Monday, September 22, 2008

MythBusters' Grant Imahara Talks to io9 About Engineering, Star Wars, and the Controversial RFID Episode

Grant Imahara has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from USC. He has been featured in IEEE Spectrum Magazine for his engineering work, and has been a combat robot judge and a mentor for high school robotics competitions. However, if you ask him what he does for a living, he'll say, “I'm a TV Host.” That's because Grant has logged four wildly successful years busting urban legends on the popular series MythBusters on the Discovery Channel, and straddling the divide between science fiction and science fact suits him just fine. He spilled the secrets of his geeky success, and gave us the latest on the allegedly-suppressed RFID episode, during a special visit to the MythBusters warehouse set last week.

Before coming to MythBusters, Grant was in the special effects business. He worked on R2D2 for the Star Wars prequels and designed effects for Galaxy Quest, A.I., and Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. What's the main difference between working in FX and on MythBusters? Grant said:

In special effects, you can cheat to make it look good. In real science, you have to have results.

Picking the myths to bust isn't a problem for MythBusters — Discovery has a suggestion forum that receives thousands of suggestions every day. The problem is making sure the procedure and sample size is large enough to be accurate. This is not always possible, as Grant says, because television is plagued with the same time limitations working in the movies is, which sometimes makes it hard to get accurate results. Happily, MythBusters fans are a self-regulating lot. When the fans clamor enough to Discovery, Discovery will often arrange for the MythBusters to re-visit myths in specials such as The Ice Bullet, Peeing On The Third Rail, and the Biscuit Bazooka.

Grant says the vibe on the MythBusters set breaks the tension when they're trying to get things right:

The vibe on the set is so intense that it would be difficult to be serious all the time, and the ribbing runs rampant. Only a tiny percentage makes it to the screen.

This intimate knowledge is often useful during shooting. For example, for a recent season 7 episode, the team asked, “Does driving while angry decrease fuel efficiency?” And the crew knew each and every psychological button to push on both Grant and Tory to maximize their aggro. Among the menu of annoyances was drinking highly caffeinated beverages, not being allowed to use the restroom, being told their beverages had been spiked with laxative, rough massages, and for Grant, the last straw was being forced to submerge his feet in a bucket filled with live goldfish and water. “It's apparently not as obscure a phobia as you might think," he commented.

Such inspired thinking is de rigeur every day on the MythBusters set. Says Grant:

On MythBusters, a lot of what we do does not fall into any category of things we have ever done before. There's a lot of problem solving to figure out how to even approach a given problem. A background in science or engineering helps a lot.

That background in engineering has led him to what could be called a series of geek dream jobs.

He describes waiting outside of Mann's Chinese theater, with his mother, sitting at extreme screen left, third row, when Star Wars came out in 1977. Years later, his manager asked him to open up R2D2 and completely gut and redo the electronics. “To grow up and get my degree and get a job in SFX and get 'Yeah, Monday Morning we're going to need you to open up R2D2 and replace the electronics.' What do you say?” he lapses into a weak, wide eyed squeak: “Uhh, wh-hhaat?!??!!”

He adds:

I always wanted to have a technical career that was also creative. I have been extremely lucky in that sense to be able to combine those two things. First career I had right out of engineering school was at Lucas film, not working in the movies but working in home theater. I would essentially take the latest and greatest home theater equipment and take it down to my lab and try to blow it up for Home THX, for certification.

When asked what the most dangerous thing he has ever done for the show is, Grant ponders for a moment:

It always changes. The one I can remember offhand is diving with sharks at night. That one was a good one.

The hot topic lately regarding MythBusters is the buzz that they were forced to discontinue an episode on RFID security at the behest of several corporate sponsors. When we grilled Grant on this subject, he admitted that that may have been a problem, but they did eventually film an RFID-centered episode, just not technically on the subject in question.

He explains:

The RFID chip is still embedded in Kari's arm (out of all of us I thought I would be the first cybernetic organism, but I guess Kari beat me to it), and the idea is that if you have an RFID chip in your arm and you do an MRI, will the chip explode? The one she has in her arm is different than the one you find in RIFD hobby kits. You could have the lights [in your house] turn on [automatically] and your car would know who you are, and it would be cool. It does involve minor surgery. But that show did get made.

