Top 2006 turkeys

Variety magazine has published a (very US-centric) review of the biggest movie flops of 2006. Many of these aren’t surprising, and some of them I haven’t heard of – suggesting that they might not have been released in the UK yet. On a side-note, it’s rather patronising how ‘foreign money’ is barely considered worth accounting for in the calculations, despite often being twice the US takings. Anyway…

What is it about lists of the worst performing films that always mkes them interesting? I guess it’s just that so many people had such great belief in a project and it’s strange to see them all being so wrong… Or maybe they didn’t have the belief in it either? Perhaps the makers of the films were all busy trying to convince themselves and others that they were in on a big thing and missed the chance that none of them realised the other person was only pretending too.

The emperor is wearing no clothes, and he appears to be Nicolas Cage in the remake of The Wicker Man: surely if there was ever a film that was going to be a no-brainer appearence in turkey lists then this was it. A remake of a classic British horror/thriller, relocated away from Britain, starring a man better known for his action movies and equine face than his acting range, and ill-advised plot alterations. Nicolas Cage is not Edward Woodward, but what the film really lacked was a convincing big-name enemy, someone against whom the hero could pit his wits. In the first film we had Christopher Lee, and in the second…? Do American actors play ‘evil’ as well as British ones? Can anyone compete with someone like Christopher Lee? Or Alan Rickman? Hell, even Bob Hoskins can play a completely twisted nutter convincingly.

Variety doesn’t take the ‘this was a turkey from the beginning’ view of its films, but their response to The Wicker Man is quite amusing:

Cage’s mopey face didn’t make for titillating marketing.

Another phrase that they use is more telling though:

[The Wicker Man] faced the dilemma of not fitting neatly into either the horror or thriller genre.

Do audiences really need such comfortable boundaries? In recent years films like Donnie Darko and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind have shown that you don’t have to be in a genre, or even have the biggest stars, to work. Maybe the secret that Hollywood is missing is that audiences are getting better at spotting yet another dud remake, and that should strike fear into a lot of projects that are probably being pitched as you read this.

The Variety article is here.
Origianl source from the ever-reliable Register.

More about the Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters

Long-term readers of this blog may remember that I posted about the Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters back in September. Bizarrely, my blog post must have found its way into the Google archives because I just got a comment from the creator of the ARBBH:

Hi Jeff…nice site…loved the “God Makes a Sandwich” movie. I was surfing and came across your nice words on the ARBBH, which I created back in the eighties. There are plans for them to make a comeback with Dynamite Entertainment, so please keep a eye out for the furry four!

God bless,

Don Chin

How very cool! Although I’ve no idea why he called me Jeff (I’m Mata, for anyone who doesn’t already know!) but you’ve got to love the way the web can bring people together with creators they admire. These days he’s in real estate, but if you’re interested in that sort of thing you can check out Don Chin’s site here.

Unexpected Christmas gift…

There’s a weekly competition on a website I visit quite often to make pictures on a theme. This week’s one was ‘inappropriate Christmas cards’:

EDIT: Just to clarify – this is a joke! (In case anyone got the wrong idea!)

Glowing fuel rods… Do they actually glow?

Yes, apparently they do: clicky! I’d never seen that before, and had wondered if it was a cultural myth. Apparently not! It’s rather pretty, isn’t it?

The blue glow is created by the Cherenkov effect, which describes the electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle, giving off energy, moves faster than light through a transparent medium.

Huh? Faster than light? How does that work? There goes Einstein…

Anyway, the image is from a series of photos by Taryn Simon published in the New York Times this weekend. You can see a short article about them here.

Girls think differently from boys (maybe)

A feminist scientist has been a bit annoyed by her studies –

I know it is not politically correct to say this but I’ve been torn for years between my politics and what science is telling us. I believe women actually perceive the world differently from men.

Girls arrive already wired as girls, and boys arrive already wired as boys. Their brains are different by the time they’re born, and their brains are what drive their impulses, values, and their very reality.

While women are wired to get pleasure from talking, men’s brains are apparently wired to get pleasure from thinking about sex. The ‘fact’ is stated that men think about sex every 52 seconds (when I first heard this idea, it was said to be every 8 seconds – we’re obviously slowing down) while women may only think about sex once a day. Clearly these people do not know most of the women that I’ve met as an adult, several of whom could probably make a marine blush. If I was given a clicker and told to carry it around all day and use it whenever I thought about sex I would probably be constantly asking myself ‘Am I thinking about sex?’ and the correct answer would be ‘well I wasn’t, but I am now’, which would make the whole study rather pointless.

Back on topic – an Oxford professor argues against the findings: ‘If you aggregate a large number of studies you will find there is little difference between the amount men and women talk.’ Which is fair enough, except that wasn’t specifically what the original study was saying: it only argued that women get greater pleasure from talking than men do – not precisely that they do actually talk more, only that they enjoy it more when they do.

