Brief thoughts on the Hans Zimmer Revealed live concert tour

After watching Hans Zimmer’s Coachella set, I knew immediately I had to go see him live. So, this weekend, I drove 1000+ miles to Las Vegas, NV to see the latest stop on his Hans Zimmer Revealed tour. I wanted to just jot down a few thoughts quickly, with the possibility of a more expanded review later on:

  • Overall, I had an amazing time. The full set list included some of Zimmer’s greatest hits, as well as some deep cuts (e.g. True Romance, Sherlock Holmes). The whole concert was 3 hours long, including a 30-40 minute intermission in the middle and an encore. I felt like I got my money’s worth ($100+).
  • In my opinion, Hans Zimmer has done as much to shape the world of modern cinema as any director or piece of technology. His movie scores have not only left indelible impressions, but they’ve also influenced tons of other artists as well (for good or ill). Seeing him on stage, talking about his music, sharing stories about how some pieces came to be, was a delight. Zimmer himself performs in pretty much every song, sometimes on keyboard, sometimes on guitar/banjo, sometimes on percussion. His talent is monumental.
  • In terms of presentation, you could tell that everything was done according to Zimmer’s specifications. There was a band at the front of the stage, with lead soloists, and then behind them a small chamber orchestra and a choir(!). The light show was really intense and impressive. A gigantic screen behind all the performers showed some visualizations of songs that were being performed (There were no clips from movies though, I assume due to rights reasons). While some of the screen images bordered on cheesy (an issue with the Game of Thrones show as well), I appreciated the overall experience from a visual perspective.
  • My only complaint: The show was extremely loud, which itself is not a problem. However, some of the show was really just a bit too loud. I was really excited to hear Zimmer play the main track from Man of Steel, but when that track got intense, it just sounded like a lot of high-pitched noise. That was too bad, because I absolutely love it at a more manageable volume. A few other tracks suffered similarly from being not super well mixed and oppressive in their volume.
  • The encore was three of Zimmer’s tracks from Inception. On the one hand, they are amazing tracks and were performed exceptionally. On the other hand, damn you Zimmer for teasing me with the possibility of finishing a concert WITHOUT playing those tracks.

I felt like my entire life’s interest in film music, which probably started when I first bought a CD copy of the score for Crimson Tide at Circuit City (yeah), culminated in this concert. As Zimmer strolled through a collection of his greatest hits, I started to grasp precisely how much of my life has been spent listening to his music.

Moreover, I realized often his music is better than the movies they are in. Like when he started playing “Up Is Down,” I remembered, “Oh yeah, I DID listen to that amazing string-led track 50x even though I never saw the third Pirates movie more than once.”

Hans Zimmer is a legend in movie music. If you love film scores as much as me (and maybe even if you love it quite a bit less than me), know that this show is worthy of the work he puts out into the world.

I have shared more detailed thoughts about this concert on Periscope.

The Black List’s new AI service ScriptBook already seems to have huge problems

UPDATE: It now appears as though the blog post announcing ScriptBook has been taken down. My original post follows.

Earlier today, the well-regarded site The Black List, which surfaces some of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, announced the launch of ScriptBook, a new AI service for evaluating scripts:

Who is ScriptBook?

ScriptBook is a technology company that uses machine learning and natural language processing to learn about film scripts. By analyzing thousands of produced film scripts, movies and associated data, their algorithm can analyze a film script based simply on its words. By using AI, ScriptBook can provide a more objective analysis of a film script than any single human reader.

Why are we adding this product?

Our goal is to provide writers another tool to help them analyze their work. This product does not replace the evaluation service performed by our team of professional readers — instead, it offers a new, cutting-edge way to look at screenplays. It provides objective metrics and analysis on a very subjective endeavor. Our philosophy is that machine learning combined with real human taste and intuition can help us understand the world better than either alone. Increasingly, these tools are being used by studios and production companies to make decisions, so we want to offer such a tool to writers at the lowest price point possible.

For $100, ScriptBook will provide a 4-page analysis of your feature length script. The site provides a sample report for the Denzel Washington film Fences to show what a typical analysis might look like.

There are obviously lots of challenges with reading a script and offering useful suggestions for improving it. The idea that an AI could perform this analysis accurately feels pretty far-fetched. And apparently it is! Because even ScriptBook’s own analysis of Fences seems wildly off.

Film producer Keith Calder tore into ScriptBook on Twitter. I don’t think I have anything to add to this:

How Netflix treats great indie films

David Ehrlich, writing for Indiewire, on what it means to have your film on Netflix:

I don’t know if Netflix has the power to kill the movies, but the last few months have made one thing incredibly clear: Netflix certainly has the power to kill their movies, and it’s doing that with extreme prejudice. It’s not a distributor; it’s a graveyard with unlimited viewing hours. Netflix doesn’t release movies, it inters them.

