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Monday, Jun 9, 2008
In a new feature here on SE&L, every Tuesday we will be bringing you breaking news from the world of film. From the newest trailers to the biggest deals, we'll breakdown the weekend box office and guide you toward some interesting titles new to DVD.

Universal Unveils Yet Another Inspirational Sports Film

According to the press release, The Express (coming 3 October) is “Based on the true story of college football hero Ernie Davis, the first African- American to win the Heisman Trophy. His fight for equality and respect forever changed the face of American sports, and his story continues to inspire new generations.”  The film will star Dennis Quaid and Rob Brown. Here are some early photos:






Weinsteins Wants You to Channel Your Inner Igor

In connection with their upcoming animated film, the Weinstein Company offers you the opportunity to put on your best “Igor” impression. Winners will have their voice added to the final film, expected sometime this fall. More information can be found here.






Disaster Movie gets a Pair of Teaser Posters
After consistently devaluing the big screen spoof with their increasingly sophomoric efforts, the writing/directing team of Jason Friedbeg and Aaron Seltzer are back with another parody. Oddly enough, they seem to be taking the genre right back to where it started - the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker classic Airplane!, which was, after all, a lampoon of disaster films.




Jumper to Become a Franchise - from IMDb
According to WENN and the Internet Movie Database, Actor Hayden Christensen is set to return to the developing Jumper franchise for a further two movies. The new DVD coming out today confirms the plans to create a trilogy for the solid sci-fi hit. According to the actor, “We’re talking about it. I know that they’re having those conversations, I hear about them. It was set up to become that - a trilogy - if it did well. And I think they’re happy with how it did so they want to make another one. But I don’t think they’re rushing to get into production.”




Sam Raimi Wants Spider-Man 4 - from IGN
Apparently, the stories about Raimi being less involved in the future of the Spider-man franchise were wrong, or maybe the director of the three previous popcorn smashes is indulging in a little wishful thinking. Whatever the case, you can read his thoughts about the fourth go round for the webslinger here.






MPAA Pulls Plug on Kevin Smith’s Porno Promo - from /Film
Just last week, we noted that the Clerks auteur had released a Red Band teaser for his upcoming comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Well, apparently Quick Stop Entertainment, Smith’s internet locale, didn’t get permission from the MPAA to “broadcast” such content across the web. The whole stink gets aired out over at SlashFilm.com.




My Fair Lady Getting a Remake - from Variety
From the official press release:
Considering the talent involved the first time around, it seems hard to imagine that anyone would seriously consider remaking this Oscar winning effort. Still, producers Cameron Mackintosh and Duncan Kenworthy are convinced they can “update” the material by adding more of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion to Alan Jay Lerner’s musical book. Initial reports had Keira Knightley and Daniel Day Lewis as the new Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins, but with the There Will Be Blood star hopping projects for the big screen version of Nine, casting remains unclear. Read more here.




DiCaprio to Produce/Star in Atari Story - from THR.com
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Leonardo DiCaprio plans on bringing the story of ‘70/‘80s video game giant Atari to the big screen. Writers Brian Hecker and Craig Sherman hope the star will play Nolan Bushnell, engineering student and computer geek who went from fixing broken pinball machines to creating the company responsible for the first major arcade game - Pong. The rest of the story can be found here.





DVD releases of Note for 10 June
Be Kind Rewind
The Bucket List
Funny Games (2008)
Invisible Target - Read the SE&L Review Here
John Adams: The HBO Mini-Series
Jumper
The Other Boleyn Girl
Witless Protection


Box Office Figures for Weekend of 6 June

#1 - Kung Fun Panda: $59.8 million
#2 - You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: $40.3 million
#3 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: $22.9 million
#4 - Sex and the City: $21.3 million
#5 - The Strangers: $9.2 million
#6 - Iron Man: $7.4 million
#7 - The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: $5.5 million
#8 - What Happens in Vegas: $3.4 million
#9 - Baby Mama: $2.2 million
#10 - Made of Honor: $2.0 million


Films Opening This Week:

