Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bloody Work teaser banner

No, the 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 and 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?