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Monday, Jun 16, 2008

Laugh all you want to Universal and Rolling Stone for making weird moves in the world of marketing but they might have the last laugh in the end.  Starting with RS, this Women’s Wear Daily article tells that the ol’ magazine is rolling out a line of T-shirts and soon will have handbags and other fashion accessories.  Note that the WWD article makes fun of RS and its fogey status but the fact of the matter is that RS happens to still have a huge circulation, maybe one of the (if not THE) best for a music magazine.  With mag sales constantly dropping, the news biz (much like the record biz) is looking for ways to shore up their bottom line.  Branding, especially when you have a well-known name that’s still respected in some quarters (they have a seven figure circulation after all), is a smart idea for a mag to keep money flowing in.  Even if you don’t happen to be a fan of RS, it happens to be a good idea and one that you’ll see other smart pubs follow.  You also have to wonder if ideas like this might have helped to shore up mags like No Depression which recently went under.  I don’t think selling T-shirts by itself would have saved them but it could have been part of an overall plan/solution.


As for Universal, their plan is to start a series on the Bebo social network where an imaginary employee starts his own label and signs bands.  They’re letting users go in to rate them and to suggest groups to them too.  I don’t see a rosy scenario for this but the idea’s kinda intriguing.  The problem is that Universal doesn’t have a brand name like smaller labels do (say Sub Pop or Thrill Jockey or Def Jux)- I mean, who the hell is going to follow releases just because Universal puts them out?  But partnering with Bebo was a smart move on the part of Universal and the idea of an ongoing story (like a TV series) isn’t a bad idea if you happen to have some interesting scripts and worthwhile music.  Again, like the RS plan, even if you’re not a fan of anyone involved in the project, the idea has potential and shouldn’t be blown off- it might evolve into a better model elsewhere and turn some heads.


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Monday, Jun 16, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Tilly and The Wall
Cacophony [MP3] (from O releasing 17 June on Team Love)
     


Pot Kettle Black [MP3] (from O releasing 17 June on Team Love)
     


Pot Kettle Black


Ron Sexsmith
Brandy Alexander [MP3]
     


Ed Harcourt
Revolution in the Heart [Video]


Lulu Rouge
Bless You [MP3]
     


Oneida
Preteen Weaponry [MP3]
     


Sizzla
Praise Ye Jah [MP3]
     


Julie Doiron
So Fast [MP3]
     



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Sunday, Jun 15, 2008

Dear Marvel Comics:


Get ready. If rumors are true, and you are indeed lowballing Jon Favreau out of participation in Iron Man 2 (a story now supported by both Ain’t It Cool News and IESB.net), you’re signing your company’s industry death warrant. Now, you might think that statement is a little harsh, but let’s look at the facts, shall we. Driven by a desire to see your characters treated with respect and reverence, you branched out into production to secure said status. After deciding on Iron Man as your first project, you hired Favreau, let him push the unproven Robert Downey, Jr. into the starring role, and held your breath for the results.


And what did you get in return? Well, the film is headed toward $600 million worldwide, is destined to be the must-own Christmas DVD extravaganza of 2008, and the film has an astonishing 93% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes (by comparison, last year’s There Will Be Blood sits at 91%, while Oscar winner No Country for Old Men is at 95%). To get 192 critics to love anything, let alone yet another comic book superhero adaptation speaks volumes for the talent involved. Granted, you had the foresight to think outside the cinematic standard, to avoid the typical names that went with the genre. And NOW you want to play cash games? You’ve got to be joking.


Let’s look at things realistically. If you screw this up, if you fail to put Favreau back in the director’s seat, you risk quite a bit. Now, you could argue that you’re taking an Alien approach to the franchise, letting a new vision come in each time and replace the previous one. Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that there’s another James Cameron or David Fincher waiting around the next corner for your call. And for the sake of argument, you could dump Favreau, hire some heretofore unknown filmmaker, and create the next artform sensation. But in a commercial dynamic where “what have you done for me lately” is typically answered in dollars and sense, you’re about to kill the fatted calf - and, apparently, for no other reason than penny-pinching.


As the song and sentiment suggests, money does indeed change EVERYTHING. As Harry Knowles pointed out in his view of the situation, had Iron Man been a bomb (or to give you some credit, a marginal hit), this conversation would be moot. In pure Ang Lee style, you’d sit back, lick your angry stockholder wounds, hope you can survive another few years, and mandate a franchise reboot at some point in the future. Of course, now that it’s a big fat hit, everyone thinks the coffers are congested. Paydays become massive where once they were minimal, and expectations run higher than your rehabilitated star in his ‘80s glory days. So we can assume that you are smart businessmen and recognize a rip-off when you see it. Opportunism follows any formidable achievement. It would be foolish to suggest otherwise.


