Saturday, 31 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #105: Sex & The Cinemagoer

Well, it looks like the Sex & The City movie had a gang-buster Friday, and might just come out to win the weekend over Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Broken Hip.

Now while I could go about the cruel irony of New Line Cinema finally having a hit after it had been snuffed out by its corporate parent, but that really wouldn't fit the seductively misleading title for this post.

Nor will I be discussing the Sex & The City movie, or the TV show that spawned it all. Since I am a man, and a manly man at that, I'm not the film or the show's target demographic.

Nope, today I'm going to be talking about gender in the movie business, specifically how Hollywood has come, until just this weekend, to ignore women, specifically mature women, at the box office.

Once upon a time Hollywood enjoyed a thriving business in "women's pictures." These were movies specifically aimed at adult women, and were a mix of witty romantic comedies of manners, musicals, thrillers, and melodramatic tragedies. These films even had their own stars, like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Katherine Hepburn.

These films, many considered classics of Hollywood's Golden Age, featured smart, witty, and strong willed women who, for good or ill, knew what they wanted, and how to get it, often to the chagrin of the often hapless leading man. They weren't going to be held down by anyone, and if they found love, it was usually on their terms.

Then things began to change.

The Hayes Code, which had dictated decency in Hollywood films since the 1920s, was phased out, replaced by a new ratings system. Suddenly all movies didn't have to be for all ages, and at the same time Western Culture was in the thr
oes of a sexual revolution.

Suddenly the taboo subject of sex and the language about it was permitted on the big screen. Writers didn't have to be clever when it came to writing about women and sexuality anymore, they could be blunt and direct.
Who needs their femme fatale to seduce a man with snappy, sexy, banter, when all she has to do is take off her top, and the man is transformed into a drooling moron. So the greatest irony, was that while feminism dominated the cultural dialogue of the 60s and 70s, the women as cinematic character became less of a character, with thoughts, feelings, and motives of her own, and more and more of a sex object.

The 60s also marked the great Baby Boomer youth-quake, where Hollywood started showing the first symptoms of its juvenile dementia. Everything had to be young, young, young, and to hell with the over-35s with their disposable income, they had television to entertain them.

And this obsession with anyone under the age of 35 grew stronger in the 70s and 80s with the rise of SF/Fantasy blockbuster, and the geek culture built around it. In the 80s and 90s there was an semi-conscious attempt to make up for the dearth of female heroes in popular cinema. However these new heroines were basically butt-kicking action heroes with breasts, like Ripley in Aliens, or exaggerated breasts like the pubescent fantasizing behind Tomb Raider.

The traditional women's picture declined in quantity, and quality, degenerating into nearly diabetic romantic comedies, angled more to appeal to young girls than adult women, disease of the week melodramas, and repetitive "women in peril" pictures that either aired on cable TV or cluttered up DVD discount bins.

Now Hollywood is faced with something they really didn't expect. A film that is being taken to #1 at the Box Office by women over 35. None of the experts predicted such a opening, expecting the film to do modestly well, but not better than Indiana Jones and the Social Security Check.

So expect a flood of cheap S&TC knock-offs, complete with expensive clothes, sexual sit-comedy, and catty and often raunchy dialogue. Hell, I'm predicting a Desperate Housewives movie for next summer, whose willing to bet on that?

But they're forgetting what made the film a success. It wasn't the show, which, although profitable for HBO and beloved by the media, wasn't a ratings juggernaut, it was because S&TC was a movie for women, about women, and their lives seen through a somewhat fantastical lens. It promised to give adult women adult entertainment, and not the kind enjoyed by men in dirty raincoats, I'm talking about maturity here you pervs.

So I guess the lesson of this little fable is that Hollywood has to realize that while not every film can, or even should, be for everyone, that doesn't mean you should give up on any facet of the audience, just because you have to do a little work to win them over.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #104: The Hollywood Hillbillies

A tip of my saucy Marcel Marceau beret to Defamer's article, which led me to this blog, which contained this quote about Hollywood:
“It’s a community that’s so inbred it’s a wonder the children have any teeth.”
Now not only is the quote itself inflammatory, and accurate in its metaphorical way, the really important element is who said it, and although I've made that point before, it wasn't me.

It was Barry Diller.

Anyone who knows anything about the corporate history of Hollywood of the last 40 years knows the name Barry Diller. He started at a mail-room job at the William Morris Agency, then had a peripatetic career in executives suites from ABC TV (where he pioneered the made for TV movie), to Paramount, 20th Century Fox (created the Fox Network) and onto cable television, and other business ventures.

He's also considered the corporate Yoda for a whole generation of Hollywood's top executives from Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dawn Steel, and legions of others.

So I guess it's time for me to do one of my impromptu history lectures, this one about the history of nepotism in Hollywood.

Now back in the early days when the studios were nothing more than a hardscrabble collection of independent mavericks fleeing west from the monopolistic machinations of the Edison Trust, nepotism was fairly common.

Many of the early studios were family businesses, and members of the fa
mily were groomed to manage those businesses, and some started out at the bottom, as gophers, and mail room boys, and then were supposed to work their way up to assisting executives, then middle management, then onto the executive suite. In theory, they were supposed to take their roles seriously, since the ongoing success of the studio, was supposed to be their family's legacy to the future.

In theory.

