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Cinema is Dying

Posted in Uncategorized on June 24, 2012 by pieman70

Heloo, anyone still there?

Life has interfered with blogging, but I thought I’d try a post or two as time permits.

Just a couple of days ago I managed to get out to the cinema, something of a rarity these days.  Both the film and the company were excellent (cheers Reilly2040 And Avengers) and the cinema experience was actually pretty good, however I get the feeling that I am experiencing the last throes of a dying industry.

The film industry isn’t dying but cinema is. Partly this is due to the advances in home cinema, you can get HD, surround sound, even 3D if you’re that way inclined in the comfort of your own home mere months after the cinematic release.  Indeed a combination of getting cinema quality at home, for less per film (not counting initial equipment outlay) is part of the problem, but cinemas themselves must take responsibility.

Basically, when you go to the cinema you pay an excessive amount to sit in a seat that is significantly less comfy than one at home, surrounded by strangers who often talk, eat noisily and take phone calls, and eating massively over-priced sweets while drinking an insanely huge cup of cola flavoured ice.  Now I know cinemas don’t make much on tickets, but the ticket price plus cost of food makes a trip prohibitively expensive (particularly for families)

The Cinema response to dwindling numbers has been poor as well.  They aim for gimmicks like 3D and vibrating chairs, or blaming piracy rather than going to the source of the problem.  Quite simply, the cut costs and pack ’em in strategy is probably the most important factor in the loss of business.

Big multiplexes run from a skeleton staff now.  While this is countered slightly by online booking and self service concession stands, ultimately most modern multiplexes are severely short on staff.  This means your queue for a ticket is longer, as is the queue for overpriced food.  Once in the cinema the low number of projectionists means your film may not be in the correct aspect ratio, and fixing this will take significantly longer.  If there’s someone annoying in the cinema, talking, causing a ruckus etc, there are no ushers to deal with them (And any staff aren’t paid nearly enough for that aggro)  overall, the cost cutting and high prices make the cinema a fairly unpleasant experience, not worth the few months advance you’ll get to see the film before the DVD release.

Not being all negative, I could suggest some adjustments, first, cut ticket prices, possibly negotiate with studios to preserve margins, but reducing ticket prices, or offering group deals (For example family tickets.)  Second, cut concession prices, dropping the price will put the majority off bringing in their own food, why high prices are a false economy.  Third, hire more staff, make the experience run smoothly and pleasantly.  Luxury cinemas like Glasgow’s Grosvenor should be the norm.

Second, adverts, again I know they’re a revenue stream, but cut those to a minimum, drop all the anti-piracy ads (We’re here, people who torrented the film have cut this bit out) and finally, make the trailers appropriate, Batman and Spider-Man are decent trailers for Avengers, a film about a male stripper finding himself and love is less so.

More importantly, play up the social side, do more marathons (Alien series, die hard films) possibly try a “Film Club” where the screening is accompanied by film discussion.  The one thing home viewing will replicate less is the social side, take advantage of the idea that you’ve drawn together groups of people to share a film.

Without some radical new ideas cinema will die, and I wouldn’t want to see that.

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Space: Above and Beyond – Revisited

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 5, 2012 by pieman70

Just in time for a proposed Region 2 DVD release I’ve finished watching my Region 1 boxed set of Space: Above and beyond, watching this and Babylon 5 and playing Duke Nukem 3D and Max, I may as well be 17 again.

As always, I will not avoid spoilers, be warned.

For those who don’t know, Space: Above and Beyond (SAAB) was a one season wonder created by X-Files alumnus Glen Morgan and James Wong which Aired in the UK around 1996-1998.  It was a military SF series following the lives of the 58th US Marine Corps Squadron known as the Wild Cards during a war between Earth and an inscrutable advanced alien race who never named themselves but were commonly referred to as the “Chigs”

While it didn’t get much critical recognition in its day I was a real fan of the show, admittedly it helped that I often spent my Friday nights in watching TV late at night and so was one of the few who probably caught it on its initial broadcast.  However, could this be a case of “Don’t meet your heroes?”

