Author 337

I’ve Always Known I’ll Die Alone

Posted in Writings by author337 on October 17, 2016

The Ballad of James Tiberius Kirk

 

 

Grand Theft History

Posted in Writings by author337 on October 11, 2016

Is Mafia III the Oregon Trail of the 1960s?

I know more about the Oregon Trail than my parents. Not because I read more books about it or that I had a particular interest in the life of an American Pioneer. I am more knowledgeable about that treacherous 2,000 mile trek across the untamed wilderness of the American frontier because of video games. The Oregon Trail has been a mainstay of computer labs since the earliest incarnation in the 1970s. I fondly recall the Apple II version of the program which required the use of a keyboard, whereas my wife is more familiar with the point-and-click CD-Rom edition. Kids can now play a touch-screen version on their phones. As a youngster, I never took the game seriously. I named the characters in my family “butt” and “fart,” spent all of my money on bullets and all my time shooting as many bears as possible. In fact, I don’t think I ever made it to Oregon. But I still know the inherent risks in fording a river, the dangers of dysentery and why you should always carry at least one extra axle for your wagon.

 

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Video games allow you to walk a mile (or 2,000) in another person’s shoes in a way books or even films cannot. The movie Alien is scary. Playing Alien: Isolation with the lights off will make you piss your pants. Watching Nazis get shot in Inglorious Basterds is fun. Slaughtering Nazis in Wolfenstein 3D is a near-religious experience. But interactive entertainment can do more than raise your pulse, it can also change the way you think. In a time when empathy is often in scant supply and divisions of race, class and creed are becoming impossible to ignore, playing games may be the best way learn how the other half lives, or in the case of Mafia III, lived.

On the surface, Mafia III (released last friday on Xbox One and Playstation 4) is your standard Grand Theft Auto clone. Like in GTA and the first two Mafia games, you explore a vast and detailed urban environment, steal cars, assassinate your enemies, and build a criminal empire. What sets this title apart from its predecessors and competitors is the character and setting. The first two Mafia games featured a generic gangster character in a generic gangster setting. This time you are Lincoln Clay, a mixed-race Vietnam veteran living in New Bordeaux (neé New Orleans) Louisiana. The year is 1968.

 

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To put that in context, 1968 is the year Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, the Vietnam War tore apart the nation, protesters were brutally beaten by law enforcement officers at the Democratic National Convention, 16-year-old Black Panther Bobby Hutton was gunned down by police in Oakland and the Olympic Committee condemned medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos for raising the Black Power Salute into the sky.

In short, it was perhaps the most turbulent period in living history. It’s no coincidence that the designers of Mafia III chose 1968 for its setting. The game doesn’t just take place during this year of racial violence and political turmoil, it fully immerses you in it. A white woman clutches her purse as you pass by, police officers casually call you the n-word, your character suffers from post-traumatic stress flashbacks and white supremacists oppress, exploit and brutalize people of color in ways that will make you feel ashamed for this country’s legacy of racial bloodshed. I’ve seen a lot of fucked up shit in video games. I’ve fought my way out of Nazi torture chambers, ripped people’s hearts out and literally escaped the bowels of hell. But I’ve never had a police officer look me in the eye and call me n-gger. It’s the most upsetting thing I’ve ever experienced in a game. And that’s the point of course.

 

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Mafia III didn’t have to go there. Call of Duty: Black Ops took place during the same time period and there was nothing close to this. You shoved broken glass into a man’s mouth and punched him in the jaw to watch it bleed but that’s a round of Mario Kart Rainbow Road compared to this shit. It’s jarring, affecting and just might be the bravest thing I’ve ever scene a work of mainstream art do in years. I’ve spent a good deal of time studying the extraordinary events of the 1960s, but nothing has made it feel as real and terrifying as Mafia III.

When I usually play sandbox games like this, I see the game world as my personal playground. I feel no remorse plowing down innocent civilians, blowing up public property and slaughtering police officers. In fact, that’s often the fun. It’s a liberating, cathartic experience that allows me to release my inner rage in a consequence free environment. The world of New Bourdeaux does not feel like this amoral playground. I hear an old woman on the street mourning the loss of Dr. King. I notice that the police don’t always respond when you commit a crime in a black neighborhood but will race to the scene in a white one. I find a note left by a heroin-addled prostituted in the backroom of a bordello run by racist mobsters. She’s telling one of her friends that someday they’ll be free. Some day they’ll get to go home. I don’t mow through this town like I did Vice City or San Andreas. I’m not even tempted. Mafia III isn’t a playground, it’s a lesson.

