Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Survey SAYS!

Mental Floss here posts few odd but delicious facts about game show hosts. My favorite concerned Jack Narz, whose very name is an odd but delicious fact.

One of his TV gigs was as the off-camera announcer in the two-part pilot episode of The Adventures of Superman. Narz was paid $150 for saying “Join us every week for the adventures of Superman!”, and then received a royalty check for $1.98 for the rest of his life any time that episode was aired.
Did you know that Wink Martindale was in at the ground floor of Elvis' career? And Bob Eubanks had a similar position for the Beatles? Terrifying.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Weekend Box Office

Hope you got nice Numbers! for Christmas.

It's all downhill from here, the big Xmas weekend. The holiday drives people into the theatres in a big way, perhaps because it's an acceptable way to escape your visiting relatives. And more people escaped to Pandora, the world depicted in Avatar, than anywhere else: $75 million and change, only down 2% from opening weekend. Joel Silver's Sherlock Holmes (okay, Silver had nothing to do with it, but the gratuitous action has his grubby fingerprints all over it) did almost as well, opening with a very solid $62 million in #2 place.

#3 goes to Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. It made $48 million, which means that there must be a lot of very, very dedicated parents out there. #4 new movie is the "comedy" It's Complicated, which pulled down $22 million on the strength of sheer star power.

Sadly, plucky little From Mexico With Love drops down to the bottom of the chart again. At #71 it earned $10. Yes, for the whole holiday weekend. Feliz Navidad!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Vegas Hosts Own Metaphor!

A wishing well outside the new Aria Hotel.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weekend Box Office

Numbers can be seen here.

Wow! Sony newcomer comedy Did You Hear About The Morgans premieres in the top ten, no doubt aided by the presence of Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, plus a savvy ad campaign based largely in busses and internet banner ads. The excitement, palpable; the take for the weekend, over $6 million!

Oh yeah there was another newcomer this week that did okay also. Broke a few records - biggest non-sequel opening, biggest 3D opening, best use of Smurfs. Can't recall the name. It's like I 'ave a tar ball in my brain or something.

Meanwhile, things are looking up for From Mexico With Love. The perpetual loser is up 150% from last weekend! It made $140 at TWO theatres and has climbed to third from last place. That's a per screen of $70, versus $22,000 for a certain other picture, but me I always root for the under perro.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Spirit of Xmas

So last night I'm at the Karaoke Bar (there's a sentence that will shave off a few readers) at the table with the books and the sign-up slips. This woman with an impossible figure and a cute knit-wool cap walks up, takes the pen out of my hand and starts writing on her own slip. "Hope you don't mind," she says. I joke, "It's okay, I'm a survivor. I like your hat." She ignores me, fills out her slip and hands it in, and we don't speak to each other for the rest of the evening.

For half the night, I'm thinking, what weird behavior! If she had been flirting she would have responded somehow to the hat remark. If she wasn't flirting, why not take one of the other 20 pens from that cup o' pens? I puzzled over that between my renditions of Fly Me To The Moon and Baby, It's Cold Outside.

Gradually, from glancing over at her and her friends at the table, I surmised that she and her friends were in the porn industry. I don't recognize individuals in the business, but as a tribe they all sport a certain look.... like rockstars as drawn by comic-book artists. Shoulda realized it immediately. I live in the West San Fernando Valley, near the epicenter of porn, Reseda. These people are as common as barristas in my neck of the woods.

They were pretty good singers too.

It's strange but this chance encounter and the realization that such larger-than-life types are always within reach finally gave me the Christmas Spirit that I've found so elusive this year. It's just heartwarming to be around people who can make a living out of entertainment, even in these recessionary times. It may not be entertainment that I endorse, but I put them higher than reality show producers.

When Christmas Day comes, I'll be in Las Vegas, probably talking to hookers about the economics of their business. In Las Vegas, there is almost no Christmas. It's like it doesn't exist there. So this little epiphany I had last night is almost certainly as close as I'll get to that Xmas Feeling. I suppose I'll start calling it NC-17mas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just Seen: Avatar

Hey, I'm back.

I was actually motivated to go see James Cameron's new film at it's midnight opening screening. This is where insomnia can be something of a benefit.

Hell of a good film. It's a must-see, because you've never seen anything like this before. Pandora, the world Cameron has created in this film, is a wonder to behold. There is visual invention in practically every scene, amazingly vivid landscapes, animals and plants, rendered in astounding detail. The 3-D is extraordinary, quite natural-looking and understated. It drew me into the world of the film so convincingly that when a speck of dust or falling leaf fell “close,” I flinched.

There are only a few scenes that betray the film's fully digital origins, some suspect surface mapping or impossible physics: Still, Avatar is as fully realized visually as Peter Jackson's Middle Earth. (and why not: he used WETA, the Kiwi effects house that did the Rings trilogy.) It's a big, epic movie, and you should definitely see it on a big, big screen.

Having said all that, I left the theatre (at 3 a.m.) feeling a bit hollow, mostly because the story was kinda flat. James Cameron is obviously betting that, like Titanic, expensive visuals and familiar, crowd-pleasing story will carry the film to success. He's going to win that bet-- but I can't help but feel a bit disappointed.

I'm not going to claim to be a “writing snob” because of the Austin thing: It's just that you can feel Avatar drag it's story along like so much dead weight. For instance, the first 25 minutes or so is pure exposition: Characters verbally setting the plot into motion. Sometimes you really need expo, but trusting the audience and using some shorthand would have carved 20 minutes out of it.

And I called the ending about an hour or so ahead of time. Man, that bugs me. Sigourney Weaver's character utters one line at about the two-thirds mark (I won't spoil it) and from there I know exactly how the last act was going to play out. It's a shame, because I know James Cameron is a director capable of creating amazing surprises in his storytelling: Terminator, T2, and Aliens all had nifty plot twists. Alright, we all knew how Titanic ended before we saw it, right?

The more I think about it, the more I realize the plot is a thematic mash-up of all of his previous films: A fascination with military stuff, tough women soldiers and Vietnam-era hardware; bioluminescence; doomed romance; Corporate bad guys; skinny aliens.

All that being said, it's still a must-see. Because even considering the predictability of the plot, it's not a sequel, a “reboot” or a comic book. Taken at that level, it's as original a story as there is.

Odds, Ends

Will 'Avatar' Make Viewers Nauseous?

Depends on your tolerance for big eyes.

Michael Jackson tribute concert scrapped

Was to have featured a rare appearance by Michael's old nose.

'Mr. Lincoln' returns to Disneyland after 5-year absence

The audioanimatronic figure has been in rehab, and has never felt better. Also all lawsuits stemming from Lincoln's drunken attack of a little boy named Douglas in 2004 have been settled; Douglas has been given a complete set of Toy Story action figures, lifetime admission to Club 33 and 24-hour access to Ashley Tisdale.

Deus Ex CSI

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Enjoy it While You Can, Sony

An interesting little international tidbit:

MUMBAI -- Roland Emmerich's "2012" has become the highest grossing Hollywood film ever in India collecting more than Rupees 900 million ($19.2 million) in five weeks on release so far, Sony Pictures India has revealed.
2007 release "Spider-Man 3" held the previous record of $14.2 million.

"2012" is now the second highest grossing film of the year in India after Rajkumar Santoshi's "Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani," which has grossed more than $21 million.
That record could easily hold all the way to the flooding on India, three years from now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Weekend Box Office


Little girls like princesses, little boys like frogs... we can't lose! Or so Disney Inc might have calculated when they greenlit The Princess and The Frog. Whatever the strategy, it paid off; Number 1, $24 million, after a couple of weeks of limited release. Meanwhile, director Clint Eastwood's Invictus earns ok money for Oscar-bait: #3 at $8 mil and change. He coulda called it GOAL! and made 2 million more.

Bullock's The Blind Side comes in at #2. You know it has made over $149 mil so far? Now that's good Oscar bait.

Hola Amigos! The failure of the week (and remember, the real failure are never released) again is From Mexico with Love, pulling down $56 bucks and coming in at #100. Don't give up! That's over twice last week's total!

Monday, December 14, 2009


I'll say this about bad weather; it gives me an excuse to catch up on my TV. Thus this week I consumed the entire A&E remake of The Prisoner.

