Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall, Halo 4, and Star Wars VII: A Non-filmy Prelude to Something More Filmy


(This post isn't directly about film, but it preludes one that is, and I thought it was important to get these thoughts out first. Another post more directly related to film will follow.)

On Wednesday night, I went to the theater for the first time in quite a while to see Skyfall. When I was a kid, sometime during elementary school, probably around fourth or fifth grade,  I couldn't get enough of James Bond. dad would take me and my brother to this video rental store called West Coast Video (now closed), and one by one we rented and watched every single Bond movie. It was glorious, and at time, it was probably the most fulfilling accomplishment of my life.

Looking back, I realize now that I have absolutely no idea what was happening in any of those films. I had a good sense of the Bond formula. There's Bond, the girl, sometimes there a girl that you think is the girl, but she dies a little less than halfway through the flick, one really bad dude that Bond plays cat and mouse with, and his countless disposable thugs that get mowed down left and right. However, I was pretty fuzzy on the details. What was Live and Let Die about exactly? I have no clue.
The other night after watching Skyfall, I realized that what happened to me after watching so many of these films is that I got really, really attached to some characters. If you've seen the film (and if you have made it this far, I assume you have as I included a giant spoiler warning sign up top), you know that M dies. I was heartbroken. It seemed to me that Bond spent the entire film attempting to save her and in the end, even though they got the bad guy, she just didn't make it.

Now, I know that M won't be coming back in the form of Judy Dench. For one, the actor is ill, and for two, that would be ridiculous to try and pull off (especially after the Daniel Craig reboot). But this brings me to Halo 4. I blew through the campaign this weekend. I thought it was really, really good. The character development really stuck out to me this time as something that 343 Industries (the studio now in charge of the Halo franchise post Bungie) really put a lot of time into. And that's why it was so hard to swallow that Cortana, Chief's companion for (to us fans, anyway) over ten years now, might not be making a return.

Who knows? All plans for future Halo games are kept under wraps pretty tightly until launch, and for all we know, in another 3 years we might be playing Halo 5: Cortana Returns or something like that, but we can't know for sure. Unlike M however, even if 343 had no plans to bring Cortana back, fan reactions might just twist their arm a bit.

Right now on forums across the web, Halo fans are reacting to Cortana's death, as well as trying to figure out how 343 could potentially "bring her back" because it seems that the general concensus is that the Chief and Cortana are part of a unit. This is particularly interesting for the Halo series, as it's always been said that Halo really forces the player to embody the Chief in a way that other games just can't pull off. So, it would make sense that Cortana would be closer to a lot of Halo players than other characters in other games. (I'll admit I'm totally biased about this. I love these games.)

As you may or may not know, fans got Bioware to edit the ending (sort of) to Mass Effect 3. They could do the same for 343 and bring Cortana back for Halo 5. But what does this have to do with film?
Good question. M isn't coming back. The Bond series wouldn't allow something like that. Now, with Halo, we have a sci-fi setting, and a little more wiggle room to play with what is and is not impossible...
What I'm wondering is what this sort of possibility could mean for Star Wars VII, which was recently announced by Disney after their purchase of the Star Wars license. Bye-bye midichlorians?
Next time, I'll be looking more closely at Star Wars VII and what the possible effects that fandom and Internet culture may or may not have on the upcoming film.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A not so great side effect of instant streaming (a personal account)

Whether or not this is good for my own rep, I have to start by admitting that the idea for this post came to me when I recently realized that I haven’t been to a movie in a pretty long time—a long time for me anyway. The last thing I caught in the theater was The Master, and before that was The Dark Knight Rises. Between the craziness of my classes, my jobs, and my attempts at keeping up a decent social life, movies seem to have taken a bit of a backseat lately. It’s too bad too, because I’ve missed a couple that I really wanted to check out: Looper, Samsura, Killer Joe, Premium Rush, Dredd, Seven Psychopaths, Argo. I realized this recently and thought to myself, I suppose I can still catch some of them while they are still in theaters for the next couple of weeks, and the others I can get on Netflix in a couple of months. No problem… and that’s when this post was conceived.

I realized that at this point, regardless of the fact that I haven’t seen any of these movies, I know which ones were supposedly good, which were supposedly bad, and in a lot of cases, I know why. I’ve had access to reviews and a complex social network of people reporting back to their friends on what they saw and what they thought. I haven’t seen any movies lately, but at the same time, I still sort of kept up. Some people would probably find some comfort in that, see the positive side of it, and there is a positive side to it, but I think it can be a problem.

