All posts by Philip Regan

LA Weekly: Pulling The Interview Is the End of Free Speech in Hollywood

The truth is, America’s commitment to free speech is dwarfed by our commitment to capitalism. Seth Rogen can stand in his house and say anything he wants about Kim Jong-un – but Sony has the choice to fund him, and even if it agrees, AMC can still pull the plug. The corporation, not the individual, has always had the power to decide what movie is a thoughtcrime. We’re just only now visibly seeing the suits flex their clout.
LA Weekly: Pulling The Interview Is the End of Free Speech in Hollywood

I think noting that this issue is not new is just as important.

This American Life: 129 Cars

We recently had to buy a new car. I say “had to” because the one we were driving at the time was twelve years old and had 185,000 miles on it. A lot of little things weren’t working. The engine itself—block, pistons, and transmission—was fine, which I’ve had more than one mechanic say if the engine is fine then the car is maintainable; everything else can be replaced or really isn’t necessary to getting from one place to the next, but if the block, pistons, or transmission get damaged, selling it for parts or trading it in for a new one is far easier than replacing the block. Sure, you ostensibly pay more in payments than in repairs, but then at least you know that you have reliable transportation. Since all this was coming from my mechanics over the years, I’ve had a hard time even attempting to refute the logic.

But over the last couple of years a lot of little things were going wrong, and driving our old car was a death by a thousand cuts. The driver-side sunshade decided it wouldn’t stay in the roof any more; the keyless entry stopped working entirely, we had to manually manipulate all the locks; and the A/C stopped working altogether. When we saw the cost to replace the struts and repair the A/C, we decided buying a new car was the cheaper option, at least for the first year, but easier in terms of convenience over the long term. Good enough reason as any since we felt we had successfully continued our long tradition of driving our cars into the ground.

When we were coming to the realization that we were going to have to buy a new car in the next six months, I had already heard about the 129 Cars episode on This American Life, and grabbed it off of iTunes for 99¢. Since then I must have listened to it a hundred times. This quote, and you really have to hear the delivery, cracks me up every time:

A customer says they’re not ready to buy a car. Let’s go over it again. They’re at a car dealership. They got in their car, drove through hell to get here, looked for a parking spot for ten minutes, parked, got out of the car and walked into a car dealer. Not because the coffee’s good, we went over this, because the coffee here’s not good. They came here because we sell cars and they want to buy one.

There was a lot of useful information in there that, while not directly applicable, altered our approach such that we were able to have much more reasonable time purchasing the car. In talking with people each car company and each dealership all have their own ways of doing things. But that quote, I think, comprehensively framed our mindset walking into the dealership. They didn’t need to know that our current car was falling apart, but we didn’t waste their time and ours deluding ourselves or them that we were “just looking.” They know we were in the market for a new car, but they also knew—because we told them—we were weighing our options in what they knew to be a competitive market. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say we were not hostile in any way, and ended up with a great deal without a lot of hassle.

If you are in the market to buy a new car, I highly suggest listening to that episode a few times to catch all the details. I still listen to it from time to time if only to hear that quote. I have found it immensely useful in other areas as well—washers, dryers, refrigerators, furniture, and anything else that requires a salesman to coordinate the purchase. Unless you are in the washer business, you are not “just looking.”

Death Becomes Him: Confessions of a Mortician

I tend to read a lot about morticians (for some reason that I have yet to surmise), and this one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the topic because it captures perfectly both “sides,” if you will, of morticians and non-morticians:

Of course, we like to keep our distance in this way, which is why we pay the death fairies to take care of it. Americans don’t like to talk about the inevitable: Our screens are filled with zombies, and yet speaking frankly about death is seen as “morbid” or “unhealthy.” Surely the recent Ebola panic is a product of this repression, a way of turning our own mortality into a foreign threat, an illegal immigrant landing on our shores. Death is embarrassing to us, even a bit unpatriotic. I’ve discovered this about my own fear of extinction. When I bring it up, people tend to shift in their chairs, as if holding in a fart. A look of impatience crosses their faces. Just as often, too, they can’t understand what the hell I’m talking about.
Death Becomes Him: Confessions of a Mortician

There’s so much I could quote, and I don’t want to ruin it, but this paragraph really struck a nerve:

I switched on the TV. Game of Thrones, which I’d never seen before, was on. It was some grim and pretentious business. A bunch of bearded dudes were trapped inside a castle, waiting to be slaughtered. Mostly they walked around muttering about how scared they were. Before long the bad guys, a motley crew that seemed to include giants and woolly mammoths, stormed the castle and began to bash people’s heads in like watermelons. Normally I was hardened to this sort of stuff — who could go to the movies these days without seeing the insides of someone’s head? — but now I felt like I might actually throw up. What did it mean that this was one of the most popular shows in America? Why did we need our death porn and our sealed caskets, too?

