Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Comedy, Death and Trespassing: Ideas and not much more.

Making original movies is hard. Crude laughs, gory deaths and gorilla filmmaking are easy. Too easy.

In this case, crude jokes with the gimmick that they're delivered by a soundstage full of bankable stars. Bloody, violent death as conceived by 26 individual horror fetish directors. And a gorilla movie made by a trespassing band of filmmakers whose "making of story" has garnered more attention than the movie that got made.

As a movie fan, projects that deliberately offend or flaunt disrespect as their primary selling point, have worn on me to the point where I'm worn out. Moronic humor that mines laughs from stereotypes, splatter soaked violence for its sheer mechanics and scripts with "story" aspirations no higher than a pile of scat, make a mockery of every hard-at-work filmmaker in the business. And movies with hack, slight stories, that resort to "stunt" filming to garner attention, are a new and depressing reality.

Unfortunately here are three current offenders, two in theaters and one in the headlines, that fit this tiresome bill. Remarkably, the first is inexplicably laden with big name stars.

First, a few names you might recognize: Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Seth MacFarlane, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Uma Thurman, Gerard Butler, Halle Berry, Terrence Howard and Tony Shalhoub (smartly uncredited). There's a laundry list of more than three dozen very recognizable names salted over the credits of Movie 43, but politely I'll just say that the other names on the list aren't as surprising as the ones above.

Why all the righteous indignity? It's just a movie.

But it's not. It promotes itself with cheap shots, racist humor, and stereotyped characters frame to frame. It's a text book definition of lowest common denominator. And it's this: Hollywood is spectacular at glad-handing itself for simply doing what it gets paid to do. Actors who use an awards show appearance to spout ad nauseam on just how privileged they are to be in such a venerable and honored profession, lose all credibility lending their talent to taking the cheap shot and the easy check.

So enough with the false humility. Make the movie and take the check; no one blames you for making every cent you can. Or look on your profession as the art you proclaim it is and do it proud. Your call.

I imagine though, that the publicists, agents, studios and left behind loved ones, of any of the actors named above, would cringe in objection if a clip from Movie 43 were to be included in an Academy Awards memorial roll some day. Anna Faris, you're excused. Halle Berry, you most certainly are not.

Cringe worthy. Not the movie,
the marketing.
Next,  The ABC's of Death. Why in all of movie marketing is there a child on this poster? Why, while the movie industry finds itself standing against the wake of the all too real gun debate in an effort to defend itself from censorship and charges of gratuitous and exaggerated violence, does a movie laser focused on 26 ways to exhibit gore, have a child on its poster?

Magnet releasing boasts Mark Cuban as a partner and Mark Cuban should be slammed for this, exactly in the way he so gleefully slams officiating as an owner in the NBA. It is simply, outrageously inappropriate. I'll add that the trailer for this collection of film bits includes a scene of a man brutally fighting a vicious dog for sport, as a child is watching. I won't sink to actually including either the trailer or a link.

As a compilation of 26 shorts designed to evoke cringing, laughing or cheering death scenes, from an audience assumedly so disconnected from their conscious minds that they can tolerate the tedium of 26 back-to-back gory vignettes, this is a project that 26 film school fraternities might have tackled. But for fear of being banned from their respective campuses. If it makes money, there will be more. You've been warned.

And then there's the movie marketing itself by making headlines.

Say you've got a million bucks lying around and you want to make a movie. Once you've got a script, or at least an idea, well there's all that pesky stuff like sets, locations, cameras, lights and, oh yeah - permits to worry about. Well that seems like an unnecessary nuisance.

Members of the cast of Escape From Tomorrow filming
during an unannounced trip through a Disney attraction.
Mankurt Media, LLC.
At least it did to Randy Moore, the gorilla movie maker who not only decided permits were frivolous, but shot most of his movie, Escape from Tomorrow, on sets he had no permission to use - namely the permanent facades and street settings of Walt Disney World. The film was covertly shot during regular operating hours among thousands of oblivious park guests.

Moore even went as far as shooting inside attractions without permission, and without any regard to the distractions or intrusions he might be causing to guests around him - who, by the way, also plunked out admission prices to enjoy a theme park - not to be annoyed by someone stealing their film budget for the price of a park hopper pass.

