Sunday, 24 May 2009

Shock! Hollywood Studios might have to actually make good movies!

This article in the LA Times is a great reminder of just how stupid Hollywood studios are. They are shocked to learn that DVD sales, one of their main sources of income is declining, and the more terrifying is that its the poor quality titles that are the ones with the steepest drop off in sales. You know despite the media blitz trying to flog crap, people seem to have better information from other sources about said crap and are refusing to buy it.
"...alarming, especially for studios that have thrived on seducing moviegoers into seeing mediocre product, is the realization that audiences are becoming more quality conscious. In the past, if a forgettable action film hit pay dirt at the box office, it would perform correspondingly well in DVD, allowing studios in greenlight meetings to provide a conversion rate -- i.e. that if a movie of a certain genre made $100 million in the theaters, that would equal X millions of units in DVD. But judging from recent DVD sales figures, films that had poor word-of-mouth were underperforming in DVD, even if they had enjoyed lofty box-office numbers."
What's a poor multi-billion dollar studio supposed to do? Change it's business model and actually make decent films? Don't be silly, let's blame the internet. Damn that word of mouth! They should prosecute their customers for telling each other that films are schlock. Clearly that's the solution.

Once again Hollywood, wake up and get a clue!

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Problem of Meta-News

Newspapers are dying apparently. There is various analysis and commentary floating around on the webs to suggest so: Wall Street Journal about to go bankrupt, Chicago Tribune times, etc. The fear from this, to summarise from what I've read elsewhere, is that it will mean the death of quality in depth journalism. The traditional business model provided the resources, through classifieds, advertising, entertainment info, etc to fund the expensive but socially necessary investigative journalism. Of course, the content that supplied the income had little relationship to the important political, social and cultural content of papers, which was in a sense free. We've only tweaked to this since new technology has broken apart that model, striping out the revenue sources and providing them cheaper and better through other means (ie eBay, Craigslist, online personals, entertainment directories, etc). So who pays for the good journalism now? Only governments and corporations have the money to subsidise such an endeavour, but given that they are often the target of such journalism, it's hardly a sensible solution.

I want to jump to a separate concern relating to modern 'news', something of a non-sequitur. That's the beauty of blogging, you can just explore ideas and see if they connect, you don't have to make an argument. I've found myself disliking the tone of mainstream news, in print and on TV for sometime now, though I didn't realise it so distinctly until I asked myself, 'Why do I prefer blogs, and comedy news, like Jon Stewart or even Good News Week (in the good old days) to regular news?' All reporting is inherently biased, influenced by the personal experiences and cultural contexts of those who produce it. To be considered a 'public good' though, news needs to impartial, balanced and fair. Journalists strive to be unbiased, but they can never really be. The pundits, comedians and blogs however make no such claim to the 'public good', and wear their bias on their sleeve. Yet in doing so they have inadvertently become the more valuable source of information. My distaste for mainstream news is that it has devolved into, for want of a better term, 'Meta-news'. That is news that just describes the surface of things and doesn't describe anything deeper for fear that it requires making a value judgment and hence not being seen as impartial. Consider political commentary, particularly around elections. Rather then report on the merits and implications of the speeches, ideas and proposals of the politicians, what we get instead, in order to preserve 'impartiality' is reports of how popular this or that speech is, how this or that idea is playing out in the media or who is getting the most air time. Pundits spend more time discussing the perceptions of politicians (what does the latest poll say, what does that mean) rather then the actual ideas the politicians stand for. So frequently journalists hosting panels and debates never actually engage the arguments made, follow them through, rather they simply act as moderators, ensuring the 'right' topics are covered and proportioning 'equal' air-time to opposing voices. This format allows equal coverage of nonsensical, irrational, factually-incorrect hyperbole as it does well-grounded, considered opinions. After all, a reporter wouldn't want to seem 'biased'.

Anderson Cooper seems like a pretty intelligent guy, likable and charming, but watching some of his Youtube discussions on same-sex marriage for example, you have to sit through people making sensible arguments and then people spouting utter non-sense. (That's not to say there aren't some potentially valid arguments against same-sex marriage, just that all that is heard is the fear-mongering lies) They can disagree with each other, but as host all Cooper does is allocate time, and doesn't demand that his guests, you know, actually make sense. (Cooper is not the only one to do this, in fact he is better then most) In contrast, when Jon Stewart has guests on his show, it's known he has an opinion, and this gives him license to actually challenge what his guests say, force them to follow through on their logic. It doesn't always make good sound-bites but its always entertaining. In a sense, Stewart is popular for the same reason O'Reilly on Fox is, they both are willing to challenge their guests from a set point of values. Stewart uses patience, logic and wit to highlight the flaws of what they are saying, whereas O'Reilly postures 'openness' then just yells people down until he takes their silence for agreement. The same qualities are true of the blogosphere. Blogs, by their nature personal accounts, take the news of the day and slant it to the personal tastes and values of the individuals blogging. It's what makes them more enjoyable and relevant then traditional news sources.

