Friday, June 28, 2013

Moving to WordPress

I've moved on to the verdant fields of WordPress, so Remote Wanderings at Blogger will no longer be updated.

The blog has been exported there, however, so all existing content will be accessible at the new site.

Visit to see the new shiny. Those of you who've followed via RSS, you'll find a new feed over there. New features are forthcoming.

Thanks, Blogger. I salute you.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

HBO finally developing a science fiction series

The success of Game of Thrones has shown HBO that geek genres like fantasy can be profitable while not undermining their brand, so it was only a matter of time before they ventured into science fiction.

Although they were developing a tantalising mini-series version of Trent Reznor's dystopian Nine Inch Nails concept album Year Zero a couple of years ago, that project doesn't seem to be going anywhere. This new one, The Spark, is long-form and suggests that HBO is cool with genre now that Game of Thrones is their second most successful show ever, which makes it a milestone.

The Spark is from Karl Gajdusek, co-creator of Last Resort and co-writer of Oblivion. Not the most impressive pedigree since the swiftly-cancelled Last Resort reputedly couldn't turn a stellar pilot concept into a series and Oblivion was derivative and hollow. But D.B. Weiss didn't even have any produced credits before Game of Thrones, and that turned out okay.

To quote Deadline's synopsis from their announcement:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Terminator 5 is coming, starring Schwarzengger: did we ask for this?

Terminator 5 has been mumbled about since last December, when Oracle kids Megan and Larry Ellison became the latest independents to buy the rights. Now the shambling freight train is on the tracks, with Paramount negotiating to distribute the film and Arnold Schwarzenegger announcing he's on board and that filming will begin in early 2014. And so the latest franchise reanimation is underway.

What's striking about a fifth Terminator actually happening is Hollywood's crusade to keep restarting a story James Cameron decisively ended with Terminator 2 despite numerous underperforming attempts. Terminator 3 half-heartedly remade the second film, although with an admirable bummer of an ending. TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles (which, tellingly, ignored the third film) rated poorly and was cancelled after two seasons.

Terminator Salvation changed the format with John Connor fighting against Skynet in the future war we'd only previously glimpsed. Despite filling the Arnie-shaped hole with high-wattage stars Christian Bale and Sam Worthington, the oddly-titled Salvation was instantly forgettable and hampered by Bale's insistence on playing John Connor. The character's peripheral story was beefed up at the expense of Worthington's, but so jarringly that the iconic Connor character feels like an interloper in his own franchise, hogging screen time for no meaningful reason.

None of these projects set the world on fire, and each was a new attempt to squeeze some extra juice from a universe that had dried up. Just because a film has one sequel doesn't mean it can sustain several more. These days, franchises are built for sequelisation from the ground-up, and creatives need the clout of Christopher Nolan to be able to conclude them. Even when they don't end, their continuation doesn't feel absurd and paradoxical, however poor the films themselves may be.

But Cameron was allowed to close down his universe in Terminator 2, so Hollywood's current franchise mentality clashes with how this particular franchise was established. Every subsequent Terminator has felt like a Frankenstein's monster rather than a sleek new model off the production line.

And yet we don't seem to question this. A new Terminator is undoubtedly happening because projections indicate that enough people will throw down $20 on opening weekend to make it financially viable. We'll turn up to see Arnie reprise the Terminator role, either without questioning why Skynet would build a killing machine that resembles a 65-year-old version of an existing model or because we're curious to see how the film renders that remotely plausible. We'll be vaguely entertained, then go home and forget about it. Enough of us will do this that the film will break even and we'll soon be talking about Terminator 6.

Terminator 6! That's actually a distinct possibility. The Ellisons wouldn't have bought the rights to just make one film. This kind of movie is in David's company Skydance's wheelhouse, as they've pitched in on the new Star Trek films and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, among other tentpoles. What's telling is that Megan's Annapurna Pictures bought into this, given that so far she's produced smaller, edgier dramas like Zero Dark Thirty and The Master. Megan Ellison no doubt sees the potential rewards of even a sixth Terminator film as justifying the expense, to the point where she'll risk the reputation of her brand as a supporter of fringe projects that might not get funding elsewhere. That's how likely we are to show up and give this film our money.

