Friday, November 21, 2008

AD movie, Mormon Musical, PD cancellation, Colbert Christmas, and more

Thank goodness it's Friday. I've somehow been very busy this week. I'm starting to panic about grad school applications enough that I've been spending time on them, but not panicked enough to actually be getting anything done. I'm also coming up with new and pathetic ways to waste time while not working on grad school apps. You have no idea how much time I can spend compiling an 18-track mixed CD, and I need a handful of them for my upcoming long car trip home for the holidays. Well anyway, here are my thoughts on recent entertainment events.

Filming in Buckinghamshire, England for the Prince of Persia movie has been disrupted by scorpions on set (IMDb). They apparently caught a ride over when the filming transfered from Morocco. The scorpions in question were PoP: SoT fanatics who had devoted significant time and resources to tracking down the film location and then following the set to England. Most were caught, but some escaped to post their on-set photos online.

South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are teaming up with Avenue Q co-composer Jeff Marx to write a Broadway musical comedy about the Mormon faith (IMDb). I am not a fan of South Park, but I am a huge fan of Avenue Q. I get nervous when people make fun of religions, but I do think that people who can't put up with challenges to their religion don't have enough faith in it (and thus shouldn't be complaining). I have some friends who are Mormons, but I am not pleased with certain recent contributions of the church to a certain cause. Anyway, I'm not quite sure what to expect from this musical, and I don't know how people are going to react to it, but I do think it's hilarious that someone is writing a Mormon Musical.

Ron Howard has confirmed that an Arrested Development movie is in development (, more confirmation at Variety). I have not seen every episode, and I did not see them even remotely in chronological order, but what I saw I found pretty hilarious. It is so much funnier than most comedies that are on today (How is Two and a Half Men the most popular sitcom? How?). They'll have to be careful about the budget, though, now that Michael Cera is such a hot commodity.

Domino's pizza has made a groundbreaking new deal with TiVo. TiVo owners can now order delivery pizza... on their TiVos (IMDb). "This is the first time in history that the 'on-demand' generation will be able to fully experience couch commerce by ordering pizza directly through their television set," says Domino's marketing executive. Unfortunately, the pizza itself will not be delivered from the TV set (I can't wait for that to happen!), so the customers will still have to stand up and walk to answer the door when the delivery guy shows up. Still, this is a significant step forward towards the ultimate American dream. And can I just reiterate: "couch commerce."

Gossip Girl and OC creator Josh Schwartz has been tapped by Twentieth Century Fox to write, and possibly direct, a new X-Men "First Class" movie, which would focus on various mutant superheroes as teenagers at Xavier's school (Variety). Because Mutant High needs the Gossip Girl treatment. XOXO Rogue. Maybe they're trying to make X-Men appeal to teen and tween girls as well as teen fanboys. Well, as always, we'll see what comes of it.

Twilight is opening this weekend!!! OMG!!!!! A grad student at work (we work within sight of each other) asked me last night if I have read Twilight, since she was trying to get a group together to go see it. She's always having bunches of grad students over to her house for partying and drinking or going out with people to lunch or happy hour, and she has never invited me to anything. Ever. But she asked me if I wanted to go see Twilight. I guess I should be happy she bothered to notice me, but NO, I HAVE NEVER READ TWILIGHT. NO, I DON'T PLAN TO. JUST BECAUSE I'M A TOTAL FANTASY GEEK AND A GIRL DOES NOT MAKE ME A TWILIGHT FAN. Sorry, I don't mean any offense to Twilight fans (well, not to all Twilight fans at least.... The ones who faint when Robert Pattinson makes an appearance could use a little insulting). I just have to shake my head at the fact that I've been labeled as "Total fantasy geek, not fun at parties." Alas. Well anyway, with midnight numbers in, Twilight box office receipts are already astonishing. With a core audience of tween and teen girls, it is not expected to set records for opening weekend. But I wonder if this core audience will be an advantage in the long-term box office, since many will recall the power of the teen girl repeat viewing in Titanic's success.