And the problem is getting worse, because the movies that Netflix is buying — and funding — are getting better. When the company first got into the original features game with Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” the tepid response wasn’t much of a concern; the roll-out was a mess, and most theaters refused to play a movie that was premiering day-and-date with a streaming service, but the assumption was that Netflix would learn from their mistakes and better serve their filmmakers.

Cut to: Sundance 2017, when Netflix rolled up to the festival with several of the program’s most exciting titles already in its back pocket. One such title was Macon Blair’s giddily good “I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.,” which would go on to win the coveted Grand Jury Prize, joining the ranks of films like “Whiplash” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Not only did the victory lend the streaming giant some much-needed credibility in the indie universe, it also gave them the opportunity to champion Blair as a major talent, and build some momentum for his next collaboration with “Green Room” director Jeremy Saulnier (which the streaming giant will eventually release). Surely they would make the most of it, right? Of course not. Netflix quietly uploaded the movie onto their platform in the middle of the night like it was a new episode of “Fuller House.”

I’m really torn about Ehrlich’s piece. On the one hand, I agree with his overall point: Netflix is buying up great movies and doing very little to promote them. And while being on Netflix might make you financially whole, it’s questionable what it may do for your career or for your movie being seen.

On the other hand, he makes numerous points I disagree with. For instance, he writes:

In fact, Netflix recently took steps to make it even more difficult for customers to find what they crave or stumble upon new delights, as the company made the myopic decision to replace its somewhat worthless star ratings with a completely worthless “thumbs up / thumbs down” approach. Good luck finding your way around that buffet when all of the food is divided into “good” and “rotten.”

Five star ratings are awesome for people who are really into movies and like refining their preferences. But the vast majority of people don’t give a crap about that, and just use one star or five stars. Not to mention there is wide disagreement about what the star ratings even mean. From a piece on The Verge about Netflix’s decision:

Switching to a binary thumbs-up / thumbs-down system might seem less granular than offering five stars, but [Netflix VP] Yellin said there’s an implicit understanding with thumbs-up / thumbs-down that people are doing it to improve their own experience rather than trying to rate it for the rest of the world. And at the end of the day, it’s really about just getting more people to rate things.

“What’s more powerful: you telling me you would give five stars to the documentary about unrest in the Ukraine; that you’d give three stars to the latest Adam Sandler movie; or that you’d watch the Adam Sandler movie 10 times more frequently?” Yellin said. “What you do versus what you say you like are different things.”

Later, in Ehrlich’s piece for Indiewire:

If a movie premieres on Netflix, is it still even a movie? In an age where the word “film” is often a misnomer and content is classified less by the intent of its production than by the means of its distribution, it could be said that movies — at least for the time being — are simply things that play in movie theaters. It may seem like a matter of semantics, but I think we’re talking about qualitatively different experiences. When Netflix buys a movie, it guarantees that the vast majority of people will never get to see it in its full glory. It’s the equivalent of a museum buying a work of art, locking it in a vault, and making photocopies so widely available that people lose sight of the fact that they’re missing out on the real thing.

In the era of peak TV, I can certainly agree that there is a lot of fluidity in the division between TV and film right now. But I also think the implication that the theatrical experience is an essential part of making something a “film” is a somewhat privileged viewpoint.

If Netflix never existed, the vast majority of Americans probably never would’ve seen Macon Blair’s I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore in a theater. They may never have even had a chance to. That film might never have even played in a theater outside a film festival or special event. But today, over 40 million Netflix subscribing households in the US can pull it up on their TV and access it instantly. The fact that most of them will not is a problem I think Netflix (and its filmmakers) will need to contend with. I don’t see how that makes it no longer a film, though.

See also: The Ringer’s piece on “The End of Independent Film As We Know It”

Watch Hans Zimmer’s spectacular Coachella performance

Hans Zimmer performed a set at Coachella that blew the roof of the place yesterday(it’s already on Reddit’s front page this morning). Those of us who weren’t there live could watch on Coachella’s live stream.

Unfortunately, Coachella only uploaded a small portion of the 60+ minute performance (seen above). That being said, here’s a list of the full set:

  • Inception – Half Remembered Dream
  • Inception – The Dream is Collapsing
  • Inception – Mombasa
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – One Day
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – Up Is Down
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – He’s a Pirate
  • The Lion King – Circle of Life
  • The Lion King – Under the Stars
  • The Lion King – This Land
  • Gladiator – The Wheat
  • Gladiator – The Battle
  • Gladiator – Elysium
  • Gladiator – Now We Are Free
  • Freedom
  • The Dark Knight – Why So Serious
  • The Dark Knight – Fear Will Find You
  • Aurora
  • Inception – Time

If you want to see Hans Zimmer live, there’s still a chance! Check out the tour dates on his website.