The upshot of an incident that should obviously outrage the Disney Company, is that movie "journalists" are praising Mr. Moore's aggressiveness in getting his movie made and even questioning whether he has done anything wrong. One nano-second's glimpse at the precedent set here and a nightmare unfolds far worse than the fictional breakdown suffered by Escape From Tomorrow's lead character. Wanna make a movie set in a zoo, museum, tourist attraction, airplane, movie theater? Just buy a ticket. Need a scene in a popular restaurant, just order up dinner and shoot.

Disney should bring the weight of its entire organization, and its stockholder's concerns, down onto Mr. Moore's head with crushing speed. And if anyone remembers Mr. Moore's moviemaking antics ruining their magical guest experience, they should complain to the mouse house posthaste.

The idea that filmmakers of any caliber can simply commandeer a public or private space, large or small for personal gain, with disregard to rules, laws or simple considerations, is as outrageous as critics and movie journalists praising the effort. Perhaps those of you who applaud Mr. Moore as cleverly resourceful, would like to make your personal addresses public, just in case some aspiring auteur might like to make their next movie at your child's birthday party or your daughters wedding?

The Academy Awards approach. Great movies lie ahead. Moviedozer has more great trailers and new projects to talk about, so let's get back to celebrating this art form rather than pointing out its flaws. As always, your thoughts are very much welcome by clicking the comment button below.

Poster art is shown through the curtesy of its respective studio. Still frame from Escape to Tomorrow: Mankurt Media, LLC.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Great and Powerful marketing continues with new poster art from Oz.

As its March 8th release date draws near, Disney has released brand new poster art for Oz, The Great and Powerful showcasing its four leading characters.

Great costume reveals, more great backgrounds, and admit it, don't ya want a baby flying monkey bat for a pet? If Disney makes a toy out of that thing, I'd be first in line. Everything still points to Oz scoring a great and powerful opening weekend and the movie is still solidly in my picks as one of the top three grossers of blockbuster season.

In what may be the most artistic poster marketing campaign of all the blockbusters waiting to storm theaters this spring and summer, here's the latest from OZ. Click on any poster to go to the gallery.

 Poster design by BLT Communications, LLC. Posters curtesy of Walt Disney Studios.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Gun Show: Should Movies be any part of America's debate on gun violence?

In the constant drone of cable news and in hushed conversations on the back lots and secluded offices of Hollywood studios, the debate has begun, again.

It's an unavoidable point of discussion. A sign of the times.

It is a debate that spurs far more questions than answers. Questions that build, one to the next, with increasing intensity and complexity.

For this post, it begins here: Should movies be part of today's gun debate? I wish I could simply answer no.

As a writer and a movie fan, that's what I believe. That, regardless of perception, entertainment is just that and nothing more. Storytelling. Not propaganda, not soapbox, not a mood altering, visceral attempt at persuasion. Except, that movies are, and have been, all of that.

In a sane world, a reasonable world, my opinion is clear. Entertainment, no matter how provocative, should not be censored. Why defer that choice to someone else's sensibilities when you have the power of personal censorship within your own control? Shut it off, don't see it, don't buy it, don't consume it, don't promote it. Each to his or her own.

However, movies are entertainment and entertainment is experiential. And while the experience is individual, I recognize that the potential impact of the experience is collective. And so, regardless of my view, I agree that movies have entered the debate with reason.

But is that debate purposeful or is it overreaching? Should we consider the impact of only movies? Or should we discuss TV shows, books, journalism, 24 hour cable news, conversations at the water cooler, political email blasts, web blogs, or any spontaneous consumption of public information? Before the debate can be substantive, is there even agreement on its scope?

Should we explore the perception of incitement? Are violent movies an instigation or only an artistic representation of American culture, not influencing, but rather influenced by, the violence we seem resigned to accept in every day life? Did the movie or the violent act come first?

An examination then of subject? Can you tell stories of the old west, the 40's era of Chicagoland prohibition, or a modern day bank heist without guns in the film frame? Or do we cease telling those stories?

Should we sanitize the images of weapons to look somehow less lethal? Should a bullet striking a person not draw blood? Do we more inadvertently desensitize death by making it sterile or a bloody, gory mess?