More here.

The Xbox 360 and the Playstation3… Leaving the door open for Nintendo?

Micro$oft’s Xbox 360:

As I’ve mentioned in other places, I recently bought an Xbox 360 as preparation for a job interview (which, incidentally, worked). I’ve now had the machine for a few weeks and can categorically say ‘meh’ about my experience of the machine. The graphics are admittedly a step up, but do not currently represent what we might describe as a generational leap and instead look like only slight advancements of the height of last-gen graphics. In terms of gameplay, the options of having hundreds of attackers are used by games such as Dead Rising (UK link US link) to good effect, but does this create anything that hasn’t really been playable before?

Dead Rising serves as a good example of the problems faced by the Xbox 360. It is regarded as one of the best titles on the system, and has many different paths of play in a way that earlier games would have struggled to have contained. It is very much Grand Theft Zombie, and not necessarily the worse for this, but it exhibits issues that should have been resolved long ago. It has early difficulty spikes, poorly thought out save points, a lack of checkpoints after tough achievements, and the combat, while fun, is marred by an inventory system that makes it easy to suddenly begin reading a magazine when you are surrounded by fifty brain-hungry zombies. The worst problem, only made so by the ease of correction, is that the majority of in-game updates are displayed in text so tiny that it is unreadable on a normal television. Did the makers of the game never play it on a system that did not support high definition visuals? On a standard CRT set the text is only readable with a lot of guesswork and familiarity with the words that are probably being written. Reading mission updates in a game should be the easiest thing in the world, but this simple over-sight damages the game experience, and it isn’t the only Xbox 360 game with this flaw.

When I bought the machine I was looking forward to the backwards compatibility and the media centre capabilities. The former aspect is software-based emulation of the Xbox, and as such Micro$oft are going through their back-catalogue and releasing patches for the games. This means that the more advanced games are harder to emulate, so some of the most interesting titles in the Xbox range, such as Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath (UK link US link) don’t currently work, and many fairly mainstream titles need an online update to work with the machine (which costs yet more money if the owner doesn’t want wires all over their house). The media centre feature, despite saying that it allows you to stream music and video content to your living room, is crippled by obscure firewall settings that take a while to overcome, then more so by Micro$oft’s insistence that files must be in certain formats for them to be streamed to your Xbox 360, regardless of whether or not they can be played on your PC.

So the Xbox 360 is powerful, expensive, slightly hobbled by Micro$oft’s decisions, frustrating, and packed with potential that a year after release still isn’t going anywhere very exciting.

Sony’s Playstation 3:

I’ve written about this before, so I’ll keep this brief. $ony have got a lot to lose here. They have made a machine that costs them $840 to manufacture, which is $241 more than the $599 price tag (source) of which the retailer would have to take a cut, doesn’t include how much the controllers, cables, and R&D cost Sony. It turns out that the 100% backwards compatibility isn’t quite 100% (source) and, because this is hardware-based, this means that those games will never work on the machine unless Sony manage some very fancy downloadable coding – again requiring another bout of internet connections and firewall fiddling.

In the box you get a Blu-Ray player, which is a very nice piece of kit for games developers who fancy putting a hell of a lot of content into their games, and it is especially good for high definition video – but again, how many people have high definition televisions, especially to the scale of 1080 pixels that Sony is forcing in as a standard beyond the more typical 720 pixels range? Given that a large part of the delay of the machine and the R&D budget has gone on the Blu-Ray, is it going to be worth it for gamers? This one only time will tell. My instinct about the HD DVD v.s Blu-Ray competition is that neither is going to be winning any time soon: too many people have only just upgraded to DVDs and won’t want to upgrade again. This isn’t VHS v.s DVDs because at least the players will still be able to play DVDs, but who is going to be rushing out to make a very costly upgrade when their system is already satisfactory? In addition to this, do the very limited numbers of the machines available at launch suggest that the difficulty of making the Blu-Ray player is still slowing production? Will the player stand up to long-term use, or will it degrade like the early PS2 DVD players?

As for software: the first few months the schedule is mostly games in very heavily populated genres, such as sports and driving, or non-exclusive titles that either already exist on the PC (usually for a far cheaper price tag) or that will be heavily multi-format. They do have a step-up on the Xbox 360 in that they have a launch title that early reports say is excellent, Resistance: Fall of Man (UK link US link) so that bodes well for the future, but it is going to need to do a lot of space filling before it becomes a must-have console, especially when weighed down by the heavy price-tag.

