Archive for category TV
The list of what can be better described as “tributes” than obituaries marking the passing of film critic Roger Ebert (including one by President Obama) reflect the tremendous impact that he had on the cinematic world. To pick just one, the New Yorker‘s Alex Ross said that:
The wonder of discovering “Aguirre, Wrath of God” or Errol Morris’s “Gates of Heaven” redounded on the man whose enthusiasm led you across the threshold. It could have been anyone, I suppose, but for quite a few of us, it was Ebert. There was some kind of missionary fire beneath the easy, conversational surface of his writing.
Ebert knew cinema better than anyone else. One of the most touching pieces of writing that I have ever read was his reflection on losing the ability to speak due to cancer, which meant that he could no longer get to know actors, directors, and producers the way he used to. Still, he wrote some of the most insightful reviews out there – as well as some of the most scathing. Take, for example, this excerpt of his review of the goddawful second Transformers movie:
The plot is incomprehensible. The dialog of the Autobots®, Decepticons® and Otherbots® is meaningless word flap. Their accents are Brooklyese, British and hip-hop, as befits a race from the distant stars. Their appearance looks like junkyard throw-up. They are dumb as a rock. They share the film with human characters who are much more interesting, and that is very faint praise indeed. …
The human actors are in a witless sitcom part of the time, and lot of the rest of their time is spent running in slo-mo away from explosions, although–hello!–you can’t outrun an explosion.
Reading this review and others brought to mind another critic’s review that I had seen recently: the review of The Walking Dead season 3 finale written by Giles Hardie, the Entertainment Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald‘s website.
The comparison was not exactly flattering.
You see, reviews serve two purposes for readers. The first and most obvious is for people who have yet to experience whatever is being reviewed (for the sake of convenience, I will assume a TV show from here). Here, the reviewer’s job is both to give their audience a sense of what the show is about, and to say whether or not it is worth seeing.
The other purpose is for those who have seen the show already. Here, the reviewer is there to help their audience to process what they have just seen. For this reason, I always look up reviews straight after I see anything very thought-provoking. A good reviewer is there as an expert speaking to the masses. They can point out techniques used that most people would miss. They can put the show in context and explain how it relates to other shows, what its makers were trying to achieve, and what kinds of themes it had beneath its surface.
Roger Ebert was not just a good reviewer, he was a great reviewer. Whether or not I agreed with his assessment of a movie, his reviews were always entertaining and insightful. They were easy to read and, without fail, I would walk away with a better understanding of the movie.
That brings me back to Giles Hardie.
Hardie is currently trying to fill the shoes of Doug Anderson – the Herald‘s long-time TV critic, who was recently one of hundreds of layoffs that the Herald‘s parent company Fairfax Media made last year in order to cut costs. I can only assume, therefore, that Hardie is being paid a lot less than Anderson was to do more or less the same job. If that is indeed the case, boy are they getting what they pay for.
The review starts out with the sub-heading “So what happened?” It then proceeds to not so much “run” through the episode as “trawl” through it – he quite literally reprises every moment in the entire episode, pausing to interject with “funnies” like this:
Over at the prison Carl is angry. It isn’t clear if this is because Rick almost betrayed Michonne, if it is the first signs of post-apocalyptic puberty, or if it is because Rick called Shotgun on the road trip they are packing the cars for.
Get it? Because Rick called shotgun? Hilarious right!!!
And there’s the reflection on the episode, which comes across as completely brainless (I’m really sorry, I couldn’t help myself). For the benefit of those who haven’t seen the episode, I’ll give my thoughts on the episode, as well as a more extensive critique of Hardie’s thoughts, below.
I do want to say, however, that I do not have any animus towards Hardie. He isn’t a great TV critic, but not everyone has to be – I’m sure he’s not bad at being the online entertainment editor for the Herald. What is sad to me is that the online entertainment editor also has to double as the TV critic these days after the real TV critic is laid-off. Critics do an important job, and good ones definitely draw me (and I’m sure others) to a publication.
Publications like the Herald are taking exactly the wrong approach to the digital age. They are resisting change for as long as possible, then cutting their biggest assets – their writing staff. Fairfax is still delaying putting up a paywall around the Herald and the Age, years after everyone else did it, and its pages seem to be filling with more and more syndicated content instead. All that means is that when the paywall does finally go up, there will be no reason to subscribe.
