Thursday, June 26, 2008

Who knew that owning the rights to Strawberry Shortcake would be such a big deal? As the Los Angeles Times reports, Miss Shortcake belongs to DIC Entertainment Holdings, Inc., which intended to be sold to the Cookie Jar Group of Toronto for approximately $31 million. But DIC's licensing partner American Greetings actually owns the rights to Shortcake and everyone else living in Strawberry Land and found a judge to issue a temporary restraining order and prevent DIC from being bought by Cookie Jar.

I thought Strawberry Shortcake went the way of My Little Pony, He-Man, and Inspector Gadget. Not so, reports the Times:

"In the last four years, according to DIC, Strawberry Shortcake has generated nearly $3 billion in retail sales."

Well, at least we know what Strawberry Shortcake does for DIC.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Failures of Markets

Free markets are the best available system of allocating resources and we're all blessed to live in one and blah blah blah. I like the free market. I certainly like it a lot better than all of the alternatives. But I am driven to distraction by free market androids who insist that markets are perfect and that any result a free market produces is, by definition, a correct result.

You know the type. This is the guy who insists that the Worldcom CEO was absolutely worth $120 million a year--because if he wasn't then nobody would have been willing to pay him at that salary!

Instead, I would content that while free markets are great and all that (see above), they produce failures at a much higher rate than most Americans would probably suspect. These matters normally hinge on something subjective, but today we have an example that seems pretty cut and dry, courtesy of Santino.

Betting markets are a pretty pure distillation of a free market. But Sonny notices that at least one casino in Vegas was (earlier this year) giving Tiger Woods 4-1 odds on winning exactly three majors--but 3-1 odds on winning the Grand Slam. That's right: The betting public thought that there was a better chance of Tiger winning all four majors (something which has never been done) than there was of him winning three of the four.

I'm not sure there's a way to dress up this result as anything other than a market reaching an objectively irrational result.

Drug Busts Gone Wrong

My friend Adam White has the goods:

Juan Johnson is a police officer whose off-duty act of kindness to a stranger in distress landed him in the middle of a drug bust in which he was repeatedly kicked in the groin by a police officer who mistook him for a criminal.

On The Incredible Hulk

Anthony Sacramone has the best review you'll read anywhere.

Brideshead Revisited, Revisited

But I was in search of love in those days, and I went full of curiousity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.

That's one of my favorite sentences in the English language. The 1981 BBC production of Brideshead Revisited includes it in its entirety, which is just one example of why that screenplay is the greatest work of adaptation in the history of filmed entertainment.

All of this is by way of saying that I've written something elsewhere about the new Brideshead that you might find interesting.

Wimbledon Notes

Is there anything ESPN can't fuck up?

As the Championships got underway this morning, ESPN unveiled their new scoring graphics. It's the worst graphic design I've seen for sports-broadcasting, maybe ever.

In tennis, the traditional scoring graphic--a box of information tucked into either the upper or lower left-hand corner--conveys 6 pieces of information simultaneously: the names of the players; their seeds; who is serving; the score of previous sets; the score of the current set; the score of the current game.

The Four Letter Network's new graphic--a thin horizontal line stretching all the way across the top of the screen--takes up (I suspect) nearly as many square inches of screen as the old graphic. But it conveys only three pieces of information at a time: the names of the players; who is serving; and the score of the current game. The graphic than changes periodically between points, spitting out other bits of information. It's distracting, inefficient, and kind of maddening.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Super Geekery: Fire Dan DiDio?

Non-comics readers should stop reading this right now. It'll bore you to tears.

If you pay attention to the small universe of professional comic book watching, you probably know that there has been a lot of talk about firing Dan DiDio, the head of DC Comics. I don't pay all that much attention to the inner-workings of the comic book publishing houses, myself. But one of the criticisms of DiDio is that under his leadership, DC has fallen much further behind Marvel than they were just a few short years ago.

Sales are not, necessarily, the perfect measure of success. But I realized this past weekend, while putting away the stack of comics I've bought over the last two months, that after being a life-long DC partisan, I have gradually stopped buying DC books and started buying more Marvel books. I didn't do this consciously. But over time, I've dropped nearly every DC title that I once loved because the editorial direction had become sloppy and/or uninteresting. The new DC books were almost bizarrely un-engrossing. And at the same time, Marvel keeps putting out really smart, fun, and interesting books, such as Runaways, Astonishing X-Men, The Twelve, Ultimate Iron Man, Logan--you get the picture.