Naturally, Downey must get his money. Of all the brilliant strokes of cinematic genius within Iron Man - and there are many - hiring the troubled celeb as your Tony Stark reeks of pure creative karma. He needed a chance to prove his always undervalued mantle, and you wanted a face to carry the franchise. At a recent screening of your next offering, The Incredible Hulk (more on this in a moment), a cameo by the billionaire weapons manufacturer got the loudest applause of the evening. Apparently, audiences love Downey, so he’s truly a priority. One assumes he’s locked in for the long haul.


The situation with Favreau is the same, and yet different. No one would argue that he was an A-list Hollywood director. Made was well received, Elf was a Will Ferrell inspired hit, and Zathura remains an unfairly marginalized future family film classic. And while he appears to be a genuine nice guy, devoted to his craft and eager to work with the fans and insiders to forge an artistic and commercial triumph, he could be a bastard to be around. There’s no doubt he wants to get paid - that’s why he does what he does. Clearly, to undercut him so, you must think his participation is unimportant.


Frankly, that’s just failed logic. Again, you could find someone else to make your next Iron Man movie (and guide an eventual Avengers epic), and this new voice may be just as valid or even more viable than Favreau. But let’s remember where you came from for a moment, shall we. Tony Stark was not the best known of your Marvel membership, nor were fans clamoring for his adventures. Many in the mainstream marketplace were already sick of comic book films when Iron Man was announced, and Favreau truly worked his butt off to raise the profile of this potential underachiever. You took a risk and opened the film well before Summer actually started, with school still in and your mandatory teen boy demo fretting over more than what movie to see. And now you’re sitting on a multi-BILLION dollar franchise.


Like the Oscars when they nominate a movie and not its director, you clearly believe Favreau had a minimal role in Iron Man‘s eventual success. Either that, or you’re just cheap. The current buzz supports the latter position. Okay, so you like to watch your money. That’s cool. Well, let’s review box office revenue in the post-millennial marketplace, shall we? Spider-man was a massive hit. Its sequel did similar business. Sure, Part 3 suffered, but then again it also sucked. Something similar happened with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The initial movie was a massive hit, the second film secured those returns, as did number three. And in both cases, the same director (Sam Raimi and Gore Verbinski, respectively) helmed the sequels. So clearly you will make money with Favreau handling Iron Man 2‘s duties…and remember, Downey is your wild card.


Let’s talk about the actor for a moment. Clearly, he will be loyal to the director who went to bat for him. And if you can Favreau in favor of someone else, there will be no outward protest, “hold out”, or non-contractual production snafus. Downey will do his job, collect his paychecks (both upfront and back end), and eventually retire happy and very well paid. But this doesn’t guarantee his pleasant participation in any future projects. The minute his term runs, any feelings he has for Favreau will come out in the new negotiations. And let’s not forget the still unproven nature of Iron Man as a continuing character. He is still a quasi-unknown icon, unlike Batman or Superman with a wealth of myth and numerous high profile supervillians waiting in the wings.


But perhaps the biggest factor you’re failing to calculate into this mix is the fans. They don’t call them ‘geeks’ for nothing. Indeed, they will fret over the smallest detail and use the updated bully pulpit of the Internet to air their numerous fetish-like grievances. Get on their bad side - and one senses you already have - and they will make you pay. Not necessarily at the box office, as viewership tends to remain sheep to the aesthetic slaughter, but where it really counts: perception and pre-release publicity. If the fanboys fail to support your decisions, you can guarantee at least two years of vitriol (Iron Man 2 is slated for 2010). They will build consensus, draw up outside strategies, gain the support of their like minded webmasters, and take you to task over everything. And if one recalls correctly, they were the reason you branched out into production in the first place, right?


The Incredible Hulk won’t save you - not this time. While it may be a more satisfying version of the material than what Ang Lee offered five years ago, it will not be an Iron Man sized success. Clearly, Louis Leterrier is a lot of things - capable action director, someone the difficult Edward Norton can work with - but he’s no Favreau. His version of the Marvel Universe still seems unfocused, not quite in sync with what you and your company have in mind. In fact, it would be safe to say that The Incredible Hulk feels more like the outside looking in adaptations that Iron Man gallantly avoided. In the end, you’ve probably got another hit on your hands, but don’t be looking to Rotten Tomatoes to verify its creative merit.