Presold property or not, it's hard to imagine a product more likely to piss off its target audience. And man, does this series annoy the fans. Typical is this comment from the IMDb listing:

As a fan of the original Prisoner I can't begin to say how incredibly disappointed I am with this "remake". The "plot" is non-existent and makes no sense.
There are 82 comments at this writing; they're almost all by fans of the original series and they all hate the new series. And I think they all hate it for the wrong reasons.

At the risk of seeming unmutual, let me play Number 2's advocate here and suggest that the new Prisoner is a mostly successful take on the concept. That is, the new guys made a few controversial choices (which I won't go into because I'm not a spoiler guy) and the reason you liked the old Prisoner so much is for its own controversial choices. For example the quote above - did they guy manage to make sense of "Fall Out," the insane final episode of Prisoner V1? I'm not even sure Patrick McGoohan knew what it was about, and he wrote and directed it.

Most of the fan criticism I've read is of the opinion that the new guys didn't understand the original series, but obviously they understood it enough diverge from it. Would McGoohan have approved? He probably wouldn't have written it the same, but he would have approved of a new direction. And now that I think of it, this has been in the works since 2005, so McGoohan probably at least read a script.

In fact, the fans might be a lot more favorably disposed toward this series if Paddy Fitz lived to film the cameo at the beginning. In the first minutes of the new series 6 wakes up in the desert, disoriented; his eyes fall on a very old man running through the hills, attempting to escape his captors. That old man was supposed to be McGoohan, if I recall correctly. Had he gotten killed off in those first few minutes, it would have been a stamp of approval which would have allowed fans to just relax and enjoy the ride.

So having said that, the new series has a few things to recommend it - splendid casting of every character except the lead (Jim Caviezel is okay but he just can't seem to find the right balance between victim and protagonist - and even that seems to be a flaw in the writing, not the acting), nice new Village, liberal use of the sunny and creepy music of Brian Wilson, and mostly consistant internal logic. Okay, I can't go into that for obvious reasons, but there are a few lapses. I think. It might be worth watching again. And yes it's pretty confusing at times, but that's an essential narrative strategy. Plus it's only six episodes, which means less filler. Let's see Lost make its point in six, baby!

Maybe the only thing that's really wrong with this show is that I have to spend a whole blog post justifying why I liked it. Hey, I'm a fan of the old series too... it's brainwashed me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Odds, Ends

HBO's 'Flight of the Conchords' grounded

"Tears Of A Rapper" indeed.

Singer Sinead O'Connor demands Pope steps down

Sinny, enough already with the Pope!

Judge: Jon Gosselin must stop unofficial events

Just a reminder here that the US legal system is useful.

New show, exhibits to mark Elvis 75th birthday

Keep an eye on the old fat bald guy in the 2nd row. Just sayin'.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Soap Runs Out

Okay, you have until September, 2010 to get into As The World Turns, CBS's long-running soap opera (er, daytime drama). After that they're pulling the plug and presumably stopping the world from turning, which may cause the cessation of gravity and cause all the characters to fly off the surface. Soon the space surrounding the world will be peppered with too-good-looking corpses, aimlessly drifting with perpetually concerned expressions on their gorgeous faces.

Seriously, this thing has been on TV for over 50 years, which is an awful long time for a TV show. Especially when you consider that it's an hour of scripted drama 5 days a week for fifty years. Without reruns.

I had occasion once to visit Antonio Sabato Jr on the set of General Hospital once, and it was a glimpse of how this herculean feat is accomplished. GH has its own building a two-story affair on the ABC television lot. Sabato and another actor shared a dressing room, where they clocked in every day at 7am and hung around until they were needed for a scene in the main studio, where 4 or 5 sets were maintained. In the meantime, they answered fan mail, signed headshots, and talked to their agents about getting out of this gig. The shooting day ended around 5 or 6. It seems a little brief compared to most shooting days (they go for 14 hours normally) but I imagine that if you're looking at that schedule all year round with no termination date, you damn well better have some "me time" built into every day.

The soap opera appears to be on the wane, a victim of declining viewership and competition from cheaper game shows and reality shows. And ATWT was the last Proctor-and-Gamble-sponsored soap opera, meaning that the soap that gave the genre it's name is no longer in the business. Probably there will still always be one around, perhaps with a stricter policy of letting the talent go when they reach a certain income ceiling. But this golden age is over. Just like the other golden ages.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Weekend Box Office

Numbers here.

Talk about blind-sided: The Blind Side, Sandra Bullock's latest bid for Oscar attention, takes the #1 spot, leapfrogging over teen vampire saga New Moon. Quelle surprise! Of course the numbers are comparatively unimpressive, and Bullock wins because the vampires are burning out pretty fast (down another 64% in its 3rd week) but hey, better 'n' nothing.

Other new movies: Brothers, Armored and Everybody's Fine. Meh.

Bottom of the chart is From Mexico With Love. #112, grand weekend total of $16. Yes, that equals 204 pesos! Call it 205.

Monday, December 7, 2009

They Should Have Made an Even 100 Episodes

This last weekend saw the series finale of Monk, the brilliantly formulaic detective show that proved even hour-long dramatic is better-done on basic cable nowadays.

I always liked the basic premise of the show, about a brilliant detective who also suffers from crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder. Really, when you think about it ALL good detective characters have these traits. They walk into a room and immediatly focus on the one detail that's out of place, and refuse to let it go. It took series creator Andy Breckman to recognize that this ability is a gift AND a curse.
Daily Variety notes that the final episode yielded some mighty tasty numbers, in fact, they highest ever for an hour-long dramatic show on cable.
Though gone, Monk is expected to run for the next 10 years (exactly) in syndication or whatever it's called nowadays.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Consider Yourself One Of Us

Here's a confession - for several years I maintained a subscription to the print edition of Variety just so I could enjoy the "For Your Consideration" ads.

To catch you up, the movies that are nominated for awards seldom get that way simply because a buncha show people happened to see them and like them. The studios have a pretty large portion of advertising money tied up in lobbying guild members and critics to consider their films for awards. It pays off in increased ticket sales, and also in less tangible things like prestige and good will from the talent.

As it happens, Variety has a piece today about this very practice. The thrust seems to be that once Harvey Weinstein starts with his ads and parties and screenings and goodie bags, it signals the official beginning of awards campaign season. Fair enough. The pre-Weinstien years were nothin' compared to the modern era, because Weinstein devoted at least as much of the Miramax publicity apparatus to awards as he did to just buying TV ads. And it worked too!

My favorite ads are the ones where there clearly is absolutely no possibility of consideration. Often when a studio makes a deal with a star, there is a rider in the contract that x amount of money has to be devoted to consideration ads. Thus you might see, for example, "For Your Consideration: Halle Berry in CATWOMAN." Maybe this year, "Gerard Butler in GAMER". As my friend Bill says, it's a magic town.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Weekend Box Office, Thanksgiving

Numbers - want 'em?

It turns out that even dropping 70%, New Moon still took the #1 position with $43 million. Scary! Gotta say, that's a considerable slump from last week, but nobody has bad word of mouth for the movie except the people who knew better than to like it in the first place. Meanwhile, the more conventional success story is The Blind Side, which is up 15% from last (non-holiday) week. I think Sandra Bullock is back, baby!

New for family holiday viewing this week: Old Dogs (#4, 16 mil), Ninja Assassin (#6, 13 mil), and The Road (#10, $1.5 mil). That last one is deceptive - bleak as hell, it still pulled down $13,000 per screen, the highest average of any movie in the top ten. I'm guessing that people confused it with 2012. Next week will be worth watching.

Loser of the weekend, Endgame! Coming in at #109, it made $24.00. I sure hope it didn't have a screen all to itself - then again, sometimes the ushers need a quiet place to hide during a busy holiday weekend.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Just 'Cause I Dig the Ood

The Wonder of Cable

I spent the Tksgvn* weekend visiting friends and family. Narrowing down a little, Skot and my mom. The two dominant themes of the weekend were driving and TV. I realized how much I miss cable TV on Friday night, when channel-surfing yielded the last 10 minutes of Disney's The Gnome-Mobile followed by the last ten minutes of Night of The Living Dead. Gives a man perspective, you know? I still don't know if I need to spend $90 a month for perpective, but I'm weighing the option.

