Monday, December 31, 2007

A Hollywood Ending.

Here we are at the final box-office day of 2007 and the corks are already flying out in LaLa Land. There's virtually no bad news in the trades for the last two weeks of the year unless your sweating the Writer's Strike or have money bet on whether there'll ever be a second movie made of the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy.
The loudest squeals, literally, have to be pitched up in the helium range as the legacy of Ross Bagdasarian pays off big time. Who would have thought that in a world where movies like Saw turn in millions and spawn near endless copies and sequels, where kid CGI flicks have become smartalecky excuses for retelling and retreading old story ideas, something as goofy as the Chipmunks would once again become a marketing powerhouse. One of the movie stories of 2008 we'll be watching will be the reaction of studios, who've carefully noted a 150 million dollar return on only two weeks play of Alvin's comeback flick.

While Alvin and his brother's are using 100's for straw in the habitrail®, a chipmunk named Pip got to hang out while an Enchanted princess over at Disney gave the studio a late-in-the-year 100 million +  boost, and while Jack Sparrow and company may have gone over the edge "At Wold's End", treasure was lying in wait for Nicolas Cage and the second National Treasure outing, scoring Disney a two week end-of-year stay in the number one slot. For Cage, it was the second time this year to enjoy back to back weeks at number one and a signal to studios that there's still some heat to established stars in big budget, fun action flicks. That feeling should be carrying over nicely to 2008 for Misters Speilberg, Lucas and Ford, as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is readying for it's slot in the summer blockbuster starting gate this coming May.

If there's more potential to exploit in '08,  the authors of 50's sci-fi books must be burning up the cell phone minutes with their agents, or emptying a few Johnnie Walker bottles, after watching Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend finally become the basis for a genuine blockbuster (guess there is truth in the old adage, third time's the charm). Matheson should be sending a seriously fine bottle of scotch over to Will Smith's house tonight. I'm sure the new year is looking very strong over at the Smiths.

Then there's awards season. For the first time in years, the end-of-year-glut of deliberate "for your consideration" flicks brought some smiles instead of high brow literary grimaces. And all just in time to let us forget the earlier glut of "I've got something to say about this war" flicks that stifled box-office, depressed audiences and proved once again (Brian DePalma, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, Robert Redford, etc. etc., are you all listening?) that audiences dropping ten bucks on a movie ticket are in no mood to be preached to. Especially when we have 24 hour news channels doing it for you. Instead, happily, the obvious awards flicks did solid business and created interesting and enjoyable evenings at the movies. Films like Charlie Wilson's War and Juno learned from last year's Little Miss Sunshine, while No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood reenforced the market for strong dramatic setting ruled over by dominant and undeniable performances in strong story narratives.


All in all, there's not much about movies to complain about over this Holiday season. The weak entries dropped away quickly while some of the best Hollywood had to offer, was, as is appropriate, saved till the end. Silver screens should be shining brightly tomorrow and there'll be lots of interesting images splashing those screens throughout 2008. We'll be looking forward to watching along with you. Thanks to all of you who read Moviedozer Dailies and click-in at Moviedozer.com. There are changes ahead for both as well, and we hope you'll all be part of our unfolding story. All the best to all of you and best wishes for a safe, prosperous and very Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays - now let's skip to July.

I was looking for a way to say Merry Christmas and sign off 'til Wednesday and then spotted this trailer on the net this morning. So what better way to ring in the Holiday than check out what promises to be a summer blockbuster for 2008.

Will Smith is sure to be very happy this holiday season, still riding high on the success of I Am Legend, which just crossed the 100 million mark before starting it's second weekend in release. As impressive as that is, Will tends to really shine in the Summer. It was Independence Day that started the trend which would have Smith starring in 5 July releases (6 if you're willing to stretch that out to June 30 for Wild Wild West). Along with 1996's ID4, were Men In Black I and II ('97 & '02), Bad Boys II in '03 and I Robot in '04. Will will be adding another on July 2 '08 with the release of Hancock.

This is the first trailer I have seen, in lots of months of looking at trailers, that made me laugh out loud. I don't want to spoil a thing, so here's a trailer clip from YouTube. If you want to look at a larger screen version, you can check out Sony Entertainment's movie site here.


Love the kid that calls Smith a jackass, love the sign getting destroyed over the highway and fell apart on the whale. Nice. Hope you got a laugh too, nice to know we can wrap up the year looking forward to at least one original summer movie in the new year. By the way, if you watch close during the train wreck intercuts, that flash of blond in sunglasses would be Charlize Theron. 

All the best for a safe and happy Christmas. See you Wednesday.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Merry Chipmunks!

First, there's the matter of setting a new record to acknowledge. It's Monday morning and for Will Smith, there won't be any Monday morning blues. Anyone paying the least amount of attention has already heard that Mr. Smith has once again established himself as box-office dynamite and in critics circles, Will's nailed the one-two punch of marking a 76.5 million dollar December opening while being compared to Tom Hanks for handling an entire film essentially alone on screen.

Quite the accomplishment, so for a second, put away any criticisms you may have and nod your cap to some impressive numbers. Congrats to all involved in I Am Legend, particularly to it's original author Richard Matheson who has seen two other versions of his film become nothing more than cult classics. Third time's the charm. For a little more on our early impressions of I Am Legend, take a look at our post from November 26, just click here.

As impressive as pulling in a December record with I Am Legend is for Warner Bros., the other studio celebrating this Monday morning has to be 20th Century Fox. With optimistic expectations running in the mid 20's for box-office, Alvin and the Chipmunks raked up 45 mil. When I read that number for the first time last night, I was stunned. Maybe that's showing my age. I remember the Chipmunks cartoons on TV, I remember when hearing the Chipmunk song on the radio during Christmas didn't mean listening to an Oldies station and I still have a copy of The Chipmunks Sing The Beatles stashed deep in my closet, on vinyl, in mono. I remember seeing the advance poster for the new movie in the summer and cringing. I remember seeing the first trailer and adding it to a Pulling Focus feature at Moviedozer.com on bad films. I slammed the trailer and stamped a "Doze It" logo across the trailer review.

