Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category (feed)

John Maus – “The Crucifix”

My second unofficial music video for John Maus. This one is animation too, but abstract-geometric instead. Made me realize the many limitations of Sony Vegas Pro when it comes to animation (I’m moving to After Effects).

If the Vimeo 1080p version is too slow for you, you can try 720p on YouTube.

A review of Madonna’s “MDNA”

MDNA is Madonna’s first album on her new label, so she seems to be playing it safe. She serves us a canned formula that has worked for her in the past. Does it still work though?

Girl Gone Wild: 8/10
The best track on the album, it’s a good dance song. The editing of the official music video is even better though.

Gang Bang: 6/10
A nice semi-atmospheric dance track, but it doesn’t go far-enough. It needed to blossom, but it didn’t.

I’m Addicted: 2/10
Yuck. Boring, unimaginative, uncatchy, goes nowhere.

Turn Up the Radio: 2/10
Reminds me of her late ’80s period. Nothing new here. Playing it safe.

Give Me All Your Luvin’: 3/10
Oh, shut up. This is fucking annoying. What is she? 13 years old?

Some Girls: 6/10
Not a bad song, it’s got a nice melody and atmosphere (atmosphere is the No1 thing I always try to find on music btw). But it’s not really exceptional either. It’s just ok.

Superstar: 1/10
Someone pass Acid Pro. I could write such a song too in a single afternoon.

I Don’t Give A: 2/10
We heard this song a million times before in the last 15 years. The only good part in it is its last minute, where it becomes operatic and grand. It’s one of the best moments in the whole album. Too bad it’s attached to the rest of this song.

I’m a Sinner: 2/10
This track is a mess. It tries to channel her 1998 period, but it ends up being a hot mess. It could have worked back then, but it’s 2012 now.

Love Spent: 2/10
This feels like a song that is sang by Cartman trying to become a pop star (the way South Park would have done it).

Masterpiece: 8/10
A nice ballad, written by different song-writers than in the rest of the album, people who actually know how to write music, it seems.

Falling Free: 4/10
Good ideas (channeling Irish/Celtic music) but it ultimately goes nowhere. This song asks for a buildup that never arrives.

Beautiful Killer: 6/10
A good dance track, mostly salvaged by its strong refrain. It could be realized even better though.

I Fucked Up: 1/10
She seriously fucked it up on this track. Useless bullshit.

B-Day Song: 2/10
Not album quality. It feels like a B-side.

Best Friend: 3/10
Wow, it’s R&B from 1996 all over again. Harmless.

Overall rating: 4.2/10

Madonna needs to push herself to innovate. Religion and sex themes can only get her so far in today’s day and age.

Why “John Carter” Failed

“John Carter”, the recent fantasy/sci-fi action movie, is the biggest box office bomb in film history, with a total net loss of $166,566,620. The movie did “just ok” with critics, but most viewers who saw the movie, liked it (70% rating on IMDb & Rotten Tomatoes). So apparently, from entertainment’s point of view, the movie was not a disaster. It entertained better than expected. Marketing was adequate too. So why didn’t more people go to see it? I have a suspicion that I would like to share.

I believe that the reason it didn’t attract larger crowds was because of the theme itself. This is a very old fashioned story, more leaning towards kits fantasy rather than radical, modern sci-fi. When I first saw the trailer for “John Carter” a few months ago, I was left bewildered that Hollywood would finance such a movie. It had a feel of the 1930’s Flash Gordon in it, but with better effects. And that was its flaw: old fashioned, pure cheesiness.

In today’s day and age, most people I know are hungry for smart movies that mess up with their mind a little. That make them think. That have something interesting and new to say, or at least visually show something refreshing. A movie becomes a classic when it speaks about our situation today, or tomorrow. This movie has nothing like that in it. It’s a very sterile & dry interpretation of old epic fantasy films: some guy, fighting bad guys and monsters, amongst laughable technology.

Give me a break. While this might fly with a few young kids and very old people who don’t know better, it won’t fly with most of the rest of us, the main body of customers, who still have a brain and would like to use it occasionally.

“John Carter” deserved the money loss, but I fear that Hollywood will never learn anyway. They pour unnecessarily huge amounts of money on stupid movies such as this. And this, among other things, will be their undoing.

