Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shifting Predictions

The realm of digital and real is blurring slightly faster than predicted, and we felt it necessary to alert our readers to the updated timetable.

The impetus for this correction is the September 18 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Subscribers in New York and LA will receive a copy containing a video and audio advertisement embedded in the magazine. Additional data can be located here.

A demonstration of the technology in use is available here.

If the ability to place a digital video clip in a print publication can be inverted, there is no limit to the potential. At last, candy could be digitized and distributed electronically, as shown in this safety video.

Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Now that the boundary between reality and the internet has been breached, it is only a matter of time before we begin to enter the online realm ourselves.

So, for those of you keeping track, here is the revised projected timetable:

September 2009: First digital video embedded in print publication.

May 2010 (estimated): Digital embeds common.

January 2012 (estimated): Initial test of matter to digital transference of sample merchandise (70% chance of error; thousands die consuming tainted chocolate).

March 2012 (estimated): Errors corrected; digital distribution methods perfected.

June 2012 (estimated): Initial attempts to bridge the gap by sending a human into the digital world malfunction, creating a monster between realities; hungry, angry, and immortal, this becomes a blight upon the Earth.

July 2012 (estimated): Errors corrected; digital projection becomes common means of transportation.

November 2012 (estimated): Computerized elements, barraged by shards of the digitized souls of those passing through their world, awaken.

January 2013 (estimated): The newly awakened programs declare war on humanity.

So, as you can see, we are seeing an unanticipated acceleration towards digital war. Previous estimates of course placed the war with machines as late as 2033.

We suggest you update your calendars.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

The Middle Room, more often than not, is fairly generous to big budget Hollywood film-making. While certainly not glowing, our analysis of GI Joe was at least mixed, as was our review of Transformers 2.

We bring this up for context. You see, while watching District 9, we found it impossible not to wonder if Hollywood was entirely obsolete.

The situation is merely one of economics. GI Joe cost, according to IMDB, around 170 million. District 9, on the other hand, was made for approximately 30 million. So, for the amount spent on one GI Joe picture, Peter Jackson could produce five movies of far superior quality. And, in the end, he would still have twenty million left over, perhaps for marketing or to rebuild Hobbiton as a tourist attraction.

This isn't to say that District 9 was a perfect film; merely to recognize that it's easily one of the best films we've seen this year. Largely, this is a reflection of the acting, writing, and direction, all of which were excellent. The film delves into its characters, and it is unafraid to show their darker sides. Early in the picture, the main character perpetuates an act of brutality that's simply staggering. While this occurs, he addresses the camera with a clinical fascination: he's doing a job - one he believes is for the greater good - and he's unable to view the aliens as feeling creatures.

Yet, through all this, the main character does not feel evil. He simply lacks the perspective to see what he's a part of. This is a movie about humanity, and it is far from complementary.

What truly impressed us, though, weren't these elements: we went in expecting an intelligent, engaging film. Seeing it delivered was far from a surprise. What we hadn't fully expected was the quality of the effects.

The action in District 9 is certainly not the point of the movie, but, make no mistake, it is incredible. The last third of the film is almost nonstop sci fi action, and it accomplishes this as well or better than Hollywood ever has. There are some absolutely amazing fight sequences unencumbered by PG ratings.

As we already said, this isn't a perfect film. The corporation involved is a hair too evil to be believed. And the plot, while handled well, feels cliche at times. Still, this is a great picture which explores the darkest aspects of humanity. Most impressive, it does so with little sentimentality or easy answers.

And the work on the aliens is phenomenal. The film makers have crafted creatures far more disturbing than the bugs of Starship Troopers, then imbued them with a depth of emotion and sadness that makes them feel, for lack of a better word, human.

The relative system I use for rating movies is somewhat inadequate here, because there are very few similar pictures... and certainly none better. Lacking a closer comparison, we will use Alien as a base. Against that, we award this four stars.

This is a fantastic movie every geek needs to see.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Movie Review: GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

At some point during GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, I realized that both this and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would have been greatly improved had the original theme songs from the 80's cartoons been used during some - or all - of the action sequences.

There is a sense in which neither of these pictures had a grasp on how serious they were supposed to be, and, as a result, were painfully inconsistent. In some ways, this was an even larger problem here, because it didn't have the same level of spectacle to fall back on. Oh, there was still spectacle, of course, but little you haven't seen in the previews.

The movie succeeds best when it keeps to its mythology, a word, I confess, that shouldn't really be applied to GI Joe. Nonetheless, the aspects that resonate with the cartoon are, by and large, a great deal of fun. The experience of seeing the absurd vehicles and villains, along with their sci-fi weapons and gadgets, is somewhat thrilling in itself.