So what did Hardie love about the season? The Governor:
The beauty of this season was they gave us a villain, a live villain, who could have his own character arc and ambitions. This was always the struggle while the zombies were the main threat, they are not only nearly inanimate physically, they are entirely unmoving as characters. … The Governor is a great character, who posed an evil-genius threat. He also gave a standard by which to measure all other evil, and this as much as anything facilitated Merle’s journey back to… well his own approximation of goodness.
Before I talk about the Governor, I want to address that Merle comment. I didn’t see Merle going on a “journey” to some kind of goodness, so much as Merle being the same old Merle, then suddenly going “hey, you know what would be a great idea? Why don’t I suddenly do something really dramatic and completely out of character, without any real explanation?” Merle’s journey was not facilitated by the Governor, it was facilitated by bad screenwriting.
As for the Governor, I don’t necessarily disagree that having a human villain is a good idea. The problem is that the Governor was about as one-dimensional as the zombies. It took a few episodes for the show to tell us just how evil and twisted he really was – and that was some entertaining television. After that, it started to feel like the Governor could just jump out in front of a crowd wearing a t-shirt saying “I’m a bad guy” and start mowing people down with an assault rifle and nobody would notice that he was a bad guy.
In fact, it took the governor jumping out in front of a crowd and mowing people down with an assault rifle for them to realise quite how bad he was. Here was Hardie’s take:
The Governor’s genocidal betrayal of his people was, well, necessary from a narrative perspective. It was also terrifyingly believable from what we knew of his character. That was the final chapter in The Governor’s journey from beatific leader with a room full of heads and a zombie-girl in a pillowcase to out-and-out bad guy.
I do want to say that I find the use of the term “genocide” here to be quite offensive. The Governor shot a few deserters. There are a lot of words to describe that: homicidal, sociopathic, psychopathic, insane, murderous, brutal, massacre, etc. What he did not do was try to wipe-out any race of people. Ergo, not a genocide. Genocide is a very serious thing and it’s not a word that should be thrown around like this.
Also, this little massacre was not “terrifyingly believable” and it does not complete any journeys. The Governor has been an “out-and-out bad guy” for half a season already. The only “journey” this may complete is the journey from a smart bad guy to a dumb bad guy. Until now, the Governor had killed when he wanted to, but had also been careful to preserve his power. Here we have him firstly leading his people into what can only be described as the Most Obvious Trap In The History Of Television (I mean, seriously! “Hey, where is everyone? I know, why don’t we follow this note that they left us into those narrow and unlit corridors What could possibly go wrong there?”) and then doing the one thing that he could have done to show the morons in Woodberry that he’s not actually a good guy (see above).
Most annoying of all, the Governor then drives away with Unquestioning Henchmen A and B, without being killed. This episode was supposed to be the one where the Governor and Rick had a big show-down and the Governor was killed. There were so many options: dramatic shoot-out with Rick in the prison; Andrea lunges in a final moment of desperation; Michonne sneaks up on him from behind and twists the knife a little; Tyreece finally does something interesting. The writers were spoilt for choice, but instead they decided to keep this past-his-sell-by-date villain around for God knows what reason. Yes, killing him would have been the obvious choice and we didn’t expect him to not be killed this episode – but this is one time where I wish they had done the obvious thing.
Speaking of obvious things, I need to mention Andrea’s long drawn-out demise (and to his credit, Hardie did mention this one). The set-up to the situation at the beginning of the episode actually worked very well. The Governor torturing Milton was pretty powerful, the scheme of leaving Andrea tied-up while Milton slowly dies was clever and built a lot of dramatic tension.
Problem is, the show’s writers decided to squeeze every last drop of dramatic tension out of that scenario and then keep on squeezing just in case. This meant Andrea casually shooting the Breeze with Milton for a while, then looking over at him a lot, then checking on him – and more or less spending all of her time worrying about Milton instead of, you know, escaping. It even got to the point where poor Milton’s last words were something like “uh, Andrea, you should probably try and escape now”.
And THAT was good characterisation. Where a lesser character would have been screaming “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! SHUT UP! NOW IS NOT TALKING TIME, NOW IS GETTING OUT OF HANDCUFFS TIME!”, Milton is polite and reserved as ever. It’s a shame really, Milton was a genuine, well-written character with a compelling character ark. I would have liked to see him hang around. This was another poor choice by the writers – there was no shortage of boring characters to kill off, why take the one interesting one?
As you can probably tell by now, I thought this was a very weak episode, capping off a weak half-season. That’s a huge shame, because the first half of season three was great. TWD has a huge amount of potential, it just needs to rid itself of the mediocre writing and it would be a great show.
