Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Success of Frozen

Animated movies continue to reap huge profits for film studios.  Frozen continues to be an enormous money-maker for Disney, exceeding expectations.

Frozen has reached the number six slot on the Top Ten box-office hits of all time (not-adjusted for inflation) and is still rising up the ranks.

1. Avatar
2. Titanic
3. Marvel's The Avengers
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
5. Iron Man 3
6. Frozen
7. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
8. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
9. Skyfall
10. The Dark Knight Rises

Frozen ranks 4th in domestic earnings among animated movies.

1. Shrek 2
2. The Lion King
3. Toy Story 3
4. Frozen
5. Finding Nemo
6. Despicable Me 2
7. Shrek the Third
8. Up
9. Monsters Inc.
10. Monsters University

It should come as no surprise then that Frozen 2 is in the works, although Disney denies that it's being developed yet. The key word is "yet." If they can find a way to turn it into a franchise, they will.

Monday, April 21, 2014

25 Years of Nintendo Game Boy

Before people were addicted to playing games on their smartphones, they were addicted to handheld portable video game devices. (I was going to say "kids" instead of "people," but let's be honest, gaming addicts come in all ages.) It has been 25 years since Nintendo introduced its Game Boy console, and the world has been forever changed.

Unlike Sony's Walkman which broke the chord on music players, the Game Boy wasn't a passive experience, but an interactive one. It hasn't all been positive, of course, as folks became anti-social and spent their mealtimes and every waking leisure moment with their faces glued to those mini-screens, a prophecy of what was to come with mobile totems becoming our masters.

Still, those games were fun -- Tetris and Super Mario Land! Game Boy wasn't the first, but it was the most popular.  I remember having a handheld electronic football game and then a handheld electronic baseball game. They were extremely simplistic by today's standards, but I spent hours playing them.  The market of handheld game consoles included Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx, and TurboExpress, as well as the more recent Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable, but Game Boy is the all-time winner.

Whatever the future of handheld portable gaming has in store, it will owe a debt to the trailblazing success of Nintendo Game Boy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Baseball Fan's Bucket List

On Thursday night, in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays, the New York Yankees turned a rare triple play. Two players were on base, nobody out, and in the wink of an eye it became one-two-three outs, inning over.  Brilliant! It's one of those moments every baseball fan lives to see.  Click here to see the video.


Here's a bucket list of those spectacular feats of the sport that every fan wants to see before they die.

Triple Play

Hitting for the Cycle (one player hitting a single, a double, a triple, and a homerun in a single game)

No-Hitter

Perfect Game

Seeing Your Team Make the Playoffs (now with more Wildcard slots, more teams have a chance)

Seeing Your Team Win the Division

Seeing Your Team Win the Pennant

Seeing Your Team Win the World Series

Some fans have personal goals on their bucket lists -- maybe going to a game in every ballpark or catching a foul ball in the stands (or better yet, a homerun ball).  What's yours?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bits and Pieces: Belated Headlines

One unfortunate result of reducing my frequency of blog posts a few months ago was that my "evergreen" story ideas piled up, some of them becoming quite dated and proving not to be so evergreen after all.  Before they become outright ancient, here's a brief rundown of headlines I had in mind to write about at length, but now will salvage as nothing more than brief nuggets.

1.  Billy Joel Sells Out in a Good Way -- The "piano man" proved that Madison Square Garden struck gold by signing him to become the New York City arena's first music franchise.  Fans quickly bought all the tickets for his monthly concerts throughout the year. As of this writing, the earliest you could get tix is for the December show, and those are going fast. I've always enjoyed his music and it's great to see that I'm not alone in admiring his talent.

2. Oz on Stage and Screen -- Everybody seems to be hopping on L. Frank Baum's public domain bandwagon, making adaptations of the fantasy land where Dorothy, Toto, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Tinman, the Wizard, and the Wicked Witch had their classic adventures.  In addition to all the projects I mentioned in my essay "Neverending Oz," we also saw ABC's Once Upon a Time take a turn over the rainbow, and on the big screen we have an animated movie coming up called Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return.  On the stage, 59E59 Theaters had a wonderfully inventive version of the tale, The Woods Man, told through puppetry and song.

3.  Keeping Up with the Film Festivals -- So many film festivals, so little time.  I was going to write about the notable films that screened at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas (better known by its shorthand SXSW) -- like Jason Bateman's Bad Words, the crowd-funded Veronica Mars, Robert Duvall's A Night in Old Mexico, and Neighbors, starring Zac Efron and Seth Rogen. But SXSW came and went, and then the Tribeca Film Festival was upon us and I was going to share my thoughts on some of the movies screening here in my city's very own cinema fest -- movies like Match, starring Patrick Stewart; Miss Meadows, starring Katie Holmes; Third Person, starring Liam Neeson; Just Before I Go, Courteney Cox's directorial debut; Boulevard, starring Robin Williams; Champs, a documentary about Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Bernard Hopkins; Jon Favreau's Chef; and When the Garden Was Eden, a documentary about the New York Knicks glory days, directed by Michael Rapaport. Maybe there's time for me to do as roundup of movies at the Cannes Film Festival.

