Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avatar


I suspect that a lot of non-fanboys out there have been trying to figure out what's the big deal about James Cameron's new movie Avatar. It's not based on any source material, so it's not like there's a pre-existing fan base. The story doesn't sound like anything terribly original. Natives at in harmony with nature defending their homeland from greedy industrialists has been done before. Then of course there's the abundance of CGI, which has been done before and usually fails to convince audiences that they're not watching a cartoon. So why all the hoopla?

I'll admit that when the movie started, it didn't feel like it was going to be anything truly wondrous for the first few scenes. Aside from an early shot of a crew aboard a spaceship in zero gravity that looked unexpectedly convincing, nothing really held the promise of being a movie like something that hadn't been seen before.

The premise gets laid out for the audience in a fairly bare bones manner. A paraplegic marine named Jake Sully has a twin brother that was supposed to be working on a mining project on the far off world of Pandora. When his brother dies, Sully is recruited to take his place. He is tasked with infiltrating and understanding the planets inhabitants, the Na'vi, using a remotely controlled body made to look like them, (an avatar.) Jake's situation complicates quickly as he becomes deeply immersed in the Na'vi culture using his avatar, while at the same time has orders to convince them to relocate or figure out how to wipe them out. As you might have guessed from the trailer, trouble ensues.

Once Jake takes control of his avatar, that's when the movie gets ahold of you. Jake, and through him the audience, is slowly immersed into the world of Pandora. It starts out as a place that is visually astonishing, and quickly turns into a place you want to actually visit with your own avatar body. This is especially true once the Na'vi take Jake up to the floating mountains and show him how to tame and ride these giant flying sky creatures. It's such an immersive experience that I think it's damn near impossible for any two minute trailer to convey how deep into the characters you'll find yourself.

As you more about the Na'vi culture, you'll begin to empathize with them. The story also puts a unique twist on the inevitable love story aspect of the movie, as Jake falls in love with one of the natives while inhabiting a body that isn't his.

Up until now I've mostly held off on mentioning the effects, and that's because this movie feels like the story was put first and the effects were only necessary to tell a story on the scale it required. The effects will wow you, but you can tell that James Cameron wasn't relying entirely on them in the hopes of winning the audience over. It's the story itself that proves to be the biggest draw in the end.

Obviously, I do have to mention the effects, since they've been getting so much buzz on their own. Some of my friends have expressed wariness over seeing this movie on account of how much of it is CGI. I understand where you're coming from. The Star Wars prequels and the last Indiana Jones movie were filed with scenes done unnecessarily in computer animation that failed to convince viewers that they had been filmed live.

In Avatar, the CGI may not have convinced me that everything I saw was real, but I really can't decide if it's because the CGI hadn't reached a level of true photo-realism, or if it's because the alien world of Pandora was so vibrant and colorfully depicted that my brain just acknowledged it was CGI because clearly nothing so wondrous exists on earth. I'm more inclined to go with the latter, just because at the movie's most emotional parts I found it impossible to picture the actors running around on a blue screen soundstage covered in body suits waiting for some animator to feed their expressions into a computer. In contrast, with the Star Wars prequels, it took effort to actually believe the actors were in the exotic locales their characters were supposed to be in.

In fact there were moments (probably most notable when watching the movie in 3-D) that I felt it wasn't that the effects were lacking, but rather there was a lack of more extraneous stimuli. In some of the scenes where the Na'vi walk through the jungle, everything is so perfectly rendered down to random insects or pollen floating about, that I felt what was missing was the feeling of sticky hot humidity as an audience member.

Even though they're completely CGI characters, the Na'vi feel as real as the actors playing them, so when we see the ten foot tall blue people laugh or grieve, it's not hard to empathize with them. They never come off feeling like the waxwork zombies that seem to populate Robert Zemeckis's recent animated movies like The Polar Express or Beowulf.

In fact, the only disappointment I had with the movie were some of the design choices. I still have difficulty believing that tribal tattoos will make a comeback in the future, and that Papyrus font is used for all the subtitles. For those of you who don't know what that is, it's a rather distinctive font often used to convey something "earthy" or "mystical" and has become so over-used that even it's creator thinks it's gone overboard.

But you know what? The film is so damn incredible that I'll forgive these little faux pas. If you're a parent, you pretty much owe it to your kids to take them to this. For me, it brought back memories of the first time I saw Jurassic Park, and how I was actually a bit disappointed that the movie had to end at some point and the adventure would be over.

Now I just hope we don't have to wait another ten years for the next James Cameron movie.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Black Friday Part II

For obvious reasons, the actual morning part was unpleasant. Since doors opened at 5 a.m. we had to get there at least by 4:30 a.m. to set up, and have another quick pep talk. As a cashier, there wasn't much to set up besides making sure that the register was ready to go and that enough bags were on hand. The other departments might have had to do more, and the managers definitely had to get there earlier. At any rate, the 3 a.m. - 4 a.m. zone is around when it's debatable whether you're better off trying to get a short night's sleep in or just staying up all night. I opted for the short sleep.

On the way to the store, I drove past one of our competitors. This gave me a false sense of security since the crowd in front was nothing more than a half hour's amount of work do deal with.

Then I got to my store. Without exaggeration, I can tell you that the line was at least two football fields long. I admit, I mildly felt like some kind of rock star or celebrity as I walked in. There was a notable rise in the customers' excitement level, since they knew that once the grunts arrived, the show would soon start.

I didn't feel tired. It just felt like I wasn't capable of performing any advanced mental functions. I could do my job well enough, just not any advanced mathematical calculations.

The guard stood at the door, watching the clock for the official countdown of when to open the door. When the time came to do so, I can tell he did so with a bit of hesitation. If it's not a customer who gets trampled to death on black friday, it's usually the employee who opens the door.

The door opened and the customers started flowing in. First they just speed walked, maybe so as not to embarrassingly eager. This lasted long enough for them to get past the security desk, then the full-on ran.

From there, it was like watching that scene from Jurassic Park where Dr. Grant and the kids are in the valley watching the flock of gallimimuses run past before suddenly taking a sharp turn and running in their direction. We had about three minutes from when they walked into the door to when they made it to the registers merchandise in hand.

We were well prepared. All lanes were open. The line was properly corralled. Our managers were on hand at all times to deal with everything from problem customers, to computer errors to just plain running low on change. We only needed to turn around, give a motion and the'd be at hand.

We even had employees whose sole duty was to wait in the wings until one of us had to take a bathroom break or something. We'd make the gesture and be swapped out. It was also the one time we were allowed to keep a coat under our register so that we wouldn't stand out as employees if we had to run to the back. They didn't want us having to deal with the dilemma of having to either brush a customer off onto another employee (which was bad) or not making it back to the register promptly (which was also bad).

The onslaught didn't stop for three hours. Three hours of repetitively making the same gestures of swiping and bagging and trying to sell the same extended warranties on the same products. Thankfully, those practically sold themselves. With computers and video game systems, everybody had heard enough horror stories that they almost expected them to fail but bought them anyway, with the warranty. Cameras and TVs were another story, but nobody got bent out of shape on us not selling warranties those.

Things slowed down around 8am, which was enough time for us to take our breaks. The early morning rush crowd had gone home, so we had some downtime until the second wave. The veterans told us that usually around 10-ish we'd get hit by another mass of customers who wanted to take part in the Black Friday frenzy without the part where they camp out in front of a store all night. This was the group that wanted to enjoy the sale, but didn't care for the ridiculously marked down merchandise.