While it looks like 20th Century will never hire me as a new product development consultant, I'll admit I had no idea this thing would work. I'm still taken aback that it succeeded, but the 45 mil figure has those little tiny birds flying around my head. Who knew? So what good, if any, will this bring? You decide...

1. There's going to be a sequel. You can bet your ass, there's going to be a sequel.
2. There's going to be a mad rush for the soundtrack.
3. Someone out there's pitching a Chipmunks "duet" album right this minute.
4. The Bagdasarian's are throwing the best New Year's Eve party in Hollywood this year.
5. Alvin, Theodore and Simon are already in discussion to raise their rates.
6. There's an ice show waiting to happen.
7. Can you say "theme park negotiations"?
8. Somewhere someone is sewing people size Chipmunk costumes.
9. Merchandise. Merchandise. Merchandise.
10. (And this is just an idea...) Maybe next year, the three little guys can wake up in the rubble of a decimated city to discover they're the last Chipmunks on Earth... and then we can find out that Will Smith's character is somehow still there and then they can find each other, join forces to find a cure and save all of the other woodland animals trapped in the city, and then...hmmm,  anyone know if 2oth Century accepts spec scripts?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jackass Marketing.

Never underestimate the power of hype or the lengths a studio will go to to find it's audience. For that matter, never overestimate the buying discretion of a moron. With that thought in mind, welcome to marketing Jackass, the movie that is.

I'd like to think that Paramount is realizing many of the young male MTV audience for it's Jackass films have a difficult time finding a movie theater, let alone their cars or their car keys, so why not just let them sit at home in their basements (where most of them are still reading the instructions to Halo 3) and watch a new (read: recycled and repackaged) Jackass movie there. They've apparently also realized that calling the film Jackass 2.5 would either confuse them or suggest something new and exciting, rather than the truth, which is that 2.5 is really 2 with extra footage (a trick from DVD releases). Is this really a marketing exploration of new release models, or a guilty excuse for putting out a film so much like the last version that it would anger a paying audience? The 2.5 must mean something and I doubt (though considering the film, I may be wrong) that the moviemakers couldn't count to 3.

Let's get to some truth and get off the "bold new marketing concept" crap. This is sub-standard stuff that widely plays to the YouTube molded minds of young male audiences that take their entertainment doses in commercial size bits that quickly fill the little bit of cognitive space between their ears. That makes do-it-on-the-cheap "webisodes" the ideal place to find out if any more profit can be squeezed out of the lame, eyes glazed over, time wasting that MTV brands as entertainment. This isn't movie marketing, this is website marketing. Just go to Jackassworld.com (no, that's not a link, you'll have to be smart enough, or dumb enough as the case may be, to go find it on your own). Gee, ya think this may be all about a way to drive internet traffic? Duh?

I have no bitches about selling idiocy to idiots but for this one exception. For The Hollywood Reporter to describe this stunt as "a radical departure from the traditional movie business model" is preposterous. Ed Burns releasing an independent feature directly to iTunes last month was a legitimate departure. The New York Times got it right when they called this direct-to-net release a "web test". Paramount's idea is just that, a marketing stunt, and the idea of releasing a movie on the web as a marketing tool to advertise a website, is an exercise in desperation to recapture it's audience, which suffers from a chronically short attention span. 

Paramount has admitted that most of Jackass 2.5 was shot for Jackass 2 (and presumably cut from the final print of the latter for good reason), so no one's exactly "invested" in this industry shaking event. President of Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment, Thomas Lesinski said "If this works, it could open up and really change the game about additional content that studios can create." Now we're getting to the heart of it. Creating a market for additional content translates to creating additional revenue. Yes, it's about money, not trail blazing a new path to feature release marketing.

The Hollywood Reporter reportedly commented that "...2.5 could end up a milestone in Hollywood's transition to digital media". Is The Hollywood Reporter suggesting that this is a glimpse into the future of feature length movie distribution? Perhaps they better begin their own transition to becoming a video game fanzine. Just please cut all of the crap. The moviemakers and the audience for this may be jackasses, but the rest of us aren't. Though apparently there are a few over at The Hollywood Reporter hanging on every detail of this silliness. Someone give them their lunch money and send them over to the arcade, then let's get back to business.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

And it begins... "Atonement" Leads Golden Globes.

If you think there's lots of drama in Hollywood these days, what with celebrity arrests and writer's strikes, as it turns out, lots of drama is a good thing. At least for the onset of awards season, heralded by the announcement of the Golden Globes that came earlier this week. For the first time in the award ceremony's history, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has named 7 films as candidates for Best Film Drama rather than the usual 5. Seems the fifth position came in as a three way tie, and as such the competition grew. Along with Atonement, Eastern Promises, the heavily praised No Country for Old Men, the heavily anticipated There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton and both of Denzel's 2007 films, American Gangster and the upcoming The Great Debaters all got nods for the best drama.

If you're doing the nomination nod count, Atonement lead the way with 7 nominations expectedly including the major categories. Tom Hanks' most promising outing in memory, Charlie Wilson's War, followed with 5, while Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and in what has to be promising news for Tim Burton, Sweeny Todd all scooped up 4 nominations. If this kind of stuff really floats your boat, go on over to the Golden Globes official site where you can dive head first into the hoopla. But remember to pace yourself, this is just the beginning after all and it's a long way to the Oscars.

The 2008 Golden Globes ceremony will be presented on January 13 and televised by NBC. 

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Morning Musings.

Wherever you woke up this Monday morning, and wherever it is that you might be off to, you might want to count yourself lucky, so long as you don't have to walk into the business offices of New Line Cinema. The division of Time Warner is the "responsible" party for The Golden Compass and as Ricky was apt to say to Lucy when things got a little mixed up - "You got some 'splainin to do...".