Dismissing a fifth Terminator without even a nugget of plot information is a tad unfair, I know. But this is one of those safe bets that a new film couldn't deliver anything new. We've seen three Terminator chase films and a future war movie. Nothing after Terminator 2 felt organic, so why will another film suddenly exhibit untapped potential? I've never read a speculative scenario that justified more Terminator.

And even if it's a shockingly ambitious and well-written movie, it's still built on the corpse of the retconned Terminator 2. The notion that a bad movie doesn't ruin the great book it's based on feels pertinent and reassuring here, yet they're all movies. When sequels feel like crummy adaptations, how is that franchise sustainable?

Can we take a stand and just boycott reanimations like this? Yes, movies are about making money, but why be insulted while we hand our money over?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Revisiting Enterprise: "Fight or Flight" and "Strange New World"

The series itself begins. My thoughts on the second and third episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise's first season are after the jump.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Revisiting Enterprise: "Broken Bow"

Star Trek: Enterprise has a pretty poor reputation, and I've decided to investigate whether or not it truly deserves it. The first season was recently released on Blu-ray, so I'll be taking in these episodes for the first time since their Australian broadcast in 2002, and a lot has changed in Star Trek and TV SF in general since then.

Back then, we'd had multiple Star Trek shows on the air for years. Today, Trek fans get one highly questionable movie every few years, so it's easy to forget that many of us were feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the Trek on the air in the 1990s and early 2000s. Plus, the timidity of Voyager's seven, cosy seasons didn't inspire much confidence in the next show from the same team.

To their credit, Trek custodian Rick Berman and long-time Trek writer Brannon Braga did shake up the premise. Instead of another 24th century show, they gave us a prequel, set 100 years before the original series and following the crew of Earth's first substantially warp-capable vessel. That meant no Federation and no Roddenberry utopia. Many of the familiar alien races wouldn't have been encountered yet, and the crew would be facing a more mysterious and potentially hostile galaxy.

On paper, Enterprise was promising. Ironically, what could be viewed as the limitations of a prequel concept actually could have freed the show to become genuinely about exploration again. The Next Generation ended up focusing largely on social and political dilemmas and scientific mishaps in an increasingly familiar universe, and Deep Space Nine told a more serialised story about war and intrigue. Voyager, however, should have restored that sense of wonder and perhaps even some sublime terror, being about a ship lost on the other side of the galaxy. That it became a safe retread of TNG didn't bode well for much awe in Enterprise.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Blue-Collar Velvet: The Place Beyond the Pines

Breakout indie directors don't all choose to make the some kind of follow-up film. Some sign on for a big studio movie, others make something similar but safe, and the rest take the larger funding they can now attract to produce something more ambitious. Derek Cianfrance has taken the third path, using the success of his second film, Blue Valentine, to bankroll a small-town crime epic about the impact of one person's mistakes on those around him and those who come after him.

Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a stunt motorcycle rider touring with a state fair. When his job takes him back to Schenectady, New York, he learns he has a baby son with local waitress Romina (Eva Mendes). Determined to be in his child's life, Glanton quits the fair but turns to bank robbery when he can't make ends meet. The story is divided into three sections as we follow the impact of that decision on a local cop (Bradley Cooper), his family, and Romina's family.

The ripple-effect narrative is fairly familiar; the strength of The Place Beyond the Pines is its execution. Crime is a ruinous violation in this film's world, every transgression an affront even when well-intentioned or born from pain.When Gosling attacks or threatens, it feels grotesque. When Cooper blackmails someone, their refusal to shake his hand isn't merely a macho snub: Cooper now feels tainted to us. Cianfrance uses these crime fiction plot devices to not just drive the story, but to examine them as tragic mistakes with a powerful legacy.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

SPOILER REVIEW: Star Trek into Darkness

Benedict Cumberbatch as the Star Trek franchise
JJ Abrams's War on Creativity scored a major victory this month with the release of Star Trek into Darkness. Facing the dual threats of a liberating, astronomical budget and a universe of narrative possibilities, Abrams valiantly fought them off with a timid rehash of a classic story that will fail to satisfy fans and non-fans alike. His refusal to surrender and make something up himself bodes well for a bright future in big-budget filmmaking.


