2049 – Special Screening

I don’t miss many Watch The Skies meetings. Getting together with my friends, spending time debating a novel we’ve read and dishing on all the latest we’ve found out about our collective interests always makes me feel better.

I was unable to attend the meeting this month. I was disappointed because we were lined up to do something we hadn’t done before, namely discuss a novel AND the movie(s) that accompanied the novel. Blade Runner was a fantastic pick for this – and I wasn’t going to be there.

I reigned in my disappointment when I found a monumental bit of coincidental timing. I was going to be out of state at a conference for work. The software company putting on this conference also happens to be the same company that makes and supports the software that many film makers use for their CG special effects shots. There was going to be a special showing of Blade Runner 2049 with a warm up talk given by the lead special effects director on the exact same night that I would have been at the meeting back home. I may have squeed a little – but it was very manly.

When that night came around I was in line for the “overflow” folks. I couldn’t get one of the few reserved seats much to my dismay. I had to stand in line and hope. Hope can be cruel. I was the next person in line to get in when they cut the line off. I was literally next up and they said “nope”. So I didn’t get to listen to the effects director then watch the show.

What I did get to do was be first in for the second run the next night. The director couldn’t be there to speak again, but I did get to see Blade Runner 2049 in the room they had set up for the showing. Then I got to go to the special “after party” set up the conference had lined up at one of the restaurants where we were staying.

I could see her in that version of LA.

I really enjoyed watching the film. It would have been an awful lot more fun to have had all my friends there to break it down with and discuss all the finer points. The party afterward had some fun aspects. All in all it was a very memorable way to “miss a meeting”. I look forward to sitting down and chatting about the finer points of the whole thing at a later date.

Until then, I will stick with being inspired by peeks behind the scenes.

Secrets and Star Wars

I went back to look at where I’d left off with all the “secrets” posts and found something I’d forgotten. It’s fortuitous timing as well, since I wanted to talk about the Star Wars trailer that was shown very specifically at half time of the Monday night football game.

Is that really the target audience? Who gets the most help from that – the franchise or the NFL and their saggy ratings? This is not the first time they’ve done the “event” trailer thing – did it help last time?

October 20, 2015

The human body has an amazing capacity to care for itself. My sleep patterns are not always the best and I end up somewhere on the sleep deprived scale more often than I would like. When that happens, my body does (eventually) right itself.

Last night during halftime of the Monday Night Football game a trailer was supposed to premier for the new(est) Star Wars movie. I had no real interest in the football game and wasn’t even planning to have the TV on last night, but I DO actually have an interest in Star Wars (even if it’s only nostalgic at this point). I did all the work I could before going out and settling on the couch. Hit the little buttons to make sure all my screen time was counted. Paid some attention when the commercials aired, just to be sure I didn’t miss anything… then my body decided enough was enough with this whole ‘not sleeping’ thing and turned me off – like a light switch. I woke up just as the announcers declared that halftime was over and the third quarter was ready to roll. I missed the whole damn thing. It’s not that I couldn’t go see the trailer on the internet the very next morning. I could (and did) more than once. It was more the idea that I attempted to actually make the advertising thing “work” and just conked out. On the up side – it still counts because even though I wasn’t actually awake to see any of the other commercials before or after, the little buttons were pushed and the lights were on recording that I was “there” for the big halftime ad. One to the good for the ratings?

All You Can Make Up

This article was previously published in Watch The Skies (I’ve been meaning to get it out here for a while now).

Rogue One is the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. It was the number one movie for a number of weeks. It will be remembered as a landmark film – particularly for visual effects. The effects are simply amazing. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, please consider yourself warned that I may spoil part of the film for you. I don’t think it’s particularly “spoilery” but some people might disagree.

Grand Moff Tarkin is in the movie.

How is that possible? I hear you ask, the actor that played his part in the original film died in 1994. It’s true. Peter Cushing, an actor with more than 130 film credits and star of many of the Hammer horror films did indeed pass away at the age of 81 back in 1994. Now, through the magic of visual effects he’s back on screen and acting again.

