Thursday, 15 October 2015

Notes on Films

The Martian is a simple film. It's terrific as an entertainment, keeping to the one situation, getting the stranded astronaut home, and building from that, with a variety of characters. The best thing about it is that it has a sense of wonder about people's reaction, not the planets, and never tries to pretension itself out of its b-movie plot roots. Instead its humorous, humane, keeps to the point, and delivers characters that are naturalistic and who don't always stick to what should be their type in this kind of story. the stranded astronaut is curious, resourceful against the odds, but sometimes a dick. But you still like him, in fact it makes him more likable to see his crabby side. The people trying to rescue him are trying their best to help but deal with the real world and its compromises, so their eventual sacrifices and moments of heroism make the story more emotional. the direction and writing is subtle. It's just one of those this one works types of films. Everything came together.

Avengers 2 is a cluttered mess if you're gonna be objective about it but is just so damned entertaining despite its flaws. It has fun action, a good if underused villain, some terrific character moments and jokes, and some wonderful small character moments. It's just that it has enough plot for a 3 hour film so things get compressed and sometimes lose their intended impact. It's probably the most under-rated blockbuster of the year, and it finally gives us some good Hawkeye moments. One of the interesting things is that the key emotional relationship that comes through both films is Hawkeye-Black widow. The superheroes have their moments but this one seems to be the one that underpins a lot of the stories, even though a lot is done subtly.

Murnau's Faust is a masterpiece AND very entertaining. Mephisto wagers with the heavens for the earth that he can corrupt the most kindest soul, Faust. He succeeds, leading to some astonishing moments of horror and fantasy, but cannot overcome a prime emotional connection that Faust makes, which is love. While this could sound tawdry, it's a beautiful, primal film, with astonishing images such as Mephisto and his dark wings spreading over the town. It works due to simplicity.

Prehistoric Women is indefensible. It's terrible yet oddly compelling. Hammer made it, trying to switch from British horror to fantasy but they get everything wrong, cluttering the dumb story scene after dull scene. It's odd that it goes from the real world to an alternative world and even though this is a fantasy trope, I couldn't help but compare it in some way to The Matrix but racist and out of its mind awkward on the idea of alternative worlds. It's a film that you should see because of how weird it is.

Friday, 31 July 2015

2015 So far

As usual with films there's been good and there's been bad.

The strongest films of the year so far have been Mad Max Fury Road, John Wick and Inherent Vice. Fury Road and john Wick are action films so wonderfully done that it's a miracle they were released within a year of each other. That's unusual for two classics.  Both have stripped down narratives, use clear action progression, are carefully paced and have terrific lead characters who say very little but give exactly what is needed. Mad Max probably edges ahead for its truly insane action and for having two great characters (Max and Furiosa) but both are movies that will be watched years from now with awe. Following The Raid 2 and Ninja 2, we seem to be beyond shaky-cam and into a era of great action movies.

Now to the dreck for a moment. Worst film for me so far has been American Sniper. While there are many incompetent films this one had decent work done in it yet was dull, obvious, choppy in its story-telling and didn't do any justice to its potential, that of the effects on war on the psyche of a normal man who is a professional soldier. A film such as The Hurt Locker or the TV mini-series Generation Kill dealt with the situation with nuance. this was dial-a-cliche.

Back to the great. Inherent Vice is a great character comedy, with a wonderful oddball story and unique characters. Explaining much about it does a disservice, as the film is an experience above all. It has great moments of melancholy beneath the humour, and might be Paul Thomas Anderson's greatest achievement so far, as a strain for significance that cancels what is apparent in character work  that affected earlier films is nowhere to be seen.

Let's go to the very flawed.  Jurassic World and Terminator Genysis are deeply lazy films in their writing. Neither can be bothered truly re-inventing themselves. Terminator tries a little harder but its inability to do much with its base ideas in its second half squanders goodwill from first half changes to the series lore. It could have been an interesting sci-fi movie but ends up mediocre. But it's better than the last two films in the series and at least had some momentum and recognition of the underlying sadness of the original film. Jurassic World is a mechanical sequel that does nothing new and yet manages to be acceptable to the masses. Its fine if you turn your brain off but is deeply stupid if you dont. It's a depressing film as it suggests no-one cares what they are watching and how it's made, as the execution is barely competent yet the highest-grossing film of the year so far.

Back to the good. Predestination and Mission Impossible Rogue Nation are films that won't be seen as classics but are very good at what they do. Predestination is a sci-fi time travel film that shows up how limited Terminator Genysis is by taking on the twisted logic of time travel to its logical conclusion, that it will drive you mad and then to spiritual exhaustion. Hopefully it's a major cult film in the making but I don't want to write too much about it as it potentially spoilery. Mission Impossible Rogue Nation is, like numbers one and four in the series, a text-book example of how to make an excellent entertainment. It's only real purpose is to go from one terrific suspense/action scene to the next, and they're all very entertaining and twisted, but has lots of humour, plot turns, and lots of details lesser films would ignore. It also has a great motorbike chase and opera scene, doing what it needs with a clear knowledge of what people want from it.


There have been some other good entertainments that are worth a look. Ex Machina (good first two-thirds, duff ending), Avengers Age Of Ultron (messy plot but great character moments), Birdman (Not as deep as it thinks it is but entertaining), Fast & Furious 7 (Silly, too long but loads of fun, especially in the mountain heist) and Ant Man (Derivative, with no stand-out scene, but very enjoyable). These films all have very obvious flaws but work as good entertainments.