It’s a problem that I didn’t see any of these in the theater, and telling myself that I can just catch them on Netflix later on is a problem as well. I love movies, and I love seeing movies in the theater. I really enjoy having a communal experience with friends and strangers alike. Instant streaming services and channels can be great, but at the same time, they can be a real drawback for film and T.V. lovers. It seems so easy to fall into the habit of just catching something later on, but that definitely affects the experience of the viewer, and sometimes it can affect the actual work that we’re catching later.

Based on sales and ratings, films do or do not get sequels, television shows get cancelled, DVDs and Blurays don’t come with awesome extras that we all want, directors, producers and actors get discouraged, and in the end, we all get less good stuff. On top of that, we miss out on the collective experience that comes with film and television—which is a pretty key component to the entire thing. So, I’m going to try to right some wrongs, and catch whatever I can that’s still showing over the next few weeks, and get back into the game. More than that, I hope this post works as food for thought for a handful of people that may come across it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fandom is changing (part1)

I'm going to present this idea here, and come back to it in the next few days.

I just read through this really interesting post by Devin Faraci on Badass Digest. It’s a reaction piece to another article, and mostly deals with the question of whether or not “television is where all of the smart, culturally important narrative stuff happens, leaving the cinema behind in an infantile wash of superheroes and sequels.” I won’t get into that argument though (not in this post anyway) as there is a specific excerpt that really caught my eye:

I get the mourning for a lost niche, for a specialization democratized out of existence. It’s happening with geek culture right this very minute. All of a sudden liking the third highest grossing movie of all time makes you ‘a geek.’ That sucks. It sucks seeing the doorman overwhelmed and losing your special place in the world.”

This small piece of the article probably says more than Faraci even expected. It works on a lot of different levels. He’s talking about geek culture, but the funny thing is that geek culture and movie culture (even T.V. culture) have become almost synonymous.

The Internet is the reason why this is happening. If you want to see fandom in action, just take a look at Tumblr. It’s pretty mind-blowing just how many people lose their minds at the thought of a new Tarantino trailer, or the latest episode of Dr. Who. The thing is that nowadays it seems like everyone is a fanboy. I think that the surge of social networking has done a lot of great things as far as bringing people of similar interests together, but at the same time, it’s also had a real “Look at me!” effect on a lot of other people.
You probably know who I’m talking about. Those people you see walking around the mall or around campus sporting their Iron Man shirts. Not the ones that look the part, but the ones you have to double-take at just before thinking “You’re not supposed to be wearing that…
Yes. That’s totally judging a book by its cover, and it’s probably not fair, but the point I’m trying to make is that the state of fandom is definitely changing. Everyone likes Batman now. It’s not just guys like me that watched the cartoon in the ‘90s that are now shaking their head at the ‘00s kids for simply jumping on the Nolan Batman bandwagon, or the guys who read the comics in the ‘80s who eventually grew up to witness the horror of the ‘90s kids watching Batman cartoons instead of reading comics. (See what I’m getting at?)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is social networking doing what it should be for indie films?

A few days ago I had a sudden realization. Discovering new independent music online is much easier than finding new independent films. I guess you could argue that my online experience might be different than other people’s, but I’d assume that concerning this issue, I probably fall into that part of the bell curve that holds the majority of people.

Maybe the phrasing of my realization needs to be tweaked a little bit. Maybe it’s not that finding cool, new, independent films is more difficult ( a Google search for “2012 indie films” gives me more results than I could handle), it just seems like while I have to search for new films I might want to check out, new music just sort of comes to me.

I think the main reason for this is because since MySpace, music has sort of just been built into social networking. Remember how you could post a playlist of your favorite songs that would actually play when someone visited your site? At times, MySpace seemed like it was more for finding and sharing bands than it was for sharing anything else. Facebook doesn’t have that feature, but every day my wall is full of music videos and quotes of song lyrics. Bands promote themselves on Facebook similarly to the way they did on MySpace, through event invites and wall shares and such. I just don’t see that happening for films. It doesn’t just appear before me. I have to go looking.

I think I know why. I might be really putting myself out there to get ridiculed, and I’m sure a lot of film enthusiasts will disagree with me, but if I go with my gut, I’d have to say that music is just more personal, more closely linked to a person’s identity. Just look at kids in middle school. They are defined by the music that they listen to. I think this carries on for a lot of us into adulthood as well. A Misfits t-shirt says a lot about a person.

Our social networking sites, our Twitters, our Facebooks, have become more than just “About Me” pages. In a weird way, they’ve become an extension of ourselves.

On one hand, this might make sense, but on the other, the fact that films aren’t coming to us as easy on social networking sites is really weird in a way. Films are a collective experience, music is a much more personal one.

Maybe it is just me, and maybe in a few weeks, a few days, I’ll retract this statement, but right now I feel like there’s a weird disconnect between what social networking should or can be doing for independent films, and what it is actually doing.

