Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Hazy Shade Of Winter

It's so cold, nobody wants to go out. Last night I stayed home and made it what used to be called a Blockbuster night; now is a Netflix/Fry's Gift Certificate night. Two movies from Universal Studios in the eighties: Back to the Future and The Allnighter.

I should have seen The Allnighter 23 years ago, when I was managing the theatre in Westwood where it premiered. Opening day I was shuffling into the auditiorium as the show ended, gazing at my shoes, and I almost bashed into Bangles lead singer and Allnighter star Susannah Hoffs, who was doing the exact same thing on her way out. We both looked up just in time and she flashed me that famous 1000-watt smile. I vowed then that I would see this movie, no matter how bad it was said to be. However, it was said to be really, really bad so I didn't get around to it.

As it turns out, the reputation isn't especially fair. The Allnighter's chief problem is that instead of being driven by narrative, its engine is adorableness. Hoffs is adorable, she had two adorable college roomates (DeDee Pfeiffer and Joan Cusak) and they hang out with a couple of adorable hunky surfers. Even the cop (Pam Grier) who arrests two of the girls after mistaking them for adorable prostitutes is adorable. The film was directed by Tamar Simon Hoffs, Susannah's Mom, and she manages to make the semi-nude sex scene between a surfer and her own daughter adorable. An adorable Freudian nightmare. The movie didn't make a lot of money, which suggests a: that a movie starring a Bangle should include some goddam Bangles music; and a. that there is only so much adorable you can cram into a film.

Incidentally, though advertised as "the deluxe edition" this DVD not only doesn't include commentary, or trailers, or outtakes - it doesn't even include menus! Just watching it is deluxe enough for the likes of you.

Back To the Future, in a gorgeous trilogy Blu-Ray box set, has narrative drive to spare. I was only planning to watch the first twenty minutes to admire how they set up the rest of the movie and of course, I was sucked into viewing the whole thing. It's a fine swiss watch, and my favorite kind of movie - where they get to you care about insanely meaningless things through sheer craftsmanship.

I have a personal connection to this one too, incidentally. I am Facebook pals with JJ Cohen who plays one of Biff's henchmen, Skinhead. "Hey, hey, listen, guys. Look, I don't wanna mess with no reefer addicts, okay?" That's JJ. Nice fellah.


BTTF is a perfect example of Bob Zemeckis' directing style - he's always looking for ways to trim the fat, to find a way to visually set up something instead of using dialogue. Everything that happens in this movie is either a set-up or a payoff. I think the reason Spielberg got behind Zemeckis is he recognized that this kind of thing encourages repeat viewings, and after Jaws and Close Encounters he saw that the repeaters wound up making up the bulk of the moolah. There are a hundred little gags in this movie that you won't catch at first. My favorite is still the Twin Pines Mall sign at the beginnning of the movie. Marty goes back in time, knocks over a tree, and when he comes back at the end the sign says Lone Pine Mall. Simple, elegant, funny.
 
I'm looking forward to watching Part 2 again, which has a third act that takes place during the third act of Part 1 and has the characters scurrying around the action trying to avoid being spotted by earlier versions of themselves. It's so needlessly complicated that it's just magical.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Weekend Box Office

The best-laid numbers of mice and men oft go aglay.

Usually that week between Christmas and New Years is a huge box office bonanza. Everybody is done with their shopping; frequently there is family at the house that you want to get away from; often you have a little gift cash so you take it to the latest Oscar-buzz movie. EXCEPT when there is a major paralizying storm all along the eastern part of the United States, which happens to be exactly what is going on this week.

So decent numbers for new releases but not staggering numbers. For example, at #1 we have Little Fockers, the reportedly excerable third sequel to the let's-humiliate-Ben-Stiller franchise. It only made $31 million over the weekend, and word of mouth ougtta wipe that out this weekend. Next at #2, True Grit. Well-reviewed and eagerly awaited by New York sophisticates, it made $25 million.

At #8, proof that Jack Black isn't money in the bank: Gulliver's Travels made $6 million. Needz moar Kyle.

Harry Shearer recommends The Illusionist on his Twitter feed. Haven't seen it but the animated ghost of Jaques Tati is better than no Tati at all. Keep warm everybody!

Monday, December 27, 2010

2001: A Media Purchasing Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey is still, and always has been, my favorite film. So naturally I always want a copy of it on-hand so I can enjoy the transcendent experience of viewing it when the spirit moves me. Changing technologies being what they are, to have this convenience meant I have had to purchase this film over and over and over. This is a rough timeline of my technological and financial relationship with Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece:

1968: Seen for the first time, when I was about five years old. My dad and his friend went to see 2001 in it's roadshow Cinerama release at the Century 21 in San Jose. They took me along, stuffing me in the back of a VW bug and telling me we were going to the dump ("We're getting close. Can you smell it?") I was absolutely transfixed by the film and it's message: My Dad told me, years later, I spent the trip back over the hill explaining the film to him. He also admitted that he and his buddy saw it in his generation's preferred mode: getting high and "tripping on the groovy colors." This is the likely reason I "blew his mind" with the explanation. Cost: Free.

After the movie Dad bought me the roadshow program for 2001. I was five, so it's likely I ate it, but I wish I still had it: beautifully printed, with vellum inserts, and worth a mint now.

1970-2005: saw 2001 twenty-three more times in theatres. This includes every opportunity to see it a 70mm revival. The last time I saw 2001 on a big screen was back in 2005, when the Castro threw a 70mm film festival. Cost: I don't know what the tickets added up to, but I'm sure it was considerable.

1984: Videotaped a letterboxed screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey on AMC, which was commercial-free back then. Minus overture and entr'acte, it just fit on a T-160 tape. Cost: $6 for the tape.

1990: Bought the standard-release Laserdisc of 2001, letterboxed and CLV. Laserdisc was the bomb for cinephiles back them, but Laserdisc was still an analog NTSC format, less detailed than a standard DVD. Cost: about $30.

1996: The Deluxe Edition of 2001, a four-disc CAV Laserdisc boxed set. This is still one of the most substantial versions of the movie I bought: It had a nice, big booklet, and the extras are pretty much the same ones you can get today. The box weighs over two pounds! Cost: $80.

2000: The Standard "Kubrick Collection" Letterboxed DVD. The video quality was actually a bit subpar for DVDs of this era, with expanded blacks and a bit too much compression. Still, the 5.1 audio was a revelation-- and I could watch it on my computer! Cost: $21.95.

2004: The Limited-Edition Commemorative version of 2001: a two-disc DVD set, included a booklet, the soundtrack CD, a frame of 70mm film, and a mail-in offer for a free one-sheet. The absolute best, even though the visual quality of the actual film was little improved from the "Kubrick Collection" DVD. Cost: $65.00.

2007: 2001: A Space Odyssey on HD-DVD. My company was betting heavily on Toshiba's authoring-friendly HD format prevailing over Blu-Ray in the HD Format Wars. We lost that bet, and now I have a disc that will play on only one orphaned player. Still, it's in 1080 HD, and for the first time I could get a a decent approximation of the theatrical version at home. Cost: $19.95 -- at this point, 2001 is becoming a loss-leader title, and usually grouped with the cheaper discs.

2010: The Blu-ray version. It's identical in visual quality, navigation and extras to the HD-DVD version, but it's a Blu-ray, so it works in my Blu-ray player. Cost: $12.

Warner Home Video has not yet announced the limited-edition Blu-ray version of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I imagine it will be digitized at 25 MB/sec from a brand-new 4K scan of the original 65mm internegative and will feature amazing new interactive features-- including the long-lost scenes from the original director's cut. It's just a matter of time, really. I suppose I should start saving up now.