 

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Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Mafia III should be taught in schools like Oregon Trail. I’m also not a parent but I don’t recommend your kids play it. But let’s face it, kids will play this. A lot of kids. And something good might come out of that. Maybe there’s a kid who doesn’t understand the legacy of police brutality against people of color. Maybe there’s a kid who is opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement. The current generation of kids is pretty woke but I’ve heard a lot of n-bombs thrown around on Xbox Live matches. Maybe this will make some of those kids realize how corrosive and dangerous that sort of language is.

 

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More importantly, I hope that Mafia III serves as an inspiration for educational software designers. Why not harness the emotional power of a sandbox game to let students walk a mile in another person’s shoes? Gamers have stormed the beaches of Normandy in Call of Duty, why not have students spend a day in the life of a Japanese internment camp? Video game players have explored colonial America in Assassin’s Creed, why not have a kid experience life in the cotton fields of a southern plantation? This is controversial to be sure and maybe the educational system isn’t ready for this. If I couldn’t help but name my character “butt” in Oregon Trail, I might be expecting too much to have a kid play a game about surviving the Holocaust and take it seriously. But I think that’ s a risk we should be willing to take as a society.

Triple AAA video game titles have become more and more risk averse in the past few years. Call of Duty, Madden, and Assassin’s Creed have enjoyed fantastic success repeating their respective formulas year after year. It’s therefore extremely impressive that the third game in a series would do something as radical as Mafia III. They could have done another by-the-numbers gangster story in a familiar setting and had a hit on their hands. Instead they have cracked open a genre and pushed it to a threshold no one could have predicted. I think it is a good sign for this rapidly maturing form of storytelling. Anyone who still tells you video games aren’t art is nothing short of a fool these days and Mafia III is proof positive. Buy it. Play it. Talk about it. Great art requires great risks and those risks must be rewarded. Reward this one.

 

Collecting the Galaxy

Posted in Writings by author337 on December 17, 2015

Star Wars fans are a tactile breed. We are not content simply to watch the movies. We want to own a piece of the universe. Hold a light-saber in our hands, hang TIE-Fighters from the ceiling and pose action figures on our shelves.

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Tonight I will see Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, a film that we’ve been promised is by the fans for the fans. The strongest indication that this is true is the fact that the film itself appears to have a strong motif of collecting. Three of the most popular Star Wars toys are Millennium Falcon models, Darth Vader’s mask and of course lightsabers. In the trailer for the new film, we see three young characters literally collecting these items. Villain Kylo Ren has collected his hero Darth Vader’s original mask, and displays it in a case that looks like something Sideshow Collectibles would sell. We see Finn collecting what appears to be the Skywalker family lightsaber, a literal and figurative passing of the torch to the new generation. And finally we see Rey taking command of the Millennium Falcon a ship that may or may not run in her family. Rey asks about the “stories” of what happened during the original trilogy. Han Solo tells her that it’s all true. The meta-message is clear. Star Wars is real, and it’s back in a big way.

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I was born in the dark times between Return of the Jedi and the Special Edition, when the Star Wars saga was very much like the Jedi Order — a revered tradition that had gone nearly extinct. A once-proud cultural touchstone that had become a mysterious whisper among those who still honored it. Like the conversation between Rey and Han hints at, the story of the Star Wars saga was shrouded in mystery.

Sure, the films remained popular on home video, but it was nothing like the frenzy of late seventies and early eighties, the mega-hype leading up to Episode I or the insanity we are now experiencing in advance of Episode VII. Believe it or not, you couldn’t just walk into a store and buy Star Wars toys. They were relics, fading, broken, dirtied and hidden in the closets and garages of once-enthusiastic Gen-Xrs who had gone off to college.

By the late eighties, most of my friends were collecting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, GI Joes, Transformers and all of the popular toys of my childhood. But my parents were too cheap to buy me the new stuff and instead my mom and I trolled garage sales on summer afternoons, picking up old Star Wars junk. By the early nineties, the rarity of Star Wars toys made them sought-after items that I could literally only find in antique stores. Boy was my grandmother delighted about how enthusiastic I was to spend whole weekends wandering through small towns in Northern California looking for antique furniture and action figures. I’ll never forget the day that my Grandma Jean bought me my first Han Solo action figure, a battered and paint-chipped little figure sitting alone on a shelf. I’ll certainly never forget the time I was on vacation with my family and spotted a vintage Darth Vader in an antique store. Luckily I had some of my Channukah money left over and I was able to buy it. My first Star Wars purchase. He and Han sit on my shelf to this day, some twenty-odd years later.

