Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Those wacky Weinsteins!

You gotta love Bob and Harv. If there's one thing Hollywood's favorite blustery librul Jewish Democrats love more than spending too much money to acquire independent movies at Sundance and then not releasing them, it's just, you know, fuckin' with people.

First, they announce that their new post-Miramax shingle The Weinstein Group will be launching a new company to release "faith-based" movies, meaning Christian movies. So all the Christian Right hand-wringers who've been bemoaning librul Jewish Hollywood and its librul Jewish agenda to undermine American values had about 48 hours in which to scratch their heads in confusion. Then — haha, suckers! — the other shoe dropped with their announcement of the release of the cheapass slasher movie remake Black Christmas on December 25.

Nikki Finke at LA Weekly wasted nary a moment to go into a full end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it fit of blog apoplexy.

Shame, shame, shame on Harvey and Bob Weinstein, and their distributor MGM's Harry Sloan, for opening a holiday-themed slasher movie on Christmas Day... And the entertainment industry wonders why it continues to have a huge PR problem as promoters of garbage?... Still, I don't understand: just how many disturbed human beings does The Weinstein Company and MGM think actually want to go see a gory movie on December 25th.... Is the intended audience supposed to be non-Christians?

Well, when you consider that the most recent movie made for an intended audience of Christians, The Nativity Story, has been sinking like the Bismarck, that might not be a bad plan after all. Nativity's weak business (barely $16 million in its first 10 days) has left New Line wondering if that vast Passion of the Christ audience might have already been Raptured away. And who's to say Christians won't go to Black Christmas just as eagerly as anybody? After all, they don't seem to want to see a movie about the baby Jesus released in the Christmas season, so maybe a mindlessly retro bit of slasher movie stupidity will be just the ticket to take the bad taste of eggnog, obnoxious relatives, and ugly gift sweaters out of everyone's mouths. Bob and Harv didn't get to be Bob and Harv by being idiots, you know.

It will, of course, be very amusing to see what Nikki Finke thinks of whatever gets released as part of their "faith-based" line.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Press the eject and give me the tape

No, this isn't a post about Bauhaus, but about the death of VHS. This might come as a surprise to many of you who probably thought VHS had died some time ago. It might be more accurate to say that it has been on its deathbed, wasting away, and has now, with one long, low rattle, shuffled off this magnetic coil at last.

The format, rather astonishingly, lasted three solid decades. It had no real competition at all in the 90's from laserdisc, an expensive and cumbersome format that appealed only to hardcore movie dweebs like me. But when DVD emerged in the late 90's, inexpensive and crisp, packed with loads of goodies and easy, instant, clickable navigability, VHS began hemorrhaging market share until 2003, when DVD finally passed it decisively. Now, pretty much any retailer left that matters has decided to pull the plug. Simply by being granted no shelf space, this venerable format is officially obsolete. (Practically, it has been so for a few years.)

Ah well. You had a nice little world-conquering run there, VHS. But in the world of technology, it's hard to go back when you've been presented with something new, shinier, and better. I actually find it difficult to watch VHS these days; the image quality is literally that bad, even worse than I remember. And I've been enjoying higher-quality video for over a decade now, several years longer than most members of the public, who didn't discover the joys of higher resolution until DVD came along. I bought my first laserdisc player in 1991 (!), so as long as 15 years ago, I knew tape was on its way to the bin.

But now that it's actually, really, no-kidding-this-time, honest-to-goodness dead — I don't know — I'm a teensy bit sad. I had some good, dweeby adventures with VHS, obsessively taping my favorite movies and TV shows off cable and creating lovely labels on my laser printer. My rows of uniformly and chronologically labeled MST3K episodes are like my own personal shrine to shake-your-head geekdom. Even though those shows remain the only tapes I still watch at all — and that, only because many episodes aren't on DVD yet, and when they are, the tapes will be retired — I'm still a little sorry to see it go. Thanks, VHS. You did good, and you'll be fondly remembered.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A farewell to Altman

Just a quick note to lament the passing of maverick director Robert Altman, director of such classics as M*A*S*H, Nashville, and The Player, as well as other respected films like Short Cuts, Thieves Like Us, Gosford Park and this year's A Prairie Home Companion. He was making films right into his 80's, which I hope to be lucky enough to do. Altman said of his life behind the camera, "I'm very fortunate in my career. I've never had to direct a film I didn't choose or develop. My love for filmmaking has given me an entree to the world and to the human condition." Of course, even an admired veteran like himself took his share of abuse from arrogant studio execs; his film The Gingerbread Man was taken away from him, cut badly, and flopped as a result, proving that even a filmmaker with a sterling track record and the admiration of all his peers isn't immune to being abused by the system like any wet-behind-the-ears first-timer. (The Player's very bitter tone was all too clearly informed by some of Altman's own worst experiences.) We've lost one of the great ones; hopefully we've got many more years of Scorsese to soften the blow.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

It's the big PS3/Wii launch weekend...

And I just bought a GameCube! That and a boxed set of three Resident Evils for 100 bucks total. Ha!

So while a zillion game geeks will be freezing their asses off outside the nation's Best Buys waiting for the highest of high-tech, I'll be nestled in, playing Resident Evil Zero and 4.

Hey, don't get me wrong. A Wii, an XBox360, and a PS3 are all on my want list. It's just that I'm not such a hardcore gamer that I have to have the newest system or the hottest new game right goddamn now. Also, I really see no point at all in even owning a PS3 or a 36o until I've got one of these in my den. So I can wait, happily, for the prices to come down, and in the meantime, I've got all kinds of gaming goodness to keep me happy. Hell, I've still got my N64 and my Dreamcast, and play 'em both.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Bloody Work update, at last

Haven't been around here for a couple of months, mainly because I've had nothing too exciting to report — just business as usual — and the film industry as a whole hasn't been doing anything sufficiently outrageous to get me riled up. But I do, at long last, have something of an update on how the documentary is coming.

Much of what I'm calling my "preliminary" research is done; now I'm looking more closely at individual pieces of the research to eke out more details, confirm facts, deny unfounded claims or myths, that kind of thing. I'm also underway on prepping a teaser trailer, which, when done (New Years-ish, I hope), will be shown on an official site as well as my MySpace page and YouTube. I want the thing to go completely viral.

Adam Dooley and Ryan Krueger of IllusEffects Studios here in Austin are creating a replica of an 1870s-80's vintage axe to be used as the hero prop in the trailer, and ultimately the feature's appropriate re-enactment scenes. These guys are amazing. Ryan showed me a photo of a gigantic model he made of a temple-like structure that's about 12 feet on a side and composed entirely of styrofoam. It looks like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. He drew up the plans for it in AutoCAD, then output the information directly into this amazing 3D modeling machine that automatically scultped the whole damn thing using hot knives. It's truly jaw dropping what can be done these days. These guys will be working with me on the feature, for sure, and we've discussed plans as elaborate as a complete 1885 miniature reconstruction of the Congress Ave. section of downtown Austin, including the Capitol (which was just being built at the time).

Anyway, there will be more to come, and hopefully more frequently, as the next several months progress.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Holleran's world, where criticizing lies and defamation is "fascism"

Box Office Mojo is one of the web's more useful film sites, for those folks who are really interested in daily box office receipts down to the dollar, and for charts detailing the performances of various films and entire genres over the past several years.

But BOM has a blemish, and it takes the form of critic and columnist Scott Holleran.

There are two things that can severely damage the credibility of any critic of the arts. One of these is the inability to separate art from personal ideology. This does not mean that if, for instance, a critic sees a film whose politics he considers unsound, he has no business making those points in his critique. What it means is that when a critic allows his own ideological views (whether political, religious, philosophical, what have you) to give him a distorted idea about what's really going on or not going on in the work of art he's critiquing, then his credibility suffers. It's something, admittedly, that one must work on, but it's important if you like to think of yourself as someone who considers fidelity to truth more important than whose banner you happen to be waving. For example, I consider myself a good liberal, but I just don't trust the work of Michael Moore; he raises excellent questions, but he makes you wade through lots of bullshit to get there. So while I fall on Moore's side of the political fence, I don't allow that to blind me to where his films fail his audience.

The second thing is the use of hyperbole. Holleran's bad about this. You'll see what I mean shortly.

The column that inspired this post is one responding to the firestorm of criticism that was leveled against Disney and ABC for their two-part film The Path to 9/11, broadcast yesterday and today. Just as the movie itself is full of falsehoods, so is Holleran's attack on its critics. Holleran, never a guy to bury his lead, throws his first hyperbolic punch in his opening paragraph.

Free speech be damned, U.S. government officials proclaimed in a letter threatening the Walt Disney Company: take your movie off the market or risk the wrath of the state. That is the gist of the latest assault on individual rights, another advancement toward fascism.

Cripes! What Orwellian imagery, right off the bat! Here come the jackbooted government stormtroopers to shut down those poor filmmakers and TV executives who only want to exercise their Constitutional rights! Clearly, swastikas and thought police are just around the corner. Is no one safe from their depradations? Why, why do they hate our freedoms so?

Okay, let's take a brief return trip to the planet Earth and examine just how badly Holleran is distorting already.

