Thursday, May 31, 2007

Coen Brothers' Short Film



'Tuileries' is the Coen Brothers' contribution to 'Paris, Je t'Aime'. Steve Buscemi was never better.

The funny thing about this short is that it makes you (read: 'me') want to go out, buy a HD DV camcorder, and make your (meaning: 'mine') own movies. I think I'll (by that I mean: 'I will') go do that now.

Remote



Sexist and funny.

Funny Or Else

Landlord with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay from FunnyorDie.com

Have you seen The Landlord yet? The short, starring Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, was shot in 45 minutes on a zero budget with a camcorder and has been viewed 30 million times since it was posted April 12.

The movie anchors FunnyorDie.com, the site run by Ferrell and McKay which features comedy shorts by established and up-and-coming talent. NYT reports FunnyorDie has picked up financial backing and is talking with advertisers.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Apatow And Seinfeld

Judd Apatow and Jerry Seinfeld

Did you hear Judd Apatow (at age 15) interviewing Jerry Seinfeld? The audio is available at NYT Magazine along with a nice piece about Apatow's career.

Seattle International Film Festival

The Bridge. SIFF Fly Film 2007

Did you know SIFF is the largest film festival in the country? The festival features over 300 movies including 'Fly Films'. Fly Films are shorts produced in only five days with a playing time of ten minutes. The 2006 Fly Films can be watched in their entirety.

Numb. Seattle Film Festival short film

This year's Fly Films are: The Bridge (pictured upper), Numb (pictured lower), and Rainbow.

Cannes Rundown

John Powers with a full rundown on Cannes. Short version: The movies were great, the judging was great. Fresh Air (27 min.)

Grindhouse DVD


From Anne Thompson's interview with Harvey Weinstein, it would seem to be a foregone conclusion that 'Grindhouse' will be split into its constituent parts when released on DVD. Anne remarks, "DVD expectations on "Death Proof" and "Planet Terror" are high." That may not be etched in stone yet, but...

Note to HW: That sounds like a great idea, boss.

There's still plenty of room for the 'Grindhouse'-thing to make money. But, I can't help commenting on the poor release strategy of this movie -- a 3-hour endurance test released on Easter, a bad weekend for a schlock action/horror double-feature (one of which is entitled 'Death Proof').

My problem is the logic involved. At a recent conference at the Cannes festival Tarantino said about cutting 'Death Proof' (and Rodriguez's cut of 'Planet Terror') so that they would work as a double-feature, "We didn't cut our movies to the bone, we cut them past the bone." Harvey Weinstein said that the cuts had 'removed some of the essence of the films'.

Tarantino's cut of 'Death Proof' showed at Cannes and was called 'amazing' by critics there. Hmm. Go figure.

Okay, so what was the logic behind the double-feature strategy? 'Let's cut two movies until neither one of them is what they were intended to be and lack a lot of their power, then jam them together in a 3-hour horror/action double-feature and release it over the Easter holiday when no one could possibly want to see it'.

Okay, okay. End of rant.
Death Proof

Another note to HW: I'll be first in line to get the full-length version of 'Death Proof'. (Come on. Just look at that poster. Who wouldn't want to see that)? Will wait a while to get 'Planet Terror' (don't ask why). Would advise you go all out with the first DVD release -- drop all your 'making of' material and special features in, you won't get another chance 5 years down the road with a special 'Collector's Edition DVD' (WHISPER: Nobody will care by that time). Also, wait a few weeks longer than usual for DVD release -- give the interest more time to percolate. Let's make some money back on this thing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Star Wars Mash

Star Wars

George Lucas has freed up some footage from his 'Star Wars' library for use in making your own mashups of the epic adventure. Go to mashup.starwars.com and put together your best compressed version from 250 authorized clips. Then sync it to your choice of John Williams' music, add transition text, and badabing -- Star Wars mush.

