Monday, 31 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #77: H"D"O...

As my two or three regular readers may know I've been subtly campaigning to take over the currently troubled HBO network. Sadly , Time-Warner seems to be ignoring me, much like they ignored my campaign to take over New Line Cinema before it was assimilated in to the bloated Time-Warner Borg Collective.

Well, it's there loss, because I have a sense of what needs to be done to save HBO. It's a simple 5 step program to get the network on top again.

STEP 1- STOP LOOKING FOR THE NEXT SOPRANOS: HBO had some incredible success over the past ten years with shows like The Sopranos, and Sex & The City, but right now they are so wrapped up in finding The Next Sopranos or The Next Sex & The City, that they are letting the other cable networks catch up by doing what HBO used to do well: Picking shows that aren't the next anything. They do shows that stand alone on their own merits with their own stories, and aren't picked to recapture the praise of critics due to similar themes and pretencions of past shows.

STEP 2- DON'T LET BEING ON CABLE BE ALL YOU THINK ABOUT: You know what I'm talking about. Just because you can use the word "fuck" like punctuation, doesn't necessarily mean you have to. I'm not calling for cutting rough language, sex, and violence, I'm just saying that rough language, sex and violence shouldn't be the main factor in deciding if it's HBO worthy or not. A simple rule: If it plays as creative and original without the "R-rated" material as it does with it, then you just might have something beyond the novelty of rude words and nudity.

STEP 3- THINK GLOBALLY ABOUT TALENT: There is an amazing wealth of talent in the global English language television industry but a dearth of outlets for their talent. Literally hundreds of writers, directors, producers, and actors in England, Canada, and Australia are being driven out of the industry with the prevalence of crappy reality TV and the "celebrity media" that covers the "stars" of these reality shows. Now you're going to need good stories to start with. So look for talented and under-appreciated writers in these markets, and see if you can work with them on projects that can communicate, not only with Americans, but with the world.

STEP 4- THINK GLOBALLY ABOUT MONEY: Also look for international co-production partners who might be interested in having the HBO cachet on their projects. You're going to be trying to syndicate shows to these countries eventually, so you might as well get the money up front wherever you can to offset the high costs of production.

STEP 5- RECONNECT WITH THE AUDIENCE: When it comes to pay channels audiences want shows that are intelligent, challenging, but not insulting, or insular (designed for critics & media insiders). Look at the choices the network is making, and ask yourself: What will the audience take from this, and will they come back for more? Praise from critics and media insiders is all well and good, but they have ego-driven agendas of their own and they definitely are not the audience. The audience is the man, woman, and child outside the Hollywood/Beverly Hills/Malibu Axis of Ego. If you don't know that, you're not going to get anywhere, let alone the top of the heap.

So, while I wait for a call from the CEO of Time-Warner, you can let this be your slogan for life:

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #76: Stop Losses

Yet another anti-war film has bombed at the box-office. This time it's the Abercrombie & Fitch ad turned agitprop flick Stop Loss to do a few spins around the toilet bowl before swirling into unprofitable oblivion. It joins the other failed flicks Rendition, Redacted, In The Valley of Elah, Lions For Lambs, The Road to Guantanamo*, and Xenu knows how many other films that have come out on an almost monthly basis since Saddam Hussein's statue and regime tumbled into the dust.

Now various media outlets are wondering why these films fail. They cite various theories saying that the American people don't want to talk about the war, that the war is unpopular, and that people can't accept someone "speaking truth to power," and such and such...

But they're all wrong.

The biggest problem with these films is in their choice of villain. No matter how unpopular a war may be, or how low the President's approval ratings get, the American people will not pay money to see a film that says that they are The Bad Guy.

Most average Americans, otherwise known as The
Paying Audience, have friends, family members, in the military, or know someone who does. They see America's soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen as brave and heroic men and women. Ordinary people who bravely face the horrible situation of war with courage and sacrifice.

They don't see them the way these movies present them, either at best as under-educated emotionally crippled, psychological basket cases manipulated into senseless wars by secret cabals of warmongering chicken-hawk businessmen and politicians, or at worst as bloodthirsty, bigoted, rapists, perverts, mass murderers, and sadistic torturers, who revel in brutal atrocity the way studio-executives revel in big summer opening weekends.

This is not a uniquely American phenomenon. The Liberal Party of Canada ruled the country for about 10 years, and wanted to paint rival Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper as a maniacal war-monger to distract attention from a major corruption scandal. The Liberal Party made an ad that was briefly released on the internet that took Harper's plan to have military units posted near major cities to handle disaster relief and presented it, complete with sinister music, as a plan to "put soldiers on our streets." Stephen Harper is now the Prime Minister of Canad
a, do the math.

No sensible ordinary person considers the Army reservist who manages the hardware store, coaches Little League, throws 4th of July barbecues for his neighbours, and whose wife sings in the church choir, a threat to democracy and human decency, quite the opposite. And they think those who do see them that way are either foolish, or deranged.

And they certainly are not going to pay money to see that on the big screen, no matter how pretty the actors starring in it are, or how many awards it gets nominated for.

You're probably asking yourself: "If these films box-office poison, why does Hollywood keep making them?"

Well, some say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, thinking that this time the outcome will be different.

Well, this time, they want the outcome to be the same. They want these films to fail.

There are two fundamental drives in Hollywood, the Money Drive, and the Ego Drive. Popular films are made via the money drive because their worth is derived from their success at appealing to the general audienc

Films based on the Ego Drive are not geared for the general audience. In fact, they are geared against the audience. They are designed to transform the films makers and stars from unusually coddled, isolated, denizens of the Beverly Hills/Malibu/Hollywood Axis of Ego into "heroic," "courageous," "martyrs," who "stand up against oppression" to "speak truth to power," without actually risking anything but other people's money.