I'm only one data point, obviously. But when a publisher gets trounced in sales and the overall quality of his product seems markedly diminished, then something isn't going right.

Iron Man

As usual, I'm late to the discussion, but having finally caught Iron Man yesterday, I'd posit that it's one of the three best superhero movies ever made. (The other two, for my money, being Spider-Man 2 and Batman. I won't count The Incredibles, but if I did, that would make the list, too.)

In fact, I'd call Iron Man a nearly perfect movie in every way. Like with the X-Men franchise, the production benefits from having a seriously great actor in the lead. The effects are so top notch that they didn't even particularly register as CGI (for men, at least). But most importantly, the script accomplishes a number of very difficult tasks with much grace:

* Like Superman, the character of Iron Man suffers from near invulverability--particularly in his current incarnation. The story very deftly and believably creates a conflict in which Iron Man is quite vulnerable.

* The script keeps the stakes at a reasonable level--the fate of the world does not hang in the balance--but still keeps the conflict very interesting.

* One of the problems with origin movies is balancing back story with forward progress. This is doubly true with Iron Man since his back story is just well known enough to be cumbersome, but not well known enough that it can be glossed over. By started in the desert with Tony Stark's capture, getting that out of the way in about 2 minutes, and then jumping backwards in time, the script gives Tony's back story more time to play before the audience needs it to move along.

* And the big payoff for this is that we get to see Robert Downey Jr. at his most charming. Tony in Vegas is pretty irresistible and we get to see just enough of him as a cad. When he has his epiphany--which the script seems to earn pretty nicely--he's able to keep the charm of his caddish behavior even as he's losing the narcissism. That's an awfully fine line to walk, but the writers did balanced it perfectly.

* Finally, the script handles Obadiah Stane perfectly. It's not clear if this is the Obadiah from the normal Marvel universe or the Ultimate universe. (One of the really interesting thing about Marvel Studios is that it seems to be creating a third stand-alone universe, melding bits and pieces of the other two.) The problem with Obadiah is that he's obviously the villain from the moment we first see him. But the script gives him so much generous material, and Jeff Bridges is so unbelievably good, that instead of wanting to look past Obadiah's turn to get to the denouement, we want as much of him as possible. He's just deliciously fun on-screen and the fact that we all know the reveal before it happens hardly matters.

* Also finally, a word for Gwyneth Paltrow: She's pretty great here. It's weird to see her playing insecure, but she does it just about right and the fact that she isn't a damsel in need of saving is just one of the many, many clichés that Iron Man avoids.

The great achievement of Iron Man, to my mind, anyway, is that probably a dozen times there's a cliché looming, but the script turns away from it and makes a more interesting choice instead: Tony doesn't kiss Pepper; the government agents and soldiers are neither evil nor incompetent; the terrorist villains are not misunderstood or omnipotent; Yinsen is not killed because of Tony's actions, etc. etc.

And even better, unlike Batman Begins there are no "movie moments" where the film stops abruptly to nod to the audience by having a character say something like, "Does it come in black" or "I gotta get me one of those."

In other words, Iron Man succeeds because it takes itself seriously as a bit of film-making. Very few superhero movies--and almost no summer movies--dare to accept that challenge. Good for John Favreau, et al.

(The Real) Michael Bay Strikes Again

I don't totally get the Megan Fox stuff myself, but here she is explaining Michael Bay's directorial vision for her role in Transformers 2:

"As for Michael Bay’s main directorial input to his lead actress, Megan had this to say: 'His main note to me is just to look hot; so I try my best.'"


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Even the Onion Rings Matter

My colleague JVL passes on this link to a dissertation-sized explanation of the last episode of The Sopranos. It is heavy. It is dense. It is repetitive. It is thousands upon thousands of words long and it may take me a year to finish. (Incidentally, the longest magazine article I ever read was Paul Berman's "The Passion of Joshka Fischer" in the New Republic, which numbered more than 25,000 words. It took me six months riding Metro to finish.)

Nevertheless, the argument is laid out in excruciating detail that Tony Soprano does indeed die at the hands of the man in the Members Only jacket. And everything has significance: the ringing bell every time a patron walks into the diner, the location of the patrons around the diner, Tony's POV, the onion rings (?!), things that were said in previous episodes (not knowing when the end comes, the lyrics to the song about Jimmy Brown). It's like an analysis of the Zapruder film--which is also mentioned! Totally out of control. But you'll read on. And on. And on. And on...