So far, most of the mashups are quite bad -- the music has nothing to do with the scenes, the clips don't follow any kind of order or logic -- really makes you appreciate a good editor. Hurry over and show us your vision. The world needs your 'Star Wars' mashup. This is your destiny! Search your feelings, you know it to be true!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Huge Praise For 'Once'

Once

I had no plans to see this movie but the reviews have convinced me otherwise. 'Once' is getting some fine write-ups, the consensus of which is that it's a fresh approach to a genre that saw its heyday in the 60s, the movie musical.

LAist: Earlier this week I had the pleasure of experiencing an enhanced version of what viewers all over the country will soon be exposed to when I went to see a screening of the movie Once

A.O. Scott: Periodically -- about twice a year, by my calculation -- someone tries to breathe new life into the movie musical by putting together a lavish song-and-dance spectacle like the ones they used to make, full of big numbers and bigger emotions. (See, most recently, "Dreamgirls" and, before too long, "Hairspray.") Against this trend, "Once," a scrappy, heart-on-its-sleeve little movie directed by an Irishman named John Carney, makes a persuasive case that the real future of the genre may lie not in splashy grandeur but in modesty and understatement.

And, what about Kenneth Turan: Once is about to come into your life and make it whole. It's an unpretentious slice of musical, romantic enchantment that's low-key in concept but completely winning in execution.

My favorite review, though, is that of Billy Mernit: ...the performance of one duet in particular (I'm giving away no details whatsoever because I want you to be as delightfully surprised as I was) packs more emotional wallop and subtext into under four minutes of playing and singing than many scripts I've seen achieve in an entire act's worth of dialogue.

I even like the movie's tagline: How often do you meet the right person? Once.

Luc Besson

Angel-A by Luc Besson

Jaime Wolf, who usually writes for NYT Magazine, has a very nice piece regarding Luc Besson's un-French style of moviemaking:

...he has almost single-handedly dragged French cinema, kicking and screaming, from the art house into the multiplex.

To the chagrin of French critics and cinephiles, the scale of this success has reoriented French filmmaking away from the literary-intellectual tradition for which it is famed.

Besson has 'Angel-A' (pictured) set for release in the US on May 25.

I like Jaime's style of writing. He (she?) has the essayist's flair and it's a welcome change from the brass tacks style usually found at NYT, which is so incongruent with coverage of Hollywood.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Taking Pictures Is Work

Emma Roberts. Shot by Bruce Weber

Here is a shot from the upcoming Vanity Fair spread on Emma Roberts, Julia's niece, who plays the lead in this summer's 'Nancy Drew'. The photographer is Bruce Weber (who apparently still shoots medium format with film). Video of the shoot.

MotoDrom


Documentary about motodrom drivers. Hypnotic, beautiful B&W.

Cannes In The Hood

Director Luc Besson is showing select movies from the Cannes festival in the same troubled neighborhoods where the riots of 2005 occurred.

Wells Covers Cannes

Jeff Wells attended the press conferences of Michael Moore (Sicko) and Leonardo DiCaprio (11th Hour). Both with audio and photos.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Sahara Promotion Costs

'Sahara' stands out as an example of poor planning. Movie opened in the top spot, had good DVD sales, but finished deep in debt. Why? Promotion costs were (hold on to something) $100 million. Holy cow. All totaled the production cost $250 million and carries $105 million in red ink.

The bad mojo continued far after the movie closed with Clive Cussler (author of the novel the movie is based on) suing the producers for failing to give him script approval, and the producers countering for failure on Cussler's part to promote the movie.

NPR's Madeline Brand talks to LAT reporter Glenn Bunting about the court decision, and the sordid financial details of the production including the bribery costs involved in securing shooting locations in Morocco, the two million dollar opening sequence that wasn't used, and the heavy coin spent on star perks. Bunting's story in LAT from April. LAT story from 5/16.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Okay, Okay

My Blueberry Nights

Wong Kar Wai's 'My Blueberry Nights' opened Cannes. Anne Thompson liked it a lot, saying "...My Blueberry Nights is a delicious mood poem, a visually stunning ode to the lips of Norah Jones and Jude Law...". Wow, Anne. That sounds great. No, wait...really really great.