You see, really speaking out against real and violent oppression can get you murdered. Just look at the life and death of Theo Van Gogh.

However, no American filmmaker has ever been
arrested, imprisoned, murdered, or even threatened with a nasty atomic wedgie by the Bush Administration. So there's no real danger in criticizing it, and since 95%+ of Hollywood are dyed in the wool Democrats who think Bush is the war mongering, election stealing, font of all evil, you will be blindly praised for anything that makes the Bush Administration look bad.

And when your film fails, you will hailed as a martyr, get nominated for awards, land bigger deals for more money, and be praised as the most brilliant artist since the last guy who made an anti-war film.

George Clooney's built his career on it, since he hasn't carried a real commercial hit solo in a long, long, time. Tom Cruise and Robert Redford's film Lions for Lambs, was nothing more than a cynical ploy to win back the hearts of Hollywood after a string of public embarrassments and the failure of M:I3 to make a profit because of its bloated budget hurt Cruise's career.

It's also a license for cinematic laziness. Most objective critics cite that many of these films, are just plain poorly made. Populated with cardboard stereotypes for characters, weak implausible plots that set political bloggers off into a fact-checking flurry, and preachy, often whiny, scripts.

It's a perfect storm for filmmakers.

All you have to do is slap together something that fits the personal and political prejudices of the Hollywood elite, and suddenly, you're number one with a film that sinking like number two and signing a big new multi-million dollar contract. It doesn't have to be any good, in fact, making it bad is even better. Because nothing ruins a perfectly good martyrdom like success.

That's my 2 cents.
*Which did not star Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, which I discovered much to my chagrin.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #75: Cruise-ing Back to Paramount

The eerily accurate Nikki Finke reports a pending peace treaty between Tom Cruise and Paramount made over a penitent dinner between the actor and Viacom honcho Sumner Redstone.

This comes at a time when Paramount is set to lose independent juggernaut Dreamworks SKG when its contract runs out and is hungry for the sort of franchise that Cruise and Mission: Impossible could provide.

Now while Tom's last Paramount film M:I3 made around $400 million around the world, it failed to make a profit (real or imagined) due to a massive budget, that went even bigger due to, according to many reports, the antics of its leading man. Tens of millions more were spent to market the film, digging an even deeper hole.

Tom is currently co-head with his manager Paula Wagner o
f the near moribund United Artist label for MGM, and so far things aren't looking up. Cruise's rather cynical attempt to win back the hearts of Hollywood's elite, the anti-war flick Lions for Lambs, only alienated the people whose opinions really mattered-- the general public. His next film, Valkyrie, is plagued with stories of production problems, budget overages, and a generally negative aura around the project despite the heroism of the source material.

Now if I was head of Paramount, I would think twice before bringing back Tom Cruise to revive Mission: Impossible. I'd reboot the whole franchise with a whole new star. My first choice would be Robert Downey
Jr. His upcoming Paramount film Iron Man, has a lot of positive buzz with it and looks like it's going to be a big summer blockbuster. He also has something that Tom Cruise doesn't have: public goodwill. He's a classic comeback story, transforming from a talented, but tragic Hollywood train wreck, into a hard working actor. Americans love hard working comeback kids, plus, he hasn't humiliated himself in public with antics that keep late night comedians, and sketch shows with fresh material.

Plus, he will be waaaay cheaper than Cruise, and you'll be able to have a script built around the ensemble of the Mission: Impossible team rather than centring almost exclusively on the "star."

But I don't think they'll go for it. It might take a willingness to gamble that I don't think Paramount has right now.

Now I see an opportunity for MGM and the team that's seeking to revive the studio. They could trade Cruise back to Paramount, at Hollywood's equivalent of Checkpoint Charlie, which I think is outside Spago's. I suggest tossing in the Weinstein Company distribution deal in as well as a parting gift. Then MGM should lure the disaffected Dreamworks SKG people to defect over the wall to MGM, for a more equitable and profitable partnership via United Artists.

This will give MGM/UA the commercially viable productions it needs to fill its release schedule and generate revenue while they basically rebuild the company from scratch.

That's my 2 cents.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #74: Revenge of the Self Fulfilling Idiocy

Nikki Finke reports that Jack Klugman, star of the first American* forensic crime drama QUINCY is suing NBC Universal for millions.

NBC Universal claims that the show, which ran for 8 seasons (usually in the Top 10) and then went on to be syndicated around the world for the next 25+ years, has lost over $66 million dollars, and that they owe Klugman nothing in royalties and profit sharing.

If NBC Univer
sal's claim is true then it is the most incompetently run organization in the history of the planet that should have gone bankrupt decades ago.

Of course we know it isn't true. NBC Universal is just playing silly stupid games with the books in an attempt to screw people out of their fair share.

And the sad thing is that the NBC Universal people behind these fiscal shenanigans thi
nk they're smart, when in fact they are being really, really, really, stupid.

I've discussed this matter before, but since Hollywood is refusing to learn from my vast wisdom, I am going to have to repeat myself.

This case is a classic example of what I call Hollywood's most prevalent self-fulfilling idiocy. A self-fulfilling idiocy is like a self-fulfilling prophecy, only it's not about prescience but about stupidity. It refers to a stupid plan that creates a worse problem than the one the the plan was meant to solve.

Allow me to elucidate:

Studios and networks want more money. It's natural that they act in their own self-interest, it's the nature of the beast. But plans like this may look on the surface like a good plan, but scratch off that micron of credibility and you realize that it does more harm to their self-interest than good.

Here's how it works:

Studios promise profit shares to the talent in exchange for lower up-front fees.

Studios then cheat the talent out of their fair shares by putting their CEO's losses in Bolivian tin mining on the production's budget.

Feeling screwed, the talent then demand more money up front.

Production costs go up, and up, and up. Way beyond the rate of inflation.