In theory, communism works, as a wise man once said.

Of course basing hiring/promotion decisions on genetics over merit wasn't the best system, many of the businesses suffered, and were then bought up and/or taken over by shareholders. Now since most "legitimate" corporate shareholder types of that era looked at the movie business as both beneath them and Byzantine even by Wall Street standards, they let a certain amount of meritocracy into the system. Men, sorry, it was a boy's club, in theory, started out at the bottom, and worked their way to the top, learning every aspect of the business (production, distribution, marketing) along the way.

But as the movie business grew in both fame and money under this apprenticeship system, a new system started, a system I call White Man's Affirmative Action.

Basically, Studio Boss-A didn't work his way up the ladder in the traditional way by learning the biz from the bottom. He got his post because his Uncle was part of the golf-foursome of CEO-B, getting him a job as an assistant to corporate President-C, which if he survived more than 6 months, led to a vice-presidency, and then a rapid rise to the top as those above him took their golden parachutes and popped off the corporate Hindenburg.

(I know I exaggerate and simplify, but this is a blog, not an essay)

Now there are times when this new system works, love him or hate him, Diller, who got his job at the William Morris Agency this way, was very successful at his job.

But when a studio's hiring pool is shallower than a puddle, and the people have no personal emotional investment in the studio's success beyond their next bonus check because it's just a minor cog in a big media machine, a toxic mindset congeals the industry. They stop caring about how their product plays in Peoria, thinking only of how it plays to their peers in Hollywood, Malibu, and Beverly Hills (What I call The Axis of Ego).

And there's no new blood and new ideas coming in to shake things up, because when the odds of winning the lottery are better than the average person's odds of getting a senior position at a studio, no matter how hard they work, they just aren't going to try.

And to top it all off, the people in charge are completely blind to the situation. Because they're surrounded by people from the same shallow pool, and either have the same shallow ideas, or don't dare speak any different, for fearing of having their own lack of merit uncovered.

Maybe since Diller's been out of Hollywood for a while, he's taken the old blinders off.

Maybe someone in charge in Hollywood will too.

But I'm not holding my breath.

On Comedy: Harvey Korman, RIP

Legendary comedian and TV stalwart Harvey Korman passed away yesterday at the age of 81. As a wee shaver in the 70s & early 80s I spent some of my childhood watching his antics on the Carol Burnett Show where he was the rock solid foundation of a pretty sharp cast.

An anecdote from that era was told by the singer Tony Orlando who was doing a CBS variety show literally across the hall from Carol Burnett. He was exhausted after the day's filming, and when he ran into Carol Burnett in the hall he asked how she managed to do a show like hers for so long, and still look calm, rested and ready for action.

Her answer: "Hire a Harvey Korman."

Korman was never the "star" in the traditional sense, but his work, which he made seem so effortless, provided a strong comedic base that elevated weak performers, and made strong comedians superstars. In today's pop-culture of talentless spotlight hogs, he was the unselfish gentleman of comedy, doing his best, not just to promote himself, but for the material.

But let us not dwell in the sadness of his passing, that would be inappropriate, instead, let us take some time to let him do what he did best: Make us laugh.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #103: The 7 Stages of Good Grief...

A big tip of my jaunty tam o'shanter to intrepid reporter Nikki Finke for THIS STORY about how Capitol Film's financial troubles have now spread to its subsidia
ry, indie distributor Thinkfilm in the form of a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

I should have predicted the lawsuit, because it's following a pattern that I call the Seven Stages of Good Grief That Shouldn't Have Happened To Any Company:

STAGE 1: FRUSTRATION- Rumors start to leak out about how it becomes tougher and tougher to do business with a certain company.

STAGE 2: AGGRAVATION- Those leaks turn into a flood of reports saying that it's impossible to do real business with said company.

STAGE 3: UNIONIZATION- Now things start getting official as rumors turn into reports and then into official complaints and grievances with the unions. The unions then start demanding that bills get paid forthwith.

STAGE 4: LITIGATION- Now the lawyers get involved as other creditors, who in the past were more patient because they thought the company was healthy, see the negative reports and the union trouble, and act to get back what they can while they still can.

STAGE 5: INVESTIGATION- Now the government's in the picture as industry regulators and the dreaded tax man smell corporate blood in the water and start poking their noses into the troubled business. This never ends well for anyone outside the government.

STAGE 6: DEVASTATION- I'm talking bankruptcy, job losses, obese tax bills, potential indictments, and other disasters that reduce the company in question to a mere shell owned by the IRS and a handful of corporate litigators.

STAGE 7: SALVATION- The head of the now defunct company goes to rehab for nothing in particular other than it's still covered by the company's insurance, finds Jesus, and makes a comeback as manager of a leper colony in Venezuela.

Now I'm not saying that these stages are inevitable. They can be avoided with a little integrity and common sense, but come on, this is Hollywood we're talking about here...

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #102: Playing the Player

Fame is an opiate for your neuroses.

Glamor is a spliff for your common sense.

Celebrity is an overdose of amphetamines for your ego.

And show-business is a combo liquor-store pharmacy where the management has also become a major customer.

The problem is that it's not just a show, it's also a business, when a person is hooked on their own product, be it narcotics, or hype, tends to forget that, and the business, the font of their good fortune, suffers.

Do you see what I'm getting at?