The opportunity is there for Sony to grab the media centre crown from the Xbox 360, but will $ony, with so many fingers in so many media-industry pies, really want to make it any easier for people to play potentially pirated material in the comfort of their living room? I doubt it…

So the Sony Playstation3 is very, very expensive, possibly with a lower build-quality than is desirable, but with at least one good launch title it does have the chance to grow… But still that price tag looms over everything. Oh, and it’s being launched four months late in Europe. Cheers Sony.

Nintendo Wii:

It’s cheap, it’s reliably made, but it’s completely unproven. Will the Wii be able to make games that are more than just novelties, and perhaps more importantly, does Nintendo want to make Wii games more than a novelty? Judging by The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, (UK link US link) Nintendo are determined to prove that the Wii can produce games that are more than a simple piece of novelty entertainment. Will it be any good? Most likely, but the question remains over whether other games producers are going to dedicate the resources to the machine to create deep gaming experiences… Or whether they even should do this at all.

The trouble with the Wii is not one based on the system itself, it is on the market: is there going to be a sufficient market sector to support Nintendo’s vision of family gaming? Will the games ever get beyond the simplicity of the interface and create experiences that players can become deeply involved in, or should the games even try to do this? Without knowledge of the public’s reaction to the Wii, it is near-impossible to second guess who is going to buy it, who it will appeal to, and whether support from developers will demonstrate a meaningful engagement with the motion-sensing technology of the controller. Nintendo machines have classically been best supported by games made by Nintendo. The revolutionary nature of the Wii’s controller (which senses full physical three-dimensional movement around the player’s room while also being sensitive enough to allow play with just the flick of a wrist) means that developers have the opportunity to think in completely new ways.

Nintendo are certainly thinking in new ways: they’ve made a system that is cheap, easy to develop for (because it is based mostly on old Gamecube technology), very easy to demonstrate the appeal of, and capable of giving non-gamers a level-playing ground with people who have decades of playtime behind them.

Microsoft had a year in which to establish the arena for the new generation of games, but have failed to dominate the field before Nintendo and Sony have entered it. This is a major problem for Microsoft, but Sony look to be making some similar mistakes, and may have crippled themselves with the cost of their hardware. For the first time in a decade, there is a real chance for Nintendo to take control of the gaming scene. The next year of gaming is going to be a very interesting and exciting time.

Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) Screensaver!

Yes, apparently Microsoft do have some sort of sense of humour… Or they just haven’t noticed that one of the companies that they recently bought have produced a Blue Screen Of Death screensaver.

For those who don’t know (is there anyone?), the BSOD is the dreaded screen that tells Windows users that their system has crashed. This usually appears about two seconds before you were about to save the last five hours’ work. The screensaver takes your system information and accurately mimics a genuine crash/startup cycle. Perfect for scaring the hell out of anyone who may share your machine! Download it now before Microsoft’s anti-humour police find it!

Link source from The Register.

Christmas songs…

I can handle Christmas songs during the summer, but by December they mainly want me to go on a rampage with a blunt chisel. Maybe this is because I’ve worked in shops where Christmas songs are on a loop…

There’s one in particular that could push me over the edge into the sea of despair, it’s called ‘The Happiest Little Christmas Tree’. The sonic vibrations of that track have emanated throughout the known universe. It is the reason why aliens have not contacted us to join in the heavenly galactic community and instead choose to probe various parts of our anatomy to discover how our species could have created such an aural abomination. The trouble is, now I’ve posted this, there are probably people out there who will be intrigued, and the cycle of devastation will begin again.

TEA GAZING ASH OM

Ommmmmm!

Instant anagrams, ‘tea gazing ash om’ is ‘Matazone Haggis’, and Doctor Who’s anagramatical spin-off ‘Torchwood’ would have been very different if they had gone for ‘Hot Rod Cow’. Anagrams of ‘Matazone The Other Side’ bring up ‘threesome’ in the jumbles, so that amused me greatly!

Cannibal Pelican 2: This time it’s avian

Do you remember this? A heron decided to eat a rabbit for no discernable reason. This time it really is a pelican, and it’s eating a pigeon.

See the full horror here. That has to rate as one of the most surreal images that I’ve ever seen. The BBC report describes the moment a pelican casually strolled across to a pigeon, picked it up in its beak and tried to swallow it. A 20 minute struggle ensued, before the pigeon was swallowed, head first, still flapping as it went. Ew!

I don’t know about you, but I think that ‘pelicans eating pigeons’ probably features on a big list of signs of the end-times. No doubt Channel 4 are probably preparing a ‘Top 100 signs of the Apocalypse’ TV show at the moment, in which this event will feature quite highly, just after ‘Too many “Top 100…” TV shows on television’. It’ll be hosted by Jimmy Carr or Russell Brand.

Thanks to Daria on my forums for finding the link.

Ecletic interesting links and articles collected by a painter, teacher, writer, and ex-PhD student