosaur created by the Jurassic World scientists. Not so much with it's existence, no doubt the studio thought the franchise needed to go beyond the possibilities of nature for thrills, but I am worried about the excuse they're going to use in the film for why the lab-rats made a horrible monster.

Now there are two possible reasons for the scientists to create a new hybrid-dino. One sort of fits with the themes and concerns that were present at the franchise's creation. The other one is a tired cliche the studios love to trot out as an all purpose excuse for anyone to make a monster.

Let's deal with the cliche first.

The cliche is "We did it for the weapons division." Which means that they created a powerful, almost indestructible, and completely uncontrollable monster so that a defence contractor can sell them to the military.

This excuse first popped up in the movie Alien as the reason why the android Ash tried to force feed Ripley a back issue of People Magazine. They were allowed to get away with it because as a conceit it was new, and it fit with the dark image people had of the whole military-industrial complex.

I held that image myself for a long time, because of the creation of things like the "A-Bomb." However I came to realize something when I learned more about how defence industries operate.

Developing weapons for the military is a big business, but there's a catch. Despite the billions spent by the military the profit margins are actually pretty thin, with most being sucked up into research and development.

That means one thing: If a defence contractor wants to make serious money, then they need to find profitable civilian uses for their products.

Missile guidance systems become the circuitry in your game console, body armour becomes safety equipment, fighter and bomber technology find their way onto commercial aircraft. Even the A-Bomb heralded nuclear power.

That's why you don't see big contractors making bio-weapons, and they've become the realm of deranged dictators. Bacteria and viruses make terrible weapons, since you can't really aim them, they can backfire horribly, and any weapon you can't control is not a weapon, it's a problem. It also has no civilian commercial use that they can make money from.

Same goes with a homicidal monster-dinosaur. It's not useful, it doesn't follow orders, and is just as likely to eat its own people than the enemy. This too has no civilian use, and that's another problem.

If the typical American corporation had its druthers to create a hybrid dinosaur, it would make a harmless and cuddly pugosaurus that it can sell as a pet with accompanying animated series and multiple lines of merchandise.

That's where the money is.

So if they use the whole "we built it to sell it as a weapon" excuse, then the whole premise of the movie is bullshit.

Then there's the other excuse, the less cliche one.

And that is "shits and giggles."

What do I mean by that?

Well, I mean that the scientists created the hybrid-dino simply because they could without asking themselves if they should.

(See, I paraphrased a line from the original to show you how it fits in thematically)

Give scientists the resources, and many of them will try anything simply to see if it can be done. Many great discoveries and more than few disasters have occurred because of it and that's a historic and scientific fact.

The plan may have started out of curiosity, which then grew to obsession, and eventually resulted in something they didn't predict. Or it may have started as an attempt to create one thing, like the pugosaurus, and an unpredicted mutation turns it into something else that's nasty.

A pretty reasonable and under-utilized premise which will probably not be used. The cliche is just easier, both creatively and socially for Hollywood to go for.

I'll be interested in seeing which one they use in the movie, because it will have some influence on whether I'll spend money on seeing it or not.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1198: 13 For Constantine

NBC's supernatural mystery/horror drama Constantine was ordered to stop production after 13 episodes, but the network hasn't officially cancelled it, at least, not yet.

The show, based on the DC Comics character, is about a working class Liverpudlian sorcerer who travels around America solving mysteries involving monsters, ghosts, demons, black magic, and dark deeds in the hope of saving his own soul, which was damned when his arrogance turned an exorcism into a disaster.

The show was put in the Friday night death slot, but managed in just a few episodes, to find and grow an audience based mostly on generally positive word of mouth.

I've watched the show, and while not knowing the comics very well, I found it well made, and reminiscent of the X-Files at its peak, and I would like to see it continue since it just now seems to be finding both its sea-legs and its audience.

Right now the show is in a precarious position.

If NBC just cancelled it outright, DC/Warner Bros. could just move the show to the CW Network, where Arrow and The Flash seem to be doing very well. Or they could sell it a cable channel like AMC.

But right now, it's in a bit of limbo. By not cancelling it, NBC can block DC/WB from shopping it around because it's still, technically, NBC's show, and in television timing is everything.

If NBC doesn't order new episodes without actually giving it a formal cancellation, then the producers will have no choice but to release the actors, writers, and other staff from their contracts so they can find new jobs. The longer the wait, the harder it gets to find a slot on another channel, and any momentum the show has fizzles out, and the show dies on the vine.