If you find that you've been rattling off quick answers, you're not part of the solution, if there is one. Rather, I would hope, you're realizing the complexity and depth of the issues that these questions barely scratch.

Now take another step into the difficulty of this issue. We are looking at a genuine life and death debate. Albeit, one that raises issues of freedom, censorship, constitutional rights, and the civil liberties that are cornerstone to our democracy. And we are looking through reasoned but passionately opinionated eyes. All while we are attempting to legislate insanity.

How and to whom do you affix responsibility? Is a film that depicts gun violence as an intolerable crime acceptable, while a film that shows slaughter with indiscrimination and sensationalized imagery an outrage? Can we say that there is a discernible difference to the mind of a sociopath? Can images on a theater screen be any influence at all to a mind fogged with hatred, paranoia or delusion?

Is there anyway to put a trigger guard on someone hell bent to kill? Can a mere movie push an individual committed to violence, to ultimately act? And if so, how does a movie produced to entertain, mutate into the motivation to take life? Does storytelling of a violent nature unintentionally and unavoidably condone violence in its telling?

Movies are part of the gun debate. But should they be? Is their inclusion in America's gun violence debate only a sideshow? A diversion from focusing on the more requisite discussions at hand. Intelligent debate regarding the proliferation of high-capacity ammunition magazines, semi-automatic firearms, limits and registrations and the repair of our mental health system, all hold the potential for far more direct impact.

Are we looking at movies because it is simply an easier topic?

To engage in a conversation that is more readily controlled and contained, rather than confront the line in the sand drawn by gun activists who would wage a virtual arms war, as preparation to defend themselves from their own self-elected government?

Is it possible to have a truthful and reasonable debate about ending the mass destruction of life and lives by gun violence in America? Or will Americans settle instead, into a debate about violence in our culture? Specifically a movie culture, that is now exported globally more widely than in any other time in history. Yet the violence remains, overwhelmingly, America's problem.

Is America's debate on gun violence then, nothing more than a Gun Show? A transparent soothing of nerves without substance or effect? And if so, how should it influence reasonable people to act? To so very many questions, most certainly, movies are not at the core of any of the answers we continue to struggle toward. To use a film production term, we need to pull focus. Now.

Movie posters are for current releases and are used through the curtesy of their studios. No indication of their story content is implied.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Art of the Trailer: Selling true stories.

Certainly in the running for one of the most talked about and soon to be most honored films of 2012, was Steven Spileberg's long gestating project, Lincoln. The collaboration between a master filmmaker and the consummate actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, has allowed audiences to witness a historical epic set around a brief but crucial moment in the life and presidency of a figure many believe to be the greatest man to have ever held the office.

Historical events and personages have always provided Hollywood, and movie makers around the globe, with some of the most compelling story material available. Historical epics, no matter how accurate or fictionalized, have provided audiences with wonderful experiences in movie theaters for more than a century.

This time on Art of the Trailer, I've highlighted two upcoming films that pull their stories from historical context. 42 tells the story of two courageous men who broke through barriers many thought were unbreakable. A story, in fact, that finds its seeds planted with the story of Lincoln as well.

Chadwick Boseman in 42
The other is the trailer for Emperor, a story set at the end of World War II that follows a decision that held the weight of shaping world events for decades after the surrender of Japan.

The challenge of trailers like these are to sell something more than just the story; the story is widely known and as history, so is the ending. The art of the trailer is to establish a point-of-view for a story we may not know, as seen through the eyes of a spectator to that history who's role may not be familiar.

In the case of 42, we watch events unfold through the relationship that builds between the lead players. Men who accepted the challenge to change other people's entrenched attitudes. In the case of Emperor, we see things through the eyes of a man who's name isn't generally well known as a part of the historical text, yet was charged with advising Gen. Douglas MacArthur in his actions directly following the end of the war.

Matthew Fox in Emperor
To then set these personal stories against convincing backgrounds of period and place and convey, in just minutes, that world and its intricacies, are the challenges in elevating the craft of a marketing trailer to the level of art.

