Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers by the number.

Pretty good weekend, actually! People are saying the two star-driven movies that opened but didn't beat Toy Story 3 are disappointing, but come on, nowadays a BAD 3D movie can trounce anything. Let's all just chill a little shall we and celebrate in the profits.

The aforementioned TS3 takes #1 with $59 million dollars, which is great for a second week even though it's down 46% from the opening. What's more, it potentially could go UP again next week for the holiday. At #2, SNL reunion video Grown Ups pulls down $41 million, which is great. Hopefully all those talent contracts allow for some profit over at Sony! At #3, Knight and Day featuring once red-hot Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. A $20 million dollar opening starring, say, Josh Brolin and Paget Brewster would have been considered quite a coup. Perspective is everything.

(I love you, Paget Brewster!)

Lowest opening weekend this time is Dogtooth, which looks like a weirdo Greek comedy to me. Still, they manged to get two screens somewhere! How is YOUR movie doing?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Better late than numbers!

For kicks I considedered catching the very, very late show of Toy Story 3 this weekend. It was Friday night, and I swung by the mall an hour and a half before the show that was too late for kids to go to, and there was still a line forming. No thanks! I thought. I don't like crowds.

If you don't like crowds, you would do well to have avoided this movie's opening weekend, because it had a per screen average of $27,000. TS3 debuted at #1 natch, earning $110 million. Just goes to show what presold properties, 3D and Imax can do. Plus, I hear it's pretty good.

Meanwhile the rest of the movie business saw this tsunami coming and sensibly kept out the of the way. The only reason to open a movie in an environment like this is if you have a huge barkin' turkey - you can blame the failure on the other movie, plus some people will buy tickets just because the blockbuster they came to see is sold out. Thus, WB's Jonah Hex comes in at #7 with $5.4 million. Bet it's more than the movie deserves! PSA was $1904, for comparison. Like the old west, the auditoriums were places where a man could stretch out and claim a patch of land as his own.

Top prize for documentary titles: The Nature of Existence, from Walking Shadows pictures. The poster promises "Every mystery of human existence - explained in one movie!" And that had a per screen of $2977. I'd see it myself but A: I'd have nothing to live for afterwards and B: It has a running time of 700 years.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Return Of The Thin White Duke

They say that casting is 90% of good direction; if you cast the right people in the right parts, most of the story takes care of itself. If that were true, it stand to reason that Nic Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth would be 90% watchable. Not so much, as it turns out.

Based on a 1961 novel by Walter Tevis, TMWFTE is the story of an alien who comes to Earth to save his family, dying on a drought-stricken planet. The alien takes the name of Thomas Jerome Newton and raises money by taking out patents on his world's technology, to the end of building a spaceship to ferry water back home. Ultimately Newton is undone by the twin earth vices of booze and televsion, though he is also stopped by a shadowy government force.

Roeg was a brilliant cinematographer who loved great images. And indeed, the movie looks fabulous, especially on Blu-Ray. However, as a storyteller he was crap. Ambiguity is a great strategy for a scene, but applied to a whole movie like it is here, it's just frustrating. Roeg does everything he can to avoid pinning down even the question of whether Newton is an alien. Maybe he's just an eccentric millionaire genius! Maybe not! Scene after scene tumbles out with deliberately inexplicable details which, by design, never pay off. Well, it was the seventies, and people were tired of the whole "narrative" thing, man.

Of course, there's a lot ot like in this film's details, starting with David Bowie as Newton. Like Shelly Duval's Olive Oyl, this is the role Bowie was born to play and he hasn't been cast better since. Charismatic, weird, often glamorous and incapable of loving an attractive woman (he was famously homosexual in the early seventies, though he became hetrosexual by the eighties - chameleons!) Bowie is the movie's only convincing special effect. Meanwhile Candy Clark, as the dumb-as-a-post woman who takes Newton under her sexually-aroused wing, has the best line of dialog I could ever imagine being in this movie: hanging out in Newton's hotel room and worried about his earlier fainting bout, she says, "You know something mister? I don't think you get enough to eat. You're too thin!" 

Rip Torn and Buck Henry both also appear, but Torn seems to be overacting by just enough to ruin his early scenes. And later, as all the characters except Newton age, everyone is unconvincing. I should mention this - there's a lot more nudity (frontal, from all sexes) than you're used to. Take that as a warning or an endorsement. Yes even Bowie. No, especially Bowie.