When pressed for more juicy tidbits, he says:

I am not at liberty to discuss anything that may or may not have been yanked due to sponsors, nor would I comment even if I did, but I will say there have been show that have been pulled for taste reasons, you know, something that the network felt that if they aired it it wouldn't be appropriate for the audience.

That still sounds like a lot of fun. When asked how he could tell whether or not he was working, he shrugged and said “Heh, I guess I'm working if I'm getting paid!”

Original here

McCain Campaign: Barack Obama is Exploiting the Economy Crash

POSTED BY: Dennis DiClaudio

The McCain campaign seems a little miffed that the election rhetoric is switching over from hockey moms and lipstick and onto the economy.

You can't blame them, really. Not when they've got a candidate going around telling people the economy is peachy keen and an opponent who cynically and politically tells people that they've got a candidate going around telling people the economy is peachy keen...

Top aides to Republican John McCain are claiming Democrat Barack Obama and his advisers are exploiting Wall Street's financial problems for political gain.

Aide Steve Schmidt, who worked for the Bush-Cheney team in 2004, told reporters Thursday aboard McCain's plane that Obama is "cheerleading this crisis."

Really, I think it's just disgusting how Barack Obama would exploit a national disaster to further his own party's fortunes. In fact, just take a look at what an insipid display of political exploitation this is on Obama's part...

Whoops. Sorry. That was totally the wrong video. It wasn't footage of Barack Obama cheerleading our economic downfall at all. It must have been something from the Republican National Convention two weeks ago.

I have no idea how that happened. I'm so embarrassed.

Original here

Stop-Motion Lego Keeps The Original Star Wars Spirit Alive

Yes, the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars movie may have disappointed hardcore Star Wars fans to the point where only The Force Unleashed can possibly redeem George Lucas in the eyes of his once-faithful audience, but that's not to say that they're disillusioned with Star Wars itself. In fact, they love it so much that they're making their own versions, and like their fallen hero, they've become disillusioned with real actors to the point where they've replaced them... with Lego. The results are as scrappy, irreverent and filled with adoration for their source as the original Star Wars was for its predecessors... if a little less likely to make their creators vast sums of money.

[All YouTube]

Fixing The Spider-Man Film Franchise

After a less than stellar third movie, many want changes to Marvel's wall-crawler. We suggest a few.

Collectively, the Spider-Man movies are definitely the most lucrative superhero franchise in Hollywood history. Audiences can't seem to get enough of that wacky wall-crawler. Still, all the money in the world doesn't stop a franchise from falling apart. If anything, it only seems to speed the process along.

The Spider-Man franchise hasn't fallen apart, but it was hurt fairly significantly by the release of Spider-Man 3. This sequel was a definite step down from the first two. Even if the box office report remained rosy, it was clear to many devoted fans that Spidey had reached a turning point.

In recent weeks, news has surfaced that Sony and director Sam Raimi are in talks for another sequel. Not just one, either, but two sequels filmed back-to-back. This announcement fills us with equal part anticipation and dread. After the last movie, should Raimi really be trusted to guide the franchise forward? Are the actors up to the challenge?

With those questions burning in our minds, we've assembled a list of ways Sony can fix the Spider-Man franchise. In our opinion, these are the guidelines the studio needs to follow in order to put the franchise back on track. We may not be Hollywood big shots, but we've read hundreds and hundreds of Spider-Man comics, and that has to count for something.

Recast When Necessary

Collectively, the Spider-Man movies have done a lot of things right, not least of which including almost singlehandedly kindling Hollywood's love for superheroes. However, they're not perfect, and one area Sony might want to look into changing is the actors.

As Peter Parker, Toby Maguire was an inspired choice. However, as the movies wear on and the characters get older, we're not sure that Maguire continues to be the best fit for the role. His voice in particular makes Peter still seem trapped in high school. It doesn't help that his chronic back problems have threatened to derail production in the past.

