Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In the Film Room: The Battle for the Future (of Science Fiction Films)

Come December, I believe we’re going to be in the middle of a full-fledged war.

No one will be killed, but something may be decided about the future, or at least a few years of it.
We’re going to find out whether we can actually stand a movie that has so much special effects that it gives our eyes the equivalent of visual diabetes.

That movie, of course, is James Cameron’s Avatar, which will be largely rendered through CGI. And in 3-D. And in IMAX.

If there’s a gimmick he’s not using, please tell him now so he can work it in. My vote is for scratch and sniff cards for certain parts of the movie.

Of course, this movie has one big problem: the test audiences and people who’ve gotten to see the short previews seem to be indicating that it’s garbage. Maybe we don’t want to go to scratch and sniff cards after all.

I believe that Cameron, and directors in general, are facing the crucial moment of evolution in the science fiction film genre: the moment where you either go bigger, or you find a way to go better. Call it George Lucas Syndrome, or GLS for short.

Why call it GLS? Because much like Lou Gehrig, George appears to be our most famous victim of a debilitating disease. It’s a disease that causes the ego to believe that the more you can cram visually into a film cell, the more interesting and stimulating the cell becomes. Unfortunately, the ego does not check itself in time and the cell collapses from overstimulation or lack of any real content. For George’s sake, though, I could have also called it Wachowski Overstimulation Complex (see Speed Racer).

Truth be told, there are a LOT of offenders. Plenty of times recently I’ve found myself exiting a theater from a sci-fi spectacle wondering why they spent so much money on either a) bad-looking CGI effects, or b) special effects and explosions at the expense of storytelling. Once you find yourself making excuses like, “The story was terrible but the explosions were beautiful,” it’s time to step back and reconsider your film-going options. I could honestly have written the genre off in the future were it not for the saving grace of one film.

Ladies and gentlemen, the film that will save the science fiction genre is District 9.

If you haven’t seen it yet, please do so. It’s gotten rave reviews and good box office for a reason. I have not heard personally from anyone who said it was a bad film. It’s also teaching us a few valuable lessons that could save future films if I’m right and Avatar turns out to be a disaster. And just to qualify things, I’d call that a huge “if” based on past spectacles and what I see as a similar set of issues.

1) More is almost always less in the effects department. This idiom should be carved in stone and placed on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. If there’s anything I want to put across from District 9 to show why it’s the future of science fiction, it’s this: do a few effects, and do them well. WETA Digital did such a fantastic job of blending the Prawns into the landscape that you forgot that you were watching an effect for most of the movie. That’s not hard to believe from the guys who gave us Gollum, but if they can do it why can’t everyone else? These guys are simply taking ILM and associates to the woodshed.

I really feel like this was the ultimate failure of the Star Wars prequels. It was all green screen and you had to create every environment and a LOT of the characters with effects. What you got was, pardon the pun, alien. Nothing fit with anything else. There was just so much CGI the whole thing became a case study on the Uncanny Valley.

Bottom line: it’s only worth calling them special effects if they’re SPECIAL (meaning a few of them).

2) Tight story will always be a better sell than a good explosion. I’m staring directly at Transformers on this one. District 9 put you in a league of your own in terms of failure. It had no stars, it had no senseless giant fights. It didn’t try to sell me the fact that a couple of illiterate robots who call people “pussies” and threaten violence against them are acceptable to show children.

The only thing you can even try to sell me is the fact you made bigger box office. Go back to 1 and notice bigger ain’t better and pull the other one…

The movies with the better stories were clearly up above everything else this summer. Star Trek was well done, and sort of our gap-bridger in this case. It had a good story and good effects. The reason I can’t put them in a category unto themselves is JJ Abrams and company are already stating that they’re going to go to a deeper place in the next movie, which I think puts them more towards a District 9 future. Harry Potter doesn’t really qualify one way or the other, as a fantasy movie really. Still, heard a lot of complaints about the story in that one, but those were artistic changes made by a director who clearly was more concerned with teen sex angst than anything else.

And the less said about Terminator: Salvation and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better. Not necessarily bad effects, but stories that remained a step below fan fiction doing an incredible disservice to the original materials.

3) Finally, I would like to say that star power isn’t everything. Think about how many big name actors were in District 9. Now think of how many people crammed themselves into the Star Wars prequels. If the scoreboard looks a little like 1 billion to my chances with Natalie Portman, it should be all the evidence you need.

