Monday, April 30, 2007

Sony To Condense Old TV Shows


Charlie's AngelsAn exec at Sony sees the
7-minute Sopranos rundown on YouTube. He likes it.

Decides to do the same thing with old TV shows in Sony's library like 'Charlie's Angels'. Will show them online at Minisode Network which will start up in June.

Minisode for a 30 minute sitcom will be 3 minutes. Only most important plot points will be shown. All other stuff cut out.

Shows will probably view much like this write-up reads. Story at NYT.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sexual Position Demonstration



If you like comedy, folk music, and ultra low-budget porn, this is the short for you.

Pipe Dream


Here's a good zone-out video. You have to admire the work this must have taken.

Vudu, Or, The Continuing Demise Of The Movie Theater

Vudu box with remoteSelect any of 5000 movies from most of the major Hollywood studios, press play, and start watching immediately: That's the Vudu pitch. The Vudu box (pictured with remote control) feeds the picture to your TV set from the Vudu database via the internet.

Vudu has sidestepped the two curses that plague the movie download experience -- the inherent delay while waiting for the download, and the smallish display size of the average computer monitor.

Here's a quick rundown of the tech aspects -- The picture would start immediately because the beginning of the most popular movies would be stored on the Vudu box's internal drive. The rest of the movie would start downloading while you're watching Act I -- you enjoy the movie right now and avoid the dreaded 'sit and stare'.

Peer-to-peer data exchange would allow for speedier local downloads -- thus preventing the Vudu central server from being bogged down by tens (or hundreds/thousands) of requests for the same movie. Peer-to-peer download allows the Vudu set-top box to search other Vudu users for the requested movie. Your set would download a few minutes of the movie from one Vudu user, and a few minutes from another, etc. This way the rest movie can be assembled in the background while you watch the first few minutes. And -- you get to watch on your deluxe super-wide TV with the best surround-sound money can buy.

Rental would be 2 or 3 dollars. Purchase price would be comparable to the retail price of a DVD.

The way movies are being purchased and watched is changing everyday, and theaters continue to be cut out of the picture. NYT has a story, and podcast coverage. Vudu website (where you can participate in a beta program free).

For some perspective, Engadget and NewTeeVee offer coverage.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cost Per Frame

Transformers

It's Sunday morning so let's talk movie budgets. I was catching up over at Variety and found this write-up on big budget movies by Diane Garrett. Costs are always spiraling but Diane brings us up to date on current costs:

"...there was much handwringing when "Titanic" doubled its budget to hit the $200 million mark. But it was clear that the old $100 million ceiling was shattered, as the mark quickly crept to $150 million and then $200 million.

This summer, despite studio chieftains' vows over the past year to cut costs, the threshold could well be $300 million."

Sure. These productions cost a lot of money. But, not the way they used to -- the money isn't spent the same way. In the good old days you paid location costs -- transportation, catering, etc., -- and production costs that mainly consisted of salaries/fees and the cost of film (buying and processing it, then the production of dailies, then post production). Sure. We all knew that.

Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) has changed all this. Most summer blockbusters are effects-driven and the CGI costs of producing effects sequences are calculated on a 'per second', or 'per frame' rate. Most movies are still projected at 24 frames-per-second, so it follows that, if you're using a per-frame unit of cost, you multiply by 24 -- then you have the per-second rate.

Garret quotes Michael Bay as saying on his blog that the CGI in 'Transformers' is some of the most difficult (read costly) ever done, requiring up to 38 hours per frame. Sure. Why not? You have to draw all those pictures, photograph the models, make them move around and do stuff, then insert the imagery into the footage (then add sound, etc). Sure. Costs a lot.

How much? How much does it cost to produce CGI sequences. Okay, I'll cut to the chase -- it costs millions -- but why?

ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) is the effects house behind 'Transformers'. So, purely for the sake of Sunday morning fun, let's say ILM has 38 people working a sequence (like the one the still above is taken from), and they each cost $1000 per day (what with their salary, the fancy computers they use, administrative overhead, the best snacks money can buy, et al). It would take this crew one hour to produce a frame. So, that's 24 hours to produce one second of final product. If the workday is 8 hours that means it would take 3 working days to produce one second of sequence. So -- 38 people x $1000/day = $38,000/day. Multiply that by the number of days it takes to produce one second of imagery and you get $114,000/second.