And now for the tragic news of the day. It looks like Pushing Daisies has been canceled (IMDb). No, I'm not going to make any bad puns about the show's demise. I am too heartbroken. Eli Stone, Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Chuck are also looking shaky. If they all get canceled, I'll suddenly be finding myself with a lot of time on my hands. Still, of all my shows on right now (that means not counting BSG and Lost, which are on hiatus), if I could have saved one, it would have been Pushing Daisies. PD executive producer Bryan Fuller says that he has plans to continue the story in a comic and even in a movie. Comics are all well and good, but I am more interested in this movie option. I can't really picture the characters at this point without the actors in the roles. Chi McBride is hilarious, Kristin Chenoweth is absolutely brilliant, and... okay, fine, I find Lee Pace as Ned to be excruciatingly adorable. Maybe I'm no better than Pattinson's screaming girls (though I don't think I'd squeal if I saw him, and I am able to differentiate between Lee and Ned, thank you very much). Knowing how hard it is to get projects to the big screen, I'm not overly hopeful about the chances of a Pushing Daisies movie. Still, assuming that it does get made, will I be satisfied? What does this remind me of: critically praised but under-viewed show suffers premature cancellation, gets some comics to continue the story, then is made into a feature-length film? Yes, Serenity was a great movie, but it was not a satisfactory consolation prize for the canceled Firefly. I still mourn the too-soon loss of Firefly. But Serenity was certainly better than nothing. We'll see what happens.

Bringing a ray of sunshine, or at least some Christmas cheer, is none other than the amazing Stephen Colbert. His Christmas special, "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All", airs this Sunday night, November 23, at 10 pm on Comedy Central (Variety blog, NY Times). Be there or be square. I will be square, of course, since I don't get Comedy Central (or any other non-network TV channel), but folks like me can buy the DVD starting November 25. No, I am not advertising on my blog. Okay, maybe a little, but it's Stephen Colbert and friends doing a musical comedy Christmas special. This will be one worth adding to your family Christmas tradition, even if you don't celebrate Christmas!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

BSG auction, Klingon opera, and Batman, Turkey

And now for my thoughts on various recent entertainment news items.

About a week ago, there was a serious shakeup in the powers that control Heroes. Co-executive producers Jesse Alexander and Jeph Loeb were fired (Variety) and creator and executive producer Tim Kring has promised to focus his time on the story and tone of the show, rather than on post-production special effects and such (Variety). Alexander and Loeb were around for the show's first season success, but under their watch the second and third seasons have increasingly lost fan and critic support and audience numbers. Kring plans to heed the fans' complaints and turn the show around in the hopes of returning Heroes to its former glory. It is unclear whether it'll work, but Season 4 of Lost (Heroes' older sibling) helped it earn back a lot of the respect it had lost in Seasons 2 and 3. I've got to say it's about time they turn things around in Heroes. I adored the show in Season 1, up until the season finale. That finale and Season 2 were disappointments, and I was led to believe that Season 3 would be the turn-around. But this season has been full of weak plots, contradictions in mythology, and lots of characters acting out of character (usually being unbelievably stupid). Save the show! My eyes are getting sore from all the eye-rolling.

It's moments like these that prove just how much of a geek I am: I'm sitting in my office reading about an auction--yes, an upcoming live auction--with a buffoonish ear-to-ear grin on my face. It's just so awesome, I can't contain myself. Now that filming has wrapped for Battlestar Galactica, they are auctioning off numerous costumes, props, and set pieces (press release). Boy, wouldn't I love to have Starbuck's flight suit! Or the arrow of Apollo! Or the frakkin' full-sized Blackbird! And I sure wish I could fit into Six's red dress. Given my budget, though, I could probably only afford some little paper prop (with corners cut off, naturally). Unfortunately, the live auction is in Pasadena, California, a long way away. I'll have to see what they put up on eBay. The auction is in January.

An artist by the name of Floris Schönfeld is writing a Klingon opera called " 'u' " (NY Times). Obviously, I have serious doubts about whether this work will turn out well and how it will be received by the general public. Italian is ideally suited for opera-style singing because of its use of round tones and open vowels. Klingon, in contrast, is a harsh-sounding language; its rough consonants would make operatic Klingon singing unpleasing to the ear (well, to the human ear, at least). I just don't know if an opera in such a rough-sounding language will have long-lasting success.

Ridley Scott has signed on to make the movie based on the boardgame Monopoly (IMDb). Apparently, he intends to give the Monopoly film a futuristic edge (what this entails, I do not know). Pamela Pettler (Corpse Bride) will be creating the storyline for the movie. Good luck to her. The Monopoly movie is just one of a series of movies Universal Studios has agreed to make based on Hasbro properties. Battleship and Ouija Board are also being adapted into their own features; the latter has Michael Bay signed on to produce. I remember reading about this Universal - Hasbro deal back when they made it. While I am slightly horrified that these projects are in the works, I am mostly relieved that, since the speculation around the time of the initial deal, I have heard no mention of a Stretch Armstrong movie adaptation.