In short, no.  If anything being older and having many years of different SF under my belt lead me to believe this is an under-rated classic.  Like any good military fiction this is not primarily about “boys Own” action, swinging in and giving chiggy a jolly old boot up whatever it uses for a backside.  In fact during the bulk of the single season humanity is loosing the war.  It is instead about the characters, from hardened veteran Colonel McQueen, rebellious loner Cooper Hawkes, and all round nice guy Paul Wang, what initially start off looking like bog standard ciphers become fleshed out, three dimensional characters.  They bond as a unit in a believable way (i.e. not by the end of the pilot) and similarly, while not avoiding the “redshirt” trope entirely (In general any new recruits of the 58th have a short shelf life) they actually built up one new recruit (Winslow) which made the squadron’s reaction to her demise more believable.

The series itself was very cynical, particularly of humanity.  In the future they’ve created robots to act as slaves only to have them rebel, at which point they create artificially gestated people (In-Vitros or Tanks) to fight the rogue silicates, who also eventually refuse to fight.  The war itself turns out to have been started by a shady Aerospace contractor called Aerotech.  Yes, the series had subtle underpinning and development of plotlines that sadly we never got to see come to fruition.

Interestingly, watching S:AAB now, it definitely gave a good chunk of its DNA to the re-imagined Galactica.  The overt military feel, which the Likes of Trek and even Babylon 5 often avoid.  In S:AAB they don’t shy away from military jargon in much the same way BSG adopted its own forms of military speak.  There is also something of S:AAB’s Hammerheads in the way the BSG vipers fight, in fact aside from artificial gravity S:AAB tried to keep its Sci-Fi relatively “hard” the fighters do behave a bit like planes but can also perform 180 turns in space in the same way the Babylon 5 Starfuries could, only this is lightening quick.  All the equipment is more militaristically named.  On a personal note and as someone who doesn’t see an X-Wing, they see an Incom T65 X-Wing Space Superiority Fighter the Aerotech SA-43 “Hammerhead” Endo/Exo-Atmospheric Attack Jet brings me great joy. 

Like BSG it’s not afraid to be grim, people die, people are sacrificed, sometimes in vain and it isn’t usually tied up at the end with a nice ribbon (Although S:AAB isn’t quite as unrelenting as BSG was)  there are moments of levity and nobility.

If I was to bring up a couple of gripes, in early episodes the acting is a bit sub-par (However not unusual for any series, look at early DS9 or TNG) the effects have aged a bit, although they did make some good calls, not having a massive effects budget they make good use of shadow, the darkness of space and put a lot of effort into re-usable stock footage.  It saved money for when they wanted to be ambitious, like the Beauty shots of “Chiggy von Rechtoven” lurking in a gaseous atmosphere.  The series is also undeniably “90’s” not in actual substance but in look and feel, in a similar way that TNG is early 90s while both DS9 and voyager are a bit more timeless.

The best way to recommend this series in my mind is not through all this piffle I’ve just written, but to give a Top 5 Episodes, if you watch nothing else, catch these 5.

In no particular Order

Who Monitors the Birds.

Hawkes takes on a covert assassination mission, however when his commander is killed he must survive alone on an enemy planet until extraction.  As well as getting flashbacks to the In-Vitro programme it’s a daring episode that gets by on relatively little dialogue.  Hawkes doesn’t talk to himself as he starts feeling the effects of isolation, the hardships are played out through action.  I’d challenge a series to do this now without some sort of Voice over log recording or hallucination friend to talk to.

Toy Soldiers

West’s brother is assigned to the Saratoga under the command of a reckless, enthusiastic and inexperienced commander.  It’s not blindingly original but the dénouement is nonetheless heartbreaking

The Angriest Angel

Quite an uncharacteristic episode, McQueen goes into full on action hero mode to take down a Chig ace who has destroyed squadrons of pilots.  It should be absurd that this one pilot succeeds where many others have failed or were lucky to return alive but James Morrison makes it compelling and fascinating viewing.

