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 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.


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.


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.


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.


RANDY: Copy boy!


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.


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!