Far more problematic is Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. Dunst has always felt like the weak link in the cast. By all indications she doesn't even enjoy working on the films, so why jump through hoops to keep her on as Mary Jane? Better that Sony find a new actress to play the part. It worked for the Rachel Dawes character in Dark Knight, and it can work for the Spidey franchise as well.

Better Choice of Villains

Perhaps the greatest challenge moving forward in the franchise is the selection of villains. Both the Green Goblins are out, as well as Doc Ock, Sandman, and Venom. The next movie is going to need to find the right villain to play off an older, slightly wiser Peter.

We're not sure any one remaining villain can support a movie on their own. At the very least, the script will need to fiddle with the villain's origin in order to create a greater sense of emotional resonance. Spider-Man 3 did this by tying Sandman's origin to the death of Uncle Ben. It made the character more suitable as a lead antagonist, and was a change to the Spidey mythos that worked well. What didn't work well was shoehorning Venom into the script at the last minute. If Spider-Man 4 is going to have multiple villains, they need to do more than just trip over each other and hamper the flow of the story.

As for specific villain choices, we'd recommend any of the remaining members of the Sinister Six. Electro could certainly work, and his displays of power might rival what we saw of Sandman. Mysterio is a possibility, though we'd be worried that villain might only worsen the series' slide towards goofy camp. Previous films have set up both Man-Wolf and Lizard as candidates. Unfortunately, even working in tandem, those two probably can't carry a movie on their own.

One thing we're absolutely sure of is that Carnage is a no-no. That's the last thing this franchise needs at the moment.

Tone Down the Camp

The Spidey franchise has always carried a certain campy quality. That's just comes with the territory when Sam Raimi is the director. We can appreciate camp when it's used sparingly and effectively. Case in point – the "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" sequence from Spider-Man 2. It was a silly interlude, but a charming one.

We don't really need to say where Spider-Man 3 went wrong in this area. Peter Parker cavorting down the street, the entire club sequence - a huge bulk of the second half of the movie was just bogged down in silliness. These sequences weren't the only flaw of the movie, but they were a major contribution. Moviegoers don't expect their superhero films to always be dry, serious affairs. They do, however, expect the characters to behave in logical, believable ways. Black suit or no, for much of Spider-Man 3, Peter was woefully out of character.

Less Studio Interference

It's a well-known phenomenon that superhero movie franchises fall apart in their third installment. Just look at the history. Superman 3, Batman Forever, X-Men: The Last Stand, the list goes on and on. This trend isn't coincidence. Rather, it's a sign that studio interference is quite possibly the worst thing that can happen to a franchise.

By all accounts, Sam Raimi didn't want Venom to be a part of Spider-Man 3. He's admitted to not understanding the character or even liking him very much. However, Sony chose to take a heavier hand in the development of the movie, and they insisted that Venom (whom they perceived to be a massive draw) play a starring role. The result should have been obvious. Venom never felt like a necessary or legitimate element of the film. He could have made for a compelling villain in Spider-Man 4, but instead was rushed out the door and dragged the entire movie down with him.

Raimi has proved himself capable of earning hundreds of millions of dollars for the studio. If they're wise, Sony will learn from their mistake and just leave it at that.

Build Towards a Larger Conflict

One of the more disappointing trends across all superhero franchises is the tendency to kill major villains at the end of each film. For franchises with serious legs, this severely limits storytelling potential in future installments. The X-Men movies got it right. They kept Magneto alive and well for multiple sequels, and his continued presence in the series has never been a complaint of ours.

Spider-Man 3 also bucked this trend, leaving return appearances by Sandman and Venom as possibilities. We hope it continues going forward. We'd like to see a clear progression towards a bigger conflict in Spider-Man 4. With Sony strongly considering filming 4 and 5 back-to-back, it would be a crime not to connect the two movies. Naturally, we're envisioning a gradual build-up to the Sinister Six. Spidey needs a major threat to truly shine as a hero, and it doesn't get much more major than that.

As was said by the podcast crew, debuting the Sinister Six in Spider-Man 6 opens up a mine of marketing gold. Raimi won't be able to mange that, however, if the individual members are killed off before they can ever get together.