Sure enough, when ten o'clock hit the crowd surged again. Once again, it was a never-ending stream of people coming through, just as strong as the early morning crowd. This rush only lasted for about two hours. It might have gone on a bit longer than that, but at noon my shift ended and I was able to go home and sleep, slightly perplexed by how I managed to do a full day's work before noon.

The sad part is that it still didn't stop me from going back to the store later that day to take in the sales myself...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Black Friday from Employee Perspective

Part I: Training

So Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) is almost upon us again. It's the day that many retailers bet on turning a profit for the year. It is also arguably the most apeshit insane day in retail year upon year.

This is a day where people forgo spending a quiet night in with the family to camp out in front of a store all night in the hopes of obtaining cheap electronics. (I should also point out that it's the one night of the year specifically reserved for spending time with family, regardless of religious affiliation.) This is also a day where people have historically died on numerous occasions, often trampled to death by the horde of ravenous shoppers trying to snag a cheap laptop.

So what's it like to actually to work on a Black Friday? I suppose if you work at a store that doesn't sell expensive electronics, it's just a busier than average day. Back in 2004, I worked at a big box retailer over the holidays, and that is ground zero for shopping mayhem.

The first thing I was told when I started the job was that I would be working the Black Friday shift. This wasn't offered as a question. This was made clear as day. If you work here over the holidays, you're working Black Friday. You are not going to grandma's house if she lives out of town. You are not weaseling out of this later. Unless you could definitively produce plane tickets purchased prior to your employment, you were going to be at the store.

To train us for the big day every saturday in November, we had to come in for meetings at 7 or 8 in the morning. First we'd be shown a video to get us hyped up about Black Friday. By hyped up, I mean try to get you to not loathe the fact you might have to get up at 4 a.m. the day after thanksgiving.

On a subtler level, they remind you that when the company makes a big profit, they can afford to keep giving you paychecks.

Eventually, we started doing simulations during the meetings. One department at a time was supposed to assume their normal roles while the rest of us represented the throng of customers demanding cheap merchandise. Ideally, it was to make sure that everybody knew what the sale items were, how to deal with irate customers forty at a time and so on. The side benefit was that we got to therapeutically act out as our worst customers so that we wouldn't snap at them when the real time came.

We'd pretend to be the guy who'd complain that we didn't have any half priced laptops left even though he got there an hour after we opened our doors. The guy who just grabbed random merchandise and just ran for the register. The one who tries to beat an old lady senseless to wrench a digital camera out of her hands. The one insist we're trying to scam him by not honoring a sale price when in reality he grabbed a completely different item than what was listed in the flyer.

I didn't have to be on the other side of the simulations since I was a cashier. My responsibilities for the day amounted to a bit of a trade off. On the one hand, it would be a never ending onslaught of people. On the other hand, I wouldn't be expected to sell all of the extended warranties, loyalty program memberships, magazine subscriptions that they usually expected to hammer the customer with at a time when they weren't prepared to spend any more money than they already were. At most we'd only have to mention an extended warranty once, per customer, and only if it was for something in the video game console price range or above.

At any rate, it wasn't worth anybody's time for the employees to line up and pretend to be a never-ending slew of fake customers making fake purchases. So, they just reminded us not to mess up.

Of course no amount of training can really get you excited for having to wake up at 4 a.m. on a holiday weekend.

Next: Part II - The actual day

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'll never look at Spider-Girl the same way again.

Yes, I know. Observations about the increasingly risque nature of women's Halloween costumes is nothing new. There's that famous line from Mean Girls about how Halloween is the one time of the year where women can dress like a total slut and get away with it. Then there's the "Slutty Pumpkin" from the first season of How I Met Your Mother.

So what's there to write about this year? Now women have the option of deciding how prudish or slutty they want to look.


You have to give them credit. It takes a lot of creativity to take a character whose costume us supposed to be a full-body spandex outfit and turn it into the one on the right.

What's that, ladies? You like Spider-Man but prefer the black symbiote suit instead? No problem.



Now, what i'd really like to see is some woman take the one on the center or right and go as "Sexy Venom" for Halloween. I leave it up to you to figure out how to make that work.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Issue 9 vs the Streetcar

I realize that not everybody has the time to follow every local news issue in depth, so I thought I'd use my little soapbox here to (hopefully) help clarify some confusion on ballot issue 9 and how it relates to the local streetcar debate.

The short version is that Issue 9 is a messy, poorly drafted piece of legislature that may hinder future developments plans for the city, and that you should vote no on Issue 9.

Now for the long version...

I'm aware that a lot of people aren't entirely sold on the idea of streetcars in Cincinnati, and quite frankly I encourage constructive debate on the issue. (By constructive, I mean something more than constantly using "boondoggle" like the world's laziest person filling out a Mad Lib.)

That being said, Issue 9 is not a vote on whether or not we get a streetcar.

The parties that drafted Issue 9 may have done so with the intention of using it to defeat the streetcar, but if it succeeds it would do so in the same manner as using an atom bomb to kill a mosquito. The problem is in the language that was used when drafting the issue is too broad.

As written, it would prevent the city from spending money for "acquisition or improvements or construction for passenger rail transportation" without submitting it to a vote. My understanding is that the intent of that language was to prevent the city from calling the streetcar something else, such as a trolley or tram, to dodge the law if it should pass. The reality of the language is that it has the potential to extend its reach way beyond the streetcar issue.

Some have argued that taken to it's extreme, Issue 9 could prevent the zoo from building a train ride for kids (which would technically be a passenger rail in city limits). More realistically, people are concerned about the effect Issue 9 could have on the proposed inter-city train network.

The project, dubbed the 3C corridor for how it will link Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland by rail, would undoubtedly be affected by Issue 9. This is on top of any other projects to link Cincinnati to other cities by rail. If Issue 9 passes, this will mean that even if the project goes through and trains run from Cleveland as far south as Dayton, the rail lines cannot extend as far as Cincinnati unless it gets submitted to the city for a special vote.

If the the 3C project doesn't have Cincinnati's full cooperation, it can kill the project statewide and many others before we even get a chance to vote on it. Getting federal funding for these projects usually involves demonstrating that if we get the money for it, we're ready to start building it. We'd have a hard time arguing that the 3C project is "shovel ready" if we have to waste precious time putting it to a special vote.

I'll try to write a more detailed entry on the advantages of an improved rail infrastructure, but I'll say a few things in brief. If you ever heard anybody talk about visiting Europe, odds are they've uttered the phrase, "It's so easy to get around there. You can just hop on a train and go wherever." If you ever tried to book a train going anywhere west of the Allegheny Mountains, you'd know this isn't the case in America.

Aside from the congestion it would relieve from our highways, a train system would encourage business between Ohio cities. It'd be easier to get to out of town sporting events or concerts in Cleveland and Columbus. Anybody who has to do business in those cities can be more productive on the ride up and back. (My fellow lawyers, I'm looking in your direction.) Hell, you don't even have to be productive. You can sleep on the ride up.

It's possible that the 3C project could go through without Cincinnati's approval, but that would mean the rail lines would stop somewhere in Kenwood or Sharonville. Great for them. Bad for us. At that point, should we want to get involved, Cincinnati would probably have to put up the funding for the rest of the line by itself, instead of getting federal funding.

There's a lot more reasons to vote against Issue 9. (Not setting a precedent that would lead to the style of government that's been crippling California lately where just about every decision has to go through a special election is another example.)

