Some thoughts on Captain America, IMAX and 3-D

I went to see Captain America: Civil War yesterday at the IMAX theater in 3-D, in which Marvel continues to show that super hero movies can tell stories of personal and political substance.

While I have enjoyed most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, I think the two most recent Captain America moviesCivil War and Winter Soldier — are both excellent character studies and meditations on values. Both deal with the importance of personal loyalty, your moral code, and a willingness to sacrifice yourself for something bigger. They also look at the complex issue of a World War II era soldier/super hero having to come to terms with a post-9/11 world.  I mean, we don’t really expect summer pop corn movies to give a deep examination on the nature of contemporary fascism. And yet, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says about his Black Panther comic series, along with dealing with heavy contemporary issues, you also need to have “supervillians with cool powers.” (BTW, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther (king and super hero) is one of the best things about Civil War. He brings a gravity an depth to the film as both a protector and ruler of a peaceful country that has just suffered a devastating loss. Name sound familiar? Baseman is the great classically trained actor who played Jackie Robinson in the biopic 42. As a second not, I’ve had no interest in Spider Man for years.  The version of the web slinger in Civil War is a great interpretation!)

As a side note, I would say that the IMAX production values of the movie were excellent, especially the extended battle scene shot in native IMAX format.

The 3-D? Not so much. The film seemed to be primarily shot with 2-D composition that did not make the 3-D interesting or useful. Lots and lots of quick cuts which moved the action along but don’t work well in 3-D. Three-D movies don’t have to be shot in 3-D to be effective, but they most definitely need to be composed for 3-D.
The Tron reboot, Prometheus, and Gravity all made fantastic use of 3-D. In all of those, the 3-D was used to place you in the scene rather than to show off action.

Regular readers here know I’m a fan of seeing movies in the best theater possible, and the cost of an IMAX ticket is well worth the money for Civil War.

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Questions Worth Asking (Maybe)

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Nebraska Press Association Workshop – Using narrative in reporting

This weekend, my colleague Terri Diffenderfer and I gave a presentation at the Nebraska Press Association annual convention on using narrative techniques in reporting.  We had a great time working with some excellent reporters.  I promised to share links to some of the materials we talked about, so here they are!

And here’s an interview with Buchanan from Charlie Rose during her novel writing phase.

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Prince Rogers Nelson RIP – Dick Clark’s Toughest Interview

Television stations broke into their afternoon programming today to announce the death of Prince Rogers Nelson, the 57-year-old exuberant, creative, innovative musician who was almost as famous for his love of personal privacy as he was for incredible peformances. As of this writing on Thursday afternoon, there was no announcement of cause of death.

President Obama issued a statement that said:

Today the world lost a creative icon. Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent. As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all.”

When the famous DJ/Host Dick Clark talked about the hardest interview he ever had with a pop/rock/soul star, the answer wasn’t a tough one for him.  It was his interview, if that’s what you can call it, with a 21-year-old Prince (who claimed to be 19). Prince’s music on the show was fantastic.  His interview – difficult.  Sorry I can’t embed it here, but follow this link to to Deadspin for a replay of Purpleness’s segment on American Bandstand.

Prince’s pouring rain 2007 Super Bowl halftime show. 
Personally, I don’t see the point of ever having another music act at the Super Bowl ever again after this one. A great behind-the-scenes look at Prince playing his halftime show during a massive rain storm.  I knew at the time I wondered how he and the rest of the band weren’t getting electrocuted.

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Guest Blog Post – Heroes of the Dorm on ESPN2

The following is a guest blog post by my colleague Aaron Blackman, who in addition to being a forensics coach and comm lecturer is also a big fan of video and tabletop games. 

For the second year in a row, ESPN decided to forego showing traditional physical sports during primetime on a Sunday night. Rather than watch the Golden State Warriors tie the NBA record for number of wins in a season, many viewers (myself included) chose to watch 10 college students duke it out in a PC game for a chance at free college tuition. On April 10th, ESPN2 showcased eSports by airing the live Grand Final round of the Heroes of the Dorm tournament. The tournament began with over 400 teams from Universities across the country, and ended with students from Arizona State University winning up to $75,000 each in tuition for the rest of their college careers.

david chen photo tweetHeroes of the Dorm is a playful name twist on the video game that was being played in the tournament: Heroes of the Storm. Released on June 2nd, 2015 by Blizzard Entertainment, Heroes of the Storm is is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) similar to other popular titles like DoTA2 and League of Legends.

The concept beyond a MOBA is simple: two teams of 5 players square off in a digital battle to destroy the opposing team’s base. Each player chooses a hero that complements their team and levels up during the course of the match. The players try to sway the course of the battle by destroying enemy fortifications as well as fighting the other team – all in a bid to reach the enemy HQ, the core.

Whereas matches in other MOBA’s typically last 30-45 minutes, Heroes of the Storm tries to cater to a more casual audience with matches that last around 15-20 minutes. In addition, players can choose from the ever growing list of 50 possible heroes to play as, all of which are established characters from popular Blizzard video games such as Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo.