*abbreviated because the time was too short.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Weekend Box Office

Numbers here. Big numbers.

You might have noticed a little movie called New Moon. It's a sequel to teen-vampire romance Twilight. In three days it pulled in $142 million dollars. To give you some perspective, hugely expensive sci-fi apocalyptoloosa 2012 (#3) has earned $108 million in 10 days.

The number 2 spot is taken up by Sanda Bullock Oscar-bait The Blind Side, which debuted at $34 mil. This is pretty good, and I suspect it benefitted from being the next choice of people who showed up for showings of New Moon after it sold out.

Other new movie in the top ten, Planet 51, does allright at #4 with $12 million. Meh.

Waaaaay down at the bottom of the list, a drama called The Stoning of Soraya M. It made $93 bucks on one screen. Amusingly, it's from a company called Roadside Attractions. They'd have done better just travelling around, setting up on a roadside, and actually stoning someone. Maybe the cast of the movie! A gig's a gig.

Monday, November 23, 2009

International Vampire Weekend

What do you get when you combine Sweet Valley High and The Munsters? Money. Lots and lots of money. Tomorrow the final word on American Box office receipts for New Moon, but today lets see how it did internationally, because nowadays smart studios release everything everywhere all at once.

In the U.K. and Ireland, distrib E1 Ent. said the “Twilight” sequel achieved the second highest opening day’s B.O. of all time, only bettered by “Quantum of Solace.”

“New Moon,” which is playing on 1,100 screens, went on to suck £11.75 million ($19.5 million) from the market over three days, for a $17,727 screen average.

In Australia, the pic took a record $14.9 million for Hoyts on its opening weekend across 530 screens for a $28,113 average. Previous record holder was “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” with $13.3 million on 510 screens for a $26,078 average.

In Canada, where the film opened on a record 685 screens, three-day ticket sales were $10.6 million, the second-largest opening weekend ever, E1 Ent. said, for a $15,474 average.

In France, where “New Moon” opened Wednesday, the pic grossed $19.3 million from 755 prints for SND, for a $25,563 average. This was the second highest-grossing first weekend of the year. “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” has the top slot but it was released on 200 more copies.

In Italy, “New Moon” pulled $14.2 million from 699 screens over its five-day opening, via Eagle Pictures. The boffo outing marked Italy’s second top bow ever for a pic opening on a Wednesday after “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”
Thank goodness this formula is impossible to copy, because I'd hate to see a bunch of cheap ripoffs coming out in the coming year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Odds, Ends

Winfrey: Prayer, careful thought influenced exit

If only (insert hated TV personality here) prayed more!

Jude Law hurls oranges at unwanted audience: report

This is brave reporting... Law could show up at the offices of AFP and hurl oranges at THEM!

Warrant: Drug in Jackson case came from Vegas firm

*SIGH* If only it had stayed in Vegas.

Mussolini's blood and brain up for sale on eBay

You can criticize this auction all you want, but it will run on time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

2012: A Review

I saw it yesterday but my brain kept shutting down. I have to point to this meta-comment in Variety's review of the movie, which dismantles the entire genre.
Let it be said that "2012'' plummets from reasonably distracting spectacle
to sheerest silliness when, in the pointlessly protracted final reels, it tries
to maintain interest in the (confusingly staged) jeopardy of a handful of
characters when much of the world's population has already been wiped out or is
about to be. Never has Rick's observation in "Casablanca'' been more true, that
the problems of a few little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this
crazy world.
It kind of reminds me of movies where the plot involves people being lured to their death by ghosts; if there are ghosts and they can push you around, how is dying such a bad thing? It's a self-negating plot.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Weekend Box Office

Gotcha numbas here.

At #1 2012 made $65 million.

At #129 From Mexico With Love made $63.

The rest is just details.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Viva L'Ugly!

It's a sign of how fed up I am with beautiful people, I guess. My Netflix selection this weekend was TIMECRIMES, a low-key time travel paradox movie from Spain (Mexico?) and while it didn't offer much in the way of genre refinements, it DID sport a lead character who was old and paunchy. This was just fascinating to me. I watched this guy skulking around with his bald head and puffy face and I said to myself, why would they have cast this part with Zac Efron here in the United States?

Not that I have anything against Zac Efron or Shia LeBeouf or Beyonce or Rachel McAdams, but come on! Not everyone in the world is hot! The ugly need their stories told as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Odds, Ends

Playboy in talks to be sold

Hef to be stuffed, mounted. Change of pace.

'Office Space' star Ron Livingston weds

Shouldn't he have a more recent reference vehicle by now?

The Who to perform at SuperBowl: report

"I hope I die before I get old..." Ha ha! Just kidding!

ABC shows `Hank' the door; another Grammer loss

Yeah, when will Kelsey Grammer finally make something of himself?

Al Gore's Current TV lays off 80 employees

What's worse, they have to return their webcams.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

MGM Is Not A Studio, It's A Commodity

What's the last MGM movie you saw lately? Of course you didn't. They don't make movies. They buy and sell movies they've already made.

Several sources say they expect that MGM will essentially be auctioned off within the next few weeks.

This would mean that a major, such as Time Warner, could buy the MGM-UA library while another entity might acquire the logo, and yet another deal could be made for United Artists. Sources speculated that Kirk Kerkorian, who has already bought and sold MGM twice, might buy the logo once again.
Uh oh, maybe I spoke too soon! Later, in the same article:

MGM's released only a remake of "Fame" this year. For 2010, it's opening two comedies -- "Hot Tub Time Machine" in March and "The Zookeeper" in October -- and a remake of "Red Dawn" in November.
I am so lining up for Hot Tub Time Machine. Or can you "line up" at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Weekend Box Office

Looka the numbers!

Extravagant 3D money vortex Disney's A Christmas Carol pulls in $30 million and comes in at #1. What a novel idea, to make a movie out of this story! One day maybe they'll make another, so we can compare 'em.

Weirdo George Clooney vehicle The Men Who Stare At Goats comes in 3rd at $12 mil. I want to see this. A couple of horror movies, The Fourth Kind and The Box also make the top then, but they won't be there long.

Paranormal Activity finally starts dropping, but it's made almost a hundred million bucks! Not bad for a movie that cost $1.98 to make.

My favorite title for the week, at #12: Precious: Based on the Novel "Push". Why not just call it Push? Clearly, someone in the Lionsgate executive offices has a mighty big ego problem.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Not The Beatles, But An Incredible Psycho-Acoustic Simulation

The quaint anachronistic battle to make Beatles songs available online legally (as opposed to the way I got them - all of them) has been dealt another blow in the last few days, as has been stopped from distributing songs for a quarter apiece.

Bluebeat's owner, Hank Risan, has claimed he does not need to license the music as the service is selling re-recorded versions of the songs using a technology called "psycho-acoustic simulation".

He argues it enables him to sell music that sounds identical to recordings, making it exempt under a section of the Copyright Act which applies to recordings that "imitate or simulate those in the copyrighted sound recording".
As utterly convincing as this technical argument is, it hasn't been enough to stop the injunction. The Beatles are offline again until November 20th, when lawyers from both sides will attempt to bamboozle a judge into seeing their point of view. Meanwhile, the Fab Four are losing money by not participating in the paid download arena. Not that they (the corporate entity which represents the Beatles, obviously) need the money.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Easy To Assemble

I got a nasty head cold this week and it's sapping my writing energy. Therefore, ignore me and watch this. Illeana Douglas, big-eyed indie darling, has been pumping out a web series about her adventures as an employee of the Burbank Ikea.

Titled Easy To Assemble, the segments are brief, funny, and stacked up with cameos by the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Pollock and so on. The series is now in its second season and features Justine Bateman, playing herself, as Douglas's rival for Employee of the Month.

It won't change the world but anything Illeana produces is gold. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Weekend Box Office

Here are the numbers.

Halloween fell on Saturday night this year, which studios would consider the kiss of death for the whole weekend normally. Parties are a great alternatitve to moviegoing, right? God knows I was at one. Still, this didn't hurt the opening of ghoulish This Is It, the Michael Jackson concert rehersal movie. #1 at $23 million! If he had lived long enough to do the actual concert... well, who knows. Probably woulda done worse.