The movie has been castigated for passing off falsehoods as facts. Holleran soft-pedals this as follows.

Like most docudramas, it contains elements of truth and fiction in a selective depiction of the event. Apparently, among these is the assertion that the Clinton administration chose not to respond militarily against the Islamic terrorist responsible for attacks on the United States. The manner in which the point is portrayed caused the censorship.

The term "selective depiction of the event" is Holleran's euphemism for what could be more accurately termed "irresponsible inclusion of flat-out lies and misrepresentations." Among the non-truths dramatically portrayed in the film are scenes in which:

  • hijacker Mohammed Atta is passed through check-in by American Airlines personnel at Boston's Logan Airport, despite a warning flashing on their computer monitors. According to the 9/11 Commission report, this warning came while Atta was boarding a plane in Portland, Maine, to Logan. Also, it's the wrong airline. Atta flew US Airways Express, not American. The scene as depicted strongly suggests that negligence on the part of American Airlines makes them partly culpable for the attacks. If I were running American's legal department I'd be filing this morning.

  • Clinton administration officials refuse to authorize the CIA to capture Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Sandy Berger is specifically portrayed as being the individual at fault, when in fact he simply did not do what the scene shows him doing. Again, the scene is quite possibly actionable libel.

Okay, there are more, but this isn't a political blog and I just wanted to set out a couple of the more egregious examples of the falsehoods in the film that have drawn such criticism.

Holleran first lie is one of implication. His opening paragraph suggests that critics of the film in government (whom he later unambiguously identified as Democrats, just so there's no mistake which side of the bread he has buttered) have specifically threatened some kind of retaliation ("the wrath of the state") if ABC did not pull the movie. This is quite simply a lie. The strongest critics of the movie (the ones who are actually, you know, defamed in it) have stated quite forcefully that they believe the movie should be pulled unless its inaccuracies are corrected. But from what fevered fantasy does Holleran get his threats of fascistic police-state wrath? Read this and see if you can tell me where any Democrat speaks of dire consequences for ABC or Disney. From New York's Charles Schumer:

"I haven't seen it, but from everything I've heard it's not down the middle. It's not fair at all. And to have a film that seems to be biased and take one side put on by a network seems to be the wrong thing to do... You can't take a film that's supposed to report on something that's so real and so close and make it into fiction. That's beneath ABC's dignity."

Hmm, well, maybe CNN is part of the librul media, so perhaps they just left out the bit where Schumer added, "And if you don't cancel the show right away, we'll throw the whole goddamn bunch of you into Gitmo! See how you like that, suckers!"

Another distortion of Holleran's is to suggest that only hyper-partisan fascist brownshirt Democrats are the ones attacking the movie. In point of fact, prominent conservatives like Richard Miniter and Bill Bennett (yes, Bill Bennett) have been critical as well. Miniter, interviewed by Wolf Blitzer (himself no friend to the left), said quite unambiguously, "If people wanted to be critical of the Clinton years, there's things they could have said, but the idea that someone had [Osama] bin Laden in his sights in 1998 or any other time and the -- Sandy Berger refused to pull the trigger, there's zero factual basis for that."

Even actor Harvey Keitel, who plays the doomed John O'Neill, was so skeptical of the original script that he ended up hiring his own researcher, which led to his rewriting a lot of his own dialogue.

So clearly, the problem with this movie is that it lies. It lies through its teeth about the most profound event in American history since the Civil War, an event about which Americans deserve and are owed nothing less than the absolute, unvarnished, verifiable truth. This last is a point Holleran doesn't seem to feel is all that important, though. "None of that matters now," he writes. Listen to this over-the-top eruption of emotionalism he follows with.

...the movie is under siege and every freedom-loving American must defend Disney's right to air it. By sending the letter, these government officials — who ought to be censured and removed from the Senate — are using the authority of the state, i.e., the power of law enforcement, to violate free speech.

Again, just so there's no mistaking: Holleran is lying. No one has threatened the use of law enforcement against either ABC or Disney.

What they have done is demand the film be factually corrected or cancelled, which — and this is just one of many instances of irony that comes up reading Holleran's nonsense — is exactly the response Republicans had in 2003 to a miniseries entitled The Reagans, which they attacked for, you guessed it, factual inaccuracies. But all they have done is make the demand, because, legally and Constitutionally, they can't do anything more than that. As ABC has been able to go ahead and broadcast the show anyway, they have clearly not been censored. So the little graphic there with the word "CENSORED" melodramatically plastered across the ABC logo is just another teensy-weensy lie. Tsk tsk tsk.

(Also, don't you love the ironic little hypocritical touch where Holleran accuses Democratic senators of "fascism" for wanting ABC to fix-or-pull the movie, then promptly says they should be "censured and removed" from office? I sure do!)

In Holleran's world, what's good for the Republican gander is not so good for the Democratic goose. I tried searching BOM's archives for a column by Holleran regarding the flap over The Reagans (which, incidentally, was pulled before broadcast due to the criticisms, only to air later in a lousy time slot on Showtime). I wanted to see if he felt Republicans criticizing The Reagans were a bunch of "state-sanctioned bullies," "fascist senators" and "Washington's thugs," engaging in "an outrageous injustice" involving"censorship" and "government control of speech." I couldn't find one, but that could be because of BOM's search engine protocols. For all I know Holleran wrote exactly such an article excoriating Republicans in exactly the same vituperative language he uses to flay the Democrats.

But somehow, I doubt it.

Finally, one last punch to get in before I go. Notice how Holleran is trying to make this a free speech issue. This is clearly the most disingenuous aspect of his entire rant. Yes, free speech is "inalienable"; that's perhaps the one factual statement Holleran makes. But it cuts both ways. You may have the right to be a lying partisan hack, but the person who attacks you for your lies and points out the facts has the same free speech rights too. The "freedom" to be deceptive and irresponsible does not absolve one of the moral responsibility to be honest, particularly when your lies have potentially harmful consequences. There are already enough wacky conspiracy theories and other gibberish circulating about 9/11; does our culture benefit in any way by being offered yet another set of untruths, packaged as entertainment and seemingly validated by their appearance on a presumably respectable television network?

And finally, "free speech" is not an absolute, despite its first-amendment enshrinement. Lie under oath in the witness box, and you can go up on perjury charges; whining "but you're attacking my free speech!" will get you nowhere. Pin up a bunch of posters around your neighborhood falsely accusing your neighbor of being a pedophile, and expect to get sued into oblivion. (And quite possibly hospitalized.)

Moreover, it may be your Constitutionally protected right to speak your mind, but no one has a Constitutionally protected right to broadcast TV movies. That is understood as a privilege, by the very nature of the fact that not everyone can do it or is able to do it. In America we expect people in positions of authority and privilege to be responsible and honest, to be straight shooters, whether they are newspaper editors or popular celebrities or influential senators or police officers or presidents or, hell, even our bosses at work. And when they are not, which happens all too often, we resent it, it makes us angry, and we speak out about it.

That's what's at the heart of everything we hold dear about America, including, yes, our speech rights and all the rest of it. It's a shame Scott Holleran doesn't feel that responsibility and honesty are necessary, as long as those whose politics he doesn't like are the ones taking the damage.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Are Austin-shot films jinxed or something?

Despite the persistent fantasy Austin entertains about itself that it is the "third coast" of filmmaking, the most recent batch of high-profile movies shot in Austin have not fared terribly well either critically or commercially. And the trend doesn't look to be reversing or leveling out.

First there was the disaster that was Disney's The Alamo, a $100 million epic that ended up being so focus-grouped to death that it was rendered incoherent in the editing, and died at the box office, taking in less than a quarter of its production budget. This one really hurt, because it was the most massive production to come our way ever (I walked the sets, and it was really the kind of experience to get an aspiring director pumped about filmmaking), and there was no doubting the dedication of director John Lee Hooker to historical fidelity and narrative integrity. Trouble is, every time those qualities come into contact with the suits, the suits Windex them into oblivion.

Richard Linklater's adaptation of A Scanner Darkly has done all right, but not stunningly. Reviews have been mixed, and after several weeks the movie has yet to expand past 263 screens (the original plan was for 1500), having grossed just over $5 million. It only cost about $15 million to shoot, but with Matrix-man Keanu in the lead, there's no reason why Warner — the very same studio — couldn't have pumped the link to the cerebral-SF crowd and gotten the take up to $15-$20M by now.

Now comes word that Fox is actively trying to bury Mike Judge's Idiocracy. It goes without saying that there has been a lot of anticipation among Judge's fans for his followup to Office Space. Does Idiocracy suck that badly? Or is Fox operating under the bizarre notion that, since Office Space tanked in theaters but became a monster DVD hit, the thing to do is go for a deliberate theatrical flop with Idiocracy in the hopes that DVD history will repeat itself? I mean, WTF? Yes, any of us in this business knows the business makes no sense. But I think we all assumed that Hollywood likes making loads and loads of money. How hard would it have been to put Idiocracy on 1000 screens with "From the director of Office Space!" screaming at you from the one-sheet? Too hard for Rupert Murdoch's bean counters, evidently.