Then the studios realize that production has become too expensive to make a profit, even when they don't fiddle with the books.

Studios eventually collapse when the glamour and the glitter stops hiding the fact that the industry's become a bottomless black hole for money and investors walk away.

A little commons sense, and basic honesty could prevent problems like this from happening, and I haven't even mentioned the millions spent fighting these cases in court.

So the next time, and there will be a next time, you see a story like this, remember that you're watching a self-fulfilling idiocy at work.


*Many consider the Canadian CBC show Wojeck starring John Vernon the first crime show to centre on the work of a Medical Examiner and forensic science.

Hollywood Babble On & On #73: Respect The Geek

I've written earlier about the controversy over Harvey Weinstein's so-called "improvement" of the film Fanboys, and how it sparked outrage on the part of the film's core fans. This outrage has led to threats of boycotts on one side, lawsuits on the other, and it ensures one thing: Another turkey for the Weinstein Company money pit.

Why is the film guaranteed to fail?

Because Harvey Weinstein did not follow Commandment #8 of my 13 Hollywood Commandments:


I use comic book/SF/Fantasy geeks as my model, but these common sense lessons can be used when marketing any film from romantic comedies to art-house indie films.

Any genre or style of film has its "geeks" or to be more scientific its core audience. These are the people who go to the opening night, post their reviews on the internet, and rent &/or buy
the DVDs and buy the merchandise. And in this age of instant communication the geeks can make or break a film before it gets out of previews.

That's because the excitement generated by a core audience can spread to the general public. It's called buzz, it used to be created and managed by Hollywood's bloated publicity machine, but, li
ke the understanding your DVD player's user manual, that power has been usurped by the geeks of the internet.

So, since I spent a post talking about how not to handle the core audience, I'd like to offer Hollywood some pointers how to properly deal with the core audience.

1. Don't insult them: Like I've said in dozens of my earlier posts: contempt for the audience is killing Hollywood. No one wants to go to the movies to be insulted, look at the box-office performance of all the recent "political" films, and geeks especially, are not just going to take the crap that's being spoon-fed them by Hollywood lately. What would happen to a studio exec if his company was releasing a romantic comedy and he declared: "Those stupid chicks are going to love this shit because they're morons." That exec would be fired, and that movie would fail.

2. Be thematically faithful: This is especially important when adapting comic books, novels, or any other pre-existing material. Especially now since the classic "fanboy" geek has become much more critical of Hollywood and the quality of its product. Comic book geeks aren't expecting you to re-create word for word issue #1 of their favourite comic book, some tweaking is to be expected when taking things from the page to the screen. However, they are expecting your film to jive with the themes inherent in the source material, the first two X-Men films are perfect examples of this. But you must keep in mind the next rule...

3. Don't "re-imagine" the material too much: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer did pretty well in opening ticket sales, but it was a disappointment and didn't recoup its combined production and promotion costs. Why did it disappoint? Because they made Galactus, an all powerful villain/force of the universe, in the comic books, and made him a glowing cloud. Essentially, the main villain was a cosmic fart tossed in at the end as an afterthought when they rehashed everything from the first movie. Sure, you might be able to land a good opening weekend, but if you lose the goodwill of the geek, the buzz they generate dies, and with it the film.

4. Get the geeks involved: Look around at what the geeks are saying about your project. It's all over the internet, find out what they will pay money to see, and use that. They know the source material, and they know what they want. Then when the film is being made, leak little tidbits to get some excitement going, there's no way you can be completely secretive, but letting them have a little taste is good, especially if it's something they want. Go to conventions and interact with the fans, you won't get nerd-cooties from them, and they will appreciate it after years of being treated with disdain.

I hope this little piece of advice helps Hollywood. All I ask is 5% of the gross revenues of all productions that use this advice. I'm not greedy.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


Film noir and suspense icon Richard Widmark passed away this week at the age of 93. He exploded into movies in 1947 at the age of 33 after years of working in radio, theatre, and as a drama teacher with the role of a deranged gangster Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death.

He then worked steady for the next 40+ years playing killers, cops, cowboys, crooks, and commanders. He also refused to "go Hollywood" shunning all but the most necessary publicity, preferring the work to speak for itself, and spending most of his time away from Hollywood in Connecticut.


Abby Mann
, writer of prominent "social dramas" of the 1950s like Judgement at Nuremberg (which co-starred Widmark) and the creator of TV crime classic Kojak also passed away this week at 84.

It's sad to say, but these things usually happen in threes...

Hollywood Babble On & On #72: MGM's Still Hiring...

I wonder what's going on at venerable MGM. The long considered moribund studio is on a hiring spree. First, former Universal Exec Mary Parent, and now her first major hire is former New Line exec Cale Boyter.

And from what I've been able to gather, thes
e hires have been based on MERIT!

What the hell?

This new habit seems to come from major shareholder Columbia/Sony who has also been on a meritocracy kick. That company's also been promoting, hiring, or renewing the contracts of people who actually, you know, look to run a studio as a real business, and not just a vehicle for tax dodges, shoddy bookkeeping, or bloated egos drunk on pointless power.

I wish Parent and Boyter good luck at MGM, because Hollywood needs a kick in the pants to get it out the death spiral it's been in lately.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Furious Had a Little LAMB...

My blog has been profiled by the LAMB (The Large Association of Movie Blogs), a site dedicated to promoting blogs about movies and pop culture. check it out and be sure to visit the other blogs profiled.

Discount Bin Film Club: A Man For All Seasons

In memory of the passing of the great actor Paul Scofield I'm taking a look at what was probably his most famous role, that of canonized lawyer (a rarity) Sir Thomas More in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, directed by Fred Zinneman, with a screenplay by Robert Bolt (based on his own play).