There's also a good reason why several organizations in town have spoken out against Issue 9, even organizations that expressed reservations about the streetcar. Anybody who reads the Cincinnati Enquirer probably picked up on a distinctively anti-streetcar slant in their articles over the summer. You've probably also noticed a lot of recent articles slanted against Issue 9 as well.

To prevent projects that could help Cincinnati grow, keep jobs in the city and draw in new ones, Vote no on Issue 9.

While I'm ranting... just get out and vote, period. Just because it's not a presidential election year doesn't mean you shouldn't have a say in the government.

There you have it. My two cents with the possibility of a buck fifty to follow.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Michael C. Hall...


... is mesmerized by his own jazz hands.

Inglorious Basterds is Tarantino's Best Movie Yet

(But that isn't saying much)

There are a few directors out there who are overrated, and everybody knows it. I'm not talking about ones like Spielberg, Scorcese or Coppola who have made a few memorable films and a few more forgettable ones. I'm talking about ones like Sodeheim or Tarantino who make films that grab the public's attention, but are nowhere near as important as they'd like us to believe. Personally I don't think Quentin Tarantino deserves nearly as much hype as he gets, but I will admit that his new film Inglorious Basterds is at least deserving of some of its hype.

My problem with Tarantino's past efforts is that he's capable of being a good director, but doesn't follow through. His cinematography is good and his musical selection is impeccable, but he's best know for the pop culture savvy dialogue exchanges he writes. The problem is, he's rarely good at uniting all the music, the clever dialogue and the inspired shots to tell a good story. Instead, they just sit there as separate parts of a movie, waiting for somebody to come along and edit them into something nicer.

Maybe it took the complete failure of his last movie Death Proof, (his entry into the double feature Grindhouse,) for him to realize that just because he puts something on screen doesn't mean audiences will clamor for it. Or perhaps it was just by chance that all of his brilliant but disjointed movie making skills happened to work this time around.

Lets take his trademark dialogue for example. In all of his movies, the characters will ramble on for minutes at a time exchanging snappy lines, but its never in a way that moves the plot along. Hell in Death Proof, the whole first hour of the movie is nothing but dialogue exchanges before anything resembling plot development occurs.

In Basterds, this works to his advantage because it creates an almost intolerable level of tension as the heroes and villains toy with each other, waiting for their opponents to make the first move. In the opening scene Col. Landa, the film's main Nazi villain, stops by a French farmer's house. He engages in a friendly banter for a while, making the farmer feel at ease before making it clear he believes the farmer is hiding a Jewish family , and that there will be consequences if he does not reveal their location.

Later in the film, the Basterds, a group of Nazi-terrorizing Jewish American soldiers, masquerade as Nazi officers to rendezvous with a double agent at a bar. The problem is that at the bar they run into a real Nazi who wants to join them for a beer. On the surface they're playing a friendly drinking game together, but under the surface they know that each second they keep talking is another chance they might blow their cover.

Just because it's a period piece, don't think that Tarantino wouldn't work in his trademark music selection as well. For the most part he sticks with instrumental selections that I suspect were all borrowed from Sergio Leone movies, (it wouldn't be a Tarantino movie without an endless string of "homages" i guess). Yet, to build up the tension for the finale, he puts on a Davie Bowie song. Somehow it works.

Now Tarantino has always been good at picking a good cast, even if the movie they're in doesn't end up being all that great. With Basterds, most of the screen time is occupied by European actors for whom this marks their first performance in a major American movie, such as Good Bye Lenin!'s Daniel Bruhl. Others, like Diane Kruger, who has already been in major American releases such as Troy and the National Treasure movies, finally gets to do a role in her native tongue.

Strangely enough, the American actors give the most forgettable performances. Yes, Brad Pitt gets top billing, but he's actually a fairly minor character. When he emerges at the end of the rendezvous in the bar, he's actually off screen for so long I momentarily forgot he was in the movie. And as for Hostel director Eli Roth's performance? Well lets just say he seems as creepy in front of the camera as he is behind it.

So in short, Basterds is an alright movie. It's not really what I'd call an epic, and by no means is it the must see movie of the summer. However, it is a movie worth seeing on the big screen if you decide to see it at all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

G.I. Joe Did Not Suck

Suprisingly enough, it was actually kind of good.

Don't get me wrong. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra isn't exactly high art. It's not Citizen Cane. It's not The Dark Knight and it sure as hell ain't Saving Private Ryan. At the same time, it never pretends to be, and that's what makes it good. The producers of G.I. Joe set out to make a light and fun summer action movie and that's exactly what they achieved.

I was wary about this movie from the get go. First of all, there was the director: Stephen Sommers. This is the guy responsible for Van Helsing, a mangled attempt at a movie so bad that it made me forget that his previous films, The Mummy and The Mummy Returns were actually enjoyable. (Not great, but enjoyable). Then there was the initial trailer, which showed soldiers in mech suits charging through Paris, and the character Snake Eyes flipping off of cars flying through the air. It looked a bit too Matrix-ish.

However, they picked a good cast. Sienna Miller, Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were all unquestionably good actors beforehand. (All play bad guys incidentally). As for the Joes, Ray Park (a.k.a. The Phantom Menace's Darth Maul,) was a genius casting choice as the mute martial arts expert, Snake Eyes. Yes, Marlon Wayans may have given us White Chicks, Scary Movie and Little Man, but most people forget he was also in Requiem For a Dream and the Cohen Brothers movie The Ladykillers. As for Channing Tatum, I'd never seen one of his movies before, but he had the look about him of somebody who could play Duke without trying to be the archetypical "American Badass."

And believe me, the cast delivered. Joseph Gordon-Levitt clearly was having a ball as Cobra Commander, but more importantly, Byung-hun Lee gave a pretty standout performance as Storm Shadow. He just had a really commanding screen presence that suggests he might be one of those rare actors who can do kick-ass martial arts and act at the same time.

With such a large cast, they actually did a pretty good job of balancing out the characters. Unlike the Transformers movies which introduced a large cast of robots but left most of the action to Bumblebee, Optimus Prime and a pair of outdated black stereotypes, (it's fair to argue that the aliens in The Phantom Menace really aren't flimsy stereotypes, but Transformers was pretty cut and dry,) G.I. Joe seems to give all the characters the amount of screen time they deserve, good and bad guys alike. I didn't walk away thinking things like, "Okay, you introduce Storm Shadow, and he's awesome on screen for a whole five minutes, then he's gone." (If you saw Wolverine: Origins, and you like Deadpool, you know what I'm talking about.)

The special effects may have been a bit too CGI heavy, but I was genuinely surprised that they took the time to craft a decent plot. Come on, Van Helsing was clearly Stephen Sommers telling the crew he wanted to make a movie involving Dracula, Frankenstein and a werewolf, and that they'd figure out the details as they went along, and I was kind of expecting that sort of mentality with this one. Instead the story was one that I'd probably go see even if it didn't feature the G.I. Joe characters. It captures the fun of having cutting edge technology and massive strongholds in exotic locales without letting you dwell on the absurdity of it.

Also, unlike Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen it actually crossed the producers' minds that since this movie is based on a line of children's toys, it might make sense to make the movie family friendly. Yes, people get killed on screen, and yes there is swearing, but at least it's not littered with sex and drug references like those that plagued the Transformers movies.

Overall, I was pleased. It delivered pretty much all that it promised. Odds are I'll probably catch it again in theaters and maybe even buy it on DVD.

