Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Disney's latest release - not Up but Out!

Disney has been making lots of news lately but at least one announcement didn't come with the fanfare and hoopla that was present at their first ever "D23" fan convention in Anaheim ten days ago. Rather, just a couple of days after the close of the convention, Disney Chairman Robert Iger summoned Disney Studio chief Dick Cook, a 38 year Disney employee (he started as Monorail operator at Disneyland) into his office and dropped the biggest news of all - you're out!

Showbiz Data reports that the meeting lasted only ten minutes and that Iger held true to corporate traditions, cowering behind empty rhetoric and after-the-fact complaints. (If you've been in Mr. Cook's position the technique is all too familiar - "after lots of consideration"...blah, blah... "decided to go in a different direction..." blah, blah, blah... "oh yeah, and there were complaints..." blah, blah, blah. Complaints, of course, that don't get discussed until they can be sprung as justification for an agenda, but we could easily digress into a rant on the pitiful lack of integrity in corporate America.

More to the point, aside from what sounds like Dick Cook getting royally screwed in the Happiest Place on Earth, here's why these things matter to movie lovers and Disney shareholders alike. All of those very same announcements Disney was showcasing just a few days earlier to the pixie-dusted faithful may now be in jeopardy.

All the oohing and ah-ing at the duck & mouse show of costumed celebrities, elaborate props and high profile name dropping, may just have done a Cinderella's coach and poof-ed back into a pumpkin. While Disney was using their new fan convention to showcase their two strongest skills - marketing and trading on their fabled history, back at the castle the King of the Kingdom seems to have been plotting something nefarious in his chambers. Now, since many of the D23 announcements are built on creative commitments that themselves are built on loyalty and the genuine affection felt for Dick Cook, it's anybody's guess what the King has wrought.

Take a look at the top three news headlines that came out of D23.

1. Johnny Depp, already attached to Disney's big screen debut of The Lone Ranger as "faithful Indian sidekick" Tonto, came out in full Jack Sparrow regalia to let Disney fans know that there would indeed be Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth adventure of the series. A day after Dick Cook's ouster, Depp said he was shocked and saddened by Cook's departure. The Los Angeles Times reported Depp as saying "there's a fissure, a crack in my enthusiasm at the moment", "He's instantly trustworthy. And you don't generally meet people at the studios you trust."

2. Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy & Hellboy II: The Golden Army), had agreed to collaborate with Disney on introducing a brand new film production label called Disney Double Dare You. The idea is to create animated films with lots of fun scares and thrills set for a younger (think Harry Potter-ish) audience. That announcement came from Dick Cook himself at the convention. Working from a concept conceived by the director, the idea seems to perfectly team studio, marketing and creative. You have to believe that this is another project that now goes into the "will it happen" category.

3. Also at D23, Dick Cook seemed to take great pride in announcing a new partnership between Disney, Robert Zemeckis and the Beatles' Apple Corps, to create a motion capture remake of the Beatles only animated feature film, Yellow Submarine. Not only is this a high profile and prestigious project for Disney but it is the second outing for Disney with Zemeckis' ImageMovers Digital, a pioneering and evolving creative animation company that, much like Pixar, could be a pathway to a library of future properties. Robert Zemeckis is another film producer heaping praise on Cook's working style and ethics. Zemeckis is currently at work putting final touches on his 3D animated A Christmas Carol, starring a motion-capture Jim Carey as Scrooge, to be released by Disney this November, a project conceived and completed under Dick Cook's leadership.

Then there's Steven Spielberg... Disney's commitment this past Spring to distribute Spielberg's DreamWorks output in the coming years was, according to Spielberg himself, an agreement largely entered into on the goodwill and friendship shared between he and Cook. Yet another valuable relationship that, at least for the moment, seems up for grabs.

In the last years one would be hard pressed to look past Pixar and see any genius coming from Disney's film studios. The blockbuster hit realized from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was quickly scuttled with over saturation in Disney's theme parks and dismally declining quality in scripts on the following two installments. Though Depp re-inhabiting the persona of Jack Sparrow is welcome, it realistically can't be considered an instant hit. High School Musical 3, Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers should be credited over to Disney Channel programming. After that, there are a string of mediocre to bad family films (and even worse Disney classic remakes) that have driven talents like John Travolta and Tim Allen to "family forgettable" status. The studio has been garnering as much attention for its hits as its flops, while limited in-house production has become Robert Iger's M.O. It would seem that the Disney Studios is soon to be merely a clearing house for outside creative talent and production companies.

There is a last thought we find ourselves considering. John Lasseter, the wunderkind of Pixar and the man now entrusted with guiding the creative in everything Disney, may be the man the mantle falls to when the dust clears. But when that dust clears, the view looking up will be the looming shadow of Robert Iger running a gigantic corporate behemoth more and more reliant on the ideas and talents of people that only work for (and tolerate) the company on contract, a situation hard to influence, a business model hard to bend and a profit structure that's hard to live up to. If there's anything ever designed to inhibit and eventually crush the life out of creativity, Robert Iger may be creating it.

