Monday, September 26, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Denzel saves Hollywood with the help of 6 charismatic weirdos!

Film Economics: A helpful illustration

Skot and I were trading quips on Facebook this morning (as oft we do) and this exchange, about the cost of The Magnificent Seven, occurred.

Skot Christopherson Could be. The town gets pretty wrecked in the course of the film, so it is likely this wasn't filmed on a standing set. It's also a runaway production, shot in New Mexico and Louisiana: Guess that isn't a bargain anymore.
LikeReply2 hrs
Daniel Krause It's probably still a bargain, just LESS of one.
LikeReply12 hrs

"Runaway production", you probably know, refers to a movie shot away from Los Angeles. In previous years it was a sound strategy because even though you had to fly a good deal of your staff across the country to, say, North Carolina, the cost of local labor and goods far was much much lower and you could save a bundle. In recent years, non-Hollywood towns have started asking more from productions, because they know they can still get it.

This last weekend I have an experience which illustrates this process surprisingly well.

I needed a new mattress to replace my aging queen size. I had heard a company called Caspar advertising a memory foam mattress and was enchanted by the idea, because I'm fed up with springs, plus you can ship a foam mattress in a box that's an eighth of the size because foam compresses. However, Caspar sells for around 800 bucks. I discarded the idea and put a new mattress aside for a while.

This week though, I started looking at options on Amazon and discovered a memory foam mattress for about $160, comparable to a new spring mattress. I ordered it up and it arrived, in its 5x1x1 foot box, on Friday afternoon. I unboxed it and laid it out on my carpet, letting it expand to its full size overnight, then swapped it out with my old mattress, which I leaned on the bedroom wall.

I swear this is about to go somewhere.

When you buy a mattress at a store, they will deliver it for you and take away your old mattress as a courtesy. Amazon doesn't want your old mattress. So I started looking online for some recycler who would haul it away for free, and learned to my horror that in fact, nobody does. Some will haul it for a fee. Goodwill and the Salvation army won't take them, and they certainly won't pick them up. If there is someone who will pick up a mattress for free in California, I wasn't able to find them. And it's illegal to just leave them by the trash.

I spent 45 minutes surfing around researching this, then I lay down on my new mattress and looked at the old one leaning on the wall and said "oh God, that thing is going to be there for the next four months because I know how I operate." I thought about it again for a few minutes, then gave up. I'll figure it out later, I thought. For now, I'll go downstairs and check the mail.

And as I approached my mailbox - there was a BRAND NEW MATTRESS SET leaning on the wall outside one of my neighbors apartment.

I waited until the delivery guys came out of the place and approached one of them. "I got a queen size upstairs I have to get rid of. You want it?" He said he'd take a look. I let him in, he eyeballed the mattress and nodded, and we carried it down the flight of stairs. Once outside he put down his end and said, "How much?"

"It's free," I explained.

"How much to take it?"

I guess he had realized that I was getting something for nothing. "How much do you want?" I asked. "Ten" he replied.

I thought about it for a split second before I gave him a ten in cash. He walked away with my mattress.

So who won this negotiation? I don't know how much a service charges to pick up a mattress (weird lack of detail on those websites) look at it this way - a mattress removal service dropped out of the sky and landed at my feet, without my having to book a time and wait around for it. I bought a miracle for $10 bucks. And that's peanuts. Or memory foam peanuts.

Point is, whatever that town charged Sony/Columbia, it was probably less their own backlot would have. And that, guerro, is a miracle.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Audiences avoid Bridget Jones' Baby, terrified of her new face. Thanks to

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Tom Hanks, in a startling turn, plays a captain who has to make a difficult decision and it's based on a true story! Thanks to Box Office Mojo for numbers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Hope you had a happy labor day weekend, doing whatever you did, which clearly was not watching movies.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Weekend Box Office

Slow week. Slow, hot and sweaty.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Brilliant Hack Work of "Stranger Things"

The one-sheet by Kyle Lambert.  I would
call this composition form "Drew Struzan
Baroque:" The color fields, grouping
and eye-lines are nearly identical to
any number of his 1980's posters.
Watched all 8 episodes of this Netflix series in short order: it’s slow and convention-bound in the first few episodes, but it soon stretches out into a satisfying-- if strangely derivative-- science fiction/horror series.

