Superman and Batman to team up against their greatest common foe: Marvel

No smiles, only tights.

No smiles, only tights, capes, spandex.

The Hollywood Reporter:

Warner Bros. is expected to announce at its Hall H panel that as the follow-up to Man of Steel, it is pairing two of the most recognizable superheroes in the world for a one-two punch that will be directed by Zack Snyder.

Henry Cavill will reprise his role as Superman, but it is unclear who will play Batman in the new film. A release date of 2015 has been set, with tentative plans for a Flash movie appearing in 2016 and a Justice League movie in 2017, sources said.

The movie was announced by Zack Snyder at about 1:30 to hysterical wailing, praise for our lord Jesus Superman, etc.

Who didn’t see this coming from a mile away? After the runaway success of The Avengers last year, DC had no choice but to start gathering all of its superheroes into the stable for their own ultrabudget omnibus. With their only truly profitable superhero franchise recently completed, the company needs something to keep them neck-and-neck with Marvel, and direct mimicry of a rival studio’s proven formula is the best possible bet in any producer’s eyes. And in keeping with contemporary industry standards, this news couldn’t have been revealed anywhere other than hype factory Comic-Con, where you’d probably see similar reactions to the unveiling of a straight-to-DVD motion comic about Squirrel Girl. Fewer, surely, but still.

Check out that timetable, though. Four more years before The Justice League; four more years of superhero movie after superhero movie from both Marvel and DC, both struggling to gain financial leverage over one another. If you think Superbatman and The Flash are the only offerings you’ll be seeing from DC in this time frame, you’ve got another thing coming (though not The Thing, because Fox owns Fantastic Four). This is the same competitive principle that allows Pepsi and Coke to both occupy the market even after fifty years of competition: curry brand loyalty early on, then oversaturate your brand in the media while deviating minimally from the successful original product. Consumers eager to assert their undying love for High Fructose Corn Syrup Drink A/B will practically do the marketing for you! Also recall a similar “rivalry” between Kanye West and 50 Cent in 2007, motivated by nothing except each party’s desire to galvanize their fanbases and sell more records. Engineering competition is a tried-and-true marketing strategy, except in the scenario that everyone gets so goddamn sick of superhero movies that Marvel and DC both go belly-up before we even reach 2017. But to read this account of people “screaming – literally screaming” and in “floods of tears” upon Zack Snyder’s announcement, that hardly seems likely at all.

Drew Byrd-Smith –

Dan Harmon likens Community‘s fourth season to rape



He also relayed a story about how he called Bill Murray afterwards (Murray, famously, doesn’t have an agent; he has a 1-800 number where people leave their pitches). Harmon basically just called to say, “I just watched season four. Call me back.” Harmon had wanted Murray to play Jeff Winger’s Dad. (He named Jeff Winger after Murray’s character in Stripes), and he was disappointed that the opportunity had been taken away from him.

It’s like “being held down and watching your family be raped at a beach. It’s liberating! It makes you focus on what’s important.”

Harmon has since expressed regret for the comment.

This is no new tale to tell in the Hollywood pantheon, of course. Daniel Tosh is a recent, inflammatory example; Chris Brown and Sean Penn briefly came under scrutiny for far worse. What continues to boggle my mind, however, is the lack of recrimination for their misdeeds. All three of these men have continued and will continue to enjoy careers of considerable richness, as Dan Harmon surely will now that Sony’s plans for a fifth season of Community are firmly rooted. The entertainment industry is singular in that you can be as foul a person as you want and, short of murder or actual rape, you’ll usually be able to keep your job as long as your work remains profitable and/or quality.

For most audiences, moving past matters like this is a question of separating the art from the artist, a fraught but generally easy process. Likewise, this quote will probably be viewed by the majority as a typical case of verbal runoff from a notorious showbiz grouch. Harmon bleeds inextricably into his work, however, and Community has soured further with each report of behind-the-scenes drama. Can anyone enjoy Chevy Chase in the show’s recent seasons, aware of the tension between him and Harmon during shooting? When a creative project is so informed by the demeanor and nature of its creator, incidents like this only become harder to ignore.

Community‘s fourth season was awful, by and large, but it doesn’t merit a lighthearted treatment of rape to describe something as silly as a bad season of television. Likewise, Harmon has the right to say whatever he pleases in the confines of a personal podcast (as does Tosh, to the chagrin of any parties with good taste). In doing so, he should also recognize that as a public figure, his words and actions reflect upon both himself and, if only for a time, the work he produces. There is a way for him to draw his point against the soulless Sony machine without dragging a traumatic issue into a comedic forum. A melodramatic, off-base proclamation is not the way, and it is unfortunate that such comments will continue to be roundly ignored by Harmon’s fanbase. Unstable artists will be unstable artists, no matter who they hurt.

