Saturday, March 12, 2011

Yet Another Tirade Against Facebook

If  there is one web site I have complained about more than any other on this blog, it is Facebook. Over the years Facebook has made a number of changes unpopular with users, changes which have reduced the enjoyability and usability of the site for many. Most recently I complained about the changes Facebook had made to their profiles. Now Facebook has taken the changes they have made to profiles and applied them to pages as well.

For those who are wondering what a Facebook page is, rather than being devoted to an individual as a profile is, a page is dedicated to an artist, business, or brand. For instance, as an author I have my own Facebook page (as opposed to my personal profile). Pages have certain advantages that profiles don't have, such as discussion boards and displaying links in the left sidebar (profiles also have links, but they are not displayed conveniently in the profile's sidebar. One downside that pages have is that absolutely anyone can like one's page, while one must approve people who want to be friends on his or her profile. That having been said, one does have the ability to bar people from his or her page.

Anyhow, as I said earlier, Facebook has now applied the same changes they made to profiles to pages. Namely, the status update is no longer at the top of the page! Now many of us who have pages used the status update as a means of relaying news on various projects, alerting people to the completion of various projects, and so on. With the status update no longer at the top of the page, anyone visiting the page would possibly have to scroll through several posts just to find the status update! Another change to pages is a bit more minor, but there are those of us who find it annoying nonetheless. Beneath the name on pages is now a row of photos--the photo strip I believe Facebook calls it. While I know some people don't mind this feature, some of us hate it. First, it is unpleasant to my eye.  Second, it seems to me the status should be there!

Perhaps even worse than not having the status update at the top of pages is the fact that the "About" section,  the very thing that identifies who the page belongs to, no longer appears in the sidebar! The "About" section is where, say, John L. Sullivan could be identified as director of Ants in Your Pants of 1939 and O Brother Where Art Thou." In other words, the "About" section essentially let people know who the owner of the page is. Unfortunately, Facebook apparently does not think identifying the owner of a page is very important, as they have one must now click on "Info" in the left sidebar. Obviously,   this makes it harder for people to identify who a given page belongs to. After all, if people are more familiar with me than my work, how are they to know that "Terence Towles Canote" is the blogger who writes A Shroud of Thoughts?

Another change to Pages is very minor, but it one I dislike regardless. Namely, other pages that a page owner better than any other are now called "Likes," whereas they were once called "Favourites." To me this is much less accurate than "Favourite." I might like a good many other pages, but there only a few that are my favourites. Another complaint that I have is on the old version of pages it actually had a small box with the names and pictures of a few  of people who liked a page. One could then click a link and see everyone who likes a page. Now there is simply a place  on the sidebar "(fill in the blank) people like this," although the link is to see everyone who likes a page is still there. As the owner of the page I much preferred the little box with names and pictures.

At any rate, the changes in pages seem to confirm in my mind that Facebook has a death wish. It is almost as if they want to go the way of MySpace, that they want to lose users. Indeed, it is no wonder Facebook's user satisfaction rating is right down there with the airlines and the IRS. I do not think one has to be a great detective to figure out that much of the reason for this is that Facebook is constantly making changes which users dislike, changes which reduce the functionality of the site as well as the enjoyment users get out of it. I rather suspect that Facebook continues on this current course, it will be about as popular as MySpace is now in a year or two. In fact, I think Facebook's best path now would be to return to the old profiles and old pages and as swiftly as possible. That is one change most users would approve.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Former Alice in Chains Basisst Mike Starr R.I.P.

Mike Starr, former bassist for the rock band Alice in Chains, passed on 8 March 2011. He was only 44.

Mike Starr was born 4 April 1966 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He would later move to the mainland where he would co-found the band Diamond Lie with guitarist Jerry Canttrell. The band would evolve into Alice in Chains. Alice in Chains was eventually signed to Columbia Records. As the group's bassist Starr would appear on the group's debut album Facelift, its second album Dirt, and the EP Sap.He and the band parted ways following Dirt. He would later play bass with the band Sun Red Sun. Descending heavily into drugs, he would also appear on Celebrity Rehab in 2010.

I cannot feel sad about Mike Starr's passing. As far as I am concerned (and Nirvana fans might hate me for this), Alice in Chains was the best of the grunge bands of the Nineties. Mike Starr was part of the band's success, giving the group his considerable talent on bass. It is sad that his life was be dominated by drug addiction, with apparently not only cut short his music career, but may have had a role in his death.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Birthday Post 2011

Today is my birhtday, so rather than do a full fledged post I will leave you with two of my favourite songs. The first is "She's So High" by Tal Bachman. Tal, by the way, is the son of Randy Bachman of Guess Who fame.

The second is "Creep" by Radiohead.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In Defence of Remakes

One of the biggest complaints about Hollywood the past many years is the number of sequels and remakes that the studios release each year. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if the film industry has completely run out of original ideas. What is worse is that many of the remakes released by Hollywood are not only inferior to the originals upon which they are based, but they are often downright bad. In fact, the list of bad remakes released in the past twenty years is a long one: Miracle on 34th Street (1994),  Psycho (1998), Godzilla (1998),  Bedazzled (2000), Planet of the Apes (2001), Rollerball (2002),  Alfie (2004), Halloween  (2007), The Heartbreak Kid (2007), The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008), The Women (2008), and many, many more. To make matters worse, it would  seem none of these disastrous remakes has taught Hollywood to stop remaking classics. Recently there was new s that A Star is Born is set to be remade yet again. Given that Clint Eastwood is set to direct this might not seems so bad, until one learns Beyonce is set to star. One thing I think all of us can agree upon, Beyonce is no Judy Garland.