I’ll leave you with the words of Jeffrey Goldberg, who along with JJ Gould and Scott Meslow has written reviews of TWD worth reading all season:
A post-catastrophe world dominated by zombies would be, if nothing else, an interesting place to observe. Somehow, The Walking Dead has made such a place boring.
Remember that Mark Latham article about listening to scientists that didn’t ask any scientists what they thought? Well, continuing this trend, for the ‘Climate Debate’ on Q and A tonight, the guests are:
- Rebecca Huntley – social researcher and writer
- Nick Minchin – Former Liberal Minister
- Anna Rose – founder of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition
- Clive Palmer – mining magnate
- Dr Megan Clark – Chief Executive of the CSIRO
Megan Clark is the closest thing to a climate scientist there — but she’s a geologist/engineer-turned-businesswoman. She may have scientific credentials, but she is not an expert in atmospheric science. Otherwise, we have a social scientist, a politician, an NGO-worker and a billionaire mining magnate.
I cannot see this happening for any other scientific debate. Try and imagine if they had a show about whether black holes are real, but did not invite a single astro-physicist; or a show about evolution without a single biologist.
As I have argued before, the climate change debate has long-ago ceased to be remotely about science. There is nothing scientific happening here whatsoever.
I’m sick to death of being preached at about “listening to scientists” by people who couldn’t tell you what “GCM” even stands for, let-alone how a GCM is constructed.
But then, “the science is in”, no?
Andrew Sullivan linked to Forbes’ Timothy Lee citing a “study” called The Sky is Rising that claims to prove that the entertainment industry is not suffering.
Mike Masnick (who, full disclosure, has paid me to contribute to his Techdirt blog in the past) has a great new study out today about the growth of the entertainment industry. Driven by complaints from a handful of large movie studios and record labels, there’s been a tremendous amount of discussion of the negative effects of the Internet—specifically, illegal file-sharing—on content companies. In a new study funded by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (which frequently locks horns with content companies over copyright issues), Mike nicely illustrates that if you look beyond the largest firms, the entertainment industry is in great shape by almost any measure.
Masnick himself had some very optimistic-sounding words and some impressive-looking statistics to back them up, as well as a pretty infographic to explain what he is saying.
Yet, what we find when looking through the research — from a variety of sources to corroborate and back up any research we found — is that the overall entertainment ecosystem is in a real renaissance period. The sky truly is rising, not falling: the industry is growing both in terms of revenue and content.
This “study” is a great example of why you should never trust people with a clear agenda when they tell you what their research has proven. I took the step of actually downloading Masnick’s “study” and, to be blunt, it’s a load of bullshit.
I’m not sure what makes Masnick think that he is convincing, but he was obviously banking on no one who knows what they are talking about actually reading his study. He has a decent graphics designer, but even any first-year maths/economics student could tell you that his “study” is an extended polemic and not much else. For those of you out there who have never studied in this field, here’s a few of the many reasons why you should not trust a word in The Sky is Rising (aside from the fact that it’s called that, obviously):
According to who?
Take a look at this:
More recently, the movie industry has also been dubbed recession proof, due to the box office ticket sales that have held up rather well in comparison to other industries. In 2008, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said, “Both traditionally as well as recently, we have seen that our product is, at worse, recession-resistant and, more optimistically and historically, has actually been recession-proof.” Additionally, according to the MPAA, total worldwide box office ticket revenues have increased by 25%, from $25.5 billion in 2006 to $31.8 billion in 2010.
According to PwC reports that include movie revenues beyond just box office ticket sales, the film industry has grown worldwide by almost 6% over the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, exceeding approximately $82 billion in value. For an industry that claims to be plagued by piracy, this steadfast level of growth during the Great Recession appears to justify the boastful statements of being recession proof.
The “PwC” referred to is presumably international accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the issue here is that the “study” has not even said this, let alone provided a way to see the PwC data. What we do have is a nice-looking chart that doesn’t really say anything.
But wait, what about ..?
We can intimate that we are seeing the MPAA box office revenues from 2006-10, but there is a lot of information missing:
- Obviously, the US market has been quite stagnant while the international market has been steadily growing, why is that?
- Where has the growth been? We are told that other countries have high ticket sales, but not how they changed over the same time period.
- How have films been doing relative to the wider world? (i.e. if Nigerian films are booming, is that a sign of films doing well or of Nigerians doing well?)
Other films that deserve to be mentioned are independent films that don’t generate mainstream box office ticket sales. In 2011, the Sundance film festival received around 4,000 entries, and independently-financed films are being produced with renewed vigor as production costs have dropped.