The River of Stars

Almost an obligatory Christmas Episode, the 58th are stuck in a damaged APC drifting in space.  The idea of the enemy helping them to safety is actually secondary to the character development, particularly that Happy go-lucky Wang has actually lost his faith and is actually getting worn down by the horrors of war.  It’s also a good episode showing the way the cast have bonded over the past few months.

…. Tell Our Moms we Done our best

The Final episode.  Yes it’s a hateful cliff-hanger with no resolution, but instantly forgivable.  The Chigs have sent an envoy for peace after the 58th unwittingly revealed their invasion plan’s in the previous episode.  As a gesture of goodwill the chigs release the Colonist POWs who have been held since the Pilot including West’s girlfriend.  However when Aerotech’s complicity is revealed and talks break down the rescue becomes threatened with tragic consequences.  Yes, they bump off half the cast.  By the end of this episode Wang is dead in one of the finest TV deaths ever, Vansen and Damphouse are MIA, probably dead and McQueen has lost his legs.  There is so much to like, from the Gung-Ho “Shuffle up the wild cards, and Deal em” to the lump in the throat “Take Her home West” and “Semper Fi my friends” to McQueen’s words to Commodore Ross “No, It shouldn’t have been you, it shouldn’t have been any of us”  One of the finest 45mins of TV you will see.

 

So, needless to say I’m not sorry I decided to re-visit this particular gem from my past.  But I have been thinking about why it wasn’t a success.  Frankly, my view is it came too early, it came as Babylon 5 and DS9 were beginning to bring this sort of thing to the front.  Also, in general people prefer allegories they can relate to.  The nearest war we had in mind was the first Iraq war, and it didn’t really fit the war depicted in the show.  In many ways it was still reflecting aspects of Vietnam.  I imagine somewhere there is a world where this series was delayed by a decade and came out in the post 9/11 mid Iraq/Afghanistan world and found its audience.

Fear Itself

Posted in Avengers, Avengers Academy, Comics, Fear Itself, Fearsome Four, Heroic Age, Iron Man, Marvel, Secret Avengers, She-Hulk, The Initiative, Thunderbolts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2011 by pieman70

ok, so this was an event I was going to miss.  Serious event fatigue has been going on in my comic buying for some time.  How I long for a wee contained event restricted to a certain family of titles, preferable the X-men while say the Avengers are allowed to carry on regardless.  Seriously, another world-changing event just over a year after the New Heroic age started?  Can’t these titles be given a chance at more than a couple of arcs before “Everything Changes?” So it’s rather annoying that Fear Itself has turned out quite so well.

Just to clarify, I’ve not been picking up the Fear Itself book, but many of the books I do collect are now Fear Itself tie Ins, see unless you’re willing to just drop a title for a couple of months there’s no escaping the huge event.

The plot, from what I can ascertain, Sin, Daughter of the red Skull has found an old Asgaurdian fear god who was so bad he was banished and removed from all of history.  This god has given her a hammer like Thor’s and sent 7 others to earth where they have been picked up by several Heroes and Villains, turning them into evil gods.  Sin has also led an attack on Washington using Giant Nazi robots.  Odin is in fact so scared he has withdrawn Asgard from earth taking all his norse gods with him.  Confused, well for someone not reading the main book it can be.  This is wat I would classify as a “Bad” crossover.  Namely you do feel you’ve missed something if you just stick to your main titles.  So much so that it took several books for me to realise I hadn’t missed an issue in between.

This criticism aside, the event itself is great.  Obviously, some heavy hitters get their own big bad to fight, such as Iron Man fighting the Grey Gargoyle or the Avengers fighting a hammer possessed Thing.  Others are involved in general fighting, such as the Secret Avengers being on the vanguard defending Washington DC from Sin’s forces, The Thunderbolts trying to secure the raft after a hammer landed and was picked up by Juggernaut or the Avengers Academy pupils involved protecting civilians.  Either way, there is a real apocalyptic feel to this event.  Society is breaking down and the problems are as much rioting, looting and people being scared as they are nazi battlemechs or godlike super-villains.