Hmmm... my metaphor may be a tad obscure, or my readers a tad obtuse, so I will have to explain further...

Hollywood, and the movie / entertainment business headquartered there, is based on image. The old logic was that if you present the image of success or stardom you will, eventually, become a successful star. At one time, this may have been true, but two things have eroded that logic down to a nub.

1. People, you know, audiences, have become extremely jaded to hype and cynical of the whole Hollywood/media machine.

2. The people who are supposed to be running the business of show business have started to believe it and taken it on for themselves.

#1 is bad enough, but inevitable when you flog a dead horse, but #2 is positively disastrous for the industry.

Here's why...

Hollywood's management structure has become more interested in presenting the image of success than in actually doing the hard work to do it. They seem more interested in getting their picture taken standing next to Brangelina at an apres-Oscar party or in having the biggest yacht at Cannes than in being a businessman.

Now this doesn't affect all executives, but who gets the contagion of celebrity is all a matter of motives.

There are two motives for becoming a studio executive, and while on the surface they may seem the same, they have subtle and important differences. They are: Ambition and Greed.

Now I know you're thinking: Ain't dem dere words the same thing?

No, not in my universe.

I believe that ambition is a desire to make a lot a money, achieve the heights of success, and to win the adulation of others, but to get to those ends, the ambitious executive builds something. The ambitious executive takes on a business, and makes it run better, creates new opportunities, partnerships, and most importantly, profits for everyone involved.

The ambitious executive wants to become a cinematic Ozymandias of Hollywood, declaring "look upon my studio ye mighty, and despair!" to the future generations of tourists doing the studio tour, staring in slack-jawed awe at all the buildings, streets, and back-lots that bear the name of the ambitious executive..

Which brings us to greed.

The greedy executive wants the money, the success, and the adulation, but the greedy executive isn't interested in doing the hard work of actually building anything. The greedy executive only wants to take everything around them, to hell with efficiency, opportunities, partnerships, and eventually profits. The greedy executive doesn't give a fiddler's f*ck about those tourists, or their awe, all the greedy executive cares about is feeding the greed, their baser appetites, and their ego in the short term.

The ambitious executive doesn't really worry about their image, because they have work to do, and things to build. While the greedy executive is all about image, they want to show themselves off as the biggest, richest, most glorious S.O.B. in Tinsel Town. Actually running the business comes in a distant third behind getting the biggest beach house in Malibu, and scoring a blow-job from nubile starlet fresh off the bus from Nebraska.

The ambitious executive doesn't believe the hype about them being a business genius, they're too busy making the next big deal. To the ambitious executive hype is merely a tool, a means to an end, and that end is a bigger and stronger business.

While the greedy executive believes every word they hear, as long as it's telling them what they want to hear, and think that this hype will make the next big deal for them. The greedy executive thinks the hype is the end, not just a means, completely forgetting that hype has the solidity of a fart.

Now who would you want to run your studio, or any business for that matter?

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Sidney Pollack: RIP

Academy award winning filmmaker, producer, actor, Sidney Pollack passed away at the age of 73.

He started out as an actor and acting teacher, before becoming a director first on television, and then later feature films, where he frequently worked with heavyweights like Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman in everything from westerns, thrillers, romantic comedies, and heavy dramas.

Like many directors of his generation he hit his stride in the 1970s & 80s with a string of commercially and critically successful films like Jeremiah Johnson, Three Days of the Condor, to Absence of Malice and Tootsie.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #101: ALL YOUR CLIPS ARE BELONG TO US!

As I've reported before AFTRA is having some trouble with their negotiations with the moguls of the AMPTP as well as SAG.

But I'm not going to talk about what's going wrong.

I did that yesterday in what can only be described as the blog equivalent of a clip show.

Which cleverly segues me to the topic of this blog, one of the main sticking points at this year's negotiations: Clips.

So I'll boil it down to the essence of the issue, because I'm basically lazy and don't want to write long explanations...

WHAT THE STUDIOS WANT: They want to use clips from their movies to be used for any reason and for any purpose outside of promoting the films those clips were taken from. And the cherry on top is that the compensation paid to the actors in said clips would be the steam off the studio chief's pee.

WHAT THE ACTORS WANT: To be paid some sort of compensations for the use of their images in clips used for anything beyond promoting the movie, and to have some sort of say in what sort of commercial ventures these clips could be used for, to avoid conflicts with pre-existing endorsement deals, or belief systems.

WHY THE STUDIOS WANT IT: There are several theories.

First is that they hope to sell pieces of movies to advertisers to use in commercials, of course using the image of an actor who endorses Coke in an ad for Pepsi, is just an invitation to litigation to corporations with deeper pockets, so it's potential as a revenue stream is tenuous at best.

It might be used as a way to release two hours of "clips" from a movie on TV/DVD/Internet without paying royalties, but even that will result in lawsuits and actors making loud and public declarations to their fans to not fall for the "clip" deal. In a business where audience goodwill is the difference between profit and loss, bad blood is bad business.

My theory is that the whole thing is just a territorial pissing contest on behalf of the moguls to show the world who's boss in show-biz, pitch those pipe dream revenue streams to their parent corp CEOs, and be gone with a golden parachute when the whole thing turns into a big steaming pile.