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The rarest item, the one I could never find, was Boba Fett. Fett figures are a dime a dozen these days but back then he was near-impossible to hunt one down. My cousin Rusty however had TWO of them. One was in real bad shape, with mostly faded paint and pieces broken off of it. He promised he’d give me that shitty one for my birthday. And then when my birthday rolled around, he did the damnedest thing. He gave me the GOOD ONE. To this day, I think it’s the most generous thing anyone has ever done for me.

So from the earliest days of my fandom, Star Wars collecting was about family, generosity, gifts and sharing. The tradition lives on. When I first met my brother-in-law, he gave me a Star Wars action figure as something of a peace offering and sign of familial respect. It worked. On the third night of Channukah, my sister texted me that he had bought her a Darth Vader action figure. I texted back a picture of my fiancee clutching the stormtrooper plush toy I’d given her. When the entire family gathered last summer for my sister’s wedding, I pulled my Darth Vader head filled with action figures out of storage. The family took all of the figures out, placed them on the table and took a walk down memory lane, remembering how we acquired them all.

I’m reminded of the scene between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars film. Kenobi passes on a very special collector’s item to his new protegee, his father Anakin’s lightsaber. Of course, the toy version is leaning against my desk. I hope someday I’ll be able to pass this down to my son or daughter, when they’re old enough.

 

We Are Gotham

Posted in Writings by author337 on November 19, 2015

The world took a look at itself this week and we didn’t like what we saw. It’s been a while since we knew who the heroes and villains are. Shit just ain’t that cut and dry anymore. Not that it ever was. The bad guys storm in wearing masks designed to inflict fear.

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They look familiar.

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A message comes through on coded channels.

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It sounds familiar.

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The good guys storm in to save us.

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They look familiar too.

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An anonymous voice calls through the darkness promising to save us all. Life imitating art that imitated life. Net effect?

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It looks familiar too.

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We are not through the looking glass. This is our world. We are a 7 billion strong city of supervillains. We are in Gotham now. Despite the lies and the threats and the promises, none of them can protect us. We can only protect ourselves by loving one another. Hate is not our weapon. Hate is the weapon of our enemy. And our enemies exist only if we acknowledge them.

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Do not acknowledge their violence. Attend to the wounded. Do not listen to their threats. Walk the streets as free women and men. Do not seek revenge. Seek the opportunity to heal. Together.

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Star Wars Battlefront: Bantha Poodoo in a Galaxy Far Far Away…

Posted in Writings by author337 on November 18, 2015

The Star Wars Universe is a dangerous place. Whether you’re a moisture farmer on Tatooine, a Rebel Soldier defending Echo Base or a Stormtrooper landing on a hostile world, you can die quickly and brutally and no one will care. When people fantasise about living in a galaxy far far away, most imagine themselves as Jedi Knights or Sith Lords, gunslinging smugglers or badass warrior princesses. But let’s face it, if any of us were dropped off in the middle of pop culture’s favorite intergalactic civil war, we’d be piece of shit grunt cannon fire at best and clueless collateral damage at worst. The newest version of Star Wars Battlefront, one of the franchise’s best video game series, reminds you of that reality almost immediately.

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The first time you join one of the game’s massive multiplayer battles, you’ll be taken aback by how photo-realistic it all looks and sounds. From the crunch of snow under your boots on Hoth to the dense foliage of the Forest Moon of Endor, Battlefront truly transports you to a galaxy far far away. It’s the first time we’ve seen a fully realized interactive version of the Star Wars Universe on the high-powered current generation of consoles and it’s truly breathtaking in the way it represents both the beauty and terror of living in the war-torn landscape of an epic space opera. But don’t stand around gawking too long or you’ll be bantha poodoo within seconds. Remember all those dudes eating shit in the background of the iconic Star Wars battles? Well that’s going to be you. Over and over again. I’ve been playing multiplayer first person shooters since Doom and it even took me a couple of deaths before I started racking up kills. If you haven’t played an FPS for a while or at all, it’s going to be a steep learning curve and you’ll have to log some serious time to be halfway decent. There are modes where you get to play as popular “hero” characters like Luke Skwyalker or Darth Vader but that’s not the main attraction here.

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The gameplay is pretty standard fare if you’re familiar with Call of Duty or Battlefield but that’s precisely the point. Battlefront has always been more or a less your standard military shooter with a Star Wars skin on it and honestly that’s what people want. If they had ever tried to do something original with the core mechanic of Battlefront  it wouldn’t had been as successful. People just wanted to play Battlefield 1942 with Star Wars shit. This time Electronic Arts went to the source and had Battlefield’s developer create Battlefront. Why not? That’s exactly what fans have asked for and in a sense Star Wars Battlefront represents the ultimate fan service. Of course, diehards will still find a reason to complain because this is Star Wars fandom, where opinions are like assholes — everyone has one and they’re all full of shit.

