Friday, May 30, 2008

Sex & Screams


Welcome to the mother of all "girls night out" weekends. Thanks to Carrie and Co. there hasn't been another summer opening weekend in the history of American box-office quite like it. The premieres are over, the ads have run and the trailers unspooled. As our post is being written, it's a fair bet that more cosmos are being collectively poured than ever before in the history of pink cocktails. Sex and the City has bet it all on the big screen this weekend and the hype machine of Warner Bros. Pictures has ground to a temporary halt to hold it's breath. Can women really make a major movie release a mega success. Our call: yes and no. We've no doubt that the numbers will be impressive but is this anything more than a one shot? Ladies, you have the screen, dazzle us.

But as can be the case with sex, it may not be over till the screaming stops. That is, there's more than one movie opening this weekend and if the screaming is loud enough, there may be more than a few moans from the Warner camp. The Strangers also opens in wide release this weekend, and may very well create plenty of excitement of it's own. We'll dispense with all of the sex double entendres and stick to what counts, what's worth seeing.

While we're sure Sex and the City will attract a loyal audience and big numbers, our instincts were tingling a couple of months back when we caught the first trailer for The Strangers. At first glance, all of the trappings for a pretty generic horror thrill pic were in place, and only Liv Tyler's presence, in a role that would typically play for any pouty unknown, seemed unusual. Then the timing choice to release against the Sex and the City opening, provided the first example of clever counter-programming of the summer. A barrage of trailer variations, poster takes and teaser peeks followed, continuing to build the psychological and marketing tension. By the time the final advertising run was hitting earlier this week, it was clear that anyone planning to take in a movie this weekend had a very different option to hanging on the conversations of four women dripping in Vogue fashions and scarfing down the very latest in fruit juiced blends of vodka.

The Stranger, starring Ms. Tyler and Scott Speedman and directed and written by Bryan Bertino, has also gotten solid advance reviews and we're calling it the best alternative to "the" event flick opening yet this summer. This is an interesting film in at least enough ways for us to be taking notice. First, it is a first, in that it's the debut of Bryan Bertino's directing abilities.

Next, Liv Tyler, who has never heard her name whispered in sentences that include "Oscar" or "riveting dramatic performance", is hearing her name prominently mentioned as great casting here. She's also seeing her name in some fairly glowing reviews. Next, there's that issue of timing. In the glut of summer movie releases that has studios like Disney bemoaning it's decision to release Narnia sandwiched between Iron Man and Indiana Jones rather than against The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep last Christmas and Speed Racer getting thrashed by better timed and far better made movies, Universal and Rogue Pictures got the timing of The Strangers right, and the numbers on Monday may very well signal that they got the timing nearly perfect. The point here is that someone at the controls was paying attention instead of putting the release schedule on ego auto-pilot.

Last is the film itself and it's take on a genre that has spilled copious amounts of blood all over any hope of a coherent (dare we say, intelligent) script. In these days of gore and gimmick defining horror movies, a film that tells it's story through a slow and relentless build of psychological terror harkens back to the true (and sadly long gone) masters of the form and the confidence that a story well told can send an audience home worrying about sleeping with the lights off. Even the villains of the piece, though wearing garb that screams of cliché, are rendered simply in order to be effective, the device appears to work.

In a time when psychological terror is the stuff of nightly news casts and global politics and personal danger is credibly threatened by the fear of random violence, The Strangers also strikes effectively within the culture that is it's target; it's release may well be more timely that it's producers could have ever planned.

Tonight, the girls will be chatting ad nauseam about dresses, shoes, wedding gowns and Mr. Big while the wine and the cocktails flow as easily as the laughter. We agree that the four women of Sex and the City are indeed four women to be reckoned with and the original HBO series smash deserved a shot on the big screen. But our hunch is that over in the other theater, Liv Tyler's blood curdling screams may be signaling a far more important trend in the future of the movies that will be making their way to your cineplex, the return of the smart horror movie.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Director, Producer, Actor. An American Movie Classic.

