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,