Stronger Supporting Cast

Spider-Man may be a largely solo hero, but he never swings very far without a strong supporting cast. We think back to the classic days where Peter used to hang out with the likes of Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, and the rest of the gang. Unfortunately, Harry died at the end of Spider-Man 3. Many supporting characters like Flash Thompson and Liz Allen have never had a strong presence in the series. In some ways, all the movies really have going for them in this area is J. Jonah Jameson. That's a huge boon, but it's not enough.

Gwen Stacy was wasted in the last movie, so we want to see her back and in a stronger role. There's no reason characters like Flash and Liz can't be brought back as Peter begins to rekindle old high school "friendships." Should Raimi want, he can even use some of the more recent additions from Brand New Day. What he shouldn't do is create another character along the lines of the Osborn family butler. Where was this old coot in the other movies? Why did he need to be in the third film anyway? In any case, Peter needs more characters to play off of than just Mary Jane and the villain of the week. What it doesn't need is more poorly conceived, shoehorned characters.

Create a Memorable Musical Theme

We love humming along to our favorite superhero themes. Unfortunately, Batman and Superman seem to hog all the best ones. Despite the fact that Danny Elfman has composed all three Spider-Man films, the music has never been a particularly strong point. With that in mind, we're hoping for a stronger effort in the next sequel. Elfman has crafted some truly memorable themes in the past, particularly with the likes of Batman and Edward Scissorhands. What makes Spidey so different?

All we know is that we're tired of the '60s Spider-Man cartoon theme popping up in our heads whenever we hear the character mentioned. We're also tired of the movies being remembered more for their bad alternative rock soundtracks than the actual score.

Don't Go the Dark Knight Route

It's an increasingly worrisome trend in Hollywood right now. Various studios, salivating at the the thought of their own Dark Knight-style money maker, are using Christopher Nolan's film as a template for crafting the upcoming slate of comic book movies. No. No. No, no, no, no...

It shouldn't have to be explained to anyone why the Dark Knight approach doesn't work for all superheroes. Batman is a dark, gritty character, and the movie was bleak even by his usual standards. Spider-Man is not bleak. Sure, his life tends to suck at any given moment. He's constantly fretting about bills, keeping his web shooters full and his costume in one piece, and fending off a legion of New York's worst villains. At the end of the day, though, Spider-Man has to come out on top. Fans identify with him so readily because he overcomes great obstacles and never loses that happy-go-lucky charm.

That's why the sequels don't need Carnage. The character is dark, sadistic, and would just drag the movie dangerously close to an R-rating. Moviegoers don't want to see Mary Jane blown up in a warehouse or Aunt May gunned down in the street. They certainly don't want to see Spidey lose control and drop Kraven from a fourth-story balcony.

We said it in the Superman feature, and we'll say it again. What works for Batman doesn't necessarily work for other heroes. Studios are going to learn this lesson the hard way if they continue in their current direction. We'd just as soon not see the next Spider-Man movie be one of those casualties.

We'll be honest, the Spider-Man franchise got a lot right. That's one of the reasons we only have eight bullet points here - we couldn't even find enough to get to ten (let alone more). Most of our problems with the franchise arrived in the third installment and seem relatively clear and easy to avoid.

But we are curious what you think of Spider-Man. What do you hope to see in Spider-Man 4 and 5? Did you like 3 at all? What would you change about the franchise? Do you think Sony should restart? Do you like the darker tone? The questions are endless, so sound off on your thoughts in the comments below!

Original here

Battle Over ‘Watchmen’ Surrounds a Producer

Warner Bros./Associated Press

Billy Crudup plays Dr. Manhattan, a superhero, in “Watchmen,” which is currently scheduled for a March 2009 release.


SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Visible through the glass door of the film producer Lawrence Gordon’s office here, a poster for his coming movie “Watchmen,” framed and ready for hanging, was propped against a wall this week.

Still to be determined: whether the black-and-yellow artwork, its distinctive happy face spattered with blood, will have some of its most important credits revised before joining Mr. Gordon’s crowded poster gallery.