Jeff Wells, however, did not like it so much, calling the movie "...a horribly written, woefully banal self-discovery mood piece...". (Cool, they both use the word mood to describe this movie). Anyway, banal is bad, but banal in a manner which is woeful is...um...very bad. No wait, really really bad. Wells continues to point out that he couldn't remember the last time a movie co-written by a major director was so bad, citing the fact that many of the lines of dialogue in 'My Blueberry Nights' start with the word 'sometimes'.

Wells also did not like the camera work and/or the editing, pointing out that there is shot of melted ice cream on blueberry pie, which is nothing but a 'heavy-handed allusion (of) semen making its way through a woman's inner cavity'. Sounds like it. Would advise against the use of any such allusions.

Read Wells' entire review plus dozens of insightful reader comments over at Hollywood-Elsewhere.

I must say, these diametrically opposed opinions make me curious. I'm hoping for a delicious mood poem (nice turn of phrase Anne), but if 'My Blueberry Nights' turns out to be (sigh) woefully banal, well then, that would be a shame -- we're surrounded by so much banality already. It's everywhere.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hollywood And The Digital Revolution

Tim Bajarin spoke at the OnHollywood conference held May 1-3 in Los Angeles. This was the second annual conference, which focuses on the merging of traditional and digital media. Bajarin reports:

It drew many of Hollywood's movers and shakers, including Arianna Huffington, Carson Daly, and a lot of executives from Disney, Fox, HBO, Sony Pictures, Turner, the William Morris Agency, and CAA, to name a few. Tech industry heavyweights were there as well, including Kevin Rose, founder of Digg; Chad Hurley, CEO of YouTube; and Blake Krikorian of Sling Media.

Bajarin's write-up can be found at PCMag.com. Video from the conference is available at AlwaysOn.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Movie Theaters vs. Cable Companies

Exhibitors are fighting Comcast's plan to make movies available in the home the same day they are released in theaters. LAT reports Comcast president Stephen Burke says he has several studios 'very interested' in promoting their movies to Comcast customers day-and-date for between $30 and $50.

Theater chains like Regal Entertainment Group and National Amusements, Inc. say they will refuse to exhibit movies that are made available in the home day-and-date, citing this would erode the magic of the moviegoing experience.

Broadcastingcable.com reports Burke as saying, "My sense is that VOD (video on demand) goes all the way. Eventually, not only will you have primetime television shows that you can go back and catch up with, but eventually on your TV set, you will get virtually everything or maybe everything on TV when you want it."

For me, the magic of going to the theater faded years ago. A shopping mall cineplex may be able to offer several releases at once but that's quickly becoming available in the consumer's home. I don't see how the two experiences could be compared. A movie theater has a bigger screen, but that's its only advantage -- the home theater experience comes out ahead by every other measure.

Transformers: Behind The Scenes

Transformers

I was over at Alarm-Alarm and saw Peter Suderman's write-up re: Transformers featurette on Michael Bay's blog. Agree with Peter -- it's pretty cool. Spielberg promises the movie will 'blow you away' and Bay admits he's a 'big kid'. Featurette is new (apparently posted Friday morning, despite the fact that the post date is listed as '06/11/07'). Check it out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Joost Gets (Another) Boost

Internet TV service Joost has secured $45 million in investments from CBS, Viacom, and overseas sources. Joost was started by the same people behind Skype and Kazaa. Joost is in beta and will go live anytime. NYT

It was just a few weeks ago that Joost announced a production arrangement for the creation of original programming for their platform.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Year Of Internet TV?

Goodnight Burbank

Okay, the quality is very uneven but the quantity can't be ignored. Some online video content is (apparently) quite good though, like 'Goodnight Burbank' -- the comedy available only online, and only 5 minutes at a time, but which is receiving critical acclaim. I'm thinking online video will take huge strides in the next couple years. Story at All Things Considered (12 min.)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Good Luck Chuck

Good Luck Chuck

This is pretty funny.