Friday, September 21, 2012

World Peace Day

Today is World Peace Day. I just watched the film Peace One Day at an event put together by Fostering Better Communities, a student organization at Florida International University. It's a great film, documenting what a person is capable of achieving if they have the determination and put in the work. Blogs, Twitter, and other social networks help make individual voices louder today than they have ever been. If you have some time in the next few days, this film is available on Netflix. There are also clips on Youtube. It's incredibly inspiring.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Film Fandom: The Avengers, The Master, and the Internet

I read this article on the AV Club a while back. The title of the piece asks “Are trailers spoilers? (And should movie-lovers avoid them?)” This post isn’t focused on answering that question, but rather on exploring a few other ideas that the poster brings up, starting in the fifth paragraph: “The Internet has changed the overall tone and approach of the entertainment media, pushing the discussion toward a more casual, fannish form at times—which is just fine, in measured doses.”

Fannish. That certainly describes the Internet buzz surrounding something like The Avengers or any of the other films that led up to it. In some cases, you could even call it fanatical. Never before have so many people walked the streets wearing Iron Man t-shirts, let alone recognized the name Tony Stark. The kind of buzz movies can create even before they are released, even before they start filming, can be staggering. /Film claims to have posted over 600 articles on The Dark Knight Rises since 2008, the year it’s predecessor hit theaters. Moreover, scientists (yes, real-life scientists) have told us that there is a “direct correlation” between a film’s Internet hype and it’s commercial success. Walking around Best Buy, you might have even noticed some DVDs emblazoned with Rotten Tomatoes stickers, highlighting a movie’s particularly high Tomatometer score. Blogs, social networks, and websites dedicated to film news have become a really important component of film culture. The more Internet hype, the more tickets are sold.

Looking at this year’s most successful films so far, it’s easy to see that most of the hype, and therefore most of the money, goes to superhero or comic book films and sequels. Only two out of ten of this year’s highest grossing films are not part of some sort of franchise. This isn’t the point where I go off on a rant about big movie studios churning out the same stories and characters over and over again. We all know that side of the argument, and sure, there’s some truth to it, but we don’t really need to go through it again. What I’ve been thinking about lately is how Internet buzz can affect films that people might be less likely to go see, films that might be or seem to be less accessible to the average viewer.

The Avengers (as if you didn't already know.)

Next weekend, P.T. Anderson’s new film, The Master, is getting a much wider release. It’s already been getting some fantastic reviews. However, it has also been labeled as a more “challenging film” for a more “serious audience." Now, The Avengers definitely wasn’t a challenging film for a serious audience. Just the numbers alone make it clear that it’s pretty accessible. These are two totally different films targeting entirely different audiences, and usually, bringing up The Master and The Avengers in the same sentence, even the same post, wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, but in this case, I think it does.

Iron Man was released in 2008 and after that, the world knew that The Avengers was coming at some point. Much quieter reports and articles about The Master started as early as late 2009. After Iron Man, Marvel spent four years pumping out movies in anticipation for “the big one,” and Avengers hype grew exponentially. All the while, P.T. Anderson slowly and quietly gathered his cast and started making his film. In the middle of the frenzy, the films briefly crossed paths at least once in the form of a  /Film article

The Master

Reading this article, a person searching the web for whatever scraps of new Avengers information they could find was introduced to the existence of this P.T. Anderson guy, and this person had the opportunity to check out another film one the Avengers was involved in. In that moment, IronFan69 (that’s what I’ve decided to call this person) was exposed to a film they may not have ever heard of otherwise. Maybe IronFan69 sees this article, is feeling a little adventurous, and decides to go on a Google tangent. Maybe he realizes that P.T. Anderson made Boogie Nights, and IronFan69 really liked Boogie Nights when he caught it on Starz a while back and just wasn’t paying close attention when the directorial credit came along. After all, Anderson’s name isn’t always as closely attached to his films in the way some other directors’ are (Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron). Maybe in the future, IronFan69 will keep an eye out for more updates on The Master or on P.T. Anderson. Or maybe he won’t, but somebody might.

I’m sure that by now you’ve caught my drift. The Master has no chance at making the kind of money Avengers raked in. It’s just not possible, and the people involved in making it probably don’t expect it to. What I’m trying to get at is that the current state of film fandom, which definitely grants preferential treatment to superhero films and sequels, takes place online, and the Internet makes finding and stumbling upon information easier than ever, and it’s possible that more people know about and plan to see The Master now than normally would had word only been spread through more traditional means. I know that at times it may seem like the rampant hunger for comic book, sequel, and franchise movies that we see online has stinted the output of serious films for a serious audience (an idea that I plan to explore in future posts), but I think we’ve definitely seen some positive effects this has had on film culture as well.