WHY THE ACTORS HATE IT: Basically for all the reasons the studios like it. It's a perpetuation of the "screw everyone" business plan that is currently making it impossible to do any real business in Tinseltown. Plus it could cost actors with endorsement deals millions in lost wages and legal fees if the studios use them in ads they don't want any part of.

So here we are, another strike is looming, when all that was needed to avoid it was a little common sense and integrity.

Too bad those things don't seem to exist in Hollywood.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

SAG/AFTRA/AMPTP & Sun Tzu Went Into A Bar...

Nikki Finke is reporting some possible setbacks for AFTRA in their negotiations with the AMPTP.

I've written about it in the past, so I won't repeat myself, which is rare, but I will post links to where I think they made their mistakes...



Read them, love them, make them the foundation of your life.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #100: Analyze This?

This is my 100th edition of Hollywood Babble On & On, and I'd like to dedicate it to something about Hollywood that tends to get on my one good nerve....
It's summer blockbuster time, a time when big budget popcorn films fill the screens with over the top action, special effects, and comic book franchises galore.

It's also the time when box office analysts and their predictions seem to rule supreme.

And that's what pisses me off.

You see the press seems to treat these predictions as if they're the products of big-brained super intellects using hard rock solid mathematical formulas to accurately forecast a movie's performance the way that geek on NUMB3RS solves crimes, and give me a cheap excuse to post a picture of comely co-star Navi Rawat.

However the whole thing isn't as scientific as they'd like you to think, and sometimes you'd be better off shaking a magic 8 ball than to rely on the words of "experts."

have three beefs with the predictions made by "expert box-office analysts."

1. Transparency, or to be more exact, the lack thereof. We don't know their motives, or the criteria they use for these predictions. Are
their predictions being used to hype a film beyond its basic audience appeal, putting the proverbial lipstick on the proverbial pig, or are they just making a good faith guess because....

2. The media takes these forecasts as rock solid prophecy and are shocked! shocked! when they are often found to be way off. They also often don't acknowledge who these analysts work for.

3. And this is what really bugs me. If the analysts prophesy that a given film will make $100,000,000 on its opening weekend and the film ends up making $99,999,999.99, it's declared a failure.

All I can say is what the hell?

We're basically talking about the art of educated guessing, if that, because you never know the complex,
Byzantine, and often perverse motivations that lay behind these forecasts.

You don't know if the studio wants to hype a looming disaster as the next big thing, or if they want to make a real blockbuster look like a disappointment, because
acknowledging its success would mean paying off actual gross points.

It sort of reminds me of the mathematician who challenged top Wall Street analysts to take on a monkey at a game of picking stocks. The winner would be the one with the most profitable stock portfolio.

The monkey won. Repeatedly.

Now I'm not saying that we should eliminate the position of box-office analyst, and replace them with intellectual chimps. Though it might reduce the amount of feces being tossed in Hollywood, I don't want anyone to lose their job.

What I am advocating is a certain amount of real transparency and relatively objective scientific method to box-office analysis. Because the way it is now, it's nothing more than a cog in the hype machine, and people are starting to notice.

Then they might actually be right more often.
Now I'm off to go party like it's HBO&O #99!

This Writing Life: A Trip to the Well

Today I was going through the bulletins from my MySpace acquaintances and came across a call for entries in a flash fiction contest. The rules were simple, write a dark, possible scary story that's under 500 words inspired by this picture:

So I sat down, and had a third draft done within an hour.

Which is a speed record for me, and I write pretty fast when I have my dander up. So as a treat for you, my loyal readers I'm letting you have a sneak peek at my little tale. Let me know what you think about it...

A Trip to the Well By Duncan R. MacMaster

Gil tripped and fell backwards, the corpse of his girlfriend Jennifer, wrapped in a shower curtain, slipped from his hands.

"Hey," said Tommy, "you all right?"

"Yeah," said Gil among the half-decayed leaves. "I really have to thank you Tommy."

"You're in trouble," replied Tommy with a shrug, "I have to help."

"I didn't mean to hurt her," muttered Gil as he got up, brushing long dead leaves from clothes, "I just had a too much--"

"You're wasting time," said Tommy, "sun's coming up."

"How much farther?"

"Just past those trees."

Gil turned around and saw the sign, standing lopsided, he couldn't make out the writing in the half-light, but it had to be Tommy's well.

"How do you know about this place?" asked Gil.

Tommy shrugged. "A friend lived here, he doesn't anymore."

With a heave Gil and Tommy lifted Jennifer's body up and carefully winded their way the last hundred feet to the old well.

"Put her down," said Tommy.

Gil carefully lowered Jennifer's feet and legs onto the bed of dead leaves and grey moss. He paused for a moment and realized how ridiculous she would look wrapped in a shower curtain decorated with sea shells and grimacing cartoon fish if she hadn't been dead.

"Lift the lid off the well," ordered Tommy, "then it will be like none of this ever happened."

Gil knelt by the old well, the lid was a thick sheet of metal, rusted till it resembled dried blood, on top of it was a layer of more dead leaves, and three stones in a rough triangle. Gil moved the crooked "DANGER: WELL" sign, took off the three stones, and placed them aside. He then brushed aside the leaves, and pushed aside the heavy lid with a grunt.

A foul smell exhaled from the well.

"Man," said Gil. "It smells like something is already dead down there."

"It's full of pretty nasty stuff," replied Tommy, picking up a stones that once rested on top of the lid.