- How have production costs dropped? What are these costs? What were they before and what are they now?
- Why don’t “independent films” achieve box office sales? Obviously they achieve some, how many do they actually get and why is it so much less than “non-independent”?
- For that matter, what do you define as “independent”? Does that include everything outside of the major US studios? Does it exclude big Bollywood productions?
Oh, it’s obvious is it?
Probably the biggest error that Masnick makes repeatedly is that he simply states facts that are “clear” without any evidence to substantiate them. I have picked a few examples out, but this happens again and again (emphasis added):
In 2001, Forbes published an estimate that assumed around 13,000 video releases were created every year and pegged the entire US porn industry to be valued at less than $4 billion. The widespread piracy of these types of movies is putatively ubiquitous, but despite this copyright infringement, predictions for the demise of the adult film market seem to be dismissed easily, given that the demand for adult entertainment seems to be going strong.
It “seems to be going strong”??? According to who? You can just “feel it”? Because the people making the movies definitely seem to think that their industry has taken a massive hit and, by the way, this has led to a competition to see who can be more “extreme” in order to capture the shrinking number of guys who actually pay for porn. This “fact” needs to have some substance, i.e. “which seems to be growing strong, as we can see from the increase in sales reported by [x]”.
Similar for these:
However, outside of advertising budgets, consumers are still willing to subscribe to television services in significant numbers even when free over-the-air broadcasts are widely available.
… These digital distribution methods for movies and shows are still in their infancy, but the convenience for viewers creates valuable services — which appear to be in growing demand as traditional television networks are beginning to provide their own online video strategies.
… A TV show or movie can be produced for a fraction of the cost compared to a decade ago, so many more kinds of shows can be developed with less risk.
What are these “significant numbers”? What is the demand for digital distribution? What fraction of the costs of a decade ago is production at now? This is actually a nice segue into my next point:
Volume published doesn’t mean anything
“Production costs” are relative, but what have undeniably dropped are distribution costs – mostly because they have gone from something (i.e. the cost of creating a physical product to distribute) to nothing (the cost of distributing a digital file). As a result, the volume of units has increased dramatically in film, publishing and music. This does not say anything about the number of people watching them or, most importantly, their quality (I have already argued that the quality of music being produced has been declining recently).
Here’s Masnick’s take:
With the cost of both production and distribution falling dramatically, different options for watching movies are more widely available than ever before, which creates an environment where a low budget film can potentially become enormously popular. Examples like Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project and El Mariachi might be rare, but they also demonstrate the very real possibility for moviemakers to produce incredibly profitable films without a $200 million budget. There may be some exaggerations regarding movie budgets, but memorable (and profitable) storytelling doesn’t necessarily require an Avatar-sized budget.
Here are some numbers for you: according to IMDB, these three films, released in 2009, 1999 and 1993 have grossed $444,045,819 to date with combined budgets of $295,000 (most of which was for El Mariachi). Avatar, on the other hand, had a budget of $237,000,000 but grossed $2,782,275,172 in two years. Even factoring in the budgets, Avatar grossed six times as much in two years than those three films did in a combined 35.
What does this say? Whatever you think about “memorable storytelling”, Avatar-style productions are immensely more profitable than their smaller, cheaper counterparts and a lot more people are willing to pay for them. If the movie industry can no longer produce the Avatars of this world, that is a problem.
Now here’s where piracy comes in: people will not be thinking long-term about the problem because we inevitably choose short-term rewards (watching Avatar for free!) over long-term ones (more Avatars being made) – see hyperbolic discounting. Ultimately, however, if we all stop paying to watch Avatar there will not be another James Cameron movie made ever.
… The line between amateur and professional video is even becoming difficult to define, as the children from the viral video “Charlie Bit My Finger” have gone on to become minor celebrities — earning enough income for Charlie’s family to afford a new house.
The Business/Media section of today’s Australian had a special cover page dedicated to heralding the next step in television through IPTV (that’s “Internet protocol television”).
FOR more than half a century the humble television has commanded the attention of millions of families around the world. Yet despite our inextricable attachment to the box, the complaint that “there’s nothing on TV” has persisted for just as long.
The days of those complaints and the one-way nature of the television are numbered as the ubiquity of high-speed internet access ushers in a new era of a more connected broadcast medium through the adoption of IPTV, or internet protocol television, a technology that streams television and video services via the internet direct to your computer, TV or game console.
This all sounds great, but should hardly be coming as a newsflash to… well… anybody. The beginning of the last decade saw the music industry almost collapse as file-sharing technology and increased download speeds made it possible to share and download music across the globe for free.