Oh and as for that scene in Paris where they're wearing the mech suits (seen in the trailer) it was actually pretty good. I was worried it might be the equivalent of nipples on the Batsuit or James Bond getting an invisible car. Instead it fit the plot well, and thankfully it's the only time in the movie they put those suits on. Also, at the end of the day it is based on a line of action figures, so if it doesn't distract from the plot then go ahead, let the producers throw in extra costumes so the kids will have to buy Accelerator Suit Duke and regular Duke.

Monday, July 20, 2009

An Example of why Cincinnati needs a better mass transit system

A few years back my boss gave an open invitation to everybody in the group I was working with to go to Boston for a conference. He'd pay for the hotel and conference fee, but we'd pay everything else. It sounded like a good opportunity, but the costs I'd have to pay struck me as a bit much, considering I was a student at the time. There'd be the plane tickets, food expenses, spending money for touristy stuff, car rental and hotel parking fees. The last two struck me as putting a exceptional dent in the wallet. Then a few friends going on the trip assured me I wouldn't need to rent a car. I didn't quite believe them so I checked with some friends living in Boston.

"Yeah, you don't need a car. The subway system is fine here."

I wasn't aware that Boston even had a subway until that point, (if it got mentioned on Boston Legal, I missed it) but I took her word. I arrived in Boston, hopped on the Silver Line and was downtown in minutes. In all fairness, the Silver Line was a bus, not a rail car, but it was a bus that went directly to the transit center on a dedicated roadway (in other words, Silver Line buses were the only vehicles allowed to use that road). From the transit center, it was easy to hop on the subway and go anywhere of interest. I had no problem getting around all weekend, and managed to check out everything from Fenway to Harvard.

I'm pointing this out because the idea of doing this in Cincinnati right now is laughable. If there's a way to get from the airport to downtown Cincinnati without using a car, I'm willing to bet that most people don't know about it, or tell you off the top of their head where it would drop you off.

Whether or not there is a cheap and easy way to get from the airport to downtown Cincinnati, the second problem is getting around. If you don't have a car, your options are to take the cab or bus. Cabs can be a bit pricey and in Cincinnati, most of the time you're better off calling ahead for one than trying to catch one at a taxi stand. I suspect local taxi numbers are not something you're average out of towner is going to consider picking bringing along in advance.

As for buses, Metro stops may be plentiful, but they offer little useful information about where the bus actually goes. Your average Metro stop only has a sign indicating listing the route numbers, not destinations. For and out of towner, those signs might as well list the numbers from Lost.

So for people visiting from out of town, it would be exceptionally handy if we had a mass transit system in place that would be easy to use for somebody who doesn't know the area. Ideally, this would be the streetcar system already being proposed.

The main advantage of such a simplified system like the proposed streetcar is that it's easier to maneuver. When giving directions, you only need to tell them to find any station and get off at the right stop. Compare this to a bus system where the first step is finding a bus stop that even a bus going on the route you want it to go on.

And Cincinnati does get a fair amount out of town visitors. With all the corporations based downtown (P&G, First Group, Kroger, Chiquita and Macy's to name a few), they definitely bring in a lot of out of towners. Then there's the conventions, the sports events, concerts and so on. A lot of these groups (especially the business people, I'm sure) would easily take advantage of a system where you never need to get in a car or go to an outside source like the metro website to figure out how to get around.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Transformers Movies are supposed to be family friendly, right?

Arguably, everything you need to know about whether you can take your 7 year old to see the Transformers movies is in their rating: PG-13. In other words, if your kid is under 13, keep in mind some parts might not be suitable. But with so much of the marketing being geared towards kids from T-shirts, cartoons, oh and the fact it's based on a long running line of toys a parent could be forgiven for assuming there wouldn't be anything that inappropriate.

For the most part that held true with the first movie. The violence wasn't anything over the top, the swearing was easy to overlook and the sex was almost non-existent. However, halfway through the movie one character blurts out something that brought the theater to a standstill. Sam's mother asks him "Were you masturbating?" when she walks in on him after he was frantically trying to find something for the Autobots just outside his window. I know a handful of parents who had to have THE talk with their children that night, a bit a head of schedule, all due to that one line.

With the sequel, you'd think they'd have learned their lesson. Nope. In fact they do quite the opposite. Among the offenses in Revenge of the Fallen are a pair of Autobot twins that keep calling each other pussies and threaten to bust a cap in each others' asses, dogs humping dogs, robots humping humans, a fleeting but naughty shot up a college freshman's skirt, and a five minute sequence where Sam's mom downs a bag of marijuana brownies and runs around campus stoned off her gourd.

I'd like to hear how non-hippie parents explained to their kids why when Mrs. Witwicky used drugs, she just got really happy, but that it's a bad thing and they should just say no.

Obviously a PG-13 rating is supposed to imply that you might not want to take the kids. For example, the last two James Bond movies were clearly not kid friendly. But when a movie is based on a saturday morning cartoon and a line of toys, I think the expectation that it won't be that bad for kids is certainly justified.

Other filmmakers have at least taken this into consideration, especially with comic book based movies. For example, Batman is a comic that's been written as everything from a campy, kid friendly funnybook to a dark brooding tale of street violence. With The Dark Knight, filmmakers clearly opted for the latter interpretation, but they also knew parents would be taking the family to see it. So, despite the fact that over the course of the movie, people are shot, blown up, sliced open and in once instance, burned alive, this stuff is implied, instead of being seen. In fact, I didn't even realize that the guy got burned alive until the third time I saw it. They probably could have shown some of this stuff onscreen and kept the PG-13 rating, but they clearly understood that just because they could get away with it, doesn't mean they should do it.

Then there's films like Harry Potter and Star Wars, both of which had PG-13 installments in an otherwise PG rated franchise. These movies didn't use the more adult rating to give the films a bawdier twist, but instead it was just a heads up that the story was a bit darker than it was in previous installments.

In addition, parents weren't caught off guard by the level of violence in Dark Knight. Anybody who saw the trailer, or even just Heath Ledger's Joker makeup understood that this was going to be a dark and violent take on the franchise. As for people who saw the Transformers trailer, they just saw big robots fighting, not little robots humping things.

I'm not trying to sound like a prude or anything. I'm all for directors seeing their vision through to the end. I was all for Warner Brothers releasing the unrated version of Eyes Wide Shut because of how awkwardly censored the R-rated version was. When it was announced that Live Free or Die Hard would be PG-13, I was among the masses demanding to know why a film franchise for adults got taken down a notch.

But Transformers? Come on. Keep it family friendly if you want to sell they toys.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The 3D Renaissance So Far

These days the big marketing gimmick for movies is putting them in 3D. Even though only about 26% of theaters in the country are capable of showing movies in 3D, it seems like every family and horror movie being released in the upcoming months is touting that you can see it in 3D.

Probably the most major difference between today's 3D movies and the ones of old is that they're now shown using glasses with one lens darker than the other, as opposed ones with red and blue lenses (the exception being Robert Rodriguez's Sharkboy and Lavagirl.) Aside from that, filmmakers have tried to assure the viewing public that the current experience is more comfortable and less headache inducing. So, having just seen Disney/Pixar's Up in 3D last weekend, I thought it would be worth giving my take on the rebirth of 3D so far.