Visualizing the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies

Bloomberg has an incredible data visualization of every Fast and Furious movie (excluding the eighth):

The Fast & Furious blockbuster franchise unfolds over nearly 14 hours so far—and that’s before an eighth movie in the $4 billion series, The Fate of the Furious, arrives in theaters on Friday. The newest film will speak in a lucrative language that audiences have learned to crave: gear shifts, engine revs, car chases, angry banter about cars, and sips of Corona. Exactly how fast and how furious is the Fast & Furious cinematic universe? The family at Bloomberg decided to meticulously analyze all seven movies to track their evolution. We counted just about everything that could be turned into a meaningful metric, even screen time for men’s biceps.

Here are some of the biggest findings in my opinion:
  • The movies have grossed over $4 billion but it’s really Fast Five ($626MM), Fast and Furious 6 ($789MM), and Furious 7 ($1.5B) that sent the series’ box office receipts into the stratosphere.
  • As time has gone on, the movies have focused on cars and racing less and less, with less than one minute occupied with racing in Furious 7, compared to a luxurious 15:10 of racing screentime in Tokyo Drift. This makes sense, as the movies have shifted towards more of a heist model, compared with the undercover police intrigue from the first three films.
  • In contrast, the number of action scenes have significantly increased over time. Number of car action scenes, hand-to-hand-combat scenes, and explosions have all gone up dramatically from Furious movies 3-7.
  • Remarkably, despite how schlocky and unrealistic the series has gotten, reviews of the films have trended upwards over time, with Furious 7 receiving the highest RottenTomatoes score of all of them, 79%.

Check out the full rundown at Bloomberg’s site.

‘Fast and Furious’ movies with Corona being consumed averaged $87 million more box office than those that don’t

Reddit user LundgrensFrontKick has a fascinating analysis correlating Corona consumption in Fast and Furious movies with an increase in critical positivity and box office receipts. Those that feature Corona being consumed average $250 million domestically and have a combined 63% IMDB/Rottentomatoes score, while those that don’t average $163 million domestically and have a 57% IMDB/Rottentomatoes score:

“You can have any brew you want, as long as it’s a Corona.” With these beautiful words The Fast and the Furious announced its glorious partnership with Corona. Corona saw its zenith in The Fast & The Furious, but it got a massive push in Furious 7 when Dom famously turned down delicious Belgian beer in favor of a bucket of Corona. Corona and the Fast world have become synonymous with each other and have built a beautiful world in which nobody gets drunk or gains weight due to excessive drinking. However, after rewatching all the films I’ve come to realize Corona doesn’t play that big of a role in the Fast world. In my mind, the entire team are always incorrectly chugging bottled beer while cruising around the earth engaging in shenanigans. I am 100% serious when I say I was surprised when I compiled the numbers of Corona sightings.

See also: A brief history of Furious product placements.

[Thanks to Drew Wallner for bringing this to my attention]

Diving deeper into ‘Ghost in the Shell’

I wanted to share a few more pieces about Ghost in the Shell (aside from the one I posted the other day) that I’ve found to be particularly helpful in shaping a productive debate on the new film:

IFFBoston 2017 announces full lineup

The Independent Film Festival of Boston has announced their full lineup for the year (viewable here). When I lived in Boston, IFFBoston was an amazing experience, run by friendly people who had a passion for great film. I’d highly recommend checking it out if you are in the area.

Their full press release is below. Ty Burr from The Boston Globe has a rundown of highlights from this year’s program.

***

Boston (April 10, 2017) – The Independent Film Festival Boston (IFFBoston) announced today the full lineup of films that will be screened at the 2017 festival. The fifteenth annual festival will take place April 26 – May 3, 2017. Tickets are on sale for the general public beginning on Tuesday, April 11th.

With over 100 films screening this year, IFFBoston will take place at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square, the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, and at UMass Boston. Events will include filmmaker Q&A sessions, panel discussions, visiting filmmakers, and parties  as part of an overall event that showcases the best in current American and International cinema.