Clearly a ton of one's time was devoted to this. And some of it is very interesting. But here's one amazing detail that was entirely missed in all the analysis:

When Johnny Sac's daughter Allegra is married, she and her father share the classic father-daughter dance. The song is "Daddy's Little Girl." But Allegra is not little. She is enormous!

Take that, Sopranos experts!

Monday, June 16, 2008

"It is what it is."

This phrase (which, for me, ranks up with the British expression "Well there we are" in terms of sheer utility) is everywhere today. But the first time I heard it was when it was muttered by the great Ricky Jay in Boogie Nights. Stay with me, I'm going somewhere with this.

So it was Boogie Nights which jumped to mind when I saw this story about the porn outfit Digital Playground moving to a new hi-def camcorder, the 4K Red One. But buried in the story was this fantastic nugget: "Reportedly, the high-resolution camcorder has already been used to capture ten films in the past two months."

That's the type of high-volume operation that pushed Jack Horner and the Colonel out of the business. And surely cranking out a film every four days means that something in the art must suffer?

There is Another

Thanks to Galley friend JS for finding this item in today’s New York Post about Scarlett Johansson’s Obama connection: “Scarlett Johansson has regular email contact with presidential hopeful Barack Obama, but it may be because her twin brother, Hunter, works for him.... Hunter, who was working as a community liaison for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer for over a year, left that job a few weeks ago. It's not clear what his position is within the Obama campaign.”

I’ll tell you one thing that’s clear: To paraphrase Norm MacDonald, that must be one hot brother.

The Funniest Moment in Television History?


Friday, June 13, 2008

Dept. of Bad Casting

Film Drunk notes that Defiance is the story of three Jewish brothers who join the Russian army and fight the Nazis during WWII.

Daniel Craig stars. Guess which of those three groups his character belongs to?

On Character Reboots

The NYT had a piece yesterday on character revamps. Funny and depressing. But Valerie D. has a great post recounting an attempted revamp that was shot down by Disney:

I remember working on Disney licensed comics in the mid 1990s. A writer submitted a springboard about a story in which Dopey temporarily becomes smart. And the story was rejected by the Disney rep because, in her words, "Dopey is sacred here." You can't f**k with Dopey. The Dopey concept is pure.


Kobe, Kobe, Kobe

Well now I'm totally convinced--he really is just as good as Jordan! Is there anything ESPN radio hosts don't know?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Civilization MMO?

Sid Meier speaks!

Roman Holiday

Santino is a fundamentalist prude.

Tech Bleg

I'm looking to get a service like eFax: Something that lets people send faxes to my computer, and lets me fax out of the computer without hooking into a phone line. Also, I work on a Mac. Anyone have thoughts about whether eFax is worth the $20 a month, or if there's a better and/or cheaper service?

Comments or emails much appreciated.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Scarlett Johannson is shocked... Barack Obama's email reply.

The Imperial March as you've never heard it before

The Last Undercover

A few years ago, totally by chance, I befriended a fellow named Bob Hamer. Hamer was career FBI, a long-time special agent at the Bureau (from the days when crime was more important than terrorism), who specialized in undercover work.

But Hamer wasn't just your garden-variety undercover (if there is such a thing): He was a serious stud, and something of a legend in the Bureau. He infiltrated the Mexican mafia, the Russian mafia. One of his great accomplishments was the years-long infiltration of NAMBLA, the somewhat famous gay pedophile group. Among other accolades, Hamer was given the Director's Award for Special Service, an honor which they don't hand out every day at the Hoover Building.

All of this is wind-up to explain that Bob Hamer is a real American hero. And now that he's retired, he's written a book about some of his exploits. Called The Last Undercover, it's a fantastic piece of work and I can't recommend it highly enough.

The only bad news is that it won't hit stores until September. In the meantime, you can visit Hamer's website, which has some sample chapters and other goodies. But I just wanted to put The Last Undercover on your radar because it, like its author, is the real deal.

Gallows Humor

From a buddy in Baghdad:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chirstmas Ape Redux

After the Post axed the Christmas Ape, blogger Simon Owens took it upon himself to do a survey of newspaper editors to take their temperature on employee blogging. His results might surprise you.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Dept. of Inevitability

This isn't meant to be flip but as a semi-serious question: If someone had asked you last Thursday to rank the following three events in terms of increasing inevitability, how would you have put them?

* Big Brown wins the Belmont.

* Lakers win the NBA Finals.

* Obama wins the White House.

Just a thought.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Auteur Nation

Now you can direct your own short film for only $250. You just bring your script, wardrobe, and checkbook, and this new service provides the set, camera, lighting, and actors.

Look, it's art and I'm not judging.