British Horror

Village of the Damned

Like the way the Brits do scares? I like almost all movies that take place in England, but the British creepfest one of the best around. Something as simple as the English accent makes what would otherwise be hokey a lot more upright. And when it's good the accent just makes it better.

The two British movies that affected me the most are Alfred Hitchcock's 'Frenzy' and 'The Day of the Triffids' directed by Steve Sekely. I also liked Vincent Price in the Dr. Phibes series -- those scared the hell out of me. I can't help but think that if the Phibes movies had been done with American actors they would have come off pretty schlocky. I'm not arguing they weren't schlock, but those British accents made you (as a kid at least) take it way more seriously.

I was reading through The Guardian's comparison of '28 Weeks Later' to the British horror that preceded it, and it got me to thinking of how much I loved those movies. I'll have to get them together and write something up one of these days.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Ratatouille Preview


Director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) hosts a 9-minute preview of 'Ratatouille' over at iFilm. The story is very well-crafted: A rat is a brilliant cook and meets his fate when he is given a chance to make a dishwasher into a star chef in the typically hierarchical kitchen of a French restaurant.

Amazing Experiment



Science marches on.

Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley

Laura Winters at WP has a nice write-up on Sarah Polley, who sidestepped a traditional Hollywood acting career to work with directors that interested her like Michael Winterbottom and Wim Wenders. Her development shows -- her directorial debut 'Away From Her' has the polish of a long-time pro lenser. The technique in the still below of Julie Christie is impressive -- the character is in the right half of the frame and is looking to the right, which throws the frame out of balance and is a visual metaphor for the disorientation of memory loss -- more than you would expect from a young director's first film. Winters quotes Polley:

In the past, Polley was said to dislike interviews, so it's a welcome surprise to find her so open. "The press stuff...felt like a charade where I had to play some role so the journalist would have enough to write about. But now, having directed this movie, I've found my place within this process where I can be myself. I don't feel fraudulent talking about my film."

'Away From Her' is based on the short by the formidable Alice Munro, The Bear Came Over the Mountain. Story is about a woman whose memory is fading as Alzheimer's takes its toll -- but thematically, I believe, it's about what it is to be human.

Julie Christie in Away From Her

That Polley was willing to tackle an adaptation of Munro, and could convince the reticent Julie Christie (pictured above) to do another movie speaks volumes for the future of this director. Here is Winters on Christie's involvement:

Christie is elusive in a literal sense, too. "I'm not, as Sarah put it so beautifully, the most ambitious of actresses," she says in Toronto during the festival, sitting on a sofa with her legs curled under her. "I could see that this was a wonderful script, but it was entering turf that wasn't perhaps where I wanted to be. So I resisted for a long time."

Finally, Christie underwent a change of heart and turned in a performance that has people already talking about an Oscar nomination.

'Away From Her' has received strong reviews from the Berlin, Toronto, and Sundance festivals, and is in limited release.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Not To Burst Your Bubble, But...

Brian Lowry's write-up at Variety today suggests that there is still ample life in traditional print and broadcast media, and that these media outlets have little to fear from the evolution of the internet and digital media.

About the decline in newspaper circulation, movie theater attendance, (etc.), Lowry asks: What if everybody's wrong? That is, what if all we have to do is rearrange traditional content then adapt a different long-term view in operating them. However, Lowry offers no solid argument in support of this proposal.

Lowry cites (billionaire) Mark Cuban as saying on 'Sunday Morning Shootout' (you can see a clip here), that if you can buy a (large) TV for, say, $1200, then watching TV is fun again. This logic is full of holes, but before I get to that it's important to point out that Cuban led up to this conclusion by asserting that, "Everything that you do on your PC is going to be integrated into your TV."