Of all the 3D movies released recently, I've only seen four: Beowulf, Coraline, Monsters vs. Aliens and Up. So far my overall take on it is "meh." I've seen it done well and I've seen it done badly, but it hasn't yet convinced me that it's the next wave of filmmaking, or that it's worth the $3 premium charged for tickets. Lets look at them one by one:

Beowulf

I'm going to get this out of the way first: Beowulf was a bad movie. Not in that Sam Rami, it's-so-bad-its-good way. This was a slow paced, intellectual musing on that poem we all had to read in English class, trying to masquerade as a big budget epic. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with the source material. Clearly it worked for the film The 13th Warrior, which was content with just being an action movie. It didn't work in Zemeckis's Beowulf because it tried to be a no holds barred spectacle with an all star cast, hyper-realistic CGI animation and of course, 3D. However, the scope of the underlying screenplay didn't offer anything so grand to warrant all of this.

Unfortnately, it wasn't just the storytelling that was bad. The 3D had much to be desired as well. I'll give the filmmakers credit that some scenes looked phenomenal in 3D, such as when Grendel bursts into the great hall with smoke and flame. (I'm writing this, assuming that you at least read Beowulf in ninth grade english,). However, for the bulk of the film, the 3D caused me serious eye strain.

If I had to guess I'd say the filmmakers didn't quite nail down how to accurately convey depth perception in CGI. (Instead, it seems they focused more on accurately depicting a naked Angelina Jolie in CGI.) The result was that personally, my eyes didn't shift naturally from the background to the foreground. In other words, if I saw something in the foreground, I had to actively make my eyes focus on it to see it properly.

This problem was exacerbated by the fact that often the filmmakers opted for the cliched effect of having something onscreen jump out at the audience. I found myself taking off the glasses regularly just so my eyes could get a second or two to rest. After seeing this movie, I thought i'd have sworn off 3D movies entirely.

Coraline

So, despite my experience with Beowulf, I ended up seeing this one in 3D after all. In all fairness, I don't think it was offered in 2D anywhere in Cincinnati anyway. Unlike Beowulf, Coraline was actually a good movie that I would have gone to see in 2D. As a 3D film, it was definitely worth shelling out the extra bucks to see it.

For those of you who haven't seen it, Coraline is about a girl who moves into a new multi-family house that she shares with a few eccentric characters. She then discovers an entrance to a parallel world that is similar to her own execpt everything is strange and surreal.

In Coraline, the 3D effect was more about adding a level of detail to the film than spectacle. It did its job of helping make the viewers feel as if they were actually in the movie without coming off as a gimmick designed to wrangle a few extra bucks out of the viewer.

While the film was filled with fantastic visuals from start to finish, the scenes were the 3D effect stood out the most were often the more subtle ones. For example, in one scene we see Coraline's father sitting in front of the computer, with the image from the screen reflected in his glasses. The reflection looks so genuine that its possible to forget that what you're watching is a 3D effect and not something that is physically in front of you.

Later in the film, Coraline visits her neighbor upstairs in the parallel world. He has a circus of trained mice, and when he first introduces them, they all come out into a tiny circus ring and start hopping in unison. Again, everything from the lighting to the position of the camera makes it appear that there is a tiny troupe of trained mice hopping about, just out of your reach. It looked perfect.

Monsters vs. Aliens and Up

The last two movies on my list I'm going to lump together because they both suffer the same problem. As films, both were great, but as far as 3D goes, the effect was largely unnoticeable.

Where as in Beowulf I found myself taking off the glasses to rest my eyes, in these two movies, i kept taking the glasses off to make sure that I was actually in the 3D showing of the films. There were a few moments in Monsters where the 3D made me feel immersed into the big action sequences, but for most of Monsters and all of Up, the effect was too subtle.

Its a shame because in Up, there were plenty of scenes that should have stood out since most of the movie involved an old man and a kid passing through a lush South American rainforest (while lugging an airborne house and dealing with talking dogs. It's a strange movie.) Unfortunately, for most of the movie I felt that there was no difference between actually watching it in 3D and how I would have seen it in a regular 2D cinema. There was never any moment where I really noticed that there was any depth to what I was seeing. (Physical depth, i mean. Plot-wise, the story was quite deep.)

Upcoming Movies

So what's next for 3D? Well the closest release date is for The Final Destination, keeping alive the tradition of cheap gimmicks to spark interest in unnecessary horror film franchises.

Odds are Disney will re-release The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D once again. Each year I keep telling myself I'll go out and see it, but instead I just end up watching it at home on DVD. I would like to see how this one turned out mainly because it's a 2D movie that was later converted to 3D. If it turns out its good, maybe I'll stop seeing George Lucas's comments about re-releasing the Star Wars movies as threats to butcher the franchise yet again, and more like promises to add something new to a classic.

There's been some buzz about Zemeckis's up coming CGI adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which is rumored to be in 3D. However, it seems like the buzz is more about whether or not everybody will look like CGI wax zombies or if they'll actually look convincing, as opposed to how well the 3D will look.

No, the big buzz has been reserved for James Cameron's Avatar. This is a project he's been working on for the past ten years, and considering that Cameron + sci-fi usually equals a cinema classic, by now people are probably expecting this thing to be the biggest movie of the century. Just to add to the rumors about there being special effect unlike anything ever seen before, you guessed it, it's supposedly going to be in 3D.

If any of the above mentioned films is capable of actually transforming 3D from a novelty to a directorial choice, such as whether or not to shoot in film or black & white, Avatar is probably it. Who knows. Maybe in a year or two Cameron will be on a stage collecting the first Oscar ever given to a 3D sci-fi flick. Or, maybe 3D will go back to just being a theme park attraction.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Grant Morrison Needs to Stop Wriring for Batman



That, or as a title, "Batman and Robin" never bodes well for the franchise.

I've pretty much been a huge Batman devotee for as long as I can remember. I've witnessed the many different interpretations of the Caped Crusader, and in the ten years I've actually been reading the comic itself, I've been able to identify when the writing has been exceptionally good as opposed to when its just getting by.

I can also put my foot down and say when the writing has just plain gotten bad. As acclaimed a writer Grant Morrison is, his work on Batman has definitely been one of the series low points. When it was first announced he'd be writing for the series, there was much acclaim and hooplah behind it, as he was expected to do drastic and daring things with the series. Unfortunately, I think he kind of went overboard in an attempt to be outlandish.

I'll forgive some of his more controversial decisions, such as making Batman's son a canonical character (He'd only previously been mentioned in the comic Batman: Son of the Demon, and was never heard from since.) But for the most part his run on Batman was strange and usually hard to follow.

He started off with a tale about impostor Batmen running around town, one of whom shoots the Joker. This was followed by the aforementioned "Batman & Son" storyline (yes, thats what he chose to call it) promising that when Joker did return it would be something radical.

And here's where it started to get weird... I mean really weird. First, when he did bring back the Joker, it was in the form of a prose issue. Lots of text, few pictures and poor typography made it hard to read. And, it wasn't even anything exciting. Just the Joker musing on his many different incarnations. Then there was the Batmen of All Nations storyline, where vigilantes across the world, inspired by Batman all meet on an island only to get taken out one by one, Agatha Christie style. Behind it all was a mysterious group known as the Black Glove, intent on taking out Batman. It sounds simple, except the man behind the group is supposedly Thomas Wayne, you know, the guy whose death drove Bruce Wayne to become Batman.

All of this was meant to lead up to Morrison's coup de grace, Batman R.I.P., which was slated to be THE definitive Batman story of the decade. Instead it was among the worst.