Finally, there have been the smaller indie films, none of which has done jack or squat. The Quiet opened on a meager 7 screens this weekend, to mostly shite reviews. This one was done by Burnt Orange Productions, a company affiliated with the University of Texas. Their hook is they keep budgets down by hiring film students as PA's, not paying them but giving them academic credit. Small wonder the LA members of The Quiet's crew constantly ridiculed the Austin crew for not being up to speed. No doubt they'll take their reports back home with them, further damaging Austin's rep as a worthwhile place to shoot your film.

So where do things stand now? Well, Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce has a still-untitled Iraq War project shooting right now (after numerous delays and crew shakeups — I almost got the storyboarding job on it), and there's the Rodriguez/Tarantino horror teamup Grind House. The latter will at least appeal to those directors' fans, but it may not be enough to pick up the industry's enthusiasm for Austin as a location, not to the level of production the city enjoyed in the first half of this decade.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The format war: gee, never saw this coming! [/sarcasm]

The latest news about the HD-DVD/BluRay format war is that industry analysts see the whole thing ending in a "stalemate", with, as the linked BBC article puts it, "neither format [gaining] the upper hand and that the rivalry will do damage to the market for high-def DVDs overall."

This didn't have to happen. Competition is certainly a necessary ingredient in any free market economy. But you would think that the business world would be one in which people learned from history, and that in the interest of making money, different groups backing rival formats with the same ultimate goal — providing high definition for the ideal home theater experience — would try to reach common ground to make the whole shooting match a success.

Now no one stands to make money and everyone stands to lose. Consumers, seeing this stalemate in the offing, will hold off from buying either format. They will wait for a winner, and then when one never appears, they will lose interest. Couple this situation with the mediocre reviews that HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have both been getting out of the starting gate, and add to it the fact that the business seems to have collective amnesia regarding Beta-vs-VHS and DVD-Audio-vs-SACD, and you have a recipe for failure.

Next prediction: everyone will retrench and look to the XBox360 (supporting HD-DVD) and PlayStation 3 (supporting Blu-Ray) to settle the issue once and for all. When if they'd had a little foresight, there never would have been a issue needing settling. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lengthy blog drought moistened by Gibsonian public display of douche-baggery

I know I haven't been the world's most active cineblogger, but that's what comes from actually trying to make your own movie. Anyway, as there's been very little to involve me lately on a film-fan level (I have yet to see a single solitary summer movie; I just can't muster up the energy) apart from buying that fan-fucking-tabulous Criterion DVD of Mr. Arkadin, I thought I'd at least throw in my two pesos on Mel Gibson's flamboyant act of career suicide.

A wise chappy once said that alcohol doesn't put words in your mouth, it lets the words that are in your brain come out of your mouth. Gibson's "I'm not an anti-Semite" apology, even in the longer director's cut version, will only seem sincere to people who think Lindsay Lohan means it when she says it really, truly, honestly, I-swear-to-god isn't all-night partying and cocaine binges that's made her so creepily thin. Gibson's mea culpa is, I'm sorry to say, just like those of any public figure caught out in an embarrassing situation involving them being themselves. It's solely in aid of image rehabilitation, not rehabilitation of any other (read: sincere) kind.

Back in the day, I was a Mel Gibson fan as part of my usual geek repertoire. He was Mad Max, which was the most important thing, and also Martin Riggs, though to be honest I've never been that big a fan of the Lethal Weapon franchise. I was even pretty impressed with his Hamlet. But in recent years, culminating in that wretched Jesus movie, too many aspects of his personality that are, ahem, less than pleasant (say, his sexism, homophobia, and "not an anti-Semite" anti-Semitism) have really turned me off to him. Shame. The guy could have saved it all had the Mad Max 4 project ever gotten off the ground, too.

So, yeah, if I needed any more reason not to care about Mel Gibson any more, I guess I got one.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Christian movie flap outstupids itself

Okay, so you'll remember about a month ago I snarked over a tempest that had sprung up in a teeny-tiny teapot over a Christian film reportedly getting a PG rating for no reason other than that it had Christian content, and how Donald Wildmon and other Christian Right attack dogs were predictably pouncing on this as a prime example of how evil librul Hoolywood lives to gang up on poor defenseless put-upon Christians.

As stupid as the initial flap was, it has, amazingly enough, gotten stupider. Evidently, Congress has done such a fine job of solving all of our nation's other pressing problems — the Iraq Debacle, skyrocketing gas prices, restoring New Orleans, Dick Cheney's aim — that they now have the free time to "revisit this ratings process." Wow! Remarkable how a group of religious extremists who have politicians in their pockets still have the cojones to whine that they are somehow oppressed. But that's the wonderful you-can-have-it-all-and-still-play-the-martyr world of the fundamentalist, ain't it?

Okay, here's what's going on, courtesy of Martin the Oracle. (Actually, it's Martin the Guy Who Knows a Thing or Two About Fundies and Can Make Some Pretty Confident Educated Guesses.) The producers of Facing the Giants aren't the least bit upset that their movie got a PG. After all, it's not as if a PG limits distribution or attendance in any way; hell, an unescorted toddler can walk into a PG movie entirely legally. This is all an opportunistic publicity stunt. Let's be real. Facing the Giants is a tiny-budgeted independent movie with no stars. At best, it was looking at very limited theatrical release, followed by a quick drop onto DVD where it would while away its days on the racks of Christian bookstores. In other words, we weren't exactly looking at Narnia-sized box office, and to get that, studios customarily spend tens of millions anyway. Suddenly, Giants gets a PG, and the producers think, "Hello! If we made a big media stink about this, and got Wildmon and Dobson and all the rest of the outrage merchants in on it, as well as a few pandering right-wing Congressmembers, then viola! We'll get colossal amounts of free advertising in the form of news items that we never could have paid for in a million years, and we'll be reinforcing that vote-getting meme that we're the victims of persecution by long-haired fag-enabling godless Jew lefties! Sweet!"

Hey, can't say I blame 'em. For all I know, it's what Jesus would do.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A new roommate?

This handsome devil is Adicus, and, depending on how well he adapts to his new surroundings (he's really, really timid and shy right now) as well as — most importantly — how well he gets on with Midnight, my Springer, he may be moving in. He's just the kind of dog I dig: mellow, non-hyper, quiet, entirely willing to curl up at your feet and sleep the day away while you work. Of course, right now, he hasn't been bold enough to get much past the laundry room. But we'll see if he lightens up and gets more comfortable in the days ahead.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Wow. Check out this review from The Digital Bits.
The Fifth Element. The title was an amazing bit of reference work on standard DVD, and that Superbit version was awesome. Obvious choice, right? Should look amazing in HD. Yeah... it should. But it doesn't. In fact... I'm not going to come out and say it looks like crap, but it is easily the worst looking high-definition title I've seen yet, and I've seen 30+ titles now. The image is muddy looking, lacking in crisp, clean detail. The colors don't quite pop off the screen like they should. Just a mess. Okay... I will say it. It looks like crap. Sony should never have released this title like this.


Monday, June 19, 2006

My former industry is starting to look like Hollywood!

Some of you are aware that I was in the comics business in the 1990's, where I did an alt-comix series called Hepcats that got good reviews but never sold. Then as now, phrases like "sex scandal" aren't something you'd ordinarily associate with a business like comics, which customarily evokes images of spotty geeks wearing faded Star Wars T-shirts, whose closest contact with girls is in the porn they download and the Boris Vallejo posters on their walls.

But last fall (I'm so outside the loop I've only just heard about it, of course), an incident happened at a convention in Ohio that sounds right out of some Hollywood gossip/scandal rag. The accused is a guy I knew well.

A full-fledged news report on the incident is here. But it's long, so for those of you who don't want to click over and spend 45 minutes reading it, the gist is as follows: a fellow named Charles Brownstein, one of the industry's most respected figures, stands accused of getting blindingly drunk as a skunk and trying to rip the shirt off an upcoming female comics artist in a hot tub.

I knew Charles very well when I was in the biz. At the time, he was a plucky lad of only 15, but so self-possessed, intelligent, mature and driven in his goals that he immediately made a profound impression on me and several other artists and industry movers and shakers. He certainly had his shit together better than most folks I know twice or three times his age. And, unlike a lot of highly intelligent and driven teens (certainly unlike myself well into my 20's), he wasn't a smug egoist. He published a fanzine for which he interviewed me and every other creator of note. Now, at 27, he heads up the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which, in the 90's, mostly devoted its efforts to protecting retailers and publishers of adult comics from prosecution but now seems to have its net thrown a little wider.

If the accusation is true — and no one, even Charles, is debating it — then I'm very disappointed in him. It would certainly be an incident I'd have considered wildly out of character for him. However, he has made a public apology which sounds honestly contrite — unlike that you usually tend to hear from real celebrities caught in similar circumstances — and has by all accounts been doing all he can to atone for the incident and make sure everyone knows he is truly sorry for his undeniably appalling behavior.

Not surprisingly, there are folks simply not in a forgiving mood about an incident like this, and the sad thing is, they appear to be manipulating the victim (who went through something humiliating enough as it is). The main organization in the other corner is called Friends of Lulu, dedicating to helping women artists get a leg up in a highly male (let alone male-geek) dominated industry. According to the Comics Journal article...