There's two minor quibbles that especially gall me, and I blame Roeg for both. The flashbacks to Newton's water-starved planet are these long shots of a barren desert with a big sky hanging over it... a big sky blanketed with clouds. From the looks of the place if they just wait another couple of hours, it's gonna start raining like crazy. The other thing is early on they establish one of Newton's patents is a little metal sphere that plays music - it's like a proto-CD but even cooler. Great idea. But later on Rip Torn goes into a record store (Tower Records on Sunset, as a matter of fact) and you know what? They're selling records. Not only is no effort made to dress the place up with at least a stack of little musical ball-bearings, Torn even passes a display of Bowie's Young Americans LP, on sale for $4.99 each. Budgets are one thing but come on! Can we at least TRY to sell the illusion?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Can't stop, addicted to the numbers.

Whatever unfathomable alchemy governs success, one cannot predict it. How else do you explain this: Two movies based on faintly ridiculous properties from the eighties open the same weekend. Both do well, but one does more than twice as well as the other. Which one? The Karate Kid or A-Team?

Flip a coin, fool.

At #2 with $26 million, The A-Team. Doesn't matter who's in it, the important thing is that it's Charlie's Angels without the girl power. Whooooo! But at #1 it's The Karate Kid starring Jackie Chan and Will Smith's kid Jaden. $56 million, probably cost a lot less to make too, and even lacks the salutory factor of 3D. I just don't get it.

Usually I go swimming around the lower part of the charts to find an amusing morsel but there's nothing there that strikes me this week. I noticed that the Tony awards lost big to NBA finals in the ratings. Proof that you can't pit the Gay Superbowl against a real Superbowl.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ghost Whisperer Mea Culpa

i did a little re-reading of past entries here and I realized that I keep mentioning The Ghost Whisperer in the context of things I like to watch on my monster television. It was meant as a cheap joke but like all such remarks, there's more truth in it than I'd care to admit.

So just this afternoon, I'm flipping around the terrestrial Los Angeles stations and I come across the local ION outlet which is, indeed, showing The Ghost Whisperer. There's Jennifer Love Hewitt, looking all empathetic, meeting with someone in this misty park where it seems half the action of the show takes place. And it was at this moment that I realized what I like about the show. It ain't the acting (overwrought) and God knows it ain't the writing (predictable and trite) but it IS the lighting.

That show is stupid and gorgeous. The cinematography is the top of the craft by bored professionals who can make crap like that work even when they're sleepwalking, which they pretty clearly are. And it makes watching good-looking people who pretend to see ghosts watchable.

Weirdly, I still can't sit through an episode of CSI, which they cinematograph the hell out of. So maybe I have a hidden spiritual streak, or a suppressed crush on Camryn Manheim. Must explore. Also, must check out Criminal Minds, now that I know Paget Brewster is a regular. My crush on HER is out in the open.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Return of Play Time

Jaques Tati was legendarily skeptical about technology and progress, but as far as his magnum opus Play Time is concerned, that might be the very thing that saves his gallic bacon.

A couple of months ago I wrote about being perplexed by this movie, the first Tati I had ever seen. It seemed a sterile series of crowded long shots where minutes would go by with no gags apparent. After a little research I learned that Tati had shot and presented the film in 70mm, that he used stereo sound to direct your attention to certain details in the frame. I was watching on a smaller screen, a streaming Netflix version, I vowed to return when I could arrange a better presentation.

Well first I viewed M. Hulot's Holiday, the more modest first appearance of Hulot, to get a better idea of what rhythms to expect from Tati. Then earlier this month I got a good deal on a bigger 1080p TV. All that remained was the Criterion Blu-Ray release of Playtime.

I'm pleased to report that the movie is much funnier the more technology you throw at it. It's like all those long shots of camels in Lawrence of Arabia. Without a good enough screen, you won't even see them, you'll just see sand. Half of Play Time is tiny camels of jokes. You have to have the 5.1 sound on and the screen at maximum resolution in order to even see them. But they're there alright, quirky and well timed. I suspect, or fear, that if I got an even bigger television the movie would be a laugh riot.