It wasn’t always like that. George took a bunch of no-names into Star Wars and we sure as hell all know who they are now. Sometimes adding a name is more of a marketing move than a move in the interest of making the best picture possible. And again, it was less of a problem with Star Trek, but I think our “big names” in that picture were chosen for good reasons. And yes, Zachary Quinto, I just called you “big name.” Don’t get ahead of yourself, though.

In the end, I don’t think I’ve asked all that much. Give me a good script done well, a set of visual effects that are blended as well as possible and not overbearing, and don’t get stars in your eyes too often. I think everyone benefits from directors and producers attempting to put the best film out every time and not just once in awhile.

Oh, and parting shot to the producers: compare the budgets on all these films. If that doesn’t convince you of the future, nothing ever will.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Coach's Review #1

Just like I promised, here comes one of my new features, Coach’s Review. Every once in awhile I come across I person who says I’m too critical. Every once in awhile I agree, but some things just need to be said.

Today I’m going to review something that easily ate half of my last week. Now, yes, the NFL just got started, and we had some excellent college football games this weekend. That did, in fact, eat its fair share and more of my weekend, but something else took control of me last Tuesday.

It invaded my apartment, but was welcome. It made my heart and lungs sing, even though they can’t (and as my neighbor’s can probably attest, shouldn’t). And I’m proud to acclaim I’VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!

That’s right, our very first review is The Beatles: Rock Band.

Those of you who want this game probably already have it by now, and those that don’t want the game probably aren’t going to be swayed. Those of you who are unsure just need to stop here and find someone who has it. And pray they don’t have three microphones because there WILL be six of you playing. . .

And that’s a big “if.” Most people don’t have the number of microphones necessary to be playing with the new vocal harmony system, and the early word is the instruments people plopped all the money down for aren’t that special or useful. I use the Guitar Hero wireless guitars and Rock Band drums for my games, and other than the red drum blipping out every now and then because “it wants to take a break” they work pretty well.

Having bought Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, I can safely say that The Beatles: Rock Band is the best band-specific game on the market, and probably will STILL be once Guitar Hero: Van Halen hits in October. Guitar Hero: Metallica buffs will probably disagree, but that's a very apples and oranges argument. Metallica was made to be tough; The Beatles was made to be enjoyed. The library is better, the extras are better, and for a band-specific game it is BAND-SPECIFIC. Can’t tell you how many songs from Aerosmith were left off in favor of songs and covers from “bands the band likes.”

Of course, I could say a little bit of the same for The Beatles: Rock Band. There are a LOT of songs missing from their early career that should be in there, especially to take advantage of the first ever harmony system for vocalists. Seriously, how did the programmers not just turn over “1” and say, “Well, there’s most of our track list done for us.” As it stands, I count 13 songs from “1” missing from the game. The 45 tracks seem inordinately back-half heavy, and the only person I can blame for that is Yoko.

Because it’s always her fault, right?

I know some of these missing songs would be hard to do. “Penny Lane” and “Eleanor Rigby” are damn near impossible to transfer over to the 4 instrument system. However, the omission of songs like “Yesterday,” EVEN IF it would be a “guitar and vocal only challenge” or whatever is inexcusable.

Now some of this is going to be rectified through downloadable content. However, it is really going to depend on how that DLC sells as to whether we’ll see the stuff from the early career returned, as the earliest album coming for download is Rubber Soul. Abbey Road and the few remaining songs they didn’t take from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band will also be coming. And that better include the release of “I’ve Just Seen a Face” on Rubber Soul or I’ll be upset.

But enough about what went wrong, here’s all that’s right. Each Beatle got a fair amount of songs in the game. They really struggled getting the extra few on Ringo, but I won’t argue against including any of the songs that were picked. The "dreamscapes" once you hit the Abbey Road studi are going to make you miss notes because you’ll be watching the backgrounds. I’ll include a Youtube link to one of the trippier ones below. Note that this version is a combo track from the “Love” show that Cirque de Soleil put together.

All in all, if you ever loved The Beatles, this game can’t be missed. You’re going to love the music all over again and playing it just ups the joy factor another five notches. When you find yourself singing “Octopus’s Garden” in the shower, you’ll know I’m right.

