Monthly Archives: August 2009

Disney Acquires Marvel Comics

If Pixar animated the X-Force and it looked like this, I'd still see it thrice in theatres In shocking news, the Walt Disney Company has released statements revealing an unknown deal with Marvel Comics. Disney will be purchasing Marvel Comics for $4 billion, but there’s no telling what that means for either company. The speculation is that business will go on as usual.

I think this was a deal that has been waiting to happen for years. Warner Bros. already owns DC Comics, so it was only a matter of time before the rival animation studio in Disney would acquire Marvel. Marvel shows have been airing on Disney XD for the last couple of years already, so maybe this was all being discussed for the past while.

Know what I think? I think this is a major opportunity to create some amazing comic book shows on TV, not to mention the movie possibilities. Disney Animation could create a beautiful Iron Man TV series, as well as the Hulk. Now imagine Pixar animating the Runaways, or the eXiles, or a home video companion to the Deadpool movie. It doesn’t sound like this is going to happen, but it should.

The benefits of action-style video games

I’ve long been a believer in the role of video games as a tool rather than mere accessory for escape. The purpose of games is obviously the latter, but that doesn’t exclude the former. Just like television and movies, there are unintended consequences that are both positive and negative. While there is a somewhat valid fear of negative stimuli resulting in negative behavior, we often ignore that all of the information recognized by our senses is processed through the brain and can feed or exercise it.

No, Mom, this isn't just a series of senseless killings. I'm very obviously improving my spacial awareness, my hand eye coordination, and decreasing my chances of cognitive decline. Oh, and they're terrorist, so I'm being patriotic as well. Roger Dooley at Neuromarketing has an interesting article up about the positive benefits of video games. When people think of the positives of games, they usually default to Tetris or similar puzzle games, if not the more contemporary games on the Wii. Very rarely do they consider anything else in a positive light, least of all action-style games. A study from a year or two ago revealed that first-person action games can lead to improved visual acuity. One can be made more aware of his surroundings by playing a little bit of Team Fortress every night. How about that?

The part in the article that really intrigues me is the fact that Dooley reports that the regular engagement provided by video games is enough to reduce cognitive decline. Other sorts of brain stimulation are appropriate for the task of keeping a brain spry, but the gaming format is more likely to keep people coming back for more.

What pleases me the most about all of this is that the scientific community is unraveling that video games are a tool that can be used to positively affect the brain. Stimulation and visual acuity are surely just the start, but I am certain that full acceptance will come if the experiments with PTSD and games result positively. Once games show that they can heal as well as hone, greater import will be granted to games research and the role of games in culture will be expanded just a tiny bit more. That’s more than enough for me.

Valve compares used games to piracy, says to focus on quality

Doug Lombardi, in a poorly edited article on 1up, implies that used game sales and the lack of numbers supplied by stores like GameStop is similar to piracy because the game is getting out there without any capitol returning to the game’s manufacturer. The best way to counter this is to make quality games. People will buy quality games in effort to support the people who make those games possible. Makes sense to me, since I say it all the time. I’ve known a number of video game pirates over the years, and each one has a damned large collection of legal games because they know what they like. People who are passionate about their habits respond appropriately to the value presented to them. The best thing a game company can do to improve its sales is to imbue it with as much quality as possible.

The future of the internet excludes free content

At least according to some corporate moguls, internet content will cease to be completely free soon. Rather than having users pay for internet access and then browsing freely, sites will likely require subscription fees for access. I’m sure that some people might have problems with this, but that’s fine. These are business, and providing ad space is not enough. It was not enough to make magazine and newspaper subscriptions free, so why should we look at the internet the same way?

In my perfect world’s internet, local newspapers would come back stronger thanks to ad space and paid subscriptions. Residents would have the instantaneous news they’ve come to love over the past few years but with an emphasis on their city and their favorite locales. A low monthly subscription of $3-5 wouldn’t be a bother. Meanwhile, world news still remains free because it gets more than enough hits to compensate with ads alone. Specialty magazines will become specialty sites require a similarly low subscription. If you liked Wired enough to hold a subscription or pay the newsstand price every month, then you can pay $3 a month for access to such great content.