I was expecting Paranormal Activity to drop like a zombie with a head wound this weekend, but it's only down 22%.

Other newbie this weekend Boondock Saints II debuts at #14 and therefore does not exist. Just as well; without Willem Dafoe's overacting I'm not sure why you'd bother.

Worst-performing non-documentary Shall We Kiss debuts with $172. Not so bad, according to Rotten Tomatoes, so it must be poor marketing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Improv part 2

See? Throw a gate, a couple of ghouls and a fog machine at the
problem! Creepy and effective. Not quite as scary as dealing with the
homeowners insurance people.

Improv part 1

I worked an epic haunted house/halloween party over the weekend.
They've been decorating for a month.

In the middle of the week, things looked bad when strong Santa Ana
winds knocked over a huge tree in the yard, blocking the road and
crushing the entrance gate (and a neighbor's car) making things very
dicey for the Haunted house people. Next post: how to use a good

Friday, October 30, 2009

Odds, Ends

Cancer "didn't beat" Patrick Swayze, wife Lisa says

Swayze, nearby but invisible, helplessly cries "But it did! How can I make her see!"

Anna Nicole Smith hearing nears end

If convicted, Nicole Smith to be exhumed and reinterred in state-controlled cemetary.

Rapper releases video directed by Heath Ledger

No, not Tupac. Why would you even THINK that?

Jackson collaborators seek debt payments

They didn't approach him while he was alive, for fear he would rough 'em up.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happy Halloween - Top-Earning Dead Celebrities

Forbes compiles an annual list of the dead who walk, if by "walk" you mean earn more money dead than you'll make in your lifetime. It's a top 13 instead of top 10, for obvious reasons.

At #13, Andy Warhol! Pulling down $6 million, it's proof that the difference between Andy alive and Andy dead is pretty hard to discern.

Jimi Hendrix comes in next with $8 million. #11 is Aaron Spelling also at 8 bills, no doubt earning more this year because of the revivals of Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. Michael Crichton comes in 10th place with $9 million. As soon as he drops below a certain level, they will clone him.

Einstein dead is worth $10 million. Dr Seuss, $15 million. Says something, doesn't it? John Lennon ties with Seuss coming in at #7.

Charles Shultz dead is worth $35 million... now that's good grief!

Top five time, kiddies! J.R.R. Tolkien brought in $50 million this last year, even without any new movies. Perennial dead wage-slave Elvis made $55 million, but he's facing stiff competition from newcomer Michael Jackson, who took the #3 slot with $90 million. I bet there are parts of the original Michael somewhere that are still alive, which would disqualify him. I think. The rules are a little hazy on this.

Speaking of hazy rules, Forbes says Rogers & Hammerstein is #2 on the chart with $235 million. What's up with that? What about money earned by Rogers when he wrote with Hart? I'm filing a protest.

The top o' the chart, the richest dead guy of the year, taking it with him... Yves St. Laurent! $350,000,000 kids! He's new to the top 13, apparently due to an especially lucrative estate sale. Doesn't seem fair to me. Still, I don't make the rules, I just report the results. You got a problem with it, talk to the dead guys. And note the gender inequality... its not likely to get better until Oprah dies, and that's gonna be a long time comin'.

...hide the deadly (orange) tarantula

I know it has nothing to do with showbiz, but the darn things were so delicious.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Checking Back With Jay

Following up on the Jay Leno Show, which is that thing on NBC five nights a week that you ignore while you're brushing your teeth. Nothing too surprising. Variety examined the effect that Leno is having on the whole NBC schedule:

Though decidedly unpopular with many in TV's creative community, NBC's bet on "Leno" could be easily chalked up as the best offense being a good defense: Leno posed a threat to NBC if he left for another network, while keeping him in a cost-efficient program freed funds for NBC to rebuild its scripted slate.

In contrast, the axing of cop drama "Southland" appears to be a more overt retreat. NBC pulled the plug on the John Wells Prods. drama amid circumstances that leave many observers scratching their heads.

For starters, "Southland" was the best-reviewed and highest-rated freshman series in 2008-09 on a network that has been starved for fresh hits.

Further, instead of keeping other networks from using an NBC-developed asset, as was the case with Leno, the axing invites rivals to take the product and run, as CBS did earlier this year with "Medium."

...Some observers have said NBC realized (perhaps better late than never) that "Southland" was too darkly themed to air at 9 p.m. ...But even if NBC were correct about "Southland" being too grim, the network still must contend with the perception of some producers who see the network as being at a nadir of creative vision. The network will still be a port in the recessionary storm for some new projects, but for creators that have their pick of outlets, NBC figures to be the port of last resort.
What's more...

Since the season kicked off Sept. 21, "Leno" has been holding about 75% of what NBC has averaged from 8 to 10 p.m., compared with holds of more than 90% for CBS and roughly 85% for ABC in the 10 o’clock hour.

This means that while ABC and CBS occasionally deliver their strongest numbers at 10 p.m., NBC is consistently peaking earlier -- and those 8-10 p.m. numbers ain’t pretty. As the network stares down the barrel of another fourth-place finish this season, here’s a look at the early trickle-down effect of "The Leno Show" on other programming:

-- NBC’s "Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien," which had consistently been beating CBS’ "Late Show With David Letterman" in adults 18-49 over the summer, lost during premiere week -- "Late Show’s" first weekly triumph over original "Tonight" segs since 2005.

A primary reason for the shift is that CBS is now much stronger than NBC at 10 p.m. among the coveted 18-49 crowd (3.4 to 1.9 in rating), helping funnel more viewers to Letterman. In the summer, by comparison, CBS held a much smaller edge.
Of course, you still can't deny that NBC is filling 5 hours of primetime a week for peanuts. It's no disaster. Then again, not all ships go down like the Titanic. Some just rust prematurely and are decomissioned.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What Austin is Like, Vol. 1

I was going to post this picture first:

With the caption "Look what I won! And my wife won one too!" Decided it might be a tad confusing.

Those Grammy awards we're pretending we won are actually the belong to my friend David E. Miller, bass player for Texas Swing band Asleep At The Wheel, old car enthusiast (he has a '55 Panel truck) and owner of Ebony, The World's Best Dog. These two and two more, in fact.

Austin is the music capital of the Southwest, a modest-sized city with more live venues then I have ever seen anywhere. Music is a thriving industry there as well-- they don't host South by Southwest there for nothin'. It's almost unsurprising that the only person I know in Austin has four Grammys.

So yeah-- in a corner of David's lovely, modest Suburban home, atop the piano, sit these four gold gramophones. It's all as casual as can be. Gotta admire that.

I guess this is a big thanks to David for showing us around South Austin Monday and letting us handle his Grammys, his lovely wife Sherry for her hospitality, and Ebony for... Well, for being the World's Best Dog.

Back From the 2009 AFF

Good GOD, I had better post something!

Yeah, I'm back from Austin, with many, many stories to tell and pictures to show. I'll start unspooling them as soon as the crushing amount of work I blew off in order to go to Austin eases up a bit. And my epic hangover dies down.

It was an amazing weekend.

Oh hell, I'll give you one right now as a preview. In the Driskill Hotel, the heart of the Screenwriter's convention, I was taking a tiny elevator to an out-of-the-way meeting room for a seminar on agents with Gayla ("no, I am not reading scripts") Nethercott. There were three of us in there, then it stopped, and then there were eight of us, shoulder-to-shoulder, all badged attendees. Everyone was dead quiet, as often happens in elevators.

I had little reason to be quiet. 24 hours previous, The screenplay I co-wrote won it's category, beating about 675 others. I was in a darn good mood. So I counted everyone and dropped down to my best Don LaFontaine: "Eight screenwriters-- riding a tiny elevator... heading to a room nobody has ever heard of..."

Big laughs. Some guy looked up at me and said, perhaps seriously, "Hey, I'm going to use that idea!"

I replied "You only have a movie if it ends... in... the... same... elevator!"

I get the feeling that somewhere out there (alright, probably in LA) seven laptops are blazin' away right now.

More to come.