Friends of Lulu Vice President (of Industry Issues) Ronée Garcia Bourgeois was responsible for bringing the incident to the public's attention Dec. 26.... The reactions provoked by the post among followers of Bourgeois' column were predominantly compassionate but further subdivided into two categories: 1) the avowed desire to wreak Batman-like vengeance against the perpetrator, and 2) perplexity as to where to direct that vengeance or even what exactly was to be avenged. Referring to the alleged perpetrator as a "pervert" and a "leech," Bourgeois said, "I think he should burn. And as soon as I can, I will [identify him and his organization]."

It's one thing to want to get to the bottom of things and find out the facts of an incident. It's another thing entirely to go into wild-eyed lynch-mob mode and pre-emptively convict the accused in the infamous Court of Public Opinion. The problem is further muddied by how the whole investigation has been handled...

Why would Soma call off police, then later express public frustration at the lack of official response to her molestation? Did she think that police procedure would have allowed for some satisfactory action short of criminal prosecution? Did she later find that the incident had done her more psychic damage than she had initially realized — that she needed resolution more than she had thought? Soma is again the only person who can answer those questions, and for the time being, she is not talking on the record.

Then, this observation from my former colleague Colleen Doran, who is absolutely not an apologist for sexual predators, having had her share of unwelcome male attention throughout her career, due in large part to her unusual status as a gorgeous redhead in a business overrun with sex-hungry young guys. (I spent many evenings sitting on the phone listening to Colleen relate disturbing stories about a certain publisher....)

In February of this year, the witness, Ken Lillie Paetz [either the "boyfriend" or "friend" of the alleged victim, depending on what report you read, who was present at the time of the groping and physically restrained Brownstein], and Charles Brownstein stood at my table at the New York Comic Con, and had a friendly, 20 minute conversation with me, talking comics and other inconsequentials in a perfectly normal manner in front of dozens of witnesses....

If Mr. Paetz believed Mr. Brownstein was a sexual predator who was a danger to his girlfriend or anyone else for that matter, I can’t imagine why on Earth he would have carried on this cordial discussion that ended in a warm handshake with Brownstein mere months after the alleged incident.

Moreover, since Ms. Soma’s primary intention is to “make sure (Brownstein) never works in this business again” I am afraid even the Supreme Court does not have the power to grant her wish to have him blacklisted.

Wow. What a sad, sordid affair, and I hope it finally resolves in a fair way to all involved, and that the people who appear to be using the victim for whatever political agenda they're after think twice before they cause her more damage. It just goes to show how rolling snowballs get bigger and bigger, until you can't see the pebble they initially formed around any more.

But boy...this is all so Hollywood, isn't it.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Donald Wildmon puts the "fun" in fundie!

Here's something fun. It's always fun when the "Reverend" Donald Wildmon and his cronies at the American Family Association get their panties in a twist. But this one is sweet.

Wildmon sent out an "Action Alert" — which is an e-mail that goes out whenever they want their sheep to bombard some misbehaving, librul, faggot-enabling movie studio or TV network with a dose of fundamentalist righteousness — about the PG rating that the MPAA recently gave to the low-budget Christian indie film Facing the Giants. Yeah, they're freaking out over a teeny little PG!

What was the vile crime for which those nasty Jesus-hating Jews in the movie business are penalizing this innocent little film? Well, it's like this...

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is now warning parents of movies which contain a reference to the Christian faith, equating Christianity as being on the same level of sex, violence and profanity when it comes to objectionable material. [emphasis in original; Wildmon loves his boldface fonts]

A quick check of the rating reveals that the PG was assigned for "some thematic elements" — to wit, the open Christian proselytizing in the movie was something they felt non-Christian audiences might like to know about — which in Wildmon's paranoid mind equates to a full-scale assault on Christianity itself. As the good "reverend" notes...

The MPAA is controlled by Hollywood moguls known for their bitter opposition to Christianity.

Uh, yeah. This would be the same MPAA that gave the 2002 Jesus-in-small-town-America movie Joshua, as well as the $25 million-grossing animated Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie, a G. And the same MPAA that gave Mel Gibson's snuff-porn epic The Passion of the yeah yeah yeah... an R, when any other movie with a similar volume of sustained graphic violence would almost assuredly get an NC-17. But hey, this is right-wing fundie world, where facts aren't invited if they get in the way of the fear-mongering that brings in the donations. Right?

Now, with Wildmon being America's most high-profile pathological homophobe, it's at least refreshing that he found something to complain about other than the evil homos, right? ...Oh, wait a minute...

A new family film featuring miracles and a pro-God theme has earned the PG rating because it would offend non-believers. The MPAA refuses to give movies which promote the homosexual lifestyle a similar warning. In other words, MPAA warns parents if a movie has Christianity presented in a positive manner but refuses to warn them if homosexuality is presented in a positive manner.

Good grief, what planet does this cretin live on? I know that's a pointless question when dealing with a wackjob assmonkey like Wildmon, as the only obvious answer is "Not this one!" So consider it a rhetorical question. In any case, I can't think of a gay-themed film that's come out in the last few years that's gotten anything less than an R. Can you? Brokeback Mountain. Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Boys Don't Cry. Bound. Velvet Goldmine. Longtime Companion... R's for all, unless I missed one. I don't think homosexuality can be featured as a prominent theme in any film and not earn less than an R.

Now I'm no fan of the MPAA. Their guidelines are nebulous, arbitrary, and tend to penalize small movies for content that expensive studio movies are given a pass on. But that isn't the real issue with Wildmon.

Remember, Wildmon's mission is to convince affluent, conservative, white suburban SUV-driving Christians that they are America's most vilely oppressed minority, assailed from all sides by evil lefty long-haired freaks. And the only way to fight this horrible oppression — a PG rating? why, no one will be able to get in! — is to "send an email to the MPAA asking them to stop their anti-Christian bigotry." (After all, who knows more about being a victim of bigotry than a rich white Christian?)

Oh wait. There is one more way to fight...

If you think our efforts are worthy, would you please support us with a small gift?

No problem, Don. Just as soon as my dog gets through squatting.

Friday, May 26, 2006

"Ben's Letter" video now online

Nice to do some blogging that isn't a rant for a change. Longtime readers here will remember the video shoot for Austin band 54 Seconds and their single "Ben's Letter," which I blogged about working on back in November. Well, said video is now done and streaming at the band's site. It's been heavily compressed and is real pixelly, but it's up. The broken window I designed is right at the tail end; looks pretty convincing, if I do say so, though that's mostly Jen White's gifted videography. Check it.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

So, have you heard the one about George Lucas and his minions being assholes?

So the news comes out that, this September, after enduring nonstop complaints from fans, Lucasfilms will be releasing DVDs of the original theatrical versions of the first three Star Wars movies. You know, the ones without the dodgy CGI and where Greedo doesn't shoot first. Now we hear that the DVDs are simply going to be ports of the 1993 laserdisc transfers, and are not even going to be encoded for 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. They will be released as 4:3 letterbox transfers only. They're not even putting in the tiniest effort to bring the source materials up to current levels of quality.

So basically, here's George, acting all magnanimous in throwing a bone to his legion of fans who have wanted the original movies we all grew up with on DVD for years and years, simultaneously showing his contempt for those same fans by releasing the movies in the crappiest substandard quality he can get away with. You can read the whole ugly story on The Digital Bits.

If The Phantom Menace didn't make me say this already: Bite me, George.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

First pic with the new digital camera

And it is, naturally, of my radioactive dog. I picked myself up the Panasonic DMC-TZ1S today. It's a mid-price, 5-megapixel model, but with more than enough bells and whistles for my needs. Apparently it's the first model of its size and price range to allow 10X zooming. So I guess that'll be a good thing if I ever become a filthy voyeur or sexual predator and want to give myself plenty of head start in my getaway.

The only thing is that I noticed, when I opened up this shot in Photoshop to resize it, that it was already at 72 dpi. I hope there's a way I can reset this to 300 dpi, which will be desirable if I ever want to take pictures for print publication somewhere. No worries, though. I'm not really that huge a shutterbug. I was just sick and tired of buying disposable cameras to take still pictures with when everything else I do is as high-tech as I can make it. Seemed silly.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bloody Work teaser banner

No, the annihilatorfilm.com site is not up yet. Will let you know.

It's the Apocalypse, no doubt

I've completely dweebed out and set myself up a MySpace page. Ghod help me.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The latest writer's fad: plagiarism!

John Scalzi was among several bloggers last week who made the world aware of some dumb, dumb, dumb girl named Lori Jareo, who wrote a dreadful novel-length piece of Star Wars fan fiction titled Another Hope and, in an act of ballsiness heretofore unseen in publishing, offered it for sale on Amazon, where the listing, astonishingly, is still up as of Monday evening!

