Will Into the Woods reverse the Depp Dip?

December 17, 2014

Will Into the Woods reverse the Depp Dip?

Look, we love Johnny Depp. He’s talented, charismatic, and can do both comedy and drama.

For the past few years, though, audiences haven’t loved him enough to actually go see his movies in theatres all that much.

Here at The Measured Circle, one way we judge the success of a movie is by comparing its dogro (domestic gross) to its production budget.

As recorded both on this blog and on our IMDb list

2014 The Measured Circle’s Most Profitable Movies

we give movies awards based on the following metrics:

Dogro 2X production budget = “Money”
Dogro 3X production budget = “Golden”
Dogro 30X production budget = “Platinum”

Dogro less than 50% of production budget = “Underperformer”

Let’s take a look at Depp’s starring movies for the past three years (leaving out 21 Jump Street as a cameo):

  • Transcendence (4/18/2014): dogro $23m / production budget $100m = 23% UNDERPERFORMER
  • The Lone Ranger (7/3/2013): dogro $89m / production budget $215m = 41% UNDERPERFORMER
  • Dark Shadows (5/11/2012): dogro $80 / production budget $150m = 53%

As you can see, the trend has been diminishing returns.

Taking these three movies as a whole, it’s dogro $192m / $465m = 41%.

Going back to the previous three year period, the picture is quite different:

  • The Rum Diary (10/28/2011): dogro $13m / production budget $45m = 29% UNDERPERFORMER
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (5/20/2011): dogro $241 / production budget $250m = 96%
  • Rango (3/4/2011): dogro $123 / production budget $135 = 91%
  • The Tourist (12/10/2010: dogro $68 / production budget $100 = 68%
  • Alice in Wonderland (3/5/2010): dogro $334m / production budget $200m = 167%
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (12/26/2009): dogro $8m / production budget $30m = 27%
  • Public Enemies (7/1/2009): dogro $97m / production budget $100m = 97%

(not included: When You’re Strange, with Depp as narrator)

While only one of them was an underperformer, and none of them got to our Money level of 200%, this is still a much better showing. Taken as a whole: dogro $884m / $860m = 103%.

Skipping 2008 (no major releases), the previous three year period showed real strength:

  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (12/21/2007): dogro $53 / production budget $50m = 106%
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (5/25/2007): dogro $309m / production budget $300m = 103%
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (7/7/2006): dogro $423m / production budget $225m = 188%
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (7/15/2005): dogro $209 / production budget $150 = 139%

(not included: The Libertine and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, due to lack of production budget data)

Here are the other movies for which we have data (from http://www.boxofficemojo.com):

  • Finding Neverland (11/12/04) dogro $52m / production budget $25m = 208% MONEY
  • Secret Window (3/12/2004) dogro $48m / production budget $40m = 120%
  • Once Upon a Time in Mexico (9/12/03) dogro $56m / production budget $29m 193%
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (7/9/03) dogro $305m / production budget $140m = 218% MONEY
  • From Hell (10/19/01) dogro $32m / production budget $35m 91%
  • Blow (4/6/01) dogro $53m / production budget $53m = 100%
  • Chocolat (12/15/00) dogro $72m / production budget $25m 288% MONEY
  • The Ninth Gate (3/10/00) dogro $19m / production budget $38m 50%
  • Sleepy Hollow (11/19/99) dogro $101m / production budget $100 = 101%
  • The Astronaut’s Wife (8/27/99) dogro $11m / production budget $75m 15% UNDERPERFORMER
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (5/22/98) dogro $11m / production budget $18.5 59%
  • Don Juan de Marco (4/7/95) dogro $22m / production budget $25m 88%
  • Ed Wood (9/30/94) dogro $6m / production budget $18m 33%
  • Platoon (12/19/86) dogro $139m / production budget $6m 2317% SEPTUPLE GOLDEN

Did you think that Platoon would be Johnny’s best movie, based on return on the investment dollar? That Chocolat was second? That The Astronaut’s Wife had done worse in that department than Transcendence?

Taking a look at it graphically (without Platoon, which is such an outlier that you wouldn’t be able to see the other differences very well  if we included it), you can see that there have been ups and downs…but all downs recently:

Depp Dip

 

So,  back to the question: will

Into the Woods

opening December 25th, reverse that slide?

Unfortunately, while it may certainly do better than Transcendence, we think its unlikely that it returns to “Money” territory, and would be very surprised if it was “Golden”. The rumored production budget is $50m. Director Rob Marshall’s track record questions the ability to get to Golden, at least after the first big hit:

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (5/20/2011): dogro $241 / production budget $250m = 96%
  • Nine (12/18/2009): dogro $20m / production budget $80m = 25%
  • Memoirs of a Geisha (12/9/2005): dogro $57m / production budget $85m = 67%
  • Chicago (12/27/2002): dogro $171m / production budget $45m = 377% GOLDEN

We hope the movie is terrific, and that it exceeds all of our expectations at the box office. We wish everybody involved with it well, and will be interested to see the results (and we will continue to watch Johnny Depp’s career in the future).

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Soon to be super: round up of casting news

December 8, 2014

Soon to be super: round up of casting news

There has been some major announcements recently of actors cast in superhero movies, and the names involved show that whatever stigma there may have been has largely been erased…no matter how big or respected a mainstream star an actor is, they may take a role as a superhero.

