Smart things have larger effects

I always like stories of smart things having good repercussions beyond what was expected. There was a story a year or so back about the earliest known sound recordings, which were never meant to be played back. The creator of the “phonautograph” was merely playing with how voice could shake a pen that was making a line; it wasn’t until a century and a half later that someone figured out “hey, we can turn this line back into sound!”

I just ran across another of those stories, and it’s about an acknowledged creative genius, Méliès, the early filmmaker (if you saw the movie Hugo, you know the guy I mean.) Due to some problems with distribution, Méliès found that he needed two negatives of each movie. Rather than having two cameras that needed separate operation, he simplified the shooting: he built a special camera that was really two cameras in one, two reels of film, two lenses. Sure, they’d each get a slightly different image, but they were close enough that it shouldn’t make much difference.

You’re seeing what’s coming, aren’t you?

That’s right. a century later, someone paired the two prints back together, and got these early masterpieces in totally legitimate 3-D.

Published in: on January 26, 2014 at 3:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Gravity and Sunshine

A couple weeks back, Mrs. Nat’s TV and I had our anniversary. We chose to celebrate by taking in a couple of entertainments. We bought two tickets for The Sunshine Boys starring Danny Devito and Judd Hirsch. Now, I hadn’t seen the stage version before, but had seen both of the filmed versions (the excellent Walter Matthau/George Burns theatrical release, and the better-forgotten Peter Falk/Woody Allen telefilm); the Mrs. had not experienced it in any way. We had sprung for front-row tickets, which may seem like an indulgence, but once you’re paying for a babysitter for an extended evening of getting into the city, dining, and a show, the total cost difference between being barely able to make out the figures on stage (as we had done from the last row on an earlier anniversary, going to see The Producers) and being able to count Devito’s nostril hairs if one wished (we didn’t) is small.

The play is good and sharp, and works fine as a period piece (which it now is and wasn’t when it was written; due to being grounded in vaudeville, one cannot slide it in time.) It was well performed, even though the very talented Mr. Devito is not optimal for the lead role. The first half of the first act in particular seems written for someone whose delivery is more down and inward, a certain sort of grump, while Devito, even when playing nasty characters, has always been more of an outward glow sort of person. He still managed to make that material work.

The play runs on a basic Simon formula: take two people who don’t want to be together, and put them together. That’s the Sunshine Boys, the Odd Couple, the Goodbye Girl, Seems Like Old Times, Max Dugan Returns, and so forth. I’ll have to play with that myself as a formula; it’s an obviously workable engine.

The next day, we snuck out for a mid-day showing of Gravity. It was obvious from the way this film was being discussed as an immersive experience that we wanted to see it in 3-D, but we thought we’d skip the IMAX fee. As it turns out, the showing we showed up for was in XD, which is a competing format for IMAX but the same idea… and it was probably worth the extra bucks. Even though one can find quibbles with anything, and this is no exception, the entire ride was tense and well worth it, an impressive piece of filmmaking and something to hold up as an example of What We Can Now Do, on a technical level. It’s an action effects film that, should it be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, there will be many people who will think it doesn’t deserve it, but no one will be surprised it’s there. Do go see it while it is still on the big screen, preferably a high-tech one. (I’ve felt for a while that there should be some effort to keep really IMAXy films available in that format; if I owned a multiplex in a resort area and had two IMAX screens, I’d be tempted to see if I could keep hold of some of the releases; if three years from now, I was still showing Gravity twice a week and The Dark Knight once, and other films in there as well, I bet I could make some bucks out of people who missed them the first time around or who want that experience again.

Published in: on October 21, 2013 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Maybe they should be married

Had an odd dream last night… often do, but this one is lingering for some reason. I was watching what I kept thinking was a remake of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys (which I saw a stage version of the other day; more on that in another post), starring Walter Matthau and Woody Allen (who are actually the stars of the theatrical and telemovie versions of The Sunshine Boys, respectively), but I kept being bothered by the fact that in this version, they weren’t old vaudevillians who had to work together one more time, but old handymen. I was particularly distracted by a shot of Matthau’s character falling off the top of a third story roof, bouncing off the layers of roof below, as it was clearly not Matthau that was falling but a stunt man with a Matthau face badly pasted over his. My confusion about the remake was cleared up; this was not a remake of The Sunshine Boys, but of Neil Simon’s The Marrying Man (which makes little sense, as I’m pretty sure it is not about two old anythings getting together, but of two younger things of varying sexes getting together; I suspect both men were taking the slot played by Alec Baldwin in the film, rather than the chanteuse ill-played by Kim Bassinger, based on my memories of having seen that film when it was released.)

