Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers numbers, who's got the numbers? You do.

Another slow week as summer ramps up. Debuting at #2, The Back Up Plan starring some girl named J-Lo or something. Looks like a sanded-down chick-flick version of Knocked Up to me. Whatever it is, it generated $12 million which is pretty anemic. Is nobody dating this month?

At #1 How To Train Your Dragon (or Dragons, as it's called in the commercials) doesn't exactly climb to the top of the mountain to reclaim the pinnacle. The mountain dropped and it didn't drop as fast.

Even worse, The Losers. #4, $9.4 million. Sad l'il action pic. Props to the studio for daring to go with a self-prophetic title; and good that they shot down the even worse one, Death At The Box Office.

A reissue of Wild Child (probably this) rounds up the bottom of the list, earning $251. Pretty good for three days. Who says children shouldn't work?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Weekend Box Office

This is my town, these are my numbers, and I'm directing this scene.

It's late April and we're between blockbusters... now is the time, before summer ramps up, for the studios to release their 2nd tier profitable-but-not-huge product. Hence at #1, Lionsgate's Kick-Ass. The weirdo action-comedy based on a graphic novel made only $19 million, and it'll drop rapidly until it develops a small cult following from screenings on Showtime.

At #4, Death At A Funeral. It might have made Tracey Morgan marketable but it appears to have not, dragging in $16 mil. Again, possible cult status.

At #24 Percy Jackson and the Olympians made $229K; but more importantly features my friend Maria Olsen in a bit part. Go Maria!

Monday, April 19, 2010


This week my Netflix selection was the Nicholas Ray-directed In A Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart as screenwriter with a violent streak Dixon Steele. It's one of those fascinating quirky mysteries that Hollywood turned out in the years after WWII, when exploring the dark side of human nature wasn't necessarily commercial suicide.

And indeed, it's a very gutsy role choice for Bogart. Dixon Steele is obviously troubled and probably a little psychotic - at the heart of the mystery is the question of whether he's psychotic enough to have killed a near-stranger, or slightly less psychotic. And actors at the time were even more conscious of the concept of "baggage", those impressions left by the roles you play that carry over into subsequent projects. It's another way of saying type-casting, I guess.

What's more, Bogart didn't just accept this role, he produced the movie. Thus he optioned the novel on which it was based and shaped the character to be the monster that it is. You might think that he was just shooting for Oscar recognition but...the talk among many who knew Bogie is that this part was the closest he ever came to playing the real him. By turns romantic, paranoid, easy-going and violent, it's a complex enough part that you can easily see it being true. And indeed, it may be the best work that Bogart ever did.

So this is what it amounts to - Bogart wanted to play himself, and the best option was a mystery about a brutal monster. I have to admit that as an artist, this concept appeals to me. You can entertain people for a while, but when the rubber hits the road you have to start digging in and depicting the ugly things about you that you wouldn't admit, because that's where the good art comes from. You ransom your soul to buy good work.

It may sound awful, but it still beats a real job.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Panavision Is In Serious Trouble

The House season finale? Shot entirely on Canon 5D Mark II still cameras.

Of course, it's a misnomer to call it a still camera because with a big enough memory card, it will hold 22 minutes of HD footage. Still, good lord! If you can use this, why go through the hassle of using this?

I smell paradigm shift!

Weekend Box Office

Pssst! You like numbers, mister?

The Gods will not be mocked! After a promising Friday, Date Night comes in at #2 behind Clash Of the Titans 3D. The Carel/Fey comedy made $25 million vs Titan's $27 million (without rounding there's only about $1.5 mil difference) so it looks to me like the plastic polaroid glasses win again.

[varietyspeak]Inspirational weepie[/varietyspeak] Letters to God cracks the top ten with $1.1 million. Better see it! God is watching us, from a distance.

Speaking of a distance, the bottom o' the chart is inhabited by The Trouble With Turkel, out now for three weeks with $350 this week to show for its effort. I've seen worse. Figures, not movies. Frankly I got nothin' about this one, though any movie that stars a guy named Shark Firestone is at least worth sneaking into.