Among his accomplishments in movie directing:
They Shoot Horses Don't They - 1969, Jeremiah Johnson - 1972, The Way We Were - 1973, Three Days of the Condor - 1975, The Electric Horseman - 1979, Absence of Malice - 1981, Tootsie - 1982, Out of Africa - 1985, Havana - 1990, The Firm - 1993, Sabrina - 1995, Random Hearts - 1999, and Interpreter - 2005

Among the actors who appeared in his films:
Gig Young, Bruce Dern, Michael Sarrazin, Barbara Streisand, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Charles Durning, Meryl Streep, Gene Hackman, Bill Murray, Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Harrison Ford, Richard Crenna, Angie Dickenson, Charles S. Dutton, Sean Penn, Nicole Kidman and Robert Redford.

He directed televison, including episodes for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Fugitive. He produced films, including the Fabulous Baker Boys, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Cold Mountain, Michael Clayton and this year's HBO film Recount.

He acted in television and film. A few television highlights include: Mad About You, Frasier, Will and Grace, and The Sopranos. And in film: The Player, Eyes Wide Shut, Michael Clayton and this past month's Made of Honor.

To say his creativity and influence in American film will be missed is the greatest of understatements.

His name is Sydney Pollack and we join his family, friends and countless admirers in mourning his death.



Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Whip it Good.

You can just hear the theme song swelling in the background. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Shia LeBeouf... uhhh, did we mention Harrison Ford? Yeah!, it is Harrison Ford and he is back in the title role of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, and you already know that or you would never be reading a movie blog. The film opens all over our collective consciousness tomorrow. (Read midnight tonight.)

So just who is this Indiana Jones and what makes him tick? Why will so many flock to theaters to welcome him like a long lost adventuring friend? How will he snap his whip and fix all that is wrong with summer movies this season? Everyone under the sun who makes a living (or pretends to) writing about the movie business, will be offering their considered and redundant opinions on these and all of the other pressing questions that writing deadlines can conjure. Bottom line... who gives the crack of a bullwhip? Unlike a few of you out there that are gluttons for spoilers in movie reviews, most of us want to read as little as possible about the goings on in Raider's country until we've dropped our ten bucks and plopped down in a seat as close to center and as far from the kiddies as possible. There we can sit back, let 19 years of distance fade to black and let the fedora'd one wash over us with self deprecating wise cracks and sinister adventure. How can you not want to go see this movie?


So here's all we have to say...

1. Paramount execs are going to be enjoying their biggest weekend of the decade so if you happen to see one, give them lots of space, they're likely to be blasted and unable to operate large machinery. Between Indy & Iron Man, it's been quite a month.

2. If you work at Paramount, Friday is the day to be asking for a raise.

3. Indy will clear the 98 million mark and become this year's biggest weekend opener. And this from folks who really don't care for making predictions.

4. As George Lucas warned, we're betting, after all the hoopla subsides (and don'tcha ya just love hoopla?) most of us will indeed be the least little bit disappointed, thinking that it could have been just a little better if only... (fill in the reason you think applies on Monday).

5. We'll still all be glad they made it. We'll still be glad Harrison & Karen got to do it. And most of us will be praying that there's no set-up for Shia to carry the franchise any further.

So go grab that cheap souvenir Fedora you bought back in '81 or '84 or '89, find a leather jacket, any leather jacket and go to the movies this weekend. And if Indy really doesn't make your whip snap, try something else and let us know about it.

By the way, it may be Indy's fourth outing in movie theaters, but this column is also Moviedozer Dailies' 50th post. Thanks to all of our regular readers and to all of the fans of Moviedozer.com. We're looking forward to lots more. See you next week.

Photo of Mr. Ford and Ms. Allen is courtesy of WireImage.com.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A weekend in Narnia.

Back when we reviewed the trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (an you'll pardon us if for the rest of this post we simply call the film "Narnia 2"), we griped about the familiarity of it all. Aside from the fact the movie itself is a sequel, there have been so many of these witch and wizardry, sword and fantasy flicks that they seem to blend together in spite of themselves. That's not a specific knock on any of the movies (some, like the first Narnia and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy have been quite good), rather it seems more like an obstacle to enjoying them.