Fear itself has even got me picking up some extra Limited series.  First, Youth in Revolt.

Youth in Revolt Features Prodigy, plus many of the heroes that appeared in the Initiative, who are re-activated as a volunteer force to try to help.  Sadly a situation in Atlanta develops when Thor Girl accidentally deflects some shots from a policeman with disastrous results.  I liked this on two fronts.  First, its more about stopping looters than fighting big bads, although there is a good moment with Crossbones nearly wiping out Gravity’s team.  It’s also great if you were, like me, keen on teh whole Initiative idea.  As well as featuring Prodigy, Thor Girl, Cloud 9 and Firestar, it is jam packed with guest appearances from Butterball, to some of The Order, and ist a good read.

Second is a bit odd but worth a look, Fearsome Four.  because of the high levels of fear, man thing has been drawn to New York.  Howard the Duck recruits She-Hulk, Nighthawk and Frankensteins monster to try to prevent his friend from killing too many people.  Its quirky, Nighthawk appears to have gone a bit ga-ga since I last saw him, think more along the lines of the “God Damned Batman” but its worth it if nothing else for some serious Quack-Fu from Howard.

So, I’m still not picking up the main book, but the story is worth the disruption its caused to my regular reads.  In fact, at this rate I’ll probably pick up the trade.

A Discussion on Immigration

Posted in Journalism, Media, Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on May 14, 2010 by pieman70

This article won’t be a discussion on immigration per se.

One of the arguments you hear from the right/anti-immigration side is that parties like UKIP and the BNP (Yes, I mention them in the same breath because they are the same) are merely a symptom of not being allowed to discuss immigration without being called racist, or indeed as some papers say, in between headlines and front pages about immigration, “You can’t talk about immigration”.

So, I’m putting in a suggestion on how a discussion on immigration where the pro immigration side, will discuss immigration without calling you racist, bigoted or any other accusation of that ilk regardless of how racist you get.

This isn’t a free ride, any anti-immigration types who participate have to agree to some terms of my own devising, gleaned from many a head/brick wall interface type conversation I’ve had with them in the past.

First, argument must be conducted online in a discussion forum type environment, this allows both sides to cite articles, studies and websites and have plenty of time to read and counterpoint them.

Second, Argument must be based on facts, statistics and reports, not anecdote, opinion or editorial.  The number of times I’ve been in a discussion and quoted, for example that Legal migrants are entitled to all our benefits, as they have come over here with a job at some point and therefore paid tax, Asylum seekers get £30 odd a week and illegals get nothing, being illegal.  Only to be told that “I see them every day and they get more than that” Back it up, with facts and figures, otherwise I might as well respond “No they don’t, I see them not get benefits every day.” Similarly, the oft stated claim that “They don’t integrate” prove it, both sides, have studies been done.  I recall one (Can’t find a citation sadly) which actually said your average muslim migrant read the sun, watched X-Factor, supported the local football team and worried about immigrants (Seriously) how is that not integrating.

Third, the anti-immigration side have to specify at each point who “They” are.  Again I’ve been in arguments where “Immigrant” flits between someone in from the EU, someone on a student Visa, economic migrant, illegal migrant and asylum seeker.  (In truth this is because most anti-immigration types don’t know the difference)

Fourth, leave your tin-foil hat at the door.  There is no point pretending to have a discussion with someone only to respond to a set of facts with “Oh well they would say that” If you have a fault with the figures, by all means, lest see a factual backing up of these, or a scientific deconstruction of the methods.  I’ve seen this done in just about all of migration watch’s stuff and its a perfectly valid form of argument.  Claiming the figures were “Made up” because they don’t fit your view is not.