“STUMPED” directed by Robin Berghaus will open the 15th annual festival on April 26th at the Somerville Theatre. This documentary is a portrait of Will Lautzenheiser, a filmmaker and educator who became a quadrilateral amputee after suffering from a life threatening bacterial infection. It follows his extraordinary journey and recovery from forays into stand-up comedy to being the third patient to undergo double arm transplantation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“BAND AID”, directed by Zoe Lister-Jones will close the festival on Wednesday May 3rd at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. It stars Lister-Jones, Adam Pally, Jessie Williams and Fred Armisen.

Other notable films screening at the festival include:

  • Centerpiece Documentary Spotlight is THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN’S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY directed by Errol Morris. New England Premiere
  • Centerpiece Narrative Spotlight is THE HERO directed by Brett Haley. New England Premiere. Starring Sam Eliott, Laura Prepon and Nick Offerman.
  • Documentaries by local filmmakers include LETTING GO OF ADELE directed by Melissa Dowler; ANGELO UNWRITTEN directed by Alice Stone; OYATE directed by Dan Girmus
  • PATTI CAKE$, starring Bridget Everett and Danielle McDonald.
  • Joshua Z Weinstein’s critically acclaimed film, MENASHE.
  • Janicza Bravo’s LEMON, starring Brett Gelman, Judy Greer and Michael Cera
  • LANDLINE directed by Gillian Robespierre, and starring Milton’s own Jenny Slate.
  • ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL directed by Steve James
  • DEAN directed by Demetri Martin starring Martin and Kevin Kline

IFFBoston will team up with the Mass Production Coalition to present an inaugural Student Short Film Competition, whereshort films selected by local colleges will compete for a cash prize.

IFFBoston will again partner with the UMass Boston Film Series to present the 3rd Annual The Mass. Works-in-Progress Pitch Session. This competition spotlights local filmmakers at various stages in their careers and at different stages of production with their projects. The IFFBoston/UMB Film Series’ WIP event takes place before a general audience of filmgoers, potential funders, broadcasters, festival programmers, brand partners and industry insiders. The goal of the event is to create a unique coalition of awareness and support for local filmmakers.

There will be several panel discussions during the festival. All panel discussions will be free to the public and will take place at the Somerville Theatre. Panel topics and guests to be announced soon.

Among the Official Parties: The opening night party will take place at Orleans in Davis Square, Somerville. Saturday night’s Awards Party will be at Tasty Burger in Harvard Square, and the Closing Night Party will take place at Osaka Steak House in Brookline.

Among the awards to be presented on Saturday April 29th will be the 8th annual Karen Schmeer Award for Excellence in Documentary Editing. This award was created to honor the memory of beloved Boston documentary film editor Karen Schmeer who was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident in January of 2010. This award is presented by The Karen Schmeer Film Editing Fellowship.

Xfinity is the Presenting Cable Media Sponsor of the 2017 Independent Film Festival Boston.

90.9 WBUR is the Presenting Radio Media Sponsors of the 2017 Independent Film Festival Boston.

Rule/Boston Camera is a Presenting Technical Sponsor of the 2017 Independent Film Festival Boston.

Talamas is a Presenting Technical Sponsor of the 2017 Independent Film Festival Boston. 

OFFICIAL SELECTIONS

INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON (IFFBoston) 2017

 

Narrative Features

BAND AID directed by Zoe Lister-Jones

LA BARRACUDA directed by Jason Cortlund & Julia Halperin

BEACH RATS directed by Eliza Hittman

CHUCK directed by Philippe Falardeau

COLUMBUS directed by Kogonada

DARA JU directed by Anthony Onah

DAYVEON directed by Amman Abbasi

DEAN directed by Demetri Martin

GOOK directed by Justin Chon

HEDGEHOG directed by Lindsey Copeland

THE HERO directed by Brett Haley

HIGH LOW FORTY directed by Paddy Quinn

THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES directed by Jim Strouse

LANDLINE directed by Gillian Robespierre

LEMON directed by Janicza Bravo

THE LITTLE HOURS directed by Jeff Baena

LOST IN PARIS directed by Dominique Abel & Fiona Gordon

MENASHE directed by Joshua Z Weinstein

PATTI CAKE$ directed by Geremy Jasper

POLINA, DANSER SA VIE directed by Angelin Preljocaj

SYLVIO directed by Kentucker Audley & Albert Birney

THE STRANGE ONES directed by Christopher Radcliff & Lauren Wolkstein

TORMENTING THE HEN directed by Theodore Collatos

TRIP TO SPAIN directed by Michael Winterbottom

YOUTHMIN directed by Arielle Cimino & Jeffrey Ryan

Documentary Features

ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL directed by Steve James

ANGELO UNWRITTEN directed by Alice Stone

THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN’S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY directed by Errol Morris