Regardless of the seen-it-before-factor, as of today the land of Narnia has re-materialized and the fans of the first movie, as well as the classic C.S. Lewis books are surely to be flocking to theaters over the weekend, likely to unseat this summer's first blockbuster, Iron Man, in the process. Inevitable for Iron Man but really bad news for this summer's first huge disappointment, Speed Racer, which is likely to fall out of the box-office top three before the weekend is over.

The movie industry bemoans yet glorifies the opening weekend take on it's new releases, particularly during blockbuster season; a marketing strategy that they invented and now live and die by. Perhaps because of it's own industry's greed, Narnia 2 may find itself in the position of king for a weekend, only one weekend. Just over Monday morning's horizon looms the early release dates for Memorial Day weekend and the highly anticipated, already celebrated and crushingly heavily marketed return of Indiana Jones. Mr. Ford and crew whip-crack their way back onto box-office charts on Thursday, May 22nd and from that point on, consider the number one slot on the charts taken. With Iron Man's continuing pull, it's also a good bet that Paramount will also own one of the other top 5 spots, leaving only three openings. One of those is sure to be snatched up by Sex And The City, bowing only one week later. Studio execs will just be breaking a sweat though, as the glut of blockbuster contenders picks up more momentum in the early weekends of June.

All of this begs a question we've been pondering along with many other movie industry watchers - are there just too many movies being released? With Narnia 2's release, Disney is the last major studio to enter into this summer's ticket frenzy and looking over the May release schedule, there are no less than 27 notable releases scheduled. While we're one of the first to take exception to the notion of "limited releases", is the practice simply unavoidable? With a limited amount of available screen space and astronomical marketing and distribution costs, small films may be destined simply to be relegated to cinematic second citizens. So why market them to theatrical distribution at all? 

With a burgeoning market of outlets for creative content, explosively expanded by the internet and home entertainment options, are movies about to be redefined outside of the venue of a movie theater. Or in fact, will the digital revitalization of movie theaters reshape the marketing and exhibition opportunities of theater owners, distributers and studios to the point of not only decreasing costs, but increasing availability and variety?

Our take is that the answer to all of the above, in varying degrees is Yes. We are on the cusp of major changes in the way we see movies, the way theaters will present them and the way studios will produce, market and distribute them. The growing pains have surely already begun but the evolution that is underway carries great promise. Maybe that will be some solace to the producers of the summer films that struggle to find an audience or, for that matter, an available movie screen. As for the producers of Speed Racer, maybe it will help encourage them to do their bit and release fewer films. We can only hope.

If you're taking a trip to Narnia this weekend, enjoy. It may be interesting to see how many theaters will still be willing to transport you there in the matter of only a few more weeks.


To read our trailer review of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, click here. The Narnia 2 movie widget is currently featured on Moviedozer's home page. The AP review of Narnia 2 is available by clicking on the video in our Moviedozer Videos column to the right. (Be sure to have your broswer is set to allow pop-ups.) We'd of course love to know what you think about the movie as well as any of the other films you see this summer. Feel free to leave us your comments by clicking below.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Coming Distractions. There's lots of crap on the horizon.

While sitting in the dark waiting for Speed Racer to start (then later realizing that sitting in the dark was far more enjoyable than watching the movie), I was happily anticipating the onslaught of summer movie previews (for me, still one of the pleasures of going to the movies, though nearly offset by in-theater soda commercials, but more on that later).

The lights faded a bit and the previews began. And enthusiasm was replaced with a perverse fascination. How on Earth do these incredibly weak or just plain terrible ideas find financing and the proverbial greenlight? Allow me to parade out my bewilderment. Imagine, if you will, that you are a big hollywood exec walking into a screening room filled with your underlings and are about to watch 5 new ideas seeking financing. Here are the pitches...

The Incredible Hulk.
A. First time out it failed. Miserably.
B. No fan of the material could have possibly forgotten the really camp scripts and low production values of the extremely dated television show.
C. Throw in Edward Norton as star and writer, an actor whose participation brings wrinkled brows rather than goosebumps.
D. The death blow: really, really bad CGI in the trailer. It's a little like watching a trailer for Roger Rabbit, but there Roger is SUPPOSED to look like a cartoon. This script is going to have to be amazing to make this work. 
I'll speak for all of you playing mogul along with me... PASS. 

