movies Uncategorized

Bring back Old Tobey

Sony should green-light a fourth Spider-Man film from Sam Raimi.

Raimi directed the original Spider-Man trilogy: the cleanly-executed origin story; the hilariously fun sequel; and the ill-fated, little-loved third installment. That last outing—plagued by misguided studio meddling—proved to be Raimi’s last. When the director couldn’t nail down a script for a fourth and final film starring Tobey Maguire, Sony rebooted the franchise with a younger, hipper Peter Parker instead.

Now that the reboot itself has fizzled, Sony has recast Spidey again—going even younger. The new Spider-Man, Tom Holland, will appear opposite the Avengers in the third Captain America film. He’ll also star in a standalone picture slated for 2017.

Most superhero movies adopt this “younger, louder, dumber” strategy. Most of these films have little to say, beyond “Look at our huge special effects budget!” Action scenes (which I find skull-achingly boring) consume the bulk of screen time. That’s particularly true in the Marvel Cinematic Universe™, a machine that produces bland, whiz-bang movies every six months or so.

A better, bolder approach would have slowed down and continued the story of Peter Parker as played by Tobey Maguire. Spider-Man 4 might have explored questions very rarely tackled by superhero movies. What happens when a hero hits middle age (Maguire recently turned forty)? If Spider-Man had kids, would he still take such acrobatic risks? What does “work/life balance” look like when “work” involves battling homicidal super-villains?

This pitch plays well to the strengths of the franchise under Raimi. The Spider-Man movies struck a clever balance between tongue-in-cheek playfulness and earnest storytelling. This scene from Spider-Man 2, in which Maguire plays pitiable victim perfectly, hints at how the “aging Spidey” concept might work. Or see this incredible montage, in which Parker gladly abandons his superheroic duties.

Raimi might have framed this fourth film as a “re-origin” story. We pick up with Peter and Mary Jane Watson-Parker, years after Spider-Man disappeared from New York. Inevitably, some villainous maniac arises to wreak havoc, and pressure mounts on Peter to don his mothballed Spidey-suit.

Chances are that a film along these lines won’t ever happen. But in a world of reboots and long-delayed sequels, it’s at least possible that nostalgia will someday open the door. If Sony’s latest Spider-Man reboot (or the next one, or the one after that) flops, they should give Sam Raimi a call.

games Uncategorized

Falling out of love with video games

When I was a kid, my life revolved around video games. I spent every free moment mashing buttons. When I couldn’t game—at school, on the bus, or drifting off to sleep—I dreamt about gaming. Each month, I’d pore over the latest Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine, scrutinizing each screenshot meticulously.

My childhood memories can be divided into distinct console eras. First, the NES epoch, when my brothers and I salivated over—then received—Super Mario Brothers 3. During the Sega Genesis years, I became an adrenaline junkie, addicted to Sonic the Hedgehog’s reckless speed. In high school, I graduated to the PlayStation and immersed myself in the  dense gameplay of Metal Gear Solid.

Them something changed. Somewhere along the way, I began to lose interest in video games.

Part of it was simple cost; my family sometimes struggled to pay the bills. Video games were a luxury we couldn’t afford. Even back then, single titles sold for $50-60 a pop.

But even after I started earning my own spending money, my love for games waned. In high school, girlfriends, sports, and the nascent Internet claimed my free time. 

Then came college. For many young adults (especially men), college is when gaming takes hold. Even then (in 1999), network gaming was huge. Many guys in my dorm played Madden or Halo day and night.

Meanwhile, I was overwhelmed with schoolwork: piano practice, ensemble rehearsal, papers and assigned readings. There was no time for Halo LAN parties. Besides, I was exhausted. Often, I’d leave the dorm room before seven, then not return ’til long after midnight, when both roommates had powered down the Nintendo 64 and climbed into bed. I’d stumble through the dark and collapse onto my bed. Video games had dropped off my radar entirely.