By most reports, New Line poured about 180 million into the production of The Golden Compass and likely around another 60 mil in promotion & distribution. (And those promotion dollars don't stop because of a slow weekend.) Having opened this past Friday, New Line was looking for numbers approaching 40 mil but by this morning it was clear that even 30 mil was an unreachable goal. So what's the deal? I'll be catching the movie myself a bit later this week but you have to feel for New Line. Did the Catholics really impact the potential success of a wide release movie? Now that would be scary. Did the goods just not match the hype? Is Nicole Kidman box-office dead weight? Like always, it's probably a little of all of this, but it's interesting that no one sees these things coming. As usual in American business, the last people to have a clue are somehow always the people in charge. We'll be revisiting this as Compass gets a few more weekends in the bank.

And speaking of not seeing the forest for the trees, this is the big week for Disney to set sail for more pirate booty. Perhaps one of the most squandered opportunities in movie history, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl signaled an extraordinary adaptation of intellectual property from another media (namely a theme park ride, dominantly conceived by Walt himself) into a full blown, big as you can dream, blockbuster. It was as close as anyone had come in a long time to igniting the kind of cinematic history that's the rarified territory of Star Wars and that Ring trilogy.. by the third picture in the series, At World's End, the DVD release is an afterthought that seems like forced marketing of a "B" quality direct to video sequel. Even the "Johnny Depp" enhancements at Disney's theme park ride have taken on the air of dated kitsch as fans fondly remember the first time we saw Jack Sparrow swagger off a sinking boat onto solid ground (well, a wooden pier). How that journey went full circle. Jack, it was good to know ya, please let us have fun with Sweeney.

Lastly, it's also news today that 20th Century Fox has made some inroads with Apple in securing larger fees for posting it's films on the iTunes store, yet to earn respect as a viable source for securing a broad range of movie downloads (though the promise remains tantalizing). One of the culprits here deserves the ire of movie fans and DVD buyers the world round. Walmart is flexing it's considerable power as retailer in insisting that movie studios and DVD distributers demand pricing from iTunes that more closely matches the prices paid for the DVD package in Walmart's giant rodent mazes. Except that buying a movie on iTunes means no packaging, no extras, (lobby cards, coupons, booklets, feature maps, chapter documentation, etc. etc.) no commentaries, no deleted scenes and no promo trailers. And that all ads up to no overhead for the studio. How on Earth could anyone justify the idea that a digital download of a movie not be significantly discounted from the price of the same film packaged as a DVD? The very idea is outrageous.

I would ask all DVD buyers to boycott buying any DVDs or movie related items from Walmarts world wide. Let them know that they have no right to influence your right to purchase the formats and products you want from retailers, who agree with you that pricing be fair and equitable for the end product received. Steve Jobs should be lauded for taking a stand and movie fans everywhere should support him. So go dump on Walmart and tell all your friends. We'll defintely have more to say about this as well, but for now, that's our Monday.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What's Jesus seeing at the movies this weekend?

Whatever he might choose, and I'm guessing he may be heading out to catch Juno or trying to find a theater showing the limited release of Grace is Gone (I think Jesus may be a John Cusack fan), it must be nice for him to know that the U.S. Conference of Bishops has approved his screening The Golden Compass when only days ago "the Catholic League" said it would be a no-no. 

Actually, in referring to the movie based on Phillip Pullman's book, the Catholic League reportedly said "The idea is to sell the horrors of Catholicism and the virtues of atheism to youth". That quote is attributed to the president of the Catholic League, William Donahue, and if he's going to put it that way, well maybe he's got something. You can make a pretty decent case for "the horrors of Catholicism" when a lay group that names itself a "league",  advocates censorship over and beyond a parent's own instincts for what their children should be exposed to. Taking that one more step, when a group of Bishops (that would be men very serious about advocating the views of their religion) give the film a green light, who are a bunch of zealots (sorry, I call 'em like I see 'em) to invoke a boycott? But that's kind of why censorship gets a bad rap in the first place, isn't it?

And just so we aren't seen as letting those Bishops off the hook, we should point out that in the same pronouncement that The Golden Compass cleaned up it's act in transition from book to screen, it reminded us that this film "...is not the blatant real-world anti-Catholicism of, say, the recent Elizabeth: The Golden Age or The Da Vinci Code." I've seen both of those films and I'm happy to report that to date, Satan hasn't visited my bedroom , although, in the case of The Da Vinci Code, I did feel a trip to hell may have been more entertaining.

Here's my suggestion. Pat the Bishops on their pointy little hats and thank them for sharing and send the Catholic League all ten seasons of South Park. That should give them plenty to write about for awhile and it may even speed along their journey to St. Peters gate, where I'm betting that Jesus isn't going to ask any of them to pick this weekend's movie. 

Sorry if you found any of this blasphemous. Lighten up. Like politics, no one should be filtering simple entertainment through a stained glass window. To each his own.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Disney Gets Innocent.

They just get it. And they get young talent too. As Enchanted stretches it's take over the 70 million mark and completes it's second weekend at the number one spot, it's obvious once again, that Disney seems to understand a nuance of show business that has eluded so many others. You have to keep wondering though, how long this intuitiveness can go on? You also have to wonder where it comes from. Though Robert Iger has shown some inventiveness back in his ESPN days, (and a keen sense of respecting Disney properties that Eisner once drilled like a drunken wildcatter), who's really behind foreseeing the popularity of projects like High School Musical, Hannah Montana and Enchanted? It's as if Walt's ghost is still pushing his agenda somewhere in the hallways of the old Burbank studio. (It would be comforting to think that nephew Roy may still be a source of influence.)
For all the talk that Disney has modernized the fairytale formula with Enchanted and profited by poking fun at themselves and their long revered princesses, I don't think so. Having some fun with conventions, yes, but this isn't anywhere close to Shrek's anything-to-get-a-laugh sight gags. The humor in Enchanted is as innocent as its inspiration. In these days of Disney Princesses taking on the selling power of a champion sports franchise, no one's about to trash the idea for the box-office take on one movie. 