Next:
Get Smart.
A. Wait, here's some really good material. Personally I consider the first couple of seasons of Don Adams as Maxwell Smart pure classic 60's television. Brilliant at times and always entertaining, in it's day (and even now) it was as reliably funny as today's South Park. But there's the rub. How can you improve on such great source material (written and directed by some of the best of their time)? The trailer seems to be making the emphatic point that you can't.
B. Lame. Os so very lame attempts at copping some of the very best running gags ever in a television series. But if memory doesn't serve the viewer, running gags can't be reborn without brilliant set-up. Trust me, there's nothing brilliant going on in the trailer.
C. Steve Carell. The stiff, wooden performance on display in the trailer could win an award for "the actor most out of his depth". Carell's delivery of the staple Maxwell Smart line, "Missed it by that much." is outright painful to witness.
Unfortunately, the brutality of the humorlessness of this trailer could provide paragraphs of criticism. PASS. Please get it off the screen and let us move on.

Next:
Meet Dave.
A. Who could possibly ever entertain the idea of putting money into an Eddie Murphy comedy without first being checked for reality distorting drug addiction?
B. Hello? A script? Did anyone think that it would be a good idea to review the script before actually making the movie? What? Someone did read this script before production? Huh? Well, in that case, let's stamp this thing with PASS in giant block letters, then lead everyone involved to the border and take away their passports. Wait, is there anywhere we can still find a firing squad? I'll say what we've said here before, please, somebody write this guy a great cop drama. Moving on.

Next:
Igor.
A. Uggh!
B. Can we start some kind of national testing program for licensing potential CGI animation producers? (Maybe Robert Zemeckis can be first in line?) Let's take a clue from the way we handle computer hackers, everyone involved in creating Igor should be banned from going within ten feet of a keyboard or mouse.
C. Celebrity voices do not a fun movie make.
D. Did we say Uggh! Here's a sample of the high comedy from the poster tagline: "All Men are Not Created Evil".
When your eyes can focus again from that glazed over feeling you have after witnessing the trailer, we'll move on. Take your time. The last presentation is the worst.

Take a deep breath. I'm not making this up.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
A. We love our nutty Uncle George for all of his endearing eccentricities but this man needs to be separated from any medium where he can express his actual thoughts. The Clone Wars were mentioned in the very first Star Wars and have now been trotted out of the Lucas Film stable of intellectual properties more often than 24 hour news footage of Iraq. Here's a good bet... when holographic viewers hit your kitchen countertop, the first entertainment download available will be a Star Wars rehash. Kind of makes you want to go back to stone tablets just for a reprieve. Lucas certainly understands the word "Clone" when it comes to idea recycling.
B. Please, if there really is a Lord in heaven, for the sake of not making all of us loathe animation, TAKE AWAY THE COMPUTERS FROM THESE PEOPLE! Good God this stuff looks awful. Take a seven second "movie" bridge in a 2nd rate video game, expand it to an hour and a half and slap in some light sabers and... well, just take a look at the poster.

The font can't possible go large enough in this column to stamp PASS on these projects. Follow the experience of being dazzled by the stupidity of these coming attractions with 2 hours and fifteen minutes of Speed Racer and I almost turned to starting a blog about planting roses. I'm off to go soak up Iron Man at my local theater and before I leave, I'll re-watch the latest Kingdom of the Crystal Skull trailer. Then there's Wall•e and Tropic Thunder to look forward to... there, that's starting to make me feel better. What's getting YOU through this crap? We'd love to know.

And by the way... there was that soda commercial we mentioned. Coca-Cola in their slick marketing savvy has been using a film school competition to fill those silver screens with a coke ad before the trailers begin. The recent winning entry was screened before these illustrious trailers popped up and, in retrospect, perhaps sheds a little light on the dearth of creative thinking in Hollywood. Coke apparently ponied up the bucks to finance the distribution of one of the most unoriginal and clichéd ideas any of us could joke at calling creative. Without even seeing it, imagine a woman jumping into the frame and joining the characters in famous museum paintings, chasing a bottle of diet coke from painting to painting. As hack as it was, it beat out Meet Dave.