I had first seen the film in high school where we watched a rather washed out VHS copy while studying the original play. Even though the tape was poor, the power of the film itself and its cast shone through. Ironically about two days after Scofield's death, I stumbled upon a copy in the discount DVD bin, and bought it.

I did not regret it.

The film is a powerful exploration of duty, morality, faith, power, and freedom. Basically, it's about Sir Thomas More, an attorney and senior government official in the court of King Henry VIII, who is respected throughout Europe for his intelligence, integrity, and honesty in all things.

King Henry VIII has a problem, he married his brother's widow (Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon), and has had no success in producing a son and heir. Henry wants to divorce his wife and marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. The problem is that to get a divorce he needs the approval of the Pope. However, the Pope at that time was surrounded by an army led by Catherine's brother the King of Spain, and couldn't give
Henry what he wanted.

Torn between his duty to his King, and friend, and to his faith, Sir Thomas More gives the only answer he can: none.

Sir Thomas More cannot in good conscience get involved in the matter, and resigns his high offices, and the prosperous incomes that comes with them. This is seen as treason by the increasingly tyrannical King Henry and his cadre of sycophantic courtiers. This leads to tragedy for More, and for the country in general.

This film is one of those moments of perfect syne
rgy when screenplay, director, and cast mesh to create a film of great intelligence and emotional power. The cast is uniformly excellent, from the young John Hurt, looking like the 5th Beatle, Leo McKern, Susannah York, Wendy Hiller, and Robert Shaw as the borderline bipolar Henry VIII, swerving madly between raucous joy, and tyrannical rage. But the real standout performance belongs to Scofield.

Scofield had already won awards and praise for his work in the original play, is a study in intelligence, and understated emotion. I have no idea what Scofield's personal beliefs were, but you do not doubt for a second that he believes everything Thomas More says, and has an intelligent and rational argument in his mind to back each word up.

Now that's acting.

Visually, Zinneman keeps things subtle, from the use of simple montages to establish location, and colour to denote character. Thomas More dresses in black and white, the symbols of ethical debate, King Henry is clad in luxuriant gold, denoting power, wealth, and ultimately corruption, the high clergy and judges dress in blood red, to symbolize their power, both spiritual and political, and Henry's foppish courtiers dress in a kaleidoscope of candy colours, telling you in an instant that they are fundamentally frivolous with no concerns beyond meeting their immediate wants.

The screenplay by Bolt, is excellent. Henry isn't just motivated by lust for Anne Boleyn, but needs a male heir to avoid another brutal dynastic civil-war. Thomas More's faith and reason are repelled by Henry's split from the Church and his growing tyranny, but since he is also Henry's friend and loyal citizen, he knows that there are no easy answers.

My last review was of a film I considered a cinematic dessert, A Man For All Seasons, is a full meal, and a must own for any serious film fan.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #71: The Days of Weinstein & Roses

Well, I was worried when Robert Shaye was forced out of New Line that I wouldn't have anything to gripe about.

But Hollywood doth provideth to those who never giveth up their cynicism.

Watch this video about the latest antics of super-producer Harvey Weinstein, formerly of Miramax and current head of The Weinstein Company. Hopefully it hasn't been pulled because of threatened litigation.

Did you watch the video?

Then we can talk about it.

If the claims made in the video are true, and they are believable looking back at the Weinstein's record, the company is in serious trouble.

Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob got their start as movie moguls with their company Miramax distributing films that the major players ignored, like concert films, and independent and art house pics.

Their shrewd marketing to audiences and shameless campaigning for award nominations made them the kings of American indie cinema during its heyday in the mid-90s. They showed that success could come outside the studio system.

Then things started to slip.

Miramax was sold to the D
isney Empire, but Harvey and Bob were left in control of their company, though Disney held final say on whether or not they would distribute particularly controversial films. Miramax developed a reputation for alienating the fans and filmmakers that made the company a success by buying up films, not for release, but to sit on. Now a distributor spending money to not release movies seems counter-intuitive, but they had their reasons.

Number 1: It was not their money they were spending, but Disney's.

Number 2: Sitting on films allowed them to use relatively obscure accounting rules to offset the effects of an increasing n
umber of money losing films.

Number 3: It also prevented independent films from competing with films produced in-house for award nominations and audience attention.

They also alienated the foreign films fans who were their biggest supporters during Miramax's early days when they started buying Asian martial arts films, sitting on them, sometimes for years, and when they
were finally released, they were redubbed with new dialogue that often changed the plots and themes of the films, and the music was replaced with loud shrill rap music. (They also threatened anyone who tried to import the original subtitled versions with lawsuits, pissing off even more of the core fans.)

Harvey claimed that he did it to make the films more commercially appealing, but without the core audience making the sort of buzz necessary to sell "cult" material, most of these reworked productions fizzled financially.

In 2005 the Weinstein's stay at the company they founded came to an end. Parent company Disney started to notice that the little indie that could, had become a huge black hole sucking profits into the outer darkness, never to be seen again.

The brothers used the reputations they built during Miramax's heyday to attract venture capital to start The Weinstein Company, and land a distribution deal with MGM.

But it looks like history is starting to repeat itself. T
he Weinstein Company has since released a long line of predominantly financially disastrous movies. It's had a few hits, I won't deny them that, but too few for any company that hopes to survive. MGM regularly grumbles about the films they are contractually bound to release costing them millions, shareholders are reportedly unhappy with the company's poor performance, filmmakers (at least those whose names aren't Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez) are unhappy with how they and their films are being treated by the company, and now they have alienated the fans.

The definition of madness is making the same mistake over and over again, hoping that you will have a different result. And here they are making the same mistake that they made distributing Asian martial arts films. They have a film called Fanboys. It tested huge with the core audience, and instead of releasing it, they are sitting on it while someone not connected with the making of the film re-edits it to eliminate a little something called The Plot because it displeases Harvey Weinstein.