Here are the trailers for 42 and Emperor. Do you feel they convey enough to convince you to buy a movie ticket? And if you're ready to buy the ticket, does the craft exercised in the trailer approach the promise of artistic merit in the full length film?

42 is written and directed by Brian Helgeland and stars Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson and Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. The Warner Bros. release is scheduled for U.S. theatrical release on April 12th.

Emperor is directed by Peter Weber and stars Tommy Lee Jones as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and
Matthew Fox as General Bonner Fellers. The Lionsgate U.S. release is scheduled for March 8th.

Thanks to Warner Bros. and Lionsgate. Special thanks to RoadsideFlix for making the Emperor trailer available without auto-start or ads. Photo from 42 by D. Stevens, ©Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC. Photo from Emperor by Kirstie Griffin, ©Fellers Film, LLC.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tarantino unchains the power of great characters.

Quentin Tarantino makes violent films. When a bullet hits a body part it doesn't dribble with blood, it explodes under pressure. Unnecessary gore for sensationalism? No, rock solid storytelling.

Take a little time to see into the filmmaking and you'll begin to see that Tarantino's exaggerated violence preps his canvas for telling fantastic tales. The heightened violence serving as a tool to remind your subconscious that your watching a movie while you consciously, and eagerly, journey into the screen with Tarantino's amazing characters.

I doubt I could have accepted the extremes of Quentin Tarantino's latest film, Django Unchained, shot any other way. And that thought, I realized, runs back through films like Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill, all the way to Pulp Fiction.

Tarantino's characters are so deliberate, so unapologetic and written into such extreme situations, that their world must be pushed, like saturating the color palette of film stock, to provide continuity to their story. The blend of putting extreme characters against a background of exaggerated violence acts to create a baseline for the story's reality that seems perfectly natural.

If it's the taught stretching of the background canvas that allows it, it's a masterwork of invention that creates the characters that sell it. Django Unchained is filled, edge to blood splattered edge, with brilliant characters.

Christoph Waltz as King Shultz and Jamie Foxx as Django

Django squares off with
 Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie
The lead characters, good guys and bad guys, though their actions make those delineations blur, are literally (as in its Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated screenplay), surrounded with supporting characters so well written that many only require moments on screen to embed themselves into the story. Django, King Schultz and Calvin Candie, played respectively by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio are written and directed to perfection, delivering a trio of unforgettable performances. And in the case of Christoph Watlz, winning this year's Golden Globe for Supporting Actor as well as an Oscar nomination.

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen
with Kerri Washington as Broomhilda
But there are also a script full of superlative characters and compelling performances in every segment and set piece of the film.  Samuel L. Jackson nearly startles as the house slave Stephen. Star turns continue with Don Johnson as the racist plantation owner Big Daddy, Walton Goggins as the vengeful plantation hired hand Billy Crash, Ato Essandoh in a brief but wrenching turn as runaway slave D'Artagnan, even Tarantino's cameo establishes a memorable character (with a signature and memorable demise).

Don Johnson as Big Daddy
Then there's the sense of fun that Mr. Tarantino brings to filmmaking that is so unabashedly and resoundingly rooted in his own favorite film genres as to further defuse any sense of outrage at his gleeful desire to shock. In just the opening titles, music, title fonts and camera movements evoke not just what's ahead, but what lies well behind. An immediate, respectful and joyous bow to those films that have influenced and inspired the director's work.

It's there in the soundtrack which ranges from spaghetti western homage to hip hop, with Jim Croce's I Got A Name thrown, somehow perfectly, into the mix. It's there too in casting, from a cameo and credited tribute to Franco Nero (the original Django from the 1966 classic spaghetti western), to a virtual parade of wonderful character appearances by the likes of Tom Wopat, Russ and Amber Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Jonah Hill, Robert Carradine, Ted Neely, Michael Parks and a host of other famous names and faces. You'll have to look close to know they're there, but you only need to watch the movie to appreciate why they're there.

Quentin Tarantino, in character.
Django Unchained should absolutely be on your list of movies to see before the Academy Awards on February 24th. But as an example of stellar screenwriting and wonderfully informed casting and directing, this is a film to own in a collection. A film to be studied and appreciated as Quentin Tarantino builds toward a catalog of masterworks. Django Unchained is a movie to be enjoyed for the sheer fun of watching.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Golden Globes, all this and a President too.