(p.s. You might be wondering how many copies of the sequel 2010 (1984) I have purchased. That number would be zero. I'm not saying that 2010 was a colossal misfire: I'm just saying that the exec who hired Peter Hyams to direct it should be beaten unconscious with a robot arm from one of Discovery's space pods.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Little 3D on the Cheap

If you can cross your eyes and you don't like to go out in weather like this, you might enjoy this: Gizmodo sponsored a 3D photography contest. Some are fantastic, some just give you a headache, but hey, no glasses! No CGI animals! No movement.

What do you want for nothin'? Milk and cookies?

Weekend Box Office

Quick, read the numbers before you get de-rezzed!

Geeks are a force to be reckoned with, it seems. Debuting at #1, the 2-decades-late sequel Tron: Legacy pulls down $44 million. Because I hate crowds (they make the theatre more laggy) I havn't seen it yet, but I love the diamond vision billboards! This ad campaign was MADE for diamond vision billboards. Maybe I'll take Mom to see it this weekend.

At #2 a 5-decades-late sequel, also a mixture of live-action and 3D CGI: Yogi Bear. Sadly it only made $16 million. Maybe it's because kids don't get that the name is a pun on famous baseball hero Yogi Berra; but more likely the filmmakers failed to approach the tone of this popular YouTube video.



Ah well, hindsight.

Also opening about 20 years late, How Do You Know, James L. Brooks' comedy. #8, $7 million. Probably deserves better but Brooks is a brilliant TV guy whose movies just don't have enough 3D, CGI or explosions for my liking. Netflix, here we come!

At the very bottom of the list, a couple of movies based on Stig Larsson novels. $20 apiece! The Girl With the Bad Distribution Deal.

Some Holiday Kindness for the Coppola Kids

Alright, I've had my sights set on Sofia Coppola for a while now.

I think it was Daniel who quoted me as saying, some four years ago, that he admired my simple adage: Films by Francis Coppola's kids all suck. This was not long before the release of Marie Antoinette which, though the film has it's defenders, was mostly met with towering brickbats. So I'd like to go on record to say that I hated it first, sight unseen.

Hey: It's me, not them. I'll admit to the core of my hostility towards Sofia and to a lesser extent his brother Roman is rooted in a deep sense of societal fairness. Meritocracy is what makes America great. It's also what draws people from all over the world to work in Hollywood-- the idea that if you have the right ideas or talent, you can go far regardless of how humble your origins are and far outside the TMZ you came from. This meritocracy ironically exists side-by-side with the most outrageous bias there is: if you're good-looking you can easily get in the door and you're guaranteed at least a walk-on or two.

The idea of aristocracies should be abhorrent to every American who has even the slightest idea of why this country was founded in the first place. But aristocracies are here, and apparently thanks to some recent bipartisan legislation they're here to stay, and on their way to being tax-free-- coincidentally, just like the nobles were in Marie Antoinette's time.

So in Hollywood we have the kids and grandkids of talented artists, their careers paths pre-paved and pre-lit, all tolls paid. Sometimes it works out well-- I'll never fault Ben Stiller for riding coattails, nor is George Clooney guilty of leveraging anything more than his aunt's last name.

But the Coppola kids are another breed entirely. Sofia in particular has no problem using the medium of film to interpret the world exclusively thorough the extremely narrow definition of being Francis Coppola's privileged kid. Lost In Translation draws deeply from her personal experiences of aimlessly hanging around in a five-star hotel in Tokyo. Marie Antoinette is a gleefully shared observation about how great it is to wear pretty clothes and cool shoes and have unlimited amounts of money.

Sofia's latest, out soon, is Somewhere, which breaks from her monologue films to something closer to a biography. It's about Johnny, a jaded movie star (Stephen Dorff-- has nobody heard of the Stephen Dorff Curse?) who spends his time doing drugs and hanging out with strippers in the Chateau Marmont (hey-- another hotel flick!). He continues his downward-- albiet well-financed-- spiral, until... according the the LA Times:
Until, that is, his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), is thrust into Johnny's care. The precocious preteen awakens his parental instinct and punctures his abiding self-absorption. Hmm. Kind of like the movie's director — who as a kid regularly took up lengthy hotel residencies while Dad shot movies such as "Apocalypse Now" and "The Cotton Club" and was exposed to her father's freewheeling Hollywood hubris — might have done?
So what we have here, protests in the press to the contrary, is Sofia tangentially making a film about... her dad. Roman did the exact same thing with his film CQ (2001), which is tangentially about his father's early career in the late 1960s.

Did I say I hated the films these guys make? Maybe I do, but I beginning to lose much of my animus toward the Coppola kids themselves. After reading the synopsis for Somewhere, I actually started to feel a little sorry for them. Imagine trying to make your mark in an industry where your father has produced undisputed masterpieces. Even worse: your father was able to create great art in a period in history when an auteur was given artistic freedom and studio funding-- a level of autonomy and unquestioned financial support on a scale the current generation of young filmmakers can only envy.

Through their self-reflexive films, it's becoming apparent Francis Ford Coppola really left his bootprint on his kids. They're a little like trauma victims, reliving overwhelming experiences by doodling them out on the walls of their rooms, never able to truly get out of their own heads.

But time and success heals all wounds, right? Roman Coppola has carved out a decent career as a Second Unit Director-- of course, it's usually for films helmed by Wes Anderson or his sister or his dad, but it's good, honest, stress-free work. And Somewhere won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival-- Of course, the glaring fact that Sofia's ex-boyfriend Quentin Tarantino was the presiding judge should probably be ignored as a wild coincidence.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Gotcha some numbers for Christmas.

Two openings in the top ten this week - for a change, I saw one of them! First of all though, we have at #1... The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which made a disappointing $26 million. I hope the guy who wrote the books didn't take it too hard! Just below it with $16 million, Angelina Jolie/Johnny Depp vehicle The Tourist. Not bad, actually! I mean the movie, not the returns. My only problem with the movie was Depp plays a normal person, but by the end of the film I made my peace with that.

In terms of per screen average, the top movie was David O. Russel's The Fighter. It made $75k on 4 screens. Thats kind of a big deal.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Or, You Could Get 2000 People To Pay You $10 Apiece

How much do you dislike crowds? Do you really hate driving 5 miles to the mall to see a first run movie? Good news!

A proposed service aims to bring movies to homes the same day they hit theaters, a milestone that Hollywood has long anticipated with a mixture of fear and fascination.

But there's a catch: At the prices currently being discussed by Prima Cinema Inc., the start-up that is touting the service, those movies will reach only world's the best-appointed living rooms.

Prima plans to charge customers a one-time fee of about $20,000 for a digital-delivery system and an additional $500 per film. The Los Angeles-based company has around $5 million in backing from the venture arm of Best Buy Co. and General Electric Co.'s Universal Pictures, and hopes to start delivering movies to customers as soon as a year from now.
Ironically the only people who could afford this service would be studio executives, who can write it off as a business expense. Hard as it is to believe, people believe this is a workable business model.

The steep price has been met with mixed reactions in Hollywood. Some executives question whether it will be possible to build a market beyond a few thousand users. (Prima says it plans to install its systems in 250,000 homes within five years.) Others say the high price would create an exclusive, super-premium niche market without cutting into existing sources of revenue.

"While this is a niche market, there is a chance for significant upside," says Adam Fogelson, chairman of Universal Pictures, which holds a minority stake in Prima. "And precisely because it is a niche market, that upside should come without harming any of our existing partners or revenue streams."

...The president of the National Association of Theatre Owners John Fithian, who was briefed on Prima, says the exhibitors reaction to Prima's model would "be decided on an individual company basis." Still, he says, most exhibitors aren't in favor of systems that impinge on movie-going.

