Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Weekend Box Office

Here's proof of what I say: the numbers!

Talk about a sucker punch! The golden age of Zach Snyer may be over. His Sucker Punch, a $75 million epic based on yet another graphic novel,  premiered at #2 with $19 million. Depressingly, it was beaten by a presold property, a sequel to Diary of A Wimpy Kid (subtitled Rodrick Rules!) that took the weekend with $24 million. It reportedly cost $18 million to make. I don't want to think about what this means.

This weekend I took in Of Gods and Men, a contemplative true story of French monks in Algeria, coming to terms with terrorism in their community. I have no idea what it cost, but considering the subject matter, the fact that it made $333,000 is the stuff of prayer. It's pretty good by the way, a combination essay/thriller. Worth seeing, if you can find it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Showtime Scuttles Netflix Deal

Wow, it's like having to choose betwen your divorcing parents - last week Netflix announced its intention to produce an original series like the cable networks do, and today Showtime announced it won't stream some of its content on Netflix any more.

Showtime said Tuesday that its newly negotiated deal with Netflix, which takes effect this summer, no longer includes online streaming rights to its currently airing first-run series, such as "Dexter" and "Californication."

When the new agreement kicks in, episodes of those shows will disappear from Netflix and will be offered exclusively on Showtime's online service.

"A number of Showtime original series will continue to be available and stream on Netflix including 'The Tudors' and 'Sleeper Cell,' among others," Showtime said in a statement, referring to programs that have gone off the air.

This is a significant departure from Showtime's current arrangement with Netflix, which expires this summer. Under that pact, the cable channel provided several seasons of "Dexter" and "Californication" to Netflix in an effort to introduce its signature shows to a wider audience.
Daddy, mommy, don't fight!

Well if I have to choose, streaming Netflix is 8 bucks a month, Showtime is something like $80 (you have to get it on top of a cable package) and the economy sucks. You do the math.

A True Story About Elizabeth Taylor

It's not much, but it's mine: in the late 80's I was running a movie theatre in Westwood. We had an exclusive run of Moonstruck that winter and it was a surprise hit, so we were selling out every night. And Westwood is Beverly Hills adjacent, so it was the closest theatre to that little hamlet.

Anyway one night I was making the rounds outside the building, checking the line for the next show, which was going to be standing out in the cold for at least an hour. There, about 60 people down from the door, was Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowell. My policy with celebrities at the time was to never treat them differently. Earlier that week Martin Short had begged me to let him into a sold out show ("Hello, I'm Martin Short" he had said redundantly) and I turned him down, on the grounds that there are fire laws.

But Short would have approved of my breaking the rules for Liz Taylor, because she was royalty. "Listen", I murmured so the rest of the line wouldn't hear, "if you guys would like to wait in the lobby it's not a problem."

Taylor glanced at McDowall and said, "We'll be fine here, thank you."

And so I left them in the chilly SoCal winter, exposed to the elements and boredom and fans.

My limited experience with celebrities is that the bigger they are, the more they prefer the normal things. Tom Cruise, at the height of his fame, used to always stand in the popcorn line, even though he was buying for an entourage that included his own personal assistants.

Like I said, not much of a story. Better than none though!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Weekend Box Office

One thing limits everything: numbers.

The film industry shrugs this week - three weak movies opening! At the top of heap that looks like a speed bump, Limitless. The Bradley Cooper vehicle drew down $19 million, which hopefully constituted profitability. 4th and 5th place run a virtual tie - both earning around $13 mil. It's The Lincoln Lawyer and Paul. Meh. All pretty good Netflix material but I'm not too energized to drive out to the mall for this stuff.

Battle: Los Angeles dropped 60% from its opening week. I saw it on Tuesday. I was a little disappointed that for the most part it should be called Battle: Santa Monica. And for the most part, all the real destruction takes place off screen. Let's face it, from a movie with that title you want to see landmarks blown up. Captiol Records building - GONE! Hollywood sign - GONE! From the way it's shot, it might as well be Battle: Afghanistan.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Not THAT Bad

Don't get me wrong, this is an awful little song. It's just not as bad as the gold standard of bad, My Humps.