I hope that NBC renews the show, since they canned Community, Constantine and Hannibal are the only shows they run that I watch. So I hope DC/WB uses it weight to tell NBC to shit or get off the pot.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1197: Big Brother Is Watching You

Paul Greengrass, best known for shaking the camera a lot in the Bourne movies, has been tapped to adapt George Orwell's classic novel 1984 for Sony Pictures to be produced by Scott Rudin.

In case you've lived in a cave Orwell's 1984 is the story of Winston Smith. Smith lives in Oceania, a state in perpetual war and under the regime of IngSoc, or English Socialism, led by the enigmatic Big Brother.

Surveillance is everywhere, with devices called "telescreens" monitoring your every move while bombarding you with propaganda about loving Big Brother, hating Emmanuel Goldstein, who both might not exist, and if you stray from the ruling party's line, whichever that might be, you will be taken to Room 101 by the Thought Police, and "corrected" until you loved Big Brother.

Smith works for the Ministry of Truth and it's his job to rewrite old newspaper articles so any future history will reflect the party line. He's chafing under the repressive regime that dictates his every thought and action and rebels, by falling in love with a girl named Julia.

The book had been adapted several times, but only two films were ever released to theatres. The one people remember was the fairly faithful adaption directed by Michael Radford with John Hurt as Smith, that was released, fittingly in 1984. Artists Shephard Fairey tried to make his own version in 2012, but the project fizzled out in development.

When I heard Greengrass was directing, the first thing I thought of was of Big Brother complaining that all the telescreens were shaking in all directions. But my misgivings go deeper than that.

1984 is a book that is still relevant even 30 years after it's science fiction date, but it's very easy to misinterpret.

Orwell was a socialist, which means that he desired a system where everyone was equal in all things,   and worked solely for the betterment of mankind instead of personal greed.

However, Orwell was also an intellectually honest realist, he could see what was being done in the name of socialism all over the world. Pogroms, purges, massacres, and the casual mutilation of truth, which Orwell viewed as sacred, to fit the whims and factional schemes of the rulers. Orwell recognized that the fundamental flaw in any political system was that no matter what, ruthless people would constantly try to wrest control, and many times succeed. If ultimate and even intimate power was to be had, then the most ruthless people would claw their way to the top. That's why a die-hard socialist was able to write two of the most critical novels about socialism, 1984 and Animal Farm

Which brings us to heart of the problem.

Hollywood's idea of a political scientist and philosopher is Russell Brand.

When it comes to political/economic/social issues, Hollywood is a blend of ignorance, hypocrisy, political correctness, and self righteousness. They seem to believe that saying the correct things counts more than doing the right things. In Hollywood it's perfectly okay to have a personal carbon footprint equal to a mid-sized European country, or a business operation as ethnically & gender diverse as a KKK meeting, as long as you give money to the correct causes, campaign for the correct politicians, and get your picture taken at the correct protests and fundraisers.

In Hollywood, it's all about image, and nothing to do with substance or accomplishment.

Which is why I'm pretty damn sure that Hollywood will butcher any adaptation of 1984. They'll probably turn Oceania in Oceania Inc., Big Brother into a CEO, and drain any true relevance from the work, because they lack the intellectual depth and honesty to admit that a non-capitalist system can possibly be evil and oppressive.

That and the camera will jerk around so much it'll make me motion sick.

So just let it rest Hollywood.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1196: Special Effects & The Self-Fulfilling Idiocy.

Charlie Jane Anders at io9 wrote a piece about how we're in a golden age of visual magic in movies.   She's right, many movies are just eye-poppingly gorgeous in the visual effects department, and, in my opinion if the filmmaker use a blend of practical effects and CGI, the potential for bringing fantasy to beautiful life is practically limitless.

However, like everything else in Hollywood, there's a dark side.

Even though VFX are more important than ever before, the VFX industry itself is in deep shit.

A classic example is the VFX company Rhythm & Hues. The company had been at or near the top of the VFX racket for about 20 years, producing consistently top notch work in lots of huge hit movies.

Yet, on the eve of winning the Academy Award for their work on Life of Pi, they were declaring bankruptcy and laying off pretty much all of the people whose work was winning Hollywood's highest honour.

They're not the only ones. Between 2003-2013 over 21 VFX companies, companies that were supposed to be successful, went bankrupt or went completely out of business.

Why did this happen?