The Prima model "makes very little sense as it risks millions to make pennies" by exposing movies to the possibility of piracy early on, Mr. Fithian says. "There is no such thing as a secure distribution to the home," he adds, noting, "This proposal will give pirates a pristine digital copy early, resulting in millions of lost revenue to piracy, while at the same time selling a very limited number of units. Only billionaires can afford $500 per movie."

..."It's clear that there is a big white space between the theatrical and DVD releases of movies that content companies can fill without cannibalizing folks on either side of the spectrum," Sony Corp. of America Chief Financial Officer Robert Wiesenthal said at a media-business conference in New York Tuesday. "There's a real consumer desire for an early, premium offering in the home."
A big white space! I see an increase in home-invasion incidents from people who can't get into a sold-out theatre but CAN break a few windows. And on their way out, they'll steal bread to feed their starving children.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Weekend Box Office

What's new? Practically nothin'. Check out the numbers if you don't believe me.

Premiering at #9 with only $3 million, Austrailian Western/Eastern The Warrior's Way. The number 1 movie was CGI hairfest Tangled, with Harry Potter taking up 2nd place.

Look, it's cold outside and you're exhaused from Black Friday shopping... maybe you should stay in and watch TV.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Reminder of What Critics Should Sound Like

...Meanwhile, director Tony Scott gives us a scene in which the railroad company's evil chairman airily takes cellphone calls about this in the middle of his golf game, and worries about the share-price! Short of actually making him wear a swastika, and putting a half-eaten baby in his other hand, there's nothing more Scott can do to signal this guy's essential evilness. The problem is that Scott, that veteran action maestro, so clearly sympathises with the train – that mighty phallic power, smashing aside cars. There's the real hero for you. As this strangely dull story headed for the buffers, the forces dragging my eyelids south were unstoppable.
- Peter Bradshawguardian.co.uk,

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weekend Box Office - Thanksgivin'

You want another helping of numbers? Take some home with you!

Bear in mind that these numbers are from the 28th to the 30th, even though it was a 4-day weekend. Most of the new movies opened on Wednesday instead of Friday which means they've made way more than you'll be seeing here. For example: that Potter kid took the number one spot, but at #2 was Disney 3D CGI extravaganza Tangled. It made $49 million in the two days, but by the end of the weekend it had pulled down $69 million. See what I'm saying? By the way, I'm pretty sure the greenlighting process for CGI animation nowadays starts with "I just wrote a new algorithm that renders great hair." "Rapunzel! Get some writers in here."

Waaay further down, Cher/Christina Aguilara vehicle Burlesque at #4, $12 million. Then #6 was Love and Other Drugs at $10 million, and #7 was Faster with $8 mil. Me, I saw Megamind. I hate crowds.

Lowest grossing new movie: The Legend Of the Pale Male. I was interested until I learned it's about a hawk, and not about me.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Most Honest Movie Title Ever

Last night I got to the multiplex and checked out Unstoppable, the Denzel Washington/Tony Scott film which might be considered a rough remake of Runaway Train (D. Andrei Konchalovski, 1985). In brief, it was very enjoyable. Tony Scott is a fine action director-- and this time, he managed to not include his typical frosting of jingoism and flag-waving. I'd even say Ol' Mr. Scott is growing a tiny bit of social consciousness.

But this entry is not really about Unstoppable: Its about the Most Honest Movie Title Ever, which I saw gracing a coming-soon one-sheet in a corridor. I had to stop and laugh at it, which sort of scared the other patrons in the immediate vicinity.

Just Go With It (2011) is a romantic comedy featuring Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. It's about a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon (Sandler) who lies to women that he's unhappily married to get dates with them. But when he meets the girl of his dreams (Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker) he enlists the help of his office assistant (Aniston) to pose as his ex-wife. Hilarious situations and many romantic misunderstandings ensue.

In the course of one's everyday interactions, we all have to deal with deceptive little phrases. These are often meant to promote social ease (“Uncle Peter sure is a free spirit, isn't he?”) and maintain harmony (“Oh,it's okay: I was tired of that Hummel figurine anyway.”). But sometimes these little nuggets are pernicious and weasely.

“Just kidding” is my least favorite: You generally hear it uttered by someone who has been been caught red-handed saying something awful, usually about you, and it literally means “I was not kidding at all.”

“Be cool” is another one I used to have to deal with back in my management days. It was usually uttered by some dopey kid doing something dangerous or illegal, and it meant “I need you to be a sucker.” If you don't let the dumb/dangerous/termination-worthy thing I just did pass, you won't be Cool.

“Just go with it” is just a more mature version of “be cool,” but it's much more subtle and therefore more pernicious. It means “I need you to ignore the unpleasant aspects of the thing I'm advocating.” In criticism, “just go with it” is a request to ignore a work's faults and turn off your natural instinct for quality. Slate's Dana Stevens if the first person I read who correctly identified this weasel phrase: in her review of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, she was amazed by the number of critics who used the phrase to give Ms. Coppola and her sucky films an inordinate amount of slack.

In any case, here is a movie with a perfectly appropriate name which works on several levels: as yet another meaningless, catch-phrasey RomCom title-- and as a startlingly honest plea to a public who are likely sick to death of the whole genre.

Another Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy, and this time she's paired up with a formerly funny actor? Just Go With It.

The fact this film is yet another remake? The original is Cactus Flower, a 1969 Walter Matthau/Goldie Hawn comedy. Just Go With It.

A film set in these difficult contemporary times about super-wealthy, beautiful people (and in the case of Ms. Decker, crazy beautiful people) living in a world with no hard edges? Where the principals couldn't even be persuaded to make the film anywhere but West Los Angeles and Hawaii? Just Go With It.

Yet another romantic comedy based on deception and lying, where the big complication could be sorted out by a 30-second conversation? Just Go With It.

I suppose we owe Happy Madison and Columbia Pictures a debt of gratitude for being so darn honest. I'd love it if such direct naming became a trend-- but how many movies can you name More Of The Same?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Glee Makes a Breakout Character (or tries to)

I'm not one to quibble about how a successful television series is made. A good show is a soup with lots of ingredients that have no business being in the same pot. Good-looking actors-- but not TOO good-looking. Compelling story arcs-- but interesting episodic writing. Characters who care about each other, but are able to mortally insult each other regularly. If it's a soup, it's Beef-and Bubble-Gum Stew.

I'm not a regular viewer of "Glee" on FOX, but I catch it now and then. As TV show metaphors go, it's more briskety and bubble-gummy than most shows. It's a showcase for a number of audacious gimmicks and marketing strategies. It's skewed young, a demographic the nets still slaver for-- But those kids sing a lot of standards and classic pop, which will allow any 25-and-older-type-person to be able to get their dentures on at least a corner of it. They sell their own versions of these songs on iTunes, which must be a lovely source of non-advertising coin. And each episode is an opportunity for a flimsy theme: It's Britney Spears/Lady Gaga/"Rocky Horror" week! This gives "Glee" a weird critic-proof edge: unlike most shows, they can jump a different shark every week-- and there are, many, many sharks in the sea, my friend.

I've noticed, in my fitful viewing, an interesting shift of characters between Season One and Season Two.

"Glee" was a hit pretty much out of the gate, and it had a true breakout character: Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), the vindictive cheerleading coach who tried to derail the Glee Club once a week. Like everything else on "Glee," she skews two ways: as a villain (if you like the Glee kids) or an exasperated agent from our plane of reality (if you're annoyed by the Glee kids).

Breakout characters are a good thing: they indicate the show they came from is becoming part of a larger public discourse. Maynard G. Krebs, Barney Fife, The Fonz: Examples of characters who at some point eclipsed the designated main characters in popularity. This is a great development for the nets and the showrunners, not so much for the writers (who have to give the public more of what they love without breaking the show) and, I'm sure, the actors who played Dobie Gillis, Andy Griffith, and Richie Cunningham.