Coming on the weekend following the Oscar nomination announcements, last night's Golden Globe Awards telecast pushed the Oscar buzz, along with Awards season in general, into high gear. Refreshingly hosted by Tina Fey and pal Amy Poehler, the show, famous for not taking itself too seriously, remained relatively light and breezy with only the occasional rambling acceptance speech or flat joke to stall its progress.
To the credit of its producers, NBC's local news programs kicked in precisely at 11pm as regularly scheduled. And for those looking to future events, Ms. Poehler established herself as perfectly capable, and quite appealingly so, of handling solo hosting duties effortlessly. The Academy Awards should take note.

Lucy and Ethel   Tina and Amy.
So here's what the 70th Annual Golden Globes taught those of us who were paying attention to what was happening rather than what people were wearing.

Ben Affleck
First, go see Argo. Ben Affleck had a very nice night. After missing out on an Academy Awards nomination, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the folks behind the Golden Globes, honored Actor/Producer/Director Affleck with awards for Best Director and Best Motion Picture, Drama. If you're handicapping the Oscars, there's nothing to see here but if you're a fan of solid moviemaking, and haven't seen it yet, Argo deserves a place on your "to see" list as both a great night at the movies and a showcase of the talent that will have Affleck climbing award show steps for years to come.

Quentin Tarantino
Next, regardless of the goofy exterior package, Quentin Tarantino has again proved that his talent as a director and storyteller are rooted in his extraordinary talent as a writer. Tarantino's Django Unchained scored Golden Globes for his own Best Screenplay as well as netting the honor of Best Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz. Tarantino has reached a career point where he must be recognized as one of the finest and most gifted American Screenwriters in Hollywood's history of substantive action films.

Finally, Lincoln. That word used to call to mind only a bearded man in a top hat whose strength and ability to understand historically proportioned events, influenced the course of a young nation. But for movie fans it has also become a touchstone for the careers of Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg. Daniel Day-Lewis indeed won the Best Actor, Drama honor for his work, exactly as he will come Oscar night.

But it was a presenter, not an award, that defined the magnitude of Mr. Spielberg's talent as a movie Producer and Director. To introduce the clip of Lincoln during the show, the presenter who took to the podium was none other than former President Bill Clinton. An entirely appropriate surprise and impressive to the point of show stopping. If this is the guy that introduced Lincoln for the Golden Globes, who on Earth could possibly follow him at the Oscars?

There are other great films that were recognized last night, along with lots of great television. Les Misérables, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook and Disney Pixar's Brave all merit your attention and ticket dollars. As the Oscars approach, there's still time to see why movies remain such a fantastic form of entertainment and that the films honored last night benchmark a trend toward increasingly high standards of artistic and technical quality.

Congratulations to all of those honored.

Thanks to NBC and the HFPA for use of images from last night's broadcast.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The 2013 Oscar Nominations. And the winners will be...

The nominations for the 2013 Academy Awards were announced live in Hollywood at 5:38am by this year's Oscars Host Seth MacFarlane and actress Emma Stone. MacFarlane quipped that the only other people up at 5 in the morning in LA were either catching a plane or scheduled for surgery.

So let's get right down to the business of the day. Here are the nominees AND my early picks for who will win and who I'll be rooting for. As I said in yesterday's post, the prediction thing is fairly pointless so why not pick them early and avoid all of the anxiety? And besides, if I get anything right, I'll look like a movie savant.

The nominees are...

Leading Actor: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Denzel Washington (Flight).

And the Oscar goes to: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln - because the man has become acting royalty among fellow actors and directors. (I think he may be blackmailing all six Hollywood studios, but I'm only guessing.) I don't have a favorite here and I kinda think this will be the least interesting award of the night. Much more drama in who will take home the prize for makeup and hairstyling.

Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained).

The Oscar goes to: Phillip Seymour Hoffman for The Master. I'm rooting for Tommy Lee Jones just because he'd be more fun to have a beer with.

Leading Actress: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Naomi Watts (The Impossible.

The Oscar goes to: Naomi Watts in The Impossible. I'd love to see a tie between Emmanuelle Riva, the oldest nominee ever and Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest, just to see them on stage together making Oscar history.

