Thursday, July 23, 2009

As August goes ice cold we head for the hills.

It's about this time that we start putting our monthly "Hot List" together for the movies we're most looking forward to next month. You can check out the regular column at the top of our Pulling Focus page at

As we approached our August list there were some immediate choices that we've been waiting for... The Time Traveler's Wife, adapted from the hit novel by Audrey Niffenegger starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams (not thrilled with the cast but the book was special), an adaptation of a cookbook and a blog serve as the story source for Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in the Nora Ephron directed Julie & Julia, and the always inventive and tremendously entertaining work of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki is on display again in Ponyo.

These are films that will have us curiously waiting in a box-office line. But that's three and we highlight six films each month. We'll let's see...

And then it hit us. As we're bearing down on the last month of summer... we're all out of movies. Whaaaaat? How's that? OK, OK, there's one more big popcorn movie in the wings but we're warning you now, it's a scene by scene mash-up of popcorn action flicks from duds like 1998's The Avengers and 2004's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow to this summer's megahit Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. (Just the fact that that's the first 2009 movie to break 300 million is reason enough to know we need a vacation.) The silver screens in August go positively blank and we're seriously bummed.

The fact is we were already heading out for a week at a lake but the prospect for a bleak August has seemed to add some urgency. So much so that we gave up on trying to keep our hopes high and instead, for the first time, decided to replace our monthly "Hotlist" with an August "Ice-list". Movies that leave us cold for wanting to buy a ticket and hoping those responsible get iced on their bottom lines.

When we get back from canoe drifting days and stargazing nights, we'll officially publish the Ice-list but we couldn't help giving our readers a sneak preview on Moviedozer's front page. We can't help but give you a little taste right here of why August may be Netflix's best month for DVD rentals all year. Take a look and you may want to follow our example and go get some fresh air yourself.

Here's what some studios think a summer movie looks like in August...

Robin Williams. Another comic who thinks off-the-shelf kid flicks can be a career capper. Someone should Twitter Eddie Murphy for a little insight...

You can watch the trailer for this one on our new feature "Independent Feature Film Clips & Trailers". We swear we're not making this up. Jim Carey and Ewan McGregor playing gay and speaking French (not that there's anything wrong with that...), but then, this ain't exactly Seinfeld. Did we mention they meet in prison? (Now we bet you'll go watch the trailer.)

How about some really blatant high concept marketing built around a really high concept high school kinda musical sorta band kinda rock n' roll... screw coming up with an idea when there's so much stinkin' money yet to be made from ridin' somebody else's wave. No, this is not from Disney. The real head scratcher... David Bowie is in this somewhere.

And finally, we'll just say this. Brad Pitt with a smirk and a machine gun standing on a pile of bodies. What a lovely way to end a summer.

We'll be back at the top of the month. You can read the Ice-List at on August 4th.

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's good to be Harry.

If you've been wondering if Harry Potter can produce anymore magic with that wand of his, Warner Bros. can show you some very conclusive evidence that the answer is ye$ - with a capitol $!

Harry's latest book turned film is Hogwarts Year 6 - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which opened on Wednesday around the world and screened in midnight showings all over the U.S. on Wednesday morning. The results were magical.

During midnight screenings alone, Harry already began setting records with grosses that topped even The Dark Knight's midnight screenings a year ago. By the end of the day on Wednesday Harry had conjured $58.18 million domestic and an additional $45.85 million overseas becoming the most successful first day in the Potter series and the fourth highest single day gross in North American box-office history.

The potential for the completion of the series will be realized with the 2-film adaptation of the final book (Year 7) over the next two years (at least according to Warner Bros.'s advance release plans), and is leaving no doubt that the Harry Potter movies will become the most successful film franchise in cinema history. In marking that milestone, Harry Potter will expectedly pass the James Bond franchise well before the run of Half-Blood Prince trickles out and will then likely overtake George Lucas' Star Wars empire next year with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One. Of course, you haven't seen the last of 007 or R2-D2 and C-3PO but you do have to take in account that while Star Wars blasted onto screens for the first time in 1977 and James Bond made his debut in 1962 (Sean Connery in Dr. No), Harry only hit Hogwarts and discovered he was a wizard in 2001.

"And so Dorothy, what have we learned?" Though that's a question worthy of another wizard, the answers this time are obvious.

We learned that J.K. Rowling's extraordinary books have legions of loyal fans.

We learned that Warner Bros. is the most savvy studio in a decade to have seized on the potential of Rowling's characters for movies faster than any of the studios who should have known better. (How differently would Michael Eisner's Disney legacy be viewed if Harry's movies were on the vault shelf next to Snow White?)

We learned the merits of treating a film franchise with respect, from maintaining a relationship with its creator, to nurturing it's young cast, to filling that cast with seasoned pros and tons of off screen talent.

We learned that reading books (go figure) is still an activity treasured and beloved by millions, of all ages, who gladly let their hearts and imaginations be captured by endearing and enduring characters and settings.

We learned that quality in all things matters and we learned that the best movies are made by filmmakers who not only know their source material, but love it.

The three day weekend is just starting and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is projected to bring in 100 million more in the next 72 or so hours, and that's just on this continent. With worldwide audiences returning as much as 60% of a film's revenue, the numbers may stagger. The principals and logic of Harry's box-office wizardry though, should simply confirm. Good business and talented people reap solid results. Though that's not exactly Hollywood by the numbers, these are numbers even Hollywood can't and won't ignore. Congratulations Harry, you're a wizard.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Brüno, a new name on a stale idea.

The tagline for Sacha Baron Cohen's latest movie is "Borat was so 2006". The more appropriate tag would be "Brüno is the new Borat". And Brüno's vacant, moron-in-the-headlights smirk is the new face of movie star laziness.