From what I've seen of "Glee's" Season Two, a new dynamic seems to be taking hold. Sue is still there, generally driving the B storylines as before. But it seems to be that the showrunners have taken great pains to sand off all her true meanness. She seems far less interested in trying to destroy Will Shuester's glee class, and is given all sorts of ongoing character complications (a sister with Down's Syndrome, an estranged mother, etc.) to make her more... I don't know, sensitive? What I do know is Sue Sylvester's tart reposes are so tamed down now her storylines are more distracting than menacing.

The interesting thing I mentioned: I think the showrunners are trying to willfully engineer a new breakout character in Kurt Hummel (Chris Colfer), an openly gay student in the glee club. As Season Two has progressed, his character's arc seems to be taking up a larger and larger part of each episode. The last one I saw had every other character acting fully on his behalf-- even Sue Sylvester.

You can tell who the breakout character of a show is not by watching the show itself, but by looking everywhere else: the Internet, supermarket check-out lines, mentions by your friends on Facebook, etc. If the public's reaction is accurate, the popular characters are still Sue and the nominal leads: Finn (Corey Monteith), Rachel (Lea Michele) and especially Quinn (Dianna Agron). I don't see any particular public buzz for Kurt, no more so than the rest of the ensemble.

Now, I admit I'm a bit awed by Chris Colfer's work on "Glee:" He's playing the part, if you pardon the expression, absolutely straight. From interviews I've seen, there is not a lot of difference between him and his character. The amazing part is his success with the sort of screen persona every aspiring gay actor since talkies were invented, due to the prejudices of the day, had to take great pains to hide. Be it luck or the times we live in, Kurt is an undiluted version of the majority of guys I knew from high school Theater Arts.

Which brings me back to why, exactly, Kurt is taking center stage in Season two. I'll guess it's because of a simple reason: his story is the one the producers want to tell. Which is why "Glee" is beginning to feel like someone rewriting their own high school experiences-- from a very particular perspective.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Hey, I ain't just conjuring up these numbers.

It's tempting to do a gag about this being an unexpected sleeper hit, but I think I'll just dump this into your lap without the jokes: #1 in the nation, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 1, $125 million. Expect more from Part 2, coming out in about 6 months. Ain't many folk being fired at Warner Brothers this year!

Also opening this week, Russell Crowe vehicle The Next Three Days, which came in at #5 with only $6 million. What's it about? Hell I can't even remember the title and it's right in front of me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Download Me A Pitch Meeting With JB

Look out - Amazon is buying screenplays. I hope they have better luck with movie production than Netflix did. And I hope Warner Brothers has better luck with crowdsourcing than... well, I wish them luck.

The Maritally Estranged Mr. Limpet

Just seen in super-sharp HD: The 1964 film The Incredible Mr. Limpet. I would not consider this the zenith of the Don Knotts cinematic ouevre – That honor goes to The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, which was ahead of it's time in density of wit and running gags. But I saw Limpet a lot on TV as a kid, and I'll admit to having a soft spot for it.

This new viewing was a bit of a revelation. I assumed it was a kiddie film, but now I can see it wasn't, despite it's animated fantasy elements. The story begins a few months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor: Mr. Limpet is an unassuming bookkeeper who is far more fascinated by fish than his work or his marriage. And we see why: his wife Bessie is overbearing, and his friend George has managed to join the Navy, while he is 4F. Limpet is in such a state of general pessimism about the human condition that early in the film he voices a hope that we will all be eradicated in the upcoming world war, which will allow fish to evolve into our replacements.

Through a bit of unexplained wish-granting, Mr. Limpet falls into the Atlantic and turns into a fish. He quickly adapts and even gains the love of Ladyfish, a comely, naïve female of his new species who talks in a breathy Marilyn Monroe voice. But Mr. Limpet still feels the pull of his old life-- and addresses it's disappointments by helping the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet locate and destroy German U-Boats.

From a 2010 perspective, Mr. Limpet is an unusually bloodthirsty animated protagonist: there are lots of stock-footage shots of submarines imploding and the seas strewn with shattered hulls. Das Boot and Crimson Tide lie between us and this film, and we as an audience now know how horrible it is to die in a submarine. But in 1964, the war was still a fresh memory, and I'm sure every person in the cast and crew were WWII veterans. The enemy was invariably identified as “Nazis” in the film, as in “I'll lead your ship to the Nazi submarines!”

After a lot of German sailors, most of whom were not Nazi Party members, go to their watery graves, the war eventually ends. With the explicit permission of his estranged wife, Mr Limpet and Ladyfish swim off to “the spawning grounds.” The end.

Mr. Limpet, as a fish, often contends with how this unusual dilemma affects his relationships. His former marriage is de facto void, but since Bessie is not technically a widow and they never divorced, his guilt (and then-current social morés) initially prevents him from consummating his relationship with Ladyfish (which should consist of her depositing a clutch of eggs while he sheds gametes into the surrounding water: I'll bet he didn't think that part through when he was wishing to be a fish). His unexplained metamorphosis creates ethical and logical problems no amount of hung lanterns can explain away.

This leads to a completely different reading of The Incredible Mr. Limpet. With one small adjustment, the story can make sense: when Henry Limpet looks out into the sea and says to himself “I wish I were a fish,” what if he meant “I wish I were single?” As a bachelor/fish, Mr. Limpet is able to achieve his full potential: he makes friends, joins the service and receives a commission, and gets to be the hero who eradicates the Axis menace from the Atlantic. None of this would be possible if he had stayed married/human. In the end, after the fighting is over and he retires with honors, Mr. Limpet amicably parts with his first wife and moves on, to live happily ever after with his comely, naïve Ladyfish/second wife.

Just to drive this home, but maybe as just an indication of how serial monogamy worked in the 1960s, I was struck by how much this reminded me of the last season of “Mad Men,” set in 1965. Bessie, in her shrill, domineering way, reminded me of Betty Draper, Don Draper's first wife; Ladyfish had the same youthful, big-eyed, come-hither ways as Megan Calvet, Don's soon-to-be second wife. But Don Draper and Don Knotts: polar opposites, save that first name.

And yes, I'm afraid The Incredible Mr. Limpet is being remade. Warner Bros. has tapped Kevin Lima to direct this effort, which is a good idea: He directed Enchanted, and knows a thing or two about blending reality and fantasy that skews for kids and grownups both. To portray the updated Mr. Limpet, they're looking at Zach Galifianakis. This is an awful idea, for a reason that should be painfully obvious: How can a fish version of Zach be designed to resemble him when fish don't have beards? Duh. I'll even ignore the fact that his style of humor couldn't be a worse fit for the role. Of course, by the time this film is released Zach Galifianakis will have completed his magical transformation into Jack Black and this point will be moot.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weekend Box Office

What's the story? Numbers.

Megamind still keeps its diabolical hold on the number one spot with $29 million, but 3 other movies opened this week and they deserve our attention too! For example, Unstoppable coming in at #2 with $23 million. Like director Tony Scott's career, it's the story of a train that cannot be stopped no matter what kind of damage it may cause. At #4 it's Skyline, an alien invasion story that looks good in trailers but I'm suspicious that it seemed to emerge from nowhere in the last week or so, indicating a flop in the making, but for now it pulled down $11 million. at #5 with only $9 million we have Morning Glory, starring Harrison Ford and a few other of our most treasured has-beens.

At the bottom of the chart, The Magician, which made $22 at one theatre. What is this movie? A helpful synopsis can be found on its IMDb page, and it's cowritten by the guy who wrote the screenplay.