Still, it's bad enough to have had this result:

Rebecca Black's pop video has been viewed on YouTube 29 million times American schoolgirl singer Rebecca Black has said that negative online comments about her music made her cry.

The 13-year-old's Friday video is currently a major internet hit with 29 million views so far on YouTube.

But the track has been heavily criticised online - with some newspapers and commentators dubbing it "the worst song of all time."

"When I first saw all these nasty comments I thought this is all my fault," she told US TV network ABC.

"[I thought] this was all because of me," she added, speaking on the Good Morning America show.

Rebecca said the worst post was someone who'd written "I hope you cut yourself and I hope you get an eating disorder so you look pretty. I hope you cut and die."

The video for Friday has has been trending continuously on Twitter and is notching up views at a rapid rate.
I'm on the fence - on one hand, I could shell out a buck, buy the single on iTunes and cheer the poor kid up. On the other hand, that would just encourage Ark Music Factory to release more stuff like this, humiliating more 14-year-olds who aren't prepared for notoriety. It's a moral quandry, this song.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A History Lesson with Betty White

The lesson here: I had no idea that they were broadcasting in color in 1959.

The other lesson: Betty White was always hot.

March Oddments

••• It's strange to be witness to another entry in the "biggest flop of all time" contest. Of course, we're talking about Mars Needs Moms. Sometimes Hollywood just sneaks 'em out: yet another bouncy, kid-friendly computer-animated 3D flick, with some mild laughs in and cool-looking stuff in the trailer. Then it premieres, and the opening weekend comes and goes, and it racks up a few million in ticket sales. At this point, it shares a surface commonality with the majority of films on Dan's Weekly Box Office Report: It opened wide, a few people saw it, big deal. But then the news breaks wide in the trades (and the New York Times: read it before the whole news site vanishes behind the paywall!) that the damned thing cost the studio $150 million and two years to make.

What? $150 Million? Didn't somebody once say that CG movies would eventually be cheaper than live-action films? Do you mean to tell us that Mars Needs Moms, which is based on a children's picture book by Berkeley "Bloom County" Breathed, cost as much to make as Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King? Really? I once wrote an article praising Dax Shepard that pointed out that his cute little film Employee of the Month (2005) cost $10 million to produce and it eventually collected $30 million in first-release BO: a modest profit, but a profit nonetheless. Did anyone at Disney (who rarely step in the horse exhaust as badly as this, might I add) realize they could have used that motion-capture and compositing money,  made fifteen Employee of the Month movies (covering five seasons worth of employees) and raked in nearly half a billion dollars?

••• I think I have a little crush on a cartoon character (again): Cheryl (or Carol) from "Archer," a TV-MA animated Cold War spy-spoof on FX. Strong recommendation for this show: It's slick-looking, flash-style animation, with handsome, realistic character renderings (it looks a bit like a Saturday Morning version of "Mad Men") and some of the sharpest , funniest writing of any current series, period. It shares a heritage between creator Adam Reed's heady earlier series, particularly "Sealab 2021", and, of all things, "Arrested Development" (Jessica Walter, Jeffrey Tambor and Judy Greer do voices on it).

Anyway, Cheryl (or Carol, voiced by Greer) is the secretary for Malory Archer, the head of ISIS, the spy agency at the center of the story. She is amazingly, mind-bendingly stupid. That's her, drinking rubber cement. She has displayed her near-total lack of intelligence at various times-- to quote her Wikipedia bio-- by "trying to turn on her computer by typing O-N on the keyboard, wondering aloud who brings Jewish people their Christmas presents and thinking that a website can tell her whether she's pregnant." She defies a trio of armed police officers trying to arrest her by yelling "You're not my supervisor!" At the end of an episode that deals with cancer non-stop (it's very funny, I assure you) she leans over to another character and asks "what's cancer?"