So I look up this new version of The Marrying Man, which is still being produced as I’m watching it (perhaps I’m watching dailies?), expecting that there is some superstar director being given the chance to revive it, and it turns out that it’s a guy who has never directed a film before, and his main background is being a burglar. And when I talk to him about my involvement in earlier versions of either Sunshine Boys or Marrying Man, I open a three ring binder to show some information, only to discover that I had hidden $1200 in the binder, and now I have to figure out where in my house I can put the binder, where the burglar/director cannot find it should he choose to come after it, but where I’ll remember I put it if I ever need it.

The brain dumps itself in very odd ways.

(Note to any burglars reading this: no, I do not actually keep $1200 in a binder in my house. Don’t bother.)

Published in: on October 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Orson Scott Card’s logic

Orson Scott Card is facing down the call for boycott of the Ender’s Game film by releasing a statement basically saying that his side has now lost the war over same-sex marriage in the United States, and thus that his stance is moot. This overlooks several major things:

  1. He remains on the board of the National Organization For Marriage, a group founded, in their own words “in response to the growing need for an organized opposition to same-sex marriage”. Following the recent Supreme Court rulings, the group has taken the stance that the battle is very far from over (they are calling for a Constitutional amendment), and that people should continue sending them money so that they can continue battling.
  2. That his organization continues their campaign to boycott General Mills, maintaining a boycott website and linking to it from their main website, over the company’s “public opposition to the Minnesota Marriage Amendment”… an amendment that failed over half a year ago, and is thus genuinely moot.
  3. Lest you think that that is just a case of them not thinking to end the boycott, remember that in 2010, Card’s group ran a revenge campaign against three Iowa Supreme Court justices who had found state constitutional protection for same-sex marriage, getting all three judges ousted despite the fact that the ruling had already taken place.
  4. That the opposition to Card is not over just same-sex marriage, but over his anti-gay activism in general, such as his call for homosexual activity to be criminalized.

Just some things to think about when considering whether you are supporting a war against homosexuals by going to see his movie about a war against “buggers”.

(Please note that I am not actually calling for the boycott. I believe that simply having litmus taste for writers over their beliefs will serve to stagnate the creative field; I am quite capable of enjoying creative work from people with whom I have strong political differences. However, Mr. Card pushes beyond merely having opinions to being a key man involved in the battles, being on the board of an organization that may be losing, but has done very real damage along the way, so he enters a more problematic realm for me. But the goal of this post is not to encourage boycott, but to address the fundamental dishonesty of Card’s statement.)

Published in: on July 9, 2013 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

Repurposing

One of the dilemmas faced in modern media is that there are so many outlets for everything, we feel the need to make product that can fit all those outlets, rather than creating a truly optimal experience in one. So our comics no longer have two page spreads, which worked fine in staple-bound format but are problematic in the trade collections; they no longer have hand lettering, which worked fine in original-language print formats but are less than optimal for digital editions, for foreign translations, and so forth; and there’s a move to complex pages which worked fine in print but are too detailed for the resolution of table-based viewing. Movies try to work in both 3-D IMAX and cell phone viewing. Netflix should be giving its original series the freedom from having fixed episode lengths, but someday, they may want to resell them

I was reminded of this when I finished watching The Hangover III the other day. This is the latest in the series of R-rated movies.

Except, well, it isn’t. Not really. The Hangover III is a PG movie, maybe PG-13 for suggested drug use… with an R-rated sequence only after the credits start rolling. Really, the main part lacks the nudity and the other vulgarity of the previous films. Why would they do that? My best guess, so they could show the whole thing on broadcast TV, just chop of the credit sequence (which TV likes to chop off anyway.) But is this for the good of the movie? You’d have to show me a better movie than this to convince me…

Published in: on June 15, 2013 at 6:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Movies I’ve seen recently

Pitch Perfect and Argo… liked them both.