4.  100 Reasons to Like The 100 -- Okay, I'm kidding, that was never going to be a headline. Still, the CW's new science fiction show has some redeeming qualities and I'm actually enjoying it. It has its ridiculous moments, but some fun sci-fi concepts are buried in there too.

5.  Revisiting the Serial Killer Trend -- Finally, I wanted to discuss once again the over-use of gore in horror and the seemingly unending, over-the-top serial killer trend in popular fiction. Maybe I'm just the squeamish type, but shows like The Following freak me out.  I'm conflicted, at the same time enjoying the creative storytelling while also wondering if all this death and violence is therapeutic for our society or just damaging our psyches even further.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Science Fiction Predicted Bitcoin

All this talk about Bitcoin, the so-called "digital currency," has given me a sense of deja vu. It reminded me of a science fiction story I read years ago. I couldn't remember the title or the author, but I recalled that it appeared in the dearly missed publication Science Fiction Age.  Even though I have every issue, I didn't have the luxury of going to the garage and digging through all the magazines I have in storage to hunt it down. Luckily, I came across Jamie Todd Rubin's blog and an incredible chronicle of many of the issues of that masterful 'zine. I made my query, and in what seemed near the speed of light I received an answer from Jamie, who had reached out to the former editor himself Scott Edelman. The story was "Spondulix" and the writer was the excellent Paul Di Filippo.

Originally a novella in the pages of the September 1995 issue of Science Fiction Age, it was expanded into a novel. It was an exciting and mind-blowing tale of a guy who invents a new decentralized payment system on a whim that takes his little town of Hoboken by storm.

The word spondulix stems from the shells of ancient Greece that were used for barter. The speculative fiction story has some nice parallels to Bitcoin. Granted, it wasn't exactly like the open-source, peer-to-peer pseudo money we're seeing today, but the life cycle of the invented currency is all there, from its rapid rise to the drama caused by its popularity.

Bravo to Di Filippo for dreaming of the future of economics and writing about it! Who knew a fictional story could be so prophetic?


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Resurrection Trend

With Easter right around the corner, I don't know if it's good timing or just blasphemous for me to talk about the latest trend in fictional storytelling -- characters coming back from the dead.  Bestselling books are exploring the idea of an afterlife, with just two examples being Mitch Albom's First Phone Call from Heaven and Todd Burpo's Heaven Is For Real, which has been adapted into a feature film.

On television, I've seen the excellent French series The Returned (Les Revenants), which was based on a French film titled They Came Back. It's a marvelous series and I highly recommend hunting it down if you missed it on the Sundance Channel. A similar premise, about loved ones who died suddenly coming back as if nothing had happened, is the focus of ABC's Resurrection, based on the book The Returned by Jason Mott (try keeping those titles straight if you can).  The excellent cast and cinematography makes up for some of the schmaltzy writing.

Do not mistake this for a continuation of the zombie trend. These current stories are aimed at the spiritual versus the horror, but there are still scary and sometimes gruesome moments (especially in The Returned). It's not the first time nor the last that such subject matter will be used for entertainment. Some will see it as mere fantasy while others will try for deeper metaphors.  Whatever the case, the time seems right for these top of tales to strike a chord with audiences.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Movies That Became TV Shows

Have you noticed how many television shows on the air right now are based on movies? First we have Fargo on the FX Network, inspired by one of my favorite Coen Brothers motion pictures. Apparently, this new show will be an anthology style format, like American Horror Story and True Detective.  Flip through the channels on your TV and you'll find other series that stem from films -- Bates Motel on A&E based on Psycho, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series on Robert Rodriguez's new network El Rey (and available internationally on Netflix), Teen Wolf on MTV, and Hannibal on NBC based on the Silence of the Lambs series of flicks (which were adapted themselves from the novels of Thomas Harris.)

Some movies have inspired cartoons (Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Clerks, Beetlejuice, Ghostbusters, and Napoleon Dynamite). Others, like Hannibal, are based on pre-existing literary figures which had their first appearances on the big screen before landing on television -- Superman, Tarzan, and Conan the Barbarian. Some, like the Indiana Jones movies, launch prequel series like The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.  Some classics like The Odd Couple were based on a stage play that then became a movie and then became a hit TV sitcom.

Here's a lengthy list of movies that spawned television series (I've bolded the ones that I considered especially noteworthy):

10 Things I Hate About You
About a Boy
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Anger Management
Animal House
Bad Teacher
Bagdad Cafe
Barbershop
BeastMaster
Blade
Blue Thunder
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Clueless
The Courtship of Eddie's Father
The Crow
Dirty Dancing
Fame
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Flipper
Friday Night Lights
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Harry and the Hendersons
Highlander
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
In the Heat of the Night
Le Femme Nikita
Look Who's Talking
The Magnificent Seven
M*A*S*H
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Nightmare on Elm Street
Nine to Five
The Outsiders
Outsourced
Paper Moon
Parenthood
Planet of the Apes
Police Academy
Private Benjamin
Shaft
Soul Food
Stargate
Starman
The Terminator
Timecop
Tremors
Uncle Buck
Weird Science
Working Girl

Have a left any out?  Which are your favorites?