Sure. It costs money to make a Transformer chase a car down a freeway. Sure it does. If the chase lasts ten seconds our sequence would cost $1.1 million. One minute of CGI fun -- $6.6 million. Ten minutes -- $60 million +/-. And, that's just for raw footage -- the studio would then have to pay for sound, editing, and more high-end snacks. Sure they would.

Transformers

And that's why CGI-driven movies cost so much. Right now, the (publicly admitted) budget for 'Transformers' is $150 million (of course, that depends on who you ask). No wonder it's called 'Runaway Costs'.

Okay, now I'm going to get another cup of tea and maybe make some toast. Figuring on an expenditure of about 1.25 cents per second and adding the price of materials the total projected cost for this production should be fifty cents, or maybe a dollar, or something like that. Sure it will.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

No Reservations

Here is a romantic dramedy with spine. In 'No Reservations' Catherine Zeta-Jones is a chef with issues. Here she is serving a raw steak to a customer who complained that the first one was too well-done.
Catherine Zeta-Jones in No Reservations

Visual, gets deep into character. Chef is high-maintenance and her food is froufrou. When her sister dies in a car accident Chef must take care of her niece. She is not prepared for a kid in her life, especially under the conditions, and a nervous breakdown follows. When Chef takes time off work to deal with new circumstances Sous-chef, Aaron Eckhart, steps in to keep things afloat at the restaurant. That he is a man (and a brass-tacks Italian chef at that) irks Chef to no end. However, Sous-chef manages what Chef can't -- he connects with niece and helps smooth things out during a difficult time, helping Chef to create a family out of broken pieces and start a new life.

/film has some production stills and I was struck by the genuineness of this one.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart in No Reservations

Cute but not too too. I like the feel of this movie -- crafted, good story, light but not lite. Zeta-Jones is a draw, and she clicks well with Eckhart. Food, and the preparation of same, serves as the central metaphor here -- these guys did a good job contrasting the pros and cons of Cuisine Nouveau vs. classic dishes and the parallels between quality of food and quality of life.

Director Scott Hicks shot this one with a very grounded look that will balance out the subject matter and appeal to adult audiences. And, Village Roadshow has a great track record with script selection. This one should have a light but long run in theaters and do great business on DVD.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Treatment

Writer-director Scott Frank on the set of The Lookout

Elvis Mitchell talks with writer/director Scott Frank (Out of Sight), who makes his directorial debut with 'The Lookout'. Frank has an easy articulate way of describing his approach to character and conflict, and the mid-life crisis that compelled him to take the leap and direct his first movie.

My Morning Commute

Live Free or Die Hard

You're not going to believe this but on my way to work this morning a jet crashed right in front of my car. Well, in the few seconds I had I managed to get a picture, then swerved to avoid a collision. Problem is I hit this structure that seemed to work as a ramp, launching my car into the air where there happened to be a helicopter hovering. Yep, I crashed right into the helicopter and was thrown out of my car -- where I managed to get a good photograph.

Live Free or Die Hard

New trailer for 'Live Free or Die Hard' with Bruce Willis.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What's On?

Anne Thompson mentioned Joost has announced a deal to distribute original content by several producers. I've been watching this new industry develop with great interest -- largely because I don't watch TV (and don't see movies in theaters) and am looking for viable alternatives. I just can't deal with commercials and adhering to the networks' schedules. Why should I watch Letterman late at night when I'd rather watch his shows (or select parts of his shows) on the weekend (don't get me started on going to movie theaters).

So get TiVo, you say. No thanks. I've already invested in my internet connection and latest computers and, well, don't own a TV (except for this little B&W thingy I got at Radio Shack for $40). I'm not interested in spending money on a technology that's history. I'm convinced the net is the main way we're going to be accessing media in a few more years -- including getting movies and TV shows.

Anyway, I was glad to hear Joost is broadening its scope. Here's a look at other emerging venues.

AOL just announced a deal to produce web programming with partners such as Mark Burnett and DreamWorks Animation.

The Joost deal adds content from ALL3MEDIA International, IndieFlix, September Films, and others to their already impressive lineup. (I'd love to get Joost but it's by invitation only and I haven't managed to wrangle one. Dang).