Because the studios, though dependent on VFX companies, love to screw them over financially because they can get away with it.

It works like this.

In movie making the budgets pay for time.

Cast, crew, are all paid for the time it takes for them to make the movie. 

That's the fundamental of budgets.

The studio makes a deal with a VFX company to do a specific number of special effects shots for a specific amount of money. They are giving the VFX people money to pay dozens, if not hundreds, of artists and technicians for their time to work on the effects for these shots.

This is all worked out in the pre-production phase, the problem is that what is worked out and agreed to, often isn't what the final project turns out to be.

Scripts get rewritten, reshoots are ordered, roles are recast, and all that stuff creates delays, and in many cases the VFX shots have to be either radically adjusted, or redone completely from scratch.

However the studios insist that they do all this new work within the money they were paid during pre-production. The problem comes from the fact that the VFX company still have to pay those artists and technicians for the new work. Which means that the VFX companies have to take millions in losses for every job.

To top it all off, the VFX companies don't get any profit participation. That's because profit participation is solely for the stars, the director, and the producers. That doesn't mean those people see a dime, Hollywood accounting is a moral/mathematical morass.

The studios think they can get away with it because a lot of VFX artists and technicians are driven first by a love of the art form than by a desire for money. They also know that if one falls there are hundreds willing to take their place.

Then comes to what I suspect is the biggest reason the studios feel they can get away with it, and it's not financial, it's social.

The studios will waste fortunes in up front fees and "dollar one" deals on actors who dropped more bombs than the Luftwaffe before they'd drop one red cent on making sure the VFX people get paid enough to stay afloat.


Because certain actors, even certified box office poison, hold a lot of sway within the Hollywood community, and that's what matters. These "stars" that I call "media appealers" can get an executive a good seat at the fashionable fundraiser, a nice mention in the press via their publicists, and ways into the hottest social spots that practically drip with glamour.

They have nothing to do with business, the audience, or getting films made, but they have EVERYTHING to do with living in the upper echelons of Hollywood. They are also things that VFX people cannot deliver, hence leaving them not just second class citizens, but literally serfs in the eyes of the studios. They have no standing, no clout, and henceforth don't deserve to be treated with anything resembling human decency or even good business sense.

This can't go on forever. Eventually the laws of nature and economics will kick in, and the costs of getting VFX are going to skyrocket.

It's just another one of Hollywood's self-fulfilling idiocies.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1195: Monsters or Superheroes?

Universal Pictures was the studio that brought horror to Hollywood.

Back in the silent era horror films were being made, but they had an uneasy relationship with the supernatural. Either the "monster" was just a disfigured madman or if the film featured what at first looked like the supernatural, the studio would always "Scooby Doo" the movie's ending, by revealing that the ghost/vampire/werewolf was just a hoax done by criminals to further their shady schemes.

Universal Pictures changed that.

Carl Laemmle Jr. was the 20something son of the founder of Universal Pictures as well as its head of production, and had been raised on a steady diet of Central and Eastern European folklore. When the opportunity came to adapt Bram Stoker's Dracula for the screen, he took it, and made a decision that revolutionized Hollywood horror.

Instead of having the titular character being a criminal or a maniac in an elaborate disguise Dracula was just an undead creature cursed to feed upon the blood of the living. There was no Scooby-Doo style unmasking, because he wasn't wearing a mask.

That changed EVERYTHING in the field of horror. Monsters were in, and Universal was the king of the monster heap.

Eventually the classic Universal Monsters, Dracula, The Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolf-Man, and The Mummy fell out of fashion. 

Universal played no small part in this demise with their tendency to flog their franchises to death with multiple sequels, crossovers, with declining budgets, and quality. Eventually they drifted into self-parody, then total irrelevance. The monster-mantle was taken up by Britain's Hammer Films while Universal pretty well dropped the gothic and followed the other American filmmakers into more science fiction based monstrosities.

Universal has dipped its toe into its old Monster well. First by reinventing The Mummy franchise into an Indiana Jones rip-off. Then they tried to turn Van Helsing into Batman, and while their attempt to re-boot The Wolf-Man attempted horror, it was an overwrought, bloated monstrosity.

Now Universal has announced that they're rebooting their monster franchises again. But instead of being gothic horror monster movies, they're going to be modern-day action adventures in a shared universe that will eventually all come together, like Marvel's The Avengers. They've even hired a "hive" of writers to develop this new idea.

All I can say is: Oy.

