Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dr. Vader's 3-D House of Jedis

What did it take to get me back to Hang a Lantern On It, after several months of distractions, work and screenplay revisions kept me away ?

The fact that George Lucas is re-releasing the six Star Wars movies in 3D. First up: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, then one a year.

I have railed on (and on and on) about how George Lucas has been milking the nugget of an original idea-- a half-borrowed, structurally derivative but nonetheless original idea-- for well over thirty years now. Fine, that's his business, though it pains me to think how many new ideas and filmmakers and he could have nurtured over this quarter-century-plus. Think about Lord of the Rings: that coulda been a Lucasfilm joint, and looked just as good as Peter Jackson's work, and he had the technology to do them a decade earlier!

There is something pathetic about Lucas wanting to jump onto the 3D bandwagon. For one thing, this bandwagon's wheels are coming off, as the boxoffice on 3D movies gets smaller and smaller. Check out this article in Slate for the blow-by-blow.

Lucas has found many ways to sell the same stuff to audiences over and over again, and I'll admit the re-releases of Episodes IV, V and VI were pretty cool, if a bit of a mixed bag (removing the "yub-yub song" from the end of Jedi, good; Having Greedo shoot first, unforgivable). But laying down $15, putting those stupid glasses on, and watching Jar Jar Binks shuck and jive in 3D? I think he finally crossed the line with me.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

TV Costs Money!

The first casualty of the broadcast season is one of the best reviewed new shows of the fall: Fox is pulling “Lone Star,” its acclaimed drama about a con man leading a double life, from Monday nights.

Production has ceased on the show after five episodes. The third season of procedural drama "Lie to Me" will take its place starting next week.

Though the fate of "Lone Star" has preoccupied the media since its dismal debut last week, there's several other shows that are also endangered after only one or two episodes.

ABC's Wednesday night legal drama "The Whole Truth" (4.9 million viewers, 1.5 adults 18-49 rating) pulled only 15% higher than the premiere of "Lone Star." ABC's Thursday ensemble soap "My Generation" (5.2 million, 1.6) was likewise modest.

The second episode of NBC's "Outlaw" (4.9 million, 1.1) laid an egg last week, even by the humble standards of Friday night. And a return to the civilian format of "The Apprentice" (3.8 million, 1.4) is struggling on Thursdays.
Lone Star looked good, but I didn't get around to watching it. I guess it's not just me!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers by the score!

Rough call: you're handicapping the weekend and your choices for the number one spot are a 3D animated fantasy starring owls or a 20 years late sequel starring Michael Douglas. Who wins?


Douglas. (shrug) 19 million first place for Wall Street Money Never Sleeps vs 16 million 2nd for Legend of the Guardians. Whatevs. The week also saw the premiere of You Again, a romantic comedy that made 8 mil in 5th place.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sign O' The Times

I managed to squeeze in two movies last week, and it occurs to me they both have an important aspect in common.

The first one was Stripped To Kill 2: Live Girls! Those who know me will tell you that I'd have no problem admitting to renting a movie just to see strippers and violence, but in this case I had a more noble motive. It features my old improv buddy and scream queen Debra Lamb, about the time (1989) that we were onstage at the old Wild Side Theatre. If you get a chance to see it, Debra's the one who eats fire. And can act.

It's not a terrific movie by any definition, but it's packed with eighties goodness. It was a time when a low budget could be overcome with extremely colorful lighting schemes. Most of it takes place at night around a strip club that's entirely lit with neon signs and smoke. You know who made money in Hollywood in the eighties? Smoke machine rental houses. Smart producers bought their own. It's all big hair and bustiers for the girls, the score is synthalicious. It's a mediocre movie made watchable by the passage of time. It has acquired production value by its status as a cultural artifact.