I read every damn issue of Batman R.I.P. and I still have no idea what went on. First, he introduces a character named Jezebel Jet, who exists only for Batman to fall in love with her, reveal his identity and consider giving up crime fighting. If she wasn't introduced for this storyline, she sure as hell was an obscure character, making her an odd choice for Batman to reveal his identity to out of all the women he's been involved with.

But what really irked me was that none of the issues seemed to flow into each other. I felt as if I'd been missing issues, since the story jumped from point to point so much. Hell, halfway through most of the issues it seemed like one random thing was happening after another.

Then there's the fact that despite the name, Morrison never actually killed Batman in the R.I.P. storyline. It looked like initially he chose to have Batman die in a helicopter crash, only for him to turn up hooked up to some sort of virtual reality machine or something. I'm not sure Morrison ever really explained how he got there or how he got out, but at any rate the real death of Batman didn't even happen in a Batman title.

He saved that for the equally convoluted Final Crisis, which had absolutely nothing to do with the events of R.I.P.. (He dies from Darkseid's eye lasers. What he was doing fighting Darkseid, I don't know, because that all involved stuff from Final Crisis.)

That being said, I decided to give him another shot with his new series Batman & Robin. I honestly don't see myself picking this up past the first issue. To start with, it looks like it's going to spiral out of control pretty quickly. I didn't really warm up to the idea of a flying Batmobile or having Bruce Wayne's son Damien take on the role of Robin. The last time such an obnoxious character was picked to be Robin, fans called in and voted to have him killed off. Violently.

Considering that the teaser page at the back of the issue promises more of the strangeness that plagued R.I.P. such as multiple Batmen, and the characther claiming to be Thomas Wayne, I'm going to hold off on it. And better yet, I won't be without my Batman fix either.

Paul Dini is going to be writing two Batman titles: a solo book and one devoted to the women of Gotham. Dini deserves alot more acknolwedgement than he's been given for his work on Batman. While Morrison was making the franchise wierd and unapproachable, Dini kept things pretty level. At the same time Morrison was working on the main Batman title, Dini was at work on Detective Comics. For most of his run, he stuck with one shot issues that were loosley tied together. He also opted to do his own thing, independent of Morrison.

For example, when Morrison was trying to build up excitement about what he would do with the Joker after writing him getting shot in the face, Dini wrote a one shot story about the Joker kidnapping Robin that didn't even acknowledge anything Morrison had written.

And when Morrison was writing Batman as losing his mind, Dini paid this lip service and wrote a straightforward Batman story. In fact, Dini's contribution to the RIP storyline was better than Morrison's, as Dini chose to write a sequel to Jeph Loeb's acclaimed storyline "Hush" where Hush tries to get his revenge on Batman by literally stealing Catwoman's heart. It was engaging, easy to follow, and showed that good writing capable of drawing new readers in doesn't have to be in the form of massive event stories.

Here's hoping that Morrison's run on Batman ends soon. Now that the death of Bruce Wayne is out of the way, I won't feel as obligated to read his work to know what's going on in the Batman universe, and at least I'll have Dini's work to keep me going until (inevitably) some writer brings back Bruce Wayne. Hopefully it won't be Morrison.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why I'm making a point of seeing The Hangover on opening weekend

Honestly, The Hangover isn't really the sort of movie that I'd break down the doors at the theater to see. Sure, it looks funny, but it doesn't look so funny that I'd feel inclined to pay $10 to see it in theaters instead of $5 to watch it at home. Why then is it on my to-do list for next week? It's because I suspect that every "bro" from here to L.A. is going to be quoting every line of that movie so often that I won't actually have to see it to know what happens.

Like I said, I do want to see it eventually. The problem is that hearing it in drunken quotation form pretty much kills the humor, because you already know the jokes before they're coming. This already happened with me and Old School. I missed it in theaters because I was studying abroad when it came out, and when it came out on video nobody insisted that it be on the top of my must-see movie list (apparently because they all presumed I'd seen it already). I'd caught bits and pieces over the years, but by the time I finally sat down to watch it in its entirety, pretty much every thing that would have been funny because it caught me off guard had already been ruined.

The band's rendition of "Total Eclipse of the Heart"? I'd already heard so many people do that one at karaoke I'd almost forgotten that it's not supposed to have "fuck" every other word. The streaking? Blue dying? Heard it all months in advance.

So this time around, I'm getting in on the ground floor and seeing Hangover before everybody else decides to quote lines from it to cover up a lack of original wit. Now here's just hoping all the best lines weren't in the trailer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Overlooked Movies: Little Nemo

So one thing I decided I’d do when I started this blog was to shed some light on movies that never really made it into the public consciousness, despite being thoughtfully crafted, and just plain enjoyable to watch. Today, I thought I’d cover the anime film Little Nemo, seeing as how I finally got to watch it over the weekend. If you want to see a trailer for it, click here.

Odds are that if you remember this film at all, it’s probably in the form of a half remembered advertisement you saw as a kid for one of those “non-Disney” cartoons we all shied away from. It never did get what one would call a major release, and even in the days of where old anime classics experienced a revival on DVD as anime became more popular in America, this film never got caught up in the hubbub.

For those unfamiliar with the character, Little Nemo began as a comic strip created by Winsor McCay in the early 20th century. The strip chronicled Nemo’s journeys through a fantastical realm known as Slumberland, and each strip usually ended with him waking up and falling out of bed. The strip was also notable for it’s brilliant colors and surrealistic imagery. Generally, they took up an entire page of the comic pages. (On a side note, supposedly one of the reasons Bill Waterson retired from writing Calvin & Hobbes was because he wanted to draw his comic in the style of Little Nemo, but newspapers wanted something smaller and with panels that could be more easily rearranged.)

The movie was produced by Japanese anime studio Tokyo Movie Shinsha, but was largely worked on by American talents such as Ray Bradbury, Chris Columbus (famous for Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter movies) and the Sherman Brothers, who previously worked on music for several Disney films. Despite being made in 1989, it didn’t make its way stateside until 1992. Strangely enough, the video game adaptation made its way stateside before that.

As for the plot of the movie, I’m going to be honest. It’s not exactly Disney. Even when Disney was in its pre-Little Mermaid slump, it was putting out stuff with more character development than this. The story is pretty simple. One night Nemo is visited in his bed by the personal entourage of Morpheus, the King of Dreams. The king requests that he comes to Slumberland to be his daughter’s playmate. He doesn’t explore Slumberland too long before a mischievous character named Flip accidentally gets Nemo to unleash an evil known as the Nightmare, and naturally Nemo’s the one who has to stop it.

I say it’s a simple story because there’s never really any motivation given for the characters actions. Morpheus’s invitation to Nemo is completely arbitrary (not to mention the level of responsibility he gets entrusted with) and there’s no reason given for why Flip creates the amount of havoc he does, other than it helps move the story along.

What the film lacks in story, it certainly makes up in style. The film manages to effortlessly toe the line of depicting a world that is strange and surreal, without confusing the viewer. The world in which the story is set frequently transforms into something completely different in a way that perfectly mimics the non sequitur nature of dreams. For example, the opening sequence has Nemo wake up in his bed, discovering he can fly it out the window. He flies around the city, but suddenly finds himself among unfamiliar ruins, hounded by a speeding train.

Even the non-surreal visuals are incredible. Slumberland, as depicted in the movie, is a world that resembles the most extravagant palaces of Europe if they were the size of entire cities. Then there’s the animation itself. Like many anime movies, everything is drawn with such fluid detail that even the way smoke is animated, it seems to have character.