The greatest news of the day, though, is that the Mayor of Batman, Turkey is suing Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. for royalties from "The Dark Knight", accusing them of using the city's name without permission (Variety, IMDb). I think it's pretty safe to say that this is a lost cause for Mayor Kalkan, since he is unlikely to convince anyone that Batman (the comic hero) stole his name from the city because 1) "Batman" is a simple compound of English words "bat" and "man", which is fitting for a male superhero who dresses as a bat and 2) well, has any American even heard of Batman, Turkey before? I can understand the Batman citizens' complaints about it being hard for them to be taken seriously abroad, but I personally would think it was awesome to live in a town called Batman. Seriously, how sweet would that be? I'm fairly certain this must be some type of publicity stunt (hey, it's working!). While they're at it, they should sue turkeys for stealing the name of their country (it does make it difficult for English-speaking school children to take the country seriously, I have to admit). Rough month for turkeys.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mass Effect Movie

This is old news by now, but I didn't hear about it until last week. Really, I had suspected someone might have such a plan in the works but had not realized that the rights had already been bought. So here it is: Avi Arad, of recent Marvel success, has optioned the rights for a Mass Effect movie (Variety blog). I have already discussed at length my feelings about turning video games into movies. History shows that they always turn out horribly (as evinced by the fact that the video game-based movie with the highest IMDb user rating 1) has only a depressing 6.4/10 stars and 2) is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which is not even really based on a video game). Still, I have hope that if they (Hollywood producers or others with the power to initiate a project) manage to find a game with a good plot and good characters, they might have a chance at a good movie.

Well, Mass Effect has a good plot and good characters. Heck, it's practically a movie already (though the movie could do without the hours upon hours in front of the lockers in the vehicle bay trading shotguns and assault rifles and frakkin' mods to ensure the best distribution of equipment among party members). But, as I discussed in my previous post was the case with most games I play, part of what makes Mass Effect so great is that the player designs the main character. Shepard is a virtuous war hero, though one scarred by her tragic past; her adherence to the most noble, compassionate path falters only when her rage and desire for vengeance blind her in encounters with slavers. Shepard was raised in a military family, which instead of instilling him with strict morals has made him a renegade (maverick?); he knows how to get the job done, but his tactics are frequently called into question. Who will Shepard be in the movie? Whoever Shepard is, and whatever choices Shepard ends up making, it will all be decided for the audience. People who have played and loved the game will not be satisfied by the story, for it will not be the "real" Mass Effect story.

Or maybe it's just me. I guess I just really clicked with my female Shepard; I could relate to my protagonist more easily than I could relate to a male version of her. Plus I think action and sci-fi could always use some more strong female heroines who aren't totally objectified. Does that make me a feminist (or sexist even)? I don't know. In the case of KotOR, I can make a very strong case for the protagonist being a woman instead of a man (don't get me started), though the "canon" for whatever it's worth totally squashes that, and yeah, I may be a little bitter about that. I can't really make a strong case for Shepard being a woman, though, but nor can I make a case for a male Shepard. And yet I would definitely be bothered by seeing Shepard as a man in the mainstream version (i.e., the major motion picture). I put the chances of a male Shepard at 80% (though I should add that 62.4% of statistics are entirely made up); if it were Joss or J.J. producing, I'd perhaps have more hope of getting my way.

So how will the plot of Mass Effect, a great video game plot, translate into a movie plot? The side quests, another hallmark of a great video game, should all be cut out, lest they become the hallmark of a really tedious 12-hour movie. This leaves the main quest: Eden Prime, the Citadel, Therum, Feros, Noveria, Virmire, Ilos. The movie will have to be careful not to give the feeling of "We've won the Feros level, now let's continue on to the Noveria level". It needs to flow more naturally. Additionally, Mass Effect is a game of choices. One might say that it beat the player to death with choices, always making it clear: You can only choose either A or B (or frequently C), and it will have consequences! In a video game, this is a welcome freedom for the engaged player. The movie will have to highlight the difficult decisions and ramifications but not dwell on them to the point of making it seem forced.

One thing that I'm definitely excited about with a Mass Effect movie is the prospect of seeing an original sci-fi world brought to life in the realm of film with movie-quality special effects. I want to see how they do all the aliens--Turians, Krogan, Hanar, Geth. I want to see the Citadel. Whatever doubts I have about translating Mass Effect to a movie, I have faith that they can do justice in the visuals department.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first movie adaptation of a video game that allows this much freedom in designing the character and influencing the plot (though really, you can't change the plot all that much). This may give it an advantage by improving its chances of being a good film, but it also means it will probably alienate its fan base. This is not a sentence of doom, though, merely a challenge. I've been surprised before (not in this genre, but still...), so maybe it will be the first video game adaptation to earn over 7 IMDb stars. There's a lot that has to happen before Mass Effect actually becomes a movie. But seeing as it's the first Hollywood treatment of a game I play and love (I am NOT counting Pokemon), I will be doing my best to track its development. As always, we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Trump's Golf Course in Aberdeen

Well, it's been a busy week. Plenty of things happening on all fronts. I feel no need to report on the obvious, and it will probably just lead to overall glee soon doused by anger at a certain populous west coast state, which inevitably leads to me ranting as anyone who has come in contact with me since Wednesday can attest. I'll just stop myself there before it starts.