The rest of the internet can remain free. Blogs will always remain free. Who the hell would pay me to access my thoughts? I’m sure people would pay to access Kotaku, but they really shouldn’t. Web comics receive compensation by offering additional services, like anthologies and t-shirts/memorabilia. And if Wikipedia switches over to pay service, it will die.

[Link c/o /.]

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

GI Joe is an easy to digest summer action flick with its heart set on proving the overcoming powers of the individual and of love. Don’t expect anything of actual merit in the film, but the full realization of the Doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, ironically working beside Christopher Eccleston) is quite a treat. The film holds together better than Revenge of the Fallen, but The Rise of Cobra still comes out feeling just as vapid and ill-conceived.

Just so we're aware here, the demographic for this film happens to be the ones whose gazes tend to focus on Sienna Miller's airbrushed ass The premise of GI Joe is supposed to be very simple: Cobra is a terrorist organization hell bent on some world conquest, and the Joes were established to minimize and prevent any offensive effort made. The movie pretty much writes itself given the simplicity and the post-911 climate. For some reason, Paramount did not want to go with that. Why jump into a story of a world already in motion when you can give the viewers a lame entry point into the story that requires a number of contrivances that don’t really work? That’s a question that was not mulled over very long by the studio executives.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the story of Duke, a young ground soldier with an aversion to being away from the battlefield, as he enters the secret organization known as GI Joe and finds his past ties him to the terrorist threat that’s on the rise. Therein lies my problem with the movie – it’s about Duke and not about the team. Duke demands to be added to the Joes rather than asked like anyone else, he scores within the 99.5th percentile on the Joe tests, was previously engaged to the woman who would become the Baroness, and failed to prevent the horrible disfiguring that would come to the man who would become the Cobra Commander (who, coincidentally enough, is also the Baroness’ scientist brother). The joy of the old cartoon and the toys was that there was a Joe for every situation and every kids, whereas the joy of the movie is in the importance of one.

Fortunately, tying the movie to the performance of Channing Tatum was not a poor decision. I believed him as a reserve yet also intense Duke. It’s not as if the film hinged on the performance of Marlon Wayans, whose character’s, Ripcord’s, reason for joining the Joes wasn’t because of the (fixed yet) botched operation in delivering a warhead but rather for getting close to Scarlett. All of the other Joes were ancillary at best, except for Snake Eyes, whose story was the coolest because it was revealed through his antagonist’s eyes. But it was difficult to forgive the fact that the American ninja was supposed to be so much better than the Japanese one.

With the title’s inclusion of The Rise of Cobra, one might think that there would be some focus on the formation and structure of the Cobra terrorist organization. Sadly, instead the movie delivers an unnamed criminal element involved in the creation, theft, and horrible use of high tech weaponry – until the end when a deranged scientist assumes himself into the position of leader and dubs himself the Commander. Then they get captured. The end.

I wassss oncccce a man!Given my background as a huge fan of The Transformers and  Starscream, I’m probably predisposed to dismissing anything following the brilliant Chris Latta’s work as Cobra Commander. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, however, managed to make me a believer in his Cobra Commander. I even enjoyed the character’s evolution into the maniacal head of Cobra. His being the Baroness’ brother is dismissible and stupid, but his being a scientist brought onto the battlefield to acquire hidden data (about nano-machines for use in mind control and performance enhancement) and subsequently finding himself caught in an air raid ordered by Duke gives the character an appropriately tragic air. His hiding from his sister in plain sight as the mysterious Doctor and This movie was not the first movie to screw over Cobra Commander, as the original animated film described him as a disfigured, blue-skinned scientist from Cobra-La who devolved into a snake. Yes. also mind controlling her reveals just how sinister and twisted the character was – especially as he was not even out for revenge. The true goal of the Commander has yet to be revealed, but simple world domination cannot be too far from the goals of a man who found the secret to mind control right before the man he used to be died. It’s just disappointing that they created a completely stupid mask for the Commander instead of opting for a blue or black hood. Or even the domed helmet.