The Magician recounts a series of strange moments that take place at the wake of a man who seems to have scarcely lived. What begins as an attempt to distract a little girl from the death of her father becomes a true spectacle as a man dressed in a tuxedo performs trick after trick, each more unbelievable than the last, culminating in a moment so surreal and implausible that Daryl's death becomes silenced in the minds of all the mourners.
Imagine, a moment so surreal that it can SILENCE A DEATH!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Free Movie Friday: The 39 Steps

There's this fellah, used to direct movies. Called Alfred Hitchcock. Overweight fellah. He's best known as the guy who directed Rear Window, which was eventually turned into Disturbia. Anyway, something else he did, pretty early on his career, was a movie called The 39 Steps. It's free here.

Thanks to Col Needham col@imdb.com for the synopsis:

Richard Hannay is a Canadian visitor to 1930's London. After a disturbance at a music hall, he meets Annabella Smith who is on the run from foreign agents. He takes her back to his apartment, but they are followed and later that night Annabella is murdered. Hannay goes on the run to break the spy ring and thus prove his innocence.

All the classic Hitchcock themes and tropes are there except one: you don't have to pay for this! Enjoy, 'cause it's free movie Friday!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Don't take my word for it! These numbers are here for all to see!

I guess 3D isn't dead yet. Megamind, a CGI cartoon with hip voice talent such as Will someone and Tina whatshername, generates $46 million and the number 1 spot. Next down, Due Date; a Zack Gallifinakis vehicle in which he and Robert Downey Jr. drive around in a, uh, vehicle. $33 million, no special effects! #3 earned $19 million and is a sensitive drama called For Colored Girls; that's pretty impressive for a movie that has chick flick and minority written all over it.

It should worry you that after 4 weeks, Jackass 3D has made $110 million and Red has only made $71 million. Oscars aren't box office magnets after all, unless you are swinging them repeatedly at someones head and laughing.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Gaudiest, the Most Violent, the Lonesomest Mile in the World



This is an example of one of my favorite Old Time Radio Shows, Broadway is My Beat. The thing I like about it is the writing - the dialog and narration on this show is a rare and beautiful thing, an insane combination of blank verse and David Mamet style meaningful gibberish. It's about half an hour and within the first five minutes you'll see what I mean. The fact that actors are able to pull this stuff off is a tribute to how good actors were in those days.

The show was written by Morton Fine and David Friedkin,  and produced by the king of Radio Noir, Elliot Lewis. The dynamic of the show, typically, pitted the boring and straight-arrow detective Danny Clover against an array of hyperneurotic brittle New York sophisticates, beatnik junkies, and colorful crypto-homosexuals.

This episode, the Paul Holland Murder Case, features Paul Frees in a bit part as a witness who insists on calling Danny Clover "Robert" without any reason.  Anyway, enjoy because this is your free movie Friday. If you like it and want more, check this out.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Scary, scary numbers.

Sorry I'm late... I had an election to blog about elsewhere. Besides, it was especially unsurprising at the movies last weekend. #1: Saw 3D, as in "I saw this many times before, but not in 3D." Perhaps on the strength of the optical gimmick, it made $21 million. Also note that Paranormal Activity 2 displayed a few interestings binomials: dropped to 2nd place, was shot in 2D, is a 2nd sequel. Unfortunately it also lost almost 60% from it's opening week instead of 20%, and only pulled in $16 million. Happy Halloween!

A movie called Shake Hands With the Devil premiered almost dead last, with $86 total. Curiously, that's kind of what I was blogging about on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Zombie-Civilization Inverse Rule

AMC rolled out the premiere of their new zombie horror/drama series "The Walking Dead" last night. Our cable system broadcasts the East coast feed of AMC in HD, so it was on at 7, rather than 10.

There was way too much going on last night to watch this show live. Trick-or-treaters descend on our neighborhood like hordes of hungry locusts. (You know, if some kid in a locust costume came to the door and said "Gimme candy, I'm a hungry, hungry locust!" I for one would give him extra treats for the effort.) We got 141 trick or treaters that night, and at the same time Game 4 of the World Series was on and San Francisco was pitching a shutout. So the wife and I took turns shoveling out mini-Hersheys or watching the game unfold. After we ran out of candy at 8:30 we shut off the lights, caught our breath, and watched "The Walking Dead."

It was worth waiting for. It was quite terrifying and gross, and it hewed close to the baseline, George Romero Living Dead definition of zombie: slow, uncoordinated, but hungry and dangerous in large numbers. Frank Darabont directed the pilot, and he knows how to structure a sense of menace into his scenes: you find yourself scouring the frame looking for places a zombie might enter. I have to give it the ultimate accolade for a horror movie: later on, I had vivid zombie nightmares.

It drew the biggest audience for any original show on AMC so far. I had read several write-ups on the show, mostly quite positive. The New York Times review made a point of comparing zombies to vampires ("Zombies are from Mars, vampires are from Venus.") The Los Angeles Times had an extensive slideshow showing the type, underlying meaning and appeal of zombies and the variations thereof.

It's all mostly excellent analysis (zombies are the ultimate consumers/proletarians; they're symbolic of SARS/The Vietnam War/The Tea Party, etc.) but the analyses seem to concentrate solely on the creatures themselves.

I've always found the most compelling aspect of any zombie movie to be how their rise (often sudden, sometimes not) affects civilization. I believe this aspect is compelling for a lot of zombie-movie aficionados. There is a very important inverse-proportion rule at work in these movies: the more utterly destroyed civilization is, the more terrifying the living dead are. If chaos reigns, the lights don't come on, and there's no TV or radio, you're truly on your own. Humans (at least movie-going humans) are creatures who thrive in the artificial light of the technologically advanced world. In this regard, the living dead are the darkness, spreading chaos one shambling step at a time. This interpretation of zombie movie universes can be charted thus, in steps of increasingly dire circumstances:

Stage 1: Disruption. Things are just starting to turn bad. The lights are still on, and TV shows scenes of panic or urgent public service messages. The zombies are usually still contained to a small area (Night of the Living Dead) and when things start to unravel things get interesting (both versions of Dawn of the Dead and Romero's later films). Zombie comedies tend to keep their universes in Stage 1: that way, the horror can be thrilling without becoming too grim (Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead). There is usually a reason the lights are still on, but sometimes these reasons are lazily ignored (Zombieland: everyone is dead except for power company employees, apparently) or a lantern is hung on it (in Dawn of the Dead a character plainly surmises the mall is powered by nearby nuclear plants).

Stage 2: Widespread Chaos. The lights are off, and everyone is dead. But there are still pockets of ad hoc civilization and order, and the wagons are circled. Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead and 28 Days Later show the world in this state. These enclaves of humanity generally don't last long, which leads to...

Stage 3: Complete Chaos. we're down to individuals trying to survive: no help of any kind is available. "The Walking Dead" and the first half of 28 Days Later feature protagonists utterly alone and clueless. The main character of the "I Am Legend" movies (The Omega Man, I Am Legend) are not only dealing with zombies, they have to battle isolation and guilt over the fact that the creation of the zombies is their own fault.

One very good recent film shows what Stage 3 would look like without zombies: The Road. Some unknown ecological catastrophe has killed everything, and the few individuals left are reduced to scavenging and cannibalism. It's proves the inverse proportion rule: just showing, quite accurately, the struggle to survive in a hostile, chaotic world is terrifying enough without the help of the shuffling undead.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Post-Mortem on a Ghost Gig

This weekend I concluded one of the weirder acting jobs I'll ever have, playing a role in the Simi Valley Ghost Tour, an historical re-enactment-cum-haunted house at a park just 3 miles north of the Regan Library.