Despite it’s simple story, the whole package is overall pretty enjoyable. I suspect that had I seen it as a kid, this movie would have been something I watched over and over. Although it’s clearly targeted for younger audiences, this movie is a good example of how to make a family film parents can enjoy that doesn’t involve slyly sneaking in “adult” references, or tries to hock some product to kids. Aside from a scene halfway through the movie where the Nightmare breaks into Slumberland, it’s as family friendly as one could ask for. Granted that scene in question is a bit freaky and I’m sure it would have given me bad dreams as a kid. In fact, I think they cut it out of the initial American release, but it’s not that bad.

Unfortunately, Little Nemo is still a bit hard to find, so unless you use Netflix, Blockbuster.com, or your local library has a good inter-library loan system, it’s going to be a hard one to track down. On the plus side, it’s pretty cheap to buy, as Amazon.com has it listed for about $8. Yes, that’s twice the cost of a rental, but if you’re an anime fan or a parent looking for a quality family film, it’s worth owning.

Hopefully in upcoming years this movie will gain some level of notoriety and be easier to find.

 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Good Bye to The Sound Cincinnati... sort of

The Best Station in Town Gets Harder to Listen To

Out of all the music stations in Cincinnati, the only one that could get me to turn off the iPod and listen to something live was The Sound. Sadly, this past weekend it stopped broadcasting on analogue radio and is now only available on HD radio and online.

Alternative radio in Cincinnati never really seemed to find a home. Back in the day 107.1 used to be the station to listen to if you wanted a break from top 40. It played a good mix of alternative rock and was pretty much the place to go if you wanted to hear about up and coming bands. It seemed like a solid kick in the mouth when it turned into Kiss FM and played yet more top 40. The only plus side was that unlike Q102, Kiss's top 40 didn't drop out any instance of "rap" that might appear in a song.

Since this happened just as I was leaving for college, it took me four years to discover that alt-rock was still alive in Cincinnati, except now it was on 97.3. I'd gotten used to that when one day I turned on my radio and heard country music. It honestly took me a few songs to realize that they weren't playing a few "country sounding" rock songs but full on country.

Fortunately, it wasn't too hard to learn that it the alt rock was now on 94.9, which was now called "The Sound," since the station had a pretty big TV and billboard ad campaign announcing the move. On the other hand, their logo didn't really do much do suggest what kind of music they played. Previous alt-rock stations had an "edgy" look to them, whereas The Sound looked like it was a smooth jazz/adult contemporary station. Observe.


Anyway, I'd gotten used to it on 94.9 when once again I tune in one afternoon and find them playing something that was not alt-rock. This time it was NASCAR racing. Apparently in a less publicized move, the station owners had decided to switch it back over to 97.3. This time, I had to rely on word of mouth to find out where it'd gone.

Then this past weekend, same thing happened again. I turn on the radio, and it's playing country. This time it was blatantly country, not the bluegrass/rock sort of stuff that kind of toes the line. I had to fiddle around on the internet to find out what happened this time. I'd hoped it just changed to another frequency, but as you can see on the above graphic, it now moved to HD radio... 

You can see my frustration here. NOBODY has HD radio. When I had to replace my car radio a few months back, new radios were only "HD ready" meaning that you could get an HD radio unit easily added, but you couldn't pick up HD stations as-is. Right now I'm shopping for a new car (yeah, I know. I probably should have held off on getting the radio since presumably the car would come with a new one). Among the features cars advertise are built in satellite radio, bluetooth and an auxiliary jack to listen to your MP3 player on. I have yet to see one that touts the fact it comes with HD radio.

So basically, this means that unless I'm sitting down at a computer, I can't listen to it, which is problematic because pretty much the only time I am listening to radio is when I'm in my car. Hopefully another station will pick up the slack and broadcast alt-rock on a frequency I can pick up in the greater Cincinnati area. Until then it looks like I'm sticking to my iPod, with the occasional foray onto NPR, WEBN and Q102.

Friday, May 15, 2009

9 vs. Nine

Today on Quicktime I came across the trailer for the new Rob Marshall film, Nine. From what I can tell of the two minutes of footage provided, it looks like it should be a welcome addition to the winter movie season. Not to mention it is refreshing to see musicals that are something more than just a rock band's greatest hits CD acted, and it's nice to see something that has more energy than recent bland adaptations such as Sweeney Tood or Rent.



Just one small problem, since last summer trailers have been running for a joint project between Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, (director of Nightwatch and Wanted), called 9. This one revolves around some sort of dolls roaming around a post-apocalyptic wasteland.


There's nothing to stop two people from using the same name for their movie. David Cronenberg and Paul Haggis both released movies called Crash, (one was about sex and car wrecks, the other about the way peoples lives intersect with others). Then there's Gladiator, a title shared by the Russell Crowe Roman epic and a Cuba Gooding Jr. film that people always think is going to be the Russell Crowe movie when they see it in their onscreen cable guide. 

However, these movies were released years apart from their fellow namesakes so when it comes to promoting it, there isn't much confusion. On the other hand, 9 and Nine are both being released within months of each other. 

So is anybody going to budge? Usually somebody does. In 1998, Alex Proyas' film Dark City was forced to go through several name changes according to the bottom of this article. First, producers of the film Mad City complained it sounded too similar to their movie, so it was changed to Dark World, then Spielberg told them to change it because it sounded too similar to Lost World, so it got changed to Dark Empire, until somebody (George Lucas, supposedly) told them to change it. Of course by this time Mad City bombed and was forgotten, so the name went back to the first choice.

This is also the case with new James Cameron movie Avatar, the cinematic piece of vaporware that he's been talking about making for years and is now apparently actually getting underway. He apparently told the producers of the film adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender to simply shorten the title down to The Last Airbender to avoid confusion, even though the latter is a popular Nickelodeon series that debuted in 2005... long before Cameron's movie was due to hit screens. 

As for the two "Nines," it isn't clear who'd have more clout. The Rob Marshall musical is based on an Broadway musical (albeit a somewhat obscure one) so for marketing purposes it only makes sense to keep the original name. However, it's also possible this film might be aimed more towards the art house crowd and therefore not get a wide release.

There's no question that Tim Burton's movie is getting a wide release, and as I said before it's been promoted since last year. This one was based on a short film by Shane Acker (who is also directing the full length remake) so it too has a claim to it's title. On the other hand, it hasn't necessarily been ingrained in the public consciousness that the Burton-produced movie is actually called 9 since the trailer flashes the title briefly before showing it's release date, 9-9-09. So it's possible that it can undergo a name change without confusing audiences. After all, the original trailer for Cloverfield never gave the title, just the release date of 1-18-08 (I know, it's lame that I can actually remember that).

Who knows? Maybe neither will budge, but if not I can see a lot of confusion happening here. It's easy to see somebody going to the ticket booth and asking to see "nine," and instead of getting the bleak CGI film they expected, they find themselves in a colorful live action musical. We won't know until they come out. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

... the mini-IMAX

and how apparently IMAX is boldly experimenting with brand dilution

I think that most people associate the brand name IMAX with one thing alone: a really big-ass movie screen. When I say big-ass I mean it envelops your entire field of vision. This is they way they show it on their website. It's so big, you're supposed to write it all in capital letters. Every IMAX i've ever been to has been has held true to this formula, until now. Recently IMAX has decided to slap its brand name on much smaller sized screens.