Possibly in that same category is the documentary Catfish. I'd write about it but I just can't. Too much of the narrative is based on not knowing what will happen next. However, I can tell you that there is so much Facebook wrapped up in this thing that it functions as an unofficial sequel to The Social Network. Facebook and texting. Of course, there's a difference in that Catfish is very entertaining, but I think as the years go on and Facebook crumbles, it will serve as a jokey reminder of the crazy way we lived our lives in the first decade of this century. Those kids with their FriendFace and their tweeter! What were they thinking!!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Auditioning Sucks (When You Don't Get The Part)

Well, here I am, in Santa Monica instead of at work, because I had an audition at a small but respected theatre here. I usually feel pretty good about auditions - usually I think I did pretty good work and if I don't get the part it's because they were looking for a different type. This one, I wouldn't have hired me.

I've got a few irons on the fire this next month, and this show was going to be a third iron. I'm singing at a restaurant one night, and for half the month I'm going to be participating in the Simi Valley Ghost Walk, where I'll be playing the ghost of a parrot. I got the part because someone had recommended me based on my parrot work in another show, and I got that show because I had worked for the director before.  So I don't know, maybe a part of me felt that two gigs in one month was enough. I swear though, it's like I learned the parts and drove over the hill for thing but it wasn't me auditioning. It was my neuroses.

I definitely could have been better prepared. There were five pages to learn and I had a whole week with them, and every night I stalled as long as I could before picking up the scripts. I had a head cold and I was way out of energy, but I'll never conquer showbiz with that attitude.

There is a scenario in which I could see them calling me back, but it involves them giving me sage advice about preparing. I was professional enough at least to thank them for seeing me, though it was probably clear that I meant "wasting your time on me".

Well at least now I'm free to focus on the parrot's lines with the motivation of avoiding failing before a much larger audience. And those songs... all those songs! I hope the people in the restaurant will be good and liquored up by the time i'm on.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Weekend Box Office

If it's numbers you want...

Not bad, considering the time of year. 4 new movies enter the top ten and do not so bad! At #1 The Town, which appears to be a crime drama. $24 mil for WB! At #2, Screen Gems returns (I think they're doing all their releasing in September this year) with Easy A, which revives the literary-classics-as-high-school-romantic-comedies genre to the tune of $18 million. Probably already turned a profit!

Speaking of profitable, it's the dream of any low-budget filmmaker to set a whole movie in a single room; imagine how much cheaper it is you can manage just an elevator! 3rd on the chart, Devil with $12 million. Finally in at 5th this week, 3D kiddie fare Alpha and Omega only made $9 mil. Parents scared off by the breeding implications? After all, that's how they wound up with children in the first place.

Beyond the top ten, a lot of movies opened this week, indicating what I said last week... the majors are holding back, and the little guys see their only chance to make a dent. In most cases it's more a nick or scratch, but anything's better than nothin'. At the very least, it keeps the accountants busy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gem Alert: The Lost Skeleton Returns Again

So good that I have ordered a copy from Amazon rather than simply pirate the Netflix copy (just kidding, one doesn't DO THINGS LIKE THAT) Larry Blamire's The Lost Skeleton Returns Again is just about every bit as good as the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, of which it is a sequel to.

Both movies are surrealist low-budget parodies of those 50's monster pictures, and both use the same comic strategy. Play it straight, but make the dialogue as absurdly convoluted as possible. Have laughably cheap production values, throw in a sexy babe or two, and keep piling it all on until you can't resist the crazy charm of it all.

LSRA has the added advantage of being in Cinemascope AND color, at least in some scenes. Plus where the original employed the "miracle of Skeletorama" (the strings that held up the lost Skeleton as it lurched from place to place) the sequel boasts "SuperSkeletorama" (same thing.)

I don't want to give anything away but fortunately the plot is nonsense so there's no harm. It concerns a team of government scientists, another team of evil scientists, and a portion of the Lost Skeleton as they journey through the Amazon in search of a rare mineral called Jeranium. Unfortunately the only known source is found in a stone idol worshipped by the Canteloupe People and protected by a horrible cyclopean monster.

I warned you.