There are plenty of spoiler-free reviews of this film out there. This one is spoileriffic, so it's hidden under the cut. Don't click through if you want to remain surprised, although as you'll discover, you probably won't be.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Naoki Urasawa's Monster at HBO: an opportunity for progressive casting

Deadline has revealed that HBO and director Guillermo del Toro are developing a series adaptation of Naoki Urasawa's manga thriller series Monster. While intriguing news for existing fans, what's most significant on an industry level is the possibility of HBO subverting the exclusionary standards for how Asian actors are cast in non-Asian television shows.

But first, the manga. The 18-volume series begins in Düsseldorf, where visiting Japanese doctor Kenzō Tenma chooses, against orders, to save the life of a young boy rather than the mayor. Years later, Tenma learns that the boy, Johan, has grown into a psychopath of immense ambition and influence. With no-one believing his story, Tenma takes it upon himself to discover Johan's origins and take him down.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

GCFF Review: The Garden of Words

The Gold Coast Film Festival and Madman pulled off a coup this year by securing the world premiere of Makoto Shinkai's latest anime film, The Garden of Words, with Shinkai himself in attendance for a Q+A. Today's screening was the first public one anywhere in the world: it doesn't open in Japan for another month. I don't know if this is a first for anime in Australia, but it's certainly rare enough that local fans seized this wonderful opportunity and packed out the session.

Shinkai has followed his fantasy epic Children Who Chase Lost Voices (which screened at Reel Anime last year) with a smaller story set in contemporary Japan that only runs for 43 minutes. While drawing in a public garden in the middle of the city, 15-year-old Takao meets a mysterious older woman, Yukino. Over the course of the rainy season, they bond over their shared love of the rain and the escape that the garden provides, unsure how or whether they should meet beyond their sanctuary.

The Garden of Words is another visually sumptuous film from Shinkai, who depicts both urban Japan and the natural wonders of the garden with a level of detail that is rare even for anime features. From dicing onions to the precise movement of rainfall as it becomes a downpour, the skill of Shinkai and his team in translating small moments into vibrant animation is astounding. Each shot can be basked in, particularly those of tiny instances of natural beauty, which are peppered throughout. Even the more mundane sights of the city are portrayed just as vividly. More than any other anime, it makes me feel like I've visited a Japanese city.

By taking pains to immerse viewers in its worlds rather than rush them through a narrative, anime regularly demonstrates the intoxicating power of animation to capture our world and present it back to us as something new and surprising. The painstaking effort of Shinkai's team to recreate seemingly inconsequential moments and images registers even if we don't realise it, enabling us to be awed at the simplest features of our surroundings, the craft in depicting it reminding us of its complex wonders. This is one of animation's chief joys, and Shinkai makes it a priority.

But like Children Who Chase Lost Voices, the ravishing visuals in The Garden of Words are not quite backed up by the story and characterisation. An adult-teenager relationship will likely face social opposition, raising questions about relative maturity and the potential for exploitation. However, the film chooses not to tackle any of these issues (Shinkai explained to us that he opted not to make the film too heavy). Granted, romantic stories routinely choose not to deal with gritty realities, and that's fine. Charming, idealised, sweet relationships are wonderful to experience on film, and anime excels at them.

But by choosing a more controversial pairing and a tone of understated psychological and social credibility, Shinkai shouldn't be aiming to present a gentle, risk-free courtship more appropriate to Studio Ghibli. Instead, he has an opportunity to explore the complex issues that arise from a sincere bond that is nonetheless judged skeptically by society at large, and the additional complications that could have been layered into a feature-length film would have made the story more daring and psychologically rich. The natural beauty and the chaste nature of Taoko and Yukino's bond could have remained intact, but the film would have felt truer to itself. Alternatively, Shinkai could have presented a more conventional teenage or adult relationship in the stunning environment he has created and freed himself from a narrative that is fundamentally harder to explore and resolve. Ultimately, The Garden of Words feels like it couldn't quite bring itself to be a Satoshi Kon movie.