Then there's that other expertise that Disney seems to be thriving with, and that must be bringing Walt dozens of smiles. That inexplicable knack for developing and grabbing up, true-to-life genuine talent. Especially when the talent can sing. In the case of Enchanted, that's Amy Adams. Yes, every critic under the sun pointed her out in 2005's June Bug but it was Disney that put her front and center and gave her a score to settle, musical that is. One of Disney's animation directors put it best when he raved that she was as close to finding a real life version of a Disney princess as one could ever hope. Anyone seeing the film would have to agree and in every review of Enchanted I read, the reviewer made a point of saying exactly that, along with lauding Ms. Adams voice, her innocence, her humor, her talent and her mere presence, which elevated the film with each frame she graced, and that was very nearly all of them. Amy Adams is a screen treasure and for now, Disney is the finder.

Take a look at everything on screen or coming to your local theater in the next few months that has kids somewhere in it's crosshairs. You'll really have to dial in your scope to find any innocence. Typical is The Golden Compass, opening this weekend and already getting press about being anti-catholic. CGI beasts battle, evil lurks in truly spooky places and it's a little girl swirling in the center who is constantly in jeopardy. I have nothing against any of that and it may make for exciting and entertaining moviegoing, though a parents judgement should be exercised. Disney certainly did just fine with their partnership in Narnia. But innocence requires a more deft touch, a sense of self, unusual at the movies and even more so in corporate business. Disney just gets it. By careful stewardship or just dumb luck, they seem to be doing far better lately at understanding how valuable a legacy that is.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Blade Runner: The Final, Special Edition, Unrated, Uncut, Directors Cut, Definitive, Multi-Disc, Collectors, all time greatest DVD release. For now.

Remember when home video was just the obvious choice between Beta and VHS? Even when things got a little complicated with Laserdisc, only video geeks went for the ride. Well after VHS won out over Beta, the complications of building a home video library still only got as difficult as understanding "letterbox", happily now simply referred to as widescreen. And even in these days of HD DVD, Blu-Ray and standard DVDs, choices are all about content and what kind of TV you own.
But the surge of DVD popularity gave Hollywood Hucksters a new medium in which to ply their trade in another way, that has next to nothing to do with improved technologies or technical specs. Go down the studio hallway to the door marked "marketing", pass by the glass walled "luxe" offices and take a right around the coffee makers... ahh, there would be the cubicles for the think-tank that dreams up ways to resell old DVDs.

The latest (and maybe greatest for Sci-Fi fans) to be headed to store shelves this season is Blade Runner, the Five-Disc Ultimate Collectors Edition, packaged no less, in a limited edition briefcase, styled on the one Deckard (Harrison Ford's character) carried in the film. (Of course the packaging is numbered, so it must be limited to only as high as those marketing guys can count. And if there's one thing marketing guys can do, it's count.)
The Ultimate Collectors Edition joins The Four-Disc Collectors Edition, and The Two-Disc "Final Cut" Special Edition, which when added to the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray versions brings the total of new Blade Runner DVD packages to a total of 8. And just to keep things in perspective, that should be added to the "Directors Cut" which has been the "definitive" DVD since it was released in 1997. All the fanfare is justified by the fact that Blade Runner, the regular, old (apparently seriously flawed) original theatrical version, was released in 1982 and is thereby celebrating a 25th Anniversary. Well at least that's the marketing angle.

The hype is that none of us has really seen Blade Runner the we were supposed to have seen it, you know, without all of the technical mistakes, while telling the actual scripted story (all the way to the real, not inexplicably-studio-imposed, ending). Finally, the movie that director Ridley Scott somehow made, while everyone in the evil movie studio was changing his hard work and just screwing things up, can be yours to own by just coughing up 19 bucks (or 60, if you really want to see everything).

I have to say, I'm feeling like a bit of a schmuck for buying a ticket to see the damn thing back in '82. How about making the special edition really special and deducting the cost of our original tickets, since it seems by the director's and the studio's own admission, that we got ripped off all those years ago? How about at least including, say packaged between the toy car and the origami unicorn, a singed letter of apology from Ridley for not standing his ground as an artist while still taking a paycheck? And by the way, how does a movie achieve such fan status to be "celebrating" a 25th anniversary, if the fact is that we've never seen the movie in it's intended and definitive form? Curious? Yes. Hype? Freakin' A.

Though I parted with a few bucks when Blade Runner was first released, I was younger then and all that Sci-Fi babel about replicants and societal collapse whizzed past me in the blur of the video billboards and "spinner" cars. Now, well settled into middle age, perhaps I'm ready for some meaning to my adrenaline surges. Maybe I'll finally figure out why it's so telling to have a suspected replicant answer questions about tortoises. Maybe I'll care. But the truth is, I haven't seen Blade Runner in years and of the last times I've seen it, well, obviously I was getting the watered down, mistake filled, badly budgeted and technically flawed, shit version. 

So I can at least hold my head up high and brag about not getting sucked into that Director's Cut crap that Ridley signed off on ten years ago. I played it smart and when I cough up my bucks now, it'll be for the real deal. Well, that is till the marketing cubicles light up with building the buzz for the 35th Anniversary Absolute Edition with full storyboard comparisons to every inner thought Ridley Scott ever had during production. I swear to you here and now, I'm not buying it. Unless it's got really cool packaging.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is "Best Animated Film" good enough?

In the world of after-Oscar® box-office and Hollywood studio bragging rights, it's not just taking home the gold statuette, it's which statuette you take home. And in the race between Best Picture or Best Animated Film, one's nice while the other is historic.

Only one animated movie has ever been nominated for the Best Picture at the Academy Awards®, that was Disney's Beauty and the Beast in 1992. (Incidentally, it won for Best Score and Best Song). Just being nominated made history, but you can't come that close and not yearn for the day when you'll take home the top prize. All these years later, animation has an Academy category all it's own (since 2002), but even from the outset, animators knew that one day that might not be such a good thing. Disney was one of the first to bring up the point, and with the critical acclaim of this summer's hit Ratatouille, a harder choice than what to cook for a food critic will be which award to attempt to woo Academy voters toward.