This speaks volumes. Cuban believes the internet is migrating to TV, not the other way around. He is of a mind that, in the future, online content will be displayed 'screen-in-screen' on your TV set.

I don't see how this could happen. Here's why: A computer can do everything a TV can, but a TV cannot do anything a computer can (except display picture with sound). Therefore, it does not seem palatable that internet content and computer functionality should be displayed on a TV screen. It does, however, seem logical to display TV shows (otherwise known as video content) on a computer monitor. With such a setup the user would be able to do everything that can currently be done on a computer and watch any TV content (as long as it's available online). The TV show could be watched at any time, even weeks after the show aired, and could be paused to allow for, say, sending a quick email.

It also seems clear that TV is increasingly accessed via a cable or satellite feed, not free over the airwaves. I don't know anyone who doesn't have cable (or satellite). Do you? While it may be convenient to turn on the kitchen TV (that receives its signal through the air) while cooking breakfast, most people settle in to watch shows on a set which is hooked up to a cable. If TV broadcast is migrating to cable (the most popular way of delivering internet content), it follows that the next step in content integration is to use a computer to watch TV shows, not to use a TV to access computer functionality.

I agree with Cuban's assertion that content will be integrated, but disagree that the migration will be toward TV technology, which is some 60 years old now.

Now on to the logic of the correlation between the price of a large TV set and the fun of watching TV shows. Most would agree that a big picture is better than a small picture, and that paying less for a big TV is better than paying a lot, and that watching TV on a big screen that you did not pay a lot of money for may be thought of as 'fun'. However, this has nothing to do with the quality of the content. While watching a favorite show or movie on a big screen is preferable to watching it on a tiny screen, the size of the screen does not affect the quality of the show. To wit: A very large display screen does not make a bad show into a good show. If this were the case a bad show projected onto the side of a building would be as good as, or possibly better than, a good show watched on a tiny TV.

I have to argue that while an affordable 70-inch display may be an attractive idea it can't stop a ratings-slide or entice an audience to watch TV shows they don't like. If television networks are having trouble holding an audience, they could try giving away giant TV sets but I don't think it would work. Delivering content the audience wants, and most importantly when they want it, is what will work. Such content may be found on the internet.

Now, back to Lowry's piece. He has established that Cuban feels that TV can be fun and the internet will not supplant traditional television broadcasting. Lowry then proceeds, in the next paragraph, with this sentence: Cuban isn't the only deep-pocketed tycoon making an iconoclastic bet. I'm sorry, but I don't see what's iconoclastic about suggesting that traditional television content will not be threatened by a new online media. It is not iconoclastic to suggest that a traditional media will survive. Lowry seems to be writing in his sleep here. He has used Cuban's shaky comment as a convenient pivot-point for an argument that goes against the grain, then contradicts himself by calling Cuban an iconoclast. Perhaps I'm missing some subtle irony in Lowry's composition. Perhaps his column cleverly suggests that traditional media is dead while seeming to contradict those who would suggest otherwise, all while using language so cleverly that he cannot be held accountable for taking either stance. (I apologize for the preceding sentence).

Lowry then continues with a couple tidbits about Zell's involvement with Tribune and Murdoch's flirting with WSJ. However, rich people have been buying newspapers for a long time. And, newspaper circulation is in decline. So, citing that rich people have bought (or are trying to acquire) more newspapers does nothing toward advancing the argument that traditional newspaper content is not threatened by digital media.

Lowry further speculates about the nature of Murdoch's hopes for Dow Jones, saying "...he's wagering he can achieve what Tribune could not -- namely, to combine print, TV and online in a synergistic manner that actually unlocks additional value." Doesn't this argue that Murdoch is thinking of embracing digital media? WSJ reports that Murdoch is thinking of "putting more capital behind the company's (Dow Jones) electronic properties," but this seems to be an argument for internet integration, not for traditional newspapers as a stand-alone product. How does this support the notion that traditional print media is not threatened by digital media?