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A major complaint is the lack of a single player campaign. Sure, you can play single player against the AI in a variety of modes but there isn’t an overarching story that people can play on their own. This confounds me, because no one ever gave a shit about the single player campaign when the series had one. In fact it was kind of a joke. Of course, now that there’s no single player people are pissed that it’s gone. In fact, some people seem so desperate for any sort of story that they’re trying to shoehorn them into the gameplay. As this reviewer from the LA Times stated:

“In Star Wars Battlefront players can rewrite Star Wars history. The arcade-like action allows for the narratives of battle to change at a moment’s notice.”

Um no. First of all the action isn’t “arcade-like” in fact it’s entirely the opposite. Disney Infinity Star Wars  has arcade-like action, Battlefront is a brutal and difficult game for advanced players. Secondly, Luke Skywalker dying in a video game isn’t “rewriting Star Wars history” or “changing the narrative.” It’s just shit that happens in a video game because it’s fun. No one screams that there’s been a rift in the space time continuum of the Marioverse every time Waluigi loses a round of Wii bowling.

Then this reviewer talked about how easily he died even while playing as Luke, one of the most powerful characters in the game. Why the LA Times hired someone to review games who not only can’t play them but thinks they are the intergalactic interactive equivalent of Harry Turtledove novels  is beyond me. Next they’ll tell me that Kenneth Turan thinks movies are real life. At the end of the day Battlefront is a multiplayer shooter, if you want a story-based shooter in space, go play Halo or Mass Effect. If you want alternate history, go read Man in the High Castle.

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The second major complaint with Battlefront is that there aren’t enough planets to choose from and the only thing really worth playing is the Battle of Hoth. This is also kindof a joke because anyone who’s played a Battlefront game knows that Hoth is pretty much the only level people want to play. It’s a long-time tradition of Star Wars gamers. Shadows of the Empire was horrible but everyone loved that Hoth level at the beginning so the game was a big hit. So the fact that Battlefront is essentially the world’s best Hoth simulator probably won’t hurt it. That being said, I am quite disappointed that two of my favorite locations from the previous games, Bespin and Naboo are not represented here at all.

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The lack of planetary variety is inextricably linked to the third complaint, and the one that has the most validity: the price tag is too high for the amount of content offered. The base game is $60. Pretty standard. Then there is a “season” pass that unlocks additional content which will put you back another $50. That is unfortunately also the way of the world these days. So in order to really play the entire game, you’re already over a bill in the hole. The hidden cost of Downloadable Content (DLC) is a big complaint among gamers but it really feels like EA is taking advantage of people’s loyalty to Star Wars and Battlefront. The fact that Battlefront is essentially half a game is fine. The fact that it costs the same as two games is a major disappointment.

You’ll forget about all that shit once you get in the groove of this game. There is something truly invigorating about joining forty fellow Star Wars fans in an epic battle. At this point I’ve basically tithed my income to Disney and Lucasfilm for the foreseeable future. Between Disney Infinity collecting, opening  night tickets, this game and my new Poe Dameron action figure, I’m already a couple bills in the hole so fuck it. So should you buy it? If you’re a Star Wars fan with decent FPS skills or at least a willingness to get better at it, Star Wars Battlefront  is worth the money. If you’re a Star Wars fan who sucks ass at shooters or wants something with more variety or replay value pick up Disney Infinity 3.0 on black Friday or sign up for The Old Republic. At the end of the day, Battlefront delivers exactly what it promised, just be willing to feel the burn in your pocketbook and spend most of your time in snow shoes on Hoth.

 

The James Bond Gunbarrel

Posted in Writings by author337 on November 9, 2015

Despite a variety of interpretations of James Bond both in terms of tone and style, there are certain cinematic motifs which tie together even the most diametrically opposed films in the canon. Whether it’s a hard-boiled, down-to-earth entry like From Russia With Love or a comic-book fantasy adventure like Moonraker, they all contain certain visual, thematic and musical cues which remind you that we’re playing in the same action-packed sandbox. The most obvious of these motifs is arguably the “Gunbarrel Opening” which depicts Agent 007 entering to the James Bond theme, framed by a stylized gunbarrel, then turning to the camera and firing directly at the screen which quickly spills over with blood before disappearing. The tradition first began with the 1962 film Dr. No and until Pierce Brosnan’s swan song Die Another Day was always the first shot of the film.  