I’d like to tell you that was as much science fiction as the rest of the film franchise, but it’s not. We have landed firmly in a time when a person may be inserted into a picture, or a film and they don’t actually have to be there (or even alive) for that to happen. We can take footage of any person – however famous and change what their faces and voices do on screen.

Let that sink in for a moment.

If this were only about science fiction movies I don’t think it would be nearly the big deal that it is. Unfortunately the state of voice and image manipulation has reached a point where people can create an entire speech from a mere sampling of video that can be found on YouTube or from a digital creation of somebody that’s been dead for more than twenty years. There is no need for the person’s approval. There is no easy way to be certain what has been doctored and what has not been doctored. So far the people doing these things have been in the entertainment industry and have had the blessing of the actors or their estates. What if they didn’t?

I don’t want to seem alarmist about this technology. I actually like that Tarkin’s in the movie. It makes sense for the story. They had permission from the estate to do that (and presumably the estate got paid).

What if this tech was applied to a fake news story during an election cycle? What if it was applied to a public safety alert that wasn’t real? Think how people reacted to the broadcast of War of the Worlds. We have recently seen just how much money and how much influence supposed news sites can have on the average internet user. There are dozens upon dozens of stories that have no basis in fact that continue to swirl around the net. Now couple with that somebody being able to take the face swap technology and create fake news using old news conference footage and you have a recipe for a genuine disaster. Users – who might have a lower ethical standard than the folks at ILM, or who might have a specific agenda they want to push – can create anything they want and make it believable to the point of being impossible to refute without professional assistance. Want to say that Tom Cruise has admitted to being the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination? That can totally happen and the film footage and voice are becoming more and more believable. It will look like him and sound like him.

I really enjoyed Rogue One. The special effects were amazing. This will be a film that is noted in history for what it has done. My hope is that notability stays in the entertainment industry and is not the harbinger of something far more dangerous.

Go and see face swap and hear about voice additions/corrections:

https://petapixel.com/2016/03/21/face-swap-technology-getting-creepy/

https://www.engadget.com/2016/11/06/adobe-experiment-adds-words-to-recordings/

Article from Yahoo!

https://www.yahoo.com/movies/rogue-one-the-digital-grand-moff-tarkin-is-terrifying-for-all-the-wrong-reasons-203157451.html

Watch some background on making the effects happen:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/watch-how-ilm-brought-back-tarkin-and-leia-for-rogue-on-1790812003

Saturday Night

You would think, given free time and a lack of other responsibilities that I’d dive in and get a lot of things done. You would be wrong.

Saturday my wife and daughter were out camping with the scout troop. I had no other things planned. I had every intention of getting a lot done…

Yeah, about that. You see, what happened was the movie theater. I like to go and see movies on the big screen from time to time. I make every effort to go at odd times so that I avoid crowds and (potentially) obnoxious people. So at 3 in the afternoon I went to see The Accountant.

the-accountant

I went into the movie with no real expectations. I didn’t really know what it was about, and completely enjoyed the film. I don’t want to spoil any part of it because it’s new, but I will tell you that it was intense and violent. I saw what I’m sure would be considered a plot twist coming from the very start of the film, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment. I have an unanswered question remaining at the end – and it’s not a bad thing. I don’t expect there to be another one, so I’ll have to wait for somebody else to see it so we can talk about what that nagging little thing is.

After that I headed to the house for something to eat. I thought, “Hey, I should watch something while I eat. No need to worry about what it is since the kiddo’s not sitting here with me. Maybe I’ll try out Luke Cage…”

luke-cage-cropped

I hadn’t watched or read any of the build up to this show. I didn’t watch any of the trailers. I realize it probably makes me a heretic to any number of folks out there – particularly the comic book crowd – but I only watched about 4 or 5 episodes of Daredevil and dropped Jessica Jones after the first one. Just not into them. So I figured I’d check out the first episode of Cage, be done and move on with things.