What's missing is the writing. This isn't to say I was expecting brilliant twists and concepts (honestly, Cobra's plan in the film was somewhat MORE intelligent than what I'd expected). However, when I go see a summer action movie I expect the characters to be likable, and I expect the dialogue to be clever.

Now, there were a few characters I did find likable and clever, but they were all working for Cobra.

The problem is that the good guys were vapid, dull, and idiotic. They had nothing on Storm Shadow, who, at times, came off as more anti-hero than villain. Likewise, almost every good line in the movie was delivered by the Baroness; in comparison, Scarlet came off as arrogant, condescending, and childish. When the Baroness and Storm Shadow teamed up to destroy the Eiffel Tower, it felt like a fun, heist movie. It's a pity they chose to take the Baroness in some less interesting directions in the last third: for a while, these were the characters I was rooting for.

Destro's portrayal in the movie was also inspired, and Zartan came off as sufficiently creepy. Even Cobra Commander worked in the end.

The Joes just didn't. Duke, reimagined as a young soldier, lacked presence or force, and Ripcord was simply annoying. Scarlett wasn't awful, but she felt awkward and self-conscious. Snake Eyes was fun to watch, although his mask was laughably bad - something of an issue, since he never took it off. Breaker was redundant as a tech hero: most of the team felt like nerds, anyway. The only one of the core group who looked and acted like he belonged in the military was Heavy Duty, who was largely ignored. I guess General Hawk was all right, too.

Seeing toy planes and zany vehicles brought to life was fun, and there were plenty of lasers and interesting fight scenes. Sure, some of the CG wasn't much better than the drawings they used in the eighties, but that's just part of the charm. All of this would have been so much more powerful, though, if they'd only skipped the dramatic score and used the original theme. No such luck: they didn't even stick it in the credits.

You may be able capture some of this magic on your own, however, by bringing your old toys to the theater and playing with them during the movie.

So, it's a summer movie. It's not spectacular, but it's fun enough if you have any memories - however vague - of the old show. While the writing is nowhere near as bad as Revenge of the Fallen, the effects aren't at the same level, either. I figure these factors cancel out, so I'll score it the same: on the Riddick scale, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra gets two and a half stars.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Underrated, Part 3: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

We could probably do a separate series on underrated movies produced by Bruce Timm, but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm may be the most extreme case. Released theatrically in 1993, this delves into the characters and continuity of the animated series. No longer constrained by television censors, the writers are free to touch on adult themes. There is sex and there is death, neither in overabundance, but both present.

A brilliant portrayal of the Caped Crusader, this film captures many of the same elements which have made Batman Begins and The Dark Knight successful. It considers the dark corners of Batman's universe, featuring a Joker who oscillates violently between hilarious and frightening, mobsters willing to kill, and heroes who falter.

We once visited a video store which classified this movie as drama, an unusually accurate depiction. While it certainly contains action, it is first and foremost a movie about characters, relationships, love, vengeance, and damnation. The movie shows how close Bruce Wayne came to salvation, of avoiding the mask of Batman and living a normal life instead. It's a love story, but one which cannot end well. Because Gotham needs Batman, the city will not allow Bruce to find happiness. In what may be the greatest scene of the picture, we are shown Bruce Wayne at the grave of his parents, begging them to release him from the promise he made as a child. In many ways, Mask of the Phantasm provides a darker portrait of Batman that any other that's been presented on film.

While close, the movie is not perfect. There are a few lines that are a touch melodramatic, and the animation, while generally solid, gets weak from time to time.

But make no mistake, this is a fantastic look at an iconic character. If you haven't seen Mask of the Phantasm, we suggest doing so immediately.

Monday, August 3, 2009


We in The Middle Room tend to avoid the subject, as discussing works of art seldom adds to the experience. Even so, there are times we feel it necessary to take a moment and reflect on certain images and sculptures out there.

Recently, while exploring the digital realm, we came across such a work. Finding ourselves moved, we decided to share. Too few artists, in our opinion, draw inspiration from the forces of madness dwelling beyond the world we know. Fortunately, io9 has located an exception.

First and foremost, it is the scale the catches our attention. Rather than offering tentacular horrors in miniature, the artist has utilized buildings in his work, providing the observer the rare opportunity to experience the fragility of the world we've created and the lives we lead.

Indeed, it is our sincere hope that such work will inspire other artists to work at larger scales, perhaps even offering competition for Japan.