A rapidly escalating legal fight between Warner Brothers, which has already shot “Watchmen,” and 20th Century Fox, which claims to own rights to the graphic novel on which it is based, is headed for trial in federal court in Los Angeles next January. That is just two months before Warner is scheduled to release the film in the United States, while Paramount Pictures distributes it abroad. (Legendary Pictures helped finance the film.)

The collision is extraordinary. Major studios have rarely if ever been known to sue each other over a $100 million-plus picture that has already wrapped.

The fight is still more puzzling in that it centers on Mr. Gordon, a 72-year-old show business veteran behind movies like the “Die Hard” and “Hellboy” franchises and “Field of Dreams.” This is a man, after all, who has taught more than a few producers how to work the studios without getting crushed between them.

“To a whole generation of us, Larry was our mentor,” said John Davis, whose producing credits include “Norbit,” “I, Robot” and, 21 years ago, “Predator,” on which he collaborated with Mr. Gordon and the producer Joel Silver.

During his brief tenure as president of Fox in the mid-1980s, Mr. Gordon built a staff that included now-prolific producers like Laurence Mark (“Dreamgirls”) and Scott Rudin (“No Country for Old Men”). Amy Pascal, currently co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, was another executive mentored by Mr. Gordon at Fox. And James L. Brooks — whose Fox film “Broadcast News” picked up seven Oscar nominations — began working as writer, director and producer at the studio under Gordon.

Mr. Gordon declined to be interviewed for this story, as did lawyers from the Beverly Hills firm Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal LaViolette & Feldman, which has done much of his legal work over the years. Executives at both Warner and Fox also declined to comment.

But people on both sides of the dispute — who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing complications of the court fight — said Mr. Gordon was in a particularly delicate position.

Even though he has not so far been named as a defendant in the suit, Warner insists that Mr. Gordon is ultimately responsible for the validity of his claimed rights to the project. If Warner does not prevail in court, or chooses to settle, the producer could be pressed to cover any losses. .

Crusty and charming by turns, Mr. Gordon, a Mississippi native, is no stranger to Hollywood roughhouse. In a 1983 go-round, for example, he secured a temporary restraining order against Paramount when its executives tried to throw him off the lot. Only a year after his spectacular success with “48 Hrs.,” studio executives had changed the locks and shut off the phones at his producer’s office in a tiff, according to news reports at the time, over his dealings with competitors.

As early as 1980, Mr. Gordon was already known for his skill at using the studios’ competitive instincts to get his movies made.

“Larry seems to have the record for setting up ‘turnaround’ projects,” read the studio notes for “Xanadu,” a Universal Pictures film that was released that year after first being developed at Warner. The notes referred to the complex process by which a studio may let another adopt one of its projects — sometimes to its embarrassment, if the resulting movie is a hit.

A dispute about turnaround now lies at the heart of the fight over “Watchmen.”

Beginning in 1986, Fox acquired rights to the graphic novel, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, about superheroes who have fallen into disrepute. The plan at one point was for the film to involve Mr. Silver, a young producer who worked at the time in partnership with Mr. Gordon, whose tour as Fox president had been cut short by heart surgery.

But Mr. Gordon had soon formed Largo International, an independent company with Japanese backing — and he had a falling-out with Mr. Silver. In 1991, Fox, accommodating Mr. Gordon, granted Largo its rights in “Watchmen.” The studio was paid $320,000, according to recent court filings, and retained the right to distribute any movie Largo might make from the book.

Three years later, however, Mr. Gordon left Largo. And Fox again accommodated him, with a new agreement that granted Fox a right to become involved with the project any time a star, director, budget or other material element changed.

Warner now questions how Fox could have created a turnaround in rights it had already given to Largo. Fox argues that it still had rights under its original agreement, and consented to let go of the project both in 1991 and in 1994 only under conditions that were never met.

In any case, according to a person briefed on the dispute, the 1994 turnaround agreement did not find its way into Universal’s pile of documents when that studio checked the movie’s rights before putting “Watchmen” into development.

When the project hit a dead end at Universal, Mr. Gordon, well versed in the art of turnaround, moved it to Paramount. In keeping with industry practice, Universal’s paperwork regarding the rights followed — still without the 1994 agreement.