What will happen if John Lasseter won't have it? What will Disney look like to fans and movie lovers at next year's D23?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Larry Gelbart's passing on Friday followed today by the death of actor Patrick Swayze.

On this past Friday, as Moviedozer Dailies was being updated with a new post, late word came that screenwriter and television show creator Larry Gelbart had passed away at the age of 81. Well known for his landmark work in developing the long running break-through TV comedy M.A.S.H., Mr. Gelbart also had a unique history in creating enduring screen comedies that would be defined by both magnificent casts and legendary directors.

To give just a sense of Mr. Gelbart's contribution to cinematic history, consider the names attached to some of our favorite movies of all time, just a sampling of an extraordinary resumé.

The Thrill it All from 1963 is a classic in the series of movies starring James Garner and Doris Day. The film was directed by Norman Jewison and Mr. Gelbart shares his story credit with none other than Carl Reiner, who also wrote the screenplay.

In 1966, Mr. Gelbart's writing credits include Not with My Wife You Don't which starred Tony Curtis, Carroll O'Connor and George C. Scott with direction by legendary writer/director Norman Panama, and the film adaptation of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a writing collaboration that included Mr. Gelbart's work on the book from the Broadway show. That film was also directed by a legendary talent, Richard Lester (who's many credits include both Beatles films, A Hard Day's Night and Help) and included the all star comedy cast of Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Buster Keaton and Jack Gifford along with the singing talents of a very young Michael Crawford.


The tradition of great actors under the direction of legendary directors highlighted an extraordinary amount of Larry Gelbart's subsequent writing projects. Oh God from 1977 cast George Burns and John Denver under the direction of Carl Reiner. 1980's Rough Cut teamed actors Burt Reynolds, Leslie-Anne Down and David Niven with director Don Siegel (who earlier had directed a large part of Clint Eastwood's best work including Dirty Harry and Play Misty for Me). In 1981, there was Neighbors, casting John Belushi and Dan Akroyd with director John G. Alvidsen and in '84, Blame It On Rio with Michael Caine and Joseph Bologna (and a very young Demi Moore), directed by Stanley Donen. Most memorable, from 1982, an unforgettable cast lead by Dustin Hoffman in one of director Sydney Pollack's gems, Tootsie.

Larry Gelbart was a writer's writer in every sense. The caliber of talent who brought his words to life on movie screens and televisions over five decades is a fitting testimony to his accomplishments and to his legacy.



Unfortunately, more sad news broke in the movie business today with the announced passing of actor Patrick Swayze. Mr. Swayze succumbed to a long and well publicized struggle with pancreatic cancer. He was 57.

Mr. Swayze has also left an enduring list of memorable screen performances. Among our very favorites are 1984's Red Dawn with Jennifer Grey, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson and C. Thomas Howell, Point Break, with Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey (1991) and two of his most beloved films and bona fide blockbusters, 1987's Dirty Dancing where he ignited screens with Red Dawn co-star Jennifer Grey, and Ghost, the brilliantly conceived supernatural love story co-starring Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg, released in the summer of 1990 and earning more than a half billion dollars worldwide.



Our warmest wishes to the friends and families of both Mr. Gelbart and Mr. Swayze and to movie fans who, like us, will find some time over the coming weeks to watch and relive a little of the legacy each has left behind.

Photo of Larry Gelbart courtesy of mptvimages.com.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hey! Wanna go to the Oscars?

I know, the Oscars? Already? Well, if you're a big movie fan and have always wished for your very own space on the red carpet, you need to be thinking about where you want to be on Oscar night right now.

Yesterday, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the Oscar folks, have announced that they will be conducting a random drawing for seats in the bleacher sections that line the 500-foot-long red carpeted walkway that leads into the Kodak Theater for the Academy Awards® ceremony. There are only 700 seats available and applications for the drawing are open to Oscar fans all over the world.

Here's the deal... the application process will begin next Monday, Sept. 14th at noon ET and continue for one week, closing on Sunday, Sept. 20th at midnight, ET. To register an application, fans must log into the Academy's website by clicking or entering this link into your browser, www.oscars.org/bleachers. There you'll find an application form that must be filled out in its entirety and submitted online. You can register up to four persons on a single form but only one form may be registered per person or per group.

If you're lucky enough to be selected in the drawing, you'll be notified in early October and required to submit additional security information before your attendance can be approved by the Academy. After final approvals, winners will receive confirmation letters in early December with additional event information. Sorry, travel and hotels isn't included. Neither, we assume are cameras, autograph books or any additional message units for all of the texts and tweets you'll be busy sending all of your friends.