Quote of the Day: Actor's Compliments Edition

Damn Ricky! You are wasting away. You look great!!!
-Facebook comment

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Just Seen: Date Night

A fine comedy, NBC Comedy Thursday on the big screen. Date Night was written by Josh Klausner, a former Farrelly Brothers flunky and one of the 14 writers on the last Shrek movie. The plot is a cross between North By Northwest and After Hours, in which a perfectly nice couple, in a case of mistaken identity, are chased through Manhattan by bad guys. It all ends up being just a bit too much plot for a comedy, and as such one could plug pretty much any pair of actors in as the couple. Thank God Steve Carell and Tina Fey were. They both deliver lines with awe-inspiring comic timing: It's plain both work hard to bring as much funny as they can.

I can cite more positives, like the fact the film is only 88 minutes long. Can't remember a recent comedy that even tried to abide to Woody Allen's 89-minute rule. Mark Wahlberg's scenes are just great-- He's got a knack for comedy, and it would be a crime to put a shirt on him. I'd give a slight knock for Dean Semler's cinematography which, although it was in 2.35:1, was shot in digital, which gave some of the darker scenes a muddy look.

According to Variety, it seems to be leading in ticket sales, at least on Friday. It topped Clash of the Titans by almost a million. Let's hope it kicks some butt, old-school 2D style.

Viewing note: Seen at the Century Redwood City. We were surrounded by people who reflexively checked their cellphones every ten minutes or so. Yikes.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Sampler of Script Deals

From the archives of a few months of screenplay deals reported on Done Deal Pro, here is a very partial list of films that may be gracing the screens of your local multiplexes over the next few years.

This is just a skim of some of the more groan-worthy or weird ones. Take it as good news or not, but the great majority of recent script deals are for original stories (and aren't reported here). Of course, a lot of these are mind-swap stories and "meet cute" RomComs, so that's original in a conditional sense. (Still, I'm looking forward to the film version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.)

Also, bear in mind that even though all these are studio-ordered script sales, the chances of them being greenlit are slender, but not nearly as slender as original or spec script sales. So here we go, in rough categories:

The 80s Are Back!

The Monster Squad Logline: A group of kids, who worship the classic horror monsters, discover that Dracula is in town and Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Gill Man and The Mummy are with him. The kids must stop the creatures' efforts to find an amulet that will give them control of the world. The 1987 original was co-written by Shane Black.

Pet Sematary Logline: A family trades the city life for the country life in Maine, then discovers that they have moved near a pet cemetery that rests on an ancient burial ground. Based on 1983 movie.

Midnight Run 2 Logline: Centers on bounty hunter Jack Walsh and a younger comedic foil. Based on 1988 original, features Robert DeNiro.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Logline: A town sheriff and madame team up to stop a crusading TV personality from shutting down the local whorehouse.

Tron Legacy 2 Logline: No details given. Either gotta give Disney credit for chutzpah here, or they are betting very deep these days. Written by "Lost" showrunners Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz.

The Toxic Avenger Logline: A health club mop boy's trusting ways make him easy prey for gym thugs and eventually gets him immersed in a vat of toxic waste. Based on 1984 original, in the remake Toxie is supposed to be a eco-friendly "green" warrior. Sigh.

Let's Revive the Franchise: I'm sure SOMEBODY remembers it...

Godzilla Logline: Centers on a giant monster roused from the ocean depths. Ya think?

Buck Rogers Logline: A present day pilot is awakened in the 25th century after having been flung into space centuries earlier. Director: Paul W. S. Anderson. 3D!

Laverne & Shirley Logline: Centers on two female friends who grew up on the streets during difficult times. Laverne is a very tough girl with a big 'L' tattooed on her arm. The talk is that Jennifer Garner and Jessica Biel will essay the leading roles.

Popeye Logline: Centers on the adventures of Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto and Swee'Pea. Animated, 3D!