BURDEN directed by Timothy Marrinan & Richard Dewey

CASSETTE: A DOCUMENTARY MIXTAPE directed by Zack Taylor

CITY OF GHOSTS directed by Matthew Heineman

THE CREST directed by Mark Christopher Covino

DEALT directed by Luke Korem

DINA directed by Antonio Santini & Dan Sickles

DOLORES directed by Peter Bratt

EDGAR ALLAN POE: BURIED ALIVE directed by Eric Stange

FINDING KUKAN directed by Robin Lung

FOR AHKEEM directed by Jeremy S. Levine & Landon Van Soest

THE FORCE directed by Peter Nicks

FURUSATO directed by Thorsten Trimpop

INTENT TO DESTROY directed by Joe Berlinger

LETTING GO OF ADELE directed by Melissa Dowler

MAINELAND directed by Miao Wang

THE MODERN JUNGLE directed by Charles Fairbanks & Saul Kak

ONE OCTOBER directed by Rachel Shuman

OYATE directed by Dan Girmus

RAT FILM directed by Theo Anthony

SPETTACOLO directed by Jeff Malmberg & Chris Shellen

STEP directed by Amanda Lipitz

STREET FIGHTING MEN directed by Andrew James

STUMPED directed by Robin Berghaus

SWIM TEAM directed by Lara Stolman

TROPHY directed by Christina Clusiau & Shaul Schwarz

WHOSE STREETS directed by Sabaah Folayan & Sabaah Jordan

 

Narrative Shorts

BAD DOG directed by Tom Putnam

CALL YOUR FATHER directed by Jordan Firstman

CLOUDY ALL DAY directed by Dylan Pasture

CTRL-Z directed by James Kennedy

CUBS directed by Nanna Kristín Magnúsdóttir

CYCLES directed by Joe Cobden

DOGS AND TACOS directed by Steve Bachrach

EINSTEIN-ROSEN directed by Olga Osorio

A FAVOR FOR JERRY directed by D.W. Young

GAME directed by Jeannie Donohoe

HUNT directed by Sean Temple

HUNTER directed by Jane Geisler

I’M IN HERE directed by Willy Berliner

ICARUS directed by Tom Teller

LAWMAN directed by Matthew Gentile

MEGAN’S SHIFT directed by Zeke Farrow

NIGHT directed by Joosje Duk

(OUT)CASTE directed by Shilpi Shikha Agrawal

THE PRIVATES directed by Dylan Allen

SLEEP TIGHT directed by Ani Simon-Kennedy

THE SNOW GIRL directed by Mixtape Club

SO IT GOES directed by Justin Carlton

STRAYS directed by Lance Edmands

THE SUB directed by Dan Samiljan

THEY CHARGE FOR THE SUN directed by Terence Nance

THRESHER directed by Alex Clark

WHEN JEFF TRIED TO SAVE THE WORLD directed by Kendall Goldberg

 

Documentary Shorts

BLIND SUSHI directed by Eric Heimbold

CIRCUS CITY, USA directed by Adam Wright

THE COLLECTION directed by Adam Roffman

CONFESSIONS OF A CANNABIS CONSULTANT directed by Mark Dugas

DETECTED directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller & Jeremy Newberger

ELIAS’ STAND directed by Jyllian Gunther

FIBA ALLOW HIJAB directed by Tim O’Donnell & Jon Mercer

FOR YOU, ALEXIS directed by Douglas Gordon

THE GLORIOUS FUTURE directed by Laura Longsworth

GUIDED directed by Bridget Besaw

GUT HACK directed by Mario Furloni & Kate McLean

HAFE: THE STORY BEHIND directed by Sam Ketay

IF I DIDN’T MAKE IT directed by Casey Toth

IMAGINE KOLLE 37 directed by Michele Meek

JUANA directed by Navarro & Morales

LAVOYGER directed by Rachel Bardin

THE MEMORIES STATION directed by Derek Frank

NO HARM NO FOUL directed by Cheng Zhang

NOTHING COMPARES directed by Melissa Dowler

PIZZA BIRDY BATH WATERFALL directed by Tim O’Donnell

PREPARATIONS FOR THE FOREST directed by Daniel Mooney

RICH MAN DAN directed by Amy Augustino

SWIM FOR LIFE directed by Lise Balk King

TROLL: A SOUTHERN TALE directed by Marinah Janello

UBERMENSCH directed by Jesper Dalgaard

THE WATCHMAKER directed by Marie-Cécile Embleton

THE WIZARD OZ directed by Danny Yourd

WORKING STIFF directed by Sarah Hanssen

THE WORLD’S OLDEST MIME: A LIFE IN THREE ACTS directed by Riley Hooper & Noah Wagner

ZAIN’S SUMMER directed by Joshua Seftel

Amanda Peet explains why she never reads reviews

Amanda Peet, writing in The New York Times, on why she never reads reviews of shows that she’s in:

When I was 26, I made the mistake of reading a review of a play I was in. “Whale Music” is a little-known gem by Anthony Minghella, and I still had three weeks left in the run. We were an all-female cast, and everyone got a nice review in The New York Times, except me.