So why exactly does ESPN air the end of a video game tournament on a Sunday night? Just last week, Fortune reported on Newzoo, a research firm that analyzed eSports and the main place fans turn to for watching them: Twitch.tv. According to Newzoo, 475.5 million hours of eSports content was viewed on Twitch from July to December in 2015 alone. Newzoo also forecasts that eSports will grow to be a $765 million industry by 2018.

ESPN certainly seems interested in cashing in on a growing phenomenon, and have a dedicated eSports news page. However, without a consistent schedule or dedicated channel, ESPN’s attempts to cover eSports seem half-hearted. The dissonance caused by watching an eSport on ESPN, while physical sports scores tracked along the bottom of the screen was jarring.

I spent a few hours watching and tweeting Saturday night during the Semifinal round, as well as Sunday for the Grand Finals. Following the hashtag #HeroesoftheDorm, I ended up making a few observations. First, there were outliers on both ends of the spectrum for ESPN2 airing a video game tournament. Video game fans used to watching free streams on Twitch were disheartened that a cable subscription was required to watch on Saturday and Sunday.

On the other side of the argument, sports fans were upset that video games were being aired in the first place.

Second, ESPN pulled off a delicate balance between informing newcomers and satisfying gamers. Fans had a hard time getting used to a watered down version of the on-screen scoreboard.

ESPN had to make the information accessible to viewers who have never watched eSports before, but at the cost of leaving gamers in the dark on key statistics. The organizers clearly explained the video game in a very basic way each night, but only at the beginning of the broadcasts.

ESPN has staked its interest in a rapidly growing industry, but only time will tell if they can work out the kinks on airing video games alongside sports.

1 (Good photo of the venue for the Grand Finals)

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Where’s Rey?

Sitting in my garage is a plastic storage bin full of old Star Wars action figures that belonged at one time to my kids. If you dig through it, there will be Darth Vader, a Luke Skywalker, a Han Solo, maybe even a little green Yoda. There might be a Princess Leia, but that would be about it for female figures from the original trilogy.

You might expect with the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens there would be a one for Daisy Ridley’s character Rey, the movie’s lead; a General Leia (a promotion from princess, after all, for Carrie Fisher); and of course there has to be one for Gwendoline Christie’s bad ass Stormtrooper Captain Phasma! But when Hasbro released its first set of Force Awakens action figure toys, none of these women were represented. There was Rey’s co-lead, Finn; Chewbacca, and the villain Kylo Ren. But there were also an unnamed Stormtrooper and an unnamed TIE fighter pilot.

Where's Rey Action Figures

Why no women? It’s not like Hasbro doesn’t sell lots of female action figures – it’s just that they are generally Disney princesses, not women with quarterstaffs, blasters, or legions of rebel soldiers… So even if there aren’t action figures, you would at least expect there to be female character tokens in The Force Awakens edition of Monopoly… Nope.

Well, at least not until the #WheresRey hashtag campaign got started on social media and led to shaming Hasbro into including Rey and other female characters into subsequent toy releases. But this problem is not limited to Star Wars toys. Caroline Framke, writing for Vox, notes that the toys for the Avengers omitted Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, even though they managed to include her motorcycle and give it to Captain America. The same was true for Zoe Saldana’s Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy – and Saldana is a veteran of action movies, having stared in Avatar and multiple Star Trek movies. (You can read more about this on the great girl geek blog The Mary Sue.)

Framke writes:

The idea is that Hasbro wants to cater to a female audience, but it’s concentrating those efforts on princesses rather than diversifying its existing “boy” brands to be more friendly to girls.

What this logic ignores, of course, is the notion that female fans of Star Wars or Marvel heroes, who finally got to see something of themselves in Rey or Black Widow or Gamora, might want to own an action figure that reflects as much.

It ignores the notion that both girls and boys can like superhero toys, as well as Disney princesses.


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Trailer drops for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

OK, so I might have squealed.  Just a little.

 

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Looking at the history of the future

It’s always fun to take a look back at what people in the past thought the future we are living in now would look like.

For example, here’s a segment CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite did in 1967 for a series he did called The 21st Century predicting what a home office might look like in 2001:

And here’s an article from the Pew Research Center on what experts in 1982 at the Institute for the Future think tank thought our information technology would look like in 1998.

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PewDiePie Rules YouTube

Felix Kjellberg is the most famous person on the planet you’ve never heard of.  At least if you are older than 40 and don’t have young people in the house.  Kjellberg is the first person in YouTube history to have more than 10 billion views.  Yes, that’s billion with a b.  He’s had more views than Psy with his K-pop Gangnam Style, more views than Justin Bieber, more views than Kanye and Kim.

Name not ringing a bell? Perhaps because he goes online by the handle PewDiePie.  He’s a twenty-something from Sweden who is known for his video game play-with-me videos that have him laughing, screaming, and cowering in fear during the scary parts of video games.