It's always a kick to see a character who is set up to be an ignoramus, because if it's written and performed well, you're both amused and a little bit stunned. Cheryl (or Carol) as a character reminds me a bit of Larry, Darryl and Darryl from "Newhart" (1982-1990), who had the ability to throw down absolutely amazing non-sequiteurs. But Cheryl (or Carol) is better because she's smoking hot as well. No Uncanny Valley in "Archer," no sir. Full episodes are available on IMDb.

••• The awful events unfolding in Japan make a mockery of any comparison to fictional disaster or fictional anything, really. Having said that, I should point out that I'm not the first person to draw the most obvious comparison, or at least one that is culturally appropriate: Godzilla. A raging force of nature that destroys indiscriminately and lays waste with a plume of radioactive fire. It's so terribly apt that one could almost see it as science-fiction time loop, a 50s monster inspired by events that occur in devastating cadence half a century later.

But there is another icon from Japanese culture that truly gives me hope for the beleaguered people of Japan: Domo. He's NHK's mascot (and mine too, kinda): a squared-off, stubby-legged monster with beady eyes and a huge, toothy square mouth. Check him out: he's cute enough with the napped fur and outreaching arms, but he's got teeth. Big sharp pointy ones. There's an unlikely mix of winsomeness and determination to him. He always shows his mouthful of shark-like teeth to the world, almost like a challenge. Any culture that can produce a little character that embodies such a dichotomy of cute and tough can internalize these qualities, and they can do anything-- And that is something we at Hang A Lantern On It definitely believe.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Oh Yeah, Netflix Is Going There

You like cable TV but wish you could subscribe to ONLY HBO or ONLY the Golf Channel? Well you can't. You have to pay for at least 50 other channels and while at least one of them is possibly the Golf Channel, the other 49 are for some niche you have almost no interest in.

That annoying stalemate may be changing.
Netflix has allegedly outbid a number of major cable networks for a new drama series produced by and starring Kevin Spacey called House of Cards, and may be about to close a deal at more than $100 million, according to a report on Deadline.com.

The deal has yet to be finalized, but Deadline's unnamed source claims that Netflix has made a commitment to two seasons of House of Cards, which the media site described as "staggering" and "pretty unheard of these days."
See the point is, streaming Netflix provides on-demand movies and TV shows, it's less than 10 dollars a month and with the amount of TV I watch, I don't even need cable. In fact, I barely need Netflix. But if they get a couple of must-see series the way HBO does, voila! Your entertainment bill is down to a quarter of what it was. Sure you'll miss some programming but wouldn't you rather have the money? Plus Netflix buys up most programming a year later anyway. They're all over Showtime offerings.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Weekend Box Office

Mars needs numbers!

Three movies opened in the top ten this week. No news: Red Riding Hood debuted at #3 with $14 million. Vampires are more popular than wolves. Big news: Battle: Los Angeles takes #1 with $35 million. That's good money.

But the biggest news is about failure: Mars Needs Moms, a 3D CGI extravaganza from producer Bob Zemeckis, pulled down only $7 million. It reportedly cost $150 million to make, so this is bad news. So bad that Disney has pulled out of the Zemeckis-helmed remake of Yellow Submarine, which was to use the same uncanny-valley prone CGI company. As of today the project is being shopped around to other studios.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Angle On The Sheen Story I'm Comfortable With

I didn't want to go near this story when it was about an actor's meltdown. It's like someone asked me today, "did you see that video where Charlie Sheen...(whatever he did THIS time) and I said no, I don't watch Charlie Sheen videos. I let other people tell me about them. It's quicker. If I thought Charlie Sheen was actually melting down, I'd just ignore him. But here's what I think Charlie Sheen IS doing.