Newspapers and other media outlets need to learn that today's audiences don't need to spoon-feed a notion on impartiality. That's not say that reporting shouldn't still strive to be unbiased, just that it needs to accept the bias too. Newspapers need to leverage the personal 'brands' of their reporters, presenting the news from their well understood value standpoint. I suspect it would vastly improve the popularity of their content, which can be translated into advertising revenue to fund the type of quality journalism that contemporary culture will continue to need.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

S. Darko - The hack-job

So I, err, 'obtained' a copy of S. Darko, and now aren't you glad that I did, because you don't have to wait your turn. I mistakenly presumed that Richard Kelly, written/director of the original Donnie Darko was involved somehow, I imagined that perhaps given the less then stellar performance of Southland Tales (neither a critical or box office success), that he had returned to the Darko universe for a little comfort. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, because I actually thought Southland Tales was good.
Believing that when watching the film made for a strange experience above and beyond the self-consciously contrived actual strangeness of it. All of these 'Kelly-esque' were there, but it was like the film-maker didn't know how to put them together. Which would have been odd if Kelly actually had a hand in it, but he didn't. Not even some vague EP credit, nothing. He basically disavowed the thing that was created by the studio that owns the rights to Donnie. Many of the Kelly-esque elements were copied exactly from the original. Scary rabbit mask? Check. Shocking car accidents? check? Rewinding footage to reverse time? Double check. Floating, wobbly tubes in front of people? Check. (there was no need to even explain them, somehow the characters just accepted them). Things falling out the sky and killing people? Check. 
Once again its fascinating in an amusing/irritating/disappointing way to see big movie studios completely miss the point and not get what makes a film good. The Blair Witch was not popular because it featured shaky, hand-held footage from the characters POV. Donnie Darko was not the brilliant movie it was because it included a rising hollywood (Ed Westwick can't hold a candle to Jake anyway), or retro-chic period music, or strange-ghost characters, or scary rabbits. It was the beautifully intricate narractive, constructed with delicacy to line up like a rubix-cube at the end, around a core of superbly performed characters we care about. None of the humour, which gave the orginal depth and made the pathos more affecting, made its way into this hack-job of a sequel. The only positive of this film is, in taking all the superfical qualities of the original and turning them into something completely insubstatial, it has inadvertantly laid bare where the true depth and mastery of Donnie Darko is. 

On, a side note, I feel sorry for the cute but misguided Jackson Rathbone who was in it... He's quoted as trying to tell us to give it time, that Donnie wasn't appreciated at first, and neither was this. Sorry Jack, only quality gets discovered after time, not crap, and you might be better off to admit that you are a struggling actor and you did the film because you thought it might be popular, and not because you thought it was such an 'amazing' character. It wasn't and you sound like a tool. Save that drivel for if you actually get famous.  

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

I Hate Gordon Ramsey

Aah, Tuesday night television. First there is Two and a Half 'men'. What crap. It disturbs me that this show is popular, and it's just ruined Holland Taylor for me now, I used to like her in The Practice and Ally McBeal. Then there is the absurdly awful 10 Years Younger in Ten Days. Why do I feel that the show was made in Sydney. Maybe because the goal seems to be to make real people look plastic and fake, and possibly make the yuppy aging producers feel better about themselves. One of the few make-over shows that makes me want to vomit when they do the reveal at the end. Perhaps I just don't watch enough of them. Turning people into alien latex heads might be amusing, if it wasn't so depressing that they are so willing submit themselves to such hideous humiliation.

So are the contestants on Hell's Kitchen, which is somehow supposed to justify Ramsey's behaviour. Oh, they chose to be treated like shit, so it's ok. Never mind the fact that he is a fucking awful human being. There is no logic or consistency to what he says, it's just pure arrogant vitriol and abuse intended soley as a power game, to psychologically destroy his victims. There are two possibilities, he either plays up how horrible he is for the cameras, or he is actually like that, but either way it is loathsome. Does no one notice the hypocrisy, after screaming obscenities at people, when one person dares reply curtly, he yells 'How dare you be rude. I won't stand for rudeness!'... moments after having called someone a fat, useless sack of shit. Or when he yells hysterically at everyone, then tells them to fucking calm down.
He doesn't know how to complement or encourage anyone, the few times vaguely positive comments filter through his insane nasty hyperbole, they are patronising back-handed compliments to himself. The argument that this 'training' is somehow necessary to be able to work in an elite kitchen it complete and utter bullshit, espoused by people trying to justify appalling behaviour. It's just food for god sake. Yes, you can be a perfectionist about it, but the end doesn't justify the means. Nor does the supposed 'high pressure' environment. Do they train teams of surgeons by screaming hysterically at them? It's nothing but complete ego indulgence for a puffed-up, arrogant asshole. Ramsey ought to realise that not giving a shit what people say about you doesn't actually make you right, it just makes you a narcissist. I hope Gordon Ramsey gets tongue cancer and drowns in his own bile.