Anita Gates wrote that I was “trying” to play my character — who was the bohemian sidekick — “as a sort of British lower-class Joan Rivers.” I love Joan Rivers, but this was an intimate English drama about 20-year-olds on the Isle of Wight…Over the next three weeks, I tried my hardest to be the opposite of Joan Rivers. By the end of the run, nobody could hear me.

A critic’s opinion had infiltrated my performance, and, as much as I resented her for making me so ashamed, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Every night, I was performing against her review — trying to prove her wrong — instead of doing my job.

I vowed never again to read another review.

Peet’s essay is a reminder that there’s always someone on the other end of that review — a person who likely worked their ass off to be there, and who has aspirations and feelings too.

It’s also a testament to the fact that, if you’re a performer, reading reviews can be a taxing and unrewarding experience. Peet hasn’t read any reviews of her work in many years, and I’m sure it hasn’t hurt her life or career one bit. In my opinion, only those who significantly benefit from intense self-examination should read their own reviews. I’m not sure I include myself in the latter category.

What is the future of moviegoing?

Bryan Bishop, writing for The Verge, on the vibe at CinemaCon this year:

Hollywood has been facing stagnating ticket sales, intense competition from streaming services, and an IP-focused studio tentpole monoculture for years. None paint a particularly rosy picture for the future, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that one sentiment stood out above all others at this past week’s CinemaCon: denial.

The movie industry (at least as it pertains to theatrical moviegoing) is entering a period of stagnation and decline. If theater owners don’t figure out a way to make good use of their spaces in ways that will engage younger people and grow their audience, then AMC may soon be heading the way of GameStop.

There is a ton of potential in the tech that Bishop talks about in this article:

Earlier this year IMAX launched the first of its “VR Experience Centre” pilot locations in Los Angeles, but at the time the company’s chief business development officer Rob Lister explained that the larger opportunity wasn’t in standalone locations like arcades, but in building on the relationships IMAX already had with exhibitors — essentially bringing VR stations to a movie theater’s lobby, or taking over an actual theater itself. It’s easy to connect the dots: if studios shorten the release window, movies will likely run for a shorter time, and so theaters will have to find new ways to monetize the locations and screens they already have. Location-based VR is an option, and a company called Nomadic VR was demoing one of the most intriguing options yet on CinemaCon’s show floor.

Larger, standalone installations like The Void have already paired untethered VR with interactive, physical locations, but Nomadic’s solution is to take that similar idea and turn it into a modular, scalable system that can be easily installed — and regularly updated — in locations like movie theaters.

I’d love to be able to try VR experiences at my local theater. But innovating starts with acknowledging that the current path is not working. And that’s something that few in the industry seem willing to admit right now.

Deconstructing the ‘Ghost in the Shell’ whitewashing controversy

Last year, Emily Yoshida wrote what is probably the best examination of the whitewashing controversy as it pertains to Ghost in the Shell. In the wake of news that Ghost in the Shell bombed this weekend with less than a $20 million domestic take, I wanted to share it once more:

Japanese audiences, unlike American audiences, don’t understand Motoko to be a Japanese character, just because she speaks Japanese and has a Japanese name. This speaks to the racial mystery zone that so much anime exists in, allowing viewers to ignore such unpleasant dynamics as oppression and discrimination even as they enjoy stories that are often direct responses to those dynamics.

Of course, it’s a different issue for Japanese Americans, who grew up forced to think about identity in a much more tactile way. For us, anime is something from our country, or our parents’ country, that was cool enough for white kids to get into just as fervently. We couldn’t see ourselves in Hollywood’s shows and movies, but we could claim anime as our own, and see ourselves in its wild sci-fi imaginings and cathartic transformation sequences. Of course, I use the words “see ourselves” loosely […]

Ghost in the Shell is the product of and response to decades of physical erasure and technological alienation. It’s pop cultural fallout, a delicately layered croissant of appropriation upon appropriation. It’s as timely as ever, but it feels wildly inappropriate for an American studio and the British director of Snow White and the Huntsman to pick it up and sell it back to us. At the same time, Japan and the US have been stealing and selling images to each other for decades, and the result hasn’t always been awful. I would still argue, though, that the knotty history that leads to Motoko Kusanagi will be lost in translation. This isn’t The Matrix or Pacific Rim, this isn’t just a look and a vibe being lifted. This is the entire history of Japan’s relationship with itself, the US and technology, and without that, you’re left with nothing but an empty prosthesis.