The Robert P. Strathearn Historic Park boasts a plethora of buildings and artifacts from Simi Valley's past, most of them transplanted from their original locations. For the tour, many of these locations were populated by actors portraying ghosts of the original inhabitants (the ghost of General Store owner, for example, or the ghost of Crash Corrigan) and the rest of the ghosts were liberally sprinkled about wherever they could set up lighting. The tour would stop, the actors would perform a 3 page scene about their life and times

My station was a gazebo. The original concept called for me to play a parrot with Captain Juan Bautista De Anza, who led the expedition that brought Santiago DeLaCruz Pico to California. DeAnza is trying to convince the audience that he's a sea captain, which he believes is a better story than the truth, which is that the expedition traveled 1,000 miles on foot. A friend of mine recommend me for the gig because I had done the voice of a parrot in Light Up the Sky earlier this year when I wasn't onstage playing a human. They had a parrot suit ready for me and everything!

The week before we began our 3 weekend run, it was finally determined that the guy playing DeAnza just wasn't going to show up, and there was no time to find another actor because all the available local talent was gearing up for a production of Annie. So I was cajoled into playing both parts with the aid of a hand puppet, which was obtained from e-Bay cheaply and quickly. No dialog had to be changed, though I added a line at the end:

PARROT: You're nothing without me!

DE ANZA: Nonsense.

PARROT: At least when you talk, my lips don't move!

If the applause didn't kick in at that point, I had "You don't even HAVE lips" waiting as a backup.

So in practice, the gig was like this: A tour is admitted into the park. At this point, I wait because as station 11 I was at least an hour away from my first performance. Eventually the crowd would arrive at the barn across from my gazebo, which still meant 20 more minutes, and from then on I could watch Krishnaventa, the crazed cult leader to see how the crowd might be for my scene. On a typical night I would do the scene 8-15 times to groups of varying enthusiasm.

It occurred to me that the gig kind of approximates the experience of being an actual ghost: stuck in the same place, forced to perform the same actions for what seems like an eternity.

I haven't had to do a dual act by myself since high school, and you know what? It gets lonely up there. If I forget my lines I got no one to prompt me. Periodically I would make a mistake and have the parrot correct me, or the other way around. After a while I relished those kinds of errors because it livened up the scene for me. I never made them on purpose though because people can tell.

It wasn't all isolation though; each scene was introduced by a local junior high school kid, and they hung out with me at the gazebo between scenes unless they hung our somewhere else. They were like a pack of energy-drink-fueled wolves, roaming around the park. I learned probably a little more about 13-year-olds than I really wanted to know. For one thing, all the girls like Philip* but they don't LIKE him.

I'm pleased to report that it was a paying gig and I did get paid. Not only that, but... well, at some point one of the other actors suggested I should get twice the pay because I was playing two parts. I laughed it off but in fact, they did give me a bonus. It wasn't twice, but it wasn't nothin' either. And next year the organizers tell me they are going to keep the concept of a ventriloquist act for that scene, because I guess it worked. Kudos to me for not ruining Juan Bautista De Anza's (and Pequito's) big night!

*name changed to protect "Philip"

Friday, October 29, 2010

New "Galactica" pilot: About Frakin' Time

The whimsically spelled SyFy Channel has ordered a pilot for a new Battlestar Galactica series, subtitled "Blood and Chrome." This one will be set about 25 years before the original and will feature the young fighter pilot William Adama against the backdrop of the first Cylon War.

About time! I don't know how long I can hold on with "Caprica," the BSG prequel which SyFy is currently producing. This series is set 40-odd years before BSG, and William Adama is in it too, but just a background character, a grade schooler from a gangster family.

"Caprica" is a good-looking series, but story-wise it is seriously land-locked: It consists of a tangled series of dramatic arcs, for the most part taking place in and around greater Caprica City (that is, greater Vancouver). So the plot twists and turns never take it anywhere near a spaceship. And as for Cylons, there's only one of them (the creation of the Cylon race is the overarching narrative) and at least in this half of the season it's busted and in pieces in a shipping crate. There are, however, plenty of terrorists, angsty teenagers, virtual reality and the aforementioned gangsters, so in its current form "Caprica" is sort of a Matrix-"Gossip Girl"-"Sopranos" mash-up.

According to The Hollywood Reporter "Caprica" is on the bubble, so it may or may not come back after its season concludes in a few weeks. IMO, there is nothing wrong with "Caprica" that can't be fixed by accelerating the action and paring down a story arc or two. And SyFy can definitely handle two series in the same fictional universe: I think there are seventeen "Stargate" series going right now.

What's weird about "Caprica" is a strange free-floating fatalism, a sense of foreboding that pervades everything about it. This is because the pilot of the 2004 BSG* (and the first first one from 1978) kicks off with the Cylons destroying Caprica and pretty much everything else. So all the characters, their passions and anguishes, their fine houses and sports facilities, are all gone in 40 short years. "Caprica" isn't a Cabaret-like pre-war reverie: it's a lot more like a teen drama set in the World Trade Center in 2000.

And I'm sure "BSG: Blood and Chrome" will be even more foreboding, but at least it will have lots of cool spaceships and legions of fully functioning Cylons to shoot at.

*Just so I can say it again: the BSG mini-series is still one of the finest things I have ever seen on television. incredible characters, amazing art direction and effects, and superb storytelling.

Still My Favorite Lantern

From Halloween III, Season Of The Witch, Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) reveals the source of his magical powers of evil - an enormous grey monolith.

Conal Cochran: From an ancient, sacrificial circle... Stonehenge.

[Shows Chaliss the rock]

Conal Cochran: Ha ha. We had a TIME getting it here. You wouldn't believe how we did it.

[laughs; Shows him a small stone from Stonehenge]

Conal Cochran: It has a power in it.
"A time?" Really? How exactly did you procure a piece of one of the most photographed and watched landmarks in the world without someone noticing, if you don't mind my asking? You DO mind? Allrighty.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers, a day late.

Paranormal Activity 2 is the whole story this week, basically. Premiere at #1, $41 million. It'll do less this weekend in that the audience for the movie is going to be at parties. I suppose you might also note that Clint Eastwood's Hereafter made it into the top ten after a limited run, notching in at #4 with $12 million. Meh.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Giants in World Series, Viewers or Not


The San Francisco Giants are in the 'ship for the first time since 2002, and everybody up here in the Bay Area has contracted World Series fever. The fever manifests itself as an obsession with black and orange, which are also Halloween colors, a fine coincidence. Tickets for the series are commanding recession-defying prices: about half the seats at AT&T Park are controlled by ticket brokers (i.e. scalpers) and the prices start at about $800 for SRO. That's standing room only, nearly a thou for just making a turnstile crank around once.

The Giants (who trounced the Northeast powerhouse Phillies for the NL pennant) are playing the Texas Rangers (who creamed the Northeast powerhouse Yankees for the AL crown): neither of these franchises have ever won the series in their current home towns, and the Rangers have never been there at all. By all indications, this matchup will likely make for a very memorable championship.

The whole thing is being carried by FOX, as they usually do. So when a team from the #7 TV market faces off with the team from the #12 TV market, what do the FOX execs expect? A ratings disaster, of course. More wailing: why, oh why, can't it be the Yankees, Red Sox, the White Sox or even the Dodgers? Even the recently trounced Phillies (from TV market #4) would have done it!

Oh, for God's sake. Jeff Sullivan of SBNation.com said it best:
Ratings. Everywhere, people are talking about ratings. The Yankees versus the Phillies? That would get good ratings. The Rangers versus the Giants? That won't get good ratings. At least, not as good as the Yankees versus the Phillies. I don't know from whence all this sudden altruistic concern for the well-being of the FOX broadcasting company has come, but people are making a big deal out of this. They think that everyone at FOX headquarters must be miserable, and they're hoping against hope that millions of viewers on the fence will end up tuning in.
(He goes with some fine suggestions as to how Fox can boost ratings, such as put Jane Lynch in it or mislabel the series as an NFL game on on-screen guides.)