Previously, the only movies I'd ever seen in IMAX before were documentaries at museums. I'd never really felt compelled to pay the extra money to see a hollywood movie on an obscenely large screen. My friends who have been to see movies in IMAX before have described it as not being any better, just bigger. The one exception was my cousin who saw Speed Racer in IMAX (an underrated movie, I might ad) who pointed out that it's such a visual spectacle, that seeing it in such a large format only makes it better. 

Recently the AMC at Newport on the Levee added an IMAX to its lineup, so I figured I'd try it out since I had been meaning to see Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D, but hadn't gotten around to it. It cost about $15 for one ticket, but I figured for something that promised complete immersion into the movie, it was worth it this one time. 

I had assumed that what they did was just re-open the IMAX theatre that was built when Newport first opened up and that had closed shortly after. (At the time, it was primarily showing the sort of documentaries you see at museums). Instead, I was directed upstairs where the rest of the cinemas were. Now I was assuming that they had remodeled one of the existing theatre houses so that it now contained a supermassive movie screen. I walked into the door marked IMAX and was treated with... a completely ordinary sized screen. Granted it was the biggest screen at the AMC, but as best I could tell it was the exact same size as it was before they put the name IMAX on the door. They just charged more for you to get in. In fact, I think the old Lowes that used to be off Montgomery Road in Kenwood might have had larger screens.

As I took my seat, fuming about the fact that I had dropped $15 to see a movie on what was clearly not an IMAX, I remembered this article on the IMDB about how IMAX was announcing plans to expand by turning existing theatres into IMAXes. According to the article, owners of the old IMAX theatres were upset because they feared the brand would be weakened if people walked into a theatre expecting a 4800 square foot screen, and instead got half of that. IMAX's co-CEO argued that the brand IMAX refers to the whole theatre experience, not just a big screen. 

Nope, I'm with the theatre owners. Like I said before, IMAX to me means one thing alone: a really big-ass screen. Since there's no brand distinction between the old massive IMAXes and these new mini-IMAXes, I expect a lot of people are going to be up in arms when they walk in and see a screen that is completely ordinary. And considering that we're in a recession I doubt there are many people who are going to $5 extra per ticket for a sound system that's only noticeably better if you're a complete cinephile.

I also don't see people taking the effort to call ahead to find out if their local cinema has one of the big IMAXes or one of the baby ones. This is assuming of course that they even know these new downsized IMAXes exist out there. What I do see happening is a lot of people shelling out the extra money to see the first wave of summer blockbusters, realizing they've been had and not going back. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

... Terminator Salvation's PG-13 Rating

Why Terminator Salvation probably won't suffer from a PG-13 Rating

A few years back there was a massive public outcry (in fanboy terms at least) when the fourth Die Hard movie was given a PG-13 rating. Yet with the latest Terminator movie getting a PG-13 rating as well, the public seems relatively indifferent. So why do fanboys feel let down by one R-rated franchise going family friendly but not care about another one?

1. "Yippie Kay-yay Motherfucker"
These three words pretty much define the reason why people loved the Die Hard movies. They were brash, violent and over the top. The franchise's main draw may have been that it allowed viewers to vicariously live out the fantasy of being an average joe turned action hero, but just as much of a draw was the violence and the language. The best moments of the series were always when somebody got killed in an unnecessary manner or when characters snapped clever lines of dialogue back and forth that were littered with f-bombs. 

When word got out about Live Free or Die Hard's PG-13 rating, viewers automatically knew what to expect: considerably less violence and pretty much no swearing. In fact, most of my friends were strangely fixated on whether or not McClane would even get to say his catch phrase, since the MPAA only occasionally lets the word "fuck" be uttered when kids are present in the audience, and in those cases the movie gets away with it once. 

Predictably, the result was what everybody expected. We all ended up paying ten bucks to see what felt like the "edited for cable" version on the silver screen. While they did manage to get the catch-phrase in as something other than, "Yippie kay-yay Mr. Falcon," (watch it on cable and you'll know what I mean,) it still felt neutered. 

But the violence and swearing was never really a defining aspect of the Terminator Movies. People were drawn more by the fighting robots, constant explosions and endless supply of ammunition being spent. Sure, when you put all of those things together in a movie its inevitably going to result in lots of violent onscreen deaths, but depicting those deaths in an over-the-top manner was never something that enhanced or hindered the movie. No, what really makes a Terminator movie is a big scary robot holding a machine gun while an ominous drum beats in the background. Based on the trailers, it looks like we'll see plenty of that, so that's one thing to not worry about.

2. Its a different movie anyway
Salvation has a drastically different premise from the three previous Terminator movies. Instead of the astonishingly well executed B-movie premise of people being stalked by a killer robot, it's a tale of all of humanity fighting for its survival. Salvation is almost a spin-off movie in the way other franchises such as X-Men have been spun off with Wolverine, except instead of showing a character's origin, we see his ending. More importantly the focus in this film is entirely on John Connor instead of Schwarzenegger's Terminator.

Since the story is going in a new direction, its foreseeable that if more sequels get made, the movies featuring the Older John Connor could have a fan base independent of the Schwarzenegger movies. This would be like how some people love the original Star Wars Trilogy but hate the prequels because the story shifted from being an episodic pulp space-western to a character study of Anakin Skywalker. With a new focus to the story, it seems more acceptable to change the tone of it as well. A viewer seems less likely to compare it to the previous movies and will instead judge it on its own merits simply because all the changes make it seem like a brand new franchise.

On the other hand, Live Free or Die Hard was supposed to be entirely along the same lines as its predecessors. Granted, it did maintain the same level of outrageousness in some aspects as the first three movies. For example, there was the scene where McClane takes out a helicopter  in the air using a car. Unfortunately, by taking out all the language and violence, it ended up feeling like a much tamer movie than the other Die Hards, which it should rightfully be compared to.

3. It faces some stiff competition this summer
Okay, clearly this was the main reason why Die Hard 4 and Terminator 4 got the PG-13 rating, and on this one I'll let Die Hard slide. Since video piracy is running a bit rampant these days, and people are leaning more toward waiting until movies come out on video to see them, filmmakers have an incentive to draw as many potential viewers as they can to the theaters. By taking away the restriction that one have a parent or legal guardian present with them in the theatre, scores of bored teenagers can see the movie whenever they want with their friends, instead of waiting for their parents to take them... or trying to sneak past the ushers.

Considering that there are at least three other eagerly awaited big budget sci-fi movies this summer, (Wolverine, Star Trek and Transformers,) one of which also features big-ass killer robots, its understandable that producers wouldn't want to bet the farm entirely on the over-17 demographic.

Hopefully Terminator Salvation ends up meeting expectations and doesn't leave us feeling like something was missing because the violence was toned down. But in the event that it does end up feeling a little weak, at least we have the promise of an unrated director's cut when it gets released on video.

Friday, April 24, 2009

... starting a blog

Okay, so basically this post is just a starter post so that I can mentally get the ball rolling on this. So why have I decided to join the millions of others out there who feel the need to constantly share their thoughts with the world? Personally, I just feel the need to rant and rave about stuff every now and then. Usually it's along the lines of things I feel are being overrated, or things that never seemed to get the acknowledgement they deserve.

I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to be putting up here, but most likely it's going to review entertainment generally. I'm largely a cinephile, so odds are it's going to be lots of movie reviews, but I will probably end up talking about all kinds of products, and since i studied marketing in undergrad, advertising as well.

At any rate, if you're reading this it's probably because you're either a friend of mine or you stumbled across this looking for something to keep you occupied during some down time at work. At any rate, I hope you enjoy.