This won’t be comprehensive, but here are some of the biggies announced in the past week or so (in alphabetical order by actor’s last name):

Mike Colter as Luke Cage in Luke Cage Netflix series and Jessica Jones Netflix series

  • Actor’s geek cred: On the radar. Will appear in the Halo TV series and Halo 5: Guardians. Appeared in American Horror Story, Men in Black 3, Salt, and Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Ringer TV series
  • Mainstream: On The Good Wife as Lemond Bishop. No major award nominations, or starring roles in blockbusters. IMDb STARmeter: #2,574
  • Character previously played by: Gary Anthony Sturgis, Greg Eagles, Robert Wisdom, Khary Payton, Phil LaMarr, James C. Mathis III, Jesse Falcon, Little JJ, Isaiah Mustafa, Christopher B. Duncan, Larry McCalister, Marc Damon Johnson, Ogie Banks
  • Character history: Introduced in 1972, Luke Cage has interacted with many of the Marvel mainstream (especially those in New York). Coming from Brooklyn with a street gang background and time in prison, Cage is given an experimental treatment which makes him superhuman. He becomes a “Hero for Hire”, giving him a distinct motivation and attitude from many heroes

A geek’s response: we don’t know enough about Colter yet. This may be a good role to go to someone who doesn’t already have a clearly defined media image.

Jai Courtney as Boomerang in Suicide Squad, August 5, 2016

  • Actor’s geek cred: Strong, and growing: Divergent/Insurgent, Terminator Genisys, I, Frankenstein
  • Mainstream: No nominations or awards. Appearing in Unbroken which itself may get Oscar nods
  • Character previously played by: (there is some ambiguity here, because we don’t know which of two “Captain Boomerang”s Courtney is playing) Donal Gibson; John DiMaggio; James Patrick Stuart; Greg Ellis; Nick Tarabay
  • Character history: Introduced in 1960, Captain Boomerang has been one of the main enemies of The Flash. He’s an Australian who uses specially designed boomerangs. As a member of the Suicide Squad, he is generally considered a jerk and perhaps a racist. Digger Harkness and his son have both been Captain Boomerang

A geek’s response: this might work out very well, with Australian Jai Courtney playing Captain Boomerang and perhaps being a surprising stand-out in the cast.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange in Doctor Strange, November 4 2016 (with other appearances likely)

  • Actor’s geek cred: Off the charts! The Hobbit, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes…played Stephen Hawking (on television) and Alan Turing
  • Mainstream: Good, and rising. Likely to see an Oscar nomination for The Imitation Game, has won an Emmy, nominated for a Golden Globe, nominated for BAFTAs and won their Brittania Award, won Critics’ Choice, won Hollywood Film Award. IMDb STARmeter: #28
  • Character previously played by: Peter Hooten, John Stephenson, John Vernon, Maurice LaMarche, Bryce Johnson, Jon Gutierrez, Roger Rose, Zachary Vaudo, Jack Coleman
  • Character history: Brilliant and arrogant. Dr. Strange was a highly-paid neurosurgeon before a car accident injured his hands. He became a master of the mystic arts. He has worked with other Marvel heroes, but more as a consultant: he isn’t much of a team player. In the Marvel universe, practitioners of magic largely consider themselves to be apart from those who don’t: they may interact with each other regularly, but not as much with non-magic users

A geek’s response: “Of course.” Rumored for some time, this seems like a very good fit.

Cara Delevingne as Enchantress in Suicide Squad, August 5, 2016

Actor’s geek cred: Not much. Voiced a DJ in Grand Theft Auto V. Appears in the upcoming [Peter] Pan, starring Hugh Jackman.
Mainstream: Best known as a model, has some acting credits just in the last couple of years. Still, STARmeter is #177
Character previously played by: first time?
Character history: Note: There is a different Marvel character called Enchantress: this is the DC character. First introduced in 1966, Enchantress has had an erratic history (both in terms of the character’s personality and publishing history). June Moone is a freelance artist who goes to a costume party at a castle, and basically gets possessed by an entity and can change into a powerful (but often evil) magic user. Being a magic user in the DC universe is particularly effective, since Kryptonians are affected by magic (June has had run-ins with Superman’s cousin, Supergirl). She may act for good or evil: it’s unpredictable

A geek’s response: Cara will have to prove herself as an actor at the same time the character has to prove herself both within the cinematic universe and to the audience…that’s going to be a challenge

Tom Hardy as Rick Flag in Suicide Squad, August 5, 2016

Actor’s geek cred: Superior, with Star Trek: Nemesis; Inception; Bane in The Dark Knight Rises; and as the new Mad Max (in the upcoming movie)
Mainstream: Perhaps more recognized in Europe than in America (with a BAFTA Rising Star award, and a British Independent Film Award), but certainly known here for more mainstream works, including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Layer Cake
Character previously played by: Adam Baldwin, Lex Lang, Ted Whittall
Character history: Flag is a soldier, an elite agent, and a leader. He has no super powers, but has encountered and worked with supers. In the comics, he was the leader of the Suicide Squad in Legends, and the movie may be based on that series

A geek’s response: Sure, this makes sense. Tom Hardy can bring the necessary power it would take to control and command this group of wild individuals