The Addams Family Logline: An eccentric, wealthy family, who delight in the macabre, are unaware that people find them bizarre or frightening. Animated, 3D!

77 Sunset Strip Logline: Two rugged detectives, both former government secret agents, work out of stylish offices located at 77 Sunset Strip. Honestly, does anyone remember this show?

Speedy Gonzales Logline: Speedy Gonzales, a misunderstood boy who is also the fastest mouse in all of Mexico, comes from a family that works in a very meticulous setting, and he's a little too fast for what they do. He makes a mess of everything, so he has to go out in the world to find what he's good at. Speedy's path in life becomes clearer once he befriends a gun-shy race-car driver. I really, really hope this gets greenlit, because A) Speedy Gonzales is a patently racist cartoon character, and B) the logline makes no sense whatsoever.

Daniel's Remake Formula Specials:

Doc Savage Logline: Trained since birth to be nearly superhuman in every way, Doc Savage, or the Man of Bronze, uses his skills and powers to fight evil all over the world. The 1975 George Pal/Ron Ely version was a bomb.

Daredevil Logline: Living in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City, Matt Murdock is blinded by a radioactive substance that falls from an oncoming vehicle. This is a reboot of a 2003 Ben Affleck movie, so it will likely follow The Hulk/The Incredible Hulk meta-sytoryline.

American Pie 4 Logline: Centers on the original characters. It's the Fast and Furious treatment!

And finally, the Inchon-style international epic-- in 3D!

Untitled Battle of Chosin Reservoir Project Logline: During the brutal 17-day battle of Chosin Reservoir, United Nations forces including 12,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers are encircled by a vastly superior Chinese force. 3D!

A Poignant Reminder

What celebrities would look like if they moved to Ohio! - Streakr Pictures

Johnny Depp

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Weekend Box Office

I'm not makin' this stuff up - see the numbers here.

Hard as it is to believe, the number one movie this weekend was a remake of Clash Of The Titans. In 3D of course, but come on man! An eye-popping $61 million, for a nonsense frame around eye candy, just like the original. I haven't seen it; if they include the robot owl then all is forgiven.

#2 goes to the ever-amazing Tyler Perry and his Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too, a sequel to Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married. Though not working in 3D, Tyler Perry managed to pull down $29 million. That's $35 million in Tyler Perry dollars, which are the currency in Tylerville.

Miley Cyrus (who is not Hannah Montana) comes in at #4 with The Last Song, discussed elsewhere on this blog. The less said now about it the better, except to say that the $16 million it made probably was overspill from the movie that sold out the other auditorium.

Meanwhile at #100, a gay-themed drama called Breakfast With Scot generates $114. This has a release date of 2007, and I suspect there is only one print in the world, which the director is driving from theatre to theatre in his sub-compact Honda. Don't give up, man!

Friday, April 2, 2010

No Digital Safety Net

As a wonderful April Fool's Day event, the MGM HD channel screened Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World for the first time in pristine HD.

This was, for it's time (1963), a gloriously excessive concept: a big-budget, stunt-heavy ensemble comedy, made in the thick of the Epic Film era. It has more in common with mega-widescreen event films like The Longest Day (1962) and King of Kings (1961), big Cinerama releases jammed with big-star roles and cameos. And It's a Mad4 World had pretty much every comedic actor in that era in it-- right down to esoteric cameos by the likes of Buster Keaton, Jessie White, Stan Freberg and Leo Gorcey.

It did the biggest box office of any movie that year, clearing $46.3 million on a budget of $9.4 million. Adjust that for inflation, and the profit ratio becomes even more impressive: In January 2010 dollars, It's a Mad4 World scored the equivalent of $279 million on a $56 million budget. That's $5 in BO for every dollar spent: Avatar has, so far, made just over $3 for every dollar spent.

The story involves a group of random travelers who learn of a fortune ($350,000, or $2,100,000 in 2010 money) and race from the desert to a shoreline park to dig it up. On the way cars, trucks and planes are stolen and crashed, a gas station and a hardware store are demolished, and other general property damage is done all across California.