NOTE: NSFW language in video

Kjellberg started out as a student at a prestigious Swedish university, but he left school to sell hot dogs and make gaming videos.  Needless to say, his parents were not initially excited about his choice. What initially drew viewers was what Rolling Stone called his “legendary cowardice” displayed through “screaming, running and cursing at the first sign of danger” while playing through horror games.  Once he started attracting audiences that numbered in the tens of thousands, however, his parents relented and accepted that he might be onto something.

Where does his online name come from? Pew – that’s the sound laser guns make in video games (Pew, pew, pew!). Die – that’s what happens to you when you are hit by a laser blast going “pew, pew pew” in a video game. And Pie, because… well, I got nothing. (In case you didn’t already know – PewDiePie rhymes all the way through with “cutie pie.)

Caitlin Dewey, writing for the Washington Post, says that authenticity is what seems to set Kjellberg apart from other YouTube stars. “He comes across as 100-percent authentic. Watching a PewDiePie video is like listening to a friend; not a super witty or insightful friend, generally, but a friend who is consistently fun to hang out with.”

“YouTube breaks the barrier between the audience and the creator,” Kjellberg told the entertainment industry journal Variety. “They feel a connection to the one they’re watching.” Fridays with PewDiePie videos are full of antics and game plays that are requested by fans – much as radio stations used to take requests.  His fans are known as the Bros and his signoff is the display of the brofist.

In addition to being a YouTube sensation, Kjellberg is a popular guest on conventional TV, having played video games with Conan O’Brien and chatted with the Late Show’s Stephen Colbert. Unlike some other TV hosts, Colbert recognizes the importance of YouTube stars, joking during the interview “I want to thank the internet for allowing their emperor to be here for the evening.”  Kjellberg has also authored the bestselling This Book Loves You, a collection of parodies of inspirational quotes.

While Kjellberg has been mocked by critics, he says he’s clearly doing something people like.  “It seems silly,” Kjellberg tells Rolling Stone. “Your job is to play games? You make money from that? It’s ridiculous. But the more you know about it, and the more you get to know me, the more you understand that it’s actually a hard thing to do, and not a lot of people would be able to do it.” Kjellberg reportedly earned $12 million in 2015.

People watching other people play video games is one of the fastest growing trends in media use. According to a 2015 study, approximately 30 percent of American adults sometimes or frequently watch videos or live streams of video game content.  Back in 2014, thousands of people would watch a fish named Grayson “play” Pokemon, triggering actions by swimming through different sections of his tank.  At the same time, Amazon paid almost $1 billion to buy video game video streaming service Twitch.  While Twitch gets referred to as “gamer’s ESPN,” it might actually be the other way around – because Twitch attracts a far bigger audience than ESPN – As many as 100 million viewers per month watching an average of more than 90 minutes of gameplay per day.  Twitch’s web site attracts viewership approaching that of Google, Netflix, Google and Apple.

Kjellberg now is creating a multichannel YouTube network in association with Disney’s Maker Studios. PewDiePie will be pooling efforts with a number of other social media stars including CutiePieMarzia, Kwebbelkp, and EmmaBlackery. In addition to creating content and drawing in advertising, the new network, Revelmode, will also work at rasing money for social causes such as Save the Children and Charity: Water. AdWeek has compared Kjellberg with radio shock jock Howard Stern, who created his own satellite radio networks after he left doing a popular broadcast radio.

It can be difficult figuring out how YouTube fits in with broadcast, satellite/cable, and the streaming services when it comes to video programing, but the Television Academy, which hands out the Emmy Awards, has now created several classes of awards for short form videos, like those PewDiePie produces.  To be eligible, the series needs to have at least six episodes that average under 15 minutes each. Previously, short-form online videos were eligible for fan-voted Webby or Streamy awards.

“These category changes reflect the boarder opportunities that emerging networks and distribution platforms, such as Maker Studios, Fullscreen, Crackle, AwesomenessTV, YouTube Red, Adult Swim and others, are seizing in choosing innovative formats that  enable our television community to share stories in novel and entertaining ways,” said TV Academy chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum.

Creators like PewDiePie are a central part of a rapidly changing media world.  He connects directly with his fans through social media, he sends out most of his programming through new channels like YouTube but still uses legacy media like television and books, and he connects on a global level. PewDiePie started as an independent video performer and he now works with one of the biggest media corporations in the world.

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Smart Analysis on Brussels Attacks from Joshua Hersh

We’ve had round the clock news about the bombings in Brussels over the last few days, but some of the sharpest reporting I’ve seen has come from freelancer Joshua Hersh’s Twitter feed.  I’m to post several of his tweets from earlier this week.  Strongly urge you to follow what he’s been writing.

Here’s the story he wrote in December of 2015 about the problem of terrorism in Belgium.

(And for those of you wondering – yes, Joshua is the son of award-winning journalists Seymour Hersh, but he’s a great journalist in his own right.)

 

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