In the first move of what could be a long legal battle, Charlie Sheen has sued Warner Bros. and "Two and a Half Men" co-creator Chuck Lorre for $100 million plus punitive damages over his termination on the hit television show.

Mr. Sheen's lawyer, Hollywood firebrand Marty Singer, filed the lawsuit on Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

A spokesman for Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc., declined to comment.

In the suit, Mr. Sheen alleges that Mr. Lorre decided to fire the actor because he wanted to work on other television shows and before Mr. Sheen's public antics.

Citing his recent behavior, Warner Bros. on Monday terminated Mr. Sheen's contract, which according to people familiar with the matter pays him about $2 million an episode, including his share of "back-end" profit like syndication. But in the suit, Mr. Sheen also alleges that the studio's firing of the actor, even for those circumstances, would be in violation of California law.

The suit also states that Mr. Sheen is pursuing claims "for the benefit of the entire cast and crew to get paid for the balance of the season's 24 episodes."
Yes I know, suing a company for $100 million is entirely constistant with the insane behavior that Sheen has been exhibiting. But go with me on this. Say you're making a huge amount of money on a show, and you want out because you're tired of it, but the last time you tried to leave they just offered you a little more money? Why not burn your bridges this time and get a huge windfall besides?

I'm not saying Sheen isn't on drugs. Of course he is. But this whole public breakdown has the look of strategy in it to me. This is why I whenever I see Sheen (or have his antics described to me) I hear that Alec Baldwin line in my head. To recap, it's from Malice, in which Baldwin plays a surgeon on trial for malpractice and on the witness stand he says "You say I have a God complex? Let me tell you something. I am God." In the movie, the malpractice suit is part of a long con.

Same thing people! And duh - winning!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Harbinger Of Things To Come

Red Riding Hood is in the vanguard of what appears to be an onslaught of live-action fairy tale-derived studio features over the next year or so. What triggered this trend remains unclear, but one can only hope that the level of cleverness and invention improves, as things hardly get off to an inspired start here.
- Hollywood Reporter review of RED RIDING HOOD

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Weekend Box Office

This town ain't big enough for the both of us. Either I go, or the numbers do.

Emerging from a really lackluster February (they say it's a 15-year low) March comes in like a lion. Leading the pride is Rango, which grabbed $38 million with its little green gekko feet. That's twice the opening of The Tourist, which featured a live action Johnny Depp. Makes you go "hmmmm" doesn't it?

At #2 The Adjustment Bureau, which made $21 million. You may wish it had made more but that's how much it was supposed to make. Opening at #3 was Beastly, with almost $10 million. I hadn't heard of it before just now, but I think it's aimed at the tweens. Let them have their fun.

Also a notable opening this week: Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story. I think it's a documentary about Monopoly. This is what happens when people greenlight based on academy awards. "Listen, that Inside Job was about monopolies. Who do we know in the business world? We don't? Well, figure something out."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Charlie Harper Is a Real Live Boy

Okay, I watched the 20/20 interview of Charlie Sheen, and have followed the breathless hysteria/moral panic outrage over his recent behavior. I have read articles about his outbursts and the subsequent production halt on "Two and a Half Men." He is being compared on ABC's "Nightline" to Lindsay Lohan and Christina Aguilera, and even Qaddafi.

I haven't the slightest idea what everybody is so worked up about. Charlie Sheen honestly advertises his values and lifestyle every single week on his sitcom (and several times a day in syndication). Nobody who watches this show should be surprised in the least by these "shocking" new revelations.

I am never, ever going to get on a high horse and judge the guy. He's living a lifestyle the rest of us can only envy. In his ABC interview most of what had was say was quite reasonable, given his unusual life perspective. About the only thing I can say about his recent behavior is that it resulted in shuttering his show, and any sort of personal outburst that interferes with profits is bad business. But come on: whose fault was that? Sheen's, for having a chip on his shoulder and an oversized ego, or Chuck Lorre for being thin-skinned and also having an oversized ego? Name a person at a level high enough to directly profit from the #1 sitcom on American television who wouldn't have an oversized ego?