Some details of the character's backgrounds aren't clear enough either, and the script's hesitation in fully exploring Taoko and Yukino's attitudes makes the climactic outburst feel jarring and unearned. It's an easy, sentimental resolution to a story that demanded more moral ambiguity to be credible and satisfying. The film is certainly ambiguous, but in a muddled rather than understated way.

But despite not exploring that relationship to the extent that it deserved, The Garden of Words is otherwise a triumph of serene observation and quiet beauty. The craft of this film and its meditative power simply must be experienced. Shinkai has mastered that side of his art, from his choice of moments to the technical skill needed to realise them. I just hope that his next script is also fully realised, because that film could be transcendent.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hannibal: Apéritif

Bryan Fuller developing a prequel TV series about Hannibal Lecter made no sense when it was first announced. With the warm and delightful Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies, Fuller has cultivated a reputation for original, innovative projects, even if they didn't last long. And networks continued to want to be in business with him, so why would he turn to a played-out anti-hero for his next project? Surely it would drown in Anthony Hopkins comparisons, network interference, and prequel-itis.

But Fuller deserved the benefit of the doubt, and based on this first episode, he's earned it. Not only has he turned the prequel conceit into a new paradigm for the Lecter character to be examined in a fresh light, he's addressing this dark material with sensitivity and intelligence. Despite some graphic imagery, Hannibal is more horrified by its violence than similar shows and emphasises the devastating toll that it takes on survivors and even the investigator.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Heroes? Reviving cancelled TV shows is already getting off-track

So it seems MSN wants to clamber on the bandwagon of uncancelling TV shows. Using the XBox platform, they're looking to get into the original programming game by putting long-dead TV shows back into production in some form, following Netflix's revival of Arrested Development and the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie.

But what show are they looking at bringing back? Only what's considered one of the ugliest missed opportunities in genre TV of the last decade: Heroes.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

REVIEW: Side by Side

ABC may be getting a little glossy these days, but they're are also programming some seriously cool, unexpected stuff. I'm often pleased and sometimes even shocked by what I stumble upon on iView. For instance, I discovered that Side by Side aired last week in the 'Sunday Arts Up Late' slot. This documentary was only playing American film festivals last year, and it's already on ABC. Great effort, guys.

Side by Side is a documentary about the transition from celluloid to digital in filmmaking, and the debate that divides the professional community about whether we are ultimately gaining or losing by the advent of digital production. I had assumed the film would focus solely on the shooting with film versus digital cameras, but it actually covers every aspect of filmmaking that can or has been digitised, including visual effects, editing, colour timing, and archiving. Writer/director Chris Kenneally has gathered together the disparate issues that film fans have been reading about in all corners of the media for the last decade or two and made a definitive summary and analysis of the implications of digital, while never coming down firmly on either side.

The unexpected star power behind the film is Keanu Reeves, who co-produced, narrates, and conducted the interviews. Undoubtedly due to his connections, the production interviewed a murderer's row of Hollywood directors, including James Cameron, George Lucas, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Robert Rodriguez, and the Wachowskis. But a whole host of cinematographers, editors, producers, executives, and other digital professionals are also interviewed: Walter Murch, Wally Pfister, Vilmos Zsigmond, Vittorio Storaro, Tom Rothman, Dennis Muren, Lena Dunham, Greta Gerwig, and more.

A documentary about filming technologies might arguably only appeal to ardent film buffs, and many may feel the film is not for them. But Kenneally turns this into an absorbing tale of a seismic shift in entertainment that is affecting how we make cinema and who can do so. It also addresses how our viewing habits are being transformed by the digital revolution, and makes the good point that young people today didn't grow up with the cinema being the sole, sacrosanct space for spectacle and wonder. For them, the cinema has always just been one option, and an increasingly expensive one, and that shift in perception may bleed into the art that they go on to generate.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is seeing Reeves engage and banter with movie professionals. As an insider himself, he elicits some wonderful candour from his subjects, but it's always well-reasoned. Well, it sounds that way. One of the key questions about the film/digital debate is just how much celluloid loyalists are entrenched in tradition and whether they are too preoccupied with digital's relative shortcomings to appreciate its strengths. Given the many advantages that we are told digital offers, such as watching footage immediately on set rather than the next day and having greater physical freedom than ever before, the argument that film merely looks better certainly seems reactionary. But many of the comparative benefits of each format are likely highly technical and not appropriate for a documentary like this, so what in the story are we missing? Why exactly does celluloid look a certain way, and are there intricate features of both its look and means of production that digital cannot yet emulate?