Drew Byrd-Smith –

Xbox One: all or nothing?



Microsoft unveiled the Xbox One at a press reveal event in Redmond yesterday to a mixed critical reaction, their tentative first step into the eighth console generation and a surprisingly loaded portent of how they plan to establish themselves in today’s economic current. The console entitles its user to a variety of simultaneous activities such that he can play a game while watching live television, throwing on a movie, or chatting with friends on Skype, all processes that can be controlled through voice command. Much of the press release focused on the One’s intended goal of supplanting all entertainment-related functions, with more specific games coverage likely being reserved for an event that generates more gamer hype (read: E3). Microsoft’s desired first impression based on the positioning of their product is clear: this is a machine designed for the majority of their consumer base, a set of casual gamers who will idle in front of any given AAA release until they get a video call or Monday Night Football rolls around.

The company has approached this one-black-box-fits-all attitude carelessly, implementing policies that will alienate devoted gamers and limit appeal to less informed audiences. The former didn’t necessarily stop the Wii, which was subject to dwindling third-party support and loss of interest from many longtime Nintendo fans but still claimed victory in every notable market. However, Microsoft is not enjoying the same reputation that Nintendo did when they stepped into the seventh generation – gamers are a wary lot now, and one might look to the currently dismal performance of the Wii U as a cautionary tale about willingly displacing one demographic to accommodate another. A glance at any given forum or comment thread suggests widespread dissatisfaction with certain elements of the One, such as Microsoft’s draconian DRM enforcement. Here is a system that claims to be a video gamer’s new best friend, and yet it won’t even let you loan your games to your real friends without forcing them to pay a console licensing fee? (This is, in diplomatic parlance, “a potential scenario.”) A required Internet connection once every 24 hours? No backwards compatibility? No importing your old downloaded games? The latter two are particularly galling because they constitute a transparent bid at stifling the obsolescence of the Xbox 360, but the devaluation of gaming technology is inevitable, especially when it’s so poorly constructed. If Microsoft expects gamers to bounce back and forth between their uber-machine and their old RROD factory just to have full access to all of their titles, then they’d better continue to furnish free maintenance for their old systems, which seems like an unwieldy expenditure for a consumer landscape that they project to be inundated with these wonderful Ones. “Fundamental architecture differences” my ass.

To address the system’s potential difficulty with reaching a casual audience, we can return to the Nintendo parallel. Much of the Wii’s success came from its celebration of family gaming and the shared living space, prioritizing software that was accessible and fun for players of all ages and skill levels. There were some fluffy features like the Weather Channel that granted it more flexibility than a dedicated gaming machine, but the intent behind the platform was always clear. Far less so with the Xbox One, which is in the precarious position of acting as a unifier of common entertainment services where there hasn’t yet been a proven need for one. Anyone with the means or desire to buy an One likely has all of the gadgetry they need to perform each of its vaunted tasks – a laptop, smart phone, and their previous-generation game console for television and movies if they don’t already own a cable box, or a Roku, or the million other similar peripherals. There is something wrongheaded AND disturbingly cynical about Microsoft’s assumption that, if given the chance, people will toss to the side all of these other electronic devices for the chance to sink into the couch and fulfill all of their digital needs through one system alone. At a less intimidating cost, the One may be able to acquit itself at least partially, but this seems unlikely given that a) the processing power is reportedly “eight times greater” than that of the Xbox 360, b) Microsoft claims that there will be over 300,000 servers to host the console’s need for, at least, that mandatory once-a-day connection, and c) a low price point for this system would probably force Microsoft to sell the console at a loss, which is a huge risk in this market. This is a multi-billion dollar industry operating in a culture of excess, where “doing less” has never been the answer the public is looking for even as it struggles to make ends meet.

With all this said, the question of the Xbox One’s library hangs in the balance, and the titles announced at this event are more or less what you’d expect from a Microsoft press conference. Lots of emphasis on their sports content, a Forza title, a new IP from Remedy and, naturally, another installment in the Call of Duty franchise. Quantum Break might be interesting, but everything else we’re seeing here looks like so much of the risk-averse chaff that gamers are growing increasingly dissatisfied with. If these games are your thing, more power to you, but  a gradually more conservative collection of titles, combined with roundly derided copy protection measures and a lot of redundant functionality, all align to make Microsoft’s next move feel a lot less important to watch than it was seven years ago. To me, this reveal reads as the scared baby steps of a company struggling to assert itself for a fractured set of demographics. (You can bet Sony’s keeping an eye on them, though, what with that 9% stock increase after the conference.)