One of The First Lanterns I Ever Saw

Conal Cochran: From an ancient, sacrificial circle... Stonehenge. [Shows Chaliss the rock] Ha ha. We had a TIME getting it here. You wouldn't believe how we did it.

- Halloween III, Season of the Witch

And you know what? He never explains how.

Weekend Box Office

Be afraid: the numbers are here.

Paramount's sleeper Paranormal Activity finally climbs to #1 after 30 days of platform release, pulling down (to hell) 21 million. To date, 61.5 mil. It will drop next weekend, even though if anything can drag people away from Halloween parties for a couple of hours next Saturday, it'll be this.

Saw IV opens to $14 million, a little disappointing for the reported most successful horror franchise of all time. Maybe it's time to start branching out - Jigsaw Vs. Freddy, Jigsaw Vs. Mike Meyers, Jigsaw Vs. Cheney. New blood!

Astro Boy (who? says the target audience of kids) and Cirque Do Freak: The Vampires Assistant make the top ten but they might as well already be on video. I'll check out bittorrent; they probably are.

At the other end, U2 3D (the non-YouTube version of their tour) makes $145 bucks on one screen, #122 for people who are scoring. The lowest premiere is actually a re-release of Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid, a movie which has been underperforming for a little over 40 years. That must be a record of some kind!

Monday, October 26, 2009


Every few months a friend of mine rents out a hall in Pasadena and holds a swanky singles party. She's been doing it for years and each time the attendance seems a little higher than the last time. Except this last Saturday! Attendence was down, and the speculation was that the other big event in town, U2 playing the Rose Bowl, was eating into sales.

If YOUR event was a little slow Saturday, perhaps you have this to blame.

Irish rock group U2 have broadcast an entire live show via the video sharing website YouTube.

Although 96,000 people turned up to see the show at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in California, many times that number were expected to have watched it online.

As he took to the stage, lead singer Bono said: "Thank you Los Angeles. Thanks to everyone watching on YouTube all over the world - seven continents."

The entire show, which Bono described as a "space adventure", is being repeated on YouTube.
God knows it's a good way to beat that traffic. And Bono on a computer screen would look about as tiny as he does from the back rows of the Rose Bowl.

This is an interesting development. In the past U2 would have made a deal with a broadcast network or HBO or some pay-per-view outfit. I wonder where they think they're going to make their money back from?

(PS regarding the singles party - I lost your number, Amy Sue! Call me!)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Local Boy Makes Good

You might have noticed a lack of Skot on the blog lately. Skot been busy. He and his screenwriting par'ner are attending the Austin Film Festival. Up until recently their screenplay, The Sensitivity Program, was in competition there in the Sci-Fi category. Up until this weekend anyway.

During which they won, thus ending the competition.

Skot will no doubt provide details as the the champagne haze clears his head and between meetings with agents and managers, but on behalf of the whole Hang A Lantern On It staff, congratulations!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Odds, Ends

Pie-splattered comedian Soupy Sales dies at 83

This is the man who warped your parents... attention must be paid!

"Saw VI" gets X rating in Spain

Parents, this is the series that's warping your kids.

Taylor Swift first U.S. tour dates sell in minutes

How adorable is that!

'Thriller' zombie tribute to Michael Jackson

Tragically, none of the fans are willing to dress up like a trained anesthesiologist - if they were, maybe none of the other fans would HAVE to dress like zombies.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Space, Nobody Can Hear You Squeal Like A Schoolgirl

Fans can force networks to renew a low-rated series; they can influence story lines; and now it seems they can control the very machinations of NASA itself.

Boyband McFly's hit single Star Girl has been played out to astronauts orbiting Earth, after fans called for it to be broadcast.

Nasa agreed to play the group's 2006 song to the spacecraft crew members after being bombarded by McFly fans on micro-blogging site Twitter.

The space agency offered 35 people the chance to talk live to the astronauts, but fans wanted the song instead.

Band member Danny Jones said on Twitter it was a "dream come true".

In a later tweet to Nasa, he said: "Thank you for playing our song in space it's definatly [sic] one if the coolest things that's happened since being in the band... Amazing."
Sure, no one asks how the ASTRONAUTS feel about this. Maybe they'd rather hear New Kids On The Block, or the A-Teens. Or more likely, some early Dolly Parton:

Dr David Whitehouse, a space scientist and author told BBC radio 5 live he thought the play out had been been great publicity for Nasa and the band.

"I thought this was a way, not only to get in touch between astronauts and ordinary people, but to get down with the kids.

"Considering the average age on the space station is 46, I wouldn't have thought many of them have heard of McFly before.

"They do play a lot of music in general in the space station, they wake people up with music but it tends to be more 70s rock and country music."
That's what you get for being old-school. They brought their own music but they couldn't figure out a way to keep the phonograph needle in the grooves with that zero-gravity thing. I bet the unforgiving vaccum of space is lookin' pretty good right now.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Old Time Radio Proves My Powers of Observation Are Acute

I admire a lot of old time radio comedy. The Life Of Riley, the Jack Benny Program, Fibber McGee and Molly all seem like perfect gems, finely honed and brilliantly executed. Our Miss Brooks too. But the one I simply cannot understand is The Great Guildersleeve.

If you haven't heard the show, it's a warm family sitcom about Throckmorton P. Guildersleeve, a bachelor who is raising his nephew and neice in a small town of which Guildersleeve is the water commisioner. He is bumbling and self-important. I've heard this show for years on KNX, a local news station which turns over an hour a night to stuff like this, and for years I've wondered why the hell this show was ever greenlighted. My biggest problem with it has been that Willard Waterman's Guildersleeve seems to be a lame version of a more interesting character. He should be a charicature, but he's been watered-down and warmed over and served as mild, bland fare. It's like My Three Sons starring Rip Taylor, only a straight Rip Taylor.

I finally did a little research into the history of the show, and my instincts were dead-on.

Firstly, the character is a spinoff. He was a regular visitor on Fibber McGee and Molly.

On Fibber McGee and Molly, Gildersleeve was a pompous windbag who became a consistent McGee nemesis. "You're a haa-aa-aa-aard man, McGee!" became a Gildersleeve catch phrase. The character was given several conflicting first names on Fibber McGee and Molly, and on one episode his middle name was revealed as Philharmonic.
So, a character designed to be on for two minutes a week. Hence the wacky name! I knew he was a spinoff from something. However the character was another step removed from its orgins in a way I hasn't anticipated - Willard Waterman didn't even orginate the character. The REAL Guildersleeve was Harold Peary, who played him all during the 30s and 40s. In the early fifties CBS orchestrated a talent raid and lured a lot of NBC's pricey stars to their radio network. They got Peary but they didn't get Guildersleeve. Peary was so identified with the character that his show flopped, though he did manage to make it onto the television version of McGee playing Mayor LaTrivia, the role originated by Gale Gordon on radio.

Waterman was a long-time friend of Peary who had a very similar voice, but when he took over the role he refused to do Peary's signature laugh, which is something to behold.

Poor CBS! Spending all that money on radio stars just as radio was sinking into unprofitability. 20 years later they did the same thing in reverse: they had great ratings with The Beverly Hillbillies and all those spinoffs but the demographics sucked (not enough young viewers) so they canceled them and got hipper new shows.
Anyway, show business history is littered with stories of lame-o spinoffs from popular shows, but this appears to be an early example. And it lasted for 15 years! No wonder they kept trying it.

Weekend Box Office

Variety's got your digits here.

Spike Jonze's adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are takes the weekend, finding a way to traumatize a whole new generation and make $32 million doing it. The Gerard Butler/Jaime Fox thriller Law-Abiding Citizen pulls in a healthy $21 million in the #2 slot - maybe Butler's career isn't over after all! Plus, he won't have to hang around Comic-Con so much.

Unnecessary remake The Stepfather premiers at #5 with $11 million. Check out the original; it's a twisted l'il gem. Seriously, check it out... you can stream it for free. In other horror news, Paranormal Activity really works its platform release strategy and goes wider to the tune of $21 million. It's an old-school strategy and it's payin' off.