Basically, they're turning their monsters into superheroes.


Because they think that's where the money is.

Well, yes and no.

Superhero movies make good bank, but they're also incredibly expensive to make. That means that unless you have a popular franchise and a brand that people associate with quality stories (like Marvel) you're looking at a razor thin profit at best.

What sort of standing does the Universal monsters have with audiences?

Well, their Mummy franchise made enough to justify some sequels and a spin-off with the prerequisite diminishing returns. Van Helsing might have broken even if you squint your eyes and ignore the fortunes they spent on P&A, and The Wolf-Man tanked badly.

Ask anyone their opinion on Universal's monster movies and you'll most likely get no higher praise than a "feh" and if they're a horror fan you'll get a lecture on how they symbolize Hollywood's neutered mindset. They had neutered their monsters, from being fearsome beasts from the darkness to wimpy CGI playthings because an executive hoped kids would buy the toys and other merchandise.

So now Universal is saying that they're not only going to repeat their plan, they're going to make it even more tepid.

The irony is that low budget horror has potential for massive profits when its marketed right. The means to make a smaller scale, really scary, monster movie exist. But Universal doesn't want to do that, because that requires work and imagination. It's much easier to sell the Board of Directors a load of hooey about imitating Marvel, and when it all sinks like a stone, just blame it on the market research firm.

Fuck that.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1194: Random Bits of Nonsense


Mega-retailer Amazon and Mega-publisher Hachette have inked a multi-year deal, calling a truce on their war over e-book pricing.

To sum up the feud Amazon was racking up big losses in their quest to undercut and monopolize the book retailing business. They thought that they could use their bulk to get the big publishers to start eating some of Amazon's losses. Well, Hachette was the first one to say: "Ah hell no!" and thus the war began.

Now it's over. Probably because Amazon's shareholders took a look at the money they were haemorrhaging in the CEO's war of supremacy, and told Bezos, to make some kind of deal.

I still stand by my previous statement that if the big publishers don't want this to happen again, and again, and again, then they need a plan.

1. IMPROVE DISTRIBUTION: A few years ago I tried to order a book, a newly released novel from a popular author, through my local bookstore, which is now out of business. I had Amazon as an option, but I was willing to pay a little more to help support my local indie. They told me that the distributor took 6 to 8 weeks for those kinds of orders. Well that put the kibosh on that plan, since I was hoping to give it as a Xmas gift. There is no reason for that in this day and age. If Amazon can do it, the big publishers can do it for retailers. Or they can...

2. EXPLOIT PRINT ON DEMAND: The machinery to manufacture books on site exist, it's just not being used. There should be a machine in every bookstore in the world, right by the cashier, and under a sign that says: "If it's not on our shelves, it's in this machine." The customer gives the cashier their order, and they're told to feel free to browse the shelves while they wait the 10 minutes it takes to print and bind the books. You can also use this to screw Amazon by making their publishing arm's titles available via these machines. Thus they can't complain about being shut out, and the combine behind them will make a little off of every order.

Anyway, what else is in the news…


I'm not normally one to jump on rumours of who is doing what until things are signed, sealed, and delivered, but I just can't resist this one.

DC/Warner Bros. are reportedly interested in getting a female director for Wonder Woman, and at the time of this writing Canadian TV director/producer Michelle Maclaren is in the front of the pack.  Maclaren certainly has the right CV, starting her directing career on the X-Files and working on such big name and acclaimed shows as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Also, as a female director the studio only has to pay her 77¢ for every dollar they would pay a male director. (Now that's good satire!) 

But seriously, her record shows an ability to do quality drama, action, and suspense, while working within the tightly controlled budgets and schedules inherent in TV production. Plus, TV is where all the interesting storytelling is being done these days, and she's in the thick of it. Which makes her more than qualified for the job regardless of gender.

All I ask is that they work in getting some colour on Wonder Woman's outfit. Brown is not a super-heroic  colour scheme.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1193: Foundation Lives Again?

Sometimes a Hollywood project has what just might be a Hollywood ending.

Naturally there was much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments as the imaginations of science fiction fans were assailed with images of Will Smith as Hari Seldon, a laser-blaster in each hand, blasting robots and aliens while screaming "Ah hell naw!" as a CGI tidal wave of lava topped with surfing Nazis sweeps over the White House.

However, a ray of hope has just broken through the clouds of despair.