Should you get the invitation, you can be grateful that there won't be anyone sitting next to you who got around the online process by simply showing up in the middle of the night. The Academy has warned that anyone waiting overnight will not be granted entry. After watching the movie stars and celebrities make their entrance, everyone seated in the bleachers will be invited to watch the Oscar telecast "from a nearby location", so you won't miss out on any part of the big show.

According to the Academy, in past years, as many as 20,000 fans have applied online for the special seating. So, should you find yourself selected and approved, it would seem bragging rights are certainly attached.

This will be the 82nd Academy Awards presentation. The event will be held on Sunday, March 7th, 2010 at the Kodak Theater at Hollywood & Highland Center®, Hollywood CA. For those not able, willing or interested in grabbing bleacher seats at the theater, the show is being televised by ABC in more than 200 countries worldwide. If you decide to go through the online process and get selected, we'd love to hear from you so we can follow your adventure right through Oscar night. Good luck.


The information above was provided by AMPAS' publicity department and may be subject to change. Moviedozer Dailies and SparxLab Projects assume no responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided. Further information is available at the Academy's site link in the article.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Will you pay to see this movie? A Woody Harrelson double feature!

There have been absolute standouts - Mickey Knox in Natural Born Killers, Larry Flint in The People vs. Larry Flint (earning Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Actor) and Carson Wells in No Country for Old Men. Some genuine laughs stretching back to Hank Gordon in Doc Hollywood and Roy Munson in Kingpin. Even a bit of fairly hilarious singing as Dusty in A Prairie Home Companion. It's been a long, substantive and varied film career since Woody the Cheers bartender became better known as Woody Harrelson, movie star. From the varied roles to his willingness to play small parts and play in small movies, we get the impression that Woody Harrelson probably prefers "actor" to "star" and in most examples on his resumé, we're in agreement. Likable, humorous, versatile and sometimes volatile, Harrelson has genuine talent.
Nothing in that last paragraph explains our first impression from watching the trailer for Mr. Harrelson's scheduled October release of Zombieland. And nothing up there seems to relate in the slightest to our first, second or third (and we assume ad infinitum) impression from watching the trailer for this month's Toronto Film Festival screening of Defendor. We're at a loss and there's only one way to begin to explain. Click anywhere in this sentence, jump over to Moviedozer.com and watch the trailers for yourself. (Scroll down to the trailers toward the bottom of the page when you get there.) Be patient and let them load on your screen, we think you'll want to watch each of them more than once. When you're done, click on a link next to the trailers and drop back here to leave your comments.

For the record, Zombieland, is set to be released by Columbia Pictures on October 2nd. Television marketing is already underway and of the two films we're talking about here, this one is certainly the more mainstream. Zombie horror flicks have always been a staple and doing the walking dead thing with a dark streak of humor started way back with George A. Romero's 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead and stretches to the sly and clever Shaun of the Dead from 2004. With a bit of a twist, Woody Harrelson's cowboy hatted, redneck slugger of a zombie killer is a new take on a classic character. We can't help feeling though, that there's a hole here that a stronger, funnier and more interesting cast may have filled nicely. Sorry, Abigail Breslin and Jesse Eisenberg (and Bill Murray as a zombie) don't cut it for us. From the looks of the trailer, this is all Woody's show and that means the script better have some drop-dead funny (sorry) set pieces.

And then there's Defendor. The homemade superhero thing isn't new either. In fact, if you're the comic book type, you already know lots of them. (The big one in the movie chute is Kick-Ass scheduled from Lionsgate for 2010 and starring Nicholas Cage and Aaron Johnson.) The trailer for Defendor has been sneaking onto websites just a couple of weeks before a bow at the Toronto Film Festival and, without having an announced release date, is getting its first chance at grabbing some buzz. Woody plays Arthur Poppington, an ordinary guy un-endowed with any super powers, who nonetheless fashions a "D" out of ducktape on the back of a makeshift cape and calls himself Defendor. It's all rather baffling until you catch, perhaps, a small hint in the storyline. Arthur may be just a little bit nuts and equally naive about his ability to right wrongs. And in that, maybe, there's a charming, endearing side to why we might want to watch Woody traipsing about in tights.

So one again readers and moviegoers, we leave it to you. Has Woody lost it completely, gone for an easy paycheck (Zombieland) or done a friend a favor by being in his first directing project (Defendor)? Or will he elevate Zombieland to a fall comedy hit and surprise us with a quirky but moving character piece in Defendor? Trailers are just glimpses of a whole but they're supposed to sell the movie, judging by these - will you pay to see these movies?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Say goodbye to Hollywood's... summer.