The stunt work in the film, which I'm sure was hair-raising at the time, has become more impressive with time. Why? No digital sweetening. There are some miniature tricks here and there and some opticals and rear-screen work, but the driving and flying stunts are real. Stuntmen jump out of the way of speeding Dodge Darts with inches to spare. Another one dangles from a tower as a twin-engine airplane veers mere yards away (and later plows through a billboard, a stunt that nearly killed the pilot). People drive at high speed on the wrong side of the road and cars spill, collide and crash everywhere-- all in Ultra Panavision 65 and real time (alright, maybe slightly undercranked).

(another factor that has changed significantly since 1963 is the evolution of automotive construction. All the cars in the film were American lead sleds composed of 100% metal on solid I-beam frames with 8-gauge steel bumpers. You could bash them together all day. If this film was remade now, with bumperless plastic Priuses and Saturns and Camrys duking it out, the race is basically over before it begins.)

It's stuntwork without a digital safety net, gags where you can tell someone is going to get killed if they don't do it right. And not just the stunt doubles: Sid Caesar hurt his back in a fall and Phil Silvers almost drowned in a car sinking in a river. The sense of danger, in knowing the impossibility of convincingly faking it in the pre-digital era, is what gives It's a Mad4 World an enduring (and kind of sickening) authenticity. It's a sort of veracity that, for practical and safety reasons, is seldom seen in new films. Sure, Bruce Willis and Justin Long crouch down to narrowly avoid a flying car in Live Free or Die Hard, but a split second after the gag is over the subconscious processes it as an impressive digital effect, not a death-defying stunt.

I'm looking at that profit ratio above again: It's probably a combination of things, (like the overall decline of moviegoing) but I can't help but wonder if the cost of employing an army of compositors and digital artists is a big factor in the narrower margins of new films. The new Clash of the Titans has a $70m budget, and it has been rumored to be as high as $180 million: With the blistering reviews I've read, It's going to be an uphill climb to get it in the black. All for the spectacle of watching Sam Worthington swat at tennis balls on a green-screen stage.

Monsieur HAL's Holiday

My streaming Netflix selection of late was Jaques Tati's Playtime. Some movies you watch because they sound like fun, others you watch because you have grown up reading rave reviews about them and you simply haven't gotten around to them until now. I was hoping Playtime would be both. I went at it with no preconceived notions, save for the one that Tati (whose work I had never seen) was a genius.

I didn't like it at all.

The movie struck me as comedy blind - there were five minute cutless longshots where literally nothing happened, punctuated by the mildest of sight gags - man pokes a dent into a chair cushion, chair cusion pops back out for example. What's more, the film takes place all within a single, sterile city block in Paris, and after a while it seems less like comedy than a document of the world-view of an obsessive compulsive, someone who is constantly bedevilled by odd numbers and acute angles. The dialogue (in French and English) was meaningless blather. I just didn't get it. Oh and it was too long and there was no real story.

Suspecting that the problem might be me and not Tati, I did a little research.

Playtime, (French, 1697) it turns out, is an incredibly ambitious comedy. A big part of the problem is that I watched it on TV. It was shot in 70mm and meant to be seen not just on a much larger screen but also with the multi-channel sound system that Tati mixed himself. Like those camels in the distance in Lawrence of Arabia, sometimes the joke is simply too small to make out on televsion. And Tati hated closeups, preferring to shoot long or medium. He intended to direct your attention to the funny joke in the upper left corner of the screen by mixing the sound louder there. In other words, you have to completely change the way you watch movies in order to find Playtime entertaining.

The section of Paris that hosts the action is was built especially for the film. Local wags called it "Tativille". It took a year to build and the whole movie took 3 years to shoot. When it came out Tati refused to screen it in 35mm mono, and that hurt its profits. Another percieved problem with the movie is that Tati fans loved his character, Monsieur Hulot. He's like Tati's Little Tramp. Tati would just as happily abandoned him and indeed, Hulot weaves in and out of the "narrative" but in no way is the movie about him.