Drew Byrd-Smith –

Zach Braff mines Kickstarter, adoring public for risk-free movie funding



[…]Zach Braff has turned to Kickstarter to finance Wish I Was Here, his directorial follow-up to Garden State. As he explains in his video appeal below, Braff just wants to make it okay to feel something again—namely the freedom from financers who demand things like input into casting or final cut or an actual return on their investment, when instead he could just seek out donors who will be happy just knowing he’s happy.

As Braff states in the promotional video on his Kickstarter page, the inspiration for this plan is the highly documented success of the Veronica Mars crowdsourcing campaign, a vanguard for what he considers to be an independent film revolution.

Braff had a major financial and critical success with Garden State, but that was nearly a decade ago, and he has worked minimally after Scrubs went off the air. His diminishing visibility and the failure of his last two attempts at being a leading man are significant red flags for any financier; the compromises Braff was offered seem reasonable, given that this film is not necessarily a safe investment. Granted, the forfeiture of final cut and casting are fairly severe drawbacks for any filmmaker with a vision, but that Braff was offered this money for a highly personal passion project at all is surprising.

My primary issue with Braff’s solicitation is the lack of accountability, though this burden falls less on Braff and more on Kickstarter. I have a hard time believing that someone who starred in a highly profitable sitcom for seven years, making up to $350,000 per episode in its twilight hours, doesn’t have the personal funds he needs to get what seems like a small movie off the ground on his own. Similarly, it is difficult to believe that there isn’t a studio that could have met Braff halfway to produce this movie to his specifications. Braff isn’t beholden to contribute his money to Wish I Was Here – again, he had at least one studio offer –  but the video is hardly shy about drawing parallels between the subject matter of the film and Braff’s own life. It’s hard not to look at this as outsourcing a vanity project to the public, soliciting no-questions-asked risk-free funding while retaining total creative control. Braff is partially funding the film, but there’s no way to tell what exactly this donation drive is paying for or what level of pre-established capital our donations are supplementing. Kickstarter’s opacity is fertile ground for manipulation, which is not to suggest that Braff is picking our pockets, but it draws further attention to potential abuse of the site. Your fans make your movie for you, and then drop ten more dollars to buoy its box office when it’s finally released.

Wish I Was Here will be funded. At this time, the project has earned over half of its $2 million goal with 29 days left to go. As with any Kickstarter baby, no promises can be made as to the results; what we end up with could be a classic of mid-30s suburban ennui, or it could be masturbatory detritus in an already overrepresented subgenre. The question remaining is whether or not Kickstarter can maintain its reputation as a trustworthy engine for creative growth. People may talk with their money, but who says Braff or any other beneficiary is going to listen to what they really want?

Drew Byrd-Smith –

Roger Ebert, 70, passes away


The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that Roger Ebert passed away of cancer today. He was a film critic whose body of work was both celebrated and vast; Ebert regularly produced reviews over the course of 30 years, sometimes writing about nearly 300 movies a year.

Ebert’s renown as a writer is widely known, but something particularly fascinating about him was his status as an early adopter of new technology. As the Sun-Times states, he invested in Google initially, and was one of the first notable personalities to be found on emerging social network Twitter. He was a man who recognized quickly and accurately the influence that digital innovation would exert over the ways we communicate with one another and, to an extent greater than any other critic around him, leveraged that into a wide c0ntinued readership. Yet he rarely seemed perturbed by the caveats that this increased degree of exposure, remaining mum about the occasionally infuriating Internet experience. A late-life shot across the bow at trolls and his well-documented war against people who believe video games are art were some of the only ruptures in an otherwise perfectly manicured online presence.

Ebert could be inconsistent and somewhat arbitrary, and because of his de facto status as the Big Dog Film Authority that opened him up to a lot of heat. But he also recognized that such is the toll that comes with the democratization of voice – not everyone is able right away to use it in a courteous manner, and not every authority figure that emerges is able to stand up to scrutiny when nearly everything they say is archived on the Internet. Good on him for nonetheless recognizing the value of a forum for open discourse and having the grace to accept the pitfalls that still come with that.