"You're the best friend I ever had," said Gil, looking into the well's inky blackness.

"Not really," said Tommy as he smashed the stone into the side of Gil's head.

Gil fell, the world spinning around him.

"Wha--?" croaked Gil.

"Allareth," said Tommy in a low voice, "I have brought you one who has spilled innocent blood. Take what you need, give what I want."

Gil felt burning claws dig into his ankle.

He screamed.


Tommy placed the last stone back on metal lid, and moved the crooked sign back into place.

"Tommy?" asked a voice behind him.

Tommy turned to face Jennifer, who was sitting upright, the shower curtain falling off her shoulders.

"Where am I?" asked Jennifer before a bolt of fear crossed her face. "Gil! He went crazy--"

"Gil's gone," said Tommy with a smile. "He's not coming back, and he'll never hurt you again, my love."


Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #99: An Embarrassment Of Rich?

The HBO network is struggling to recapture its glory days when shows like The Sopranos and Sex & City were critical and commercial successes that created new trends in edgy drama and comedy that captured the public imagination.

To help recapture the public imagination HBO has hired the New York Times' former theatre critic turned political op-ed writer Frank "Butcher of Broadway" Rich as a "creative consultant."

Which raises a question.


HBO has lost a lot of viewers, it's original programming isn't making that all-important emotional connection with the mass audience the network needs to stay on top and competition from other channels is fierce, so what do they do, they make a deal to tap the mind of a columnist that, outside of Manhattan's pied a terre set, is either unknown or un-liked.

Rich, and his often inflammatory opinions, are cited by many as one of the many reason's why visitors to the HQ of The New York Times can hear the ghosts of Titanic's dance band playing "Nearer My God To Thee." Sales of the venerable newspaper are down, as is advertising revenue, and there's an entire cottage industry in cyberspace dedicated to criticizing it for bias, inaccuracy, fabrication and other journalistic bloopers, bleepers, and boners.

So why would a network, through this partnership, attach itself to an organisation whose corporate life story would titled Gray Lady Down?

Well, the only answer I can think of is isolation.

You see, the upper management of HBO is part of that same elite Manhattan crowd that still thinks the New York Times has some relevance to people who don't spend their summers in The Hamptons, and their winters skiing with P. Diddy in Aspen, or with John Kerry in Sun Valley Idaho. In fact, when I read the story I had a vision that the idea for the partnership came in a conversation over golf at an elite country club:
HBO GUY- Our shows just aren't catching on with people, and we don't know why.

WEALTHY NEW YORKER- You should hire Frank Rich as a creative consultant. He has his finger on the pulse of the common American.

HBO GUY- Really?

WEALTHY NEW YORKER- He must, I and my friends agree with everything he says. Now if you don't mind, I'm flying to the France to pick up some wine for dinner.
So I must say that I don't have much hope the success of this creative consultancy. In fact, I think it just might make things worse, which is why they must choose...
You can't blame me for trying.

Hollywood Babble On & On #98: Separating the Men From The Boys

A big manly tip of the ultimately macho cowboy hat to the conservative film site Libertas, who led me to this post where a British columnist bemoans the lack of "manly men" in Hollywood movies.

Now to save you from having to click the link and wading through a lengthy piece that criticizes the Duchess of York for criticizing the people who were critical of her daughter's poor bikini choice, I will quote it:

Where did all the real men go? by Allison Pearson

Critics have given a lukewarm response to the new Indiana Jones film. Its 65-year-old star is accused of being more like a second-hand Ford Cortina than a first-rate Harrison Ford. Spoilsports say that Dr Jones, the archaeologist adventurer, is supposed to excavate ancient ruins, not look like one.

Well, I reckon we owe a huge thank-you to Harrison for setting aside his Zimmer frame and pulling on that famous fedora just one more time.

The reason stars such as Ford, Sylvester Stallone and Al Pacino are still playing action heroes, when they should be playing dominoes, is because so many of today's younger male stars are boys instead of men.

Tobey Maguire, who plays Spider-Man, is 33, but he looks like the only struggle he has is figuring out how to use a razor every morning. In the era when John Wayne kicked in saloon doors, Tobey would have been lucky to be cast as the stammering bellboy.

Where did all the real men go? Films today are targeted at spotty wimps who weren't even born when Indiana first cracked his whip 27 years ago. In Hollywood, the geeks have inherited the Earth.

So, praise the Lord for gorgeous Harrison Ford. I will definitely be joining the queue to see the new Indiana Jones. Whatever its weaknesses, one thing's for sure: it'll sort out the men from the boys.
Now Libertas regularly gets flak for criticizing what they call the "metrosexual" leading man lacking the proper level of machismo as being homophobic, but those flak attacks are way off track.

Damn, I just rhymed.

The whole problem has nothing to do with the sexual preference of the actors in question, or even the appearance of having a certain preference, but with deeper concepts of masculinity, maturity, and Hollywood's rejection of both in its mad pursuit of some non-existent ideal of youth.

Ever since the 1950s when the "teenager" became a demographic all on its own with oodles of disposable income and a bottomless hunger for entertainment Hollywood has become obsessed with youth. This obsession grew into madness in recent years and leaving the entire concept of the "manly" hero in the ditch.