Jared Leto as The Joker in Suicide Squad, August 5, 2016

Actor’s geek cred: present, with Urban Legend and Mr. Nobody, but not strong
Mainstream: Lauded and respected, with an Oscar and a Golden Globe (and many others) for Dallas Buyers Club
Character previously played by (note: this is incomplete because, well, look at the length of it already!): Cesar Romero, Larry Storch, Rod Navarro, Lennie Weinrib, Frank Welker, Jack Nicholson, Renee Requiestas, Mark Hamill, Roger Stoneburner, Bud Watson, Andrew Koenig, Brian C. Bethel, Marc Jongebloed, Michael Simon, Paul Matthew Miller, Kevin Michael Richardson, Joey Matthews, Paul Molnar, Bryan Bockbrader, Billy Davis, Heath Ledger, Brian Jarreau, Steve Lekas, Louie Ruiz, Mike Matei, Michael Dobson, Cliff Poche, Stephane Malka, Matthieu Lemeunier, Chris R. Notarile, John Kassir, Paul Matthew Miller, Paul Louis Harrell, John DiMaggio (note that he has also played Captain Boomerang: see above), Josh Davidson, Matt Cinquanta, Dayleigh Nelson, Seth Green, Ryan Gregory, Greg Nugent, Jeff Bennett, Brent Spiner, Zachary Barrett, Steve Reeve, Al Gurst, Christopher Levine, Andrew Saunders, George M. O’Connor, Scott McClure, Giovanni Ribisi, Dee Bradley Baker, Troy Baker, Daniel Baxter
Character history: Introduced in 1940, the Joker is arguably the best know supervillain today. From Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger, the role has been recognized as a challenge for actors, although those two interpreted in very different ways. Even in 1940, the Joker was one of Batman’s most murderous foes, and one of the ones most deserving of the time spent in Arkham Asylum. Having a marquee actor play him in the Suicide Squad movie is interesting, since he wasn’t a member of the team (although his associate, Harley Quinn, is…see below)

A geek’s response: Heath Ledger’s performance was one of the greatest movie performances ever…period. For that reason, it was going to be difficult to return the Joker to the movies. Bringing in a recent Oscar winner is a good way to do it, and not having the movie depend on the Joker being front and center is likely also a smart move: get people to accept the idea of having someone else play the Joker before making the “Clown Prince of Crime” one of the star characters. Just speculation, though…

Ezra Miller as The Flash in The Flash March 23, 2018

Actor’s geek cred: Barely visible…Cakey! The Cake from Outer Space
Mainstream: Respected, especially for his award-winning and nominated performances in The Importance of Being a Wallflower and We Need to Talk about Kevin
Character previously played by: Ray Owens, Ted Knight, Jack Angel, Rod Haase, John Wesley Shipp, Kenny Johnston, Charlie Schlatter, Michael Rosenbaum, Neil Patrick Harris, Eric Bauza, Billy Mitchell, Josh Keaton, Justin Wilson, Alan Tudyk, George Eads, James Arnold Taylor, Justin Chambers, George R. Miller, Jason Spisak, Christopher Gorham, Grant Gustin
Character history: It appears that this will be the Barry Allen version. A police scientist accidentally gains the ability to move at superhuman speeds. What that means has really been explored in the comics, including the ability to vibrate through walls, travel through time, and create hurricane like weapons.

A geek’s take: It’s entirely possible that the current Flash TV series will still be going at that point, so I would guess that would take a different approach, perhaps more serious. It’s reasonable to interpret Barry Allen as more intellectual than physical, and Ezra Miller could play that.

Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones in the Jessica Jones Netflix series in 2015 and presumably to appear in other productions

Actor’s geek cred: Some, although it would be reasonable to say nothing with a strong fandom or widespread appeal (unless one includes Veronica Mars). Vamps with Alicia Silverstone (and a screenplay by Amy Heckerling) reported grossed under $5,000 in the USA. Woke Up Dead was a web series with Jon Heder as a zombie
Mainstream: Don’t Trust the B**** in Apt. 23 lasted 26 episodes, but had a lot of buzz (and got a Teen Choice award). Again, it depends a bit on where you put Veronica Mars. Other TV series have included Gilmore Girls and Breaking Bad (something about alliteration, perhaps?) ;)
Character previously played by: Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Marvel Heroes videogame)
Character history: Introduced in 2003, Jessica Jones is not your typical superhero. In fact, she’s retired. She has a troubled and complicated past, having been victimized and misunderstood. She does have super powers, and has interacted with many Marvel characters (although not always in a good way)

A geek’s response: This could be one of the more interesting super hero TV shows, and Krysten Ritter should be able to bring us a character who can be both sardonic and vulnerable

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, August 5, 2016

Actor’s geek cred: It’s a bit of a stretch. Uncredited performances as a butterfly in Elephant Princess and a part in the Richard Curtis movie About Time (U.S. box office under $20 million). Will play Jane in 2016’s Tarzan which will be released prior to Suicide Squad, at which point geek credit will be solid
Mainstream: The Wolf of Wall Street put her on the map and got her some nominations and a UK Empire Award
Character previously played by: Arleen Sorkin, Sherilyn Fenn (unaired pilot), Mia Sara, Chrissy Kiehl, Tara Flynn, Rachel Nicole, Deanna Miller, Hynden Walch, Cindy Airey, Amanda Giesel, Meghan Strange, Laura Bailey, Tara Strong, Calliope Tsoukalas
Character history: First appearing on Batman: The Animated Series in 1999, Harley Quinn has since become an accepted part of the canon, appearing the comic books as well. She was a mental health professional who was treating the Joker at Arkham Asylum, and became involved with him. It’s a lot more complex than that, but she becomes a supervillain, both with and without the Joker. She is arguably even more vicious than the Joker, and without the subtleties.

