Category Archives: 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


Intellectual property is killing the story star

I don’t mean to get off on a rant here… okay, who am I kidding? Of course I mean to get off on a rant (with apologies to Dennis Miller). And this one’s about The Hunger Games.

See you in the reruns.

I wasn’t planning on seeing the movie, on account of how the entire Twilight phenomenon has made me averse to anything related to the “young adult” genre. But, because I see a lot of movies and because I voluntarily let Metacritic dictate most of what I see and because The Hunger Games scored relatively well there, I figured what the hell.

Truth be told, it’s pretty good. If you’re not familiar with the basic premise, the film is set in a dystopian future after a big civil war. The land is divided into districts, each of which must provide one boy and one girl as “tributes,” to compete in the eponymous Hunger Games, or a big annual battle-to-the-death/survival contest. Twenty-four people enter, one person leaves.

I liked a lot of things about the movie. Although it was set in a technologically advanced place, it was subtly done. The Hunger Games is more about a solid science-fiction premise than it is about beating the viewer over the head with special effects. As such, it has some strong social comments to make - like how television and mass media can change the people involved with it - but again, it’s done subtly. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on April 3, 2012 in media, movies


TIFF has no monopoly on obscure movies

Yesterday’s post about the Toronto International Film Festival caused quite a stir, with people either loving or hating my argument that the event isn’t for movie fans. In case you missed it, here’s the quick and dirty: TIFF requires people to pay inflated prices to wait in long lines to see movies in venues that often aren’t built to show them.

Like all such events, the festival is mainly about business. Whether it’s independent producers hoping to secure a distribution deal, those same distributors looking to build buzz for movies they’ve already secured or the city of Toronto aiming to make itself look cooler, the event is one big financial transaction. While TIFF can’t exist without movie-goers - the people who are subjected to all of the inconveniences above - they are plainly treated as an afterthought.

Some readers didn’t like that characterization and felt the need to justify why they attend TIFF. A few of the arguments, like how the long lineups provide fans with an opportunity to talk movies with their fellow attendees, made sense even though I wouldn’t consider them a worthy tradeoff for all the other issues. But, as they say, to each his own.

One particular excuse, however - that the fest is the only place to see certain rare movies - was a load of hooey.

It’s not the 1950s anymore. If a creator can’t secure a top-shelf distributor for his or her work, there are many options. Indeed, there has never been more choice. Film makers today can sell or give away their movies through a variety of outlets, including iTunes, Netflix (which is almost tailor made for films that nobody else seems to want), YouTube or their own websites. They can even have their films “pirated” through file-sharing, but more on that in a second.

Why would anyone want to do any of that? Obviously, putting a film out on the internet for cheap or for free isn’t going to result in the sort of riches that scoring the distribution services of an Alliance-Atlantis or 20th Century Fox might. But, as anyone involved with any film anywhere will attest to, the most important goal behind any movie is to get it seen by people. While film festivals are a good way to do that, they’re no longer the only way of doing so.

It’s the same for virtually every medium. It’s why singers - including the mighty Justin Bieber - put videos on YouTube and it’s why people write for the Huffington Post for free. Exposure is its own form of currency. While a creator may take a bath on a current work, the exposure can and often does translate to dollars on future efforts.

A few readers rankled at my suggestion of using torrents and other file-sharing methods to get hard-to-find movies, because doing so is “piracy” that steals money from the pockets of the creators. Evidently, Hollywood’s attempts at brainwashing people against file-sharing are working because there are many creators - myself included - who find nothing wrong with their work being traded about for free. Why? Again, because it results in exposure.

Documentary director Sam Bozzo discussed this last year. As he told TorrentFreak:

The only films that are hurt by torrent sharing are mediocre and bad films. In contrast, the good films of any genre only benefit from file-sharing. Due to this, I feel the current file-sharing trend is a catalyst for a true evolution in filmmaking.

Furthermore, Bozzo contacted the person who had uploaded his film Blue Gold and asked if she could help spread the word about it and solicit donations on his behalf.

I received many donations and emails of support from those who downloaded the film, but I furthermore believe that viewers spread the word of the film to their non-torrent-downloading friends and that DVD sales increased due to the leak. For me, the torrent leak was ultimately “free advertising”, and I am the only truly independent documentary filmmaker I know making his money back this year.

There are, of course, many who disagree with him, including the people behind the Oscar-winning Hurt Locker, who are now apparently bringing lawsuits against file-sharers to Canada. That’s their prerogative, as is the right to believe that all file-sharing is piracy, although I’m of the belief that it isn’t if the creator doesn’t think it is.

While there are some valid reasons for why people like going to TIFF despite all the hassles, its monopoly on good obscure movies isn’t realistically one of them anymore. To paraphrase Bozzo, good films will end up being seen and their creators will benefit one way or another, which means some TIFF aficionados will have to think of new justifications for subjecting themselves to its many inconveniences.


Posted by on September 13, 2011 in bittorrent, movies


Why the Toronto International Film Festival sucks

We’re in the midst of the Toronto International Film Festival, which means a good number of our city’s inhabitants and media are agog in what can only be described as starfucking. Excuse the vulgarity, but it really is the only way to describe it. Our alt weekly The Grid seems to agree, yet it obviously isn’t as willing to go as far in describing it as such. Nevertheless, TIFF’s continued growth means the starfucking is only getting more institutionalized every year.

Speaking of which, if you’re a movie fan, TIFF isn’t for you. Yes, the fest is important for film makers looking to score distributors for their creations and it also presumably brings Toronto some tourist dollars and possibly some cred in its effort be considered a “world-class” city. But for the plain old movie aficionado, it really sucks.