A word to the wise: open up the pocket books and pay the man. Avoid the months of hate that will be harvested on your behalf. Prove to those who still sit on the fence over supporting your talent takeover that you’re not the heartless misers the media is making you out to be. Unless you are clued into something we sideliners fail to grasp, taking Jon Favreau out of the franchise’s future seems absolutely insane. Remember - you need him much more than he needs you. He can ride his Iron Man cred directly into any high profile project he wants (even more so if the film becomes the #1 hit of the Summer, which appears more than likely). Do the right thing and all will be well. And here’s hoping you’re prepared if you don’t. Seriously.


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Sunday, Jun 15, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-06-16...

It’s hard to say whether anyone’s actually marked their calendars for anything that’s coming out this week, save for the somewhat anticipated (not to mention a little bit dreaded in some circles) Guitar Hero on Tour for the Nintendo DS.  Yes, it’s Guitar Hero; yes, it looks as though the DS peripheral will actually be somewhat functional (though it still looks a bit like a hand cramp waiting to happen); and yes, the track list could be worse.  Still, every look at this week’s releases inspires gravitation toward a different release, something that’s making itself known on both major portable systems this week.  You know what I’m talking about: It’s none other than Space Invaders Extreme.


Acid trip color schemes also help.

Acid trip color schemes also help.


Now I’ll be the first to admit that updating a classic game with modern graphics and color palettes and then slapping the word EXTREME on the title is more than a little bit tacky.  Still, everything I’ve seen of Space Invaders Extreme is that it will be the exception to the rule.  Rather than an uninspired update, you see, Space Invaders Extreme looks like a re-imagining of the entire concept of Space Invaders.  Not only are you a little ship at the bottom of the screen blasting away at wave after wave of 2D sprites, you’re fighting organized waves, sprites that flip from 1D to 2D (like Super Paper Mario minus one dimension), and a few giant invaders.  All of it is in front of a new musical backdrop that actually manages to incorporate the in-game sounds to create a tapestry of noise that just feels right.  The early impressions that I got from it were that it was like Space Invaders meets Lumines, and I don’t know how a combination like that can possibly fail.


Not only that, but Space Invaders Extreme even has a peripheral of its own, the “Taito Paddle”, which you can use to guide your ship.  It also works with the newly-released Arkanoid DS.  Take that, Guitar Hero!


I'll admit it: I'm kind of looking forward to this tiny monstrosity.

I’ll admit it: I’m kind of looking forward to this
tiny monstrosity.


Elsewhere, it’s a pretty quiet release week, as most of the gaming community tries to recover from the behemoth release that was Metal Gear Solid 4.  Wii owners get Rock Band (huzzah!), PS3 owners get Fatal Intertia (whoopee?) and the gamers that simply won’t let go of the PC are the recipients of a little thing called The Political Machine 2008, which is unfortunately not a remake of The Incredible Machine with a bunch of obvious metaphors.  In this one, you get to be a campaign manager, which would surely have me drinking brown liquor out of the bottle in a matter of days.  This edition has Obama, Clinton, and McCain as candidates. 


What are you looking at this week?  Leave one in the comments and let us know.  The full release list (and a trailer for Space Invaders Extreme) is after…the…JUMP!


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Sunday, Jun 15, 2008

This week I finished reading Markus Zusak’s I am the Messenger (2005). It’s worth the read but the first Zusak I’d recommend is definitely The Book Thief (2006). These books are two completely different animals.


image

The protagonist of I am the Messenger is called Ed Kennedy. Ed is a good-for-nothing 19 year old taxi driver who is well on his way to making nothing of himself somewhere in Australia. He has several friends who are good for not much other than playing cards, drinking, and sniggering their way through a bank robbery. Things get a little weird, however, when it turns out that the bank robbery was planned with Ed in mind. Someone wants to turn wishy-washy Ed into a hero.


Playing cards start showing up mysteriously, one at a time, for Ed to find. Aces. And there are short lists written on them, like clues he has to figure out. Suddenly, Ed has a purpose, and luckily though his purpose is far-fetched and frankly bizarre, it manages to drive the novel through a series of odd characters, each of whom need something from Ed. He manages in every case to solve the puzzle of what these people need in their lives.


Several of the characters, like a teenage girl who runs barefoot at dawn, and the elderly owner of a decrepit, old fashioned movie theater, are downright beautiful. Other encounters are less savory, like the abusive rapist or the two angry teenaged brothers who constantly beat each other up. In every situation Ed must figure out how to help these strangers move on with their lives. And in the end not only does Ed sort out his own purpose, he helps his three stagnating friends find out that life is worth living as well.


Zusak handles violence as well as beauty deftly. His simple, elegant observations about the world of the novel are a pleasure to read. Ed’s journey from general layabout to unlikely guardian angel is proof that with good intentions anyone can make a difference in the life of a child, or a stranger, or a close friend.  It’s no wonder that I am the Messenger won the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year award in Australia.


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