Now there are several reasons for this:

One reason is the shift in interest from the teen to the "tween," essentially prepubescent girls who, if the media is any indication of real taste, like shopping, clothes, talking about shopping and clothes, and non-threatening boys who may be afraid of spiders, but aren't afraid to talk about their feelings.

I know I'm stereotyping broadly, but manly-men don't discuss their feelings, they bottle them up and do stuff about them. It's the root of the action-adventure genre and in a tie with bacon as the top reason why men drop dead decades before women.

Another reason is what I call Hollywood's juvenile dementia.

In it's endless pursuit of being young and hip, Hollywood strove to extend youth for as long as possible. That's why you see actresses over 25 getting their faces frozen into mask-like grimaces for fear that a laugh-line might cost them the cover of Cosmo-Girl magazine.

And it's also why it's so damn hard to find a real "action hero" type in Hollywood.

To extend youth, and hopefully careers, actors regularly play younger than what they are. Sometimes ridiculously younger when you think back at the movie version of Rent, where they brought in most of the original Broadway cast 10 years after their initial run, and where you might get away with casting a 27 year old to play an 18 year old, but a 38 year old playing an 18 year old is stretching it beyond the realm of reality.

Also Hollywood seeks out actors that seem younger than they are. They want to appeal to tweens and teens for as long as possible, and that means looking for actors who still don't need to shave well into their 30s, actors who do not look mature.

And maturity is the main ingredient of the manly man hero.

The Hero is a man who makes hard choices, endures hardships, and keeps struggling until the day is won, and it's supposed to show on his face. The manly man is supposed to be an adult, not an artificially maintained teenager who whines a lot before finally dodging the villain's last attack, dooming the villain.

Daniel Craig's James Bond, and Christian Bale's Batman are molded after the classic mature adult hero. They portray the characters as if they know that what they do isn't the healthiest thing emotionally, or physically to do, but the characters make the sacrifices they deem necessary and the it shows on their faces.

And like I said at the beginning of this little ramble, sexual preference has nothing to do with it. The actor Rock Hudson was gay, and even if times were different and he could be openly gay at his peak, and even played openly gay characters, he would still be 10 times manlier than most of Hollywood's modern top hetero male stars.

Why? Because he played adult characters who could be tough with enemies, and tender with loved ones. His characters bore responsibility, and didn't run away from it into some perpetual whiny adolescence because it might sell more copies of Tiger Beat.

Also, going the manly man route is easier on the actor. It allows them age naturally, and still maintain a viable career as a screen hero well into what would otherwise be their dotage. For evidence look at the careers of John Wayne, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, and others. In the case of Bronson, major Hollywood stardom really didn't come to him till he was in his 50s, an unheard phenomenon in Hollywood today.

My biggest hope for Hollywood is that it realizes that in order to save the action-adventure genre, they're going to have to grow up, and let their actors do it too.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Comic Book Confidential: Continuity Shmooity...

Comic books, specifically long running super-hero titles, as a narrative art-form seem to have a problem.

As years, and decades pass, it's become very hard to maintain a sense of narrative continuity that allows major story and character arcs to happen while still pleasing fans who like to keep their superheroes the way they were when they first encountered them.

It leaves the characters in a state of arrested development, and gives the writer's and artists the screaming mimis to take their stories in the wild and radical directions they want to, and still bring everything back to where it was at the beginning.

So it got me thinking.

In the old days of the business, it was commonly held that any given comic book got a completely new audience roughly around every three years. That gave them a little leeway in occasionally tweaking with origin stories, and some of the basics of their characters without too much controversy. Nowadays with the comics audience skewing older than ever before, that period can now be considered around ten years, making continuity problems more obvious than ever before.

And yet in that, lies what I think may be a solution to the continuity problem.

Every ten years, do a complete reboot. Start again from issue #1 with the fundamentals, and then take the character where you think he/she/it should go for the next decade, have a big cross-over Battle Royale at the end of the decade, wrap up story-lines, and then start all over again.

Of course it would take a lot of long-term planning in an industry that's not exactly famous for it's long term thinking, and it would probably spark a lot of internet related flak, but it might work.

And this is where I'd like to hear from you folks, my gentle and fragrant readers with your opinions on this question: Do you think a "10 Year Plan" for superhero comics could work?

Monday, 19 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #97: The Critical Cruise Crash Crisis

Tom Cruise's second feature for his revivified United Artists Company Valkyrie is stalled, yet again, and folks are revelling in another bit of Teutonic terminology: schadenfreude.

If you don't bother to click the link schadenfreude is a feeling of shameful joy at another's misfortune, and there's a hell of a lot of that radiating off Cruise like malodorous Gamma rays off the Hulk's toilet.

The conservative film site Libertas made a pretty good point, inspired no doubt by my own frequent rantings about audience goodwill, when explaining the source of this:
Part of Cruise’s problem is that he’s not the warmest of screen presences. That aloof quality caused him to lack the necessary reservoir of goodwill which might have helped him get through this. A well known and liked star can stumble and survive. Look at how both Eddie Murphy and Hugh Grant made it through their respective hooker-incidents.
Do you see where this is going?

Well, I'm going to ramble on, even if I've become as predictable as the tide.

Basically, Tom Cruise came to prominence in the 1980s. The Baby Boomer yuppies who made their fortunes during that time shilling leveraged buyouts and suburban sprawl call it the "Decade of Greed" but a more accurate title would be "The Decade of Cocky."