Anyway, with so much real news going on, you may have missed the news that, after months of setbacks from such silly things as environmentalists and laws, Donald Trump has won the right to build an enormous golf course and resort on (what was until recently, apparently) environmentally protected land in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The deal is that Donald Trump got it into his mind that he wanted to build a golf course in Scotland, in tribute to his dear Scottish mother. A designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) was soon declared a Site of Special Trump Empire-Building Interest (SSTEBI). That it was a rare shifting sand dune habitat didn't matter; no compromise to his plans would be acceptable. What's great is that back in June, Trump called himself an "environmentalist in the true sense of the word." What kind of messed up dictionary is he using? (California's constitution?--Ooo, sorry, couldn't help it.) Trump claims that building his golf course on the dunes will actually be good for the environment, since it will stabilize the sand dunes. The rare, shifting sand dunes. Right. Come to think about it, those darn waves are making the Great Barrier Reef all kinds of unstable. Why don't we freeze the water to make sure it doesn't go anywhere?

Why do I even hear about this kind of news? It's neither real news nor entertainment news, but I guess it's because Donald Trump has a lousy reality TV show (apologies for the redundancy there), which puts him on the radar for the WENN news I read on IMDb. But unlike most stories concerning people of reality TV fame which I just skip over, this story caught my eye. It is of interest to me not only because I both care about the environment and enjoy laughing at people with too much money who say and do ridiculous things, but also because I happen to know an environmental scientist in Aberdeen. He has been in Scotland for a while but is originally from the Basque country (I'd say he's from Spain, but boy would he hate that); note that Spanish accent + Scottish accent = furrrrious rrrrrolling of rrrrs. Anyway, I have corresponded with him on the issue (I thought I'd ask him for his take, since I know he enjoys a good rant). He can explain the issue better than I can, so I'll share with you his explanation (and take note that he uses parentheticals perhaps more than I do). Here's what he said back in June:

Regarding the Trump "proposal" (well, he is not "proposing" anything - more like "imposing"), where shall I start? A golf course on an official Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as
an excuse to build a whole heap of luxury houses and a huge luxury hotel (as if we needed yet another golf course in the area). Of course, he won't alter his plans by an inch (must be something to do with saving those dunes from blowing away, as you say), even though just beyond the dunes it is all farmland where he could build anything he wanted. On top of his environmental concerns, he is doing it for the memory of his mother, who was Scottish (from the western isles, just a few hundred miles away but I guess it's near enough for him) and to create jobs (well, someone has to mow the grass and clean the toilets) and bring money into the local economy (not sure who that "local economy" is supposed to be). For a long time, I hadn't met anyone in favour of the proposal (after all, us scientists are a bunch of tree-hugging weirdos) but apparently most of the local population are in favour (I guess they feel part of the "local economy" or fancy cleaning toilets for a living). The local press, chamber of commerce, etc. are all totally biased in favour, and as to the Council ... they have bent every one of their own rules to pass the development (I don't know if you have read the specifics of this but it is a very long and shocking story). They even moved a proposed offshore windfarm planned not to spoil the horizon from the resort, they moved a proposed Aberdeen road bypass so that it is near enough to the resort (you'll be able to go from the airport there without having to come across any locals) but not too near to spoil it, etc. When the Council rejected the plans (thanks to the vote of the Chair of the Infrastructures Committee, who showed some guts when he played by the rules and was sacked and vilified for that), they had no mechanism to reverse the decision so the Scottish Government took the process out of local authority control and will decide instead. They just rejected a huge windfarm in Lewis on environmental grounds so it will be interesting to see what they do but I would be shocked if they rejected this one, even though the official government agency (Scottish Natural Heritage) in charge of the SSSI has objected to the proposal. Anyway, we can just wait and see (funny that Trump said he would not accept any delays but so far he has said nothing about the few months this is taking already). If there are any developments, I'll keep you posted.

Months passed. On Monday, Trump finally won permission to go ahead and build his golf course and resort. On Tuesday, when I heard the news, I emailed my friend in Aberdeen to apologize on behalf of all Americans for the antics of Donald Trump. I apologized because Trump represents the ignorant, self-interested, inconsiderate, bullish person that people around the world think of when they hear the word "American". Well, thought of, at least. I don't expect a reputation to reverse overnight, but it seems we have taken a step in the right direction, away from that negative image. On Wednesday, "American" sounds a lot better. Hopefully, some day soon, I won't need to apologize.