General Release:
The Incredible Hulk - Bruce Banner searches for a cure to his raging inner ‘demon’ while the Army plots to use his power as a weapon. With Edward Norton and Tim Roth. Rated PG-13
The Happening - A sudden, unseen epidemic causes innocent citizens to kill themselves in startling violent ways. It’s up to the survivors to figure out why. From M. Night Shyamalan. Rated R


Limited
Quid Pro Quo - With comparisons to David Cronenberg’s Crash, a young reporter, paralyzed after an accident, discovers a subculture of fetishists. Rated R
Baghead - a group of independent filmmakers head out into the woods to brainstorm a script. They are instead terrorized by a stranger in a bag. Rated R


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Monday, Jun 9, 2008
The last installment of the ZA series (for now) is finally here, with L.B. Jeffries talking about why the critical focus should be on the experiences games can potentially generate as opposed to other approaches.


At long last, we come to the final entry of the Zarathustran Analytics series. The question proposed in the first essay of this series was essentially this: if we define video games by player input, how do we go about assessing that? Since the game design illustrates what the input precisely is and the plot defines the meaning of that input, the thing game critics should be looking at is the overall experience the game generates rather than just one of these particular elements. Then we took into account how to categorize games by experience rather than game design, exceptions to this concept, and the basic philosophies that govern what people think games should be. We also made the decision to not factor in graphics or A.I. in order to not inhibit creativity in the medium (and somehow, no one called me out on it). After taking into account what a critical language for video games should not do, we finally get to the point of why we need to be talking about the player experience in the first place.


 


In a blog post by Henry Jenkins in 2006, he points out the basic problem that interactivity creates for a critic. Unlike Gone with the Wind, in a video game the player’s input may result in an extremely different outcome. Rhett may have gotten shot a while ago, or Scarlett might be level 80 and fully capable of running the farm herself. The basic problem of re-addressing art’s quality in terms of seeing the audience’s response to the show rather than the show itself is that most people aren’t used to the audience response being a factor. For someone like Roger Ebert or a literary critic, focusing on the audience response is reverse-thinking. Not what does the game project at me, but what does the game allow me to project back. Jenkins and others compare game criticism to assessing architectural designs and discussing how a person will inhabit a building. I personally tend to think of them as miniature languages and what those languages allow me to express. Whatever the mindset of the critic, rather than dismiss the audience experience as impossible to discuss we should tackle it head on. We do this not by talking about what a player should be thinking, but what a player could think in the space given to them within the game. That’s what it means to assess a game experience. Since we can put so much of ourselves into a game, the critic must assess where our response can go in such a place. 


 


So how big of a difference does adding player experience to our criticism really make? In a link from Jenkins’ post, Timothy Burke goes over several examples of games that by themselves sound downright dull. Planescape: Torment is a basic D&D affair about an immortal who can never die. The average player spends the whole game wandering huge dialogue trees, sometimes behaving and sometimes being cruel depending on what’s advantageous. Yet what made the game profound was that at the very end, the game asks you what all that meant in terms of your identity. What made you help people, what made you abandon them? And every person has their own, self-realizing response to that. Or Burke’s comment on Katamari Damarcy being impossible to explain without sounding idiotic. You’re a tiny man rolling a tiny ball into a gigantic one, going from items on a desk to entire cities. Beyond the complete control of what you roll into the ball, the sheer pleasure of progress and happiness at rolling together an entire planet of junk is what makes the experience amazing. Or perhaps the most profound story on the web thus far is the incredibly personal reaction to Animal Crossing that one player had with their mother. That brief story about one person’s reaction to a game played with their mom is probably one of the highest emotions art can ever achieve, and we need a critical language that can talk about how that experience was created. Otherwise, we’re only talking about half the story.


 


Finally, we need to talk about player experience because this element, this way that games allow audience input which makes them art, is going to be neglected if we don’t. If no one notices game developers for producing profound player expressions in their games, why should they bother making them? If no one bothers to look beyond the plot or the game design, then no one is going to ever really get into what makes games so amazing in the first place. The late Joseph Campbell, whose works with mythology inspired Star Wars and countless video game plots, was asked in a PBS interview what he thought of video games. He said that they were another way of imparting wisdom. That games were still functionally doing the same thing as a group of people practicing hunting or sitting around a fire. Games were just a new way of teaching and sharing experiences, whether that experience be making a successful kill or hearing the legend of an epic hero. Such is the function of myth, philosophy, and art amongst people and Campbell thought video games would eventually take their place with them. We need a new critical approach so they can finally start doing it.