For a while Play Time was the most expensive French movie ever made, and it seems that it's as costly to watch as it was to film. I gotta say though, this TV even makes episodes of Ghost Whisperer entertaining, so it is money well spent. The difference is, Tati is brilliance itself, while most TV is crap.

TV Tech in Fast Refresh Mode

Daniel is apparently dead to us. He is flat on his back, watching vivid imagery on his new 240 Hz flatscreen. He says he screwed his back up: I guess we 'll take it it on faith, for he is a most reliable narrator.

The point of this article is an expansion of an earlier comment concerning the inevitable march of entertainment technology. the new high-refresh-rate HDTVs are gaining popularity, but I don't think the general public (or people who think about these things) has really grasped just how important a milestone they represent. In our gadget-centric world, a 120 or 240 Hz TV seems like just another incremental brand improvement, like the a G4 iPhone or a faster Xbox. but I think it's going to prove to be one of the more significant innovations in recent entertainment tech.

Since the invention of moving picture images 114 years ago, the technology of presenting entertainment has been in a state of constant innovation to a single purpose: to create a medium that is as fully immersive as, and indistinguishable from, reality. The first was 35mm film, which for it's first 40-odd years was restrained by photochemical technology (silver halogen emulsion creating black-and-white images) mechanical tolerances (18 frames per second was as fast as hand-cranked cameras could go) and optical limitations (spherical lenses, which needed a frame as close to round as possible to create a sharp image). These limitations did not stop inventors from adding sync sound as quickly as the technology would allow. The frame rate went up to 24, which, again, was a fast as late-20s cameras could run film without flying apart.

Color, which was in experimental mode for decades, was implemented well before it was affordable or practical, recording on 3-strip cameras with beam splitters. Eastman negative film, the first truly practical color film stock, wasn't made available until 1950, which is an indication of just how difficult it was to perfect.

Television came along, with it's crummy low-res image. But what it offered was something movies could not: immediacy. No tickets, no leaving the house: the entertainment came to you. After TV, it all became a race: Color TV, 3D, Stereo audio, CinemaScope, IMAX, Surround Sound, HD. These innovations were all an effort to create a medium that removed the impediment of it's own technological limitations from the viewing experience.

And now we're seeing the two mediums, Film and TV, merge: a 1080 image has nearly all the visual information of a 35mm film frame. Digital Cinema 2K and HD in 1080 24p are almost the same resolution: I can shoot it with my Canon T2i!

But new high-refresh-rate HD monitors address this ongoing rush to reality-perfect imagery in a new way: by increasing the frame rate to a point where persistence of vision becomes purely internal. Video, with it's 60hz interlaced image, has always been more "vivid" than 24 frames-per-second film: now the image processors in high-frequency TVs can take any source at any frame rate, interpolate new in-between frames, and ratchet up the display rate to a point where pretty much anything looks startlingly real.

Remember that "Hertz" is a measure of frequency per second. These new TVs (like Daniel's) display a mind-blowing 240 frames per second. This is ten times faster than motion picture film. Even a state-of-the-art Panavision 35mm camera would explode if it were run this fast, and top recording speed of a Red One Digital camera is 120 fps. This is so fast the screen surface itself vanishes, and the perception of the image on it becomes amazingly vivid. The "frame rate" of human visual perception-- the speed at which imagery is processed in the retina and visual cortex-- is met, and maybe even exceeded, with a fast-rate HDTV. In other words, if you sit close enough to the screen, you're there.

3D is the final hurdle. And I think, current movie-going trends notwithstanding, as long as 3D require the viewer wear big dumb-looking glasses it'll be as much a novelty as it was in the Creature of the Black Lagoon era. And novelties are, by definition, not practical.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers here; or if you are a fan of canceled CBS crime shows, numb3rs.

So many new movies this week, so little audience. They can't ALL have found great deals on monster TVs! Still, they weren't at these movies.

Debuting at #2, Russell Brand vehicle Get Him To The Greek. A respectable but not earth shattering $17 mil, but it's still the last time you'll see "Russell Brand" and "respectable" together for a while. Below that at #3, Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigel in Killers. $16 mil almost. At #6, Marmaduke, (the less said about the better) with $11 mil and change; at #8 is Splice, a science-fiction trifle with Adrian Brody. Remember him? Oscar winner? Anyone? It made $7 million.