According to Academy rules of eligibility, there shouldn't be a problem. Any film nominated for a Best Animation nod is also immediately eligible for the Best Picture prize as well. Same holds true for all of the associated roles like screenwriters, directors, even actors. There's no real distinction between the supporting actor that nailed a scene in the latest biopic and the voice of the supporting actor that nailed a scene in an animated barnyard. Both are eligible, but realities aside, let's get real.  No one's ever thought of the voice for an animated car as belonging to a Best Supporting Actor, even when the actor is Paul Newman, or in the case of Ratatouille, the priceless Peter O'Toole as the ultimate food critic Anton Ego.

So goes the quest for Best Picture. Seems for all of the money that's lavished on production, and all of the profits reaped at the box-office (not to mention those incredibly, in the case of animated kid flicks, long-lasting DVD sales), none of the Academy members seem quite ready to give up the big prize to a cartoon, albeit a really good, even masterfully artful cartoon.

So what's the deal here? Should this even be an argument or, for that matter, a carefully plotted studio strategy? Does a category really make a difference when we're talking about toting home an Oscar®? To give the point it's due, think about the newspaper ads the day after the show. Remy the "Anyone can Cook" rat holding up the Oscar® next to his spatula with a banner emblazoned "The first ever animated film to win the Academy Award® for Best Picture".  Impressive to say the least. Ahh, but then there's still the question of who wins Best Animated Film. Since the categories aren't mutually exclusive, how could it not be the same movie that won Best Picture? So maybe the dilemma isn't which Oscar® Disney goes home with; the real question may be, can they go home with both?

Monday, November 26, 2007

I Am Remake. So what's new?


In the poster, the tagline reads "The Last Man on Earth is Not Alone." Neither are the filmmakers who decided to remake a remake of a movie based on a book (that's inspired dozens of other movies just like it). From what I've read, Will Smith had a whole lot to do with pushing this project through to production. Good for Will. But what's the point?

I Am Legend is interestingly the first film based on Richard Matheson's original 1954 novel that actually uses the books real title. The first film, made in 1964, called itself The Last Man on Earth and starred Vincent Price. (It was one of many projects that combined Price's talents with writer Matheson, who penned many of the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations that found their way to the screen back on the 60's.) In case Richard Matheson's name isn't ringing a bell, among his many script credits are TV classics like The Twilight Zone. IMBD lists 16 episodes, among them, one of the all time best, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, that's since become the most memorable role in William Shatner's career after Star Trek, and yes, he wrote a Star Trek as well. Also among his credits is one of the absolute best television movie's ever made, foreshadowing Steven Spielberg's expertise at creating an ominous, unseen presence (before the shark in Jaws) with the 18-wheeler in Duel. It seems that Mr. Matheson's talents crossed paths with his actors and directors often, with five decades of credits defining him as the classic "working writer". Having been the author of the original material and the screenwriter for both of the earlier feature releases based on his work (the second being 1971's Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston), you can't help but wonder what his own expectations would be for this newest reworking of the story on film. And that brings us back to Will Smith (and kind of back to Spielberg).

One of our favorite modern day adages is if you're remaking something old, what's new? What are you bringing to the story that is different, exciting, compelling? Too often the only answer to that question is Special Effects. There's the Spielberg connection... what was the point of remaking War of the Worlds other than dipping into a treasure chest of modern special effects? What's the point of the upcoming remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (waiting in the wings for a release about this time next year)? Is it just star vehicle hype? Is it just about marketing high concept around stars like Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves or Will Smith?

Why remake I Am Legend? For one, while War of the Worlds and The Day the Earth Stood Still are pretty classic flicks in their own right, neither The Last Man on Earth or Omega Man rose much above the level of camp, at least in retrospect. So maybe there's a case to be made that this material, relevant in subject matter in this day of supersonic viral transport, hasn't seen the benefit of first class filmmaking. 
Well, that is unless you've seen 28 Days Later and it's first class sequel 28 Weeks Later. And there's where the whole thing gets shot to pieces for me. Those two films are edging into the modern classic column and presented everything about the idea of an apocalyptic virus that turns victims into near-dead raging zombies (vampires in 'Legend) that can drive a compelling story. How much more is there? Vampires are among the most overused conventions of Horror & Sci-fi and viruses are beginning to run a close second. (Even the convention of a house barred and barricaded and being shattered and busted by marauding monsters is starting to feel a lot like satire.)

I Am Legend is scheduled to open on December 14th. I think I've seen it all before, at least several times before. I won't be looking at the special effects, I've seen them in the trailer. I'll be looking for just one simple reason for Hollywood to have trotted out yet another remake - what's new?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lions for Lambs, built on talking points.


Here's a little scriptwriting 101: if you can do it instead of say it, go with the action. These are "move"-ies after all. But there was a time, at the advent of sound recording, that they were called talking pictures. In the hands of Peter Berg, a movie taking on the complexity of opinions and facts about the Iraq war comes out like The Kingdom, the Jamie Foxx / Jennifer Garner actioner that bowed in late September and made less than 50 mil at the American Box-office. In the hands of Robert Redford, we should expect something a little different. That would be this month's Lions For Lambs. Both of these films were scripted by Matthew Carnahan.

Released on November 9th, Lions for Lambs is starting it's third week yet still hasn't crossed the 15 mil mark. The film is, somewhat oddly, divided into thirds, each with a different cast and a different POV on a story that seems to be happening as we are being told the tale. And aside from the sequence that actually takes us into battle, the story is indeed "told" to us. From one side, in a spirited exchange between an ambitious, very republican Senator and a seasoned but fading journalist, and on the other, a seasoned and fading college professor and a young, ambitious, bright and questioning student.