Once again, about that… Luke Cage is a really good series so far. It’s Sunday morning and I’m more than half way through the entire series. I admit I am hooked. I am working on what the difference is between this and Daredevil. I can’t yet quantify what it is. Luke Cage is really good. Not that Daredevil isn’t, and that’s what’s confusing me. Acting, production value, special effects are all on a similar level. Much like The Accountant, Cage is violent. So is Daredevil. There are shootings, broken bones and wrecked buildings. It also has interesting characters who seem to grow as you learn about them. I am still wondering why one works for me and the other doesn’t. IF you’ve got access to Netflix you should get on there and check it out. Just try the first one.

So my Saturday was, in a word, violent. Punching, shooting, breaking and all manner of mayhem. How was yours?

Suicide Squad

As sometimes happens, I had today off. In an excellent coincidence this was also opening weekend for Suicide Squad. Once I was done in the real world (taking the kiddo to the dentist) I scooted on over to the theater. The hype caught me with this one – I was at the 10 am show – and there were far more folks there on a weekday morning at 10 than I thought there would be. I was excited. This was going to be good. (Minor spoilers ahead)

About twenty minutes of trailers dulled my excitement. Some I’d seen, some I hadn’t and a few I totally didn’t care about. There was a weird mix of films on that list too. There was one that was about a 17 year old girl that doesn’t fit in, then Doctor Strange (obvious choice for comic fans), then a Chinese film staring Matt Damon of all people. It was weird. When the logo came up at the start of the film I was afraid it was another trailer.

The folks in Hollywood make amazing two minute films. The problem is, and likely has been for some time, that the movie couldn’t match the hype. People love the characters. People love the music that was used in the trailer. OH, the trailer. Splashy, neon amazing looking trailer. As usual, the folks cutting that two minute movie were spot on. How cool. Look at it in all its glory. Awesome. It’s the longer version that needed the work.

IF you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen a fair chunk of the good stuff already. I hate to say it, but the rest of the film was mildly interesting, but if you’ve seen all the trailers you’ve seen the good stuff. You’ve even seen some stuff that didn’t make the cut for the final film I think. It’s difficult to remember. The whole thing was a bit disjointed.

The flow of the story wasn’t there. This was a link movie or a set up movie or something that wasn’t as good on its own as it would have been with other films surrounding it. Like Avengers going first, then having Thor and Captain America and Iron man get individual films later (or not at all). The first half hour of the movie at least was all back story and set up. Literally flash backs as you go over character profiles from a top secret folder. Each bit was good, but they were just lined up and trotted out one at a time. Then all those people are dumped into a war picture that turns into a comic book hero film… sort of. There’s a primary mission but a second primary mission that allows the first one to happen – or something. I’m not sure. There was cool music that matched each scene but seemed like a patchwork when hung together.

I think that’s it. This movie is a quilt. There are little square patches that are really cool. Somebody took all those square patches and sewed them together to make a big quilt. Once they did that they took Batman and trimmed the whole thing around the edges.

She owned every scene she was in-

She owned every scene she was in-

I’m not saying this movie was bad because it wasn’t. I actually really loved Harley (Margot Robbie) in this film. Every scene she was in was totally hers. I thought Diablo had real potential too, but there wasn’t much screen time for him. The rest of them were there and were good. Will Smith is himself at this point. He’s a good actor but all I ever see is him in whatever role he’s in. He gets the most screen time. He’s good. I disliked the people I was supposed to dislike. I liked and rooted for the people I was supposed to root for. It worked out in the end – I guess?

Yes, stay for one more scene in the end credits but you only get one. Yes, this is DC attempting to match what Mavel has done with building a series of connected films. Yes, it’s a bit of a mess, but it was still fun. IF you don’t want to jumble in with the crowds this weekend, the next week or two should be just fine.

Star Wars TFA

There’s an awful lot out there talking about Star Wars. I’m adding to it and you can’t stop me! There will be HUGE spoilers, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, I’ll give you a warning before I start on that bit.

I am one of the many that watched the original films in the theater. I was 7 when the first film came out and I was totally into the space ships and laser sword fights. I’m still into them.

There’s nothing I can say about the “fixes” made to the original series or about the other three films that hasn’t been said many other places, many other times so I’m skipping past that.