Another apt tagline? How about "Brüno is soooo not Zoolander"? Ben Stiller nailed a character that nailed the fashion world with a clever spoof and great casting. For those keeping track, that was 8 years ago this September. Stiller, now why's that a name that has succeeded with each new release? Maybe talent and intelligence has something to do with making funny ideas - actually funny. But we digress.

We get that this is broad satire and that Mr. Cohen thinks, ala Borat, that there's some kind of social statement to be made from lampooning the surprised and outraged reactions from the poor unsuspecting dolts who "unknowingly" wind up on camera. (How the hell does someone dressed like this get himself and a film crew into Republican Congressman's office anyway?) But the joke is so shallow as to make the humor collapse with the very least bit of inspection.

Not for a moment do we believe that the presence of a camera crew isn't tipping off the "unsuspecting" that, duh, someone's making a movie. We're also not buying that there's a "message" to making fun of people by exposing their prejudices and ignorance, when those failings are what's driving the laughter in an audience filled with the very same biases. Cohen doesn't have, and shouldn't be granted, license to play out a joke that depends on his being the only guy in the room who's above the stupidity, and then acting a fool to prove his point.

When someone gets put upon by Mr. Cohen, replete in outrageous costume, exaggerated accent and embarrassingly stereotyped behavior, a polite intelligent person might try to be polite and intelligent and take him seriously. That's called tolerance. For Cohen, in character, to then stretch the encounter to absurdity to illicit an embarrassing reaction is on some levels despicable and pathetically unfunny.

We can prove our case in point by reminding moviegoers of the lawsuits and anger triggered by Cohen's "ambush movie-making" tactics in '06's Borat, when the poor saps on camera realized they'd been pressed into showing their worst traits so that the moviemakers could turn a cheap and easy buck. The anger is once again rising over being "duped" by Brüno, with press reports of potential lawsuits starting months ago. Then again, since we can't believe anyone doesn't recognize the fact that they're on a movie set, those reports may just be more of the same tactics the movie uses, applied to marketing. We would also direct you to the movie's trailer which is to laughter what the Sahara is to rainfall. Thankfully you can see it for free and perhaps save some anger yourself by not getting duped into wasting 10 bucks.

The result of all of this? Brüno is all just so much lazy, unoriginal, insulting crap.

And that's the end line here. Don't support lazy filmmakers. We're thinking Will Ferrell and Jack Black should both be hoping for some justice. They got lazy, picked garbage scripts and skated through summer movies on egos that said, "hey, I'm a star, they'll come". They didn't. If Brüno gets the audience it deserves - none, Will and Jack should go out and get hammered this weekend and someone at Universal should make a note that the next Sacha Baron Cohen project is going to have to have a script. A funny script. Oh yeah, and Cohen should actually have to earn his paycheck.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Will you pay to see this movie? Roland Emmerich's 2012.

A filmmaker dreams of a fighter pilot flying an alien spacecraft to a mother ship in near Earth orbit to upload a computer virus from a laptop and makes a movie called Independence Day. As a writer, producer and director, he attempts to terrify audiences (but mostly succeeds in drawing laughs) with a swarm of baby Godzillas hatching in Madison Square Garden by remaking (some would say recycling), Godzilla. He concocts a doomsday scenario with victims struggling inside a frozen New York City Public Library in The Day After Tomorrow.

The same man inexplicably thought there was actual commercial potential in watching half clad caveman warriors chase a CGI sabertooth tiger in 10,000 BC. (There was, more than a quarter of a billion dollars worth.)

A man, who apparently can't be stopped.

That man is Roland Emmerich and he's already started doing everything in his power to try to scare the bejesus out of you by trotting out ancient Mayan writings and a thing called the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar end-date. For those of you not yet filling your heads with historical movie hype, some interpret all of that to suggest the Mayans were pointing to December 21, 2012 as the last day of time. Yeah, all time. Bummer for anyone planning movies for 2013 but not bad if you're trying to book a room on NYE in times square.

So what do all of those film titles up there have in common? Mr. Emmerich, perhaps suffering from repressed feelings toward not having enough live fireworks to play with as a kid, has taken to absolutely adoring the destruction of all things "landmark" around the world, imagining their utter destruction inside a computer. In particular, a therapist could probably blow through a year of sessions just digging into his fascination with destroying Air Force One and the White House. But kids, we have to ask, is this really an excuse for making a movie?

The answer to that one is simpler than keeping an RV on the road as it's getting its ass blown off by meteorites (another Emmerich staple havoc wreaker), which, going by the trailer, is entirely doable.

The reason for all of this movie mayhem is money. Lots and lots of money. In just adding up the films mentioned above, Mr. Emmerich has been responsible for two billion dollars in worldwide grosses. Ahhh, now there's a reason to make another movie. Bring on the doomsday prophecies, baby needs a new Maserati.

There's a catch though. No ticket sales, no money. Squandered production and marketing budgets can send just as strong a signal as money flowing like an uncontrollable sluice all over the Sony Columbia lot. So dear readers and fellow moviegoers - it is, as always, up to you.

This year, you've already sent strong signals to Will Ferrell for his idea-dipping into saturday morning television by making Land of the Lost the most aptly titled film of the summer. You barely forked over dollar one to Jack Black's Neanderthal Year One. You gave a giant "I'll have another" to The Hangover, which will now surely hangover for a sequel. And you raced out to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen so quickly, the backdraft may actually have sucked audiences away faster than any number one opener this summer.

So now we invite you to go watch the trailer for 2012 on by clicking anywhere in this sentence. When you have your fill, click the link back and leave us your comments. You won't actually have to make up your mind until November, but will you pay to see this movie? We're already anxious to see who's looking forward to the end of the world... at least inside your local cineplex.