At the top of the chart is Shrek, grabbing $25 million in his huge green mitts. Even when you're going wrong with 3D you can't go wrong, apparently.

Special viewing tip of the week, if you can find it: OSS117: Lost in Rio. A spoof based on a series of French spy films, it could be worth it just to scratch your head at the gags, which would be totally divorced from their gallic setups. Whatever, mon ami - if you want me I'm at home, enraptured by the awesome clarity of Ghost Whisperer reruns.

Hertz So Good

Friday after work I decided to bicycle out to the mall for a little extra exercise, and I popped in to Best Buy. After all, I needed a thumb drive. And while roaming the aisles, I came across the sale floor models and I spotted a discontinued Samsung monster television that was half price and would play nice with my Samsung Blu-Ray player and has an Internet hookup and an LCD with a 240 hz refresh rate. It's way more TV than I need, but it was half price. I bought it on the spot, and then was forced to bicycle back home so I could get the car to pick it up.

Sweet Jesus, 240 Hz has already changed my life.

Okay, maybe not, but it sure has changed television. I spend a lot of time loitering in electronics stores so I've already seen what they call the "soap opera effect," that way these TV's turn film into something resembling really well-lit videotape. But I'm telling you now, watching Wall-E for five minutes is one thing, but watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the original cut) in 1080p for the whole two hours is mesmerizing. I think I may have reacted even more emotionally to it then when I first saw it in theaters. It's MORE VIVID! And after a while, you just get used to it but by then it's in your head, man!

The TV does this to lesser sources too. My most frequent off-air viewing is THIS TV, a station that shows 480i prints of basically anything in the MGM film library that couldn't be sold off to someone else. Even that crap looks like video! Just muddy video. The TV improved the viewing of Starcrossed, an alien/human romance from Canada starring James Spader. To give you an idea of why it's on THIS TV, Spader plays the human.

Also I can take any of the AVI files I downloaded (back before that cease-and-desist letter), copy them to a thumb drive (which I picked up - what the hell, as long as I'm in the store) and plug 'em into the side of the TV, and voila! Doctor Who! I do so love me my Doctor Who. Does this surprise you, after learning what a gadget-head I am?

In theory the TV can access any of the movie files on the hard drive of my iMac, though we're still working on that. My television and I. Also I'm having trouble making the TV recognize the iPhone App that will allow my iPhone to act as a remote/interface. Yes, my TV has an iPhone app. Bwahhahaahaahah!

I am deep in the throes of gadget fever this week, but I'm looking forward to next month, when the novelty has worn off and I'm back to using the TV for twice-monthly viewing of Netflix selections. In the meantime expect no rational thought from me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

SNL's Least Greatest Hits

Dan's last post posted an interesting question-- and not just the fact that Box Office Mojo is quite often full of it, editorially speaking.

According to Wikipedia, It's Pat (1994) is the lowest-grossing "Saturday Night Live" movie ever made, at $60,822 (on 33 screens). Whether or not that includes the four dollars I paid to rent the laserdisc is not known. Even adjusted for Zimbabwean sort of inflation, this can't be.. er, underdone.

Stuart Saves His Family (1995) is next with $912,000 in receipts. It's wasn't good enough, it wasn't smart enough, and darn it, people hated it. Good thing Al Franken found a job outside show biz to fall back on.

Then the BO jumps over tenfold to MacGruber (2010, $10,000,000), then The Ladies Man (2000, $13,616,610) and Blues Brothers 2000 (1998, $14,051,384). The rest of the SNL stable of shaky cinematic spin-offs managed to be somewhat profitable-- Superstar (1999) did over $34 mil on a $14 mil budget.

Bear in mind MacGruber is just out of the gate: It may yet achieve a Coneheads (1993) level of mild success. Or just avoid being a complete failure.

How Quickly I Forget

This just in, from Box Office Mojo's analysis of the weekend:
MacGruber took the biggest hit of the weekend among nationwide holdovers, tumbling 61 percent for a $2 million four-day. With a mere $7.7 million in 11 days, the action spoof is on track to becoming Saturday Night Live's lowest-grossing nationwide release ever.
Honestly, lowest grossing ever? That would be saying something. Especially considering that tickets cost more now than they did when Night At The Roxbury or  Superstar! premiered. I'm tempted to see it now.

Weekend Box Office, Memorial Day

Never forget... where to find the numbers.