One might think that with this praise I liked the movie. I would not go that far. I enjoyed the movie much more than I had expected to, and the plot was much more coherent than that of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen; but the film was your average summer blockbuster drivel that cashes in on a pre-existing property. I’m just surprised that it wasn’t a total train wreck and managed to realize a single character. (Literally, one character.) The movie is decidedly flawed.

Like previously mentioned, linking everything to Duke is a weak move writing-wise and cheapens the experience. Duke’s knowing the future figurehead of Cobra makes his fight a personal one rather than merely an altruistic one. His connection to the Baroness cheapened her character drastically, as she fights off her mind control for the sake of love beyond all else. (Note: While free of mind control, she repeatedly overhears that her supposedly dead brother is part of the terrorist threat and an enemy, and she does not respond. Sure, we saw her crying while knocked out to somehow signify that she overheard the truth, but there was no indication of a cognitive response to the information.) One character should not be the linchpin in a movie that supposedly establishes a team.

If knowing is half the battle, why fill a team with halfwits who can't bother to watch a radar while several  drill tanks break into the hideout all at once? So, speaking of the team, can anyone remember the name of the black guy who wasn’t Ripcord? Did Brendan Frasier’s unnecessary cameo have a name? Was General Hawk really necessary? What was the French guy’s name? Was Scarlett’s character supposed to be perfect in almost all ways with the shortcoming that she is unemotional? And Ripcord’s is that he’s flawed but emotional? And the attraction being that opposites ultimately attract? Were the power suits there for any other reason than a cheesy gimmick for use in a chase? (And why the joke about the price of something that would ultimately be a frontline weapon? That’s like telling me not to shoot a $2000 bullet. Don’t give me the bullet then.) If Snake Eyes doesn’t talk, why even go as far as to put lips on his mask? Where did he keep the extra black mask when he was wearing a white one initially when going into the arctic – and why bother bringing more than one? And if the governments ultimately know of the existence of the GI Joe team, why couldn’t they have received a secret pardon rather than dismantling?

And for the bad guys, why couldn’t the Baroness recognize her brother? Was it the mind control? Why couldn’t Duke when he was captured? What was the point of the hairpiece in light of the fact that it made him look more like Gordon-Levitt? If Dr. Who/Claude from Heroes/Destro had so much money, why couldn’t they have simply purchased a facility for the purpose of weaponization rather than seducing and killing someone to get in (and drawing more attention to themselves)? So, was the Commander planning on Destro’s eventual facial scarring? If the Commander was planning on taking control of the entire operation, why did he wait until they were discovered and had to flee their facility? Are we to simply accept that Storm Shadow is dead simply because he was stabbed and fell into sea? (And, with his saying to Snake Eyes that their master “was killed” but not taking credit for it, is the suggestion that he didn’t do it?) Was the Baroness even supposed to be threatening, what with her utter lack of stature, substance, or even adult-sounding voice?

The best part of the movie, though, is the subplot with Zartan. Zartan is Cobra’s master of disguise, and the movie shows him as being extremely good at that. Then, at the end, he assumes the role of the President of the United States of America. The sequel must therefore show the deck stacked dramatically against the Joes, since the President will then have information about them and the ability to pardon the captured Commander and Destro. I look forward to that, if done well.

But I can’t recommend this movie to anyone. Not even as a rental. It’s an adequate action movie, but that’s it. It’s overall shallow and uneventful. One might think that a movie involving the destruction of a national landmark might hold some sort of weight emotionally, given that we want to protect the world and the beautiful things we have put in it. No. It happens, then we never talk about it again. Is this GI Joe or is this Team America?