Eventually, I graduated from college, found a job, and was surprised to find myself with hours of free time every evening. I tried to recapture that teenage magic and leap back into the gaming scene, picking up where I left off. I blew through Metal Gear Solid 2 and, later, Metal Gear Solid 3.

But that was the end of my gaming renaissance. Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to spend time or money on games again. Part of me still enjoyed playing, of course. But another, louder part of me despised myself for binging away a weekend. I’d feel guilty, grimy, and unhealthy by the time I dropped the controller. Eventually, I buried my PlayStation 2 beneath a pile of DVDs; it’s sat there ever since.

Since then, I’ve watched two hardware generations pass me by. I can’t justify plunking down three or four hundred dollars on a modern console. A cheaper product—say, an Apple TV with an app store—might tempt me back. I doubt it, though. At some point, it seems, my gaming addiction lost its grip over me.

I wonder… is this the normal progression—to abandon games as the demands of work and home ownership and family press in? Or am I a millennial aberration? I’d love to hear from other one-time, adolescent gamers; did you maintain your obsession into adulthood?

movies Uncategorized

Firewall the marketers.

Last year’s massive Sony Pictures hack offered the public a fascinating look at the media conglomerate’s inner workings. Take, for example, a recently-uncovered email, in which an eager marketing executive advocates for “buzzworthy” changes to The Amazing Spider-Man sequel:

Hey Amy – just a couple of rando thoughts from 35,000 LAX-JFK:

  • A rising trend we see with Millennials are the really extreme forms of experiential exercise like Tough Mudder (a sort of filthy triathalon), the Color Run and even things like Hot Power Yoga, veganism etc. Millennials will often post “N.B.D.” on their social media after doing it , as in No Big Deal, also known as the “humble brag”…..wondering if Spidey could get into that in some way….he’s super athletic, bendy, strong, intense….and it’s all NBD to him, of course.
  • EDM (electronic dance music) is the defining music for Millennials. Wondering if there’s an EDM angle somewhere with Spidey? His movements are beautiful, would be awesome with a killer DJ behind it.
  • Snapchat just launched a “story” functionality, which is sort of “day in the life of me” told in a series of snapchats that expire after 24 hours. It has a very VIP quality about it, since invitation only. Getting invited into Spidey’s Snapchat circle would be huge, and very buzzworthy and cool.

Nick Shore, writing to Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair Amy Pascal (emphasis added). Via WikiLeaks. Hat tip to Tyler Huckabee.

Sony recruited Nick Shore (the quoted marketer) away from MTV to serve as a “chief creative strategist.” According to the Hollywood Reporter, Shore’s role at Sony focuses on “guiding the development of entertainment and marketing content targeted at both the millennial generation… and their successors, Generation Z.” For a bit more background, check out Shore’s Twitter feed; it reads like an anthology of high-fashion haikus. Some choice cuts:

Shore’s taken a beating in the blogosphere this week. Gawker (in true Gawker style) called him “some tech asshole.” A.V. Club described him as “an ordinary man bitten by a radioactive style report.”

It feels cruel to pile on; after all, Nick Shore never expected his off-the-cuff suggestions, jotted down on a transcontinental flight, to become fodder for Internet snarks. Plus, adding to Shore’s now-public embarrassment, Pascal apparently rejected his ill-advised pitch. The latest Spider-Man movie has no scene in which Peter Parker live-snapchats his extreme mud run, all scored to thumping house music.[1]

For better or worse, product placement and demo-targeting have their place in the movie-making machine. But this leaked email proves what can happen when marketers hijack a creative project. Throwaway trends and fashion appeal can quickly swamp good storytelling. Better to firewall the salespeople and marketers away from the content creators—and avoid the temptation to go tragically hip.

  1. From what I’ve heard (I didn’t watch the film), Amazing Spider-Man 2 had plenty of other problems.  ↩