Sunday, October 30, 2005

Where Are All the Action Stars?

I went to Stay last week, which had some interesting editing and camera work attached to a problematic, but not so bad, story. It did pretty poorly box office wise so I'm always curious about why.

Personally, I like Ewan MacGregor -- I think he could be this generation's Harrison Ford. But for some reason that isn't panning out (or not yet at least -- perhaps in a few years) -- even when attached to spectacles like The Island.

The problem might be that we don't know who we're going to see when we go see a Ewan MacGregor film. When we go see a Tom Cruise film we know we'll see the cocky hotshot. Bruce Willis is the tough smartass. Arnold -- the muscular but slightly self-effacing guy. Clint the pure hardass.

And with Tom Cruise apparently in self-destruct mode while most of the others age out of the genre I'm worried that we're running into a low action star market. What's worse -- many of our best candidates are worryingly serious actors --

Will Smith -- great in light action but stop defecting to romantic comedies and the odd serious film...
Colin Farrell -- does brooding badass well, but what's with all the dramatic period pieces??
Matt Damon -- honestly, you can't be an action star if you got a screenwriting Oscar.
Ewan McGregor -- what's with this whole range thing? Action stars perform in one kind of movie, then break up their string of action films by playing against type in a comedy every now and then --

Vin Diesel -- here's the ticket, but we need more than one of these guys.

Jason Statham -- could be one, but still no break out into the "we make movies around you" stage of things. I think he needs a big role that will be quintessentially him, but not The Transporter, something more like one of the roles in Snatch or Lock, Stock...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Context is Everything

This weekend we took a trip to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho for a conference. As can be seen in the above photo, it's a gorgeous place.

However, much of the town away from the lake is like any other town -- small shopping centers and residences.

This led Jaru to note that the only real difference between Couer d'Alene and, say Route 1 in Central New Jersey --

--is that Coeur d'Alene has nicer trees and mountains in the background of its strip malls:

While on the trip we had a sudden urge to check out the other major cities -- and zipped across the state to Seattle, which has a nice international community:

Then down the coast a bit to Portland:

The mayor of Portland figured out that the best way to revitalize the downtown area was to fill it with slacker youth -- and it worked wonderfully.

Portland's downtown has a wonderful vibrancy -- moreover, it feels authentic, not glittery and grating like downtowns designed for tourists, but a place where locals would come regularly, and even live there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The End of a Genre

Via Wonkette:

Alexander Yakovlev - seen as a key figure behind Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reform policies in the former USSR - has died aged 81. -- from BBC News World Edition.

I had this dream in maybe 1978 or 1979 where I was walking on the streets of my hometown in the rain and there was this massive, air-cracking, BOOM. I remember in the dream thinking that it was a nuclear attack -- but it was actually just thunder. After I woke up I realized that, while I might not have thought about it much, the understanding that global armageddon was always just 30 minutes away must have been there in my unconscious -- otherwise why would that have been my first thought in the dream.

Around this time was also the era of the post-holocaust stories and films and games -- so many of them that it was really the invention (and passing) of an entire genre. Nowadays the post-holocaust genre is quaint.

In 1986 I was serving Uncle Sam watching the DMZ in South Korea. I was on 24 hour pass when Chernobyl happened so I didn't find out about it until a bit later, but when I got back to the tent city they had for us, my platoon mates were all sacked out and grumpy. Our platoon sergeant had them up all night out in the ditches in their Kevlar vests and NBC gear after hearing about the nuclear incident, thinking it was something more drastic. Admittedly, he was a nervous fellow, but I think it was indicative of the fears that percolated beneath our consciousness at the time.

The people who championed and shepherded glasnost and perestroika performed an epic service for the world, remarkable not just for the enormity of the change it brought about, but also for the quiet with which it occured.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Fixing Your DVD Player When It Starts Locking Up

This summer my dad's DVD player started doing the freeze up and don't play dance. My first thought was that the previous Blockbuster renters had been using the DVDs as coasters for mugs of frothy drinks.

So we do the clean the disc trick -- over and over. Then try different discs, including some that were recently purchased.

All of that fails so we head out around town and dig up a DVD/CD lens cleaner disc -- these have 6 tiny little tufts of thread distributed around the middle -- and they solve the DVD player's problem for about 4 minutes.

So my dad simply replaces the fritzy bugger and everything's fine.

Just this week our DVD player starts showing the same symptoms. Not having learned my lesson I spend $10 on one of the lens cleaners, it works for the requisite 4 minutes, then I go buy a new DVD player.