All together now... PASS.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Speed Racer: a kaleidoscopic car wreck.


Here's the Moviedozer review of this past weekend's Speed Racer... 

Imagine the NBC peacock splattering on your windshield at 80 mph.
Imagine Susan Sarandon in the most embarrassing role of her career.
Imagine the metaphysical BS of the Matrix amped up and spit out all over the storyline of a bad video game.
Imagine the Wachowski Brothers with their heads up each other's technicolor asses.

Most importantly, imagine something else to do with your movie ticket dollars. 

A.O. Scott, writing for the New York Times described things this way, "The colors pop off the screen as if someone had burst a giant bag of digital Skittles". He adds, " ...(the directors) focus relentlessly on visual style while dispensing almost entirely with credible emotion or intelligible narrative.".

The film is as dull and lethargic as the colors are saturated, and makes 2 hours and 15 minutes in a movie theater feel like a week in a dentists chair. As for the CGI animation, absolutely nothing in the film moves with any sense of a true environment or sense of physics. No weight, no wind, no sense of direction. Nothing. Kind of like the movie itself... and it's prospects at the box-office.

Amazingly, the only sense of fun in the entire film comes when the updated version of the Speed Racer theme song plays over the closing credits. The remake of Go Speed Racer Go is by Ali Dee and the Deekompressors and had the movie had half of the energy of the song, maybe something could have been salvaged. Then again, our enjoyment may have just been the sense of relief we felt that the whole mess had finally ended and we could get the hell out of the theater. The Wachowski Brothers should head back to the Matrix while their fans will likely consider opting for the blue pill.

Brutally bad. Don't let the hype suck you in.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Super Smart.

One week before the release of Iron Man, the summer's first entry into the blockbuster season sweepstakes, we wrote this at Moviedozer.com (see The May List, Pulling Focus at Moviedozer): "Next to the return of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, this is the surest hit this summer. We’re betting big on a plus 60 million dollar opening and lots and lots of legs. The really good news for Paramount? They’ve got the Indy franchise too. We’ll also bet on Iron Man 2 in 2010." In Iron Man's fourth day of release Marvel Studios announced Iron Man 2 will be released on April 30, 2010. No one at Moviedozer is bragging about being clairvoyant, but we were right about this film from the moment we watched it's first teaser trailer.

The movie looked smart. In a report for Reuters, columnist Kirk Honeycutt points out that director Jon Favreau is a Marvel Comics aficionado and refers to "the supersmart casting of Robert Downey Jr.". The Motley Fool, in a web column from yesterday by Anders Bylund titled Iron Man Makes War on Mediocre Films, Mediocre Profits, said "This is a great example of filmmaking done right.". Referring to the fact that Iron Man was produced in-house by Marvel Studios, the first movie based on one of the many Marvel created characters to be handled by it's creators rather than a licensee, he went on to say, "Let them work without the "death by committee" strangulation of a cautious production house that doesn't fully understand what the movie is about...". A production company that "gets" the project, that, as creators and owners of the property, have an invested interest and intrinsic knowledge to apply? Want to have a superpower in the movie business, start by having some confidence in your product.

According to Wikipedia, the Marvel team of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby brought Iron Man to life in 1963. Since then, Business Week has called Iron Man "one of the top ten most intelligent fictional characters in American comics." Like most inventions, the intelligence of the product is in direct correlation to the intelligence of it's inventors. The smartest move these inventors made was trusting their instincts. That instinct lead to a 200 million plus worldwide debut of their movie. The guts they showed in smart casting lead to signing Downey, not just as  the main character in a superhero movie but as the personality to hang a franchise on. Not since Disney touched brilliance with casting Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow has any studio so perfectly nailed the right actor for the right role.