Though Jareo herself clearly got wind of all the bad ink she was getting through the blogosphere for her actions — literally no one defended her — and promptly took her personal site down, I can't believe the book is still up on Amazon, where I'm beginning to think the staff is hired specifically for their cluelessness and indifference to the concerns of customers, publishers, or the law. (Amazingly, the book is still up on both Barnes and Noble.com and Powells.com too. Are Lucas's lawyers in cryosleep or something?)

But now, even more amazing is the story of some 19-year-old chippie at Harvard who signed a — wait for it — half-million dollar book deal for a couple of chick-lit books, one of which has been revealed to have significantly plagiarized passages.

Get a load of this girl's excuse.

"When I was in high school, I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, 'Sloppy Firsts' and 'Second Helpings,' which spoke to me in a way few other books did. Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel ... and passages in these books," Kaavya Viswanathan, 19, said in a statement issued by her publisher.

"While the central stories of my book and hers are completely different, I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. My publisher and I plan to revise my novel for future printings to eliminate any inappropriate similarities."

Oh, please! She was "surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities"? I imagine that I am expected to believe that, while she was writing those similar passages, one of two things happened — she either blanked out and forgot she had ever read the McCafferty books, so much had they taken control of her mind that their "internalized" content was just pouring out in defiance of Viswanathan's free will, or, her brain has actually been possessed by plagiarism demons from the fourth level of hell, near the back in the ghetto reserved for bad hip-hop artists who sample Sting songs from the 80's.

In any case, this is the kind of lame excuse a junior high schooler would give caught with shoplifted items under her sweater while walking out of a grocery store. I just don't know how those got there! I must have put them there to free up my hands — and then forgot!

But what's really disheartening is that the girl's nascent writing career isn't going to suffer for this at all. Is her publisher doing the ethical thing by dropping her and tearing up the contract? No, no. They're just letting her revise the book for future editions. What procedure they have in place to ensure the revisions won't simply be more regurgitated "internalized" content from someone else is unclear.

Why is this, you wonder? Well, if there's one thing we've learned in the last couple of years, it's that dishonesty pays. First the scandal was simple lying, with guys like James Frey and Stephen Glass just making shit up, passing it off as true, then banking cash when the "controversy" hit the media and their sales soared as curious book buyers snatched up their crap to see what all the fuss was about. Now, this "oops, you mean I copied that? so sorry" routine is going to boost the sales of the girl with the hard-to-pronounce name as well, mark my words.

Meanwhile, hordes upon hordes of undiscovered, talented writers desperately trying to realize their own personal original visions will continue to labor in obscurity, most never getting a book deal at all, let alone one with a half-million dollar advance. Life is unfair, and the cream sinks to the bottom, it seems.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Oh well. Silent Hill sucked. Life goes on.

If there was any video game-based movie I feel I had a stake in, it was Silent Hill. I'm a devoted fan of the games, having played all four multiple times each. I don't think I've ever had as spine-chillingly memorable a time doing anything related to the horror genre as I've had playing those games. After the crushing disappointment of the Resident Evil movies, I had cautious optimism about Silent Hill. Early interviews with director Christophe Gans seemed to point to a guy passionate about the material and determined to do right by it.

Sadly, this movie goes down as Just Another Failed Game Adaptation. If the best video game franchise can't even get a good movie made from it, I think Hollywood and video games should be kept away from each other for good, preferably by restraining order.

Gans may be passionate, but here he's done the impossible. He's taken Silent Hill — which is not only the most frightening horror video game ever made but quite possibly one of the most frightening horror entertainment experiences in any medium, games, books, or movies included — and made it boring. The video game is scary as hell. The movie has — I cannot stress this enough — not one single solitary scare, and indeed, a few of the intended scares come off as silly.

The movie has the look of the game down just fine. The production designers have replicated the game's foggy, deserted streets and dingy derelict buildings perfectly. But Roger Avery's script (and here was a guy who took great pains to warn fans he was not a huge devotee of the games) suddenly feels the urge to explain everything in exhaustive detail. So, instead of piling on suspense and scares, it piles on exposition. And I mean, piles it on. We get endless talky scenes of back-story and history, and yet the more the movie attempts to clarify the whole history of Alessa and the cult that victimized her and turned her into an evil malevolent force, the less coherent it all seems.

Gans's devotion to reproducing the game's visuals makes him forget that there will be a sizable audience who sees this without ever having played the game. And to them, no concessions are made. Non-fans of the Silent Hill games are given no clue as to why the town changes appearance, or why it's inhabited by poison-spitting faceless monsters and other weird beasties. To non-gamers this will be the most nonsensical movie ever, despite Avery's endless info-dumping dialogue.

But worse than info-dumping dialogue is Obvious Dialogue, where the writer assumes his audience is suffering from Downs Syndrome and must have everything spelled out no matter how obvious it is. In one scene, Cybill (the cop from game one, who has a much different fate here) has just found a drawing by Rose's missing daughter in a slot at the hotel desk.

Rose: "Where did you find this?" Cybill: "Room 111." Rose: "We have to go to Room 111!"

Well, duh.

Rose has her momentary lapses of intelligence, too. Early on, while Cybill is in the process of gunning down an advancing monster (one of the acid-spitters from game two, looking dead perfect, naturally), Rose runs off. Hmm. You're in a deserted town that you now know to be inhabited by weird monsters, and you run away from the one person with a weapon. Smart.

Then there are all the little moments of plot convenience. Rose finds a working flashlight in a drawer in the school. Rose's husband, played by Sean Bean in a thoroughly unnecessary subplot, is looking for the Silent Hill police archives in a neighboring town. They won't let him have them, so he breaks in to the office at night (shades of The Ring) and, lo and behold, there's the box he's looking for, right there on the top of the stack in the first room he enters. Why would they even have those? Because they're needed as a Plot Device, of course.

All of the exposition and clumsy plot contrivances simply pad the running time out to over two hours, while spending as little time as possible in the Otherworld for which the games are famous. Here's another failing I cannot stress enough: where the hell was Silent Hill in Silent Hill? Why are we listening to Alice Krige doing her endless Cruella DeVille routine when we should be trapped in terrifying dark corridors or fleeing monsters down misty back alleys? This stuff gets started just fine in act one, then stops when the script settles into a talk-fest.

Much from the video games appears in the movie to please fans, but only at the most superficial level. It's as if Gans pored over each game, saying, "Okay we'll use that, gotta have that creature, okay, and how about a Lisa Garland cameo!" But that's where the homage stops. The school? The hospital? Yeah, they're there, but wasted. Radha Mitchell literally runs through the hospital (which, for some reason, is about 200 stories underground) in the third act, until she encounters the nurses...who look great, in their prosthetic makeup, but move in such an absurd way I kept expecting them to break into a dance routine like some Janet Jackson video. And Pyramid Head? Jesus Henrietta Christ, how do you waste Pyramid Head!?! He has two scenes, does one cool thing where he grabs a woman and tears her skin off like a candy wrapper — then it's bye-bye. He's gone from the movie after that!

By the time we're well into the protracted act three, in which a mob of mad cultists is threatening to burn Rose's daughter alive, any resemblance between any of the Silent Hill games and this movie is purely coincidental. I saw a post from one guy on Rotten Tomatoes suggesting the filmmakers must have come down with ADHD and thought they were making a Hellraiser movie instead. Couldn't have put it better myself. The movie degenerates into one cheesy line of bad dialogue after another at this point. I just cannot listen to a mob of people (and where did this mob come from, anyway?) shouting "Burn the witch! Burn the witch!" without thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail!

I'm hurting. I'm angry. I'm bitter. The video game movie that should have been a masterpiece is just another disasterpiece. I don't know how everything that was so awesome in the game got so badly lost in translation. Is it too much to hope someone, someday, will do another Silent Hill movie that will nail the whole thing, not just the perfect set design? Maybe. I'm going to play the game again, to remind myself why I love Silent Hill in the first place.

Friday, April 21, 2006

HD-DVD apparently underwhelming

The reviews are coming in for the first wave of HD-DVD players and discs. And the reviews are, well, "meh" in quality. Not bad, just more along the lines of, "Yes, it looks better than DVD, but not that much better." Also meeting with disapproval are appallingly long load times in the one-minute range, though to be fair, this will likely be one of the first things fixed in second generation hardware.

Most amusing is this account on The Digital Bits of an exchange between the webmaster and his wife.

I was watching The Last Samurai on Tuesday night, when my wife Sarah came home from work.... Anyway, she walked into the home theater and sat down to soak in the picture and sound for a bit. Then, after a few minutes of watching, she turned to me and said, "So this is HD-DVD?"


"It looks good and all, but I don't know... I guess I don't see what the big deal is."

"Well... it looks more like film. More like it should."

"Yeah, but doesn't regular DVD look like film too?"

"Sure, but not as much as this does."

"Well... I don't know. I guess I just don't see what the big deal is. I could live without it."

We'll see what fate has in store...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A little rant clarification

In the wake of my preceding rant, I ought to clarify that, in fact, HD-DVD technology itself is something I'm excited about. I've long been looking forward to true 1080p high definition home viewing, and I hope there's a resolution to the format war of some sort soon so I can know which way to invest. So the preceding really shouldn't have been called an "anti HD-DVD rant." If I'm "anti" anything, it's the way certain studios are clearly lusting after the opportunity to use this dazzling new technology in the most meretricious manner possible, and one in which the artistry of films is devalued to the maximum degree in favor of using movies simply as a tool for other revenue streams.