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook).

The Oscar goes to: Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables. I'll be rooting for Ms. Hathaway simply because her gut wrenching turn as Fantine, even in trailers, was enough to make me think I didn't want to upset myself by actually going to see the movie. A reaction I usually only have to the goriest horror flicks.

Animated Feature: Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Wreck-it Ralph.

The Oscar goes to: Brave. But picture this - how great would it be to have Sir Anthony Hopkins in full character as Alfred Hitchcock announce Frankenweenie? Now that's entertainment.

Director: Amour - Michael Haneke, Beasts of the Southern Wild - Benh Zeitlin, Life of Pi - Ang Lee, Lincoln - Steven Spielberg, Silver Linings Playbook - David O. Russell.

The Oscar goes to: Steven Spielberg - Lincoln. Let's face it, he knew in his heart that in the some alternate Hollywood reality, L-I-N-C-O-L-N spells O-S-C-A-R. It would be fun if Michael Haneke won for Amour just so millions of people watching would simultaneously wonder out loud "what the hell was Amour?"

Best Picture: (there are 9 nominees this year) Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty.

And the big, marketing blitz, bragging rights, re-release pending, winner is: wait for it... Les Misérables. This will be the gasp out loud YES! of the evening. At least if you're a Les Mis' fan.
And how great would it be to see Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis whip their folded Oscar programs into the heads of Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway as the winner is announced?

For true movie fans, the rest of the categories are listed below. But picking a winner for best live action short likely only interests the film makers and Oscar partygoers who need a tiebreaker to win the microwave popcorn and free movie passes. There are some great movies nominated here too, so pay attention. This may be where you find a movie that could become a lifetime favorite. My picks are underlined.

Feature Documentary: 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Searching for Sugar Man.

Short Subject Documentary: Inocente, King's Point, Mondays at Racine, Open Heart, Redemption.

Film Editing: Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty.

Foreign Language Film: Amour (Austria), Kon-Tiki (Norway), No (Chile), A Royal Affair (Denmark), War Witch (Canada).

Makeup and Hairstyling: Hitchcock, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Misérables.

Original Score: Anna Karenina, Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall.

Original Song: Before My Time (Chasing Ice), Everybody Needs A Best Friend (Ted), Pi's Lullaby (Life of Pi), Skyfall (Skyfall), Suddenly (Les Misérables).

Production Design: Anna Karenina, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln.

Animated Short: Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head over Heels, Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare", Paperman.

Live Action Short: Asad, Buzkashi Boys, Curfew, Death of a Shadow (Dood van ten Schaduw), Henry.

Sound Editing: Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty.

Sound Mixing: Argo, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall.

Visual Effects: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, Marvel's The Avengers, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman.

Adapted Screenplay: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook.

Original Screenplay: Amour, Django Unchained, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty.

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln leads all other films with 12 nominations. The 85th Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, February 24th and telecast live on ABC television.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Oscar noms tomorrow, AM. Be there or sleep.

There are very few things in this world that are scheduled for 5:30 in the morning that I pay any attention to. In fact, that I'm even aware may have happened. Regardless of what time zone I find myself in, I really like to be sleeping at 5:30 AM.

If I was an actor and, after a presumably really good year, there was talk of getting nominated for an Academy Award, part of my agent's commission would be earned by getting up at 5:30 tomorrow morning to find out if he or she needed to wake me and take me to lunch, say around 11:30, to let me know I had just gotten an Oscar nomination.

We all have to have a priorities list. I find sleep, particularly in the AM, rather high on mine.

This post is my effort to share my pain as I set my alarm tonight, so that I might be conscious enough to absorb just who the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (and early risers) nominates for one of their precious gold statuettes. As I'm on the east coast, I'll be gulping coffee to one of the morning network shows at 8:30. If I really had to be up at 5:30, I'd likely hit the snooze and start writing a blog about baseball next week. (Yo Ho, Yo Ho, the writer's life for me.)

So wherever you might find yourself tomorrow morning, go ahead and go to work on time, sleep in if you can or simply go about your daily affairs and irresponsibly put the burden of reporting this once a year golden moment to me.