My first reaction as I walked out of the theater was “That was magnificent”. It’s true. I was in there for more than two hours and I was superbly entertained. Maybe it was that I had relatively low expectations and they were surpassed across the board. Maybe it was nostalgia and this movie hit at just the right time for me to really enjoy it. Maybe I missed a bunch of things that when I think about them later will make me less happy with the movie.

It’s probably something of all those things combined. In the end I was happy with my experience seeing this on the big screen. Happy enough that I’m likely to go back and see it again before it leaves theaters. Yes (secretly of course) I am hoping this film knocks Titanic off the top of the all time movie money list – that’s a fluke. I’m certain a number of people were duped by the fact that it was a James Cameron film…

Anyway – Happy. Happy with Star Wars in a way that I haven’t been for a very long time. Author John Scalzi has a very well phrased (non-spoilery) review posted over at Whatever where he says a lot of what I’m thinking.

MAJOR SPOILERS LIVE BELOW THIS POINT

ShootFirst

I’m not going to get too deep into why bringing Jar Jar back as the Dark Side’s Yoda equivalent was a terrible idea…

Seriously, that’s just for those folks that don’t really want to be spoiled but can’t help but look.

There’s one thing that I’m mulling over that just doesn’t feel completely right. I know it’s going to be endlessly debated by fans for a long time to come, but it doesn’t seem right that Han Solo ends the way he does. The thing that bothers me most is that it’s a classic film maneuver – the obscure character death. There’s no Darth funeral pyre, there’s no Jedi robe stomping, just a fall into foggy darkness. I suspect the actor wanted out, so the writers gave it to him but it was ignominious. It’s not at all what you expect despite being the one part of the story that was clearly telegraphed to the audience. It’s kind of like General Patton surviving all the crazy war stuff he did in his life and then dying in a freaking fender bender car accident. It just doesn’t feel right. It’s that one bit that is just stuck in my head and I can’t put the right words to it. I’m looking forward to discussing this with other folks that have seen the movie already – am I the only one?

I’m clearly not the only one who loves the original movies (and all the nostalgia that goes with them). I have hope for this franchise again. That’s the biggest thing the new movie could have given us and it certainly did give me that.

Too Subtle

A few folks have seen one of my newest t-shirts and in a very unscientific way I’d have to say about 75% of them don’t get it. I think it’s too subtle. Now, the people that DO get it think it’s hilarious. For everyone else, here’s the break down:

This is the character the t-shirt refers to: Porkins

And this is my shirt:

PorkinsShirt

I got it from the folks at Off World Designs – you should check them out.

But really – is it too subtle?

Trailer Parking

This is a really busy time of year. It makes me wonder why movie studios feel the need to drop a bunch of trailers on us right in the middle of everything. I’m not particularly opposed – I’ve always thought Hollywood could make a fantastic two minute film – but wouldn’t they be better served to run these later in the winter? I’ve seen Star Trek, Independence Day 2, X-men Apocalypse and a couple of other BIG movies advertised and none of them even come out for 5 or 6 months. I would much prefer waiting on these trailers until I can get really excited for better weather and super action films.

Of all the movies with big hype out there I found the best tease of the group to be the Magical Beasts trailer. I didn’t think I’d want to see Ms. Rowling beat her wizarding world to death but this looks like it has a lot of potential. You should check it out:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Beasts

Hindsight

Writing is a lonely business. It is you and your words. Art is not necessarily the same and film making even less so. It’s very easy to look backward and see what might have been. It’s the sort of thinking that can lead down the dangerous path of tailoring your choices based on proposed outcome. I don’t want to think to myself, “If only I’d gone and done… then I’d have landed….” I want to focus on my work (such as it is) and keep moving it forward.

Having said that I am going to suggest you watch a documentary out there called Jodorowsky’s Dune. It is the story of a film that was never made. It is the story of a visionary. The story of somebody I don’t think I would ever be able to understand – or deal with. It gives you a glimpse into a place that feels like it was flat out bat shit insane. It shows us in hindsight that total failure isn’t always just that.

There was music. Magma (a band I’d never heard of until today) and Pink Floyd mixing up a sound track for a film.