The new films starring Daniel Craig shook up a lot of things about the venerable franchise, including the style and placement of the gunbarrel. The latest 007 film Spectre prides itself on honoring many of the franchise’s most cherished traditions, some of which we haven’t seen for a while thanks to Austin Powers and legal issues. While opinion varies among critics and fans as whether these references represent a return to form for the series or simply patronizing fan service, one thing is clear: It’s good to see the gun barrel return to its proper home at the beginning of the film. So before you head off to the theaters to catch Spectre, take a trip down memory lane and see how this iconic cinematic motif has evolved over the last five decades.

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The original gunbarrel in Dr. No is the only in the series not to feature the actual actor playing James Bond. In this case, stunt coordinator Bob Simmons played the part. It’s remarkable how close subsequent films stayed to the format established here, the obvious exceptions being the titles which appear before the gunbarrel as well as the strange radar sound cue.

The Simmons footage was used for the next two films, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, although the radar sound was removed as were the credits.

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The fourth Bond film was the first to be shot in the Panavision format, forcing the filmmakers to reshoot the gunbarrel for the first time to accommodate the new widescreen format. This time the gunbarrel actually featured Sean Connery, although his stance appears a bit wobbly, and the sequence lacks the punch of the original footage. The footage was rescored and reused for the next Bond You Only Live Twice.

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Actor George Lazenby enjoyed a one-film stint as the legendary secret agent and while many deride his performance as amatuerish, most hard-core Bond fans know that this is one of the strongest films in the series. The gunbarrell of this film however leaves much to be desired, due to unwelcome return of the producer credits, a weird “drop to one knee” performance from Lazenby and a jarring moment when Bond continues to walk after the gunbarrel has stopped moving, the only time this will occur in the series.

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Connery returned for one more film in the official series and the Panavision footage from Thunderball was reused, although a bizarre shiny effect was used to spice up the sequence for the 1970s. It doesn’t help.

Roger Moore

When Roger Moore was cast as the third James Bond, a new gunbarrel was filmed featuring the actor. This is the first time Bond appears in the gunbarrel without a hat, demonstrating the changing style from the 1960s into the 1970s. The sequence is scored by Beatles producer George Martin, who added some disco flair to the arrangement. The footage was reused in The Man With the Golden Gun with more traditional music by John Barry.

With 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, the filmmakers returned to the Panavision format and the gunbarrel was reshot with Moore. The result is one of the strongest gunbarrels in the series, featuring a confident stride from Moore and a dynamic pose at the end. This footage was rescored and reused for the remaining Moore films despite the fact that the bell bottoms he wears were out of style by the time his stint as 007 ended in 1985. The Panavision Moore gunbarrel also has the distinction of being scored by the largest variety of composers, Marvin Hamlisch, John Barry and Bill Conti.

Timothy Dalton

Dalton is an oft-overlooked Bond actor but his performances his two 007 films are extremely strong, including his gunbarrel. Like his interpretation of the Bond character, his stride and pose are stark, bold and effective.

Pierce Brosnan

Brosnan’s performance in the gunbarrel sequence is one of the least energetic but it matches the actor’s ultra-cool, suave interpretation of the character. The barrel itself looks better than ever, for the first time it seems like an actual dynamic object with physical properties rather than a two-dimensional image.

The footage was rescored and reused for each of his four films but the last entry, Die Another Day added a CGI bullet zooming at the camera. Did the filmmakers think audiences didn’t understand what was happening in this sequence after 40 years?

Daniel Craig

Craig’s first Bond film was a true reboot, explaining the origin of many of Bond’s most memorable trademarks. The movie even explains the backstory of the gunbarrel itself for the first time! Turns out, the gunbarrel represents James Bond’s first kill as a secret agent. The gunbarrel itself was again redesigned and the blood was given a more three-dimensional appearance. This is the first time that the gunbarrel did not start the film and the first time it was part of the story.

Quantum of Solace’s gunbarrel is more traditional, even though it is placed at the end of the film and bleeds into the title for some reason.

Skyfall also features a gunbarrel at the end of the film rather than the beggining.

Want to see the gunbarrel finally return to its proper place at the beginning of the film? Then head out to see the newest entry in the series, Spectre.

Will the Blockbuster Bubble Pop?

Posted in Writings by author337 on July 23, 2015

Yesterday my sister and I were gushing over the new Spectre trailer and she innocuously asked me when the flick was being released. I told her we’d be able to see it in November and then launched into an unsolicited explanation that James Bond movies always come out in November because the last time they released a 007 entry in the summer was 1989 and it got clobbered at the box office by Batman, Indiana Jones and Lethal Weapon 2. Then I start babbling about how I was worried that since Star Wars 7 is also coming out in Q4 it might hurt Bond at the box office. THEN I continued to explain that usually Star Wars movies come out in May but that Disney probably pushed back the release date to the winter because they didn’t want to compete with their own Marvel film Age of Ultron and cannibalize their box office receipts. I topped off the conversation with a hope that Spectre would still “do good business.”