I may not bleed for my art, but for you, my readers, I'll roll out from under my down-filled covers, punch my coffee maker as if it were a broken vending machine and muster as much attention as my sleep deprived brain can summon, so that sometime tomorrow, whenever the heck you feel like it, you can simply pop onto Moviedozer and see who got nominated.

And if you do, there's a special bonus. As soon as the list is up, I'll tell you who's going to win. Since predictions are all relatively silly anyway, why wait to make them?

I think I'll go take a nap.

Thank you to ABC and the Academy Awards for use of the Oscar graphics. Watch the Oscars Awards telecast on ABC on February 24th.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Will you pay to see this Movie? Jaden and Will Smith in After Earth

What makes you decide to see a movie? That questions seems to demand more consideration with each passing year.

After years of slowly escalating ticket prices, particularly in major cities, Hollywood embraced IMAX and 3D as excuses for significant surges in pricing. (And there are more bells and whistles ahead to draw you into those empty seats.) Suddenly a ticket to spend 2 hours in a movie theater can surpass the cost of a download that can be watched every night of the year.

As Home theater capability became more advanced, and more spectacular, average movie theater outings lost some luster too. Why trudge to a crowded, distracting theater when you could swap those soda-sticky floors and broken seats for carpets and couches in your own living room? With the coming of $300 HD TVs, even college students found more reasons to stay home.

My guess is, outside of event movies, deciding to catch a first run release is, for nearly everyone, a decision weighed against a slew of convenience and practicality considerations. With the exception of just looking for a night out of the house, what do you need to know about a movie up front, before you decide to pop open your smart phone app and find a showtime?

As an occasional post, I'll highlight an upcoming film that has the makings of a potential successful release but may have some real negatives attached. A movie with promise that I'd have a hard time marketing - just who, and where, is the audience?

That film for this post is After Earth, and the question I'm asking is this: Is Jaden Smith a movie star?

More to the point, is Jaden Smith, as opposed to "Will Smith's son" Jaden Smith, an honest to Hollywood box-office draw? Because the trailer suggests that it's Jaden whose got the camera pointing at him in front of a future Earth that's color coated in CGI critters and special effects.

Dad's there alright, but perhaps more important than his role as Cypher Raige, father to Jaden's character, Kitai Raige, is his role of real life dad, lending his own star power to get his son into his first starring role as a teen (Jaden's now 14). You may have noticed that it's Jaden's name that precedes his famous father's on the movie poster.

Jaden, as many know, has already done a star turn in 2010's remake of The Karate Kid, an unarguable success at $177 million in U.S. box-office. But kid spunkiness doesn't easily translate to teen superstar.

And there's another huge question mark hanging over this production. Is the future of After Earth tied at all to its director? After Earth comes after a string of underperforming, overly gimmicky and sometimes infuriatingly vapid films like Signs, Lady in the Water, The Happening and Devil. Is there an audience segment out there clamoring to see the next M. Night Shyamalan movie? The director also heads up the writing credit list, a team of 4 credited in total. And the senior Mr. Smith credits a line as Producer.

The first feature trailer has a state-of-the-art, slick, big budget look that may feel a little too cliché for a little too long. Special effects are borrowed and landscapes are, by now, nearly stock footage staples. The tag of the trailer contains the revelation that these characters are on Earth. If that's the extent of the surprises in store, your degree of being entertained may be in direct correlation to your exposure to science fiction movies, or lack there of, over the last twenty years.

There is a line though. "...danger is very real but fear is a choice." The lesson and inspiration for survival comes from that single line and could promise at least, a futuristic coming-of-age story.

But if After Earth suffers from Mr. Shymalan's penchant for a gimmick ending, it could also suggest a real life storyline - it may not be wise to hang your kid's acting career on a questionable writer/director. The danger for a career is also very real.

After Earth is being released by Columbia Pictures and follows some of the summer's biggest blockbuster releases with its June 7th debut. Do you know someone who will add After Earth to their summer must see list? Is this strictly a kid movie? Take a look at the trailer below and answer the question for yourself -

Will you pay to see this movie?

NOTE: Read an update to this post at: "The Art of Movie Marketing: After Earth finds its strengths." on Moviedozer.com. - the editor.