If we're going to go ahead and compare spasms of media celebrity outrage, Charlie Sheen would best be compared to Woody Allen. In 1992, Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, 34 years his junior and his sort-of stepdaughter with Mia Farrow, became public. The hue and cry was most extreme. But Woody Allen had telegraphed his preledictions for, um, younger women in his film Manhattan. Why was everyone so surprised when it turned out to be true?

Hey, as long as nobody gets hurt and nobody's livelihood is threatened, Charlie Sheen can be Charlie Harper all the livelong day. In fact, that's what I love about the guy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Razzies: More Geeky Than Usual

The night before the Oscars is the penultimate moment for the award season, with two final award shows before the big one: The IFC Spirit Awards, usually held in Santa Monica, and The Razzies, held in Hollywood at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre ("a low-priced rental house for live theatre, dance, music, spoken word, lecture, film and special event presentations." - official website)

Out in the West Side,  IFC gave their best picture award to Black Swan: They also considered The King's Speech a foreign film, and it won that award as such. Back in H'wood, awards at the Razzies were mostly shared by two films: The Last Airbender, which took 5 awards (worst picture, director, screenplay, mis-use of 3D, and worst supporting actor) and Sex and the City 2, which received three (worst actress combined, ensemble and  worst sequel).

According to the breathless copy on the Razzies' pop-up-infested homepage, The "winner" of worst picture is "Repeat Offender M. Night Shyamalan’s 're-imagining' of the faux-animé TV series The Last Airbender into a jumbled, jump-cut mess of a movie that fans of the TV show hated even more than critics did (if that’s even possible!)."

I've read more than my fair share of savage reviews in 2010, and there were quite a few for Airbender. But the worst most people could say about it is that it was confusing and boring. No, the best, the most elaborately written, the most snarling and vicious reviews were almost universally reserved for Sex and the City 2. It inspired such review quotes as:
 ...An enervated, crass and gruesomely caricatured trip to nowhere -- seems conceived primarily to find new and more cynical ways to abuse the loyalty of its audience. (Slate)
It's an accidental candid snapshot of the sick, dying heart of America, a film so pleased with its vacuous, trashy, art-free extravagance that its poster should be taped to the dingy walls of terrorist sleeper agents worldwide. (IFC)

SATC2 takes everything that I hold dear as a woman and as a human—working hard, contributing to society, not being an entitled c*** like it's my job—and rapes it to death with a stiletto that costs more than my car. (The Stranger)
I mean, from major newspapers to online critics, everyone who was paid to write a write a review of this film went out of their way to throttle SATC2. The Last Airbender? Aside from some soaring put-downs of Mr. Shyamalan (who most believe will be moving on to directing wedding videos) most reviewers thought it was just a poorly executed film, not the end of western civilization as we know it.

It would seem that the Razzie folks are in the corner of disappointed "faux-anime" fans than part of the larger chorus of outrage over the awful, clueless, tone-deaf abomination of SATC2.

Then again, this isn't really a surprise:  I've found it interesting that the closer you get to the fringes of Hollywood culture, the prevailing culture becomes increasingly male and fanboy-like. So I believe SATC2 didn't take full [dis]honors because ultimately the Razzie boys couldn't quite parse the negative reactions to it-- and it was so far outside their demographic they would never actually see it.

It's not an exact analogy, but I'm reminded of the segment of the Academy Awards ceremony where they hand out the technical Oscars. This event is held far in time and space from the big show, and it is usually MC'd by a recipient of a "real" Oscar-- This year, it was Marisa Tomei. The last shot of the segment was the group photo: Cute little Marisa standing on a stage surrounded by tuxedoes. Away from the bright center of Hollywood, it's apparently a real sausage fest.