The Kind Of Recycling I Can Happily Live Without.

 
It might surprise some people to read that the last time I went to the cinema to watch a Hollywood film was seven years ago; May 2005 to be precise. While I still watch non Hollywood productions (East Asian cinema is a particular favourite) that manage to get theatrical releases here in the UK, I am no longer able to justify going to see Hollywood releases, and I recently stumbled upon some reminders of why that is the case.

While killing time watching YouTube videos, three clips caught my eye – for all the wrong reasons. The first two, were theatrical trailers for “new” Hollywood film releases; Total Recall, and Dredd. The third clip was a viral video for Robocop which is slated for a 2013 launch.

 
THE THREE R’S

So, what do these three films have in common? And why am I unhappy at learning of their existence? Well first of all, each of these films is a remake. Secondly, all three of the original movies, are several years younger than I am, and I only turned 35 earlier this year.

When these films are released, they will be joining an increasingly long list of recycled 80’s and 90’s era movies and television shows that have been produced in recent years. They are also indicative of Hollywoods disturbing lack of creativity and ambition since the turn of the century. Admittedly, this is only an opinion, but it is one shared by many film lovers, who’ve been subjected to a continuous barrage of the three R’s; reboots, remakes and “reimaginings”.

 
NOTHING NEW

Many defenders of Hollywood’s recent output, will point out that this is nothing new, because the studios have always remade movies from their back catalogues, (which I concede is certainly true.) Often they will site a film like Scarface as an example of a remake that wasn’t just a cynical cash-grab.

My response to this argument, is that in the past Hollywood would wait several decades before remaking an old film. By which time the original had long been forgotten or unheard of by most movie-goers. 1976’s King Kong is the perfect example of this, having been released 43 years after the 1933 original movie. Anyone who did remember and was familiar with the original film had no means to rewatch it on demand anyway, (VHS hadn’t been invented yet let alone DVD or BluRay) so there was no reason not to welcome a remake.

What we are witnessing today, is significantly different in my opinion. The length of time between a film playing on the big screen, before the eventual announcement of a reboot, remake or “reimagining”, has become drastically shorter. The recent reboot of Spider-man was only 5 years after the previous incarnation. Most of the other high profile remakes over the last five years or so, have been well known – often popular classics – from the 80’s and 90’s. This is more than recent enough, that the teenage audiences whom these remakes are being produced for, will almost certainly be aware of the originals, and in all likelihood have already seen on DVD or BluRay.

 
THE APOLOGISTS

With the availability of old titles on DVD and/or BluRay, the need for remakes like the soon to be released Total Recall is highly questionable. Yet apologists for Total Recall have argued that it’s not really a remake; that it is simply another adaptation of a literary work, so people shouldn’t be upset about it. After all no one ever complains when a Sherlock Holmes film is made.

This argument would have held a lot more weight if the studio who produced the film had named it something else. After all, Philip K. Dicks short story is called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, not Total Recall. It seems clear to me that the studio wants to take advantage of the name recognition of the original film to entice film-goers, who will almost certainly believe that they will be watching a remake.

 
THE BOTTOM LINE

I realise that Hollywood studios are not charitable institutions; they are businesses who’s sole purpose is to make money. Ultimately, they don’t view film-making as an art form, nor do they care about the artistic merit of their product. Their only concern is the bottom line. So as long as the teenage audiences for whom today’s Hollywood films are made for, continue to pay to see them, there is little hope that the quality of films coming from Tinseltown will increase.

 
NEW IDEAS NOT WELCOME

For those of us who want more than shallow CGI infested “blockbusters”, it would be easy to conclude that Hollywood has run out of ideas. But, the more absurd the huge amounts of money the studios invest in producing and marketing their films becomes, the less incentive there actually is for them to risk trying to make something original, when there is no guarantee of a return on their investment.

However, some people would argue that new ideas are not even welcome in Hollywood. Indeed, writer Mark Harris wrote an article last year titled The Day The Movies Died, which among other things, highlights Hollywood’s ambivalence to the financial success of Inception, a film that Christopher Nolan may never have been allowed to make, but for the success of The Dark Knight.

And now the twist: The studios are trying very hard not to notice its success, or to care. Before anybody saw the movie, the buzz within the industry was: It’s just a favor Warner Bros. is doing for Nolan because the studio needs him to make Batman 3. After it started to screen, the party line changed: It’s too smart for the room, too smart for the summer, too smart for the audience. Just before it opened, it shifted again: Nolan is only a brand-name director to Web geeks, and his drawing power is being wildly overestimated. After it grossed $62 million on its first weekend, the word was: Yeah, that’s pretty good, but it just means all the Nolan groupies came out early—now watch it drop like a stone.