No clarification on the F-bombs, though. I enjoy those when they're necessary.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

An anti HD-DVD rant with high F-bomb content — enjoy!

So I've been keeping tabs — somewhat — on the HD-DVD rollout that has begun tentatively this week. I have no imminent plans to buy. I've been thinking, like a lot of folks, that I'm just going to wait and see how the dust in the format war settles. But I would like to see some of the units in action. There was nothing at my neighborhood Best Buy this week, and I refuse to darken the door of Wal-Mart. So maybe later in the week I'll trek out to one of our fine city's specialty retailers like the Home Theater Store, where I'm sure the sales staff is sick of guys like me wandering in and gawking at all the glorious high-end tech toys we can't hope to afford.

But tonight, I was reading a few articles on the rollout, and initial sales reports, while not exactly orgasmically glowing, are favorable. Still, when it came to the part of one article on Video Business Online discussing the bells and whistles that studios plan to include on future releases, I stopped cold at the following:

Among the examples of new features the studio is considering are, for example, allowing a user to connect to the Internet and trick out a car and then insert that car back into the film so the movie would include their creation.... [Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Craig] Kornblau called DVD bonus features “yesterday” and said HD DVD will change how consumers watch movies by allowing them to personalize objects in the film and connect online with friends to share opinions while watching the film—and, he emphasized, it will do it by the end of this year.... That connectivity also could open up new promotional opportunities for studios, which could allow users to click on a car or pair of shoes or any other item on the screen and connect online to a Web site for more information and to make purchases.

What. The. Fuck!?

Okay, let's stop a minute here.

What is a movie? Is it simply a product? In the eyes of the studios, I imagine that answer must be "yes". But is it also an art form, a medium that storytellers use to tell stories? If it is — to any teeny tiny minute degree — the latter, then what in the holy hell are these asshats at Universal thinking by getting all excited by the idea of people "personalizing" movies? Sure, the example given was for an upcoming release of one of the Fast and the Furious movies, which I suppose no one in his right mind would call art and everyone would agree are clearly nothing more than cash-cow products to shore up Universal's bottom line in the summer season.

But where do we stop with this? Can you imagine the lunacy if people were allowed to "personalize", say, Peter Jackson's The Return of the King, by, say, putting their kids in the middle of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields? There we are, right in the middle of one of the movie's sweeping crane shots, with a hundred thousand men and orcs going at it in hot-blooded combat...and suddenly, right in the middle of it, two warriors stop fighting, take off their helmets, smile, and wave at the camera! Look, everybody! It's the kids!

I mean, how fucked is that?

All this hype about "changing how consumers watch movies" and "personalizing" films reflects a masturbatory love of the technology for its own sake that loses sight of what the movies themselves were actually meant to be: self-contained entertainment experiences, assembled by teams of creative people under the guidance of a director following a vision, with a goal towards telling a story!

And did you notice the flack's use of the word "consumers" in the preceding quote, instead of "fans" or "audiences" or even "people." That's right. To the studios, watching movies isn't about sitting back and winding down at the end of the day with a good and compelling story. It's all about generating more consumerism. Buy buy buy! Hell, everything is a revenue stream. Who gives a shit about the whole notion that if a director or a screenwriter wanted a particular style of tricked-out car or pair of shoes or whatever to be in their movie, they'd have put it there in the first goddamn place? Nah, do it yourself! It's the high-definition experience! After all, why should Peter Jackson or Ridley Scott be the only guys to decide what goes into making a Peter Jackson or Ridley Scott movie? Why shouldn't the almighty consumer have a say? Democracy is good, right?

And let's not stop there. Let's move on to e-books. Don't like the way Stephen King's new novel ends? Rewrite your own ending and edit it back into the book, then go online and chat live with your friends about it. Hell, respect for artistic integrity and creative vision are so "yesterday." Everything's just a product, so if you can switch around and match other products to your taste, like your clothing and accessories and food and home decor, why not change your favorite movies and books to your taste too? Welcome to the HD future, where movie studios are like Burger King: have it your way!

You know, I think a better idea would be that if Joe Blow thinks he can make a better movie than Peter Jackson, then Universal ought to just give him the money to make his own fucking movie rather than giving him the opportunity to fuck with PJ's using his fancy HD-DVD remote. In the meantime, this whole fantasy the studios have of reducing the movie experience to that of video games or online shopping seems to have given me all the reason I need to not by HD-DVD anytime soon...or later. It should also give every director pause...and a sense of urgency to make sure any contracts they sign include a clause preventing such "personalizing" of the films they make. Assuming they are filmmakers of integrity and not hacks. I fully expect the Brett Ratners and McG's of the world to be right there in the HD circle-jerk with Universal.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bloody Work: Research continues

Not much to blog about lately, other than that I'm back to work on researching the film. The Austin History Center has a glorious treasure trove of old photos (though none, sadly, specifically pertaining to the SGA murders — the Holy Grail of crime scene photos just don't seem to exist). The downside is they charge out the wazoo and back in again for scans. Well, no one ever said filmmaking was a cheap hobby. In any event, the history of Austin in the late 19th century was quite colorful and this material will really go a long way to giving the movie a rich historical context in which to examine the murders. Later on this week I'm going to head out to Oakwood cemetery, where, if you know where to look, you can find the marker for the killers' most tragic victim, 11-year-old Mary Ramey. As the Statesman reported on 8/30/1885, the bastards "dragged the child into the wash house adjoining, ravishing her, and then drove an iron pin into both her ears, killing her in a short while." Maybe it's a good thing we don't have all the crime scene photos.

Should be on track to shoot my first interview by the first week of May or so.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Legal downloads! (And they're already screwing 'em up.)

For the first time, movie lovers can legally download feature films. As I've touted this before as an inevitable evolutionary development in film distribution, I'm happy to see it finally exists. But why am I not more enthusiastic? Because again, the industry has gone apeshit with DRM and is slapping ridiculous restrictions on the films you purchase through Movielink and CinemaNow. From the article I've linked:

Usage rules remain restrictive for the movie downloads, which are encrypted and in Windows Media format. Although the files can be burned to a DVD, that disc is just for backup and will not be recognized by a DVD player. Movielink users can put the movie on up to three PCs, which is verifiable since the file connects to the service for a license each time it is loaded onto a computer. CinemaNow users are limited to the PC onto which the movie was downloaded. In both cases, an appropriately networked home could view these digital movies from any connected television or computer screen.

Which immediately prompts the question: If they're charging me the same amount of money for the download as I'd pay for the DVD, why wouldn't I just buy the DVD, especially when I can't burn the downloaded movie I allegedly "own" to DVD in any way that my DVD player will recognize?

Clearly what these folks are envisioning is the digital living room of the future, when everyone will presumably have their PC's hooked up to their plasma screens in the den and everyone's collection of everything — movies; music; hell, even your children and pets — will be in the form of digital files on hard drives. And then what happens when your hard drive crashes? The only disc copy you can have is one that simply stores the movie as data, to be loaded onto a new hard drive instead of just being able to be popped into a DVD player and watched? And then what if your replacement hard drive won't play back the movie downloads you "own," because the DRM doesn't recognize your new hard drive?

Sorry, but for now there are so many things about how this is being launched that I see as half-assed (among other things, neither movie service is Mac or Linux compatible) that I don't think the current programs are ready for prime time. I can understand slapping the sort of DRM on the movies that won't allow anyone to post them to newsgroups or P2P or BitTorrent or that sort of thing. But for chrissakes, if I'm being asked to shell out $20 for a movie download, then what I want, quite simply, is a straight-up "VIDEO_TS" folder from which I can burn a DVD to watch to my heart's content. After all, when you buy music from iTunes, you can listen to the tracks not only on your iPod, but burn up to seven copies of the album on CD (and yes, those CD's aren't just "backup"; you can play them on any goddamn player you have). I mean, it's simple. If I'm being asked to buy these downloads, I should be allowed to watch them in whatever way I choose. Why is that hard to figure out?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

UMD dies, surprises no one

If Sony's PSP handheld console weren't enough of a disappointment to the gaming world, now comes word that the UMD format for movies is on the cusp of extinction. Which surprises me not at all. Why would anyone want to pay 30 bucks for a movie on a rinkidink little disc that can only be played on one piece of hardware, when for $15 or $20 you can buy the same movie on DVD, which can be played on home decks, laptops, and any number of portable players, and which feature all those juicy extras and bells and whistles? If anything surprises me, it's that so many studios committed to the format in the first place, before the PSP had had a chance to show its performance muscle in the marketplace. Presumably there was an expectation that the PS2's lightning would strike twice, and PSP would become the next iPod among portable doohickey fans. Oops. Oh well. I wouldn't get much out of watching a movie on a 4-inch screen. Can't imagine why anyone else would. But watch. I bet Steve Jobs will be the guy who makes it work — again.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Catching up on a lazy March: random movie musings

No, I haven't blogged in two weeks, as I've needed a breather and have been busy with other stuff. When work is slow, I donate myself to science, which I've been doing over the last couple of weeks, and that's always like going to camp, but with needles. Still, easy money, and a chance to concentrate on creative things during the long hours of downtime. Happy to be back in the swim now, though, and throughout April my bloody work on Bloody Work will resume in earnest. I plan to have at least one interview in the can before the month is out.