Seriously, of all the songs, I get “Octopus’s Garden” stuck in my head…

September 14, 2009: Helter Skelter

OK, I've come to the conclusion that in order to keep this blog running, we need a format change. I feel like I haven't been writing it just because I can't get things going inside of the monolog format and keep that pace up that I had in the first few entries.

So, here's the new format: whatever I damn well please.


The blog format allows for such immense creativity and diversity that wittling it down to the "late night monologue" format does nothing but box me in and require me to make everything fit that mold. Why not just take the freedom that comes with the format?

"But oh wise and handsome Coach," you may moan. "Won't that mean the death of all funny business and lead to some sort of helter skelter entries that keep us guessing on just what we're really going to get from you?"

Well, yes and no. Yes, you'll never really know what you're going to get until you read the new entry. No, it'll still have some funny business, but I'm not going to slave to formulaic entries anymore. And we've still got a third song about United Airlines somewhere on the horizon, and I can't leave a trilogy incomplete!

So come back later today when I unleash the all new Monoblog. I think you're going to enjoy it a lot more and a lot more often.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September 1, 2009: It begins again... again...

The time is upon us when the funny business switches to me and my crazy out of control obsession with the game of football.

"But oh wise and hilarious Coach," you cry. "Don't feel alone. There are many guys and gals across the country who are football obsessed."

Yes, I guess you are right. I'm not alone in liking football. But that doesn't stop me from being crazy.

I will plant myself in front of a Division III college game and be dead to the world rather than participate in it. Thank god for ESPN 8.

I will curse the name of a third string NFL wide receiver who I took on "upside" in a fantasy draft when he only catches 3 balls for 14 yards, and I will curse him as though he slept with my grandmother and gave me H1N1 for spite.

I will lose countless hours of productivity and cause friends to lose countless hours of productivity by messaging them at work to discuss football. And it will probably involve that Division III game.

I'm as interested in seeking a cure for this problem as I am in finding out which Jonas brother is going to be the next Spider-Man: not at freakin' all.

So I guess, in the end, I'm apologizing in advance for the funny business for the next few months possibly being a narcissistic exercise about me. Laugh at me all you want. I'll be too busy studying stat histories to notice...

PS - If you're a fantasy player drafting first in your league this year and you don't take Adrian Peterson, we are f***ing done professionally.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August 20, 2009: Get Back to Work, Slacker...

Alright, funny business is back in business after a 1 month hiatus to bring you the latest word on a continuing favorite of the blog, the United Airlines guitar feud. Our favorite Canadian troubadors of justice have released part 2 of their crusade against United Airlines for breaking their instruments.

This time, we've ditched the country for more of a Randy Newman feel, and swapped out our mariachis for leiderhosen-clad backup. Well, at least they kept the mustaches for continuity's sake.

I'll have more later. I just wanted to make sure I didn't slack off and not get this out to you. Solidarity against airlines, boys!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009: Guitar Heroes and Caption Fun

Extra funny business from Friday as well as the weekend today. Don’t say I never gave you anything…

I’m all about anyone who can take revenge on a corporation for lousy customer service. This guy did it in country music format. In itself, that’s torture enough.

Hell, just break down this guy’s claim to the company:
1) He saw your employees do it. So did someone in the seat behind him.
2) 3 of your other employees were told WHILE IT WAS HAPPENING and ignored it.
3) The item was taken immediately to the desk after landing and retrieval.

Now, where’s his song about technical support guys in foreign countries with incredibly gentrified names who can’t speak without a script?

Michael Phelps had to drop out of a race due to a sore neck. I guess all that feigned hanging your head over doing bong shots does take its toll after awhile…

I don’t know if I believe this study, but it says that swearing has a painkilling effect. I’ve been saying that for years, but I just got my mouth washed out with soap.

Unfortunately, it’s still another painkiller my Mormon friends can’t use . . .

Des Moines may finally get around to appealing an old law forbidding dancing late at night. That’s right: finally it will be safe for Kevin Bacon to visit Iowa.

Vertigo suffers need not apply: Check out the new enclosed “sky ledges” at the Sears Tower. Skip ahead to photo 3 and we’ll play “Caption This” with it. Leave a comment below and we’ll see what we can come up with.