I then stopped in my tracks and realized I never once mentioned that I hoped the movie would be any good. All I was talking about was how I hoped it would make a lot of money so that we would be assured we’d see more good James Bond movies. But why the hell should I care? I don’t work for Sony Pictures or the British Intelligence. I’m not a financial analyst.

I don’t think this is my fault. It’s just how we talk about movies these days. Each month brings a new conversation around box office record-breaking. This is the first movie to make this much money on Memorial Day. This is the most money that a movie has made in a single day. This is the most money a movie has made in a single weekend. This is the most money a movie based on a romance novel has made on a leap year in which the planets were aligned with the northern star. This week the conversation is about the newest record Jurassic World has made, replete with lazy puns about “chomping through the competition” and “stomping through box office records.”

So let’s go ahead and say it. It’s official, Jurassic World has eclipsed Avengers to become the number three top-grossing film of all time. Number three? Who the eff cares? Well, since Avatar and Titanic are still a clean billion dollars’ worth of business ahead of anyone else due to James Cameron’s fondness for deep-throating Satan, for all intents and purposes number three is the spot to beat.

But what does that mean? It means that 3 of the top 10 movies of all time came out in a SINGLE YEAR. Forget Jurassic World’s billion and a half dollars, that’s the real record here. For years, the highest grossing movie of all time was Star Wars, which had eclipsed the record of Gone With the Wind. Star Wars was released in 1977, Gone with the Wind hit the silver screen in 1939. That’s almost a four decade difference, which is laughable in this day in age when half of the top grossing films of all time were released within 2 years of each other and seven out of the ten top grossing films of all time were released in the last ten years.

Adjusted for inflation, Gone with the Wind is still the moniestmaking film of all time.

So what does this mean? That in 2017 four of the top movies of all time will be from the same year? That in 2019 half of the top movies of all time will be from the same year? And that by 2029 every movie in the top ten will be from the same year? And that every year after that the entire list of top ten movies will be entirely supplanted? Okay, obviously any statistician worth her salt would shoot an Indominous Rex-sized hole through the pattern I’m suggesting here, but my point is: how sustainable is this? I’m reminded of the dotcom bubble of the 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000s. They both seemed as unstoppable as Jurassic World and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But isn’t the box office economy a market like any other? Isn’t this a bubble like any other? Isn’t it inevitable for it to pop?

Let’s take a look at this from the perspective of supply and demand. What are audiences demanding from top-grossing films these days? Shit they’ve never seen before. Shit they’ve seen in comics and videogames that they want to see on the big screen. Shit they’ve been imagining and dreaming about for years that we finally have the technology to put up on the silver screen. And now that social media has empowered moviegoers to express these demands to studios, the supply is finally being met.

By this time next year, we’ll have seen it all. We’ve already seen Jurassic Park finally open it’s door this summer. Next summer we’ll finally know what happens when Superman fights Batman. We’ll finally see Spiderman join the Avengers and watch the entire Marvel Universe explode into a civil war. We’ll finally see what happens next in the Star Wars saga. We’ll finally see Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise begin their legendary 5 year journey. We’ll finally see Wonder Woman on the big screen. We’ll finally see James Bond battle Spectre in the modern era.

And I think the bubble will pop. What the hell could make more money a superhero civil war? What could possibly make more money than new Star Wars movies? There’s no way that year after year movies can just continue to make more money than ever before. I don’t know about you, but when I see Superman and Batman together on the big screen I know I’ll say “well shucks, now I’ve seen it all.”

Of course that’s a preposterous statement and I know it. Something new will always show up. People said they saw it all when Star Wars came out. Then The Matrix blew their minds. It’s bound to happen. It’s happened before. By the late 1960s, the Hollywood studio system was about to collapse under its own weight. People had seen it all. They’d seen Moses part the Red Sea. They’d seen what outer space would look like in the year 2001. They’d seen the Crucifixion in glorious Technicolor Cinemascope and the Blob swallow teenagers in 3D. They’d seen Frankenstein meet the Wolfman and Dracula. They’d seen nudity and heard the F word. They had television sets now and there was nothing movies could show them that they hadn’t already seen. The bubble popped. And that was a good thing. It paved the way for Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, Bogdanavich, Scorsese, De Palma, Peckinpah, Polanski and Boorman. It opened the door to The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, Taxi Driver,The Last Picture Show, Chinatown, and Deliverance. The popping of the old Hollywood bubble showed audiences things they’d never seen because they didn’t know they existed.