A geek’s response: At the time of writing, Robbie is perhaps the buzziest of the Suicide Squad cast. It was just announced that she was the #3 Top Star at IMDb for 2014 (based on page views), and the #1 new star (topping Jared Leto) at that site. It’s worth noting that Suicide Squad is more than a year away, and Tarzan may affect the public’s perception of her (in either direction). Suicide Squad may hinge to some extent on Harley Quinn (allowing a bridge to the Joker, for one thing), and Robbie should be able to deliver the insanity

Will Smith as Deadshot in in Suicide Squad, August 5, 2016

Actor’s geek cred: Stratospheric! Men in Black, I Am Legend, Independence Day…he’s even played a super before as Hancock (and a sequel has been announced for that)
Mainstream: Two Lead Actor nominations (Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness), plus numerous other nominations. Smith is a respected actor, doing comedy, action, and drama. IMDb StarMeter #122
Character previously played by: Chris Cox, Robin Atkin Downes, Michael Rosenbaum, Kofi Nsafoah, Jim Meskimen, Bradley Stryker, Tom Kenny, Marcello Rizzo, Michael Rowe, Neal McDonough, Rocco Chierichella
Character history: A wealthy expert shot, introduced in 1950, Floyd Lawton nearly took Batman’s place in Gotham City. Batman was instrumental in Lawton being arrested and getting prison time. As is the case with some other supervillain origin stories, Lawton blames the hero who bested him for his woes, and becomes more of a criminal

A geek’s response: While Smith has played a range of roles, most people still associate him with being sort of mischievous and good hearted. A murderous assassin with a personal death wish is going to be contrary to the full of humor characters for which Smith is best known. This one is going to be a challenge to pull off

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My takes on Birdman, Interstellar, and Mockingjay

December 3, 2014

My takes on Birdman, Interstellar, and Mockingjay

In a bit of a departure, I’m going to give you both my take (my opinion of it with no spoilers), and then, in a separate section afterwards, do a bit of analysis (which will contain spoilers).

Here is a look a three movies I’ve seen recently, in the order in which I saw them.

Birdman
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo
Official Site
at IMDb
at Rotten Tomatoes
at MRQE

No question, this is an ambitious movie. It’s not the same old same old: for those of you who complain about “cookie cutter blockbusters”, and argue that there is no originality in Hollywood, well, here’s your answer.

Everything is part of the effort: the jazz soundtrack; the innovative cinematography; and the actors, going full tilt with no breaks.

It’s also all a bit unreal and theatrical, and that won’t appeal to everyone. This is the kind of movie where audiences say, “If I don’t act like I like it, people will know I’m not cool enough to get it.”

That’s not to say you won’t legitimately like it: many of you will. Others may find it pretentious.

At Gold Derby Michael Keaton currently is the odds on favorite (at 23 to 10…2.3 to 1) to go home with the Best Actor Oscar. I don’t see that happening…I don’t think it’s a role that the still relatively conservative Academy is going to embrace (not that he won’t get a nomination), especially when you have Eddie Redmayne in a role that seems tailor made for Oscar, and several others in historical figure parts.

Edward Norton and Emma Stone are amazing in Birdman…but they are amazing actors. What they do is wonderful, every single time, but it isn’t something that makes this particular movie special.

I think there may be several Oscar nominations, and we could see wins in some technical categories in particular. I think it has a good shot at Special Effects: while the Academy has that category, they prefer to give it to more of a mainstream movie when they can.

For more commentary on this movie, see The Spoiler Zone below.

Interstellar
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Mackenzie Foy
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Official Site
at IMDb
at Rotten Tomatoes
at MRQE

I’m surprised at the positive response this is getting: people are saying how scientific it is, how much heart it has, what a surprising plot it is.

I suspect Christopher Nolan may be serving here as somewhat of an ambassador of geekiness to the general population. I think it’s sort of like if you go to the Swedish Embassy, they may serve you Swedish meatballs. That doesn’t necessarily mean Swedish meatballs that natives would love, but they want to introduce you to them in a safe way.

In other words, I think the enthusiasm may be coming from people less familiar with science fiction.

For me, several things which I think were supposed to be big surprises just weren’t. My feeling is that the Nolans were aiming for the transcendent screenwriting of The Twilight Zone, and ended solidly in Outer Limits territory. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Outer Limits, but that show wasn’t usually about taking you places you never expected.

Similarly, the actors, while competent, just weren’t being challenged that much. It largely seemed like the performances each stuck to a pretty limited range.

I said to my Significant Other, “Well, it was pretty,” and it is that. There are some great shots, and a couple of robots I really liked and who join the pantheon of great movie robots (including Robby from Forbidden Planet, and Huey, Louie, and Dewey from Silent Running).

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Official Site
at IMDb
at Rotten Tomatoes
at MRQE

Perhaps surprisingly, this was my favorite of the three movies in this post. I did like the third Hunger Games book the best (which isn’t the case with all fans of the series), but I don’t think it had to with that.

This is clearly now the Katniss show, but that’s appropriate. Jennifer Lawrence brings us a range of emotions, and is really effective in some difficult scenes.

Most other people aren’t given that much to do…or at least, they aren’t given that many different things to do.

I’d say that they’ve improved how integrated Panem looks: it is becoming more believable as the movie series progresses. I think they want us to feel that this could be real, and I believe they succeed.

There may be some criticism that it isn’t as action packed as the previous two movies, and that there aren’t as many scenes about the relationships.

I don’t see those as negatives. This movie, like the book, is in part about coping with what has happened. The sorts of things that Katniss experienced can shake your foundations, and your focus may be on making sense of it all, rather than what happens next.

THE SPOILER ZONE: BEWARE, BEYOND HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Note: this part is going to reveal things about these movies that will include plot details. If you have not yet seen them and prefer to have that pure feeling of discovery that comes from approaching a work of entertainment with no foreknowledge (which I understand), I’d skip this part until you have seen them.

The Spoiler Zone: Birdman

We see some things here that definitely push the movie into the land of geekiness, and I don’t mean the Birdman character. If all we were dealing with was an actor who had played a superhero (without a suggestion that the superhero had been real), one could argue this was a mainstream drama.