Drew Byrd-Smith –

EA CEO John Riccitiello Sets SimCity Ablaze, Walks Away as it Burns



John Riccitiello, CEO of game publisher Electronic Arts, is stepping down from his position. […] EA’s financials took a dive during the recession in 2008 and have not come close to recovering since. The past six months have been particularly rocky for the publisher behind games like Battlefield and Madden.

If you’re looking for some harder numbers, take a stroll on over to this Fortune article, then give yourself a moment to digest how hard they actually are. A 25% drop in video game paraphernalia sales within the span of a year? Declining profits for the fifteenth straight month in a row? Financial success is fleeting and unstable in this medium, a lesson EA has been subjected to repeatedly since 2008.

Gamers are a population with a sophisticated understanding of the Internet and a compulsion to pick apart attempts to appease them; the fanbase, thus, is simultaneously difficult to please and extremely vocal about their dissatisfaction. Any venue can become a platform for airing out grievances. EA bore the brunt of this after ascending to fiscal supremacy in 2007, cultivating a reputation as a soulless giant bleeding dry whatever developers they could get their hands on. Efforts to further commodify gaming (the increasing prevalence of microtransactions) or compete with popular innovations like Steam (the development of the widely criticized Origin) furthered their unpopular reputation among disappointed consumers. The very public struggles of The Old Republic and SimCity are among EA’s most recent debacles, the latter of which seems to have incited Riccitiello’s resignation.

As Kotaku indicates, EA brought some intriguing (if not always successful) IPs to the forefront under Riccitiello’s watch, but this is a climate of AAA 200+ million dollar blockbusters and mounting distrust of Big Gaming. The likes of Mirror’s Edge and Brutal Legend simply aren’t enough to balance out a company’s release-day debacles and DRM politics. Is this the beginning of a new era in content-provider accountability, or simply another portent of a quickly monetized medium devouring itself?

Drew Byrd-Smith –

Ronald D. Moore rejoining SyFy with Helix

This is all just an excuse to gaze at that lustrous mane.

This is all just an excuse to gaze at that lustrous mane.

“Syfy is giving a 13-episode greenlight to “Helix” (working title), its newest original scripted series for 2013, it was announced by Mark Stern, President of Original Content, Syfy and Co-Head Original Content, Universal Cable Productions. […] “Helix” is an intense thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travel to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak, only to find themselves pulled into a terrifying life-and-death struggle that holds the key to mankind’s salvation or total annihilation.”

It’s been an awfully long time since we’ve seen anything from Moore – four years, in fact, since his work on the first episode of ill-fated Caprica. Since then, he’s produced a slate of neglected pilots and unused screenplays. If the above plot synopsis sounds like a retread of John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing, that’s because it very well may be; Moore wrote the first draft of the 2011 remake, but it was ultimately unused. One must assume that the project was salvaged and reborn as Helix.

This is pretty exciting news for science fiction fans. Battlestar Galactica wasn’t perfect, and skewed toward near-risible seriousness at times, but as far as thematically compelling space opera goes it hits all the right spots. I’m not sure how much momentum Helix‘s premise allows it, since static settings are often poisonous to a television show. Remember spending nearly all of The Walking Dead‘s second season on a farm, waiting for someone to do something interesting? Of course, there’s not much you can infer from one sentence worth of plot, so I suppose we BSG goons will have to wait until “later this year” to see how it all pans out.

Drew Byrd-Smith –

Park Chan-Wook brings Asian shock horror stateside with Stoker


Park Chan-Wook has been cultivating a name for himself over the course of thirteen years as a distinct creative mind, one who often pairs visceral violence with lush and unforgettable imagery. Though perhaps not yet a “visionary,” the go-to buzzword for studios looking to generate some auteurial mystique around a promising director, he’s looking to popularize his brand of glossy mania with English-speaking audiences through his new film Stoker. Some of those shots – the frozen face, the spider inching up a sock, Nicole Kidman’s intense close-up – already show considerable promise.

park chan-wool oldboy stoker

You most likely know Chan-Wook by 2003’s Oldboy, which is a good solid slice of Asian shock cinema. But have you caught companion films Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Lady Vengeance yet? Thirst? I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK? All of these films are unified by their unconventional structures, pinpoint cinematography, and storylines almost too ridiculous to be believed. (Almost!) Stoker is only in seven theaters right now; consider this a chance to brush up on the work of a legitimately original voice before it expands to a theater in your area.


Drew Byrd-Smith –