Officially we've got until September 21st to say goodbye to summer, but Hollywood is already well under way with their annual transition from blockbuster season to award season. At Moviedozer, the first of the month also signals a new hotlist of the movie releases we're most looking forward to.
After being disappointed with the schedule of new releases in August (so much so that we changed our hotlist to an "ice-list" last month), we were a little wary about what September would bring. We're happy to say that although the month lacks any obvious standouts, the 30 or so new releases we considered for our list supplied more than enough selections to pick 6 worthy titles. You can click the link here to jump over and read through our choices. We felt compelled though, to mention some of the "also-rans" this month, so in no particular order, here are some good reasons to help Hollywood say goodbye to summer.

Whiteout - a thriller set in what must be the most claustrophobic wide open space on the planet, Antarctica. Starring Kate Beckinsale, the trailer suggests a true edge of your seat adventure set in a desolate and dangerous wilderness. 9/11

The Invention of Lying - way high concept but with a great cast, Ricky Gervais shares writing and directing credits and stars in a comedy about a place where no one has ever lied. Until now. Gervais is the writer who discovers lying, and it's unexpected benefits. With a cast that includes Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Christopher Guest and Tina Fey, this one just missed our final six. 9/25

Surrogates - On the other hand, this Bruce Willis vehicle easily missed our list, but we still have to admit a fondness for catching Bruce Willis movies, even when they look like worn sci-fi retreads. Watching the trailer for Surrogates is like a game of spotting the other sci-fi movie references. 9/25

All About Steve - Sandra Bullock was lots of fun in The Proposal this summer and she's someone we can watch just about anytime, but All About Steve's trailer has been kicking around for nearly a year and it's never made the movie seem anything but dumb. If you're a fan, have fun but it's likely more fun as a cheaper-than-the-movie-ticket rental. 9/4

Fame - "I'm going to live forever". Ahh to be young. Fame has fresh faces (and familiar ones in the roles of the teachers) shellacked across a refreshed premise in an age where American Idol and Dancing with the Stars rule TV. (In fact, one of the fresh faces belongs to an up and coming star, Kherington Payne who lasted through 12 real episodes of So You Think You Can Dance.) If for nothing else, the role of the arts in education deserves a solid Hollywood boost. 9/25

Amreeka - Set in a small town in Illinois, Amreeka is a small film that has something important to say about stepping into American culture from the outside and lots to say about the moving stories that are available in Independent film. We think this is one to seek out and pay attention to. 9/4

Carriers - After his huge success in this summer's terrific Star Trek, this earlier film starring Chris Pine is finally seeing a release date. The usual story of a viral pandemic that erupts in violent victims only draws our interest for the chance to watch this young, dynamic actor in another role. 9/4

The Burning Plain - Speaking of actors - The Burning Plain boasts two Oscar winners, Kim Basinger and Charlize Theron. The drama is centered on relationship struggles in the wake of a troubled childhood. Though the trailer seems heavy and obvious, the potential of the performances is enough to make us curious. 9/18

Coco Before Chanel - A period piece based on the life of fashion powerhouse Coco Chanel, before the fame and glory. This one's simple for us. Amidst beautiful settings and cinematography is the actor in the leading role, Audrey Tautou. We'd simply watch her in anything. 9/25

Like documentaries? Here are four that nearly made our list.

The Horse Boy - The true story of the Isaacson family. On discovering, by accident, that their young autistic son somehow relates to being near horses, a mother and father make a sojourn to Mongolia to seek a fabled shaman who may be able to bring healing and release to their son and to themselves. 9/25

The September Issue - An inside glimpse at the world of fashion magazines, The September Issue follows Vogue Magazine's editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour through the production of Vogue's nearly five pound fall-fashion issue. Shot with unprecedented access and widely praised by critics. 9/11

Walt & El Grupo - In 1941, the U.S. government asked Walt Disney to take a trip through South America in an effort to convince that nation that Americans weren't such bad neighbors to call allies. The success of that trip is a piece of the legendary stuff of Walt's enormous legacy and is the basis for this documentary that puts together archive film footage with the usual interview clips. 9/11

And if you absolutely have to...

Capitalism, a Love Story - Yes. Michael Moore is back. We think his films are egocentric, manipulated, sensationally fabricated pieces of scrapbook revisionism, but hey, that's just us. He did make the most profitable theatrically released "documentary" of all time so give the man his due. Just don't give him your money unless you are absolutely sucked in to his hype. No, this one never even came close to our list. 9/25

We'll also be recapping the Summer Blockbuster Season on the Sprocket Holes page of Moviedozer.com throughout the month. The trailers for the five most successful summer releases in worldwide box-office are showing now. We'll follow up each week with the top five trailers for the most overlooked, most overrated and our absolute summer favorites.

Get in your last goodbyes to Hollywood's summer, then join us again at Moviedozer.com where we'll be looking forward to dropping the flag in October for the race to Oscar gold.