Why would Harvey order the re-edit a film he's spent money to buy that tested well and had potential to be a small scale success if marketed properly?

The answer is basically contempt.

The Weinstein Company basically holds the audience in contempt. I think I could summarize Harvey Weinstein's mindset with the phrase: "If they knew what they liked they'd be me, and not the stupid audience!"

Instead of using the goodwill of the film's core audi
ence, Weinstein has actively sought to alienate them, effectively calling them idiots, and daring them to boycott the film.

Goodwill toward any Hollywood project is an extremely
rare commodity these days. In fact it has become so rare, that when it does show up, they don't know what to do with it. Instead, they see the goodwill as a sign of stupidity, and they promptly spit on it.

The Weinstein Co. should have used that good
will generated by the preview screenings to help market the film. Goodwill generates good buzz. Good buzz generates good ticket sales.

You win the core-audience by giving them what they want, it creates positive feelings toward the film. This good feeling is infectious to the general audience, and can make a relatively minor film a success.

Will it make it a blockbuster smash?

Probably not.

But I'd bet dollars to donuts that it would be profitable, and that it would do way better than any re-hashed, re-edited, and bowdlerized version that would only serve to attract venom from the core-fans that are needed to reach a wider audience.

No one wants to see a film that's getting nothing but vitriol about everything that's wrong with Hollywood these days. There's a wisdom to crowds, as well as an empathy, and any film that has nothing but harsh negative vibes associated to it, will not attract an audience. Audiences want a good time at the theatre, not be looked down on by folks whose only virtue is money.

And that's my two cents.

UPDATE: Cinematical reports that the Weinstein Co. are considering releasing 2 versions of the film on DVD, or maybe in theatres, or great Xenu knows what. Apparently they're really trying to avoid having Star Wars fans, and their brethren Comic Book Geeks from boycotting The Weinstein Co's upcoming Superhero Movie. I personally think the original version, that tested so well, will ever see the light of day. Harvey Weinstein has invested too much company money ($2,000,000), and, more importantly to him, too much of his own ego to admit defeat and let the film go out as it was meant to be.

The fact that such a controversy erupted in the first place shows a certain amount of managerial dysfunction at the Weinstein Co. that the investors should look into.

Maybe I should be campaigning for his job like I did for HBO and New Line? If the shareholders aren't willing to change its name to The D Company, I can change my name to Furious Weinstein. I'm flexible.

FUN & GAMES: The Remake Game

Michael Caine is alleged to have said that Hollywood shouldn't remake classics, but failures.

He has a point.

How many times have you seen a movie that had a kernel of a good idea that was sadly trapped in a big steaming pile of cinematic feces?

So here's the game: Pick a film that should be remade. One that had a clever concept, but a poor execution. Detail as much about this project as you like: stars, director, writer, whatever you thinks will make the story work.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Discount Bin Film Club: To Catch A Thief

Today's movie is a delightful cinematic confection that I think makes the perfect "date movie." It's got a beautiful locale in Monaco, the gorgeous Grace Kelly, the dashing Cary Grant, romance, adventure, suspense, and humour. It's the sort of film men and women can enjoy together.

The plot starts off fairly straightfo
rward. A stealthy cat burglar is swiping jewels from wealthy dowagers and virginal young debutantes alike all over the luxurious region of southern France around the tiny and rich principality of Monaco.

The evidence says that it's the work of John Robie (Cary Grant) aka The Cat, the most successful high end jewel thief France has ever known.

But Robie is retired since he earned a pardon from the French government for his work with the Resistance against the Nazis in WW2.

However, Robie's the only person who believes that he's innocent. The police are looking to arrest him, his old comrades from the Resistance are looking for revenge for what they see as his betrayal, and they're not the sort of people you want to anger.

The only thing Robie can do to clear his name is to catch the thief that is impersonating his methods perfectly. And to do that he has to insinuate himself in the life of stunning American heiress Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) and her extremely tempting collection of diamonds.

What follows is a funny, suspenseful roller-coaster romance, where things are not what they seem, danger lurks in sun-baked luxury, and romance runs high.

To Catch a Thief is an example of what late-Golden Age Hollywood did best. It was a big-screen magic, bringing fantasy, glamour, and entertainment for everyone. Our hero isn't the sort of action-suspense superman we see in so many modern films. Cary Grant plays him as an charismatic everyman who is in way over his head, but he knows that in order to save himself, he has to stay cool, and revive the skills he let atrophy in his retirement.

Cary Grant was 51 when he made the film, literally twice the age of Grace Kelly, yet their chemistry is electric, and their relationship perfectly natural within the rules of the beautiful little world Hitchcock created in the movie.

And boy is it beautiful.

And I'm not just talking about the luminous Grace Kelly.

The $5.00 DVD I bought in a grocery store's video bin looks and sounds better than any version I saw before. The VistaVision cinematography is amazing. The colours are vivid, the picture sharp and rich in detail not seen in previous VHS and TV presentations in a long, long, time. If you lie in front of a big-screen TV during the beach scenes, you might just get a tan.

Sure, To Catch A Thief is not an earth-shattering philosophical cinematic event, but it is pure entertainment, starring real stars, and directed by a real master of the cinematic art form, that can still be enjoyed today.

So my word is that any movie collection needs something sweet, and you can't really get a cinematic desert that's better than To Catch A Thief.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #70: Leggo My Ego

A commenter at another blog, whose name I can't remember (sorry), condensed an idea that I've been squandering thousands of words on when it comes to describing how Hollywood does business.

There are two basic drives behind Hollywood: The Money Drive, and The Ego Drive.

Some may say that I've left out the artistic drive, but it takes ego to make art and consider it worthy of public consumption. Besides, this is Hollywood we're talking about, art has very little to do with it.