Big holiday weekend turned out kind of disappointing by most accounts. Two movies opened in the top ten and neither did as well as Shrek Forever After, which was disappointing all on its own. Still: Sex in the City 2 took the number 2 slot with $31 million. I have been hearing an awful lot of buzz about this movie and the talk seems to be that it's despicable. And that's from people who LIKE it.

At #3, based on a computer game that used to play on a 286 palmtop, it's Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time. Only $30 million! Presumably the game itself has made more.

BTW a catty aside about SATC2 - the weekend before there was a screening of Mean Girls on TNT that was wholly sponsored by the movie. When you have four aging glamour queens, the last thing you want to juxtapose them with is a movie about high school girls. I'd have given that placement a 2nd thought.

Interesting failure this week: George A. Romero's Survival Of The Dead which made $44 thousand on 20 screens. When there are no more screens in the multiplexes, the dead will limp the Earth

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Fly-- And Return of The Fly

While my family was up to it's usual weekend meshugas I set our DVR up to record Drag Me to Hell, the Sam Raimi horror film I had heard a lot of good things about. My plan was to watch it after everyone else had gone to bed-- not that it was guilty viewing, but I didn't think they'd like it. (No-- a guilty viewing experience would be something like buying The Human Centipede: First Segment on on-demand pay-per-view. I can neither confirm or deny I did this... at least until the cable bill shows up.)

Well, you really don't have secrets if you have a DVR: everyone can see your upcoming selection lit up with a big red dot on the cable guide, and they ask you all sorts of penetrating questions about it, so much so it's just better to give up the pretense and watch the damn movie with your family.

I needn't have worried. Sam Raimi made a delightful little horror flick, a nice admixture of his very singular filmmaking strengths: humor, horror, body-cavity violations, and fast-paced slapstick. I think he was trying to show up those punks out there with their torture-porn Saw and Hostel films and the yawner remakes of 80s slasher flicks how it's done.

Drag Me to Hell can even be called a bit of a high-brow effort. It's the very timely story of Christine Brown, a bank loan officer who refuses to extend the mortgage of an old Gypsy woman, and gets cursed to hell for her trouble. So it's a bit like Thinner (1996) but with better effects. But an alternate reading is available: do we believe our eyes and the special effects and take her supernatural harassment as real, or is simply her mind crumbling from overwhelming guilt? It's a lot like Mullholland Drive (2001) in that respect.

There's a wonderfully creepy motif running all through Drag Me to Hell: a fly. it shows up in the intro flashback, later when the curse settles in the fly re-appears, doing stuff like flying up Christine's nose while she sleeps.

So the film ends and I put on an episode of "Breaking Bad" we haven't seen yet. It's called "The Fly" and it involves the two main characters' episode-long pursuit of the titular insect, which is loose in the lab and threatens to contaminate the batch of meth they're making.

Funny how things line up.

Join the New Earth Army!

Memorial Day weekend Netflix selection: The Men Who Stare At Goats starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. Not much of a movie except for the research (the story isn't true but the background, about the US Military's bizarre new-agey special division in the seventies and eighties, is) and the casting. So a couple of things about the casting.

1. Given these parts, they assembled a dream cast for the movie. Jeff Bridges as a new-age military hippy, Kevin Spacey as an unpleasant manipulative officer, George Clooney as an alpha-male psychic. Something doesn't feel right about this. Either the movie was very expensive to make or there were some serious parties during the shooting because THESE GUYS DON'T TAKE PARTS LIKE THIS nowadays. Kevin Spacey started fighting that typecasting 15 years ago. From the producer's standpoint it's a pretty good strategy though; the milieu is so weird you don't want the audience distracted by Spacey playing a nice guy. Still, I bet free drugs were involved in putting it all together.

2. There are a lot of flashbacks to incidents thirty or forty years ago. Normally you'd cast younger actors in those parts but they seem to have used the actual George Clooney, Kevin Spacey et. al. And they look genuinely young! Not in that dye-the-hair-and-gauze-up-the-lens kind of way, but the thirty-pounds-lighter-without-the-crow's-feet kind of way. How did they do it? If it's digital then we have a serious problem for up and coming actors now, because there won't be a need to look for a younger William Shatner. We'll just prop up the William Shatner we have now. Is that the world you want to live in?