Pitch Perfect wasn’t perfect, but it was fun. It’s a comedy set in the world of college a capella… not, it seems, a particularly accurate depiction, but it doesn’t pretend to be the sort of film where you can take such things seriously. This is more in the tradition of films like Revenge of the Nerds than in some more serious format. There’s a couple things I find interesting. One is how hard the film feels the need to explain to you that performance A is good and B bad, because they’re all slick enough that you may not agree with what they’re saying. The other is… well, have you seen the ads for this film? So you know what it’s about, right, this brassy overweight girl who sings, right? Only that’s not true. She’s only a supporting character; the central character is a conspicuously attractive, svelte movie. That’s right, they’re pitching it as a film about an unattractive outsider rather than a sexy gal. I think that really says something interesting about the cultural moment we’re in.

Argo was good, quite good, but not perfect. My little hope for good treatment of Jack Kirby as a character in this film was dashed; the Kirby character appears in one scene, seems unlikely Kirby, and doesn’t match quite the truth of Kirby’s involvement in the true story. I understand that he wasn’t that important to the story they were telling… but hey, if you’re trying to show how wild a scene you’re involved in is, wouldn’t the inclusion of the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Captain America, Hulk, and so forth be worth a mention?

One thing that hit me was one of the difficulties in doing a “based on true events” stories. There were a couple times… one in particular (folks who have seen the film will know what I mean when I say “trying to get to the phone”) where an attempt to build conflict which would seem merely a little silly in a fiction film seems like a stupid bit of desperation to add drama where none existed.

But overall, it’s well worthwhile. All the actors do a good job. And while John Goodman may not inherently be able to rescue a film (see The Babe, Blues Brothers 2000, or Born Yesterday for proof), there is no film that is not improved by his presence.

I may have to rent some of Mr. Affleck’s other films as a director.

Published in: on October 16, 2012 at 5:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Creator ownership and the generation of comic book movie properties

What we have here is a chart looking at the English language theatrically-released films released since 1982 that are based on English language comic book and graphic novel properties, sorted in order of the date of first publication of the property, color-coded for whether the property was creator-owned, corporate-owned (generally by the publisher), or co-owned by both.

The 1982 date was chosen to reflect a shift that was going on in comics at the time. I’m specifically linking the date to Destroyer Duck #1, which showed that creator owned material could be run in a standard-format American comic book. This was not the invention of the creator-owned comic, of course, but it was a strong change in the air.

What can be seen is that once creator ownership was on the table, the moviable properties were largely works that creators maintained ownership of. Of the large mainstream publishers that preexisted the change, Marvel and Archie have published no new company-owned properties that have reached the big screen. DC has published four over those 30 years. In contrast, in just the 10 years preceding 1982, Marvel launched 6 purely-Marvel-owned properties that would later become movies, including a couple that were made into movies within 15 years after creation (so it’s not merely a matter that company-owned concepts take longer to reach the screen – although they seem to – that prevents post-1982 Marvel material from showing up.)

Caveats:

  • The source is derived from the Wikipedia article “List of films based on English-language comics” and its completeness is dependent on that.
  • Not having a long time for research, the ownership status is sometimes based on my assumptions, informed by the companies involved and the practice of the time. Corrections are welcome.
  • I counted as “Corporate-owned” anything created as work-for-hire and anything independently-created where the property was sold to the corporation before publication (example: Superman), but not anything where the creator or heirs may have sold to a corporation at some later date.
  • I counted as creator-owned things that may have been published as copyright by the publisher, but with a reversion clause where the property reverted before the film was licensed (Road to Perdition.)
  • There were judgment calls on what to count as the property creation date, for items like Green Lantern and The Losers, where the property name had been used by the owner on what might be viewed as multiple properties.
  • Judgement calls were also made on what counts as a comic book property; both the inclusion of Red Sonja and the exclusion of Aliens Vs. Predator are arguable.
  • I recognize only one property per film, as that’s the central thing that caused it to be made. So, for example, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the Wolverine property, not the X-Men (despite their presence in the title) nor Deadpool.

 

Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 5:14 am  Comments (23)  

How Do You Know

Have you ever watched the deleted scenes on a DVD? Usually, instead of saying “hey, great, more movie!” you end up thinking “that didn’t quite work.  I can see why they cut that out.”

The new film from the talented James L. Brooks, How Do You Know, feels a lot like watching those deleted scenes. It’s g0t a lot of recognizable actors somewhat oddly mixed. Owen Wilson does a great job at his part, a baseball player whose simplicity serves him well. Reese Witherspoon is solidly invested into her character’s viewpoint. Paul Rudd plays the Paul Rudd bit, which has worked quite well at time but doesn’t serve him here… and leaves the central romance with no chemistry. No surprises are asked of Jack Nicholson, and none are delivered. In the smaller parts, Tony Shalhoub fulfills the needs of a  standard character type, but Mark Linn Baker fails.