THE MONEY DRIVE: It's often condemned by artistes whose work is geared toward a select few, but it is the backbone of the entertainment industry. It is essentially the desire to make money by making things that will appeal to the widest possible audience.

A lot of time it creates crap, diving for the lowest common denominator, but since 90% of all human creative endeavour produces crap, it's well within norms.

Also, once in a while you get a synergy between the filmmakers and popular tastes and that creates an artistic and popular classic.

THE EGO DRIVE: This can also be called The Ego/Snob Drive. It's basically where a film's makers don't feed their ego from
the popular success of their productions but from their unpopular failure. This allows them to play the martyr, slaughtered unjustly by the Philistines of the general public, because they had the "courage" to "speak truth to power."

Usually such talk is code for making a film that people didn't find entertaining, or challenging, just dull. But if you spin your failure just right, you'll get invited to all the right parties, get unlimited critical praise (whether deserved or not), and use that status as a "courageous artiste" to get more deals to make more films that less and less people want to see.

Studio executives used to work with a mixture of the money drive and the ego drive, but sans the snob element. Their ego was based mostly on commercial success of their pictures.

However things have changed.

Hollywood has become more isolated from the average moviegoer than ever before, and that isolation has spread into the executive suite.

Glamour is blinding, and when the desire for acceptance by the glamorous replaces the desire for popular success, the industry is screwed.

Sure executives can be fired if they lose enough money. But the threat isn't as terrible as it once was since the average executive has a severance package that could feed Bangladesh for a year, and fired executives usually move on to similar or better positions at other companies, networks, or become movie/TV producers at the company that fired them.

So you get a widening divide between movie-makers and movie-goers, and it's starting to show in the revenue stream. Movie ticket sales are down, TV viewership is down, and people are turning away from mainstream entertainment, and going to the more niche-friendly lanes of the Internet.

What can Hollywood do to stop this death spiral?

First, an example needs to be made. And to start I suggest that Time Warner appoint:

Then, and only then, can the troubles destroying Hollywood be fixed. I don't really care what celebrities think about me, because I don't really think too highly of them.


I would like to post congratulations to writer Paul Cornell on his nomination for a Hugo Award for the 2 part Doctor Who episode Human Nature/Family of Blood.

The Hugo Awards are like the Academy Awards for science fiction and fantasy, except they are about quality instead of ego or publicity. It really is an honour to be nominated, and an even bigger honour to win.

Congratulations and good luck to Mr. Cornell.

"I'll trade you this watch for a Hugo Award."

Hollywood Babble On & On #69: Schadenfreude Press

The Associated Press have decided to boost their entertainment coverage.

Lord knows we need more entertainment coverage.

Why are they doing this?

Because they've been battered on all sides for the past few years with accusations by bloggers of faking stories, political bias, and editorial incompetence, as well as the collapse of the newspaper market.

Entertainment coverage is just easier, and there's the general public's seeming unending hunger for celebrity coverage. And why is the public so hungry for unlimited and often intrusive coverage of the private lives of celebrities and pseudo-celebrities.

I can only think it's from schadenfreude, the shameful joy derived from the misfortune of others. Because it's not like we can learn anything positive from them and how they live their lives except that drugs are bad.

Which is why I'm begging people, to STOP BUYING CELEBRITY CRAP.

Stop buying the magazines, and tabloids, and visiting gossips sites, because it's becoming way too much. Marx was wrong, religion isn't the opiate of the masses, it's celebrity, and I think it's time for society to get off the junk.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Scofield's Final Season...

Paul Scofield, an Oscar winning actor of great subtlety intelligence and power has passed away at the age of 86.

He is best known for his role in the classic play and film A Man For All Seasons, where he played Sir Thomas More, a man doomed by his own integrity.

Talent like his is rare enough, and I fear we may not see his like again.


Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #68: Sundance Channel On The Block?

It looks like Robert Redford and his partners (CBS/Viacom and NBC/Universal) are looking to sell off the Sundance Channel which was a spin off of the Sundance "indie film aesthetic" into cable television even though it wasn't technically connected to the festival.

I was in film school in Toronto in the 1990s, the decade where Sundance and independent film exploded. Everyone wanted their films to play at Sundance, because that was the entry to the big leagues. It sparked trends, it got things done, and it had credibility.

And when filmmakers who started at Sundance like Quentin Tarantino started making hit films, things got even bigger, and the Sundance Channel was born to provide a TV outlet for independent film.

Then things began to change.

Most of the "indie" distributors either went belly up and/or were absorbed by the mega-conglomerates drunk on the philosophy of "media consolidation." Sundance went from a scruffy little festival in a quaint mountain town into a mainstream industry event. With this change came all
the trappings of mainstream Hollywood:

1. Prices at hotels & restaurants that prevented independent filmmakers from even attending the festival, let alone participate in it without some sort of corporate involvement.

2. The media pretty much stopped talking about the films, and started talking about the celebrities attending and what they were wearing to the swanky apres-ski parties at the town's many sizzling nightspots. Causing indie filmmakers the world over to ask: "Why is Paris Hilton there?"

3. These same celebrities, flying over in carbon-spewing private jets, and parading around town in squadrons of gas-guzzling SUVs, each one bigger than a Belgian Duchy, stopping only to collect goodies from the corporate "swag rooms," and lecture the media (while drinking imported water from plastic bottles) that ordinary people need to respect Mother Earth like them. Do any of them actually bother to see any films that they're not in, let alone talk about them?

4. Corporations began to take over. Most of the "independent films" that get the prime showtimes, and what little attention that be taken away from Paris Hilton are usually made by the "indie" subsidiaries of one of the major corporations and have at least some sort of "name" actor in the cast. The little films made by little companies, financed by credit card debt and family loans, are usually lost in the snow.