I like Nolan, especially with his work on the series Person of Interest, which tells a massive, multilayered, and complex saga of paranoia, artificial intelligence, redemption, revenge, power, and the relationship between governments, bureaucracies, and the citizens they are supposed to serve, all while in the guise of an action packed vigilante crime procedural.

If anyone can do Foundation justice, I think Jonathan Nolan can.

However, I do have one source of trepidation.

It's going to be an HBO show.

Now you're probably wondering why I would be concerned since HBO has put out so many great shows, but I do have a valid point, just give me a second.

If you're not familiar with Asimov's magnum opus the Foundation series begins in the far future. A mighty Galactic Empire rules what appears to be an eternally stable society.

However, not everyone sees it that way.

Scientist Hari Seldon has developed a new field he calls "psychohistory" which calculates the movements of vast societies. His calculations predict that the Galactic Empire is on the way out, and that an age of chaos and darkness that could last millennia is on its way.

Hoping to mitigate the damage done to humanity Seldon starts The Foundation. The Foundation is a community of scientists, artists, and other experts on the remote planet of Terminus, and its their job, and the job of their descendants to rebuild a new society from the ashes of the Empire.

Now the book series has an episodic structure that actually suits a series adaptation very well. However, the cast changes radically changes from episode to episode since there are literally centuries separating some of them, which might hinder the audience getting attached to any specific characters for very long.

But those are just structural and narrative challenges that I'm pretty sure Nolan & Co. can handle. What I worry about is HBO and its philosophy.

Since HBO is a pay cable channel, it is not restrained by the rules about sex and violence that regulate what goes on broadcast and some levels of basic cable.

That's a double edged sword.

Because there are times when HBO gets hung up on putting things in shows just because they can, without asking whether or not they should.

The Foundation saga features a cast mostly of scientists, and intellectuals, with the occasional soldier and space traveller. It also contains almost no sex, which HBO is going to see as a problem. I can see the story conference going like this:
NOLAN: Now this is the scene where Hari Seldon explains how and when the Galactic Empire will start to collapse.
HBO EXEC: It's brilliant but we need Seldon to be having sex with a woman while two hot lesbians scissor each other in the background during this scene.
NOLAN: It takes place in a University lecture hall? 
HBO EXEC: Change that to a brothel. Also, we need this Mule guy to rape some people. Gotta have more rapes. Plus we need the characters to say the word "Fuck" at least twenty times per episode.
NOLAN: Why? 
HBO EXEC: Because we can, that means we have to.
Can you see why I'm worried. It may work on some shows, but in the age of easy access adult content via the internet, it's literally unnecessary to sell a show. Especially one with a large built in audience who might be creeped out by seeing a "sexed up" Foundation saga.

So let's hope that HBO knows when to hold'em and knows when to fold'em.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1192: Bourne Again?

Matt Damon is returning to the role of Jason Bourne the recovered amnesiac/super-spy-ninja guy for another edition of the Bourne Franchise.


Because he tried to have a career outside of the Bourne franchise and failed.

Failed badly.

A quick look at his box office record shows that the last movie with him in a major role that was an unqualified hit was True Grit, and in that movie he was just Jeff Bridges' sidekick. At best a handful of his recent movies have broken even, but most have tanked, and tanked badly. Without Jason Bourne his career is dangerously close to getting into Nicole Kidman and George Clooney territory where he becomes a full fledged box-office negative.*

He needs a hit to keep the roles and the fat paycheques coming in, and while Universal made money with the Damon-less Bourne Legacy, figures they'll do better with the original titular character.

Personally, I never really got into the Bourne Movie Franchise. Some may knock the Bond movies for being repetitive, but Bourne is worse. Bourne is as if the James Bond writers didn't want to waste time coming up with ANYTHING new.

The premise of the franchise is that the CIA ignores terrorism, espionage, foreign threats, and international crime because they're too busy trying and failing to kill their own people. 

Why are they trying to kill their own people?

Because the CIA did some evil illegal stuff trying to create some sort of super-spy-ninja-types that they will have to kill the moment they step outside because their existence threatens to expose the illegal stuff. Only the illegal stuff worked too well, and they're unstoppable. 

Now the CIA could just leave the guy alone, because unless there's an army of assassins blowing up large chunks of Europe and the USA there's not enough proof to get this guy's story past the far fringe of a conspiracy theory website.

But they don't, because there wouldn't be a movie, so they do all kinds of mad homicidal stuff to give the hero the evidence he needs to blow the lid off of everything.