Then, there's the video sites like AtomFilms. I find a lot of cool shorts on Atom, but I can't see this type of site staying around much longer in their current configuration. I'd look for the addition of other content, possibly original serial programming, down the road.

Of course there's the movie download sites. These will really give movie theaters a run for their money in the next few years. For instance, CinemaNow offers movies for download for less than the retail cost of a DVD, and (really), for less than the cost of seeing a movie at a theater.

What about TV network programming? ABC is making its shows available online. The picture is on the small side and doesn't have great resolution, but you can watch shows like Lost and Grey's Anatomy anytime you want -- a huge step in the right direction. I didn't like NBC's or CBS's interface or picture as much, but at least the content is available.

Lonely GirlI believe LonelyGirl15 was the first widely-viewed webisode serial -- it was quickly imitated by Michael Eisner's Prom Queen, the 80 episode psych-thriller playing 90 seconds at a time (episode 17 was just released).

Then, there's the producers that are sidestepping traditional distribution altogether and showing original films online such as FearNet.com and Sam Raimi's Ghosthouse. FearNet's content is not wide-release quality and Ghosthouse only has a few shorts, but the potential of this kind of direct marketing can't be denied. It's just a matter of time before Raimi (or someone else) releases a major feature-length movie online before sending it to theaters (if they bother with sending it to theaters at all).

That's a lot of stuff (and just the tip of the iceberg) and most of it has become available in the last year or so. One thing can't be denied -- the lay-out for the motion picture and TV industries is changing fast. To me, this whole scene is more exciting than traditional Hollywood studio pictures/distribution, and I'll be following it closely.

For now, I can't resist offering some free advice -- you might want to put off buying that national chain of movie theaters or TV stations for a bit.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Rodham Rap


Do you want another Bush in the White House?

Funny Or Die

Funny or Die

Online video sites are sprouting like weeds. The newest one I know of is called, that's right, Funny or Die. They have this very cool, very funny short with Will Ferrell called 'The Landlord'. Be warned, though -- this piece is not just politically incorrect, it's downright...um...oh, let's see...degenerate. I loved it. Here's wishing F or D the best.

Maasai Music, Maasai People

Hans Johnson

Hans Johnson (above) went to Africa to record the music of the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania.

Maasai singers

He became friends with them.

Hans Johnson with Maasai

He decided to use the money from the sales of the CD of Maasai music he made to build a school house.

Maasai school built with CD proceeds

Story at Rocketboom. Learn more and buy a CD at Laleyio.com.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Blinded By The Light: The 'Grindhouse Effect'

Grindhouse Movie Poster

First, before I begin, let me apologize. I am about to tell you that I knew 'Grindhouse' would flop. A quick check reveals I said no such thing before the release of the movie and my saying so now is a bit cheap. I admit it. I apologize for being cheap.

However, in my defense I can say that I really don't care about box office performance. I don't mention it when I think a movie will fail. I will say something when I think a movie will succeed. Case in point -- my citing that 'Year of the Dog' will make good money. Nonetheless, it's still cheap to say you knew a movie was going to do poor business two weeks after the movie opens (especially when everyone else was saying it was going to be a hit) -- I'll try to make up for this with a couple proper predictions at the end of this piece.

How did I know 'Grindhouse' was going to do poor business, you're asking. By watching the trailer. Yes, by simply watching the trailer I can tell whether the elements for success are there. What's the most important element? There is only one thing to consider: Audience Appeal. Story does not matter. Plot...nope. Special effects -- no effect. Big movie stars -- yields nothing (not since the 70s, baby). Okay, fair enough. How about Big-Name Directors? No. No. Hell no. The director makes no damn difference.

Thinking the involvement of a given director will affect the box office performance of a movie is antiquated. This might have been the case decades ago but not today. Hitchcock was certainly a draw. Peckinpah -- draw. Bergman, Kurosawa -- had to see it. But, that was yesteryear. Today, the Name Director has no effect on the core audience. (This is where I could reel off a bunch of big name directors that have had recent box office failures, but I'll spare you -- you know the list as well as anyone). If you think a name director guarantees big dollars at the box office then we can agree to disagree, but I would advise you not to choose 'Grindhouse' in support of your argument.

So. Okay then. All that stuff does nothing for the success of a movie and will not guarantee good box office performance. What does? Audience Appeal. What makes a movie appeal to an audience? Three things: 1) Story. 2) Franchise. 3) Novelty.

