Category Archives: movies

The future of movies isn’t all analytical

Robots are moving off the screen to behind it.

When I wrote my post last month about how Hollywood needs to play more Moneyball, I was pretty sure I wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea. Indeed, the Harvard Business Review has a story along these lines, about how analytics are going to play an increasingly big role in film production.

The Moneyball concept comes from Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, who was faced with the dilemma of trying to compete in Major League Baseball on a shoestring budget. His solution was to assemble low-cost players who were able to get on base in non-traditional ways (i.e. drawing walks) and ultimately score a lot of runs.

The plan worked wonderfully, with the A’s winning a string of division titles, and Brad Pitt eventually starring in a movie about the story. SAS has a short article and video where Beane, Pitt and others explain the concept in  more detail. The story also explains that Beane’s smart use of analytics can apply to any business. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in movies, robots


Can Moneyball be applied to film making?

Cruise and Pitt: Moneyball with the Vampire.

Last week’s post about how the budgets for television shows may need to go down in order to adapt to the internet sparked some interesting discussion over on Twitter. The discussion involved films, of course, with one commenter suggesting that A-list actors such as Tom Cruise command huge salaries because they’re proven draws.

That got me thinking: do movie executives really cast their movies based on the drawing power of the actors? Of course they used to, so the better question is perhaps whether they still do? And if so, is it possible to play games with such a system, similar to how baseball manager Billy Beane played “Moneyball” with the Oakland Athletics?

Surely I’m not the first person to have thought of this – it would actually only surprise me if this sort of thing wasn’t widespread in Hollywood. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in movies


Mathematically proving which movies are best

Coming out of The Avengers this past weekend, my friends and I were giddy. We all read comic books as kids (some of us still do), so we all loved the movie. Indeed, we were quick to praise it as the best film of all time.

We were, of course, suffering from the sort of irrational exuberance that one typically feels after having one’s adrenal glands stimulated for several hours. Once post-film sobriety settled in, we did return to sanity. As good as The Avengers was and is, surely it’s not the best movie of all time. Or is it?

For much of cinema’s history, the quality of a film has been a purely subjective discussion. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder and everyone likes different things.

But I started wondering if there is a way to mathematically prove which movies are good, if not the best. In an age where data on everything is gathered and mined, surely there’s some way to apply actual science to such a subjective debate.

When it comes to movies, I believe there is. Or rather, such a system is emerging.

Firstly, there are some factors that should not be counted. Oscar nominations, for example, should not be included in any empirical attempt because they are decided on by a relatively small group of people. Films can also rack up wins in technical categories, but that doesn’t necessarily make them good.

Box office take or any other revenue should also be irrelevant. Otherwise, Michael Bay would have several of the best movies ever made. Ahem. Excuse me, I think I just threw up on myself.

Turning to resources that should be counted, there are two large websites that should be integral: Metacritic and the Internet Movie Database. Metacritic launched in 2001 as an aggregation site for reviews, while IMDb started in 1990 as a general repository of film information. Metacritic compiles reviews from well-respected critics, assigns them a numeric value out of 100, then averages them. The Avengers, for example, has a score of 69, which means the 42 critics counted (at the time of this writing) have been generally positive about it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in movies


Avengers’ success is a good thing for nerds

Regardless of whether or not Ant-Man and the Wasp are in The Avengers – I’m not saying either way – the movie is damn good. My friends and I saw it Friday night and we uniformly loved it. So did audiences around the world, with the movie setting a new opening weekend record with more than $200 million at the box office.

Joss Whedon’s stock is rising.

This is very good news for nerd culture. And not because it’s a superhero movie.

Much more important is the fact that The Avengers does much to cement 2012 – which is only five months old – as the year of Joss Whedon. Disney/Marvel took a relatively big chance on the writer-director, who has helmed only one other feature film, Serenity, a continuation of his cancelled TV show Firefly. Yet, as the box office receipts show, he delivered spectacularly.

Aside from the big financial haul, The Avengers succeeds on many levels. The action is only slightly more jaw-dropping and expertly paced than the humour. Best of all, though, is the characterization. What truly impressed me was how Whedon, who wrote the screenplay, was able to get the audience to care about six separate superheroes despite having them all crammed into one movie.

In some cases, most notably with the Hulk/Bruce Banner, the characters exhibited more personality than they did in their respective solo films. It seems like a no-brainer that if Marvel wants to finally get the Hulk movie franchise off the ground after two failed starts, Whedon is the man to do it, although he’ll probably be busy with an Avengers sequel if the company knows what’s good for it.

He accomplished this by understanding what has made the characters special over their nearly 50 years of existence, and by pitting them against each other. While the explosions are nice to look at, the real fireworks in the movie come from the verbal jousting between reluctant teammates.

But The Avengers might not even be Whedon’s top work this year. The Cabin in the Woods, shot in 2009 and released last month, is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time and is even better than The Avengers. Heck, with a 72 rating on Metacritic, it’s even officially critically acclaimed. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in comics, movies


Silver Snail and HMV: duel of the fates

A few months back, a revelation hit me while I was hanging out on Queen Street West, one of Toronto’s trendy shopping districts. On this particular walk, I had popped into the Silver Snail and HMV, both purveyors of pop culture that sit across the street from each other. The Silver Snail, a storied and independent comic book shop on the strip, was jam packed with customers while HMV was not. If tumbleweeds could exist in downtown Toronto, they would have been blowing through that store.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. Visiting the two stores has long been one of my official time wasters. While I was working at the nearby CBC building, I’d spend many hours perusing stuff in both during my lunch hours and on the way home in the evening. Just about every time, it was the same thing: a bustling ‘Snail, an empty HMV (which ironically employs a security guard).

I’ve been going to the ‘Snail to buy comic books since I was just a Young Avenger. Not only do I credit comic books with improving my reading comprehension skills (having pictures explain the words is a great educational trick), they also made me into what I consider to be a fairly decent driver.

As a kid, I’d hone my bike-riding skills by darting through downtown traffic on the way to the ‘Snail and then back again to my home, a half hour away in Parkdale. My mother would probably have been mortified to learn that I was doing this on Saturday afternoons – she probably figured I got my comics from the corner store – but I’ll be damned if I didn’t learn how to read cars and traffic lights at an early age, a skill that has paid dividends ever since I got behind the wheel.

Over the years, the Silver Snail made an interesting transition. Throughout the ’80s, it devoted more and more floor space to Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games. Into the ’90s, it started stocking large numbers of card games, such as Magic the Gathering. During those years, and especially the past decade or so, the store has been veritably overrun with toys and collectibles. Comics were slowly but surely ghetto-ized into the back of the store. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on April 12, 2012 in amazon, books, movies


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