What begins from the earliest frame is an examination of the "issues" as we witness a playing-out of sorts, of the results of each of the talking points we're eavesdropping on. The technique and the film in general brought on fairly negative, though not scathing, reviews from critics in practically all corners. The box-office has been dismal and the outlook likely isn't all that bright on DVD. That is, unless some word of mouth intervenes and creates an appreciation for the wide perspective that the technique allows. Throughout the film, I kept thinking that it would be an interesting excercise to bring the thing to off-broadway. Even imagining the cast, sitting panel-like and doing a simple stage reading could have been even intriguing. Erase the expectations of what we're trained to see at the movies and perhaps this well acted dialogue may have grabbed far more attention. I have to think a theater would be packed if the characters were to walk out after end credits to continue the conversation.

So does "talk" get in the way of telling a story in an action oriented medium? Taken strictly on content, my answer is no. Taken on what we expect when we go to the movies, I hesitate to encourage any filmmaker to follow Redford's example. Extending talk sequences in movies can run serious risks, not the least being utter boredom. This is difficult stuff to pull-off and not many directors have Redford's finesse with high caliber talent or his sensibility about clean tight dialogue and efficient story telling. Reford's first takes committed to film as a director came in 1980's Ordinary People, winning him an Academy Award® for Best Director as well as getting the nod as Best Picture. Go take a look (it's well worth it) and you'll see that what lays out are talking points. The disfunction of a family going through crisis isn't all that far removed from Lions for Lambs' tale of a country going through a crisis of monumentally dysfunctional proportions. The guys good at this stuff; it's valid and if you let your guard down, very easy to be absorbed in.

If movies need not be jam-packed with action to serve their audiences, discounting the "Rambo" mentality of grunted dialogue against explosions, does each story a writer and director tell, demand that they take a side, present a bias or for that matter even wrap up a conclusion? Here the answer depends deeply on tapping talent. On this count, Lions for Lambs is very successful. The talent level is first rate in  every category. (Along with it's high profile trio on the poster, Lions for Lambs delivers terrific performances from all of it's supporting cast, of note in particular are Derek Luke, Michael Peña and Andrew Garfield.) The storytelling is clear and purposeful, interestingly staged and well edited (every bit as important in presenting heavy dialogue as intense action). This is solid filmmaking. It simply isn't visceral filmmaking. It is the aftermath of shock and awe, and that's is certainly valid ground to be exploring in story, no matter what the medium.

If you would like to be challenged a bit, feel like an exploration of thought rather than foreign locales, or simply enjoy dropping in on an interesting conversation as if eavesdropping at a good cocktail party, see Lions for Lambs. If nothing more, it's an essential trip into the careers of all of it's leading actors. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Two trailers you may be thankful for.

In the spirit of the season, here's a little about the movie business that I'm thankful for...

...That regardless of the Oscar, so far Marty Scorsese hasn't been throwing around any talk about a Departed sequel.

...That I live in a free country (for the most part), and no one can force me to see Bee Movie.

...That there's so much television on DVD and the internet that I no longer need to watch... television. Mmmm, odd.

...That DVD's give all of us a chance to see pristine copies of the films that no longer gain wide enough release to get to our local theaters.

...For the good folks over at YouTube for allowing people like me to embed videos, so people like you get to watch trailers from upcoming movies like these:

Here's two that are showcasing in coming attractions but aren't widely distributed on the net just yet. To me, they both look like "flicks we'd like to see". (There's also some great music in their soundtracks.) Enjoy watching, enjoy eating, enjoy being near your families and friends and enjoy the warmth and the promise of a season that gives us all a chance to reflect and give to those around us.

The first is for Charlie Wilson's War. Hanks looks like the Tom Hanks of old (who has been absent for so very long) and Julia Roberts comes back to the screen in what appears to be stunning form. Charlie Wilson's War is scheduled for release next month.

Next is Kevin Spacey's new film 21. Another role that casts an actor into his true strength. He just looks really great here. Hope the promise of the trailer holds true. Unfortunately we won't find out until March 28th of next year.

From the friends and family at Moviedozer.com, have a safe and very Happy Thanksgiving. See you back at Dailies on the weekend.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Putting the "tease" in teaser.

While waiting in the dark for Beowulf yesterday, along with about a dozen others who, like me, crawled out of the NJ rain into the safe haven of a cave like cineplex, I had the privilege of seeing the new trailer for J.J. Abrams super-secretive monster (?) movie... uhh.. Cloverfield? or is that 1-18-08? or maybe we don't even know the title yet?
Seems like Abrams got addicted to the juice of teasing an audience throughout an entire television season with the first season of ABC's LOST. But as the second season of LOST attests to, doing something a lot doesn't necessarily make you good at it.

Though the trailer shows more than the first teaser, offering a few extra glimpses of a city in panic, this may be a case of more being less. I can't help but think Abrams has simply found that shooting on camcorders needs a gimmick as a clever plot excuse (kind of the way I think DePalma approached Redacted). It leans on being intriguing while feeling dangerously close to being really cheesy. I kept thinking that this is what Matthew Broderick's Godzilla would have looked like on an IFC budget and without a sense of humor. But hey, maybe that would be a good movie?

You can check out the trailer and the teaser for Cloverfield, 1-18-08 (maybe someone needs to parody that into a big band song) by clicking here. Let us know what you think? Personally I feel like a rat in some kind of movie marketing lab experiment. And while you're there, take a close look at the water in the graphic on the trailer page. There's a trail in the water from decapitated Lady Liberty to the exploding shoreline... ahh.. a clue? Does it come from the sea? Do we care?

Monday, November 19, 2007

I am Beowulf! (and I suck.)