But, wait! You just said quote, 'Story does not matter'! (You jackass)! Does it or doesn't it?! Okay, allow me to backtrack...

I'll start with franchise. If the movie is part of a series it stands to do much better business than if it is not. This holds true even if the story is weak. Lots of sequels have weak Story but manage to scrape together a profit, once DVD sales/rentals are tallied. So, in these cases story doesn't matter (as much). 'Kill Bill Volume 2' is a good example. KBV1 had no story whatsoever, just plot, but V2 made great money and had excellent DVD sales. In KBV1 The Bride has no arc, that is she does not change in a significant way. She is a killer in the beginning of the movie and a killer in the end. There is nothing significantly different about her. She does deal with obstacles, but this doesn't alter her character (a very common thing in movies). This raises the question: Why was 'Kill Bill Volume 1' a success?

Bruce Willis in Sin City

And, that brings us to Novelty. If it's something that's never been seen before (or creates the illusion of same) it may draw an audience. 'Sin City' is a good example -- it had a unique look -- black and white with splashes of color, comic book frames come to life, 2D/3D mixed together -- nice. People went to see it.

Novelty is the main reason 'Kill Bill Volume 1' was a success. We had not seen anything like it before. We didn't care who starred in it, didn't care that it was an homage to Kung Fu movies, (but, we did care that it was directed by Quentin Tarantino). 'So, there!' you say. The big name director does make a difference! (You Jackass)! Well, I beg to disagree. I propose that KBV1 would have been just as successful without Tarantino's name attached. This is a gray-zone hypothetical that you can't get away from in such discussions.

Kill Bill with Uma Thurman

I believe KBV2 was a success because it was part of a franchise (in effect -- KB was meant to be one movie but was split into two features which were released months apart), and 'Kill Bill 1' was a success because it was a novelty. Nobody cared about story (or even plot), they just wanted to see the novelty of an American chick kicking ass with a Samurai sword. That the chick was Uma Thurman and that she was directed by Tarantino made no difference.

The counter-argument is probably valid -- People went to the Kill Bill movies because they wanted to see the camera and editing work of Tarantino. That's fair enough. But, there are a lot of competent directors out there, and the entire generation of new helmers are capable of imitating Tarantino. That weakens the assertion that QT's stamp on KB was so unique people had to see it. Besides, if that's true why then wasn't 'Jackie Brown' a success? So, the argument has logic issues.

Billy Bob Thornton and Lucas Black in Sling Blade

'Sling Blade' is another movie that comes to mind which has a unique element. It had a character that talked funny. Remember how everyone was imitating Billy Bob's gravelly-voiced Karl saying, 'Some folks call it a sling blade, I call it a Kaiser blade'? (I would usually switch out sling blade with some common object then add the 'I aim to kill you with it' line and get 'Some folks call it a remote control [or paper clip, tape dispenser, cell phone, or whatever], but I call it a Kaiser blade, and I aim to kill you with it...umm hmmm').

Karl's arc is what gives 'Sling Blade' Story. So, what is Story? This is where I run into a brick wall. How to describe that most elusive quality of movie making? Here is my one-sentence take: Story is how the plot affects and/or changes the protagonist's character and behavior. If a movie's main characters do not change in a substantial way as a result of navigating the plot elements, the story is weak. A good story gives any movie the best shot at making money. Good story is also the rarest thing.

'Sin City' had a unique look but did not have a strong story. 'Kill Bill' had the novelty of a (female) assassin who killed with a Samurai sword (and was American to boot). I think these movies depended on their uniqueness for success -- their movie stars and directors had little to do with it.

'Sling Blade', on the other hand, depended on deep Story for its success. Its writer, director, and star Billy Bob Thornton was a total unknown at the time, yet the movie was a huge success at the box office, at the Oscars, and on DVD. The protagonist, Karl, starts the story as a free man who does not have a family or anyone who cares for him and is indecisive and timid, and ends the story as a man who will spend the rest of his life in prison, but has people who care for him because of his decisive action. That's pretty good arc, delivers Story.