5. The buzz factor faded. There was a time (the 90s) when facets of the general public would get word about some little film getting honoured at Sundance, and while their audiences weren't blockbuster in size, they could put a little film in a modest profit. And some even enjoyed some mainstream success. So here's a question to any reader who is outside the Hollywood scene: Can you name a Sundance film from the last 5 years that you not only heard of, but were excited to see? And even if you wanted to see them, you couldn't because...

6. Indie distribution fizzled. When the mega-corps consolidated the smaller, yet effective independent distributors, they really lost interest in getting people to actually see these films. Someone once said that there are two motivations going on in Hollywood: money and ego. In the hey-day, motives of distributors buying the films were money-driven. They wanted people to see the movies, so they could make money, and sell more of these movies. Nowadays, with "indies" as just another cog in bloated insensible machines, it's all about ego. You don't need to make money off the film, there are ways to use their failure as a plus, and buying films at the big festival gets you positive attention, invites to all the coolest parties, and that hot blond actress will think you're brave for spending other people's money to make a deal for the film. Henceforth, the film plays in Los Angeles for a couple of days and heads right for the video discount bin, if it's lucky.

And some critics of the Sundance Channel think that it went from being, for lack of a better word, money-driven, (which means that it was geared toward pleasing an audience looking for independent cinema) to ego driven (meaning it was meant to get "creative director" Robert Redford treated like an A-List star even though he hasn't carried a major hit this century).

Why else would they give air-time to the Al Franken show from Air America. They couldn't get people to listen to Al Franken on radio, why would people want to watch him talk on TV?

The general public, who could be lured to watch independent cinema and documentaries, aren't going to pay to get a channel to watch someone they won't even listen to for free. But it would get Redford and his corporate partners pats on the back from Hollywood's elite for their courage in spending shareholder's money.

It is reported that the Sundance Channel has 26 million dedicated subscribers, but that could be a hell of a lot bigger, if they somehow found to end the widening gulf between Hollywood's entertainers and their audience. The Sundance Festival was able to do it in the 90s.

Perhaps new owners could do that.

But the odds of that happening are pretty slim. Most likely it will be turned from a partnership between several companies to being owned by a single mega-corporation. Then its purpose will become feeding the ego of some executive and it too will fall into the widening TV content drought, showing the same small cluster of films ad infinitum, ad nauseaum.

And speaking of cable channels, read this post and let this be your battle cry:

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

2008: Clarke's Final Odyssey.

Science Fiction Legend, scuba diver, essayist, futurist, inventor, and father of the communications satellite Sir Arthur C. Clarke has passed away at the age of 91.

I can't really express the effect his writing had on me. From the age of 6 when I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey on TV and thought: "Whoah," to finding his books in the local library. Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood's End, Tales From The White Hart, Imperial Earth, and his countless non-fiction titles on science, space, and the possibilities of the future, taught me that science and the imagination were a perfect team.

Although he led a long and full life and left a mighty literary legacy, he will still be missed.

Anthony Minghella RIP...

Oscar winning writer/director Anthony Minghella died today. At the time of this writing, I don't have all the details, but that's really not important.

What's important is that a very talented man has died too young.

It's a terrible shame, and my heart goes out to his family and friends at this sudden, shocking loss.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #67: HBO Needs Some Vitamin D

Cable giant Home Box Office is having a bit of a shake-up at the head office, trying to shake the dust off the channel which has grown a tad atrophied in the wake of the critical/commercial success of The Sopranos and Sex & The City and the rise of hungry and aggressive rivals.

Well, there's nothing like a big corporation that's in trouble. Especially if it's a movie studio, or TV network, which is why I have begun a new campaign.
You blew millions on John From Cincinnati when all you needed was D from Canada.

So come on Time Warner. Recognize a great bargain when you see it.

And if chosen, I will bring back Intelligence as an HBO show, and force the CBC to pay through the nose to air it in Canada.

Remember, I'm affordable, efficient, and I'll put HBO at the top of the heap again.

You can't do any worse.

Cinemaniacal: Comic Book Confidential- How to NOT Adapt a Comic Book

Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood recently reported on a deal between Universal Pictures and comic publisher Dark Horse to jointly develop Dark Horse comic book characters into movies.

Now some, Ms. Finke included, would react cynically to this news, not being a fan of comic books or the movies that come from them. Well, I'm a bit of a comic-geek myself who enjoys comic book movies, but there is a line that separates me from the stereotypical drooling fanboys. I only like good comic book movies.

Comic book legend writer Denny O'Neill said that he never considered himself so much as a writer for characters like Batman, but as a keeper of modern folklore. That's the attitude that filmmakers must assume when adapting comic book stories to the screen.

Comic books are very tempting when it comes to making big screen adaptations, they're colourful, full of fantastical, near mythic characters, and are usually loaded with visually exciting action to appeal to the younger ticket-buyers, and a built in recognition to the older audience members, many of who still read comics.

However, more often than not the temptation to cash in on a comic book ch
aracter's status as a cultural icon can turn what should have been cinematic gold into movie kryptonite.

For a good analysis of what makes a good comic book movie let's take a look at how people made a really bad comic book movie: the financially successful, but creatively disastrous film Batman Forever.

Batman the comic book dealt with themes of revenge, justice, obsession, isolation, and madness. Not your typical strong-man in tights smacking bank-robber upside the head sort of business seen in lesser books, and a rich vein for filmmakers to mine if they stay true to those themes.

As a sequel Batman Forever didn't have to deal with the origins of the main character Bruce Wayne/Batman, but it certainly dropped the ball thematically on what is the next crucial step in any comic book adaptation: The Villain Origin.

Harvey Dent/Two Face was the natural candidate for any sort of origin story. He started out as a crusading District Attorney, and close friend of Bruce Wayne, but after a nasty on the job attack, he ends up a deranged, disfigured criminal that his old friend now has to stop. That story had everything that a good Batman story needs, difficult moral choices, friendship, and betrayal.