Here is some of what's been on my mind, cinematically speaking, over these last 15 days.

• Bite this! Superman Returns? Bleh. X-Men: The Last Stand? Yeah, whatever. Mission: Impossible III? Don't make me laugh. The DaVinci Code? Okay, that one's a given. But is there anyone out there who still hasn't realized that the sleeper monster hit of the summer is going to be none other than...
It just doesn't get any better than this! This may be the most honest movie Hollywood has made in decades. As everyone has already pointed out, you know exactly what you're getting with that title. And when you add to the movie's self-aware cheese value the presense of Sam Jackson in full badass mode, and a studio thoroughly conscious of the unprecedented level of advance internet fan buzz and responding to it by scheduling reshoots specifically to get a hard-R rating — well, there's just no way this can miss! I mean, it's snakes...on a plane! $50 million opening weekend, minimum.

• More horror-related good news. Though I didn't win the Silent Hill poster contest (and yet it's eeenteresting how similar the poster they seem to be using looks to mine — scum! where's my money!?), I'm still stoked about the movie, which opens the week before my birthday. The trailer is pure bliss if you're a fan of the game, really capturing the look and mood and creep factor! In even better horror news, that dreaded remake of Suspiria looks like it's no longer happening. Sometimes, the forces of good win one. And, after a long dry spell, it looks as if John Carpenter is back in the saddle with two features on his plate! Huzzah!

• The post-Oscar Brokeback curse continues. It seems that the worst enemies of Brokeback Mountain are turning out to be not so much homophobic Christian fundies, but the movie's most ardent supporters themselves. First, author Annie Proulx publishes that petulant, embarrassing rant that got the entire blogosphere talking (and not in a flattering way), and now it turns out that co-star Randy Quaid is suing the producers for allegedly misrepresenting the earnings estimates of the film so they could get him for far below his usual fee. While I find it baffling that a man with Randy Quaid's experience in the business would be caught off-guard that people in Hollywood — gasp! — lie about money, what's more interesting is how all the love that this movie had gotten before Oscar now seems to be waning bigtime, as its biggest boosters collapse into sour-grapes whining and infighting. Shame, because that movie's merits should be its legacy, not the behavior of stupid people who happen to be associated with it.

• Asian cinema continues to dazzle me...even when it's not across-the-board brilliant. And it continues to get easier and easier to find the best movies over here. Perhaps the most stunning and unique movie I've seen recently: Shinya Tsukamoto's Vital, in which a young medical student who's suffering amnesia after an auto accident that killed his girlfriend discovers that the body on his dissection table in gross anatomy class is none other than hers! By literally digging into her remains, he begins the process of digging into his past, who he was as well as who she was, and what they meant to each other. The themes concern exactly who we are in relation to the bodies, the machines we inhabit. The student, played with focused intensity by Asano Tadanobu, barely has any personality left at all due to his amnesia; he's like a human blank slate, an uninhabited body going through the motions of a day. So are we nothing more than our accumulated memories? Without a past, is there any person inside us at all? Beautifully directed, with some of the best cinematography I've ever seen in a Japanese film, and, given the subject matter, not nearly the exercise in grisly death imagery you might expect. You should absolutely check this out. I'd go so far as to say it would have easily deserved a Best Foreign Film nomination, if I thought the Oscars were all that important any more.

I was less satisfied by Marebito, from Takashi Shimizu, who gave us the chilling Ju-on and its markedly unchilling U.S. remake The Grudge. I give the movie all props for a swell premise and for being shot on the fly in eight days. A video-obsessed loner (played, coincidentally, by Vital's director Tsukamoto) who tapes everything around him all day long, and only ever sees fit to view the world through his viewfinder and on his monitors, records a grisly suicide in a Tokyo subway station in which the victim drives a knife into his eyeball. It appears the victim saw something that paralyzed him with fear, and the video geek becomes obsessed with discovering what it was. He ends up venturing into the dark tunnels (dating from WWII) beneath the city, where he discovers a feral young girl chained to the wall. (The US art, as you can see, drapes a blanket chastely over the girl and doesn't actually attach the chain to her leg, because the MPAA has a strict rule that no movie poster art is allowed to depict violence against women.) He brings her home and eventually finds she'll only consume blood. Great idea, but as it goes on, the movie's explanations become more contrived and confused, and the final act crumbles into some J-horror clichés — many of the type Shimizu established in Ju-on, ironically — and nonsensical explanations that suggest unbelievable relationships between the characters. Still, it's worth at least a look on DVD, if only to see the most twisted excuse for a love story made in recent memory.

I've read that Shimizu's latest, Rinne (Reincarnation), flopped abysmally upon its Japanese theatrical debut, indicating that the J-horror thing is well and truly over and done with. Still, I'm eager to see it, as well as The Loft, the latest from the understated genius Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who gave us such cerebral thrillers as Pulse and Cure.

Finally, those amazing folks at Criterion keep the Japanophilia running at full steam with more movies by Yasujiro Ozu and Akira Kurosawa on their slate. Having already given us one of the best DVD releases ever with Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu, as well as Ozu's Tokyo Story, Floating Weeds, Good Morning and Early Summer, they're now bringing out the much-demanded Late Spring. Plus this year will see long overdue DVD remasters of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Truly these are good times to be a Japanese movie übergeek!

See everyone again soon — much sooner than two weeks.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Come on, people, it's only the Oscars

Okay, so the ceremony is over for another year, and Crash pulls an upset and wins. Fine. Whatever.

But the Brokeback supporters aren't yet willing to let go. Among the latest challenges to the loss is a weird claim, similar to the "hanging chads" controversy of the 2000 presidential elections, suggesting that Oscar voters are boobs who misread the voting ballot and voted for Crash when they really really meant to vote for Brokeback. The following image has been making the rounds online.

Personally, I find the ballot (assuming it is an accurate reproduction of what the real ballot looked like, and there's no evidence of that) easy to comprehend. You follow the black arrow. But maybe when I'm old and stupid, I might make such a mistake. I'll let you know when I'm old and stupid.

Next, a group of Brokeback supporters have successfully solicited thousands of dollars online to place a full-color ad in next weeks' Variety that looks like this.

Well, that'll show 'em, won't it?

Look, I'm delighted to see any movie garner a following of passionate fans who will get behind it to this degree. That's wonderful. But this has nothing to do with the relative merits of either movie. It has to do with placing too much importance on the wrong thing — to wit, the Best Picture Oscar. Here's the deal. Brokeback Mountain exists, and it will always exist, for this generation and future ones to see. It has made its mark on film history, and the loss of a glitzy but increasingly meaningless industry award has no bearing on that legacy. For those who think its loss is a grave injustice, newsflash: it's not the first one in history. Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction? Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan? Chicago over The Pianist? There are more examples over the last 78 years of Oscar getting it wrong than getting it right.

I've often said, and many of my friends seem to agree, that regardless of whatever awards a film may have on its mantlepiece, if that movie isn't on my DVD shelf then said awards aren't that special to me. I'm not more likely to hold a movie in higher regard than another one simply because it has "Academy Award Winner Best Picture!" emblazoned on the DVD package in 48 point type. If I had a choice, right now, between watching Oscar winner American Beauty or the couldn't-get-near-the-Oscars-with-a-ten-foot-pole Big Trouble in Little China, could you guess which I'd pick?

Brokeback's legacy doesn't lie in a gold-plated statuette. It lies in the hearts of the audience that loves it. Life goes on.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Since I'll be doing something else Sunday night...

I really don't have a horse in the Oscar race this year. I felt heaps of personal gratification when Spirited Away won the very first Best Animated Feature award. And naturally, the Best Picture for The Return of the King, which was really an award for the achievement of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, made my inner geek squee. But this year, while I think by and large there are some good movies up, it isn't a ceremony to get all excited about, with the exception of John Stewart's hosting. And this will be the easiest ceremony to handicap in ages. Herewith, my predictions.

  • Best Picture: Brokeback Mountain

  • Best Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote

  • Best Actress: Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line

  • Best Supporting Actor: George Clooney for Syriana

  • Best Supporting Actress: Tossup — either Amy Adams for Junebug or Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardener. I'm leaning toward Weisz.

  • Best Director: Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain

  • Best Animated Feature: Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit

  • There. Three years ago, when my then-roommate was working on The Alamo (interesting to recall how that notorious megaflop was at the time really expected to represent at the Oscars), the crew had an Oscar pool and I helped her on her entries. We won it and split $180 between us! Wish that were happening now; I feel more confident now than I did then. And I'm not even all that excited about it.

    Sunday, February 26, 2006

    Damn damn damn!

    Darren McGavin has died. Yes, I know Don Knotts has died too. And that's a huge loss to the comedy world. But I was always less into Andy Griffith than Kolchak, the Night Stalker, whose show was a direct inspiration for The X-Files. What a bummer. But both men were in their 80's, a long healthy life we should all hope to have. Ah well. So long.