Listen, it doesn't matter anway, just as it doesn't matter if you have ever seen the movies this one takes off from. It's just a high-frequency barrage of deadpan silliness that grinds away at you until you start laughing. 'Nuff said. About the only thing that isn't funny in this movie, when all is said and done, is the trilobytes. They're well executed. What the hell are the trilobytes even DOING in there anyway? Now that I think of it, nice detail. That IS pretty funny.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Never wear white numbers after Labor Day.

Welcome to the first month of the fall season, also known as the Bermuda Triangle of releasing. That's a little unfair, as we'll see in a moment, but really if you have a movie to release, just know that NOBODY GOES TO THE MOVIES IN SEPTEMBER. If you learn anything from this blog, learn that.

Having learned that, remember this: the term "nobody" in that sentence doesn't literally mean nobody. Which is why if you have a movie to release, consider September. The rest of the studios think nobody goes this month, so they won't release their big product and there won't be any competition. This is the strategy employed by Screen Gems for their #1 debut of Resident Evil: Afterlife. The utter lack of fresh competition combined with the 3D gimmick resulted in a $27 million opening weekend. The #2 movie, Screen Gems' Takers, only made $6 million in its 3rd week. That's some ratio kids.

The only other notable opening this week, as far as I can see, is I'm Still Here, the Joachin Phoenix hoaxumentary about the actor's attempt to start a new career in rap music. #42 on the charts with a lead sink, $97 thousand. Said by some to be unwatchable!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Dr Strangelove of Zombie Movies

Calling your attention to freebies when I can - I direct your attention to Hulu and their hosting of Dan O'Bannon's horror gem Return of the Living Dead.

Released in 1985, ROTLD has an interesting history. It specifically references George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the rotting grandaddy of all zombie movies, without being a sequel to it, and it came out the same year as Day of the Dead, a genuine sequel. In fact, O'Bannon and producer James Russo had been involved in various capacities with Romero. As a result they made an effort to distance their movie from Romero's, if for no other reason than professional courtesy.

The result winds up being the Dr. Strangelove of zombie movies, an examination of a horrific subject which is funny precisely because everyone in it behaves in a logical manner.

Casting helps. Clu Gulager, a veteran character actor, plays Bert, the owner of a medical supply house in which the Zombie-making gas is mistakenly stored. He's just pitch perfect as a small-time business owner trying to wrap his mind around an impossible situation - does he inform the authorities or risk his little empire? James Karen as his barely competent assistant makes the most of a role that requires little more than jocularity and screaming.

Rounding out the cast of sly veterans is Don Calfa as the mortuary attendant next door, who strikes the just right note as a grounded weirdo. It's hard to put into words, but he's a joy to watch and he has such a strange magnetism it's surprising he didn't turn up in more roles.

There are also a bunch of standard-issue new wave punk kids, of whom Linnea Quigley is the standout because, well, she's naked throughout a lot her screen time and she looks good naked. Damn good.

ROTLD was a surprise hit for MGM in 1985, which at the time was the only kind of hit they were capable of producing.  And a little story - I saw this at the United Artists Coronet in Westwood, a matinee show which was mostly ruined by an annoying guy one row ahead of me who couldn't stop talking to his seat mate. That guy was Howie Mandel. I forgive you now, Howie.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Click here for the numbers we all labor for.

Labor Day is the one long weekend that somehow never sets box office numbers on fire. I think the reason is that studios sensibly don't open their best material now; we're about to enter the wasteland of September, when the kids are back in school and everyone is trying to pay off their vacations. Therefore, don't panic when you learn that the top earner only pulled down $13 million. It's The American starring George Clooney. Said to be kind of a downer! Even more disappointing, Robert Rodriguez' long-awaited Machete, coming in at numero dos with $11 million. At #5 wan romantic comedy Going the Distance almost manages $7 million. Love conquers nothing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Parlant des Fran├žais...