Apparently, this is the standard solution.

Given that the new DVD player only cost $36, is more compact and has better features than my old DVD player -- my recommendation when your DVD player starts stuttering: skip the waste $10 on a cleaning disc step and go straight for the new player.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Expo 4

Just a note that my sci-fi/action script, Recursive, made it to the quarter finals in the Expo 4 contest -- these contests always make me nervous, especially given my predilection for what used to be called B movies (but are now given lots of money and called Hollywood movies, but still not the sort of thing that advances in contests). For my geeky over-educated friends, this one might actually be something you'd appreciate -- unlike the vast majority of what I write.

Anyway, this one could use some contest help because it's just a little out of the budget range of my usual "we're paying everyone in night elf porn DVDs" contacts.*

Velvet Steamroller called me saying that they will renew the option on The Sound (yay Bill!), which means that after November I'll no longer be eligible for many of these contests (Expo 5 for instance will be out of the picture). So it's nice that I made it part of the way so far in this one.

TV on iTunes
The download went fairly quickly, all things considered -- I went for a walk while it happened but no more than a couple hours I figure. File size is roughly 200 MB.

Video quality is not so hot -- but not awful. A bit pixellated and occasionally jumpy. It is not in widescreen (unlike the beatific DVD version, where I could just watch the menu page for hours). My impatience could make this a habit -- but my distaste for having the initial experience be less than ideal could help me resist.

My feeling -- this will be good for watching on Playstation Portable and catching up on your shows via satellite internet while you're protecting antelopes in Tibet. But in a country that'll pay $3.50 for slightly better coffee in a nice looking cup, we'll be waiting for the iVideo quality to match the DVD version before we see this explode. However, when that does happen, the explosion will be downright nukular.

I do recommend giving it a try for $2. Then, while you're in iTunes, download Leo Sayer's "Long Tall Glasses".

* I await the massive Enzite-like upswing in my hit rate for this sentence.

My Relationship with TV Enters a New Phase

iTunes announces downloadable TV shows one hour after regular showing.

I'm currently downloading the season 2 opener of Lost -- I'm on DSL so this will go a bit slow and I'm wondering what the quality will be like. But so far all three season 2 episodes are available. Will update later.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Tricksy Star Wars

...and Star Trek.

I caught Serenity last week and thought it was a well put together film, though I think its IMDB rating might be benefiting a bit from the fact that internet ratings favor geek-bait.

Moreover, I'm truly impressed by the visuals in this remarkably inexpensive film. So I'm wondering why it's struggling at the box office. Last year The Chronicles of Riddick came out and, while it had its problems, it certainly didn't have more problems as a film than, say Fantastic Four, which did significantly better at filling the seats.

My suspicion is that the space opera genre appears to have a larger audience than it in fact does have, due to the anomalous success of Star Wars and, to a lesser extent, Star Trek. I think both cases were fresh and well-executed ideas that enjoyed enough success to turn them into self-sustaining brands.

Space opera has this real problem in that, like fantasy, it's about creating an entirely new world for the reader to explore. This works well in novels, which have plenty of room for back story and exploration. But movies are tiny things and if you drop the unitiated into this new universe we have nothing to connect to. Everything's too new and different, the film makers lack the time to give a proper introduction, and that leads to disconnect -- and disconnect leads to a flat experience.

Films like Alien and Pitch Black finesse this problem by making the larger fictional world unimportant. The story is all about this small group of characters and we're fully able to connect to making a few bucks, corporate giving us the shit detail, or simply being forced to travel with a bunch of whackos and creeps.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

How to Tell the Amateur Production Companies

After you send a note saying that a script the company requested will get there shortly, they actually respond with a short thank you email.

Politeness -- the mark of inexperience.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Road to Utopia Smells of Cow

Our weekend trip this time took us to Utopia, which, unlike Eden, does not keep half its population in prison. I had previously driven past the side roads to Utopia several times, figuring that achieving Utopia really wasn't worth having to make a left turn.

Getting there one travels along about 23 miles of two lane road. We made this trip behind a pair of pickups towing trailers full of cattle at 30 mph. Given the pace and the recently reasonable weather I decided to roll the window down. Jaru got a little tired of the cow smell after maybe ten miles so eventually the windows went up again. Perhaps if the farmers were towing eggplant...

Also, unlike previous trips, we remembered the camera this time. The problem with our camera is that it's one of those wads-of-AA's cameras so you need to pack like a suitcase full of potential acid bombs to take and transfer pictures. That probably has the nice side effect though of preventing me from saturating this blog with even less relevant photos.