However, Keaton’s character, Riggan Thomson, exhibits supernatural powers.

We can’t be clear if what we are seeing is real, or if it is a fantasy of Thomson’s. Certainly, his abilities to levitate and to use telekinesis are presented to us a real, but no one else sees them or reacts to them. They do see the aftermath, but if it’s a delusion of Thomson’s that would fit as well.

There is also a short, amusing fantasy sequence of a “new movie” in the Birdman franchise. The monster in it may remind some geeks of The Giant Claw, a 1957 monster movie with a goofy-looking marionette bird monster.

The Spoiler Zone: Interstellar

I’m sorry, but as soon as the “ghost” thing came up, I had a good idea what would happen. Any geek knows that when an intelligent child (played by Mackenzie Foy, who has become quite the box office player in the past five years) says that they are experiencing ghosts, you listen…not that you expect it to actually be a ghost, necessarily.

I certainly wanted a whole more mystery out of what! I had heard people allude slyly to a surprising appearance at one point in the movie…and the only surprise was the actor. I wanted them to do  a whole more with the time paradox angle, and they could have done it within the movie’s reality. McConaughey’s character could have met up with adult versions of his daughter in other places, without at first realizing it. We’ve seen that in science fiction: the pioneers in interstellar travel are met with their descendants when they arrive, because the later generations have figured out how to get there faster.

Again, I did think the robots were great! The personalities were believable (Bill Irwin was particularly good), and the physical design was unlike what we’ve seen in the past, but appeared to be practical.

The Spoiler Zone: Mockingjay Part 1

In some ways, I think that Suzanne Collins’ adaptation (Peter Craig and Danny Strong are credited for the screenplay) improves upon her own book.

I liked it a lot better having Effie be a somewhat reluctant part of the rebellion. She, at least, brought a little humor to it, but not as a false note.

I thought President Snow was even more evil and better defined. I had some discussion with my adult kid about Snow’s thinking. I believe that Snow had excellent strategy in allowing a brainwashed Peeta to get to Katniss in the “rebel base”…not because he expected Peeta to kill Katniss (a martyred Mockingjay is worse than a live one), but because he expected it to break Katniss (which is how to break the rebellion). Imagine if Katniss had been forced to kill Peeta, or even if a rebel had killed him protecting her. Would she go forward in her role as Mockingjay with that guilt on her?

We have to believe she might…but Snow might not think she would.

I’ll grant you: it’s an incomplete story, but we knew that going into it. I think it would build anticipation for the next movie. Even though Part 1 may not have as good a Rotten Tomato average as The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, I still expect it to do very well…and for Part 2 to be a huge blockbuster.

Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

END SPOILER ZONE

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Mike Nichols reported dead

November 22, 2014

Mike Nichols reported dead

When I was in high school, I took a film analysis class.

The movie that really made the subject work for me was director Mike Nichols‘ The Graduate.

That was a case where the deliberate symbology was effective, but not intrusive. It worked wonderfully well as a movie on the surface…which is where they should work. You can get completely caught up in it, pay no attention to the technique, and have an amazing experience.

If you do look at the technique, though, it gives it a deeper value. There is a repeated symbol used that, once pointed out to you, will be obvious. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you by telling it to you (that’s the danger of film analysis) because you’ll notice it every time it happens and be pulled out of the story.

Trust me, it’s there. :)

There are very few filmmakers who can pull that off: give you great story-telling without screaming about the font you used. ;)

While Nichols will always rightfully be known best as a mainstream director (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate, Silkwood), there are a few stand-out geek friendly works in the filmography.

One reason for that is that the biggest stars would go geek for Mike Nichols when that wasn’t cool. That’s changed over the decades: it’s possible (no jinx!) that Julianne Moore, a four-time nominee, will win an Oscar in 2015 while still having a movie which is the third in a Young Adult science fiction series in theatres. In fact, every acting Oscar winner from 2014 either has a significant geek-friendly movie out, announced, or rumored:

Why would George C. Scott star in a talking dolphin movie in 1973 or Jack Nicholson topline a werewolf movie in 1994 for Mike Nichols? While not every auteur is seen as a strong actor’s director, Nichols was. This was a cinematic master with a background in being on stage…actors weren’t just a tool to use to achieve a vision.

  • The Day of the Dolphin
  • Wolf
  • What Planet Are You From? (Gary Shandling alien comedy, 2000)
  • Angels in America (TV mini-series, 2003)

Mike Nichols wasn’t just a director, as in the cases above. He was a significant movie producer, but also worked in comedy (Nichols and May) and on Broadway (Annie, Spamalot). He was one of those rare  EGOT (Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony) winners.

Good-bye, Mike Nichols: no one else has used more intelligence to produce more emotional response.

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What is a superhero?

November 20, 2014

What is a superhero?

I recently wrote about upcoming superhero movies and TV shows.

It was harder than I thought.

Not because it was difficult to find them…there are many!

It was more a case of deciding what to include.

What makes a character a superhero?

It seems like it would be a pretty simple question. It’s a compound word: “super” and “hero”.

Sure, there can be some debate about the two words.

I’ve always taken “super” in this case to mean “superhuman”. The superhero has abilities that aren’t part of the human spectrum: you can’t just train yourself up to be a superhero.

“Hero” also has some debate, but everybody would agree that a hero helps other people (whether that’s individuals or society at large). Some would argue that being a hero requires risking or sacrificing something of yours, and others might argue that a hero has to fight evil (I would not be in the latter camp).

However…

There are some characters who are pretty universally thought of as superheroes who aren’t super, and there are others that aren’t called superheroes, but seem to fit the bill quite well.

Let’s start with one where we won’t get much argument.

Superman.