Regarding movie & TV show remakes

It has been a constant complaint in the last few years, especially by genre fans: the countless Hollywood remakes or re-imaginings of older movies and TV shows. I personally prefer original works (even if everything is a remix of previous artistic knowledge in reality), and I don’t discount all direct remakes as useless. But in the last few years there’s definitely an identified problem in the sheer concentration of remakes or blatant copies of older ideas. It feels like there’s nothing really fresh coming out from the world anymore. I believe that it’s a three-tier issue:

1. Hollywood doesn’t take risks anymore
Why would Coca-Cola change its recipe? They normally wouldn’t. Similarly, in these difficult financial times we live in, Hollywood prefers to serve us tried & tested recipes. Can you blame them? Actually, you can. Hollywood is an immense artistic influence and force, we like it or not. While the various execs are in it just for the money, this doesn’t discount the fact that as industry leaders they also have an ethical obligation to be artistically progressive. And this can only happen when some risk is taken. With the explosion of various art mediums in the ’90s, Hollywood has entered a second phase of maturation, which unfortunately made it more bureaucratic, and more concentrated. There are of course a lot of politics behind the scenes, but the gist of it all is that these companies are now running like old oil factories: one step in front, two steps back.

“Kichwateli” (Swahili for TV-head) is a short film by self-taught animation & film director Bobb Muchiri set in a post-apocalyptic African slum and city. This afro-sci film takes the viewer on a spiritual and metaphorical voyage through a young boy’s dream mixing new imagery of a young boy wondering inquisitively with a live TV as his head to show the effects of media on a young generation.

2. Lack of imagination
Has capitalism sank its fangs into us to the point that we’re culturally bankrupt already? I don’t think so, because whereas in the past only a few people would become artists, today almost everyone is one. Human beings are resilient artistically to be able to go around such obstacles, such as a rotten political and economical system. Or could it be that every cool story is already being written and there’s nothing new to provide to the world? Sure, our world is cataclysmically bombarded with various works every day, but not everything is shown on screen, and not absolutely everything has been thought-up yet. And yet, not many radical works are getting released recently. I find the lack of imagination (or at least the exec disapproval of imaginative works) very disturbing. Science Fiction is supposed to be about what it could become, while at the same time is being current to today’s problems. What is our existence without a window to a possible future or solution? What is art if it doesn’t strive to imagine some sort of utopia?

3. Plot timing
As I wrote above, science fiction describes both a possible future but also our present. When remaking an old sci-fi movie, you’re running into the danger of re-discussing a then-current issue that is no more. Often this is “fixed” by re-writing specific plot points, enough to piss off the old fans and sabotage the new movie any way the can. And failing at the box office, it gets the business back to point No 1 above. Rinse, repeat.

The solution? By definition, the new wave will come from indie filmmakers (especially as tools become even more inexpensive), or from an anti-Hollywood conglomerate of international media companies. Hollywood won’t survive this new reality, the same way the big-4 music labels haven’t survived the indie music onslaught in the last few years.

Check out Chad VanGaalen

If you’re after for the perfect stoner music, definitely check out Chad VanGaalen (free downloads here). He’s one of the few guitar-based artists that I still like. His last year album was one of the best, but SubPop did not promote it properly in my opinion. The fact that VanGaalen kind of sucks live doesn’t help either (stoned?).

Best song in the album is here, and the main single from the album is below:

High Highs – “Flowers Bloom”

One of the most beautiful videos and songs of last year. Simple, but yet dreamy and powerful. Directed by the amazing Video Marsh.

Regarding performance, shows, and spectacles

Watching that train wreck of a Madonna show at the Super-Bowl half-time made me feel even more about how gullible most humans are. Are we really that easily dazzled with shiny costumes, props, and ultra-canned choreography? I mean, that spectacle was just ridiculous when we try to look at it from far away. There we had Madonna, dressed like a bastardized Roman-Egyptian clown, 50 more dancers supporting this well-organized stupidity, all running around like idiots and try to fit every dance move ever within 12 minutes. The show didn’t feel coherent, it had no big idea behind it, other than to impose onto the masses.

To be honest, I was going to write this blog post in early December, after we came back from the Google Android party. I stopped short of writing my rant back then, because it would have been ungrateful of me (there I was, invited and all paid-for, and I was complaining on top of all this). But I think it’s more disingenuous of me not talking about it. I never hold back my raw thoughts (sorry, but that’s my best feature along my naturally big boobs), so why would I do so now?

Basically, at that party we had acrobatics, we had some Brazilian dance performers, and finally, an ’80s cover band. I found the whole thing cheesy as hell. The acrobatics reminded me of the Medieval clowns putting their limbs in danger for our amusement (it felt degrading to me), the Brazilian dance performers were over the top (I don’t mind their dance, but I don’t get the whole costume thing), and the cover band was just ridiculous trying to imitate Madonna and other ’80s pop stars. Why in the love of God would I want to listen to re-chewed hits from the ’80s?

In retrospect, that night was just an expensive, but shallow spectacle. Some fancy/shiny things thrown at a few hundred engineers and their wives. And that’s what really bothered me: here we have some of the smartest, educated professionals in the world, all in one building, and they get thrown some burlesque-type bullshit? Where was the art? Where was the pushed envelop to tease their intellect? Where was the next step of entertainment? Definitely not in that building that night.