Great sporting events will attract great ratings. The World Cup broadcasts did very, very well and featured nothing even remotely resembling home teams. The 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves was highly viewed, because it was a seven-game nail-biter. And the Giants-Rangers series is going to be unique: I for one am not going to worry about how FOX is going to fare. They'll do fine.

And how does all this add up against the NFL, that dreadnought of American sports broadcasting, capable of flattening anything in it's way? The hugeness of the NFL's ratings compared to MLB has been a long-running trope. It's also a semi-invalid comparison. A Major League Baseball team plays over 160 games a year: a pro football team, around sixteen games. This becomes simple viewership math: all other things being equal, you get more people watching something if that something happens less often. This also gives baseball a stronger regional loyalty, and thus less stellar national ratings, than football (but allows for huge annual attendance totals, like the three million plus for the Giants: Football teams have only 8 or so home games, which the owners compensate for with jacked-up seat prices and TV revenue sharing).

There is also a qualitative difference between the pastimes: as FOXSports commentator Ken Rosenthal points out, baseball is "devoid of two NFL staples - violence and gambling." Right on.

So in summary, let me leave you with this food for thought: GO GIANTS! FEAR THE BEARD!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Free Movie Friday: The Brain That Wouldn't Die

It's a whole movie for free: The Brain That Wouldn't Die! Just click on the link, and it's yours.

Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) is a successful scientist with a beautiful fiancée named Jan Compton (Virginia Leith). After a horrible car accident decapitates Jan, Dr. Cortner collects her severed head and rushes it to his laboratory, where he revives it and manages to keep it alive in a liquid-filled tray.

Dr. Cortner now decides to commit murder to obtain an attractive new body to attach to his fiancée's head. As he hunts for a suitable specimen, Jan begins to hatch some murder plans of her own. Filled with hatred for Cortner because he won't let her die, she communicates telepathically with a hideous mutant in the laboratory cell, telling it to kill the scientist.
Like Jan, this movie sat for a long time before untimately getting release. It was shot in 1959 and released in 1962. Perhaps it too spent the time in a film developing pan. In any event it's a really fascinating look at male/female relations and it endures today (unprofitably, I admit) because the metaphorical potential of the story is greater than the telling. Much, much greater.

Incidentally I was going to title this one Free Movie Friday: A Double-Header! My plan was to showcase this movie along with They Saved Hitler's Brain. Incredibly that title is NOT IN PUBLIC DOMAIN. How could someone have taken the trouble to maintain the copywrite on that one? They must have lost money on that license. Well it's worth seeing, but not on Free Movie Friday.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In Case You Haven't Blown Enough On 3D TV Yet

While movie goers seem to be divided on whether 3D really enhances a film or not, it’s a hands down “no” for prescription glasses wearers. For those of us with less than perfect vision, wearing 3D glasses over prescription glasses can be a nauseating experience that leaves painful marks behind the ears. Samsung has recognized the fact that the majority of people require corrective lenses, and a great many choose to wear glasses, and therefore have an impeded 3D viewing experience. Their answer is prescription 3D glasses which are custom-made by an optometrist and take about a week to make.
So the medium requires a different encoded type of 3D for your player and proprietary glasses for each system (your Samsung glasses won't work with your Sony TV, for example) and now the glasses themselves will cost 3 times as much and can't be used on more than one head.

Why oh why won't people buy more 3DTVs?

h/t Gizmodo

Zombie Broadway

We're in a strange time for Broadway theater. It's been declared dead for about as long as I can remember, for one thing. I believe this has something to do with the way productions are financed-- which is, even now, not too far off from the way it was done in the the Mel Brooks "Producers" days, with individual investors and such. Producing a major play or musical is incredibly expensive now and investors are far less interested in writing off a failure than they used to. So to help guarantee a successful run (and as a sort of sad reflection to public tastes) we're now in the era of the Movie Play.

Just looking at the current crop of productions in New York, we have live, even musical versions of The Addams Family, Billy Elliot, Driving Miss Daisy, Elf, La Cage aux Folles, The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. In London, Gone with the Wind, Hairspray, The Sound of Music and Spamalot are currently competing for the theatergoer's hard-earned quid. (Sounds like the lineup on Starz, huh?)

Fine. If it gets people out to see live theater, why not? I could bemoan all the fine original plays that people should be seeing, but when you get right down to it this is all entertainment. For a blessed while highbrow concepts and intellectually challenging theater were Broadway's stock and trade, but that was a long time ago, in an era when intellectualism wasn't considered seditious. Still, if the success of a stage version of "Legally Blonde" gets folks excited about live performances, maybe they'll take a chance on something off-broadway-- something smaller and more adventurous. The Movie Play Era may seem like life support, but much like the aphorism about government, it's the theater we deserve. Zombie Broadway, dead but still walking around, if no longer seeking brains.

And then.. there's this. The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (about as far off-off Broadway you can get) is mounting a production of Plan 9 From Outer Space, the infamous cult-classic Ed Wood film from 1959. The one with Criswell, Tor Johnson, Vampira and the paper-plate flying saucers.

This is where a generally accepting approach to the Movie Play Era goes off the rails. How do you artistically stage a play based on a source that is generally known as a complete artistic failure?

Apparently, you don't have to try too hard: from The New York Times review:
Lines were bungled. Light cues missed. The pacing wandered almost as much as the performances, which ranged from the wooden to the flamboyantly hammy. In other words, the stage version of Edward D. Wood Jr.’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is just about perfect.
When the giddy, often self-referential, ironic world of off-off-Broadway tries to interpret a poorly made but completely sincere film, what is the result? If a bad film is lovingly and faithfully recreated for the stage, is it improved? If the attempt is made to turn a bad movie into a hit play, is there a point to this exercise? If the source film is mocked or riffed on or just plain goofed on, is the production inventively ironic or sort of cruel?

Regardless of what dubious theatrical truth comes out of The Brick Theater's Plan 9, I'm certain Edward D. Wood himself, were he alive, would probably be tickled pink at the honor such a production bestows upon his legacy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Weekend Box Office

The numbers! The NUMBERS!

Two new ones this week in the top ten, and it bespeaks the very sad state entertainment is in nowadays. At #2, Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren star in Red, a spy romp. Come on people! What's not to like! Actually it brought in $22 million, so it did okay. Okay unless you see that the number one movie made $50 million without Academy-Award-winning stars, a plot or a script. It's a third sequel based on a TV show! Ladies and Gents, I give you Jackass 3D, an anthology of humorous groin injuries presented in 3D. And unlike certain other recent offerings, no CGI owls.

Wow, this is a rare treat - at the bottom of the list, so far down that they aren't ranking, Behind the Burly Q. Only $39 bucks for the whole weekend!  Analyists suggest the movie would have made more but the theatre had a strict 2 drink minimum.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers here, for the detail-oriented.

Understand, The Social Network took #1 again this week so it's not that big a weekend for new movies. Still, you could do worse. Life As We Know It, which WB is selling as a comedy about child-rearing, made $15 mil in the #2 slot. With $13 mil, Secretariat comes in at #3. What do you want to bet that this was in development since Seabiscuit came out? Producer saw it, said "I want me one of those." Wes Craven's My Soul to Take only takes $7 million at #5, virtually guaranteed to be out of the way by Halloween. Sometimes it's Elm Street, sometimes it's Shocker; just can't tell with that guy.

Lowest grossing debut: As Good As Dead, which made both an average AND a total of $1494. Filmmakers are advised to vet their titles carefully for irony.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Night Beat Redux

So last night I fell asleep listening to Old Time Radio on my iPhone and I had the strangest dream.