[Walter Chaw highlighted this article in his review of Ghost in the Shell. As usual, he is worth reading on this subject.]

What if ‘Blade 1’ only had shots of Wesley Snipes?

A crazy person made a new edit of Blade. Dubbed “The Solo Cut,” this is Blade if only shots of Wesley Snipes were used. According to the video’s description, “The shot was also removed if it was only Wesley Snipes but other people were speaking in it.”

Aside from being hilarious, it’s also unexpectedly poignant. Blade is juxtaposed against all these dark, moody backgrounds, just doing his thing by himself. I kind of want to give Wesley Snipes a hug after watching this.

[Thanks to Ben Aston for bringing this to my attention]

Why you shouldn’t believe Hollywood’s excuses for whitewashing

Angie Han, writing now for Mashable, has a piece on why most excuses people make for racially insensitive casting are bunk:

Hollywood’s racial bias comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s “whitewashing” — casting a white actor to play a character who was originally conceived of as non-white, like the Major in Ghost in the Shell or Light in Death Note. (John Oliver has an excellent primer on the industry’s long history of whitewashing here.)

Other times, it might be favoring a white lead character in a narrative that borrows problematically from non-white cultures — like positioning Iron Fist’s Danny Rand and Doctor Strange’s Stephen Strange as the ultimate practitioners of mystical martial arts that they learned in made-up Asian countries.

Perhaps most insidiously, it can also mean simply overlooking POC talent, and defaulting to white characters and white actors time and time again, even when there’s no narrative reason to do so. We adore Tim Burton and the Coens as much as the next person, for example, but it’s hard to deny that their films tend to be pretty homogenous.

The new ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is a disappointment

[This post contains some plot details from the new Ghost in the Shell]

I saw the new Ghost in the Shell last night, and while I don’t think a faithful adaptation of the original animated film would’ve done well in the U.S., what we ended up getting instead was a generic sci-fi action film with a cookie cutter plot and wafer-thin characters. Sure, the production design and visuals are pretty great, and there are one or two decent action scenes, but the film is otherwise completely forgettable.

And don’t even get me started on the racial issues this movie brings up.The movie takes place in a city that clearly is supposed to evoke Japan (New Port City), but most of the primary characters are white. Scarlett Johansson not only plays a role that was originally brought to life as the Japanese character Major Motoko Kusanagi, but we learn in the film that she actually has a Japanese woman’s brain inside her. Her white body is literally replacing a Japanese person’s!

There will be TAKES left and right on this one. And there should be. I just wish Ghost in the Shell felt more worth getting worked up about.

A few other notes:

  • I was occasionally impressed with how streamlined the plot felt compared to the original. Gone are the 1995 film’s references to internecine government warfare and its lengthy philosophizing about the nature of man and machine. Instead, Major is the primary character in this film, and it’s her journey that we are meant to relate to the most. For good or ill, the new film rises and falls on the characterization of Major — and I don’t think it works out super well on that front.
  • Some of the action scenes do feel, shall we say, heavily inspired by the animated film. But hey, might as well use that valuable IP to the fullest.
  • There are numerous references/easter eggs that relate to the animated film. Those who are fans of the original will find a decent amount to keep their attention here.
  • The action set pieces are pretty impressive. You get a sense of Major’s physicality and how good she is at immobilizing and killing people. But the combat always felt super brief and didn’t really build to anything satisfying. Don’t see this movie expecting a great action film.
  • The ending of the new film is drastically different from the 1995 film. I won’t say what exactly happens, but the 2017 film feels like what people are referring to when they use the term “Hollywood ending” in a derogatory fashion.
  • Kenji Kawai’s music for the Ghost in the Shell animated film is iconic and irreplaceable, but composers Clint Mansell and Loren Balfe do an admirable job translating that sensibility into this futuristic action film.

Further reading:

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The state of the film industry is bleak

David Lieberman over at Deadline has a fascinating interview with Doug Creutz about the state of the movie industry. Overall, things are not looking good:

CREUTZ: It’s a classic tragedy of the commons scenario. Everybody’s optimal strategy is to go aggressively after blockbusters. But when everybody’s doing that, it’s bad for their collective outcome. In industries where you have overcapacity or shrinking market, typically companies get merged or they go out of business. That’s competition. That’s capitalism.

DEADLINE: Why isn’t that happening?