Sony Pictures Imageworks animation studio and Robert Zemeckis have teamed up to totally blow away your expectations... of seeing a good movie. If you have to see Beowulf, see it in 3D. I just got back from doing exactly that and if it hadn't been for spending sometime marveling how how really good Real D's 3D process is, I would never have been able to sit through the worst animated film I have ever seen. In 2001 Columbia Pictures released a true break-through CGI animated film that depicted people rather than cutesy animals. That film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, looked incredible and truly broke ground in artistry and storytelling through animation. Beowulf does not equal that achievement in any respect. If you'd like to read my entire rant, click over to Moviedozer.com and take a look at the lead-off article. It's the second time in a row that Robert Zemeckis has made our Hollywood Hucksters page. Way to go Bob, third times the charm.

In the meantime, if I can talk anyone out of spending money to see this thing, I'll feel like I've accumulated some good karma. Stay home. Wait for a better flick to check out the 3D thing and if you need the CGI fix, rent Final Fantasy.

Monday morning musings.


In what may become a regular at Moviedozer Dailies, Monday's are a great day to take a look at the weekend box-office and throw out some random topics.

So here's where the hype paid off for studios this past weekend:

Beowulf, of course, came in at number one, bringing in just under 30 mil. Not summer numbers, (why wasn't this a summer release?) but respectable just the same. Though I haven't seen the 3D number broken out yet, it should be pointed out that Zemeckis and Sony scored more than twice the per theater gross of the number 2 movie on the list.

And that number 2 was , ughhh!, Bee Movie. I so hoped this thing would die a quick and painful death. Instead they'll be a pretentious Jerry Seinfeld gloating all through Hollywood's media and we'll have to endure an assured sequel. How did a guy who I still laugh at in reruns get to be the king of smug?

American Gangster rounded out the top three, losing the number 2 spot by just a little more than a million bucks. That take put AG over the 100 million mark. This flick's as sure a DVD hit as you can hope to invest in.

Interesting that Saw IV is dying a puzzling (get it?) death in popularity. Coming in at #9, the film has tallied a gross of almost 62 mil, lots of money but these films aren't showing any growth, rather they may be signaling a saturation level that other "torture porn" flicks have already hit. Think there's an audience for Saw V? If you've followed the films, what should (or would have to) happen to grab your attention one more time?

No Country For Old Men was # 7 this weekend. The Coen Brothers movie is being praised in all critic's circles and most call it an American classic that will surely show up on an abundance of top ten lists this year. So why only a 7? Our old friend "limited release". No Country... only played in 148 theaters (compare that to Bee Movie which played in 3,984). Bee movie's per theater average was $1,149 while No Country... came in with a whopping $6,263. That's an impressive number and very efficient profit taking. 

Other points of interest:
  • Fred Claus is happily not in the "hit" list having only taken in 36 mil in it's run so far. Considering the poor showing of Shoot 'Em Up, studios have to be wondering if Paul Giamatti is a leading man.
  • Lions for Lambs seems to be following the pattern of every other Iraq war movie so far. The trend? No ticket sales.
  • The piece of schlock called P2 (Moviedozer.com's trailer review was to 'Doze it) crashed and burned with only 3 mil in 2 weekends.
  • Released on Oct. 12, George Clooney as Michael Clayton is still hanging around theaters, unusual now-a-days, and though it's only accumulated about 35 mil in the US, it's still tacking $ onto it's total. If you haven't seen this film, it's worth catching it at the end of it's run, but not to worry, it'll be a good add to most DVD collections.
Aside from the sting of watching Bee Movie flourish, the thing this week that gives me the Monday morning blahs? The third largest earner on the Box-office charts this week has taken in 86.5 mil. That title is Disney's The Game Plan with Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson. How thoroughly depressing.

On the other hand, what's got us in a good mood and looking forward to the work week? Dustin Hoffman's lisp impaired rip-off of Willy Wonka, Mr. Magoriums' Wonder(less) Emporium opened to a # 5, ten million dollar weekend. Now if it disappears next weekend, that would truly be wonderful.

Have a great week. 

Saturday, November 17, 2007

In animation... the Eyes have it.


As Beowulf slashes it's way into movie theaters this weekend, all the talk is about that slashing coming right off the screen in fabulous 3D, so little attention is being focused on an argument going on behind the scenes... is this animation? You may say "who cares", but the fact is there are lots of people perplexed by the process that Robert Zemeckis and Sony's Imageworks animation studio have used to render Ray Winston from a pretty ordinary guy into a buff nordic action-hero. Is motion-capture, the process where sensors read body and face movements into a computer while the actor is acting, a legitimate form of animation? And as such, should a film made primarily using motion-capture technology, be eligible for the Academy Awards® animation Oscar or for that matter, excluded from being considered alongside standard "live action" fare?

So it is that the Zemeckis / Sony system used for Beowulf, which began with Zemeckis' Monster House, and later famously used for The Polar Express, has come under closer scrutiny for it's flaws rather than it's sophistication. The case in point has become Sony's own admission that there's something lacking. It's all in the eyes.

As reported on Forbes.com, journalist Rachel Rosmarin characterized critics of the two earlier animated films as being "disturbed by the creepy, soulless eyes put into characters faces...". In an interview with Kenn McDonald, Sony Picture Imageworks' animation supervisor, McDonald said, "We took that criticism to heart". Their idea for a solution? The Imageworks team turned to a technique developed in sports medicine called electrooculography. In this process electrodes are attached to the actors eyes, then that info is blended with the 121 facial muscle motion-capture nodes already applied to the actor's face, to measure even the most minute muscle movements. Imageworks also had specialists come in to chat about "eye construction and the psychology and physiology of eye movement." And to think, all Walt Disney could think of was to bring barn animals into the studio to teach his animators to observe natural movement.

After all of this, Rosmarin reports that Sony's visual effects supervisor, Jerome Chen, commented on the results by saying, "The eyes in Beowulf are more successful. I never envisioned we could get this real. But for some people there might be moments that don't work". Let that sink in for a moment (that whole "might be moments" thing). Yes, that was the visual effects supervisor speaking. I wonder how stone cold dead the eyes of Sony's executives looked when they heard that one. 