Superman has “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men”, especially as the character has evolved. No matter how hard you work out, you aren’t going to be able to fly or have heat vision.

Superman definitely helps people in need. He sacrifices a personal life, and despite invulnerability, does have risks (from kryptonite and magic, to name two things).

Spider-Man? Yep, you can’t train yourself to have spider powers. If you don’t get bitten by a radioactive spider, Spider-Man is superior to you, physically.

Spidey risks a lot (and gets injured), and again, helps people.

Those two are pretty clear: they are superheroes.

However…

If I asked people to name superheroes, I would guess Batman and Iron Man would both come up pretty quickly on the list.

In neither case, though, is the person inherently superhuman.

They both have superior technology, and they both have extraordinary (but not superhuman) personalities.

What’s the hard and fast difference between, say, Airwolf and Iron Man?

They both have great technology, and they both fight evil.

I don’t think Stringfellow Hawke would come up in the top 100 if most people started listing superheroes.

You could argue that one difference is that Tony Stark built the Iron Man suit…but does that make Richard Gatling (of the Gatling Gun) a superhero?

Let’s go in a little bit of a different direction.

Superman is an alien with advantageous differences from humans. He helps people.

You know who else fits that description?

Spock.

Again, I doubt that even most geeks would list Spock as a superhero, but why not? The Vulcan mind meld, the nerve pinch…even clearly physical differences make Spock superhuman. He sacrifices to help others. He fights evil.

Is it because being a “superhero” isn’t Spock’s job?

Remember, Clark Kent probably spends a lot more time being a reporter than being on patrol.

Despite the brilliant monologue in Kill Bill 2, I think Clark Kent wakes up thinking he is Clark Kent. That’s how he grew up: that was his identity. He didn’t just say, “Hey, I need something to hide who I am, so I’ll make up this glasses-wearing dude”. He may not actually need the glasses, but he is that guy. Clark Kent is not a costume…it’s who Kal-El is, even though Clark has the secret of being Superman.

Many superheroes have “day jobs”. I would even guess that Bruce Wayne spends more time on Wayne Foundation business (and his social life) than he does as the Dark Knight.

So, why isn’t Spock considered a superhero?

What about Doctor Who? He clearly seems to work like a superhero. Again, physical (and mental) superiority, helps people, sacrificed a lot.

He even has regular “supervillains”. Of course, if you want that for Spock, you have Khan and Harry Mudd to consider.

Is Doc Savage a superhero? If so, is Harry Bosch? What about Stephanie Plum?

Is a secret identity necessary?

If so, that lets out Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, who was part of the Justice League.

Does a superhero have to be human?

Clearly not…Superman isn’t.

Can a superhero be a machine, though? Is Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation a superhero? What about the Red Tornado? Brainiac 5 is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes…and a machine (well, at least 95%…depends a bit on your choice of continuity, but clearly not human).

What about Krypto, the superdog?

No, this is a lot more complicated than I thought at first.

I’d list Tarzan, Batman, and Zorro as superheroes, even though they aren’t super…but I’m not sure why that doesn’t extend to the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Lone Ranger, or does it?

Maybe it’s that they have to be defined as superheroes by the works in which they appear? That doesn’t seem like a very scientific classification system: “It’s a superhero when we tell you it is.” ;)

I don’t have an answer on this. If you’d like to share your opinion, feel free to comment on this post.

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Glen A. Larson reported dead

November 16, 2014

Glen A. Larson reported dead

TV series don’t happen without producers.

Even the general public knows that now, with names like Shonda Rhimes being as well known as those of the stars of the shows.

Geeks have always known it.

We’re very interested in what happens behind the camera…even when it’s across the hall from the shooting stage.

We’ll watch a show because of producers like Irwin Allen, Gene Roddenberry, or Ronald D. Moore.

Another name on that list?

Glen A. Larson

Sure, Larson also wrote and did music (including working on the themes for Larson shows Knight Rider,Battlestar Galactica, and The Fall Guy), but it was Larson’s ability to get high concept shows on the air that got the producer the most geek cred.

The shows tended to be high concept, adventurous, and funny. It didn’t take a lot of work to watch a Glen A. Larson show:  you just sat back and enjoyed it.

Geek friendly credits include:

  • It Takes a Thief (with Robert Wagner)
  • Two of The Six Million Dollar Man movies that led to the series
  • The original Battlestar Galactica
  • Get Christie Love!
  • The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
  • Manimal
  • Automan
  • Knight Rider
  • NightMan
  • Millennium Man

From being a member of The Four Preps (the band appeared in Gidget) to bringing us a talking car and a morphing professor, Glen A. Larson was a part of American pop culture.

Good-bye, Glen A. Larson…the world is less outlandish without you.

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The future is super(hero)

November 3, 2014

The future is super(hero)

Tired of seeing superheroes on the screen?

Get over it! ;)

In an unusual move, both Marvel and DC movies for the next several years have been announced. Those are, of course, not the only superhero movies out on the horizon.

We also know about ongoing and upcoming TV series.

Here’s a rundown…we’ll definitely see some other things added (after all, we are looking at half a decade of pop culture here). There is also some flexibility in the definition of “superhero”. After all, no one would question putting Batman in that category…despite a lack of superhuman abilities. However, would you put the Taken movies in this group? Most people wouldn’t…but how much objective difference is there between Bryan Mills and Bruce Wayne? Does a superhero need a secret identity? We would say no (Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, is know to everybody). Do they need being a “hero” to be their main occupation? Superman probably spends as much time being Clark Kent as you do at your job.

So, there will be some subjective calls here…feel free to comment if you think we’ve included someone we shouldn’t, or left something out.