CREUTZ: All of the studios are owned by larger companies. So there isn’t this overriding financial pressure: “Oh my God, were going to go bankrupt. We better do something.” Paramount could lose money for 50 years and Viacom would not go out of business. It’s small compared to the overall company. There was an option on the table for them to sell Paramount to a Chinese bidder. There were lots of rumors about that. They opted not to. Why? Well, some of this has to do with it being a family business. The movie business is a sexy business to be in. Very prestigious. People have a hard time letting go of those assets. You wouldn’t see a merger unless two of the larger companies merged.

Disney is the only studio that’s really raking it in. But even for them, the growth trajectory seems uncertain:

CREUTZ: Disney’s doing great but investors expect them to continue doing as well as they are doing —  potentially, if not forever, then for the next several years. And they probably will. But in the event that they stumble, it’s going to be bad news for Disney stock. When you’re at 60% of industry profits, it’s hard to see how you go up much from there.

I was having a discussion with somebody this morning: “Now they’re doing all these live-action remakes of their animated films. Isn’t that better for Disney?” I said, “Look, how much better are things going to get?” They had the top five grossing films in the world last year and six of the top 10. I guess they could have 10 of the top 10. It’s possible. But at a certain point it’s like, “Okay, you are the industry, practically.”

If current trends continue, medium-budgeted films will keep getting squeezed out in favor of ultra-low-budget or massive-tentpole releases. By and large, the movie industry isn’t really a growth industry anymore — it has become a zero sum game, with studios all trying to out-blockbuster each other.

While it’s a great time to be a filmmaker, it’s insanely difficult to get noticed or to get any critical mass of attention these days. That will only get worse as time goes on.

An appreciation of ‘The Fugitive’ 

Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for Rogerebert.com, on Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive (1994):

The train crash itself is one of the great action sequences of the nineties, but for my money there are four others that are nearly as good: Kimble eluding Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) in the sewer tunnels a la Jean Valjean in Les Miserables (the inspiration for Roy Huggins’ original TV series); the raid on the house the results in the death of Richard’s fellow escaped prisoner (Eddie Bo Smith, Jr.); Richard’s escape from the Marshals on St. Patrick’s Day; and Richard’s fight on the train with Sykes, a great reminder in this age of wildly overscaled action that all you need to get the audience’s pulses pounding is a good guy and a bad guy whose motives are clear.

It’s worth noting that this film was shot and edited a few months after Oliver Stone’s innovative paranoid thriller “JFK” won an Academy Award for best editing. You can detect the Stone film’s visual signatures in Davis’ flash-cuts, as well as in the brisk yet legible way “The Fugitive” fills in the past and present at the same time. In that opening section, we’re continuously finding out exactly what’s meant by the ominous questions of the Chicago detectives, but in a way that spares “The Fugitive” of the indignity of having to stop the action while somebody delivers a recap.

It’s appropriate that Seitz is running Ebert’s namesake website. Like Ebert, Seitz’s reviews make me desperately want to re-visit the films he writes about.

How clickbait is killing criticism

Alex Ross, writing for The New Yorker, on how criticism, as an industry, is dying:

The trouble is, once you accept the proposition that popularity corresponds to value, the game is over for the performing arts. There is no longer any justification for giving space to classical music, jazz, dance, or any other artistic activity that fails to ignite mass enthusiasm. In a cultural-Darwinist world where only the buzziest survive, the arts section would consist solely of superhero-movie reviews, TV-show recaps, and instant-reaction think pieces about pop superstars. Never mind that such entities hardly need the publicity, having achieved market saturation through social media. It’s the intellectual equivalent of a tax cut for the super-rich.

The drive to revamp cultural coverage has overtaken major newspapers, including the New York Times, just as the wider public has been rediscovering the virtue of traditional reporting. In the wake of the 2016 Presidential campaign, with its catastrophic feedback loop of fake news and clickbait, people have subscribed in surging numbers to so-called legacy publications. Do these chastened content-consumers really want culture pages dominated by trending topics? Or do they expect papers to decide for themselves what merits attention? One lesson to be learned from the rise of Donald Trump is that the media should not bind themselves blindly to whatever moves the needle.

For a brief time in human history, when information was scarce and difficult to obtain, personal ads in newspapers were able to subsidize a whole host of other kinds of reporting. Now that that period is over, consumers need to make new and different decisions about which kinds of criticism are worth paying for.

Ross’s piece is yet another lamentation of a bygone era. But he gives short shrift to the fact that new kinds of criticism and discussion have sprung up in its place — not to mention new ways of funding them, like YouTube ad dollars or direct subsidies from the audience. The more things change, the more they stay the same.