Somewhere out there a little girl is making her first movie on an iPhone. Someday she will grow up and show us something we’ve never seen before. But first, the Blockbuster Bubble needs to pop. 30-something nerds like myself need to have seen it all, go into hibernation and let her take over. And you know what? I hope her movie makes a trillion dollars. Why? Because James Cameron seems like a douche and all his movies except Terminator are ridiculously overrated. Have a great summer folks. See you at the pictures.

Alternate 1982

Posted in Writings by author337 on July 15, 2015

It’s 1982.

Lloyd Bridges sits in the White House, enjoying a screening of Airplane II.

“That Ronald Reagan,” President Bridges laughs, “who ever thought he was funny?”

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Crowds throng around the Ziegfeld in New York.

Bruce Lee is in town for the 10-year anniversary of Game of Death.

He gleams like a god. He is invincible.

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It’s Magic Hour in Hollywood.

Tom Selleck reads the script for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Death.

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Star Trek: Phase II is renewed for another season. Fans rejoice.

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Jack Paar interviews Orson Welles on the Tonight Show.

It’s the 40th anniversary of his first film, War of the Worlds.

Welles, trim and handsome as ever, has the audience eating out of his hands.

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Half way across the world, principal photography begins on Octopussy and the Living Daylights, George Lazenby’s 7th James Bond film.

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Somewhere in Ohio, a young girl flips through a copy of Starlog Magazine at a second-hand store.

She reads the words but everything is wrong.

There are names she doesn’t recognize and some she does. Only out of place.

The girl shrugs. Must be a joke.

She moves to the next box. Toys.

She picks up a Han Solo doll.

The girl scoffs as she tosses it back into the box.

“Doesn’t look anything like Christopher Walken,” she mutters.

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Why Rated R Movies are Better for Kids than PG-13 Ones

Posted in Writings by author337 on July 4, 2015

People who let their kids see rated “R” movies are often considered to be “bad” parents who aren’t paying enough attention to what their children are exposed to. In fact, if you take a kid to a rated R movie, the guy behind the ticket booth will usually ask “you know this movie is rated R, right?” The problem is, kids love the kind of violence normally associated with these movies. This caused a conundrum after the release of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, smack-dab in the middle of the first Hollywood Blockbuster heyday. It was too violent to have been PG but they still wanted to make money off of the violence-starved young masses. Spielberg and the MPAA solved it with the magical rating “PG-13.” Now you can say “fuck” once, show Kate Winslet’s tits and kill as many people as you want as long as it’s not too bloody or gory. Problem solved? Not quite. I posit that PG-13 movies are actually worse for kids than rated R movies. They teach young people that violence is a fun, bloodless affair that isn’t nearly as bad as the news makes it out to be. Rated R movies on the other hand show audiences how horrific violence is and set high stakes for the characters.

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Take the PG-13 Jurassic World for instance. A shit-ton of people die. They get munched by Velociraptors, snatched by flying pterodactyls, dropped into the gaping maw of the sea-dwelling mosasaurus and eaten alive by the genetically altered “Indominus Rex.” But it’s also fairly tame. The director cuts away when the actual eating happens, there’s no guts, barely any blood and we don’t see any arms or legs ripped off. No one we care about ever gets killed. The people who die are generally assholes but we don’t know enough about them to actually enjoy it when they receive their just desserts. In other words, violence is something that happens to other people, not us. It’s also not scary. It’s kind of funny. Therefore, the movie fundamentally fails to be what a monster flick should be — scary.

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Put Jurassic World up next to one of the best rated R monster movies, the original Alien. Only a half a dozen or so people die in this movie, but when they die, they die. You see aliens ripping out of people’s chests, people getting burned with alien acid blood, blood gurgling out of people’s mouth. It’s fucking scary. It reminds us how small we are and how fragile our existence is. It shows us that death isn’t fun, it’s horrible.

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Compare that to the post-credits scene of another monster movie, the very PG-13 The Mummy. It’s an epic war sequence in which a horde of Middle Eastern warriors engage in battle with the French Foreign legion. More people die in that first scene alone than in the first two rated R Alien movies combined. But somehow this movie is considered less violent because they don’t show anyone’s blood or guts. So three things are happening here. We are showing an ass-load of people being mercilessly slaughtered in a movie marketed towards children. We’re also portraying violence in a way that is highly unrealistic. Third, we’re making violence seem fun. So what’s a worse influence on your kids? A movie in which a few people die and you see some blood or a movie in which countless nameless Middle Eastern people and young soldiers murder each other in a light-hearted spirit? Think about it.

