(First published on 3/14/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter — more)
I saw Logan and Kong: Skull Island this past weekend. Both were good fun in different ways. But whereas Kong will ultimately be disposable, I think Logan was far more interesting.
I’ve always thought it was a mistake for filmmakers/studios (because it’s often the studios directing such decisions) to focus on trying to please everyone with a franchise movie, versus simply making it a good movie. As the saying goes, by trying to please everyone, you often please no one. But by trying to make a good movie, sometimes — just sometimes, mind you — you actually make a good movie.
I think Logan falls into that latter camp.
Taking a step back, Logan isn’t just a good X-Men movie, or a good superhero movie, it’s a good movie, period. It has compelling characters, a good story arc, etc. It’s a little long, and very violent. But it works. And it just so happens to have Marvel mutants as the main characters.
I’m reminded of Casino Royale (the 2006 version, not the 1967 spoof) and The Dark Knight. Both were also franchise movies. But both also stand the test of time because they’re good movies, period. More of this please, Hollywood.
Jeremy Kahn sat down with Demis Hassabis, co-founder and CEO of DeepMind, to talk about the current state of AI:
That generations of human wisdom, earned by hard experience, may be about to be wiped out is a fairly depressing thought. It’s not enough that robots are going to take our jobs, they’re going to make us look like fools while doing it. But Hassabis tells me that, on the contrary, he sees potential for AI to unleash a golden age of human creativity.
Take Go again. Hassabis says it’s now clear that the level of human play had reached a kind of plateau. Why? Because those learning the game falsely assumed that with more than 2,500 years of experience playing the game, every strategy had been tried and the rules of thumb accurately distilled this history. Top players, he says, weren’t likely to experiment with wild new strategies, because — even subconsciously — they wouldn’t want to risk losing games and prestige if that experimentation failed.
It’s human nature to focus on the (potential) negative: loss of jobs, etc. But it seems just as logical — if not more so — to think about the positive side effects of all these changes. That’s harder, because some of them we won’t and cannot know. But just look at human history. Technological change tends to lead to profound shifts for the better…
Owen Gleiberman on Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film The Post, which dives into The Washington Post’s role in exposing the Pentagon Papers:
A year ago, a movie like “The Post” — or “Spotlight,” or “Zero Dark Thirty,” or “Erin Brockovich” — would have been thought of in that category called “Movies That Matter.” Which is to say: Movies that the liberal media establishment likes, that take on crucial themes of truth and corruption, and that have a fairly specific audience. That’s the way it’s been for ages. My question is: Could that audience, for the first time in a long while, evolve and expand? Is it possible that we could return to a period when movies aren’t just slotted into a category called “Movies That Matter”? That we could return to an age when they actually do matter?
The legendary Hollywood renaissance of the 1970s happened because America, at the time, was mired in social upheaval, in the earthquakes brought about by the new youth culture and by the corruptions and scandals of Vietnam and Watergate; the desire to see all that reflected back at us as drama was a timely, organic phenomenon. The defining motion pictures of the age, from “Midnight Cowboy” to “M*A*S*H” to “The French Connection” to “Chinatown” to “The Last Detail” to “All the President’s Men,” weren’t things you went to see because they were “good for you.” They were films that made the darkness enthralling, because they let you go into the darkness and come out the other side. They were slices of reality that were also extraordinary pieces of entertainment, and the audience was hungry for them because there was a sense, all around you, that the stakes were so high.
I definitely believe there will be a trend in film (and other forms of art) back in this direction. Of course, most won’t be directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. Talk about firepower.
Also of note regarding Spielberg:
“The Post” is scheduled to begin shooting in May and to be released later on this year, even as Spielberg is in the midst of post-production on his dystopian climate-change sci-fi epic, “Ready Player One,” and has had to push back another project he’s already at work on, “The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara” (starring Oscar Isaac and Mark Rylance). Spielberg has a pattern of turning into a master juggler when he takes on a drama of historical import. He completed “Jurassic Park” the same year — 1993 — that he shot, edited, and released “Schindler’s List,” and he repeated the pattern, in 2005, with “The War of the Worlds” and “Munich.” It’s fascinating to think that Spielberg makes his topical-urgency movies on such a breakneck schedule, because that’s probably part of what gives them their history-written-with-lightning quality.
It seems crazy that he could shoot, edit, and release a movie that quickly in this day and age — especially when he’s editing another one. But Spielberg does this from time-to-time, and seems to thrive in such an environment…
Later this year, Netflix will run a trial with a “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s show based on an established character. If this proves successful, there are plans to work with the same format for adult-oriented shows. There has been no confirmation yet as to whether Netflix will apply this interactive format to new shows only, or also include current fan favorites.
This follows Apple also talking about “interactive television” as their potential path forward in the push for the “future of TV.” Count me as skeptical on all of this. Television is great because it’s a lean-back experience. This is trying to get you to lean-forward.
Obviously, that works for some mediums, like videogames. But I’d bet that once the novelty wears off — who doesn’t love “Choose Your Own Adventure”? — people go back to leaning back.
That news came from MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred late this week as he spoke to me about a variety of subjects. When I noted that the increased number of commercial breaks and the time associated to them were factors in pace of play, Manfred said he was not opposed to looking into shortening some of that time up.
“I fully agree with the idea of examining our commercial load in our broadcasts and is something that we should be doing,” Manfred said. “There are contractual limitations on when we can do this; we have existing commitments. But, that certainly should be an issue we look at, as well.”
Oh god please yes. Not sure why people don’t talk about this more in the pacing of all sports events — it’s often all the fucking commercial breaks that destroys the flow and bogs things down. This is part of why watching soccer in Europe is so great. None of that nonsense.
But let’s be honest: this will never happen.
The Economist this week dives into quantum computing. Obviously, it’s great:
What is most exciting about quantum technology is its as yet untapped potential. Experts at the frontier of any transformative technology have a spotty record of foreseeing many of the uses it will find; Thomas Edison thought his phonograph’s strength would lie in elocution lessons. For much of the 20th century “quantum” has, in the popular consciousness, simply signified “weird”. In the 21st, it will come to mean “better”.
Often, things are created, and then the true creation happens…
Good thoughts by Fred Wilson on the downsides of convertible (and SAFE) notes — especially when they stack on top of one another (often when you raise multiple seed rounds). Having worked with companies on these types of structures for long enough now, it’s hard to disagree.
Some thoughts on Facebook Messenger’s new “Day” functionality…
(First published on 3/14/17 on 5ish Links, my newsletter)