Nowadays it takes a holiday weekend for me to have the time to watch a movie. This Labor Day it was Jaques Demy's classic The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Like Play Time, this is a movie that's been on my radar for my whole life but I haven't gotten around to until now.  I have nice things to say about it but the people who should hear it are all dead! Not fair, life is.

Indeed, you could say that's the overarching theme of Umbrellas. It's a simple story: teenage girl (Catherine Deneuve) wants to marry boy (Nino Castelnuovo); mother objects. Boy is drafted to serve in the Algerian war, has one night of passion with girl before he leaves, resulting in her pregnancy. Deneuve, fearing that the boy won't return to take care of the baby, entertains the proposal of a rich good-looking businessman, and eventually breaks down and marries him.

When the guy (actually he's name Guy) returns from Algeria he finds his love has moved away, and after a while he takes up with the girl next door, marries her and they raise a child. Both couples are content, but the pain of the separation from their first loves will never heal.

Summarized like this you might wonder what the big deal is with the movie, but I've left out the big gimmick - every word of dialogue is sung to a score by Michel Legrand. Demy apparently was struck by MGM musicals and longed to make some of his own. So not only is it all musical, it's also art-directed to within an inch of its life. There is no interior where the walls don't match someone's costume; there are no characters who aren't attractive. The woman who plays Deneuve's mother, for example, can't possibly be more than 5 years older than Deneuve.

So what it amounts to is a huge showing-off excercise. "You think you can do musicals, MGM? How do you like THIS?" It's insane. We're fortunate that Demy kept three-color negatives to hedge against print fading, because color itself is a major character in the movie and from what I have read, by 1980 the whole movie was shades of pink.

So worthwhile viewing even though it's probably the chickiest chick flick ever made.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Play Time in 35mm

Just saw it at a revival house in Hollywood - I hate to admit it, but Blu-ray has an edge on it. Unless you got a really bad TV of course.
- Sent from my iPhone

And now it's the next morning! Just to elaborate on that...

I got a tip from Scott K., who has commented on my previous Play Time posts. He loves the film so much that he learned about a screening in Hollywood even though he doesn't live anywhere near here, so he wrote to me recommending that I go. I tried to round up some friends via Facebook but the only person I know who would be interested is an ex with a VERY jealous boyfriend, so I did something I frequently do, go to a movie alone.

This was a splendid opportunity to brush up on the difference between seeing a comedy alone and seeing it in a theatre. And the Silent Movie Theatre (legacy name, obviously) drew a packed house for its double feature of Tati and Chaplin's Modern Times. Kind of a rookie choice for a double feature, but nowadays there are no revival houses so a rookie choice is the ideal one. So lots of people there, favorably disposed toward Tati, knowledgeable about the grammar of film.

On the minus side, the print was dirty (though not scratched) and the projector was dim. If I'm not mistaken the bulb is optimized for the 1:1.33 aspect ratio of silent films, because Modern Times looked great. But blown up and diffused to 1:1.85 the light was a kind of grey pall on everything. Possibly the management wasn't aware, possibly they were just trying to save money, but it was a huge disadvantage to a movie that needs every break it can get.

Anyway, this was my third viewing of Play Time (a different format each time!) so what did I get out of this one? I feel less alienated to the movie now. The first time it seemed not so much a comedy as a depiction of the world as seen through the eyes of an Aspberger's Syndrome sufferer. Now it's charming and sweet. I spotted a couple of new gags (that will happen every time I see it, they tell me). But the one thing I had confirmed by audience reaction is, for the most part, Play Time just isn't very funny. It's brilliant and admirable and it changes the way we look at movies, but it is NOT a laugh riot. And unlike Chaplin, it doesn't pull at the heart strings either.

If there's EVER an opportunity to see it in 70mm though, I'm totally there.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Jack Benny, Paul Revere, And the Raiders

Jack Benny was a classy enough guy that this appearance on a late sixties variety show was hardly mortifying at all. Believe me, I've seen worse.