Finally, both sides must be willing to give ground.  Again the pro-immigration lobby (Aside from their more lunatic fringes) are better at this, accept that people have concerns, that these can be in the form of their communities changing, and that sometimes an influx of migrants makes them feel like they’re being squeezed out, and their voice may not be heard (A bit like being me in a seat where everyone else is happy with Douglas Alexander) the anti-immigration side will similarly have to be open to accept that the line fed to them by the daily mail is actually based on a slanted editorial agenda and that their life views may in fact be wrong.  (Sorry, that in itself is slanted, but purely because the bulk of research I’ve read shows it to be the case)

The tabloid calls for open discussion mean on their terms, basically say what we like without accusations of racism.  The structure I suggested would produce a real discussion, but not one I suspect the anti-immigration supporters would enjoy.

What went wrong?

Posted in General Election, Government, Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on May 9, 2010 by pieman70

The results are in, and the good news is we have a Hung Parliament, bad news is the change didn’t go as hoped.  Tabloid fear mongering and the usual last ditch of the traditional parties in “Vote for anyone other than us, get them” worked once again to deliver the usual, bland old election result.  We also lost a good MP in the form of Dr Evan Harris (LD) and kept some particularly poor ones in Nadine Dorres (Con) and David Tredinic.  Overall very disappointing. Only good news was the Greens won a seat.

I was looking forward to a wide open election, no seat is safe, who knows who would win.  A combination of the expenses and the lib dem surge should have given this, but instead voters decided that they fear the unknown, and got it anyway.

Worse, as we speak Nick Clegg may well be selling his granny for a taste of power.

That’s unfair, but from experience in the Scottish parliament, the lib dems will drop any flagship policy for a go at being in charge.  Basically, as I stand, if he gives up PR for forming a government, well, the Lib Dems won’t be getting my vote for a very long time.

Nick has other options.  My prefered one is to form the “Rainbow Coalition” Lib dem, Labour and lots of smaller parties, with a goal of electoral reform and fiscal stability.  Problem is that this is about 100 times more likely to collapse than a simple 2 party coalition, and this would certainly mean that a future election campaign would be run with a “Don’t want a hung parliament again do you” a shame because it is the more grown up, evolved form of democracy.

The other way I would be interested to see would be a minority Tory government, heinous as the concept of 5 years of conservatism is, the current party is already tearing itself apart over not winning, and the offer they tabled for the Lib Dems in public showed very little in the way of compromise, it could be a good excercise in growing up and not always getting your way to have to get each policy through on its merits and on bill by bill agreements, much as the SNP do in Scotland.

A mean part of me also sees how much the torys are tearing themselves apart over not winning, and so I can only see further division when they don’t get their own way and can’t do favours for their big donors.  In that vein I also hope that should Cameron end up in Downing street and Mr Murdoch comes asking for his pound of flesh, Cameron response is “Where’s my majority you feeble tuppence” closely followed by “And by the way, I’m going to legislate against you ruling so much of the news medial you useless bastard” Indeed I hope the “Sun wot won it” myth is finally gone, since tory support fell away once the sun got on board.

For a last bit of Tory bashing, I do find it funny that the torys are now doing the “Back room deals” that they said were a terrible undemocratic thing, guess that only applies in a Lib-Lab pact.  Second, some top tories are calling for Cameron to be removed and replaced as leader, so, they’d have a PM who was not elected, much the same criticism that they used on Gordon Brown the past few years eh?

Bloody hypocrites.

The Obligatory Election Post

Posted in General Election, Government, Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on May 3, 2010 by pieman70

As some who live in britain may be aware, there is an election going on.  Now, I’ve been trying to shy away from political blogging mainly due to my inability to do it particularly well, but I’ll once again have a crack at it.

Many blogs will start with the phrase “Now I won’t tell you who to vote for” but I’m different, I will, sort of, not really.  At least I’m honest in trying to influence your vote, of course the reach of this blog particularly in a blogsphere full of blogs about the election means the effect will be about as much as my actual seat (Ultra safe labour), but, like voting for someone who isn’t Douglas Alexander, I’ll still write it.  So, who do you vote for.

First, turn up to vote.  I can’t stress this enough, whatever level of hell we end up in its twice your fault if you didn’t even bother getting out to vote.  Spoil your ballot paper, write a protest, it doesn’t get officially counted but you never know.  Either way get off your sofa and Vote.