In 1983 Indiana, a young boy suddenly vanishes after a game of D and D with his friends. This sparks several searches and investigations by the missing boy’s friends, family and local authorities, which soon start turning up something unsettling, malevolent and supernatural lurking in the woods outside town. At the same time a strange girl appears, an escapee from a secret government site, embodied with telekinetic powers-- who may prove to be the key to finding the missing boy.

Millie Bobby Brown as "Eleven." Apparently
that buzz cut was not all that easy to achieve.
The direction in these eight episodes is remarkable. The visual style is striking, the art direction is thorough and the individual shots are extremely well-composed (in 1.85:1 Spherical Widescreen, the most popular aspect ratio in the 1980s). The central cast are young teenagers, and every one of them offers realistic, emotive performances— in particular Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the mysterious Eleven. Strong performances by children is an indication of a strong director— or, in the cases of some episodes, directors (the show's creators, the Duffer Brothers).

The Duffer Brothers with Winona Rider on the
set of "Stranger Things." Or is this an homage
to Dead Ringers (1988)?

As stated in the title "Stranger Things" is, nonetheless, “hack work of the highest order.*” A little Poltergeist and E.T. here, a little Evil Dead and Firestarter there, litter the sets with vintage movie posters, and it's a solid tribute to the era. If you were able to subtract these period elements, I doubt there would be enough to fill a single hour-long episode. The title sequence is a well-imitated optical-effect-looking shot, complete with negative specks and vintage fonts (Korinna and Avant Garde). As solid and satisfying as the main plot threads are, there are also weak subplots about bullies and ex-husbands and past loss. Still,  "Stranger Things" is very much worth a good binge-- If anything, it’s fun to watch the show and pick up the 80’s references as they come, flashing like bulbs on a string of Christmas lights.

A few notes:

Castroville in da house!
Acknowledgement of a classic era: “Stranger Things” is set in 1983-- and going past the period setting,it just strip-mines the cinema and popular culture of this era. This was a good choice, as it was a remarkably fecund time for original science fiction, horror and fantasy. Bladerunner, E.T., Mad Max 2, Excalibur, Dragonslayer, Heavy Metal, Conan the Barbarian, The Dead Zone, John Carpenter’s The Thing, The Shining, Poltergeist, The Evil Dead and especially Firestarter were all released around this show’s setting. “Stranger Things” is a pastiche of many of these works, perhaps underscored with a narrative form borrowed from Stephen King. So this isn’t an mere exercise in period visual authenticity: it is also a reworking of genres, kept inside the generic rules of the era. It’s less like, say, “The Americans” or “Fargo,” which are set in past eras, and more like The Artist (2011), which reproduced the narrative and social trappings of the silent era in a silent film.

Cinematic New Mexico: this was the name of a TV and movie trope where cell phones are useless. In the days before wireless become omnipresent horror stories were often set in rural areas, so the instant communication afforded by cell technology was eliminated, which increased the isolation of the characters and intensified the drama. ("New Mexico" was, for a time, a mythical movie region where cell phones didn't work.) 1983 was definitely the pre-cellphone era. This allows places like a regular rural house to be completely cut off and vulnerable to attack from inter-dimensional monsters. The filmmakers even hang a lantern on this by having a regular land-line phone fry into uselessness not once, but twice. This was obviously not the entire reason to set “Stranger Things” in the pre-cellphone past, but it sure didn’t hurt.

Local Angle: Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), a friend of the missing boy,  wears a “Castroville Artichoke Festival” t-shirt for several episodes. It’s totally unmotivated— He lives in Hawkins, Indiana: Castroville is in Central California, south of Santa Cruz. I do appreciate the shout-out.

* h/t to Jared N. Wright, who coined this one-line summary. Once he wrote it, I couldn’t get past it, so I just included it.