'Grindhouse' has several problems. The first one is not mentioned above, but it's the most obvious, and easiest to fix, so I'll start with it as a preface. 'Grindhouse' is too damn long. It runs over 3 hours. Nobody wants to see a movie that's 3 hours long. (Especially at the movie theater. Add the time it takes to get ready, deal with traffic, show up in time to get the tickets, popcorn (soda, et al), and get a good seat -- you're talking the whole evening. Add to that the knowledge that you will almost certainly miss something during the 2 or 3 pee breaks, and the experience lacks appeal).

Why is it too long? Simple answer: it's a double-feature. This just makes things worse. This movie's core audience is too young to know what a double-feature is (I'm too young and I'm not even close to the target audience's age -- but, I've never seen a double-feature). So, the Weinsteins were selling a very long double-feature to kids. Big problem.

Okay, what's next: lack of novelty. By definition this movie is a throw-back. Way back, to the 50s. To the grindhouse era. Be honest. Did you know what a grindhouse movie theater was before the PR campaign for 'Grindhouse'? Not many did. Have you seen, and more importantly, are you a fan of B-movies from the 50s? I just can't believe that the novelty of a 50s style B-movie is a draw.

What about unique characters? The most unusual character is Cherry (in 'Planet Terror') played by Rose McGowan and this is only because she has a machine gun for a leg. That's cool, but not enough reason to see a 3 hour movie. It just has no depth. Karl talked funny and this seems just as superficial, but the way Karl talks relates to his personality and character -- there's a big difference. That someone shoots zombies with a machine gun leg isn't in the same class.

Rose McGowan and Marley Shelton in Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror

Okay, now on to the intangibles. Big movie stars. 'Grindhouse' doesn't have them. Kurt Russell is the main draw in Tarantino's 'Death Proof', and I think he's a good actor...not a big star, though. In Rodriguez's half, 'Planet Terror' there are no stars. Net effect: may not hurt, but doesn't help either. Billy Bob Thornton wasn't a big star, but 'Sling Blade' did not have the negatives working against it that GH does.

Name directors. This is the most curious element. I think 'Grindhouse' would have been more successful if it had been directed by a new director(s). While a spoof of B-movies may have been fun and interesting in the hands of a new director, it seems cheap and half-serious coming from A-list helmers like Rodriguez and Tarantino. It's ironic, but these guys may have become too establishment since 'El Mariachi' and 'Pulp Fiction' to pull off a tongue-in-cheek riff on genre pictures from the 50s. GH might have had more appeal if it had been shot by no-names on a shoestring budget.

Then there's the weather, and the fact that GH was released on Easter. 'Grindhouse' hit theaters on one of the first good weekends of the year. Winter was finally over and nobody wanted to spend three hours in a theater watching zombies and car chases. Plus -- it was Easter.

Munich The only worse release strategy I can think of off the top of my head is the one for Spielberg's 'Munich', which was rolled out over the Christmas/New Year's frame in 2005.

The poster I saw showed a guy in silhouette holding an automatic pistol -- not very enticing for a family looking for a movie on Christmas Day.

'Grindhouse' matches the poor timing of the release of 'Munich' by trying to sell the off-putting idea of seeing a movie called 'Death Proof' on Easter. 'Grindhouse' tanked just like 'Munich' did and the release date could not have helped.

Okay. Next is the big S. 'Grindhouse' doesn't have Story. No, I haven't seen the movie but I have seen what the core audience saw -- the trailer. Check it out and tell me what the story is.

Planet Terror

In the trailer for 'Planet Terror' we learn that a chemical has caused people to become zombies and a woman with a machine gun for a leg fights them. These are plot elements but there is no story hinted at. We don't have any idea how or if the woman's character evolves as a result of dealing with the zombies.

Death Proof

Same applies to the trailer for 'Death Proof'. We learn that a stunt man meets some women and there are car chases and crashes. There is no story arc at all. In almost every case, when the story can't be determined or at least guessed by watching the trailer, it means there is no story. This is something I noticed a long time ago and it lead to the creation of a simple rule: If you can't describe the story after watching the trailer -- it's a bad movie.

Here is my description, based on viewing the trailer, of 'Planet Terror' and 'Death Proof': Zombies are created after exposure to chemicals and a woman fights them, and, a man drives fast in a car. Based on these descriptions and following the above-mentioned rule, 'Grindhouse' is a bad movie.