To be clear, I don’t mind a spectacle that actually has a soul. I spoke of Madonna earlier, but Madonna has had in the past simpler and more amazing choreography. When I watch the linked video I feel something, I connect with the song and its atmosphere. The whole thing is impressionistic. The devil is in the details, I guess. Instead, on Super-Bowl we got a 53-year old Madonna play-acting a fucking cheerleader.

I’d say that there are three kinds of performances: the spectacle one, the live music show one, and an actual artistic performance. I believe that each has its place, and each can be good or bad. For example, I’ve seen quite a few indie bands so far, some were good live, some were less good, and some were disastrous. I’m not talking about how well they played their instruments or how well they sang, but rather how well were able to take away their audience. I found The Soft Moon to be among the best live bands today.

Regarding artistic performances, I think few can do better than John Maus. The guy is the anti-spectacle spectacle, the anti-Madonna. There he goes on the stage with his running shoes, and jeans that usually fall off mid-performance when he forgets to wear a belt. He sings karaoke to his own songs (he has no backing band), with the vocal track intact, and he often stops the songs abruptly and moves on to the next one. But of course, that’s not the real treat in his performance. Instead, you get this intimidatingly tall guy screaming like a maniac in and out of the microphone, hitting his face and chest with his own fists, often blacking out his own eyes, pulling his own hair, and head-banging so hard like he’s drilling for oil. While I rather have him not abuse himself this way for the audience’s entertainment, his personal need to “appear”, or for art’s sake (it’s not a comfortable sight watching him hurt himself), he’s definitely unique. And fucking real.

Regarding “Two Steps from Hell”

For those who never heard of “Two Steps from Hell“, allow me to introduce them to you. They’re a music production company in Hollywood that employs some classicaly-trained musicians to write operatic music for movies — although their main market is writing music for… movie trailers. As a side job, they also release full-length albums with great success. Their two albums “Invincible” and “Archangel” are some of the most-sold among contemporary classical works.

Their music is interesting. If you take these songs individually, they sound pretty good. They are all very catchy, epic, and can make some people feel like they’re the intellectual ones in their bunch, listening to cooler music than Foo Fighters. But it’s an illusion.

These albums are a great example as to why most people today don’t listen to classical music: because it’s a language from another time. It does not mirror our modern life. Music has this magical ability to describe feelings that we might have hidden deep inside us about the world we live in. When we listen to a piece that well-describes our life today (musically, not lyrically), it can evoke certain feelings that otherwise remain indescribable.

And that’s the problem with “Two Steps from Hell”. These guys are good copy-cats of the golden age of Opera. They studied what modern people find cool about opera/classical music when they cursory listen to it, and then they compress these few elements together in 2:30 minute pieces. Each of these pieces are a copy of each other in reality. Listening to these albums offers absolutely no variety. It’s from one high note to another, resulting in a shallow result at the very end.

Don’t get me wrong. These musicians know how to write very catchy classical music, they’re unquestionably talented. They have an uncanny way of providing the goods, and duping the common listener into thinking that they’re listening amazing, modern classical music. But what they listen to instead is a smart algorithm, a recipe. Over and over again.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my desire to see a kind of truly modern electronic-based “classical” music. I provided some examples from artists that touch this hopefully-upcoming sub-genre, but I think I should provide one more example, which is a piece that’s closer to what “Two Steps from Hell” do (more operatic that is). This is what the talented musicians at “Two Steps from Hell” should be doing. THIS is the kind of “classical” music (witch-house in this case) that can work today (use headphones to spot the differences). THIS is modern classical music, and not a wanna-be. THIS speaks TODAY.

The way forward is without guitars

Almost exactly a year ago The Guardian wrote an article about “rock’n’roll” being dead. Today, they had a new article where they say that “indie rock” is dead, citing disappointing sale figures for the genre, and the fact that no new major stars are coming out of it. I will argue against this new article on two of its points, but first we need to understand what “indie rock” means. For the author of the article it encompasses anything that has guitars in it, and happens to be coming from an independent label.

The fact that no big arena stars are coming out from the indie scene is not a bad thing. The sales speak for themselves, the numbers are down for guitar-based music. And that’s for a multitude of reasons: Britpop-style or alternative-rock-style music had its time in the ’90s, and these days are now over. Another reason is that there are over 100,000 albums coming out every year, so sales are divided more now, rather than having a handful of embraced artists selling millions of records and then having the rest selling almost nothing. Being a musician is just a job now, only the best ones will be able to make a buck and go by. Don’t expect Hollywood villas, and Rolls Royce anymore. I’m personally content with that reality. It’s for the best, as we’re maturing as a society. More people are doing art, resulting in more radical art, and that art becomes less commercialized since it usually comes from musicians that don’t even have a label contract. My prediction is that as artists lose their “star” status, and as art becomes more democratized, more radical art emerges. The winners will be artistry itself, and our society as a whole.

