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.