Friday, 24 July 2015

IS MORPHEUS BEING IGNORED?

These are notes for a video so please do not take them as being a fully written piece. They are thoughts.

As the development costs of Virtual Reality, in public terms Morpheus and Oculus, are being met by gaming professionals, most professionals talking in detail about the technology are gamer based. This leads to some important areas being brought up in detail while other areas are downplayed as it’s not of interest to the reporters, due to the gamer focus.

Subjects brought up a lot are technical specs and how the technology will play for games, basically the nuts and bolts of how it works for games. In the area of power, Oculus indisputably has an advantage. Computers can be upgraded to a technical level in graphics that far exceeds gaming consoles. Essentially consoles such as PS4 and Xbox One and getting to 60 FPS while consoles are focused upon 2K resolution. That means a great deal in terms in how the systems will play, in smoothness, in how much memory the system can have, how it can expand what can be done within games. This PC technical superiority means Oculus always has an advantage, unless Sony jump to the next console generation quicker than expected. Even then, PC with its ability to swap in new parts, always has a natural advantage. Oculus should always be looking better than Morpheus

That would make you assume that Morpheus is doomed. I don’t think it is.
Brand awareness and technical interest of the masses is something that is being glossed over. This is due to excitement about the technology, as well as due to the fact that it’s still early in VR development. What we have here is the worst it’s ever going to be.
Brand awareness is where Sony has a great advantage. It sells in many technological areas, develops its knowledge with new technology, always remains in front in this area, invests in product such as films and making games. Oculus seems to have recognised that by pairing with Microsoft recently but even with this partnership, there is a limitation in reach for the masses. Microsoft as a brand isnt known to the masses beyond PC software. Its game production are cult-level at best in the mainstream. Facebook’s involvement is that of a company expanding what it can do. It’s not a guarantee nor has a base in this area with the public. Sony has. If you are going to try a new, expensive product, you are likely going to go with a producer with a track record and experience with developing new products to market-place, with a history of customer support in the area.

In technical interest Sony also has the advantage. Both systems are said to be excellent. While Oculus has PC advantage in specs, to the average person it means spending a lot of money on a computer, which is likely confusing, potentially stressful, reading lots of information on what specs will allow you to do what. Sony links Morpheus to the PS4. That helps the system, is a simple plug-in, is something the average consumer may feel more comfortable with. PC might be viewed as cooler and more cutting edge but for mass sales Morpheus may have the advantage.

Where the product goes might be interesting. While its gamer developed, gaming technology might still be limited to do anything too complicated in the early stages. KindaFunny have discussed experiencing Morpheus and have suggested that it feels more like a video experience, and that so much of how it will be used hasn’t yet been worked out, and will only be solved by player feedback after launch. Putting the level of detail into a long-term satisfying game might take years to figure out, with the advanced memory and programming needed, especially if people want realism. Games today still mainly have an uncanny valley problem on TV’s. Studying this limited type of programming on VR may be alienating until more work is done on stabilising it.  (Keep it dark in tones probably will help.) Less realistic first person shooters, space games, are more likely the best first move, to keep money coming in while graphical development is worked on.

In the short-term, gaming might not be where VR sells most, which is where I think Sony has an advantage. Funhaus recently discussed the subject and suggested that sports and concerts might be a good way to pay for VR, so as to allow paying customers to see sports events and concerts that they were unable to attend, using VR to give an experience that people would pay for. While it would take time to sort the details, a Morpheus hooked up to a PS4 is a simple way to sell this service, if there is public interest. There would be simple set-up, a simple payment method, and a consumer could easily experience it.

I would go further and suggest narrative filming would be young audience members might have interest in. If the technology exists, the blockbuster movie could morph from theatres to VR, following from the logical expansion of KindaFunny experiences. A franchise like Star Wars, Avengers or Transformers could be expanded into VR, with players being in their action sequences, and other narrative moments played out with viewer as an observer near the action. Taking dramatic lessons learned over centuries from theatre presentation, lighting, long-form story and pacing, this would not throw people off and would be a good way to develop narrative into the future.
Such development would also help pay for the technological development and help with slowly developing a new visual language that could help develop VR gameplay development, as the technology and memory capacity is improved, and interesting game scenarios are developed in to the new form abilities and limitations, perhaps merging with some narrative forms, in how a purely first-person situation would develop in a game. Such development to the public would likely work better in Sony’s Morpheus system as it exists now, with its knowledge of the entertainment market, and public trust in its ability to develop, to move with the market, and its ease in linking into a PS4. The market, if it develops, might be drastically different in 5 years, as the market follows what is seen as the best delivery service. I would say Sony has the best ability at the moment to develop with the market, and however this develops, while Oculus seems exclusively focused on one market, which are games. That may not be for best long-term.

While Sony does have mobility advantage, it being stuck with PS4 as its technology is something that will be a problem, as we cannot see how the development of the technology and demands of VR as it ramps up. It will affect how PS4 would function, as the system could easily be left behind. This product limitation will give Oculus time to adjust to market developments. PS5, if VR succeeds, is likely to arrive fairly quickly if day to day usage specs for a competitive market are established.

So to conclude, both systems have strengths and weaknesses. Any development needs talented people working on the technology. Dull product in VR in any area of development would kill enthusiasm for VR. I would assume both will make large adjustments in the next few years as the products are launched and they get practical experience in a new market.