In 2006, “Watchmen” moved again, this time to Warner. Again, the documents arrived without the 1994 turnaround agreement.

“Watchmen” picked up heat early in 2007 when Mr. Gordon, having been through a series of prospective directors, Terry Gilliam and Paul Greengrass among them, signed a new director: Zack Snyder, who had just delivered Warner a surprise blockbuster with “300.”

Meanwhile Fox, after remaining passive for years, grew restive — perhaps because no one before had come close to starting principal photography. Shortly after Mr. Snyder announced his plans to make a “Watchmen” movie amid great hoopla at San Diego’s fantasy convention Comic-Con in 2007, Fox lawyers sent Warner a letter claiming rights under both the 1991 agreement and the later turnaround.

Fox has said in its court filings that Mr. Gordon never complied with a requirement that he resubmit the project to the studio when elements changed. Warner is expected to contend that Mr. Gordon offered “Watchmen” to every studio in town, including Fox. Still, Mr. Snyder came aboard and the entire cast was recruited after that contact, so elements had again changed.

Warner executives, according to people briefed on the matter, have privately speculated that Fox, faced with weakening performance at the box office, was angling for a small cut of the movie — perhaps 5 percent of its gross receipts. But Fox executives, also according to people briefed on the matter, were put off by what they saw as Warner’s failure to take their claims seriously, and delivered a shock by filing suit in February. As of this week the studios were jostling each other over what Fox now claims is Warner’s slow and inadequate compliance with orders to supply documents and witness lists under a schedule that may well put the movie — and at least four studios — in front of jurors rather than fans.

Mr. Gordon, meanwhile, appears to have made good on a philosophy he described almost 30 years ago.

“Most pictures are made because somebody else wants to make them,” he was quoted as saying in a 1979 issue of Screen International.

“As a producer, the only club you have is to have something that somebody else wants.”

Original here

George Michael arrest over drugs

George Michael at Wembley Stadium
Michael has said that following his tour he was hoping for a quieter life

The singer George Michael has been cautioned after being arrested in a public toilet for possession of drugs, thought to include crack cocaine.

"A 45-year-old man was arrested on 19 September on suspicion of possession of drugs in the Hampstead Heath area," a Metropolitan Police spokesman said.

The singer was taken to a police station and given the caution for possessing class A and class C drugs.

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said drug laws needed to be "flexible".

Asked why Michael had been given a relatively mild punishment for the possession of class A drugs, Mr McNulty said he did not know the details of the case.

George Michael has been in trouble with police before

But he added that the law provides a wide range of punishments for possession of drugs, and "circumstances and context" had to be applied.

The Home Office website says possession of class A drugs can result in up to seven years in prison, an unlimited fine or both.

Mr McNulty told the BBC: "The biggest message is that drugs are wrong and people will be punished, but it must be right that there is flexiblity in the law."

But the government has the balance "about right" between being tough when it needs to be and providing treatment for individuals "to get off that horrible spiral of drug dependancy and crime", he added.

'Quieter life'

Last month, George Michael completed his 25 Live world tour, his first for 15 years.

After performing "final" dates at London's Earls Court and in Copenhagen, Michael said he would be retiring from arena and stadium shows.

He said he would leave the "bells and whistles" of large-scale tours behind after the tour because he wanted a "quieter life".

During the concerts, he performed his number one hit Outside in a police uniform in a jokey reference to previous arrests.

The song itself referred to his arrest in 1998 when he was detained by an undercover police officer for lewd conduct in a public toilet in Beverly Hills, California.

Until that time he had not "come out" in public, but the arrest and subsequent conviction forced him to reveal his homosexuality and his relationship with American Kenny Goss.

Michael also came into conflict with the law in October 2006 when he was found slumped over the wheel of his car.

And last May he was given a two-year driving ban after pleading guilty to driving while unfit through drugs.

Earlier this year, the 45-year-old singer signed a multi-million pound deal with publisher HarperCollins to write his autobiography, which he said would be a "no-holds barred" account of his life.

And during his final shows on stage, he revealed that he had written a Christmas song which would be released this December - his first festive song since Wham!'s Last Christmas, initially released in 1984.

Original here