There's a difference between being confident and being cocky, at least in my view.

Confidence is born from a sense of security. A person is confident when they feel secure in themselves and the world around them.

Cocky is born from intense insecurity. It's essentially a facade, a mask of cool, collected confidence to hide the fact that deep down you're scared out of your knickers by your life and the world around you.

I don't know if many remember the zeitgeist of the 1980s, but it was a cocky time. 80s pop culture was swimming in imagery from either what many believed to be our inevitable mutually assured destruction from nuclear missiles, or plunge into dark futuristic dystopia where heartless multinational mega-corporations run our lives (very poorly), it's always raining, and folks wear long coats all the time.

Yet, look at the surface and everybody in pop culture is posing like there's literally no tomorrow to show that they're the toughest, coolest, and most indestructible bad-ass the world has ever seen.

And it was this situation that let Thomas Mapother re-brand himself as Tom Cruise and become, for a while, the King of Hollywood. He embodied the Decade of Cocky as the guy, who obviously wasn't the biggest, or toughest fellow, but you knew he'd come out on top because he played himself so damn cool.

He managed to keep his cool, aloof, and yes, cocky manner, to keep himself on, or near the top of the Hollywood game throughout the 90s, and the early 2000s. But that's when he started blowing it.

Folks are willing to accept cocky on the movie screen, but that sort of bravado doesn't really play in real life. When you're a high school drop-out and you declare on national TV that you know the "real history" of psychiatry, and no one else does, you start jumping on couches because you scored a young babe, and your temper tantrums cause the budgets of your films to skyrocket, it shows that you've actually started believing your own hype.

And that's the death knell for a career.

And like the Libertas guy said, folks may enjoy watching him being cocky on the screen, but they're not going to root for him when he hits a wall. Most folks will just sit back and smirk, figuring the fellow got what was coming to him.

And now, he's gone from being number one, to having to struggle to get a people to like a movie about killing Hitler.

If you can't get people to feel good about killing Hitler, you have hit bottom in the fame game, and it's time to take the red humility pill, leave the Hollywood Matrix, and take a step into the real world.

Others have recovered from worse scandals, because they showed humility, responsibility for their own choices, and a certain self-deprecating humour at their status as a "celebrity." The only thing standing in the way is ego. The audience knows, deep down, that Hollywood is all hype and fantasy, but they can't abide someone in the middle of it, who can't see it for what it really is.

That's my two cents.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

My Top Ten: My Pop-Culture Pet Peeves...

I've decided to give a simple summarized list of my pop culture pet peeves. These are things that fuel most of my posts, and why I'm such a lecturing hectoring know it all. So here they are, in no particular order...

10- THE CREEPY CHRISTIAN: You know what I'm talking about. You turn on a crime/cop show, and whenever there's a religious guy, specifically a Christian, he's always the killer. It offends me on two levels. First, as a poor excuse for a Catholic, I find it an insulting slander against Christians. Secondly, as a writer, I find it a combination of bigotry and laziness. As the writer Paul Cornell pointed out in a recent radio interview it started out as an "unforeseen twist" because no one suspected the vicar.

It quickly became a tired cliche, that's kept alive by a combination o
f isolation, bigotry, and fear. The isolation comes from the fact that Hollywood people only know other Hollywood people. Hollywood consider themselves more "spiritual" than religious, because it requires less work and are suspicious of those who are openly religious, because they don't know any personally. And they specifically target Christians because of fear. Any other group that is portrayed as anything less than saintly will get you lawsuits, death threats, or in some cases even worse. The way things are going, the only Christian on TV that hasn't killed anyone will be Ned Flanders, but even that is only a matter of time.

9- WASTE: I was flipping through a movie news site and came across what I thought was an odd statement. It said that these filmmakers were doing a movie on a "shoe-string budget of $40 million" and it was said without irony. What the hell? When I was a kid, back when you could buy a comic book for 45 cents and do it at a convenience store, $40 million made big epic movies with special effects, and casts of thousands. Now it couldn't cover the salaries of more than two "A-List" actors, and in the case of the Wolf-Man remake, the director quit, unable to work with $100 million (WTF). This sort of inflation can only be found in Zimbabwe or Germany during the Weimar Republic, not in what's supposed to be a vital industry.

8- MIMES: They just get on my one good nerve.

7- TABLOID MEDIA: I don't want to hear about some celebrity's cellulite, and I'm sure a lot of people agree with me. So why are photos of cottage cheese thighs gracing so many websites. Because a large segment of the population derives schadenfreude from seeing the rich and famous look bad. They also like to watch celebrities crash and burn their careers too. These are not consumers, they're sadists.

6- CELEBUTARDS: These are people who are famous, but you don't really know why. From now on, fame should only be achieved through hard work and talent, not from making a sex-tape with a washed up former child star. And then you see them crash and burn because of drugs and alcohol, completely ignoring the legions who met similar fates before them because they're ignorant of anything and everything that isn't be sold in trendy boutiques.

5- CELEBRITY CAUSES: The hypocrisy behind celebrities and their causes amazes me. I was channel surfing this evening and saw Jon Bon Jovi going to the Live Earth Concert to end Greenhouse Gases. Did he share a bus, or limousine with his band-mates? No. He flew in a gas guzzling carbon-spewing helicopter. The concerts themselves spewed enough carbon to suffocate Finland, yet no one sees the irony, or the hypocrisy.