I’ve never seen Game of Thrones, and based on what I’ve heard I have no interest in it either. I’ve been involved in some kind of medical publishing my entire career. Horror and gore in TV and movies really doesn’t do anything for me anymore. If anything, I find “death porn” confusing.

Hollywood still doesn’t have any new ideas

Matt Reeves says that the plan isn’t ever to “remake” The Planet of the Apes, but to do something more reboot-ish…
io9.com: What Could Another Planet of the Apes Remake Look Like?

New rule: Anytime a Hollywood executive uses the words “another…remake” in a sentence, even speculatively, needs to be immediately stripped of their decision-making authority.

I’m “iffy” on reboots. There is bias on my part in that I really only care about those franchises I like, and I never really cared for Planet of the Apes. Then there are those rare franchises that lend themselves to “reboots,” like the James Bond series. And let’s be clear: “reboot” is just a fancier term for “remake,” like “pre-owned vehicle” is just a fancier term for “used car.”

Either way, given the current prevalence of remakes and reboots, is Hollywood really so starved for new ideas that this is the new norm?

Boston.com: Can’t Get Nothin’ Right

Extension School classes are open to everyone — “no application required,” the site says. Therein lies the major difference.

Calling yourself a Harvard student comes with a set of assumptions: you scored well on the SATs, kept up a top GPA, led some extra-curriculars, wrote a grammatically correct and interesting essay, and maybe even had a parent attend.

Extension School students don’t need any of these qualifications; they just need an interest to learn and some money to spend. “Many simply enroll in a course or two to gain the knowledge or skills they need for their current career or for personal enrichment,” a spokesperson said, and most don’t intend to graduate. That makes some difference in determining the ‘Harvard student’ definition.
Boston.com: When Is a Person Taking Classes at Harvard Not Considered a ‘Harvard Student?’

Boston.com is absolute shit. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the merits of an article based on comments—because, you know, that’s where the *real* magic happens.

After all that text, the article still fails to make the distinction between non-credit—those that take classes at Harvard—and for-credit students—those who are “Harvard students” given their privileges at the University. By privileges I mean access to libraries, events, ID cards, and the all important diploma which look exactly the same as those from the College except for the actual degree conferred. In the end, those who take courses at Extension for credit are earning an accredited degree from the school that is a part of Harvard University. Nor does Boston.com take the time to explain the entrance requirements that do exist. This is not a hard distinction to make, but one that I am not surprised Boston.com fails to get correct.

Digging deeper, there’s this guy…

I would categorize a Harvard student as someone who gets a degree from the University,” Baveja said, “so I guess in that sense I wouldn’t necessarily categorize [an Extension School attendee] as a ‘Harvard student.’ ”

No. Now pay attention. No one gets a degree from “the University.” Those of us taking courses for credit are getting degrees from our respective schools—Harvard College, Extension, Business, Law, and so on—which are all a part of the University.

As to the merits of basing on article on comments, Boston.com is absolute shit.

Verizon FiOS has dropped FOX 25

(MyFoxBoston.com) — We are sorry that our viewers that subscribe to Verizon FiOS have lost access to FOX 25.

By law, FOX 25 must negotiate carriage agreements with cable companies like Verizon FiOS. Usually, these deals are reached without any disruption to your service. In fact, our company has negotiated dozens of agreements with only the rarest of disruptions. Unfortunately, so far,Verizon FiOS has refused to reach a fair, market-based deal to carry FOX 25. Our existing agreement with Verizon FiOS has expired, and we cannot provide Verizon FiOS customers with live access to their favorite FOX programs until a new deal is reached.

We are continuing to negotiate with Verizon FiOS, but Verizon has refused to agree to reasonable terms for the valuable programming we provide.

I’ll always concede there are two sides to every story, but as for “valuable programming” not so much. Television is crap. We all know it, including the networks. Yes, I watch Masterchef on Fox, but I don’t work my schedule around watching a show. No gaping hole in my schedule left here to ponder. So, sorry, guys. That free market can be a real bitch sometimes, eh? Good luck and maybe I’ll see you on the flip side.

Morning Coffee

SCENE: 06:30, Saturday Morning

Daughter: Daddy, let’s play a game!
Me: How about “Daddy Drinks Coffee?” That’s a game we could play. I’m playing it right now, actually.
Daughter: Daddy! [Laughs] That’s not a game!
Me: You’re right. It’s not a game; Daddy must have his coffee every day.
Daughter: [blinks]
Me: How about we play Minecraft?
Daughter: Yeah!