There was art that – looking backward is the sort of thing to make your head rattle just a little – put Giger and Foss together for concept art. At this point most people recognize Giger from the Alien stuff, but you might not know Foss by name. IF you are a fan of science fiction at all, you know his art. Seriously – I love his work and I have for years. Go and see it at his site, I’ll wait. Yeah, his space ships and Gieger’s alien bio-tech looking stuff together as concept art.

Then there was casting. Actors – or people that would be actors. Envision this group; David Carradine (from around the time of Kung Fu), Mick Jagger (when the Stones were at the height of their popularity), Orson Welles and Salvador Dali. Can you imagine the insanity?

Combine all of the ingredients listed, along with a few others, and mix until you have DUNE. Yup, that Dune.

That is why I started by talking about looking backward. Jodorowsky’s movie was never made, but here we are forty years later talking about it and everything that might have been. You recognize the names of people involved, but you might not have recognized them if not for this project. Things could have been very different if Giger didn’t make the connections he did during that process. It really is a fascinating documentary.

There have been a number of other pieces talking about it if you’re interested. From the NY Times to Boing Boing this has captured a lot of attention. I would say it’s definitely worth watching if you’re any kind of creative or at all interested in the possibilities of what might have been (like many fans of science fiction I know).

I’m also going to slide this last thought in here for fans of the written word. I read a book called Night Film. The plot involves a film maker that has an almost cult like following that would actually move in to his mansion during filming. This film makes me think it is only genre (science fiction not horror) that keeps Jodorowsky from being that character.

So – creators out there – watch this and get inspired. Go with your vision. Try. Make it happen. To paraphrase something a friend of mine said to me, “You can’t epic fail if you don’t plan big”.

It has even joined a meme.

It has even joined a meme.

The Last Witch Hunter + other movie news

I had the chance to go and see The Last Witch Hunter on opening day, so I took it. Headed to the theater early, got a great seat and started munching pop corn. IF you want to munch pop corn and have some cool visual stuff up on screen, this movie is good for that. Very visual – and I’m a visual person so it really worked for me. This movie is not deep, nor does it pretend to be anything other than what you’d expect. Vin Diesel really seems to be enjoying this role and all of the other things attached to the movie by extension. I liked it and I will likely grab the DVD when it comes out just to be able to go back over the scenes at the witch’s bar. Very, very cool stuff in there. I won’t spoil anything here – but there is a small twist. It didn’t have much set up and wasn’t particularly meaningful because it lacked set up, but it still gave a gratifying result. I’m forced to agree with Charlie Jane Anders – this will be a guilty pleasure film. Check out her review here.

One thing this movie did negatively impact for me was how I felt about a heavily produced role playing session that Vin filmed (along with others) – vaguely related to the film. Shocker, he plays a witch hunter character. I initially passed it along to friends, but the longer I go the less I like it. The “production value” is what really puts me off to it. It’s way too produced to make me think it’s anything other than a half hour movie commercial and I hate that because I know Vin is a role player and has noted many times in many places that he has a soft spot for Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a commercial. There, I said it. Why did they cut the scenes where there was out of character conversation? That’s where the real joy of playing can be found.

Now – IF Vin were to take his love for role playing and the seriousness and visual style of Last Witch Hunter and combine that into a Dungeons and Dragons movie I’d go see it. There are rumblings of another D&D movie out there, but those rumors do nothing but worry me. I want it to be done as seriously as Witch Hunter and not put comedians in key roles.

Continuing with the “other movie” stuff, I saw a report that said Johnny Depp is in talks to produce and star in a movie version of “Fortunately The Milk”. All I can say to that is PLEASE DON’T. Don’t get me wrong – I like Mr. Gaiman’s work. I love that story and have read it to my daughter a bunch of times. She loves it and reads it on her own these days. The problem I have here is that it’s a very short story. IF they had said they were making a half hour animated special then I would be thrilled. It’s just the right length for something like that. Put it on every year in September or something (the same way we get the Great Pumpkin around this time of year) and it would undoubtedly live forever. It’s just not enough for a feature length film. Doing that ventures into “Grinch” land and that mess with Jim Carrey still makes me mad.

Get some pop corn. Go see Last Witch Hunter!

last-witch-hunter-trailer-poster-vin-diesel