 


Joseph Campbell was the first person to make me sit down with video games and start looking at them in a new way years ago, so I’ve decided to end with a quote from his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. He writes:


Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization. As he crosses threshold after threshold, conquering dragon after dragon, the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases, until it subsumes the cosmos. Finally, the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form – all symbolizations, all divinities: a realization of the ineluctable void.


If the audience response is where games become art, if that response could become so powerful that it could allow a person to achieve personal breakthroughs, or to gain new perspectives on life, then it is not enough for game developers to create more complex games. It is not enough to just make them more realistic or incredibly satisfying. We must now, both as critics and as gamers, start to ask ourselves something far bigger when we play a video game: What are video games for?


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Monday, Jun 9, 2008

Eh, not quite… I just got the e-mail saying that I have the privilege to test out the beta version of the Filter.  After a few serious browser crashes on Firefox and Safari that made me shut down my computer, I finally got to run it.  And I’ll give them this- it’s not too mediocre.


I spent a while rating some of my favorite movies and music and it was able to give me back some modestly interesting recommendations but nothing that I hadn’t thought of before- I already told them I liked Sonic Youth and Earth, Wind and Fire so why just point me to more of their albums instead of other bands?  There was a function to carry over my picks from Last.fm (which has a much better, interesting, eye-opening recommendation service) and that did help a little but again, nothing startling that made me want to plow through the Filter service much more.  Also, they only let you play 30 second clips (like iTunes) instead of the full songs, which you can do again on Last.fm or Napster. 


For movies, it wasn’t much better.  You can go ahead and rate a bunch of movies in different genres and they can come back with you with similar picks but again, it’s nothing that you couldn’t have figured out for yourself.  Even worse, when they did come up with a recommendation for the Polish film A Short Film About Love and offered to show you a trailer, you instead got a YouTube clip of the upcoming comedy The Love Guru, which you’ve probably already seen enough commercials for.  I didn’t have the stomach to sit through the clip to see if the original movie I wanted was going to come up.


As for the TV component, it’s not there yet.  I guess they just want to tease us since the other two parts work so well.


If you want to improve your recommendations even more, they also offer a download of their own software which hooks up to iTunes, sees what you’ve downloaded and listened to there and then… probably doesn’t do much better for you.  I’m sorry but after such lack-luster results before, I can’t waste any more download time and space on my hard drive for more of their lame recommendations.  If it is that great, let me know I’m wrong but otherwise, I’d say that you’re better off sticking with Last.fm, even if Warner Bros did yank their catalog from them recently.


Normally, I’d leave it at that but the person behind this service is Peter Gabriel, a musician who seems to get the potential of the Net and what can be done there.  I honestly hope that they do improve the service but until then, I can’t say that it’s worth your time.


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Monday, Jun 9, 2008

Michael Barthel has a great post over at Idolator about the anti-intellectualism of some music writers in particular and music criticism generally.  This is particularly ironic, as Barthel notes, when the critic in question slams him with a Borges reference.  (That would be Jorge Luis Borges for those of you not on a first name basis.)  It’s a great post for a number of reasons, including that Barthel calls out incoherence of someone trying to hide their philosophical depth for some sad approximation of street cred. 


Populism, in this context, is essentially the denial of expertise.  If it’s true that no one, given the instantaneous access, needs the contribution of critics, surely they need even less the dubious contributions of most music blogs, who act primarily as extensions of PR one sheets, without the objectivity. Music crticism has many unexplored tensions with the academy.  Some of them certainly come from the fact that many music writers, especially in their late 20s to mid-30s come to criticism from a University-era heavily steeped in postmodern theory.  Many of them, by choice, chance or deficiency have not continued on into academia.  Those anxious influences frequently crop up in either naïve rejection or equally naïve assimilation.