So then. Why would a movie like 'Grindhouse' be made and released at such a bad time of year? I don't know why. I don't mean to even try to guess. I just wanted to see if I couldn't delineate the reasons why this movie failed. Taken together, I feel it's because of the above reasons and I'm calling this the 'Grindhouse Effect'. In aggregate, when all the elements of the 'Grindhouse Effect' apply to any given movie, said movie can be expected to fail (at the box office).

The 'Grindhouse Effect' occurs when the following happens:
1) The movie is too long
2) The movie does not have strong character arc
3) The movie relies on a sensationalist plot
4) The producers make too big a deal out of who directed the movie
5) The movie is released during an inappropriate time of the year or during a holiday that precludes the core audience from seeing it
6) The movie does not have a unique quality that would compensate for its other problems

'Grindhouse' meets all these criteria. Net effect: no audience appeal -- bad box office.

Earlier I said I would try to make up for my arrogance in calling GH a failure after the fact. This 'hindsight prognosticating' is of the lowest order, I know. So, here, now, today, I'm saying that 'Grindhouse' will do great business on DVD. It should hit the rental market at number one and I would be surprised if it didn't hold the top spot in DVD sales for a couple weeks. Add to that the revenue from TV, cable, international markets, etc., and Bob and Harvey should make some of their money back.

Oh well, I guess that's it. But, wait! How can 'Grindhouse' be such a failure at the box office but such a success on DVD?! Good question. I could be wrong. 'Grindhouse' could tank on disc, but I don't think so. If and when it tops the charts in DVD sales/rentals I'll take a look at why.

There. That prediction (plus my April 8th prediction that 'Year of the Dog' would do well -- it's averaging $16,000 per on 7 screens as I write this) should serve as redemption.

Some of my points may seem specious or like circular logic. You could, for instance, argue that 'Sin City' was not a success because it had a unique visual quality. Maybe it was some other reason. Could be. I realize it's a can of worms but I didn't have time to fully explore each element of my argument in this write up. For this, I humbly apologize. If that's not good enough then we'll have to agree to disagree.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stardust

Michelle Pfeiffer in Stardust

Recognize her? I thought the full-tilt tribute to Hitchcock by Robert Zemeckis, 'What Lies Beneath', was Michelle Pfeiffer's swan song (the little-seen 'I Am Sam' and the excellent 'White Oleander' seem like afterthoughts). But she returns from hiatus with 'Stardust', coming this summer. From the look of the trailer this will be a must-see, must-own movie. This movie could have no story whatsoever and still be irresistible -- it just has that thing going -- and boasts not only Pfeiffer, but also Robert De Niro, Peter O'Toole, Sienna Miller, and Claire Danes in the cast. 'No way', you say. Yes...way.

But, back to Michelle...shall we. Why no major movie in seven years? Seriously, I fretted. But, never mind, she's back with three projects in 2007 -- 'I Could Never Be Your Woman' (Michelle, never say Never), 'Hairspray', and 'Stardust'.

To celebrate this star's return to the big screen I wrote a few verses:

In A Darkened Theater Near Me

Thank you, O thank you! I've missed you so. The silver screen has been so dull
without your elegant figure and shimmering hair.
Without your blue eyes, smoky voice, and lips so full.
Is there another movie star to you we could compare?

Why did you leave us and stay away for so long?
If you had not come back now how would we go on?
Without you the story moves so slowly -- the actor plods, and the dialogue bogs.
Others try to replace you -- they imitate your elegance and your grace.
But, movie after movie, we could barely stay awake.
It's you we wanted, and always wanted, to come back to us -- take after take.

And, now you are back and our wishes have come true.
You're in this new movie called Stardust...and a couple of others, too.
How soon can I see you in a darkened theater near me?
This summer you say, no sooner shall it be.
Alas. Then I will wait.
For to see you again will truly be great.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Spacey On Morning Edition

Kevin Spacey

I've always been a fan of Kevin Spacey. In his movies his connection with the camera is so solid he's able to bond with the viewer. As a result his characters gain the upper hand over you -- they almost seem to know what you're thinking and even make fun of your reactions to the plot. I'm sure this effect would be far more visceral when intensified by the intimacy and immediacy of a live stage performance. I haven't seen Spacey in a play but may take a trip to London to catch him at the Old Vic.