Tati was a perfectionist; often Playtime feels like a Buster Keaton comedy directed by Stanley Kubrick. NOTHING is improvised, nothing is left to chance. It's said that he directed the actors by basically acting out their parts for them; so in some ways it's as if the whole cast is Jaques Tati, only shorter.

Bearing this in mind I rewatched the first half-hour and while it's still not so funny, it's definitely more interesting. You can start Where's Waldo-ing the gags better. One panoramic office scene, for example, is punctuated by a red blinking light outside one cubicle and a green blinking light outside another. Watch those cubicles. In fact, bright colors are used very sparingly in Playtime and you might consider it a good strategy to mind as you watch.

Okay, so probably Playtime is less comedy and more sudoko. Still makes interesting viewing!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Just Seen: The Runaways

Mini-run of theatrical experiences lately: caught The Runaways last night and Alice in Wonderland a few days ago. As spectacular and successful as Tim Burton's film is, I preferred the indie, which has yet to crack two million in BO. With it's faults and tiny budget, I think it had a stronger emotional resonance.

The more I think about it, Alice and The Runaways have strong thematic similarities. Both are about girls who decide to reject a doctrinaire, ordinary life, escaping into a phantasmagorical adventure. The protagonists are both on a quest of self-discovery: For Alice, the re-discovery of her "muchness"; for the members of The Runaways, gaining the ability to play on-stage while dodging beer bottles and learning to masturbate in the shower. Both films feature flamboyant male Prime Mover characters: Johnny Depp as the tragic, nonsense-sputtering Mad Hatter, and Michael Shannon as Kim Fowley, the foul-mouthed, leering music impresario. The final themes split a bit: At the end of Alice in Wonderland (this is a ***spoiler*** only if you have never seen a Disney film before), Alice learns to be a self-actualized, proto-feminist woman of adventure. At the conclusion of The Runaways (again, only a ***spoiler*** if you have never heard of The Runaways or have never seen a Rock Bio before) Joan Jett, like Alice, also becomes self-actualized and kicks off a solo career, while Cherie Currie has a meltdown and returns to obscurity.

I'm not going to pretend, like I suspect many film reviewers have, that I was a Runaways fan from way back and this was the apotheosis. I was fairly indifferent to that band back in the day. I had them pegged as a novelty act, which I realize may have been the point. But The Runaways does get the 70s right. It was a hideous decade, full of awful colors and garish patterns and bad haircuts. Director of Photography BenoƮt Debie shot it in Super16 for a CinemaScope release, so it has a hyper-grainy, washed-out look. The biggest set piece of the film is the most evocative: The girls spend time hanging around Mount Lee, under the completely dilapidated, pre-renovation "HOLLYWOOD" sign.

The plot of The Runaways hits every beat of the way-too-familiar Rock Bio storyline: the Heady, Promising Start, leading to Great Settled Success, the penultimate Internal Strife, and finally the inevitable In-fighting and Dissolution. But the film has a few unusual life lessons buried in it as well:

• It's fun to be at the front of any new trend. We get to see The Runaways invent a rock subgenre all by themselves, and that excitement in conveyed quite well. At one point in the film Joan Jett (Kristin Stewart) stencils her own Sex Pistols t-shirt. It's a nice message to the present: Hot Topic and mass-manufactured fandom can suck it.

• Almost all the conflict in the film comes from lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning): She was a 15-year-old valley girl with a avowed love of the music of David Bowie and Don McLean, who is literally plucked from obscurity by Kim Fowley and Joan Jett to front a hard-rock band. Naturally, she got in way over her head. Writing as a member of a rock band (which does a lot of 70s covers, no less) I can attest that chemistry is very important. If Kim and Joan had waited to find a lead singer who had the burning need to rock as they had, The Runaways would probably still be around, rather than a obscure (actually, considering the film, slightly less than obscure) music-history footnote.