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You can’t shield your kids from violence. Even if you don’t let them watch any movies they still live in a world filled with war, genocide and murder. So the question becomes, what do you want them to think about violence? Is it something scary and horrendous or is it something fun? At the end of the day, don’t give movies too much credit for influencing your kids. It detracts from the impact of your role as a parent. Films can only shape your children’s understanding of the world if you aren’t around to show them how it really is. After all, it’s just a movie.

Kanye, U2 and the Boss

Posted in Writings by author337 on December 3, 2014

In recognition of world AIDS day, a Bono-less U2 took the stage in Time Square Monday night for a surprise free concert with an impressive retinue of guest performers including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, American Idol sweetheart Carrie Underwood, superstar Kanye West and the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen.

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On a whim, I decided to trek down from the Upper West Side and brave the rain for a few hours to see the show. It was interesting seeing the generational and demographic divide between those who came to see the Boss and those who came to see Kanye.

Demographic-wise I’m somewhere in between —  too young to be a U2 or Springsteen fan and although I’ve liked Kanye for some time and loved his last album, I’m more of a Rock ‘n Roll dude than a Hip Hop guy. In fact, I didn’t even know Kanye was supposed to be there until I was waiting for the show to start. Starring at my phone, I said aloud “wow, Kanye is going to be here too” and a young woman looked over at me like I was crazy, her eyes asking “why the hell else would you be there?”

As our diverse melting pot of fans waited in the rain under a canopy of intersecting umbrellas, people in the back began yelling for us to close our umbrellas. I turned around snarkily and yelled “I’ll close my umbrella when someone more famous than you gets on stage”. I kept to my promise, and the concert lived up to our anticipation.

10509771_10101550338760558_2665281406887499673_nKanye was explosive and amazing. I felt young, empowered and filled with life and verve. After his set, a WAVE of kids who had aggressively and rudely pushed their way past me aggressively and rudely pushed me out of there out of the crowd, leaving just as the Boss took the stage. C’mon teens, don’t be a parody of yourselves.

Then there was the Boss. Whoa. Now I know why he’s called by that moniker. He’s just really, really, really cool. I can’t really explain it. I guess that’s what being a super-famous person is all about. It made me start thinking. On the outside, The Boss and Kanye might seem as different as their fans. But in actuality they are more like each other than they are like their fans. They are both living legends, existing on some crazy Mount Olympus of fame and money. So what does that mean? It means that WE the audience are more alike than we think we are as well. Those kids looked at me like I was a mental patient because I didn’t come for Kanye. I looked at them with scorn when they peace’d out before Bruce took the stage. But as the music continued and I found myself enjoying U2’s played out catalog of hits that I usually can’t stand I felt a weird companionship with those around me who had been cheering Kanye and were now cheering Bruce. We all had one thing in common. We said yes to life that night.

As for Carrie Underwood and Chris Martin…they did alright for a Talent Show winner and a Radiohead knockoff who clearly didn’t know the lyrics to the songs he was singing (although his Substitu2 t-shirt was priceless). Underwood’s voice sounded beautiful carrying through the streets of Time Square, but whoever writes her songs is clearly phoning it in. She’s a legitimate talent who deserves better material.

But at the end of the day, who stole the show? Bill Clinton of course, making a surprise appearance to cheers of “4 more years!” (incidentally the exact same thing that was chanted the LAST time I saw Billdog speak a few years ago). Love him or hate him, President Clinton proved once again that he’s as charismatic and spellbinding as any Rock ‘n Roll star.

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All in all, glad I went. This is after all the type of thing I moved to New York for. The knowledge that we are in the center of the art and commerce and all of the most famous and talented people on the planet may show up at any time. Also, I felt a genuine sense that I chosen to say “yes” to life that night and was surrounded by others who made the same decision.

More importantly it got me thinking about how to harness the idealism of artists to literally save the world. Artists like Bono take a lot of flack for expressing their political views and advocating for social change. I make fun of him all the time. Frankly it’s easy, they guy wears sunglasses inside and loves the sound of his own voice. But an artist like Bono or Kanye can mobilize masses of energized young people in a way that Presidents and Senators can’t. I’ve grown up thinking that the AIDS epidemic would never be solved in my lifetime. This week’s concert give me a glimmer of hope. It also got me to donate a few bucks to the cause. The concert may be free but the life-saving AIDS medication that can be used to stop the spread of this deadly disease isn’t. Thanks Bill, Bruce, and Kanye for reminding of this while having a great time. Who said saving the world can’t be fun?