Given the number of horrible remakes with which film lovers have been plagued the past twenty years, it is easy to forget that here have been remakes of films that have been good. Indeed, some have even been great. A case in point is the 1954 version of A Star is Born starring Judy Garland and James Mason, itself a remake of the 1937 movie staring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. The 1937 version is a classic. There is no doubt about that. But the 1954 version is one of the greatest movies of all time. Judy Garland and James Mason were just too perfect in their roles, and the movie surpassed the original in every way. Unfortunately, it would be remade again, in 1976, this time with Barbara Striesand, of all people, in the lead role. It seems they made bad remakes in the  Seventies too....

Of course, it is well known that A Star is Born  (1954) was a remake. What is not so well known is that what made be the greatest hard boiled private eye movie of all time was also a remake. Dashiell Hammett's classic novel The Maltese Falcon was first adapted to film in 1931. Another version was made in 1936 under the title Satan Met A Lady. It was a very loose adaptation of the novel. The novel would be adapted a third time in 1941 with John Huston directing and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. Not only would this version actually be good. Not only would it be a classic. It would be one of the greatest films ever made. In fact, The Maltese Falcon surpassed the first versions by so much that most people do not realise it is a remake. Indeed, it is hard to believe anyone played Sam Spade before Humphrey Bogart. That having been said, I do have to wonder if The Maltese Falcon (1941) can be considered a remake. I do not believe the script was necessarily based on the 1931 version and it certainly wasn't based on Satan Met a Lady. It would appear to be simply another adaptation of the novel, much like True Grit (2010--which is excellent by the way) or The Thin Red Line (1998). To me for a film to be  a remake, it must be directly based on a previous film.

While it is debatable whether or not The Maltese Falcon (1941) is a remake, I can think of a more recent film that most certainly is:. King Kong (2005). Not only will I say the newest version of the King Kong is a great film, I will utter what any might consider blasphemy--it is actually better than the original (and keep in mind I love the original). To me Peter Jackson took one of the truly great adventure and horror yarns of the 20th Century and actually improved upon. it. No longer is Kong a sympathetic, yet still beastly monster, he is a tragic anti-hero. And this time around Anne is not terrified by him, but like the audience falls in love with him. King Kong (2005) is not simply a great adventure film and horror movie, it is also a great romance and tragedy.

Here I must point out that King Kong (2005) was not the only good remake to come out in the past twenty years, although it must sometimes seem that way. I must also defend Ocean's Eleven (2001), itself a remake of the Rat Pack film Ocean's 11 (1960). On the surface it would seem foolhardy to remake any movie starring the Rat Pack. After all, how is one going to top that cast? I cannot say director Stephen Soderbergh succeeded in that respect (after all, it is hard to find anyone cooler than Dean Martin...), he did assemble a great cast and create a very good film that at the same time has the spirit of the original while remaining very much its own film.

From these few films (and I could name many more), I do not think it would be wise to declare a moratorium on movie remakes any time soon, no matter how much we might wish it. Of course, this brings us to an important question. Why are some remakes not only good, but sometimes better than the original while others are often wretched? It would be easy enough to say that it is because often times remakes are simply a studio's means of making money from an established name while other remakes are made by film makers with good intentions, but that is not necessarily true. As hard as it is to believe, Gus Van Sant appears to have had good intentions in remaking Psycho--it was not simply a money making project, but he still failed miserably. I believe there is much more to making a good remake of a film than good intentions.

First, one must have a good cast. Much of the reason the 1976 remake of A Star is Born failed it that not only is Barbara Striesand not Judy Garland, she is not even Janet Gaynor. Even if the film had not had a poor script, it would have failed because of Miss Striesand. By the same token, The Maltese Falcon (1941), if it can be counted as a remake), succeeds largely because of its cast. There has never has been anyone so perfect for Sam Sapde as Humphrey Bogart, nor anyone better than Mary Astor to play Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Second, one must have a good script. Aside from a horrible cast (Dylan McDemortt and Elizabeth Perkins, now really...), Miracle on 34 Street (1994) had a wretched script. The movie is even longer than the original, and yet the characters are much, much less developed than those in the original film and less seems to actually happen in the movie. Worse yet, the movie's climax is much less convincing and realistic than the 1947 version. Miracle on 34th Street (1994) could serve as a blueprint for a bad remake. Third, although good directors have made bad remakes before, I do think that a skilled director is more likely to make a good remake than a mere studio hack. The Maltese Falcon (1941) was directed by John Huston (who admittedly had little experience at the time). King Kong (2005) was directed by Peter Jackson. A Star is Born (1954) was directed by George Cukor.  I do not think most people would consider these directors mere studio hacks. The same cannot be said of the directors of other remakes (I'll be nice and not mention them here...).

Regardless, I fear that movie remakes are not something we would want to do away with entirely. It is true that the number of bad remakes outnumber the good ones, let alone the truly great ones. It is even true that some of the worst movies of all time have been remakes. But if Hollywood had never considered remakes, then we would not have The Maltese Falcon (1941) or A Star is Born (1941), let alone The Fly (1986) or  King Kong (2005). Sad as it may be to say, but if we want to see good remakes, we have to put up with the bad ones. Of course, that could be said about movies in general.