Perhaps that's one of the reasons Side by Side doesn't come down firmly on digital's side, because for most viewers it's an armchair conclusion made without genuine expertise. It's tempting to say that digital is now superior thanks to the features we as viewers and consumers can understand, but what about those features we can't? A documentary like this can contextualise these technologies and explain to us why they matter, but it inevitably can't enable us to fully grasp the implications that film professionals are grappling with in their day-to-day work.

That proviso aside, Side by Side still teaches us a great deal and sweeps us up in the excitement and vague terror of this revolution thanks to reports from the frontlines from director heavyweights down to effects technicians and colour timers. Whenever I next read about digital production, I'm going to be more informed and engaged, which is most welcome since this is an essential debate that every film buff needs to follow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

BIFF Review: Heaven's Gate

Margaret Pomeranz made me wait to see Heaven's Gate, and I'm glad she did.

Before I saw her review of the film's last re-release in 2004, all I knew of Heaven's Gate was its ghastly reputation. Considered one of the biggest critical and commercial flops of all time, the neo-western derailed director Michael Cimino's career after the Oscar-winning highs of 1978's The Deer Hunter. Going hugely over-budget during a troubled production, Heaven's Gate finally arrived in cinemas in 1980 as damaged goods, and the reaction was toxic. Cimino was blasted for his hubris and the film contributed to the downfall of its studio, United Artists.

Debate raged about the story behind the film but scant attention was paid to its content, and what reactions there were portrayed the film as incompetent, self-indulgent hackery. With so many dire portents of a production gone wrong, it was no doubt hard to judge the film divorced from that maelstrom.

After a short run in cinemas, it was withdrawn and Cimino cut over an hour from the film for its next release, but it made little difference. Rarely has a film failed so spectacularly. Heaven's Gate was made during Hollywood's 1970s auteur-driven period, so wondrous things were no doubt expected from Cimino when armed with such a huge budget. Instead, the film helped bring about the end of that period and studios began taking tighter control. Just as Star Wars contributed three years earlier to the highly corporate Hollywood of today, so did Heaven's Gate. [More after the jump.]

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The X-Files might actually be coming to Blu-ray

This is weird timing: a speculation I made last weekend looks to have unexpectedly come to pass. In my post about the first season Blu-ray release of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I discussed how the success and viability of that project may lead to Blu-ray releases for other shows that were shot on film but edited on videotape. Out of all shows from the 1980s and 1990s that were produced this way, I named The X-Files as a candidate for the next wave of shows rebuilt for HD. I wasn’t terribly optimistic though.

What a difference a day (or two) makes. The Digital Bits reported on Tuesday that they’ve heard Fox have decided to remaster The X-Files for Blu-ray and may have already started work. Although this was in their “Rumour Mill” column, The Digital Bits is so well connected that while they tag anything not yet officially announced as rumour, their sources are so impeccable that it’s almost certainly going to happen. If it doesn’t, it’s because the studio changed their mind or something stopped them, not because it was never true. The Digital Bits were the first to report that CBS were remastering The Next Generation, and a few months later the official announcement appeared.

So we can start getting excited about this as a near certainty, and what an unexpected development it is. There’s been a lot of talk about the long-term viability of Blu-ray as a commercial format. Some cite that it hasn’t been taken up as rapidly as DVD, or assume that the parallel rise of online streaming options will inevitably put the nail in the disc’s coffin. But this ignores the fact that an increasing proportion of units sold of a title are on Blu-ray rather than DVD, and often the majority. Plus, the required online infrastructure to stream 1080p high definition to huge numbers of customers is not even imminent in America, let alone a smaller country like Australia. For a reliable, pristine HD experience, Blu-ray still can’t be topped. [More after the jump]