Bechdel Rule: FAIL! Like Transformers, there were only two women in the entire movie who had names. Fortunately, they did share a scene together, but they were fighting and not talking. Quipping doesn’t count as a conversation. But let me get back to the fact that there were only two women in the movie. The underrepresentation obviously proves how woman-friendly the film is not.

Not to sound like a jerk, but one would think that there would be a military-issued sports bra involved in this instead Additionally, even though the women are on the battlefield similarly to the men and shown to be extremely capable, they were objectified quite blatantly. The standard issue Joe uniform for women includes a push-up brassiere and a jacket that doesn’t zip up completely. Don’t believe me? Look at the first scene in the Joe headquarters. Hell, even the armor is form fitting – and involves a greater focus on shaping rather than protecting. The Baroness wore similar outfits, and I don’t know how effective high heels are on the battlefield. Not unless the point is distracting the enemy with accentuated calves.

But how woman-friendly can this movie be with its casting average waif-thin women who have no distinctive looks unto themselves? I’m getting tired of it, and doesn’t fit for a movie like GI Joe anyway. The Baroness should be imposing in some way, and Scarlett shouldn’t be covered in obvious makeup when she’s just one of the guys and supposedly rushing around to save a world in drastic need of saving? Women don’t always need to be prettied up in movies, especially when the roles don’t demand or even suggest it.

RIAA wins $675,000 from user

In a way, Joel Tenanbaum was a file sharer who had it coming. The RIAA didn’t file a suit after simply catching him sharing music. He received his first complaint in 2005 and lied about subsequent complaints until 2008. Tenanbaum was sued by the RIAA for 30 songs, and he was found guilty after admitting that he willingly shared the songs and lied to the company about not knowing what he was doing. It was the dumbest defense he could have, unless he was cocky and sure that they would let him off the hook.

They didn’t, and now each song will cost him $22,500. That’s a lot of money, and it’s not fair. Most people don’t have that kind of money, so what is the point in trying to yank it out of people? I understand that they hope that these trials are reported heavily in the media in an attempt to curb further use of file sharing programs. At the same time, this sort of thing makes people quite resentful of the corporations and very, very likely to find more discrete ways to obtain files. There are various places one can go to have access to a virtual private network, but those vary in their levels of success. That’s not even touching on dark nets, about which I could still stand to learn more. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

It’s mostly disgusting to me that the RIAA is suing so grandly for damages and not a dime goes to the music artists they are supposed to represent. What damages are really being incurred here? Music is getting out for free, but that’s been happening ever since recording devices caught on. It’s the accessibility that’s driving the record industry crazy now.

I just don’t get how a song, which considering current online pricing can only be a maximum of $1.29, can be worth over $20,000. To reach that penalty, it should be necessary to prove that the user uploaded every song to over 17,400 people. I could see a penalty of a few hundred dollars per song, but thousands? That’s absurd and just shows why I don’t exactly support the record industry anymore. What’s the point in supporting an industry that ultimately wants to bankrupt its supporters? But there’s no good way to stand up against them if you like music and want to support your favorite artists – not unless the artists involve themselves in the fight as well. Things like this court case are going to go on for a while until enough artists, popular ones at that, get disenchanted with the record business.

In the age of filesharing, the music industry still profits

A post on /. points to a blog and study revealing that, at least in the UK, music industry profits have increased in the past year despite the increased use of filesharing protocols. I guess this is somewhat supportive of what I’ve been saying all along – people will pay for items they find worthwhile. What filesharing allows is the exploration of new music and thus new artists to see at shows or the legal purchase of MP3s to appease a fan’s guilt. The industry has done more than its share of freaking out, so maybe these data will be a great revelation of the fact that it will all balance out in the end.

Logically speaking, it also helps that sites like Pandora offer music for free to its users through ads that collect revenue for the record labels. New revenue streams are being created in light of the fact that users aren’t buying CDs anymore. Forward thinking will definitely overcome this filesharing non-issue.