Star Trek to Star Wars: Just One Thing About J.J. Abrams At The Helm

(Warning: This article contains spoilers for movies that have been out for at least a couple years now, though given the title if you are reading this article you have seen the films in question.)

Ars Technica has a good review of the Star Wars trailer because it doesn’t dive deeply into the details but instead looks at the overall context:

One alternate explanation for the excess of familiarity is that, unlike 2009’s Star Trek, The Force Awakens is a true sequel and not a reboot. Abrams’ first Trek film hit a big reset button for a franchise that was in much worse shape than Star Wars is now—even though reviews of Episodes I, II, and III were mostly negative and remain popular punching bags to this day, they were still big financial successes. The same cannot be said for Star Trek Nemesis and Enterprise, the final fizzling embers of the Star Trek revival that began with Wrath of Khan and The Next Generation. Abrams had a lot of latitude in reimagining Trek’s most iconic elements, but The Force Awakens is sticking closer to the aesthetic established in the original 1970s and ’80s films.

I agree about the prequels. Lucas fucked up. I saw all of them in the theaters, but I only ever saw them once. I have zero inclination to see them again, much less buy DVDs remastered or otherwise. For me, Episodes I, II, and III just never happened, and I will only revisit them when my kids ask “Hey, this is Episode IV. Where are Episodes I, II, and III?”

As for J.J. Abrams’ treatment of the Star Trek reboot, I have mixed feelings about them. For both the films, I really like the overall look and feel; the original uniforms with the movie iconography and sets. I think he really captured the overall aesthetic across the entire franchise that I grew up with.

The conclusion to the article sums up my feelings about these new Star Wars films:

Of course, this trailer gives us just a glimpse of what we’ll actually see in theaters in December 2015, and it tells us nothing about the stuff that really ruined the prequel movies—boring stories, wooden acting, and stilted, ridiculous scripts. We’re inclined to be hopeful, given Abrams’ track record, but we’re still in for a long wait.

This is also where I pause on Abrams taking the helm of Star Wars. Case in point: the plot to the second Star Trek reboot movie—you know, the one where Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan—because it speaks directly to my single biggest complaint about Hollywood in that there are so few original ideas. How many remakes of already-written plots do we need? How many Superman origin stories do we need set to film? Why have all of these action movie soundtracks been simplified down to non-orchestral bombastic textures? (I’m looking at you Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer.) As soon as Cumberbatch revealed he was Khan, I was ready to leave (but didn’t because the theater seats are way more comfortable than the lobby seats). When Spock and Kirk flipped the infamous engine room scene from Wrath of Khan, the Abrams version went into the same “I want two hours of my life back” bin I have for Episodes I, II, and III. My time for movies is severely limited, and I find more satisfaction out of other types of film than the current trends in high-end sci-fi/action. Maybe I’m just getting old and no longer the target audience for The Avengers, but my patience for seeing the same memes used across genres and franchises is already stale.

The point here is not that I expect an old plot will be rehashed in Star Wars—obviously, there shouldn’t be in what is clearly going to be a canonical sequel—but that Abrams has made what I consider to be showstopper mistakes with a beloved franchise. While I don’t think he will make a “second Death Star” mistake (speaking of rehashing old plots), there is still a lot of room for error here.

I do—however, ultimately, honestly, and truly—wish him the best of luck with Star Wars. The Star Trek reboot was a visual love letter to a great franchise, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the first one if only because he gave Star Trek a long-needed “edginess” to it, and the Star Wars trailer looks to be the same. Seeing and hearing those X-Wings skimming on the water, and the Millennium Falcon taking on a couple of TIEs, had the kid in my craving much, much more. Abrams is clearly already more on the mark than Lucas was; amazing what a fresh pair of eyes will do to a franchise. But we still don’t know anything about the plot, despite all the picking apart by fandom with their rumors in hand, and we all know as irrefutable, immutable law of film that no amount of special effects will save a bad story.

Speaking of fandom, the comments to the article are amusing in a William Shatner, Saturday Night Live skit kind of way (says the guy writing about a Star Wars teaser trailer on his blog), which I don’t normally read but I just had to look, and this one sums up the tone perfectly:

Yes, LET’S ARGUE ABOUT LIGHTSABER CONFIGURATIONS ON THE INTERNET IN THE TIME HONORED TRADITION

May the force be with J.J. Abrams and his team.