And here was the buzz three months later, after Inception became the only release of 2010 to log eleven consecutive weeks in the top ten: Huh. Well, you never know.

“Huh. Well, you never know” is an admission that, put simply, things have never been worse.

In conclusion, the seven years in which I’ve deemed Hollywood movies not worth the price of admission looks set to increase. But at least I can take comfort in the fact that outside Hollywood, there are still movies being made which don’t seek to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

 
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Can A $99 Android Games Console Really Challenge The Home Gaming Status Quo?

 
Unless you have been asleep under a rock for the last few days, you will no doubt be aware that the hottest news in gaming right now, is the proposed new game console called OUYA (ooh-yah). This new venture has been making considerable waves recently, due in large part to its phenomenal crowdfunding performance on Kickstarter.

The team behind this bold new effort to disrupt the home games console market, initiated their Kickstarter drive with a goal to attain pledges totalling $950,000 in thirty days. Incredibly, this goal was achieved within half a day, as thousands of backers “opened their wallets” to pledge the funds that could see the OUYA launch as early as March 2013.

As of today – less than a week since the Kickstarter drive began – the OUYA project has raised well in excess of four million dollars, from more than 37,000 backers, and is on course to break the five million dollar mark.

 
THE SALES PITCH

So what is it about the OUYA that has convinced so many people to back the development of a $99 Android based console? Well take a look at the at the startups founder and CEO, Julie Uhrman selling the OUYA in this promotional video.

If the finished product is able to deliver on all of the promises of its creators, the OUYA would cement its place as one of Kickstarter’s biggest success stories.

 
A CONSOLE OPEN TO HACKERS?

From the information that has been released thus far, it seems clear that the biggest draw of the OUYA, is its open development platform, based on the Open Source Android 4.0 operating system. This is in stark contrast to the closed models of the three established names of the home gaming market; Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

In addition, the OUYA team have made their console hackable by design, so those who are inclined to do so, can legitmately tinker with and modify the hardware to their hearts content without ever voiding the warranty. This is exactly the kind of activity that the established players don’t look kindly at.

 
AN ALTERNATIVE; NOT A COMPETITOR

Whilst the OUYA is certainly generating a lot of buzz online, not all of it is positive. Reading comments on tech blogs, games forums, websites and YouTube videos, it seems that most of the criticisms of the OUYA seem to be focused on the graphical quality of potential OUYA game releases, in comparison to the AAA titles available for Xbox 360 and PS3.

These critics have failed to realize that the OUYA is not intended to be a direct competitor for the current generation of consoles, let alone the next generation. The OUYA hopes to be an alternative which will provide among other things, independant game experiences that are unlikely to find a home on the mainstream consoles.

 
INCREASED INNOVATION

It’s perhaps not surprising that fanboys of Microsoft and Sony’s console offerings won’t be impressed with the announcement of the OUYA. It is unlikely the OUYA will be capable of delivering the AAA games that these fanboys hold so dear. But for gamers who have rightly grown weary of the generic military first person shooters – which constitute the bulk of AAA games – the OUYA represents a great opportunity for more innovation in game development.

For the entirety of the current console generation, there has been a dearth of original ideas in games. The absurd sums of money invested in producing AAA games by the major publishers ensures that they will never risk developing an original game. So gamers have been forced to endure a glut of generic (first and third person) shooters, and sequel after sequel of tired franchises.

With the cost of entry for developing games for the OUYA being so minimal (no licensing fees, publishing fees etc.), indie developers will have that much more creative freedom to try out new game ideas. That fact alone is what makes the OUYA such a compelling prospect to both indie developers, and gamers who yearn for something different to what is currently on offer from the three established console makers.

 
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Have Arsenal Become A Feeder Club For The Big Boys?

 

With a new Premier League season only a matter of weeks away, the merry-go-round known as the Transfer Window, is well under way. As has become customary over the last few years, the comings and (especially the) goings to and away from Arsenal FC are grabbing the lion’s share of the headlines. In particular, Robin Van Persie’s recent revelation that he would not be extending his contract, caused shockwaves that continue to reverberate at The Emirates Stadium.

 
EXODUS

There’s no doubt that many Gooners will and have accused Van Persie of disloyalty and betrayal amongst other things, as well as being a mercenary out for more money. Such accusations however, cannot cover up the reality that when (as he surely will) Van Persie leaves Arsenal, he will be joining a long line of high profile Gunners stars who have departed the club in recent seasons. That list of names includes Henry, Flamini, Cole, Toure, Fabregas, Nasri and Clichy.