My entry: “Little did Maggie know that there was a slot near the entrance that drops the bottom of the cage for a quarter.”

Bonus entry: “Skydiving for those afraid of parachutes.”

Alright, this one is just LAME. Lobbyists are paying homeless people to hold their places in line for hearings. So it’s conceivable that one of these guys could be the guy who holds the seat for a lobbyist who convinces Congress to stop providing the funding to his homeless shelter and stops providing the payments that support the VA hospital who gives him his meds. This isn’t even really funny, it just pisses me off.

He who has the ability, the drive, and the funding can lock out all the rest…

Alright, I lied. THIS is ten times lamer than the lobbyist thing. Seriously, how much money do you have to throw at the most inane, worthless show on television to “keep the magic going?”
It makes me like Randy Jackson if for no other reason than he’s not being unreasonable and keeping his trap shut while being happy doing what he’s doing.

To complain, call 1-866-FOX-BITES, or text in your vote to FOXBITES. Voting also available on Twitter by going @FOXBITES/GETALIFEANDSTOPUSINGTWITTERYOUTWIT.

Alright, back to funny. A girl has fallen down a manhole because she was too busy sending a text message to watch where her dumb ass was going. Remember kids, if you can’t walk and chew gum, there’s no way in HELL you should be walking and texting at the same time.

OMG, U R DUM. Send to all.

Back with more tomorrow, then off to Indianapolis for a week.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday, July 9, 2009: Human Fondue and the Turtle Revolution

Funny is our business and business is in a recession!

Best. Idea. Ever. An upscale men’s department store in NYC has decided to get men over their “shopping phobias” by giving away free booze to browse their trousers. I just don’t see the sign that says “You Puke on It, You Buy It.”

Can’t wait for the images of a mob of drunk guys fighting over shoes. That’s when you know it’s time to visit an AA meeting or ten...

And the Great Animal Revolution continues. After yesterday’s report about the badger halting traffic in Germany, a gang of miscreant turtles has interrupted service at JFK International Airport in New York. Evidently, they were incensed over the extra fees associated with checking a shell that didn’t fit the overhead bins.

Once again, literalism is NOT for the weak-minded. A man has suffered death by chocolate after falling into a vat of everyone’s favorite emotional connection substitute at work. Really, it’s just a recipe violation. They weren’t supposed to be adding nuts at that point...

This definitely goes on the list of “Things That Seem Like a Good Idea But in Reality Would Just Kill You.” I mean, even if he hadn’t hit the agitator, he probably would be burned over 90% of his body. Chocolate is normally a solid at room temperature, and during the mixing process it’s probably INCREDIBLY FRICKIN’ HOT. We’re not talking James Brown’s Celebrity Hot Tub hot, we’re talking “donating whatever’s left of your body to science afterward” hot. I mean, you could possibly get away with Hershey’s Syrup, but even then you can’t expect it to be like water. You might just sink like a rock.

I put it up there with the Theory of Uncle Scrooge’s Money Bin. Yes, it would be awesome to swim in money, but the physics aren’t on your side. You’d just end up at the bottom crushed to death in a giant mound of pennies.

Actually, I think these should just be saved under another list, “Ways to Kill Spies When I Become a Bond Villain.”

Vengeance will be ours: According to a survey of 4500 hotel owners, French tourists are the worst in the world. It’s a bad day when we’re being outdone by the French in any category featuring a lack of manners. I blame the recession. Someone needs to get a few travel contests out there so we can get our most unruly and disrespectful back on the road.

Or we can just send them anybody from any show that begins with “The Real Housewives of…” That ought to put the rankings back in order.


And a final observation from TV land: is there something out there to watch in summer that will make me giggle like a four year old after a bag of Pixie Stix?

If you can watch "I Survived a Japanese Game Show" without laughing at the games, the contestants, or yourself for laughing at either, you are a hard-hearted human being. Or a prick. Or some combination of both.

I still can't get over last night's parting shot of big ol' Bobaloo skipping off into the sunset, big green alien leotard on (deely-boppers on his head, no less) with a big pink stuffed panda under his arm. If that's not the most demented hero shot you'll ever see in your life, someone took a LOT of drugs to make whatever you saw happen...

Check out the ABC website for full episodes to see what I mean. Between that and Wipeout, America has a nonstop source of humiliation as entertainment. And I couldn't be happier...