TV series:

Ongoing

  • Beware the Batman, animated, DC
  • Gotham, DC
  • Arrow, DC
  • The Flash, DC
  • El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel
  • Doctor Who (we can argue about whether or not the Doctor is a superhero later) ;)
  • Constantine
  • Lost Girl (is Bo  superhero? Arguable…)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Lab Rats
  • The Thundermans
  • Mighty Med
  • Henry Danger
  • Sailor Moon Crystal
  • Bravest Warriors
  • Nightwing: Escalation, DC

Upcoming

  • Daredevil, Marvel
  • Powers
  • Supergirl, DC
  • LEGO: Batman Be-Leagured, DC
  • Luke Cage, Marvel
  • Iron Fist, Marvel
  • The Good Fight
  • Agent Carter, Marvel
  • Power Rangers Dino Charge

November 7 2014

Big Hero 6, movie, Marvel: this is a Disney (they own Marvel) 3-D animated movie, which will likely play well with kids

May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron, movie, Marvel

July 17, 2015

Ant-Man, movie, Marvel

August 7, 2015

The Fantastic Four, movie, Marvel

2016 undated

X-Force, movie, Marvel

February 12, 2016

Deadpool, movie, Marvel

March 25, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, movie, DC

May 6, 2016

Captain America: Civil War, movie, Marvel

May 22, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse, movie, marvel

June 3, 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, movie

July 1, 2016

Tarzan, movie

July 22, 2016

Power Rangers, movie

August 5, 2016

Suicide Squad, movie, D

November 4, 2016

Doctor Strange, movie, Marvel

November 11, 2016

The Sinister Six, movie, Marvel

2017 undated

Female superhero Spider-Man movie, movie, Marvel

March 3, 2017

The Wolverine 3, movie, Marvel

May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy 2, movie, Marvel

May 26, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie, movie, DC

June 23, 2017

Wonder Woman, movie, DC

July 14, 2017

The Fantastic Four 2, movie, Marvel

July 28, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok, movie, Marvel

November 3, 2017

Black Panther, movie, Marvel

November 17, 2017

Justice League Part One, movie, DC

2018 undated

The Amazing Spider-Man 3, movie,  Marvel

March 23, 2018

The Flash, movie, DC

May 4, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War Part 1, movie, Marvel

May 25, 2018

The LEGO Movie 2, movie

July 6, 2018

Captain Marvel, movie, Marvel

July 13, 2018

Untitled Fox Marvel movie, movie, Marvel

July 27, 2018

Aquaman, movie, DC

November 2, 2018

Inhumans, movie, Marvel

April 5, 2019

SHAZAM, movie, DC

May 3, 2019

Avengers: Infinity War Part II, movie, Marvel

May 24, 2019

Untitled LEGO Movie, movie

June 14, 2019

Justice League Part Two, movie, DC

April 3, 2020

Cyborg, movie, DC

June 19, 2020

Green Lantern, movie, DC

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Is it swarm in here? The Navy announces autonomous swarm boats

October 15, 2014

Is it swarm in here? The Navy announces autonomous swarm boats

“You sunk my battleship!”

Well, technically, you didn’t sink it…robotic ships you unleashed surrounded it and sank it.

In this

media release by David Smalley

the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, proudly says, “The Future Is Now”.

We geeks know that isn’t always a good thing. ;)

In this case, the Navy can retrofit boats with CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing), enabling them to (on their own) coordinate a “swarming attack” on an enemy vessel. They can surround it and just hold it there, or (under human direction), destroy it. The Navy says they can “…deter or destroy attacking adversaries. Any weapons fire from the USVs would need to be initiated by a Sailor supervising the mission.”

There is a video linked on that page, and somehow, it reminded me of the M-5 drill from the original Star Trek’s The Ultimate Computer episode*.

This was kind of a mirror universe version. In the Trek episode, a robotically controlled Enterprise is swarmed by human-controlled starships in a war game.

In this case, a human-controlled vessel was swarmed by robotically-controlled vessels in a war game.

Generally, robots in war are designed to reduce unintended collateral damage. A gun doesn’t have to be “smart” to kill people: it’s made smart so it knows who not to kill.  A smart land mine would choose whether or not to explode, as opposed to current land mines, which maim  indiscriminately.

Even as an advocate of robot rights, we at the Measured Circle have to admit feeling a bit…weirded out by this one.

It certainly seems as though military vessels could be sailing along with this fleet of fast boats zooming along side, like dolphins following a fishing boat. The USVs (Unmanned Surface Vessels) detect that a kayaker has entered the area, and immediately surround it…at their own discretion. They won’t shoot unless told to do so…if everything goes according to plan (and it always does, right?). ;)

Okay, feeling fine with that? What if we throw drones into the mix? Yep, the media release (which shows this is forward thinking…it isn’t a “press release”) specifically mentions that this system could be expanded to include UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). It suggests it could also be used for tanks and such.

There is just something about the way they’ve written the press release and done the video that makes it sound like one of those weapons demonstrations we see in the movies…just before everything goes wrong.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the demo from Short Circuit…one of these vessels gets hit by lightning, becomes self aware, and sets off on a wacky but peaceful boat trip with Zach Galifinakis and Zooey Deschanel on a madcap comedy, while being pursued by Colonel Nick Offerman as it seeks its designer, Jim Parsons.

If that’s the case, carry on…

* I rewatched that episode in preparation for this post, and it is worth noting that there is a “self-driving” spaceship in it…and it seems to be accepted as routine that an ore freighter would be driving itself around. Yet another case where Star Trek preceded reality…

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Today is to the Beatles as the Beatles are to…

October 3, 2014

Today is to the Beatles as the Beatles are to…

As I’ve pointed out before

You’re showing your age when you say, “You’re showing your age”

It’s very different in the modern era, when pop culture of the past is alive and well. If you want to listen to music from the 1960s, or see movies from the 1920s, you can do it with no problem.