Secondly, I don’t get what the big deal is about guitar music. Like all the other kinds of music or instruments, it had its time as a center-stage sound. It’s being in the fore-front for 50 years now. Whatever kind of melody/harmony a guitar can produce, it has already been done. There’s very little to explore, musically-speaking, via a guitar anymore. It’s time to move to naturally-impossible, more interesting sounds, sounds that can only be done via computers/synthesizers. This is not to say that guitar sounds don’t have to be used anymore. I mean, we still use pianos, or violins, or other older instruments to enrich our modern sound. But the difference is that these sounds are not at the center stage anymore, they’re there as part of the whole, they don’t overtake the whole arrangement.

I know that I will take shit for saying that stuff about guitars, but it’s only natural musical evolution. Times change, people change, music changes. It’s inevitable, and I have no recourse but to embrace that change. I personally find modern electronic music (e.g. Nightlands, Washed Out) way more engaging, unpredictable, and atmospheric than acts like Wilco, or The Black Keys. And even if you’re more into rock than electronic, the truly modern rock bands, like Phoenix or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, use the guitar as a secondary or equal element to synthesizers. That’s the way forward: No guitar, or a guitar that blends with modern instruments and doesn’t overpower.

The Solution Against Big Content

As much as I’d like to sell my sci-fi script to Hollywood, at the same time I hate all the lawyering and politics behind it. I now read that Warner Bros will make its DVDs arrive even later on Netflix than usual, and that Apple, like Google & Amazon, is unable to secure deals for TV/movie content in any manner that makes financial sense. Big Content is trying to keep back progress as much as it can, by only licensing its property to traditional outlets.

There is only one solution for this chicken-and-egg TV problem: make your own content. And when you start winning, Hollywood will come and beg you to carry their content! Netflix is the first company to go this route by re-creating content: by shooting its own TV series. Google has already pledged $100mil via YouTube for original web TV series too. Apple hasn’t initiated anything of sorts so far, neither it’s in its style to do so.

There are three possibilities here:
1. These original series will only make a blip, and nothing really changes.
2. Big Content gets a clue and embraces the new mediums for lower licensing costs.
3. Studios abroad start creating Hollywood-worthy content, for cheaper, and initiate a cultural revolution that brings American media to its knees.

Of course, option #1 is the most likely one to happen unfortunately. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I believe that if all four (Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Google) come together to share costs, they can put $1 billion aside per year for the creation of TV series and movies. Content that would be shot and post-produced abroad, using mostly non-Union unknown American actors & writers/directors. Unlike media companies that are on the brink of financial disaster, these tech companies HAVE money to spend.

As I’ve written before, I truly believe that great quality television can be produced for $1mil per episode, or even cheaper, when shooting abroad on a place like the Balkans, South America, or China. As for a full-length movie, with enough talent you can do miracles from anywhere $1mil to $3mil per movie. $1 billion dollars per year gives enough room for 50 ten-episode-per-season TV series, and 250 movies (or 100 movies with higher budget). Of course, for higher quality content, fewer of these can be made, but still, you can do a lot with $1 bil if you’re smart.

Such content would be free from MPAA and FCC regulations too, allowing for free expression and radical ideas in the work, something that’s missing from networked TV series and movies today in the US. Not to mention that duration of an one-hour TV show can go back at 55 mins, instead of the laughable 42 minutes we get today (a few location/user-specific ads can run at the beginning of the show, but not during). And there won’t be any reason for streaming IP restriction for any country! As long as a show is released, everyone with a smart TV everywhere in the world gets it!

Such a large amount of on-demand products is enough to bring people to these new “smart” TV devices, they are enough to make the viewers “cut the cord“. In the beginning, they will be few doing so, but as the numbers will grow, the cable TV industry will start to crumble, because their sourcing media companies still operate with huge budgets that are unsustainable, while at the same time their customers would wither away. Those who will still remain subscribed would mainly be sports viewers, but if in year 2012 you’re still avid fan of professional sports, in my mind, you’re entertainment-retarded (hate away).

Bottom line is that content is king. And I believe that Apple/Google/Amazon/Netflix can go for such a pact together. But they have to be united for this to work. Hollywood would have no alternative but to join away eventually. There would be 3-5 years of adjustment for everyone, and a few flying lawsuits of course, but eventually, content must be freed one way or another. If common sense doesn’t work with Big Content, if enough money on the table doesn’t work either, then competition WILL work. Have the motherfucking sharks in Hollywood die off of a streaming starvation.