It's a premise that's not only stupid on every level, it's a lazy hackneyed cliche and really just an excuse to have lots of shaky-cam fight scenes, another thing that bugs me.

Anyway, we'll have to see if Damon's Bourne can breathe some life into his nearly terminal career.

*Now some of you will say: "What about Gravity, that was a hit with George Clooney?" And while he was in that movie, the studio deliberately left him out of the ads for Gravity, emphasizing Sandra Bullock, who is actually a fully qualified movie star.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Trailer Trashing: CHAPPIE

Neill Blomkamp, the man behind District 9 and Elysium has a new flick coming, it's called Chappie and they've released the first trailer.


I suspect that if you gave Neill Blomkamp unlimited resources and historical research to make a film about the Emperors of Ancient Rome the Imperial Palace of the Eternal City would look like a slum in Johannesburg.

I understand that auteurs have a certain aesthetic sensibility. However, with Blomkamp it looks like visually he's either in a rut, or has a one track mind.

Second thing I noticed was that I noticed it all before.

The trailer doesn't make the film look like an entertaining and unique work but a mishmash of  Short Circuit, Short Circuit 2Edward Scissorhands, Wall-E, and all points in between. It's practically a remake.

They even have Hugh Jackman playing the stereotypical vaguely kinda military looking guy who has to destroy the poor innocent robot because that's his job. 

Why should I pay money to see this movie since it looks like I've already seen it a dozen times before already?

Monday, 3 November 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1191: Eurowood?

Peter Bart, former Paramount executive, producer, and longtime mainstay at Variety, posted this piece about how many European filmmakers are trying to fill the gaps being left in the movie market by the major US studios.

He makes a good point. 

Look at the release schedules of the major studios and you'll see that they're chasing the mad pipe dream that it's possible to only make blockbuster mega-hits. This leaves many genres including non-comic book action, drama, and many types of comedy, horror, thrillers, mostly out in the cold despite having the potential to be extremely lucrative at a low cost.

Bart sees the biggest problem is connecting with a North American audience, and like many Euro-producers think "international stars" are the key.

Not quite.

If the European filmmakers want to truly connect with North American they need to follow some key rules.


In Bart's article they mention that a producer is working with Sean Penn in a movie that they hope will break through with the American audience. Better to just put their money in a big pile and set it on fire, because at least that way they might be able to cook wienies off the fire. There is an elite list of actors in Hollywood who are downright toxic at the box office, but still get major leading roles because Hollywood keeps telling people they're big stars.

The casting of Sean Penn, Nicole Kidman, Tina Fey, Russell Brand, and Ricky Gervaise can literally toss a film into box office oblivion. George Clooney is on his way to that status unless his agent can use black magic to convince people that his glorified cameo in Sandra Bullock's Gravity was the key to its success.

As accurate a headline as "Dewey Defeats Truman"
I call these people "Media Appealers" because their appeal seems to exist almost entirely within the Hollywood community and the media outlets that want to be in that Hollywood community. The problem is that they usually bag big roles with big fees despite being unable to sell tickets to the last lifeboat off a sinking ship.

What these producers need to do is to do the serious research needed to find out which stars are really worth the investment. Maybe do a variation of the sabermetrics that weighs costs (in both money & hassle) against how many bums they put in theatre seats. I'll bet you'll be surprised to discover who is worth what, and then you can base your decisions on that.


The biggest problem with the way the big Hollywood studios do business is that it doesn't seem to make anyone involved happy. Litigation is so common that it's not even considered news anymore, and it's affecting business. Since everyone is expecting to be screwed if their film's a hit, everyone with the slightest amount of clout gets everything they can up front regardless of real market forces, and that drives up costs, and drives down profits.

Treat people with a modicum of respect and honesty and you'll be shocked at how it will drive your costs down and your potential for profit up.


Form a partnership with a distributor who will treat you with the same modicum of respect and honesty that you will use on others because if they don't you'll go and leave them in the cold. That means avoiding the big studios and their shady practices.


Back in the day a film had a week in theatres to make their money, and that was that. That changed thanks to the arrival of television, then the advent of new streaming and home video outlets. That's actually a good thing if a film is well made and entertaining because even if it gets lost among the crush of big studio blockbusters in theatres, it still has a chance to find its piece of the audience via other outlets.

It doesn't take much money to make a quality film. It just takes hard work and imagination which are both rarer than money, especially in Hollywood.

That's my advice.