I’ve lived in Toronto almost all my life and, despite being a film nut, I’d always avoided TIFF for some unknown reason. There was something about the event that just didn’t appeal to me.

Over the past few years, however, I’ve given in and checked out a few screenings. Given the experience, I now know my intuitive aversion was correct.

For one thing, getting tickets is a ridiculous ordeal. Last year, I bought tickets online to Fubar 2, the sequel to perhaps the best Canadian comedy ever made (next to Porky’s, of course). I was shocked to discover that I then had to go down to the TIFF ticket office and stand in line for an hour to pick them up. Exactly what was the point of buying them online?

The setup makes as little sense as Cineplex’s useless mobile app, which also lets you buy tickets on your phone that you then have to print out at a kiosk at the theatre. Canadian film exhibitors of all stripes obviously aren’t getting the point of the internet. How about an electronic ticket complete with barcode that is scanned at the theatre entrance?

Indeed, the film fest is all about standing in lines. Once you’ve picked up your tickets, it’s off to the screening where, if you don’t show up at least an hour ahead of time, you’ll end up blocks away from the theatre entrance, with a crappy seat in the last row awaiting you. I remember standing in such a line when I was 10 years old to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Movie-going has come a long way since then, but not at TIFF. Lineups are part of the event’s elitist marketing philosophy, the same one practiced by nightclubs, where passersby see the hundreds of schmucks waiting and think, “Ooh, whatever they’re in line for for must be good.” Lineups, apparently, build buzz.

I’ve seen half a dozen TIFF films over the past three years and none have started on time. On Saturday, I had passes to see Fernando Meirelles’ latest pic 360. My fiancee and I dutifully arrived an hour before - the line was already long, but we could actually see the theatre, so we were in good position. The start time came and went, however, but the line did not move. When I asked what the problem was, an usher told me the theatre was having sound issues and that they would start letting us in soon.

We figured that by the time everyone got in and to their seats, and by the time the director and/or stars wrapped up their inevitable introductory speeches, the film would likely start an hour and a half after it was supposed to. Add in two hours or so for the movie and we were looking at nearly five hours of time spent. That’s way too much for a movie, especially when a beautiful, sunny afternoon was beckoning outside. So, we did the sensible thing: we split and went for a stroll instead.

So why do people go to film fest movies? The tickets cost more, there’s lots of waiting and inconvenience and the films usually aren’t shown in venues built to actually screen movies. What do attendees get in return? A chance to see the film a few weeks before its wide release and the ability to boast about being in the same room as their favourite celebrity.

Yeesh. No thanks. I’ll wait to see the movies at decent prices in real theatres where they start on time. The starfuckers can keep their festival.


Posted by on September 12, 2011 in movies


Lessons from Hollywood on vertical integration

I was working on something related to movies the other day and came across an interesting slice of history I was not aware of that could have some bearing on a particularly contentious debate going on today. Last week, I wrote about how regulators should go ahead and allow free reign to so-called vertical integration, where large internet and telecom companies also own broadcasters. In Canada, the CRTC is in the midst of hearings on whether such a situation could turn anti-competitive.

My argument was to let ‘er rip - as long as consumers have fair access to the internet and a good chunk of monthly data usage, there will be tons of competitive options that will keep the vertically integrated companies from abusing their customers.

However, it does appear we’ve been on this ride before. Back in the 1940s, the U.S. courts struggled with a similar situation. Under the so-called studio system, Hollywood itself was thoroughly integrated for much of the first half of the 20th century. The likes of Warner Bros. and Paramount not only produced films, they also owned the theatre chains that showed them.

Theatres were thus required to take part in a process called block booking, where they had to purchase a bunch of crappy movies if they wanted the good ones. Not only that - they also had to buy a lot of these movies without first seeing them.

The parallels to today are obvious. In the first instance, television subscribers today commonly have to get a bunch of channels they couldn’t care less about in order to view the ones they actually do want. Many viewers would prefer to get their channels a la carte, where they only have to pay for the ones they want. Of course, many poorly viewed channels would go under if this scheme were put into effect. Once again, I say let ‘er rip - but that’s a debate for another time.

The more important parallel is that of the vertical integration. While the two situations - of yesterday and today - are not exactly alike, the similarity in both  is that the content owners also control the means of distribution.

The studio system was eventually smashed, first by the Paramount decision, which forced that studio to limit its block booking, and then by Howard Hughes who was the first to split off theatres from his RKO studio.

This structural separation, a term that is increasingly getting tossed around these days in regards to telecom companies, took a huge toll on Hollywood’s profits. Actors were laid off and fewer films were produced, but the industry of course recovered as it settled into a newly competitive paradigm.

While the court’s antitrust moves were probably wise at the time, they may not have been necessary in hindsight because of the inevitable encroachment of technology. The court cases started in the 1930s, when no one could have predicted what the arrival of television in the late 1940s and early 1950s would eventually mean. Indeed, television caused movie attendance to plummet and took almost as big a chunk out of Hollywood’s revenue as the end of the studio system.

Studios were thus forced to compete, which is when they came up with their own new technologies, such as widescreen movies, 3D and, of course, Smell-O-Vision.

That’s where the big difference is between yesterday’s film integration and today’s telecom/broadcast situation. While courts and regulators couldn’t see that technology would eventually make their interference unnecessary, today it’s already very obvious, which is another reason to allow vertical integration to go ahead unhindered.


Posted by on June 29, 2011 in movies, telecommunications


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