I just have one more bone to pick. What's with Lowry's last paragraph? First point: Lowry says, "In truth, answers will only come as...(we)...look back on this decade with the benefit of hindsight..." and follows with "...there's little time for that in the heady rush toward digital nirvana." Brian, really. There's little time to look back in hindsight on the current decade while we rush forward? Just because you start a sentence with 'In truth' doesn't make it truthful (or logical).

Mr. Lowry finishes with a comparison of the current transformation in media to the failed dot coms of the 90s. I'm afraid I don't see the connection. The dot com bubble burst was about the failure of internet-based financial ventures (which were unsound). The current threat to traditional media has to do with the evolution of the internet and its effect on consumer access to news, television shows, and movies.

I'm sorry burst your bubble Brian, but your piece has the ring of something written at the eleventh hour to beat deadline. However, it does shed light on the problem at hand -- I'll give you that. Unfortunately, the problem you shed light on is that of poor writing and the way it tends to turn people off -- I mean...why bother to read a newspaper if the writing is poorly crafted? Problem is, you write for a website not a newspaper, so I guess you really didn't shed any light on the issue after all. (I apologize for the rather convoluted logic of this last paragraph, but I'm sure you get it).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Away From Her


Sarah Polley'Away From Her' is the directorial debut by Sarah Polley, and is shaping up to be one of the most interesting movies of the year. The
previews I've seen promise a thoughtful story.

The movie, based on the writing of Alice Munro, is about a man who must put his wife in a nursing home. As Alzheimer's progressively diminishes her memory she forgets that the man is her husband, and starts a relationship with another patient at the home. Sarah Polley talks with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air.

The picture stars Julie Christie, Gordon Pinsent, and Olympia Dukakis. Dukakis, whose mother had Alzheimer's, talks with Scott Simon.

The Most Expensive Movie Ever

Spider-Man 3

At a total cost of $14.97 'Spider-Man 3' is the most expensive movie in history. Wait, I meant $350 million not $14.97. Anyway, Spidey beats even 'Cleopatra' for costliest movie of all time -- Kim Masters throws in her 2 cents.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Boiling Point

The possible effect the Virginia Tech shooting may have on the future of the movie industry is currently a hot topic in the blogosphere. Reactions cover the gamut, from the measured consideration of Michael Cieply at NYT to the overblown, righteous foot-stomping of Nikki Finke.

Cieply suggests (in an admirably neutral way) that the events at VT may cause emotionally battered audiences to avoid gore/torture fests like the upcoming 'Hostel II'. I don't think any such thing will happen -- I think the box office for 'Hostel II' will be very good, and (if it is) I fully expect an onslaught of blog editorials questioning the sensitivity of a society which would flock, nay, stampede to the nearest theater to see people being tortured so soon after a national tragedy involving the shooting of innocent people. (However, one wonders when is a good time to see a movie featuring innocent people being tortured. If not a few weeks after a shooting...when? Eight weeks, three months)?

Cieply cites Dr. Kaplan, a former film exec and thinker on movies, as saying "Famously, 9/11 was supposed to be the end of irony," he said. "If anything, irony has blossomed."

Postal directed by Uwe Boll

The above still is from director Uwe Boll's upcoming 'Postal' (clip via Bollbashers.com). In the sequence a commercial jet crashes into a skyscraper. This, coming less than six years after 9/11, is perhaps more than ironic, and whatever it is, it's in full blossom.

People have short memories. Our minds and spirits have become dulled by the violence of war, the almost daily deaths caused by suicide bombers, and yes, the random school shootings. People want to be entertained, to get away from the news of the day and see a movie. If that movie contains acts of violence of the same type found in the headlines we're trying to escape, I guess you can chalk yet another one up for irony.

If 'Hostel II' is a hit, who will be more insensitive -- the producers for making such a movie or the audience for seeing it? Art cannot help but imitate, while being a diversion from, life. I think this is the nature of things. People want to get away, and who could blame them.

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