Music criticism also has a habit of writers competing with their subjects for having the most “rock and roll” values, something art historians probably don’t have hanging over their heads.  Consequently, Lester Bangs gets idolized for in part, getting fucked up all the time, because that’s way more hardcore than doing a systematic study of the evolution of brand mentions in hip hop lyricism.  That’s clearly not as cool.  Surely some people use philosophical jargon to obscure their insecurities, but just as many people deign to defend American Idol or Shania Twain based on some just as postured sense of contrarianism.  Barthel touches on some crucial issues that are worth arguing at length, but that wouldn’t cool, so I’ll keep it brief.  Foucault my ass.


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Monday, Jun 9, 2008

At PSFK, Dan Gould posts about Evan Baden, who photographs people entranced by their electronic gadgets. Baden writes, “More and more, we are bathed in a silent, soft, and heavenly blue glow. It is as if we carry divinity in our pockets and purses.”


Baden makes much of the technological innovation of gadgets and the “wealth of knowledge and communication” they allow, but it’s worth remembering that the 18th century had the same reaction to the technological innovation of the day, books. The site hosting Baden’s work poses this ominous question: “Their faces, made cadaverous by the artificial light, are expressionless, suggesting that, as we become more connected by our electronics, we become less connected to our immediate surroundings. This leaves us to wonder: do we own our electronics, or do they own us?” This echoes the society-wide fears of reading in the 18th century, primarily of women being preoccupied with books, which were seen as dangerous threats to their autonomy and education and their presumed role in the world. These fears supplied the substance of an array of plays, essays, and novels that fretted over women spending too much time reading and being emotionally altered by what they read. Like interactive gadgetry, books (novels especially) require the imaginative participation of the reader to make them come alive and work effectively. So perhaps any new media is destined to face this kind of criticism, that it is corrupting its users, removing them from contact with “reality” into some dangerously vulnerable trance state.


Compare this image


with this famous painting by Fragonard.


For more images, professor William Warner has collected a bunch for his essay on the subject here. Warner points out, “Like television watching in the mid 20th century, novel reading took France and England by storm; like television watching, reading novels engendered excitement and resistance in the societies where it first flourished.” He cites Michael Fried’s Absorption and Theatricality, a study of 18th-century French painting’s representation of absorptive states (such as the ones Baden photographs) and the self-forgetting they suggest. Fried makes much of the way the figures in such paintings ignore the beholder, signifying a total self-absorption that constitutes at the same time a total self-forgetting, the loss of social self-consciousness. To achieve this effect, Fried argues, painters had to take pains to obliterate the point of view of the beholder. The “neutralization” that the paintings achieve enables the beholder to feel, Fried claims. The refusal to be acknowledged by the painting’s figures “seems to have given Greuze’s contemporaries a deep thrill of pleasure and in fact to have transfixed them before the canvas,” Fried writes. This may be because the beholder is made to feel outside the network of surveillance for a moment—this may be in fact what those staring into their iPods and BlackBerry’s paradoxically feel—that they are orchestrating the flow of communication around them, rather than being caught up in its web.


At the same time, onlookers are made to feel like voyeurs, as Fried claims beholders were when confronted with paintings full of absorbed figures. This heightens the reality-TV feeling of using gadgets in public, and I think it explains why some people feel the need to talk loudly on their phones in public spaces. Using the gadget renders the sense that we are eminently observable more powerful—because the gadget user is completely absorbed, they are more completely vulnerable to being watched, though the gadget using itself may be a theatrical behavior, seeking to attract the attention it seems to be oblivious to.


Fried posits that “a new kind of beholder” must be created—in other words, a new kind of vicariousness must be fomented in consumers of art that renders them paradoxically absent and present in the scene represented. They need to identify and judge and oscillate between those positions. Ien Ang identified this very motion in Watching Dallas, a study of how television series function. Ang points to “a constant to and fro movement between identification with and distance from the fictional world as constructed” in the work being consumed. Writes Fried, concluding his analysis of the new kind of art consumer: “The very condition of spectatordom, stands indicted as theatrical, a medium of estrangement rather than of absorption, sympathy and self-transcendence.” That seems to be the relationship we have with gadgets, and one another when we are using them.


 


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