RANDY: I'm Randy Stone. I cover the night beat for a major Chicago Metropolitan Daily. It's a different world after dark. The people you meet aren't the movers and shakers - they're just a little off-center, sometimes a little busted-up. Case in point, last night. I stopped at Joe's Diner and noticed a skinny little guy. He was gazing into a rectangle of black glass, stabbing at it with his fingers.

ME: (muttering) What the heck, friend him.

RANDY: Hey mister, you okay?

ME: Huh?

RANDY: I noticed you were attacking that piece of glass. Maybe you better put it down and pick up a hot coffee.

ME: Glass? (laughs) Oh no, this isn't glass, it's my phone.

RANDY: It's your phone, huh? Dial fall off?

ME: Oh yeah, it's only 1949. You must be Randy Stone, as portrayed by Frank Lovejoy.

RANDY: Who?

ME: Sorry, went meta on you.

RANDY: I don't get you mister.

ME: This is my phone. I know it doesn't look like a phone, but it is.

RANDY: It's not connected to anything.

ME: It's wireless... uh, like a radio.

RANDY: That so mister? You might be a good story. Mind if I sit down?

ME: Sure. It's not just a phone, you know.

RANDY: No?

ME: It's a phone and a radio. And a typewriter! And a camera. And a television.

RANDY: Come on.

ME: A color television! And come to think of it, it's a television studio! And a library, and a record player.

RANDY: It must weigh a thousand pounds. I'm surprised it isn't also an adding machine.

ME: Actually, it's a whole goddam computer. Like Univac, only a thousand times more powerful.

RANDY: You get home and get to sleep, mister.

(MUSIC PLAYS)

RANDY: I left the guy behind at the table. He wasn't hurting anyone but himself anyway. But that's the kind of guy you meet at night in this town - dreamers, fools, poets and kings - even kings of their own little made-up kingdom, where a piece of glass is all you need to build an empire.

(SFX: PAPER PULLED FROM TYPEWRITER)

RANDY: Copy boy!

(MUSIC SWELLS, AND OUT)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers here - "like" or "friend" them, won't you?

3 new movies cracked the top 10 this week but the other two don't count much. The Social Network, a handsomely mounted docudrama about the orgins of Facebook of all things, makes #1 with $22 million. I was too busy to see it..  hope there is somewhere on the web to read about it!

Further on down, a couple of horror movies about children made $5 million apiece. Whatevs.

Irony department - a documentary that's kind of about Facebook, Catfish, made $4340 per screen while a documentary about economics, Freakonomics, only pulled down $1595. If you draw any conclusions about this, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Paging Warner Bros Executives

Boys, here's a tip. Batman is the dark, conflicted one. Superman is the cheerful optimistic sunny one. That's why he dresses in primary colors.

Therefore, the news that the next Superman film is going to be directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan isn't welcome news. It's bad news. These guys are great at dark. Nolan is most famous for the latest Batman movies and Inception, Snyder brought us Watchmen and 300. Someone help me out here... how did 300 end? I'm having trouble remem -- oh yeah, Persians win, all the Spartans dead. Watchmen: the anti-Superman.

Bryan Singer's Superman Returns produced, well, disappointing Superman returns. In it, Superman was troubled, worried, and introspective. Going back to the last successful Superman series with Chris Reeve, the one that really derailed the franchise was Superman III, which had a subplot in which Superman was split off into a second, morose, hard-drinkin' Superman with a 5 o'clock shadow. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS FORMULA THAT WB DOESN'T UNDERSTAND?

Here's what they can still do to salvage the franchise - keep their existentialist-despair hero and cast Jerry Seinfeld as the villain. Yes I know the villain is already slated to be General Zod, but work with me here. Seinfeld knows Superman better than anybody; watch reruns of his show and see how often he works in a reference. Seinfeld will find ways to balance out the dour hero with a funny, maybe even optimistic nemesis.  Otherwise, I'm warning you it's another $200 million spent to make $200,000,004.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tony Curtis' Film Noir

Tony Curtis passed away yesterday. He was a fine leading man who either never got his truly big break or thought he never did. Hollywood can be a tough biz in that respect: Even at the stratospheric heights of marquee stardom (perhaps especially at that level) achieving a level of effortless fame is rare.

It was probably no coincidence then that MGM-HD screened The Sweet Smell of Success last night. I've never seen this film before, though I have the DVD (still in it's shrink-wrap).

An amazing film. It contains one of Tony Curtis' finest dramatic performances: Sidney Falco, a sycophantic, mendacious, grasping publicist. He's a thoroughly unlikable character, but all credit to Tony Curtis for finding small bits on the edges, a striving to success and a need for respect that is part of our common humanity, that audience can occasionally grab onto.

Sid the slimy PR flack carries the film, primarily because The Sweet Smell of Success is a film noir, a genre where having an unlikeable protagonist is a positive. It's an unusual noir piece because nobody gets killed in it. Beat up, yes, but not killed. I was strongly reminded of In a Lonely Place (d. Nicholas Ray, 1950) another noir set in the world of show business. The main character is a screenwriter (Humphrey Bogart) with a violent temper who is suspected of a murder.

What I found fascinating were the physical presences of the leads. Tony Curtis' Sidney Falco is a slight, thin pretty-boy (several male characters make note of his prettiness) who is always in motion, slipping in and out of scenes, hovering, scheming. In contrast, the heavy/prime mover of the piece is show-business columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). He enters scenes like a battleship, slow and overwhelming. Lancaster is a physically commanding presence, tall and broad-shouldered, his horn-rims the only clue his profession is a writer and not a Marine colonel or linebacker. It is likely unintentional (Orson Wells was originally considered for the role) but the effect is odd: Hunsecker is an acid-witted writer who can kill careers with the stroke of a typewriter key, but on screen he looks like he could murder anybody he can get his hands on. Double whammy.

The unlikeable protagonist aspect of noir seems to be the key factor in The Social Network, David Fincher's "Facebook movie" which releases today. To essay the prickly, standoffish Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg they chose Jesse Eisenberg. This is brilliant, because he physically fills the bill: hawkfaced, thin, anxious-looking, with only one or two achievable facial expressions. Dana Stevens in Slate described him as "the black hole in the movie's center." This is exactly how I described Eisenberg's performance in Zombieland. And Adventureland. and The Squid and the Whale. Now that's good casting.

Free Movie Friday: TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE

Maybe I should be looking for these things outside the Sci-Fi/Horror arena, but God help me, I love the genres so. Looking for a free movie that is both free in the sense that you don't have to give someone money for it AND you can do anything you want with it because the rights have lapsed? Check out Teenagers From Outer Space.

Released in 1959, TFOS is low-budget in a big way, from the careless black and white cinematography to the depiction of the mutant that escapes from the alien spacecraft - it looks remarkably like the shadow of a lobster, held up and wiggled before a spotlight. The project is the brainchild of one Tom Graef, who wrote/directed/produced/acted/sewed costumes/cooked lunch/wiggled the lobster. From the Wikipedia entry:

The film failed to perform at the box office, placing further stress on an already-burdened Graeff, and in the fall of 1959, he suffered a breakdown, proclaimed himself the second coming of Christ. After a number of public appearances followed by a subsequent arrest for disrupting a church service, Graeff disappeared from Hollywood until 1964 and later committed suicide in 1970.
Don't let that last bit spoil your fun; the movie is still pretty entertaining. It shouldn't go without note that the lead teenage alien, played by David Love, is perhaps the most sensitive (yes, I mean gay) romantic lead in any movie I've ever seen. Also fascinating - the acting and bleak locations suggest the thing was shot somewhere in the great plains, but this movie was made in and around good ol' Hollywood. It takes a kind of genius to build an asymetical go-kart in Detroit, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, download it, burn it to a DVD if you want (here's your best link for the footage) and even recut it if you think you can improve it. It's free!