At times I wanted to compare it to a puppet show version of a Brooks movie, or simply a first draft, but I’ve decided that the DVD extras thing fits best, it’s a knock that I’ve not tried before, and I’m sticking with it.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 6:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Victory is mine

So I’m standing there thinking “am I really going to buy 8 more boxes of Frosted Flakes?” ’cause you see, I’ve got I think eight boxes of Frosted Flakes in my cupboard already, and we don’t really eat Frosted Flakes, I’m going to take them and give them away to friends. Kellogg’s has been running this Toy Story 3-linked promotion, with codes from three specially-marked boxes you get a $5 gift certificate for the concession stand at certain theaters (including one local one), for 6 codes you get a free pass to any Disney movie, and I’ve been glutting up on these, because if you find the boxes on sale and have a coupon, you can actually get three codes for close to $5, sometimes even less than $5, and since I go to the movies anyway, it’s like the cereal is not only free, they’re paying you to take it. Rice Krispies, Cocoa Krispies, Bite-Sized Frosted Mini-Wheats, we’ve been glomming them up. These are how my family saw Toy Story 3 and snacked while we did so. But the promotion is near its end, and there are fewer and fewer boxes bearing the codes on the shelves.

BUT there I was at Albertson’s (which gets an apostrophe, unlike Ralphs), and there’s a big list of Kellogg’s products @ $2.50 apiece, or $1.50 if you buy 8. And they’ve got plenty of Frosted Flakes with the code, and I’ve got a $1.25-off-three-boxes-of-Kellogg’s coupon, so for $10.75 I’d have 8 codes…. that’s $10 worth of concession cash (I don’t know of any Disney movies coming up in the near future that I’d want to see) and two codes left over, which is only useful if I buy something else before the code promo runs out entirely, so I’m risking being out 75 cents of value for eight boxes of cereal that I really don’t need. But then I think, what if I only get 6 boxes of the Frosted Flakes and meet the 8 item requirement by buying some cookies, which might be useful, so it’s like I’d be getting two packages of cookies for 75 cents total, and that’s a deal, might even be profitable if I have any cookie coupons (I don’t, alas)… so I head over to the cookie aisle and there are Keebler Fudge Stripe Cookies, they’re on the list of items… and one of them has a blurb on the side for a free movie ticket for five tokens! So I dig through the pile and there are exactly 5 packets of Fudge Stripes, an eminently edible cookie, bearing the token. So booya, for $10.75 I’m getting three boxes of useless Frosted Flakes, five packages of at least semi-useful Fudge Stripes, $5 in concession cash, and an any-time, any-studio movie pass that you gotta rank as being worth at least $10.

I don’t exercise pointless consumerism. I consume to win!

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 4:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

John Hughes, RIP

Movie writer/director John Hughes has passed away.

I’m of the right age for his films to have hit at about the right time. The Breakfast Club is by far the important one to me. It may seem obvious, but it works. Still works, it seems, having talked to people decades younger than myself who have watched it. Stuff like Ferris Beuhler and Planes, Tranes, and Automobiles have strong value, of course, and much entertainment in some of the films he put together for other directors – Home Alone, Pretty in Pink, and so forth. But in the end, it’s The Breakfast Club that justifies it all, creatively.

I’d find myself thinking about Hughes from time to time, because he was gone from the scene. Hadn’t done a new produced screenplay in quite some time. I wondered if he just decided to get off the spinning wheel, or if perhaps he had early Alzheimers or some other debilitation that kept him out of the game. Certainly, a loss. I doubt Hollywood just dumped him. I mean, he may not have always had hits, but one Home Alone makes up for a lot of Baby’s Day Outs and Career Opportunitieses.

I also wondered when folks would be smart enough to do a stage version of The Breakfast Club. It seems too obvious. Simplest thing in the world to stage — really, it’s one set, a small cast. Plenty of bases for musical numbers, if you want to do a musical of it. And the audience for whom it’s iconic is now of the age to afford Broadway prices. Also, it would have a long life in local theater.

The death isn’t an art tragedy. He wasn’t producing, to the best of my knowledge. But…

Well, he was 59 when he died. Young to die, but not monstrously young. Still… if I die at that age, my new son will be fatherless at age 15. It’s hard not to see things in that context this week.

Published in: on August 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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