In the past, though, that wasn’t the case. Something that was old seemed, well, distant.

Let me illustrate.

The Beatles really became international superstars in 1964…fifty years ago. Today, a kid can listen to the “fab four” (although they probably don’t call them that), and still be thought of as cool.

Imagine that you were a teenager in 1964…no internet, and really, not much credence given to pop culture of the past. Sure, the Universal horror movies might be on TV, and the “monster kids” were into them…but not so much for the mainstream, popular clique.

What would a leap back fifty years look like for a kid in 1964?

It was World War I…and nothing was burning up the airwaves, because there really wasn’t radio for music.

Who was popular in music?

Irving Berlin’s first stage musical, Watch Your Step, included Play a Simple Melody.

So, today is to the Beatles as the Beatles are to World War I.

How about another?

The Judy Garland Wizard of Oz was released in 1939. It really became popular when it was shown on television in the 1950s, but we can fairly use its original theatrical release year.

1939 was 75 years ago.

Jump back another 75 years from then…and it is 1864: the Civil War was coming to a close.

Today is to the Judy Garland Wizard of Oz as the Judy Garland Wizard of Oz is to the Civil War.

Back too far for you?

The TV series Friends debuted in 1994…twenty years ago.

Twenty years earlier than that is 1974…the year Little House on the Prairie debuted.

Today is to Friends as Friends is to Little House on the Prairie.

How about toys and games?

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released in America in 1985, twenty-nine years ago.

1956 was twenty-nine years before that.

A nifty, “high tech” gadget for kids in 1956 was a portable Mickey Mouse club record player. It ran off batteries! You didn’t even need to plug it in…I guess we could say it was an early wireless gadget. ;)

If you tried to show off that record player in 1985, it probably wouldn’t go well for you socially. A kid with an NES in 2014? Retro, but awesome.

Today is to the NES as the NES is to the Mickey Mouse Club record player.

In 2014, the past is nearby…in a way that it wasn’t not so long ago.

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The new TV season in geek

September 21, 2014

The new TV season in geek

We know…you don’t watch TV shows when they are first on anyway. ;)

However, we’ve been seeing a renaissance in geek shows on the networks.

They start new shows in September (and October), and there are quite a few offerings this year that might be worth watching live…or recorded..or streamed “week of”.

Let’s take a look on a day of the week basis. Note that these are just highlights, focusing on shows debuting/returning during this period, and scheduled for prime time. There are other geek-friendly shows which will be on during this timeframe, but they may already be running their current seasons. Dates and times are, of course, subject to change without notice.

Mondays

8:00 PM

  • The Big Bang Theory season 8 on CBS (returning September 22)
  • Gotham (new…Gotham City pre-Batman) on Fox (September 22)
  • The Originals season 2 on the CW (returning October 6)

9:00 PM

  • Scorpion (new…team of geniuses) on CBS (September 22)
  • Sleepy Hollow season 2 on Fox (returning September 22)
  • Ascension (new…Earth ship on a colony mission) on Syfy (November 24)

10:00 PM

  • Castle season 7 on ABC (returning September 29)

Tuesdays

8:00 PM

  • Selfie (new…Karen Gillan) on ABC (September 30)
  • The Flash (new…Arrow spin-off) on the CW (October 7)

9:00 PM

  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 on ABC (returning September 23)
  • Supernatural season 10 (!) on the CW (returning October 7)

10:00 PM

  • Forever (new…immortal medical examiner) on ABC (September 23)
  • Person of Interest season 4 on CBS (returning September 23)

10:30 PM

  • Brickleberry season 3 on Comedy Central (returned September 16)
  • Town of the Living Dead (new…reality about a town trying to make a zombie movie) (October 7)

Wednesdays

8:00 PM

  • Arrow season 3 on the CW (returning October 8)
  • Lucha Underground on El Rey (new…Mexican wrestling drama (?) series) (October 8)

9:00 PM

  • The 100 season 2 on the CW (returning October 22)
  • Ghost Hunters season 10 (!) on Syfy (returning October 8)

10:00 PM

  • South Park season 18 (!) on Comedy Central (returning September 24)
  • Key & Peele season 4 on Comedy Central (returning September 24)
  • American Horror Story: Freak Show on FX (returning October 8)

Thursdays

8:00 PM

  • The Big Bang Theory season 8 on CBS (returning October 30)
  • Bones season 10 (!) on Fox (returning September 25)
  • The Vampire Diaries season 6 on the CW (returning October 2)

10:00 PM

  • Elementary season 3 on CBS (returning October 30)

Fridays

9:00 PM

  • Grimm season 4 on NBC (October 24)
  • Gotham reruns on Fox (starts September 26th, rerunning Monday’s ep)
  • Alaska Monsters (new…cryptid reality show) on Destination America (started September 12)
  • Dog with a Blog season 2 on the Disney channel

10:00 PM

  • Constantine (new…based on DC Comics H*llblazer) on NBC (October 24)
  • Z Nation (new…zombies) on Syfy (started September 12)

Sundays

8:00 PM

  • Once Upon a Time season 4 on ABC (returning September 28)
  • The Simpsons season 26 on Fox (returning September 28)

9:00 PM

  • Resurrection season 2 on ABC (returning September 28)
  • The Walking Dead season 5 on AMC (returning October 12)
  • Halloween Wars season 4 on The Food Network (returning October 5)

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