    Update, Monday evening 2/27: Good grief! The Reaper really cut a swath over the weekend. In addition to McGavin and Knotts, we lost Dennis (McCloud) Weaver as well as the brilliant science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler. What up? Maybe this would be a good week to stay indoors. I'm gonna go hug my dog or something.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    Biggest lamers on net found!

    A bunch of goofballs with too much time on their hands have launched the website craignotbond.com to protest in the most petulant fanboy fashion the casting of Daniel Craig as James Bond. While I thought Brosnan was a fantastic Bond (his movies not exactly canonical, though), it's pretty pathetic to slag an actor, particularly when no one has even seen a frame of film he's shot yet. Much of the website is a pretty uncool exercise in character assassination against Craig himself, most of which appears to be motivated by the fact he doesn't have Brosnan's male-model looks. They also mock a lot of the roles he's already done, as if versatility in an actor is a liability. As anyone's who's seen Munich or Layer Cake can tell you, Craig's acting skills should not be in doubt. And however "odd-looking" these webdweebs think Craig is, I'd bet he's probably handsomer than they are. They do not, of course, post pictures of themselves nor identify themselves by name. There's nothing like having the courage of your convictions, eh?

    This kind of stupid bullshit is fanboyism at its worst. So who cares if these dinks boycott Casino Royale? Millions of people will see it anyway, and those with brains will know not to judge Craig in the role until they've actually, like, seen him in the role. And as for Craig not being good-looking enough for the role...since when was that the criterion? Connery and Brosnan were handsome and tough, Moore had the handsomeness but no depth (never a hair out of place on that man).

    But it might interest these folks to realize that Ian Fleming himself (you know, the guy who wrote the Bond novels, which I bet no one associated with this dickless "boycott" has read) didn't exactly see Bond as a Calvin Klein studmuffin. Fleming described Bond as looking something like musician Hoagy Carmichael, whose photo is to the left there. One can imagine heads exploding over at the craignotbond.com guy's mother's basement offices if a big-nosed guy like this was cast as double-oh-sebbin.

    While I bemoan the departure of Brosnan — hell, I bemoan the shittiness of the last three Bond movies overall, plus the producers' idiotic choice to turn down Quentin Tarantino's offer, which, had that movie been made, would have racked up more box office than all the previous ones combined — I'm open to a newer, rougher, tougher, nastier Bond who will fuck people up and not mess around. Hell, Craig has already broken two teeth in a fight scene for the movie. If that isn't throwing yourself into your role, I don't know what is. I kind of wish he'd leave them unfixed, just to piss these guys off more.

    Friday, February 17, 2006

    Annihilator title revision, thank ghod

    As I just couldn't get over how much Annihilator sounded like some Dolph Lundgren movie from the 80's, I've finally figured out the title I like for the documentary — and it was staring me right in the face, from the very first newspaper headline about the crimes. The actual title for the movie will now be Bloody Work: The Unsolved Mystery of the Servant Girl Annihilators. That still allows for the actual killers' media names to be part of the title without any risk of sounding cheesily Dolphish.

    Of course, it's just like me to have changed my mind on the title after dropping 27 bucks to register domains under the old one. There's a Homer Simpson moment for you. Well, hey, I can still use those domains. You can rest assured my usual filmmaking skillz are just a teensy bit less disorganized than this.

    I'll continue posting kewl historical info about the crimes here over the next few weeks, and this blog will still be the home of my production diaries when that begins as well. I intend to have an official movie site up soon, too.

    Feeling very auteurish and stuff right now!

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    If he builds it, will they come?

    Just read this article from News 8 Austin about developer David Cuddy and his elaborate plans to build several sound stages on about 250 acres of land near Neiderwald. It's great, in that the Austin area does need full-fledged state of the art production facilities of the type Cuddy plans. The Austin Studios in the old hangars of what used to be Robert Mueller airport are, like so much else in the Austin filmmaking "industry," pretty half-assed. But the immediate concern is whether facilities like this will actually lure a few productions to this area for a change. There's a lot the city and the state need to do to get studio and quality indie productions happening here again. Right now, there is simply no work. Is part of the reason we don't get more projects shooting out here the lack of first-rate sound stages and post houses? Could the construction of some bring in the work? I'm rooting for Huddy. It's cool to hate developers in Austin, but not when they're developing something kickass. You go, bud.

    Sunday, February 12, 2006

    Annihilator: The first murder

    So this ought to start you off with a little taste...

    From the Austin Daily Statesman, January 1, 1885, comes the first of many news reports abut the serial killings that were to be attributed the "Servant Girl Annihilator" (or "Annihilators"). The body of Mollie Smith, a "light-colored mulatto" about 25 years old, was found "nearly nude" by an outhouse roughly fifty paces outside the bedroom where she had been sleeping with her commonlaw husband, Walter Spencer. The assailants — and there were probably two here — first bashed poor Spencer's face in with some kind of heavy object, either a brick or metal pipe. Mollie was then dragged outside; she apparently put up a heroic struggle, but she wasn't heard to scream (there were other people asleep in the same house). This indicates the assailant probably was covering her mouth while dragging her outside. Spencer came to some time later, noticed Mollie missing, went for medical help himself (his facial bones had been cracked up pretty good by the blows), but didn't find Mollie's body until the morning.

    A number of interesting questions about this event. For one thing, a bloody axe was found on the floor by Mollie and Spencer's bed. Since Mollie was still alive when she was being dragged out of the house, she wasn't killed until she had been taken out by the outhouse. Where she was killed...with an axe. (One out-of-town newspaper reports she was so hacked up her body was falling to pieces as it was being lifted into a casket, but that can't be confirmed and is probably an example of the kinds of lurid reporting you see in Victorian era newspapers.)

    This suggests the killer either went back inside to leave the axe on purpose, or, perhaps, went back inside to do something else (subdue another victim? look for valuables?) and left it behind either uncaringly or accidentally. But moreover, it strongly suggests two assailants. Spencer was not hit with the axe but some other object. The axe had definitely been brought to the scene by the assailants; everyone living at the house testified no one there owned an axe. So whatever the other object was that struck Spencer, it must have been brought and taken away, since there were no reports of another bloody weapon on the scene. So, if there were only one assailant that night, we're left with the spectacle of a man dragging the thrashing, panicked Mollie outside while covering her mouth to stifle her screams, and simultaneously schlepping a big axe and whatever he hit Spencer with. Seems implausible. Two men that evening are more likely.

    Spencer recovered, only to be arrested as a suspect then released. (No one really thought he did this or any of the subsequent murders.) There were other arrests, other suspects, and more ghastly killings to come.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006

    Announcing Annihilator!

    The journey of a thousand miles begins with blah blah blah. I'm really excited. Today I officially announce my next film project, the feature documentary Annihilator: The Unsolved Mystery of the Austin Axe Murders.

    Two things about this project have me super-excited. First of these is that I have always, up till now, pursued narrative filmmaking projects, and I never really thought of myself as a "documentary filmmaker." But then I realize that the distinction is meaningless. If you're a filmmaker, you're a filmmaker. Period. There's nothing carved in stone that says a director can only pursue one area of the filmmaking art. Orson Welles and Martin Scorsese made documentaries, and Scorsese has also made a concert film and (in one admitted lapse of judgment, though I imagine the check was wonderful) a Michael Jackson music video.

    The other thing is that it's amazing to think that virtually no one in Austin today knows that this city had its very own Jack the Ripper, who went about his nasty business a full three years before Jack did. (Some armchair sleuths think that the murderer — murderers? — who came to be called the "Servant Girl Annihilator" fled justice overseas and picked up his old trade in Whitechapel, but I find that doubtful.) The more I've read about these killings, the more my filmmaker's bells have been going off. What a fan-fucking-tabulous subject for a documentary. There was simply no question — Holmes is on the case! I'm officially underway on my research, and as writing and shooting commences, I'll post updates here. This will be one kickass movie. If I do say so myself. I can't wait to get it made. I can't wait for you to see it.

    Addendum: I admit there is something about the current working title that sounds a bit like a PS2 game or a Dolph Lundgren movie. "Servant Girl Annihilator" was, in fact, the name given the killer(s) by writer O. Henry, living in Austin at the time. As there is strong evidence that at least two killers were involved in some of the killings, I considered Annihilators plural, but thought that didn't sound quite right. The Servant Girl Annihilator just sounds like some bad imitation-Argento cheapass Italian horror movie, and The Austin Axe Murderer is too bland, like an episode of some History Channel show. Any readers with better suggestions will find me receptive.

    Saturday, February 04, 2006

    Cake and Ice Cream of the Dead

    Yoiks! To think Saturday has almost passed and I didn't notice this on IMDb until almost midnight. Today was George A. Romero's birthday! Happy 66 to the Zombiemeister! Here's a filmmaker who's a legend in his field, and spent years being chewed up and spat out by that ultimate zombie of all zombies, the Hollywood system. I'm happy to see him back in the saddle making movies again, even if it's late in life.