A documentary takes up the bottom of the chart (like usual) but the lowest narrative movies is a comedy called Taxidermia. #127, $114 for the three days. Originally released in 2006, IMdb describes it thus: Gyorgy Palfi's grotesque tale of three generations of men, including an obese speed eater, an embalmer of gigantic cats, and a man who shoots fire out of his penis. I'm organizing a viewing party! Who's with me?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cort Furniture

Kudos to them for elegant booth design.

Headshot Lane

Much as I love this idea, it's a dead end. No one will get work out of


There are always a lot of free massage ops at these things.

Got Reptiles?

The people at A-list Animals do.

A Lovely Actress

Probably. Could be anything.

Greetings From the Showbiz Expo

Sent from my iPhone

Friday, October 16, 2009

Odds, Ends

BBC Defend Blue Peter Competition

There's actually an interesting story here, but screw that... I just like the title

Garth Brooks Says He's Coming Out of Retirement

Reached for comment, Chris Gaines calls story a hoax

Spirit Awards Moves From Beach to Downtown L.A

A step in the right direction, but the whole ceremony should take place in someone's parents' basement

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Endorsement: Old Timey Radio

God help me, I love radio drama. Perhaps it's the top-of-their-games voice actors, maybe the efficiency expert in me loves the idea of creating an entire half-hour of entertainment using only scripts and mics. In any event, I have discovered that I can stream Radio 1710 Antioch to my iPhone, giving me access to a 24-hour stream of this stuff. As I write this, I'm enjoying Dana Andrews in I Was A Communist For The FBI. Fun, paranoid stuff. Surprisingly complex as well.

Anyway, I'm starting to get a picture of dramatic engines that drove the medium for so long. I understand that this is a skewed vision because most of the shows I'm hearing are post-war episodes, indeed, post-television. Maybe this was the real golden age of radio, but more likely it's just that these episodes survived better because of improved transcription methods. Still, the common themes remain.

Amnesia - you don't see a lot of amnesia nowadays, but it was a very common problem 50 years ago. You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting an amnesiac, who would then forget you had done it. People were continually waking up in alleys, not knowing who they were, where they came from, and who that person they had apparently just killed even was. Whatever was causing it, I'm glad the problem cleared up. I only wish I could remember how!

Orson Welles - the man was perfectly suited to radio, more so than even movies or stage. Why? Welles had a short attention span. The idea that you could just hop into a cab and be on the air in 15 minutes, sometimes without rehearsal, and not worry about makeup or lighting, then grab a check and get the hell out, was heaven to a guy like Welles. His whole career would have been different if he could have relied on a steady radio paycheck but sadly, the medium let him down. Welles starred in both Harry Lime and The Shadow as steady gigs, but tellingly the latter ran longer than a season and Welles moved on, leaving the character to lesser lights.

Science Fiction - weirdly, science fiction ages worse than ANYTHING. Every time someone on Space Patrol refers to their "miniature Space-o-phone" it makes you cringe. Robots run on vacuum tubes. The plot of one show revolved around a space port security officer having to review the Venus vacation snapshots and home movies of every tourist, which was time-consuming because they had to develop all that film. Don't get me started on computers.

Good is Rewarded, Bad is Punished - time after time, a whole episode of Suspense or The Whistler is devoted to the planning of a perfect crime, which unravels due to the protagonist's bad execution. The weed of crime bears bitter fruit! The path of wrongdoing ends in a trap set by justice! I think the intention is to teach people to not commit crimes, but I'd argue that it taught people to just be very very careful when they're doing it.

Running Gags Work - the Jack Benny Show and Fibber McGee and Molly got laughs based on premises that had been established in the thirties. So when you marvel at the two minute audience reaction to Jack Benny's famous response to "Your money or your life!" ("I'm thinking!") remember that the setup took twenty years to write.

Put Down That Gun! - I must have heard this said three dozen times in the last week, and you know what? Nobody EVER puts the gun down.

Sexy Women Have Low Voices - What's up with that anyway?

Commercials - they just used to be easier to figure out, that's all. Nowadays commercials are enigmae, often not even deigning to mention the product. Then, a roomful of people would just shout at you for a minute about how good this car battery is, or this soap, or this cigarette. It was the golden age of direct messaging.

There Is No Such Thing As... - Sex. Bodily functions. Ambiguity. A good communist. Homosexuality. Silence.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Weekend Box Office

Got your chart here.

Vince Vaughn Vaughnfest Couples Retreat takes the #1 spot with $34 mil, a healthy amount of cash for a movie without any SFX. Watch Vaughn make some mighty good deals coming up. I've only seen the trailers, but maybe America loves him because he doesn't shed all his body fat before doing a shirtless scene.

Zombieland drops 40%. Coulda been worse!

Newest failure on the chart this week: at #98, Wedding Song. 1 screen, $1200. Worst per-screen average, Il Divo which pulled down $21 in 3 days. Stop greenlighting all musicals NOW!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Extremely Stealthy Viral Marketing

First take a look at this:

Then, to follow up, look at this:

And understand that neither of these things would belong on this blog, except in the light of this.

Here's a theory: These video are an elaborate viral marketing campaign for Butterfinger. Green signed on as spokesman for the Nestle candy bar just last month. What little is known about Butterfinger's future creative direction going forward, as spelled out in this press release, is the brand's intent on reviving the tagline made famous by Green's predecessor, Bart Simpson: "Nobody better lay a finger on my Butterfinger." The product was already treated to an online campaign,

Hmmm, all this talk about "laying a finger" and protecting the bar. Could it be that videos about a pitchman being attacked is a new spin on a familiar campaign? Strange as it may sound to trot out videos that don't feature the product being promoted, it's exactly that kind of anti-ad that's likely to lure Gen Y-ers in, presumably before somehow working Butterfinger into some future installment of this intriguing series.
Sounds credible to me, but kudos to the people behind this (if there are indeed "people" who are "behind" this) for their commitment.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Odds, Ends

Hugh Laurie is Bemused By Twitter

Celebrity bemusement experts stunned!

Billy Ray Cyrus urges Miley to return to Twitter

This bemuses Hugh Laurie.

Aerosmith guitarist goes solo as band flounders
I hate to put it this way, but the band formed 40 years ago and they're all pretty old. Gradually, one of them is bound to go solo if you know what I mean.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Sharks

Last night I was fortunate enough to be on the list at a club in Beverly Hills where Dennis Quaid and his band, The Sharks, were playing. Meh.

The band is actually pretty good. They're tight, and they know what they're doing. And they're definitely a cut above the average cover band (a little Doors, a little Aerosmith, a little more Jerry Lee Lewis etc) and while this sounds like faint praise, let's face it - given the setup, above average exceeds any expectations.

Quaid himself, who plays guitars and keyboards and sings lead vocals, seemed to not just be enjoying himself but literally exorcising personal demons with each successive number. Dude looks good and has an awful lot of energy. I'm starting to think he acts so he can afford amps and picks.

You will note the conspicuous absence of cellphone pictures - the dance floor was packed with people who were either dancing or taking pictures of Quaid, or taking pictures of their dates with Quaid in the background. My hipster friends warned me that cell-phone pics are as bad as asking for autographs - you just don't DO that man. So just use your imagination. I've said too much already.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Real Story

"And never forget, we're the real story." - Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), Broadcast News

Every nightmare you have about the televsion news business may be coming true, right now, in Brazil. Via the BBC:

Police in Brazil say a TV crime show host accused of ordering killings to boost his ratings has gone missing after his arrest warrant was issued.

Wallace Souza, also a local congressman, had enjoyed parliamentary immunity until last week when the Amazonas state assembly expelled him. A search is under way, with airports and roads from the city of Manaus in the Amazon region being monitored.

Mr Souza has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

The case made headlines around the world when the police accused Mr Souza of being involved in drug trafficking and ordering killings to increase the popularity of his TV programme. As well as being a former TV presenter, Mr Souza was a popular politician elected to the assembly in the state of Amazonas with a large majority.

However, his expulsion following a vote last week meant he lost his parliamentary immunity and now it appears he is on the run, after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The authorities in Amazonas claim he ordered several killings in order to get rid of his rivals, while afterwards TV crews from his programme would mysteriously arrive at the crime scenes before the police, enabling them to secure graphic footage.
Wow, talk about your worst-case scenarios! Imagine this happening here, with Keith Morrison of Dateline NBC in the place of Souza. I'm not sure what purpose this will serve, but it sure is fun.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Weekend Box Office

Here are the numbers!

