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.