Second, if you have a good constituency MP, vote for them, regardless of party (Unless you find their politics particularly odious).  Good constituency MPs are worth their weight in gold and don’t let simple tribalism or anti-labour/tory sentiment do you out of a good one.  How do you know?  Well ask around, have they ever helped anyone you know?  Do they hold regular surgeries, and finally, bt by no means foolproof, how often do they break ranks in votes.  In general safe seats are held by one of two types of MP, good constituency MPs who could get voted in as an independent if de-selected, or Yes men (Douglas, I’m looking at you) who are more concerned about being de-selected by the party than serving their constituents.  The former can break the whip without fear of reprisal, the latter can not.

Third, obviously considering the last post, don’t vote conservative.  I don’t like being so blatantly partisan, but Don’t.  Now, you may ask why.  Well I personally dislike their policies but there si something greater than my whims.  Teh Tories are tied in very deeply with Rupert Murdoch and its been fun watching his papers scramble with the fear that the election may not be the forgone conclusion that Labour was in 1997, but a Tory loss this year would finally dispel the myth that the Murdoch papers decide election results rather than, say merely back winners.  This would hopefully mean that never again will our leaders do shady deals with this millionaire tyrant in order to curry his favour, and the hopeless optimist in me also hopes for the new government, whatever its configuration, to perhaps consider the implications of one man holding this much power in the delivery of news and finally do something about it.

Fourth, Break safe seats, you may not unseat a candidate, but try to unseat some safe labour or tory ministers, or at least make the election night that bit less comfortable.  Preferably do this voting for a smaller party, such as the Greens or indeed the lib-dems.  You may not shift the yes man, but hopefully it will be a reminder of who they work for.

Fifth, ignore the scaremongering of a hung parliament.  Alex Salmond of the SNP is right, despite my post about compromise politics, Minority governments and coalitions are the ultimate destination of true democracy.  It means those who didn’t vote for the winners can still have their views mean something, yes all too often the politicians take the huff and stop playing, but if we keep returning balanced parliaments they’ll get the message.

Finally, vote for who you believe in, ignore all the parties saying candidate X will never win, they only won’t win if no-one votes for them.  In ’97 safe seats fell, and they hopefully will this year.  IF you like the greens, Vote green, if you like the lib-dems, vote lib dem, if you like UKIP or the BNP, stay at home (Ok vote, but you’re wrong in just about every way) with any luck by next election we will finally be rid of this antiquated voting system and we can then see real change.

My vote, is private, but I’ll tell you where I’m leaning, as I have no green candidate, its between the Lib-Dems and the SNP.  The Lib-Dems, because It would be a real kicker for them to actually win the same or better seats than the other two.  contrary to what the papers report the surge started before Nick Cleggs appearance on the leaders debates (Which also, contrary to what they said, he won and Cameron lost, on all fronts) because somehow people decided that they might win, and therefore weren’t a wasted vote.  They definitely represent the most liberal views of the big three.  My other choice, the SNP.  I’m still in principle opposed to Scottish independence but they do have some other attractive policies and have signed up to the Power 2010 pledge.  Plus in the Scottish Leaders Debate Alex Salmond said the most sensible things about immigration (Here’s a hint, it was the very opposite of the Daily Mail’s stance) anyone has said all campaign.  That alone is worth support.

Lets hope this all turns out, there’s a feeling that we’re close to real change, Not the kind Cameron is pedaling, I mean ground breaking change, it’s a dream, so close you can touch it, I almost don’t dare speak about it lest it melts and vanishes for all time.  Its hope.

War Machine in Iron man 2 Teaser

Posted in Marvel, Movies, Uncategorized, War Machine with tags , , on August 17, 2009 by pieman70

The CDCC footage of Iron Man 2 has been leaked, War Machine is confirmed. I have my reservations, but can’t help being excited that I get to see War Machine on the big screen. It shows teh faith I have in Favereau to do the character justice.

I hope my faith is not misplaced, roll on Iron Man 2