The use of the Two Face origin story and Batman being forced to destroy one of his oldest and dearest friends would have been a perfect match thematically with the psychologically and morally complex Batman mythology.

But they didn't use that.

The studio had ordered that the film's be lighter and campier, more like the 1960s TV Batman, than the original comics. They were worried that kids weren't catching onto the dark tones and weren't going to buy tickets. (Completely forgetting the "oh cool" factor most juvenile comic fans had for darker material) But orders were orders to re-make Batman from the gothic Dark Knight, to a candy-coloured caped crusader.

In keeping with the studio's commands Two Face's tragic, and thematically correct, origins became a mere footnote at the beginning of the film and the main villain origin went to Edward Nygma/The Riddler. A character who really didn't have an origin story in the comics for decades, simply being a thief with a compulsion to challenge Batman to catch him via clues hidden in nonsensical riddles and puzzles.

So the writers slap together some story about The Riddler becoming a stereotypical mad scientist with a hankering for brain-washing people to make himself smarter, and the riddles seemed more of an afterthought tacked on late in script development. A sort of "Oh wait, he's the Riddler, don't we need riddles or something?" kind of decision.

Event the subplot of the Riddler stalking Bruce Wayne, seemed geared more toward appealing to Hollywood insiders, than the general public.

Another problem this thematic discord created was in the performances. Tommy Lee Jones is normally a fine actor, and he has the awards and nominations to prove it, but he wasn't given much to work with. Two-Face is a complex character who is literally as good as he is evil. One story I remember reading from my childhood is where Two-Face has Batman trapped on a sinking ship and has a clean getaway, but turns around and foils his own trap, because he couldn't leave a homeless man to die in the trap as well. A flip of his ever-present coin told him to go back and save the innocent man, even if it meant being captured by Batman.

The deep parts of Two-Face's two-sided character were excised, leaving only surface details like his disfigured face, and two-style clothing. The coin was there, but it was reduced to being just a prop without any deeper meaning. Without the roots of the character Jones had nothing to work with but to make him a cackling grimacing rip-off of Jack Nicholson's Joker.

A certain amount of camp was permissible, even preferred, with the Riddler, and could have made him the welcome comic relief to Two-Face's straight man who swings from sombre to psychotic with the flip of a coin. But with Tommy Lee Jones channelling Jack Nicholson's Joker, they became two comic reliefs with nothing to relieve.

With the themes gone, all the filmmakers had to work with were surface ideas, like colour schemes, over the top design: like neon-lights in every room, secret labs lit like discos, and most annoyingly, nipples on the bat-suit. The film made money, but that was back in the day when spectacle was enough, and I doubt many people, extreme comic geeks included, would go back to it for repeated viewings, which is the true mark of a creatively successful film.

A film version of Batman that was both a creative and commercial success was Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Nolan appears to take his position as a keeper of modern folklore seriously, and built stories that were in keeping with the themes that made the original Batman comics the cultural icon it is today.

Maybe I'll cast a hairy eyeball on that film, because after hearing how to do a comic book film wrong, you should probably learn about how somebody did it right.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #66: The Lion May Yet Roar Again

Here's something to ponder....

It appears that the
powers that be behind MGM have engaged in a bit of a hiring spree. First came the hiring of up & coming producer/executive Mary Parent (written about here) as head of worldwide production, and now they're reportedly hiring the exiting marketing chief of Time-Warner's new appendage New Line (written about here).

Now why is the partnership that owns MGM (Comcast, Sony/Columbia, and their equity partners) hiring all these highly paid and capable people to work at a studio that's been bordering on moribund for decades?

I suspect that what's happening at MGM is the only sensible response to media consolidation.

Now I'm not going to go on one of those rants about the "evil corporate monopolists" and how all news will somehow be controlled by a secret cabal run by Rupert Murdoch, Col. Sanders, and a small Argentinian gnome named Ignacio. This blog is about pop-culture, and pop-culture is what I'm going to talk about.

You see most studios these days are small pieces of humongous media conglomerates. These conglomerates love to acquire othe
r media companies, be they movie producers, broadcast & cable channels, home video companies, as well as internet sites.

They especially love to swallow up small movie companies, eg- New Line, so they don't have to worry about upstart competition. They then decide that their media outlets (theatrical, broadcast, cable, home video, internet) will only carry material developed and produced in house.

And this is where the real trouble starts.

The mega-corporations then own more and more outlets for media, but produce less and less content to show in those outlets. If you doubt me, check your TV this weekend afternoon and count how many channels are showing the same movie.

You see there is only so much original material a single company can produce, no matter how big it is. A sense of corporate group-think comes into play, internal power struggles make the shop becomes more and more closed to new people and new ideas, and then the ability to produce original content suffers in both quantity and quality.

NBC/Universal is a classic example. The bulk of last season was of blatant remakes of old shows like The Bionic Woman, or subtle near-remakes like Journeyman (Quantum Leap anyone?) and tedious game shows. If they thought they could get away with it, they'd probably try another Law & Order spin-off called L&O: Dead Horse Assault Patrol.

This is why I suspect that the partnership behind MGM is thinking of doing what has become a radical idea: A movie company dedicated solely to producing movies and television shows.

There's a massive content gap in the media world, and somebody needs to fill it.

That's what I suggested to Time-Warner when it came to New Line. They should have spun it off as an independent company, with new partners and new management, with Time Warner owning a percentage and having first dibs on broadcast/cable and international distribution rights. But the point of the company would be to make movies and television and only movies and television.

But they didn't listen to me, and it's going to bite them on the butt in due time.

But it is nice to see some common sense appearing among the business side of Hollywood.

Damn, Robert Shaye better try for a comeback, because if I keep saying nice things about studio-execs, I'm going to lose my street-cred.