In his interview with Renee Montagne Spacey runs down how Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten is the sequel to Long Day's Journey into Night; how he became the Artistic Director of the Old Vic, the historic London theater formally run by John Gielgud, Lawrence Olivier, and Peter O'Toole; the 'Sweet Spot' in a theater and how an actor projects his voice; the creation of the first Trans-Atlantic theater company, a collaboration between the Old Vic and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) -- (Sam Mendes [American Beauty] will commit to directing two classic plays a year for the next three years).

Spacey always comes across smart in movies and it's easy to see why listening to this interview. (This is the extended version of the interview which played on Morning Edition 4/9. 22 min).

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Industry Is Going To The Dogs

Underdog

My sources tell me that 'Underdog' was originally planned as a vehicle for Tom Cruise (or possibly Tom Hanks, I can't remember and I lost my notes). Tom was to play a man with super powers who stops crime and saves people, however his fee was far too high and the lead ended up going to a dog instead. That really burns my hide.

Firehouse Dog

'Firehouse Dog' was supposed to be toplined by Bruce Willis and was going to be called 'Firefighter 55' (like on the helmet). Willis was to play a firefighter that overcomes his fear of fire and becomes a hero. However, Willis' fee was way too high and the part ended up going to a dog instead. That really critches my mangos. I like Willis, but because his fee is so high I have to watch this action movie with a dog in the lead instead of Bruce.

This is turning into an epidemic. How many times must we see perfectly good human roles go to dogs because of disputes over fees? I just don't get it. Do you? Cause, I don't. Not even a little.

Year of the dog

This one really mushes my potatoes. Ben Stiller was set to play opposite Molly Shannon in 'Year of the Dog', a heartrending drama about a woman (Shannon) whose boyfriend (Stiller) dies, forcing the woman (Shannon) to move on to new relationships. However, the funny man's (Stiller's) fee was too high and the part ended up going to (that's right) a dog! Why do all these big stars insist on (very) high fees? It just ruins it for everyone. That really crunches my tong-tongs.

On the flip side, this movie looks great (I'm betting Stiller is kicking himself now -- ha ha). 'Year of the Dog' will do some nice business. Shannon carries the movie with Peter Sarsgaard, John C. Reilly, and Laura Dern. Trailer looks great. Props to Shannon and shame on Stiller (money-grubbing fool).

Oh, and a big 'Thank You' to my reliable insider sources for the heads up on this disturbing trend in movie casting. You guys are great. I mean that.

Agricultural Report


What we don't know won't hurt us. What we do know...

Torture In Movies

Whose side is the audience on while they watch a scene with torture? Is there a difference between the nature of Tarantino's torture scene in 'Reservoir Dogs' and that of the ones so often found in movies like 'Saw' and 'Hostel'? Is Hollywood just desperate for increasingly sensationalist material? Film critic A.S. Hamrah offers his views. (5 min)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Charlie Rose Talks Grindhouse With Tarantino And Rodriguez

Kurt Russell in GrindhousePlanet Terror

The bad boys of B-movies Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez talk with Charlie Rose.

20 Dollar Baby



You got to like this take-off on 'Million Dollar Baby' from the 'Stop Talking About It And Just Do It' school of low-budget weekend movie making.

Postal

Postal

Thanks to Jan at Bollbashers.com this clip is making the rounds on the web. It's from Uwe Boll's new shock comedy 'Postal', and what you see in the still is essentially what you get in the trailer.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sunshine Review


SunshinePictured is the hallway that leads from my living room to the kitchen (if you look closely you can see me at the end of the hall holding a ham sandwich...that I just made...in my kitchen). Okay. Fine. This is actually a still from '
Sunshine', opening tomorrow in the UK (arriving in the US 9/14).

Derek Elley has a rundown over at Variety. Derek describes the movie as an 'atmospheric drama that's gripping for two-thirds of the voyage', that finishes with 'an odyssey to no-ideas-ville'.

Okay, that's not great-sounding, but on the plus side I can't take too seriously phraseology like 'odyssey to no-ideas-ville'. I've been to No-Ideas-Ville -- it's a nice place. Clean, not too much crime, nice schools...and, it's not too far from Oddly-Clunky-Writing-Style-Town, and a short drive from I'll-Hyphenate-Anything Village. It's nice.

Derek does point out that the ending is a bit much, saying:

...capped by an increasingly visceral, killer-on-the-loose finale. Latter becomes progressively more ridiculous after the script's earlier, careful calibrations.