4- REMAKES: Remaking classics rarely works. Try remaking films that had a good idea behind them, but a poor execution. Then you might be doing something worth doing.

3- REALITY TV: I don't mind "slice of life" documentaries about interesting people and their interesting jobs. I do mind annoying 15 minutes of fame-whoredom factories that shamelessly exploit emotionally crippled people who think being famous will somehow fix their wretched lives.

2- THE SELF-FULFILLING IDIOCY: I've talked about this often. It's the screw-everybody business plan, that's making it next to impossible for people to do business in Hollywood without resorting to litigation. That's no way to run a railroad, or a studio.

1- THE "A-LIST": What makes a person an "A-List" star? Is it box office appeal, talent, or simple charisma? The answer is none of the above. A-List status seems to be based solely on how good your agent and publicists are at getting your mug in the tabloid media.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #96: Postal Gets Returned to Sender

A big wet sloppy hat tip to the conservative film site Libertas for this story about how the wide release of Uwe Boll's upcoming epic "comedy" about mass murder and terrorism Postal has been cancelled.

It seems the master behind such non-classic non-starters like Alone in the Dark, & Bloodrayne, is saying that the film is being "censore
d" by theatre owners, most likely over it's "political content."

Well, I tend to disagree with Herr Doktor Boll on this issue.

As I said in my piece about the Canadian government's uncertainty about financing films that they don't want to see, there's a difference between censorship and just practising a little business sense. As I explained in my post on betting on failure, Boll's career was based not on the artistic or popular merits of his films, but on an elaborate and recently defunctified German tax shelter scheme that actually made money losing films appealing to investors.

And while the investors could make or hide money by making more bombs than Al Qaida the theatres and their owners were getting burned by wasting screen time showing these movies to usually empty theatres.

So do you see what I'm getting at?

Theatre owners aren't going to be taking Uwe Boll's shit anymore, and a film whose sole purpose is to offend Americans, is as big a heaping steaming pile as they are going to see. They can't afford to have empty theatres with the summer blockbuster season starting, and they definitely not going to bump Iron Man, Prince Caspian, or even What Happens In Vegas for someone who has done nothing but hurt them by his very existenc

And since these same theatres have also carried the "political" films Stop Loss, Redacted, Rendition, and Lions for Lambs, it's obvious that they don't censor films for their politics if they're star power gives them at least a slim chance of attracting an audience. (Though most of the time these films still fail, but that's the subject of another post)

Uwe Boll's films don't attract anyone but rare masochists, and they repel everyone else.

Who wants that wrecking their already slim profit margin?

Theatres make the bulks of their money on popcorn, soda, and any and all goods and services other than the film itself. They need films that put hungry/thirsty bums in seats, not drive them away.

So it's not censorship.

It's just business.

Then Uwe can pursue a better career.

Perhaps professional badger rancher?

People at least like badgers more than his movies.

Anyway, I hope theatres flex their muscle more often, and maybe they can force the studios to stop wasting millions on stars and movies that no one wants to pay money to see.

That's the enema that Hollywood really needs.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #95: Forgetting the Basics...

According to some pretty accurate and popular sources (OK, Nikki Finke, I'm lazy) Hollywood, especially independent film financiers are suffering a bit of a cash crunch. First reports came of trouble with Capitol Films, and some of its productions being shut down by the Screen Actor's Guild over, ironically, a lack of capital, and now there's a controversy over unpaid residuals between the Director Guild of America (DGA) and The Weinstein Company (TWC).

Now students, take a moment to read those pieces.

I'll wait.

(Whistles, visits other sites, while waiting)

Okay, time's up.

Did you figure out the problem both company's seem to be facing?

Well, I know you're smart enough, but if I don't explain it myself, then I'll lose my status as a pontificating know it all. And if I can't be a pontificating know it all, then what's the point of this blog?

If these reports are accurate, the moral of this story is that in business, show
biz especially, one must never forget the basics.

Think about it in personal terms.

You have a house.

All houses have bills to pay. You know what I'm talking about mortgage/rent, groceries, phone, etc...

These are the basics, things that have to be handled or you will stuck living under an overpass and using a shoe-box for a toilet.

In both these situations it looks like the basics are not being handled. Commitments are being made when folks don't have the money to back them up, and seemingly basic administrative responsibilities are being pawned off to third parties that don't seem to be fulfilling those duties.

Now where does the self-fulfilling idiocy come in?

Well, think about it.

Hollywood, especially independent producers/distributors are having a harder and harder time to find investors for their productions. People are leery of getting their money involved in the great Hollywood money pit, and one of the reasons why is because many companies aren't taking care of the basics.

Making sure that all your ducks are in a row is an essential part of doing business. It's not rocket science, just common sense. Revenues come in, residuals go out, money is raised, then committed to a production, not the other way round.

Investors can understand if they lose their investment because the film fails at the box-office, there's always an element of risk in any business, it's just more dramatic and sudden in movies. However, that risk goes from dramatic to downright scary, when people think that the basics of business management aren't being covered.

And when you can't manage the basics, you might as well mark a nice spot under the overpass, and start looking for a nice sturdy shoe-box.

That's my two cents.