We were impressed then and we're impressed now. After this past weekend, Iron Man becomes the most anticipated vehicle for a sequel since Toby McGuire's first spin as Spiderman. The real beauty here is that Robert Downey Jr. has so very much more up his sleeve. This is an actor to watch and to be riveted by. Since we're feeling good about ourselves in the prediction category, we'll make one more here and now on the record. Robert Downey Jr. will turn in so much amazing work in the years to come that he will one day be counted among the absolute finest actors the American Movie industry has ever produced and he will count among his Iron Man artifacts, every major award and accolade befit to stow on such talent.

We like to applaud a job well done and there are two tips of the hat that are well deserved. First, to Jon Favreau, who up until this project only impressed us as being a capable working actor/director. Everyone should take notice of the potential of tapping a person's passions.
 Second, to Mr. Stan Lee for understanding, as few others in this industry ever have, the extraordinary value of believing and persevering, without regard to set-backs or external pressures, in the talents and value of their ideas and the wisdom of nurturing sheer creativity. Mr. Lee's accomplishments put us in the mind of Mr. Walt Disney. Amazing and deserved company.

Some of our early impressions of Iron Man came on Superbowl Sunday when Marvel and Paramount debuted a specially cut television commercial. You can read that column by clicking here. (The article refers to the trailer, no longer active in the column, but you can still see all of the Iron Man trailers at the Iron Man Official Website and read our trailer review at Moviedozer's Summer Trailer Feature on our Trailer Tales page.) You can also go back to read our Dailies post from March 14th, "Iron Man set to soar over '08 box-office".

Thanks to WireImage.com for providing the photos accompanying this piece. Also our thanks to Marvel Comics and Wikipedia for providing their resources.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Spike Lee's next Joint... mind numbing marketing.

We were just about to sit down and write a piece on the debut of Blockbuster Summer '08's big opening weekend and Iron Man, the film set to dominate the first week of this season (and many thereafter). One of our morning rituals is to check for new Movie Video feeds that appear on the right column of this blog and there our plans changed. We've thought we'd seen it all. Well, not really.

Hand-held "shaky camera cinema" is one of our favorite rants at Moviedozer.com. We've got a few, but this one's definitely high on the list. When Brian De Palma held news conferences last year to hype his anti-war flick Redacted, he defended the handi-cam BS as a "creative" decision that brought realism and a sense that the lousy camera quality was somehow authentic to the story. Our favorite nutty Uncle George (Lucas) has spouted to anyone in the press that will listen, that everyone someday will be shooting on consumer grade cameras. J.J. Abrams' monster flick Cloverfield was so insanely shaky for it's entire length that audiences were actually suffering from motion sickness. (As a side note, the genius auteur has hyped the DVD as being a much better way to view the film than the theater. At least on a smaller screen you may not feel the urge to puke. Then again, you should, after you start dwelling on the fact that you got sucked into going to the movies to see a film the producer says works better as a video.) So what could possibly top handi-cams for claiming the top spot on the idiocy in moviemaking list.

Let us let Spike Lee tell you.



Stunning. Go ahead, watch that first part again. There. Right there, with a straight face no less, the man is telling you he's going to make a movie using you're next door neighbors cell phone. I swear we didn't somehow fake this interview. That's really the Wall Street Journal logo on there. Take a moment. Step away from the computer, take a deep breath. We're sorry to have dumped this on you unexpectedly.

In this age of YouTube videos of crickets humping shot by drunken morons (no, don't go looking for it, we did make that up), Spike Lee has ascended the asshole list. Can anyone anywhere on this planet or any other, believe even for an instant that this is anything more than a marketing scheme for Nokia to get in on the YouTube/American Idol fads? Is there anyone anywhere, after only a nanosecond of thought, that can't see Mr. Lee -
1. Did this strictly for wads of cash.
2. Suffers from a gaping void in the "i" section of his soul's dictionary where the word "integrity" should be.
3. Will have free Nokia cellphones for life. And...
4. Is an idiot.

Let the stupid people of the world unite. Go start shooting your cellphone videos and rush right out to upload them to your new leader. And for the rest of us, we've all just been handed a very convenient flag that marks people who are likely too imbecilic to associate with. It's that Nokia cellphone their holding up to their face.

We'll get back to Iron Man's debut and the start of Blockbuster Summer '08 next. Right now we're off to brew a very strong cup of coffee.