What the second half of the second sentence means is anyone's guess. I'm going with: ...more ridiculous when compared to the carefully calibrated story elements of the first part of the movie.

I've heard other comments to this effect (if I understand Derek correctly) and it's not encouraging. I'm holding out, though -- this is the most interesting sci-fi to come along in a while. On the plus side -- movies like this are by-and-large review-proof so business should be good (okay, now I'm hyphenating everything that moves). If the ending is really that bad I'll just watch the first two-thirds over and over.

Check out sunshinedna.com for gobs of cool stuff. How many days until 9/14?

Gere On Fresh Air

Terry Gross talks with Richard Gere about his career, his politics, and his new flick 'The Hoax', about Clifford Irving's attempt to pass off a fake biography of Howard Hughes (28 min).

Monday, April 02, 2007

Documentary About Wikipedia

Nic Hill and crew on location shooting Truth in Numbers

Nic Hill (pictured second from right) is traveling Asia making the documentary 'Truth in Numbers', about Wikipedia, Wikipedians, and Jimmy Wales. Check out Joanne Colan's interview with Nic at Rocketboom. Donate to Nic's film here.

The Zit


Sunday, April 01, 2007

Turan Calls Lookout A 'Writer's Thriller'

'The Lookout' is the new character-driven thriller starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and written and directed by Scott Frank, who adapted 'Out of Sight', and has been on the short-list of craft-oriented writers for years. Kenneth Turan tells us how Frank did in his debut as a director for 'The Lookout'.

Wilhelm Scream

Day Watch

I saw this over at the NYPost blog and had to reblog it. Apparently, there is a very popular scream that is used at every opportunity by the sound editors in LaLa-Land. Called the 'Wilhelm Scream', it was originally used in 'Distant Drums', a 1951 cowboy-adventure.

For whatever reason(s), this scream effect has been used in gobs of movies, including 'Day Watch', the record-breaking follow-up to 'Night Watch', and the second in the trilogy of excellent Russian vampire movies.

And, I do mean gobs. Check out this compilation trailer over at YouTube -- it's mind-boggling how many movies this effect has been dropped into. What do sound guys see (or should I say hear) in this scream? Why is it so special? You be the judge...

Talking With The Lookout

The Lookout

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with the movie's lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who discusses his research for the role and how it's always a quality script (a very rare thing) that attracts him to a project. The industry is controlled by people who think, "...Special effects and gimmicks are going to sell more tickets than a good story. I think they're wrong," says Gordon-Levitt. You can listen to the interview here or read it here.

I'm thinking 'The Lookout' is going to be very popular on DVD.

Star Trek 11 Script Review

Want an early heads up on Star Trek 11? There is a script review at IESB.

The Host Rolls Out

The Host Director Bong Joon-ho has created quite a stir with 'The Host'. Movie has broken box office records in Korea. Released on 71 screens in the US in March 'The Host' has already taken over $1 million.

Adam Kempenaar and Sam Van Hallgren over at Filmspotting have posted their take on 'The Host' -- this is probably the most objective appraisal I've come across -- you can listen to the podcast here. They're calling this picture an 'absurdist-tragedy', and a 'monster movie with the cast of Little Miss Sunshine'. Their description of how the main characters (a dysfunctional family) try to 'out-grieve' each other upon learning the monster has (apparently) killed a family member is worth a listen.

If you haven't seen a trailer yet (or haven't seen a clean copy), try hitting the official site, which opens with a pristine copy. The look of the site gives you some idea of how important a movie this has become to Hollywood. A lot of money was spent to make it top-drawer.

When I first saw a clip from this movie it struck me as being very Spielberg-esque, except more fluid, both in camera-style and in ability to handle actors. I found a recent interview with Joon-ho at MovieWeb where he discusses the background on 'The Host', and mentions future projects. Look for good things from this director.

A Hollywood remake is in the works by Universal, but Joon-ho will not direct so I'm not holding out much hope that it will have the heart of the original. Joon-ho, on the other hand, has a pragmatic view (interview at SciFiWire) -- if the remake is good...great, if it's crap then his version will be the definitive one.

This is one of the best looking movies I've ever seen. The script and camera are witty but not self-conscious. Brings life to a tired genre. So far this year, 'The Host' is the only DVD I'm looking forward to buying.

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