Zombieland, a zombie-themed comedy (when did THAT become a genre?) comes in first at $25 million. Disney invests a little money into re-rendering Toy Story and Toy Story 2 so they'll be in that 3D the kids love so well, and it grabs the third spot, right after a newer and more expensive 3D cartoon from Sony. The lesson? Always keep backups of your files.

Surrogates drops 51% from opening, a little steep. Some people were banking on this year being the era of paranoid Sci-Fi and it's not working out.

Bottom of the chart: Gogol Bordello Non-Stop, a documentary. For a change, here's a description taken from their own website:

From the birth of a New York City downtown Ruso-disco phenomena, known as the Bulgarian Bar, to a non-stop touring marathon, with his band Gogol Bordello, Eugene Hütz takes us deep into his artistic foundation.

The story unfolds from 2001 to 2006, following Gogol's steps from underground legends to international attention.

English, Russian, Spanish, Romany
87 Minutes
U.S and A

Even with all the gypsies, the movie only made $104 over the weekend. In 22 days it has earned a little over $5000. The Ruso-disco community weeps.

Monday, October 5, 2009

HEROES Can't Save Everybody

Spent a pleasant weekend in Santa Cruz, attending the wedding of a dear friend. That's outside the purview of this blog (it's nice to have a blog with a purview, innit?) but I can note an interesting way that Santa Cruz is ahead of the curve: there is no local NBC affiliate.

Because of its unusual geography, Santa Cruz has limited broadcast televsion options. it's surrounded by mountains and hills on three sides and the ocean on the fourth, and the population is small. So when I grew up there they had three network affiliates and two independents and that pretty much covered it unless you were willing to shell out for cable, which gave you access to San Francisco broadcasters. Cable went over in a big way.

Anyway somewhere along the way, KSBW 8 in Salinas decided that there ain't no future in paying franchise fees and giving up prime time to NBC. It's not like my area, where there is a Fox affiliate which has apparently decided that it's too expensive to solve the digital transmission problem to my part of town; KSBW said adios and went rogue. They're doing well enough to have a local news team, so probably a good decision.

NBC has been at the bottom of the majors for years now, and with CBS and ABC and FoxTV facing declining ratings too, the Jewel of GE (possibly GE and Comcast) looks increasingly like the network of choice to not choose. And just because these entities are called major networks, there's no law that says every town needs to carry 'em.

I understand the Jay Leno show hosted a political panel on Friday. I have finally figured out what Leno's getting at - he will make his show the Sabado Gigante of America, only two more hours and spread out over five days. And this is almost a third of NBC's weekly prime time programming. I bet the whole network leaves broadcast and is HULU-based in 5 years.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Polanski - Letterman Double-Header

David Letterman. Roman Polanski.


Roman Polanski. David Letterman.


One guy did something shockingly illegal some 30 years ago, and has finally been nabbed by the long, long , really really long arm of the law.

The other one did, by his own admission,"terrible" things over many years, but "terrible" is a self-description: It hangs a lantern (hah!) on a career-long habit of dating co-workers. It certainly isn't illegal. And he got blackmailed for his troubles.

I'm rooting for Letterman. I'm not rooting for Polanski.

To make the case that David Letterman did something illegal would require that someone find him guilty of sexual harassment: That is, coercion or promotion in exchange for sexual favors. It's true that Letterman has long dipped his pen in company ink, but he's been on top of his game for over two decades, and I doubt he would ever put his career in harm's way for a fling. He may seem all aw-shucks and Heartland charm, but we don't know the man. Hell, I've been watching Dave since 1983: I won't even pretend to try.

I will venture an opinion, though: He'll escape any personal prosecution. He's either so friggin' smart that an overture he makes to comely staffer begins with legal paperwork being signed. Or he really is so gee-whiz and awkward that his crushes are of the schoolboy variety: boyish and insecure (and insecure celebrity: how 'bout that?) to the extent that philadering and quid pro quo are far off the table. Again, it's all guesswork.

As for Polanski: Lock his ass up. I'm not coming from a right-wing, absolute justice angle here. I actually believe the 13-year-old girl he raped has come to forgive him. I also believe he has shown some small amount of remorse for the act.

What drives me absolutely crazy about this case is the resurfacing of celebrity exceptionalism. Everyone from French lawyers to petition-bearing Hollywood types are making a passionate case for his release, on the grounds that... that... that he's a great filmmaker, and it's been, like, a really long time. I think that's the case being made.

Well, the first part, that Polanski is a great filmmaker, I do not disagree with . I saw A Knife In The Water in film school and was transfixed by it's artistry. Chinatown is still one of my favorite films. Roman Polanski is, in my personal opinion, without reservation or doubt, one of a few truly important filmmakers of the last part of the 20th Century.

This fact places him above the law? This fact gives him immunity from prosecution? This fact makes the quite terrible thing he did to a girl 31 years ago palatable?

Lock his ass up.

As for the argument-- argued quite well by Ronald Sokol-- that this late, late prosecution is, by virtue of it's immense delay, tantamount to legal revenge, How's this for a reply: Revenge is a dish best served cold.

ADDENDA: I know Daniel wrote earlier that we wouldn't be doing this sort of crap. I did get the memo. This whole thing got just a little too big and weird to ignore, is all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hang A Lantern On It: The Origin Story

Reposted from Box Office Weekly - the explanation of our peculiar name.

As a fan of vintage television, I cannot resist WILD WILD WEST reruns. Episodes come in two basic flavors - black and white and color. The difference isn't just cinematographical either. The black and white ones were weird but logical, an attempt to fit a James Bond character into an American western sensibility. The color ones, shot as the sixties became psychadelic and the writers ran out of reasonable ideas, were often illogical, implausible, and delicious.

Last night's rerun on local television boasted Ricardo Montalban as a legless former confederate officer, who hated James West and harbored a Kahn-like desire to avenge his lost limbs. His plan was to marshal mystical powers to travel back in time, and kill General Grant DURING the civil war thus upsetting the balance of power and allowing the South to prevail. Oh, and somehow kill West in the process. And he almost succeeded but his newly restored legs were crushed by a bookcase

Even by WWW standards, it was half-baked. Montalban compensated by over-overacting, that is, overacting at twice his usual level. But anyway, at the end of the show West and Gordon are filing a report of the incident, Gordon wants to tell the truth. He starts to summarize the episode, and they both conclude that it would be better to just lie about it.

It's what they call "hanging a lantern on it."

From the Kung Fu Monkey blog:
"hang a lantern on it": Instead of trying to hide a script/credibility problem, address it in full measure, so it can be dealt with and discarded. "How does she break into the base?" "Hang a lantern on it, how tough it is to get the codes, but that makes her twice as cool for pulling it off."
Other examples of this script trick include dialogue like "Imagine finding an exact double of you right here in the city! It's almost impossible!" and "Atmospheric conditions in outer space often interfere with transmissions." It's a way of telling your audience that you knew this is stupid and don't worry, you're taking care of it. If you ever watched ALIAS you may remember Marshall, the gadget nerd? He had a full time job hanging lanterns.

A few lanterns, judiciously placed, go a long way toward helping the audience suspend disbelief and just enjoy themselves. Maybe afterwards you may think, "almost impossible?" But by then the show's over.

Incidentally, the Wild Wild West was also frequently guilty of another writing crutch, which Kung Fu Monkey calls "Sucking the Day-Player Crack Pipe" but I think we can address that at another time.

Jay Leno Show May Be Profitable in Other Ways

h/t via Hollywood Reporter

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Amanda Palmer Unashamedly Bleeds You Dry

Amanda Palmer, incendiary lead singer of "punk cabaret act" the Dresden Dolls, just posted a very interesting piece to her MySpace page about why she's not ashamed to ask you for money. I'm going to quote her here, and warn you in advance about rough language. Sorry but it's the future of media at stake.

artists need to make money to eat and to continue to make art.

artists used to rely on middlemen to collect their money on their behalf, thereby rendering themselves innocent of cash-handling in the public eye.

artists will now be coming straight to you (yes YOU, you who want their music, their films, their books) for their paychecks.
please welcome them. please help them. please do not make them feel badly about asking you directly for money.
dead serious: this is the way shit is going to work from now on and it will work best if we all embrace it and don't fight it.
It's a much longer post and I'm only quoting a little bit. You want more, befriend Amanda. I'm inclined to agree with her. The middlemen won't disappear but they're not running the whole show from now on. If you like someone's work, and they're still alive, pay for it. (Unless they tell you otherwise). If you don't, they got to take a day job, and all their material will be about how awful it is to work at "x". Do we really need a generation of songs about being a waiter?