This rather predictable turn of events is indicative of Arsenal’s increasing inability to hold onto their best players, due in large part, to their perennial failure to win trophies. With the new season fast approaching, this state of affairs (no silverware in 7 years) shows no sign of being rectified. In fact, it is looking increasingly as though the Arsenal board (much to the chagrin of shareholders Alisher Usmanov and Farhad Moshiri) are perfectly content to remain also rans, as long as the revenue that comes with qualification for the Champions League keeps coming into the club.

If this remains the case, then Arsenal fans should expect that not only will they lose the ability to attract big name players to the club. They will continue to lose their best players just as they reach their prime, to rival clubs with ambitions to win trophies. Certainly, last season’s “deserters” Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri won’t regret their decisions to join Manchester City, after having dramatically won the Premier League title. Something they couldn’t have hoped to achieve with the Gunners, who once again were happy to simply secure a lucrative UEFA Champions League place.

 
WHERE’S THE MONEY?

Whilst one would naturally expect that the large sums of money that is generated from Champion’s League football would be invested – at least in part – into strengthening the Gunners’ limited squad, that has clearly not been the case. As clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, and even Liverpool have spent heavily on marquee signings over the last few seasons, Arsenal have not made any attempts to keep pace with the spending of their rivals.

Some Arsenal fans will no doubt respond to this by pointing out that the club still has to payoff the debts incurred by the construction of the Emirates Stadium. Which in turn leads to questions as to why there have been conflicting stories from various sources at the club about the transfer funds allegedly available for signings on the one hand, and reports of there being no funds available on the other.

Given the fact that Arsenal fans have being paying for the Premier League’s most expensive season tickets, since their move to the Emirates Stadium, suggestions that the club lacks the financial clout to compete in the transfer market don’t seem credible.

This confusion could have easily been laid to rest by manager Arsene Wenger, by simply stating one way or another what the situation is with regard to the Gunners’ finances. Instead Wenger has consistently refrained from signing high profile established star players to the club, insisting rather, that his policy of nurturing and bringing through young (mostly foreign) talent will lead to success on the pitch. A policy that has clearly been a failure, and caused many observers to regard the Gunners’ boss as a delusional and stubborn has-been.

 
IN WENGER WE TRUST!

For a football club of Arsenal’s stature and history, one would assume that after seven seasons of continuous failure to win a trophy, the fans would be calling for the head of the manager, and hounding him out of the club. However, this is clearly not the case. Arsene Wenger, as Arsenal manager remains the second longest serving current manager in the Premier league, after Sir Alex Ferguson.

While a very small minority of Gooners have expressed dissatisfaction with both Wenger’s transfer policy and footballing philosophy, the Arsenal boss has managed to escape the blame for the clubs lack of success with the overwhelming majority of the clubs’ supporters. Indeed, the faith that most fans have in their manager remains undiminished, as is evidenced by the oft-repeated mantra, “In Wenger We Trust!

 
A SELLING CLUB?

As a new season looms, Arsenal’s prospects in both league and cup competitions seem even more remote than at any time during the previous seven. In fact, the now familiar sight of the Gunners losing another top player before a new campaign, has lead some observers to wonder if Arsenal are now a selling club. A suggestion that most Gooners will no doubt consider to be laughable.

Whilst the idea of Arsenal being a selling club is unlikely to gain traction among their own supporters. To impartial football fans, the North London giants are looking increasingly like a feeder club who nurture young talent to sell to the big boys of European football. Certainly, there is no question that those players who chose to leave the club, did indeed move on to bigger and better things, winning league and cup titles, both in England and on the Continent.

 
FAILURE IS THE NEW SUCCESS

As an impartial observer, I have no vested interest in the success or otherwise of Arsenal football club. However, if I put myself in the shoes of an Arsenal fan, I like Robin Van Persie, would not be happy with the direction of the club. The Arsenal board have made it abundantly clear that their criteria for success is qualification for the Champions League. So finishing in third or fourth place in the league, is deemed perfectly acceptable. Actually winning trophies is no longer on the agenda.

The only hope that Arsenal fans (who want to win things) have that this attitude can be changed, is if the Gunners fail to qualify for next season’s Champions League. This should in theory force the Arsenal board into opening the purse strings and competing in the transfer market.

Whether or not this sequence of events would actually bring silverware to the Emirates, is open to debate. My own personal view, which I have held for the last five or six years, is that Arsenal will never win another trophy while Arsene Wenger is still the manager. He has remained willfully oblivious to the shortcomings of his squad defensively and in midfield. His tactical inflexibility has been a liability, as his unwillingness to sign established big name stars, and his baffling reluctance to sign British players.

Unfortunately for Arsenal supporters, it seems unlikely that the Frenchman will ever be sacked by the board of directors. So maybe all the Gooners of this world will have to accept the new reality, that Arsenal are now little more than a feeder club for the big boys.

 
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