Yet it was still somehow a shock when the exact same thing happened to the TV and movie industries. Somehow, during the whole experience that the music industry went through, it did not seem to register that they may need to start re-thinking their distribution models.
In fact, it seems like they still haven’t done that.
The (pretty mediocre) interactive guide that The Australian put together is far too generous to the existing TV providers, aside from the ABC, who are genuinely embracing technology in an effective way. As for Foxtel:
By far the most comprehensive offering but also the most expensive. It will be interesting to see how Foxtel heads off the likes of FetchTV, Optus MeTV and Quickflixs who are increasingly making inroads on their territory.
Well, they got one thing right, Foxtel are the most expensive. Most comprehensive though? Not quite. Here’s the biggest problem that none of the coverage recognised: the most comprehensive offering is the entire Internet.
The reality is that anyone with a computer and a half-decent broadband connection (the best kind available in Australia, unless you have the NBN, in which case you can add “exorbitantly expensive connection”) can watch almost any TV show or movie that has ever been made in HD whenever they feel like it and for free.
There is no reason to subscribe to the overpriced Foxtel monopoly when there is a better service being provided free-of-charge. Meanwhile, Foxtel has added the ability to record shows on IQ, as well as some pay-per-view movies and a piss-poor catalogue of online downloads, all of which barely amount to any effort to compete with online services.
The main issues are still there:
- Aside from the extremely limited “Foxtel downloads”, customers are confined to the single TV that is connected to the giant Foxtel set-top box through a wall outlet.
- Customers are completely restricted by what Foxtel thinks they should be watching at any time, unless they have recorded a series as it airs onto a very limited hard drive or they want to pay extra on top of their $100 per month subscription for a pay-per-view movie.
In other words, Foxtel are charging more money for a worse technology.
No company is in Australia is yet providing the business model that would work: a subscription-based service allowing a certain number of hours of viewing depending on your package and providing as comprehensive a library of on-demand viewing as possible. For anything besides live TV, there is simply no reason for a distributor to dictate when their customers can and cannot watch a particular show.
If Foxtel in particular does not start updating its product soon, it will be gone in a matter of years. The industry as a whole needs to seriously wise-up before it gets defeated by progress.
There has been a lot of controversy around yesterday’s protests to commemorate “Nakba Day” (“nabkba” means “catastrophe” in Arabic and is the word that Palestinians give to 15th May 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence). CNN have kindly released raw footage, so judge for yourself by clicking on the image below.
To my mind, throwing stones and fireworks at soldiers like that does kind of belie the “peaceful protests” moniker – this was far from peaceful. Were the soldiers reacting excessively? Debatable, but certainly some kind of reaction was warranted.
UPDATE: Readers may also be interested in the below footage, think about what could have happened and how it would be reported…
An Israel Candid Camera-like show decided to test Israeli reactions to anti-Arab discrimination by filming in a store with two planted actors – one macho looking Israeli sales clerk and one Arab woman in a Hijab trying to buy coffee.
The reactions of the people in the store are all amazing to watch – all become outraged, most scream at the employee in typical Israeli fashion and one seems to be taking an “it’s none of my business” approach, but with a twist.
EDIT: the person that sent me this sent another video to qualify. This post is not to say that there is no racism in Israel – I have previously written about how, unfortunately, this is not entirely the case.
The spec promo commercial centers on a homeless man who is looking to better himself, raising money every which way he can in order to pay for training as a boxer at a local gym. We get glimpses of his life on the streets, his makeshift sleeping accommodations near train tracks, and the various means he uses to make a living-or in this case to graduate to some semblance of a livelihood in the boxing ring.
My friends and I were kind of half-considering entering the Optus 180 competition, where we would need to film a 180 second pilot for a TV show to win the opportunity to film said show. None of us have any experience at all in screenwriting or TV production, but through jokingly brainstorming a few different ideas, we really got a sense of how hard it is to actually come up with something interesting and original, especially given such a limited time frame.
Then a blog post I was reading turned me on to this video. Supposedly, these guys made the video as a pitch to HBO, trying to get hired to produce the TV show that it is a promo for. They didn’t get picked-up by HBO, but they damn well blew me away with it. In such a short space of time and with absolutely no dialogue, they manage to tell a really profound and inspiring story. It shows how a man with everything stacked against him can rise to the challenge and make a better life for himself. And it approaches a cliche message like that in a completely non-cliche way. With this kind of talent, they better be snapped-up by some serious TV producers soon.