A Medal-Of-Freedom-Shaped Scar On Her Forehead

Look, none of this stuff matters, but did you ever notice that JK Rowling hasn't received a presidential medal of freedom for encouraging millions of young people to read, you know, books? No? Well, if you had, would you have wondered why? Yes? Good.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling missed out on a top honour because some US politicians believed she "encouraged witchcraft", it has been claimed.

Matt Latimer, former speech writer for President George W Bush, said that some members of his administration believed her books promoted sorcery.

As a result, she was never presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The claims appear in Latimer's new book called Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor.

He wrote that "narrow thinking" led White House officials to object to giving Rowling the civilian honour.
This story is mostly notable because it comes from the BBC, which explains why it's so prominently placed there - famous local girl denied award because of crazy American religious beliefs. It's a perfect storm to those guys. Still, considering this was the last time in history that kids will read books (now they're reading text messages) it seems a shame to have let the opportunity pass.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Weekend Box Office

The chart is here.

Predictable animated 3D extravaganza Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs pulls down $25 mil, which puts it at #1 in its second week. This relegates two newcomers, Surrogates and Fame to the #2 and #3 spots respectively. If only they'd cast Bruce Willis in Fame instead!

Curiosities: Star Trek is still in theatres somewhere, at #49 and making 66K for the weekend. A documentary called The Windmill Movie comes in last (#128) at an even $100. What do ya think - did they round up or down? Me too.

Monday, September 28, 2009

19% Of Amusement Parks Are Fraidy-Cats

Got plans for Halloween? Want some?

Associated Press reports, in the most perfunctory fashion imaginable, that 81% of American amusement parks will be offering some Halloween-themed experience this year. Less than half of them were doing this fifteen years ago, which means that the devil is winning I suppose. Get thee behind me, devil!

Anyway, click on the link and it lists every single one of 'em.

I still don't know what I'm going to dress up as this year, but it will probably utilize the long black wig that I have in storage. Oh what the hell, I'll be Dave Grohl. That's settled. Now to design candy-avoidance strategies.

The Least Noble Roman Of Them All

Just a quick note to acknowlege the absense here of news about Roman Polanski on this blog. We are about show BUSINESS, people! The messy personal lives (and frequently criminal activity) of celebrities is well-covered elsewhere. We are not going to hang a lantern on THAT crap.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Finalist Destination

Recall a few days ago, when I said we semi-finaled at Austin?

Yeah, that's right: I got the call from Alex, the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition coordinator, about an hour ago.

The Sensitivity Program made it to the final round.

This is incredibly big.

This means our humble little narrative is in the top 0.1 percent of the 4000 entrants, and there are only one or two other finalists in our category.

More later. But for now, just... Wow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bragging For Illustrative Purposes

One of the many schemes I have been working is an attempt to break into the Voice Acting business. It's kind of an extension of my pricey podcasting hobby. After all, I have decent quality mics and recording software already, along with a speaking voice that people frequently tell me is broadcast quality. Even when I'm ordering pizza.

So when I finally landed a paying gig last night (woo hoo! Sample line: "Aren't all gold-resellers the same?") I was thrilled. Especially since the whole job took about an hour and fifteen minutes. That includes the original audition, laying down the tracks, emailing them AND drawing up the invoice.

Here is why the allure of showbiz is so strong: if you look at what I got paid for that time, compared to what I get paid at my straight job, it's a considerable improvement. I don't want to discuss concrete numbers, but let's just say if I got 7 hours a week of VO gigs like this one, I woudn't need the 40 hours a week of accounting. If I ever get a gig at a radio station, I'm sitting pretty. Assuming there still ARE radio stations.

This is why people assume that if you're famous, you're rich.

The fallacy here is that the money I got from this gig can't be considered the result of an hour's work. You should really pro-rate it over a period of six months, because that's how long I've been auditioning for gigs. Presumably I'll do better now, because I've refined my pitch and I have a credit under my belt, but in the meantime I'm eating bagged salads at home, not dining at Spago with hot younger women. Over six months, what I earned (and I'm watching PayPal like at hawk to make sure it comes in) isn't even stamp money.

Still what the hell, I may invite a hot younger woman to Spago, to celebrate.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Very Canadian Cartoon

The latest cartoon I have been watching too much of is “6teen,” an animated tweener "situational comedy." This native product of Canada chronicles the lives, loves and adventures of Wyatt, Jonsey, Jen, Jude, Caitlin and Nikki, six high-schoolers working and hanging out in a huge shopping mall. It’s a colorful show, animated in the line-less Flash style: Erin Esurance would feel right at home there.

Cartoon Network airs this show in the United States (with a TV-PG rating, unusual for a non-"Adult Swim" show) but I've managed to catch most of the episodes on YouTube. As it is with anything on TV I find worthwhile, “6teen” has some quirks to it, both endearing and outright puzzling.

• Six inseparable pals, three guys and three girls, and one “will they-won’t they?” relationship in the mix: sound familiar? Yeah, it borrows heavily from “Friends.” Character traits have been diced up and redistributed from one to the other: “6teen's” Caitlin Cooke is a slightly daffy shopaholic with keen comic timing-- so she’s Rachel and Phoebe. It may be derivative, but all you have to do is recall the lame plagiarism of “The Honeymooners/The Flintstones” to realize this is an improvement.

There is one aspect this Canadian 'toon has way over the American sitcom it derives from: It's characters are (likely by government decree) racially diverse. The "Friends" were lily-white. And “6teen” is, in terms of character, a more mechanically sound and effective comedy than “Friends” ever was. As opposed to the gang of 30-something New Yorkers, the six kids from Canada have a very good reason to carry on like a bunch of 16-year-olds.

• “6teen” is a purely Canadian product. It’s refreshing and unusual to see a show made in Canada that isn’t trying to be American (The late, and very lamented, “Reaper:” set in Seattle, shot in Vancouver). The $5 bills that change hands are blue; everybody is assumed to know how to ice skate. Jonesy-- the tall lothario of the group-- speaks with a strong Canadian vowel rising. (Jonesy is now in committed relationship with Nikki, which makes him both Joey and Ross.)

• If this show is indicative of the society it depicts, Canadians evidently have a strong affinity for humor based on bodily functions. Alright, It might just be the show itself: fart jokes are the definition of sophomoric humor, and “6teen” features, and is demographically designed for, sophomores. The thing that is remarkable is the volume and centrality of gross-out humor, especially considering this show is partly funded by Canadian taxpayers.

Comparing “6teen” to non-cable prime-time sitcoms, it actually pushes the gross humor envelope further than most. One episode is centered on the question of whether or not a man can still love a woman after seeing her excreta. One character is constantly ribbed for having thrown up in his girlfriend’s mouth on a first date—and eventually we get to see this happen on-screen. “Two and a Half Men,” an adult-oriented sitcom on CBS, can barely compete at this level, and remember: this is kid’s programming.

This brings us right to another animated series featuring fart-obsessed Canadians: the Terrance and Philip “meta-show” on “South Park.” According to Trey Parker and Matt Stone, they created the Canadian duo as a response to complaints that their show was all bad animation and fart jokes. But if you tune into “6teen” it quickly becomes plain that Canadians really do own this subgenre of humor. One of three things has happened here:

  1. Trey and Matt actually DID know Canadians are really into poo-poo jokes, and wrote Terrance and Philip accordingly;
  2. The showrunners of “6teen” are knowingly playing into the “South Park” joke;
  3. Native Canadian humor as a whole has, solely by the influence of “South Park,” evolved into a constructed stereotype.

Season four of “6teen” began a few days ago (“Labour Day,” which was shown on Teletoon on Labour Day, the same day as American Labor Day). It was, of course, available online a few hours later.