Bottom line is that Sony's Imageworks is approaching an artform as if they were building a new video game controller. They are way out of their league and clearly have no instincts on how to proceed. Art is created by artists, not sophisticated machines and clever algorithms. Supervision of talent requires an understanding of that talent and backing by a company that sees that understanding as second nature. Sony's inability to grasp this must be the source of waves of laughter over at Pixar, Warner and Dreamworks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Katzenberg weighs in on 3D...


And he likes it! Wow, there's a surprise since Dreamworks just signed with IMAX for at least three 3D flicks next summer. The three films are scheduled to be the already approaching over-hyped CGI "Monsters vs. Aliens", "How to Train Your Dragon" (male appendage jokes are your own), and the franchise green money machine himself in "Shrek Goes Fourth" (get it?).  What's interesting and oh so typically Hollywood is Mr. K's prediction that 3D is going to drive up the box-office numbers while movie lovers are running out to theates that can offer so much more than their boringly ordinary 50 inch flat screens. In his words "I think this becomes something that so differentiates what you get in your home versus what you get in a movie theater, it becomes a real driver to keep people excited about the movie going experience." I get the feeling that the theater in Katzenberg's basement probably makes my local cineplex look like the worst "grindhouse" Tarantino ever set foot in. Here's a little clue for Jeffrey and the rich kids over at Dreamworks... you want to drive people to movie theaters with the promises of 3D?... try building more of the damn theaters. At this point in time there are a thousand. Today, everyone of them is lit up with a new release, that would be ONE new release. Want to see 3D anytime in November? You have exactly one choice in what to see, and that would be Zemeckis' CGI toybox production of Beowulf.
Guess this is just another example of putting the hype before the investment, SOP for Hollywood studios. Yes, I think the new 3D technologies are valid and can add to the moviegoer's theatrical experience. Yes, I'm into anything that makes the whole idea of trotting out to the movies more fun. But searching, mostly in vain, for a 3D theater (only some of you are lucky enough to have one nearby) then understanding that as crowds breeze by you to see 2D, you'll likely be suffering a new dimension in waiting lines to get into the one 3D theater, well, let's just see how that goes in Mr. K's rosy future. And just how long will it be until someone starts selling those cool black shades with a 3D HD DVD?
(original photo courtesy of WireImage.com)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

If you can't write movies, just write for the web.


At least that what it looks like some Hollywood writers may be doing. With the advent of so many new web series (just how many of these things are there?), and the proliferation of wi-fi laptops (perfect for punching out a script while serving picket duty), the web seems to be calling and there just may be plenty of takers. But wait minute here... to use a writer's device, it's time for a bit more exposition.

Isn't this the point of the strike in the first place, securing more rights for fair payment in any given medium? So let's get this straight... writer's are on strike to secure more monies paid for the expanding market to which their services are being used in the form of their original scripts. So that would be... you write, say a movie, the movie gets produced and then sold to TV, then of course it's going to DVD, and, oh yeah, now there's all the cash flowing in from digital downloads, and you want a piece of every slice of pie. Fair enough. No bitching, I wish I was getting paid to tap out these words myself. But the fact is, I don't. I'm just trying to make a business for myself. You, on the other hand are what all of us net bloggers and website writers aspire to, a PAID, WORKING writer. And so, just to be sure I've got this straight, while you are striking to have the right to make MORE money, you're going to make some on the side by writing for the internet. Except, isn't that going to create yet another market that will ultimately become a part of some future writer's union pie slice, you'll strike to have a larger portion of down the road... you getting the point here?

Here's how I see the point. It's a load of crap. Writer's already lucky enough to have paying jobs working for web-based story content producers, shouldn't have to worry about high-power hollywood talent taking their jobs away, even if it is (and perhaps especially if it is) temporary. Web-based content producers should NOT be hiring striking union writers to punch up their products. This will all spiral into yet more union territory being staked out and web-production, at this early stage is far too fragile to sustain a sudden mandatory pay structure to compensate it's talent.

Let's not forget that the Directors Guild is looking at entering labor contract talks in December. Will 2008 become the year that the internet goes pro? No one can afford that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Just another "American Gangster" flick.


If it weren't for the Oscar hype, there'd be no hype at all, cause the fact is, you've seen all of this before. And for that matter, you've seen it done with a lot more style. But you'd have to go back a ways, say Coppola's "The Godfather" or Lumet's "Serpico". I went to see what all the fuss was about yesterday and frankly I don't get it. I don't get it the same way I don't get Scorsese grabbing an Oscar for "Departed". Sorry to all the Denzel faithful (though he's fine in a really mediocre way), but the fact is this film is a bore. That is, if you've ever actually seen a gangster flick before. As we're all waiting for awards season to arrive in full force, there's probably little doubt that "American Gangster" will get some sort of nod, but isn't this exactly what's gone wrong with all of the major awards shows in the first place... just like the rest of Hollywood, everything's a retread. There are lots of other original films that deserve the kind of attention (and box-office) that Ridley Scott and crew are being lavished with. Wanna see a great orginal gangster outing... check out Ben Kingsley in "You Kill Me". Limited released into near obscurity, go grab the DVD and learn what it's like to want to root for an Oscar nomination.

Do you see in 3D?

Hi, Welcome to "day one" at Moviedozer Dailies. Perusing the movie news this morning brought our attention to an article reporting that IMAX  3D has signed an agreement with Dreamworks to begin releasing movies in 3D in the summer of 2008. Interesting that there is so much hype swirling around the resurgence of 3D when there are still only a handful of films that have been exhibited using the new technology. Zemeckis' Beowulf adds 1000 3D theaters (that's everything in the country) to it's theater count with this Friday's release. That follows a limited run for Nightmare Before Christmas that added to Disney's bank accounts on a property that's been re-released time and time again. 

So here's the question... will you go to a 3D movie this year. Are you looking forward to more 3D next year? Is 3D worth all the hype?

Check out the Moviedozer.com Intermission page for our full editorial on 3D and a great YouTube video clip on why IMAX was so keen on doing a 3D take on Beowulf.