Monday, 28 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #685: Post Oscar Blahs...

Welcome to the show folks...

I managed to avoid actually watching the Oscars last night, so I won't pass judgment on the show, I also had a really busy day today, and I don't want to write about that bat-shit yahoo Charlie Sheen, so here's the list of Oscar winners, be happy with it.

THE KING'S SPEECH (The Weinstein Co)
A See-Saw Films and Bedlam Production Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Gareth Unwin, Producers

COLIN FIRTH - THE KING’S SPEECH (The Weinstein Company)




TOY STORY 3 (Walt Disney)


THE KING'S SPEECH, David Seidler (The Weinstein Co)

THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Aaron Sorkin (Sony Pictures)

Denmark, In a Better World (Sony Pictures Classics) - A Zentropa Production

Inception (Warner Bros.) - Wally Pfister

Inside Job (Sony Pictures Classics) - A Representational Pictures Production Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs

Strangers No More - A Simon & Goodman Picture Company Production Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon

The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Inception (Warner Bros) - Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb

Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney) - Production Design: Robert Stromberg, Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara

Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney) - Colleen Atwood

The Wolfman (Universal) Rick Baker and Dave Elsey

The Social Network (Sony Pictures Releasing) - Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

“We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3 (Walt Disney) - Music and Lyric by Randy Newman

The Lost Thing (Nick Batzias for Madman Entertainment) - A Passion Pictures Australia Production Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann

God Of Love - A Luke Matheny Production - Luke Matheny

Inception (Warner Bros) - Richard King

Inception (Warner Bros) - Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Discount Bin Film Club: Moonraker

Welcome to the show folks...

It's been a while since I've done one of my discount bin film club reviews, which is rather slack on my part.

In the shopping and sales crush before Christmas I came across a discount DVD rack selling the Ultimate Edition box sets of the James Bond movies for less than $20 CDN apiece. These editions deliver some of the best picture and sound quality these films have ever enjoyed, and watching them on a big screen really brings it home to the viewer.

Now I could talk about the 007 movies that I like, but I decided to do something different and talk about the James Bond movie that I have never really liked from the first moment I saw it as a kid.

I'm talking about

However, it wasn't until my recent viewing, part of my ongoing Bond Movie A Week program, that I realized why I disliked
Moonraker so much.

My dislike is rooted in disappointment.

I have been a Bond fan since I was a kid and was allowed to stay up late to watch
Dr. No on the ABC Movie Of The Week on a summer night when I was 10 years old. I liked the action, the sly sarcastic humor, the beautiful and exotic women, the beautiful and exotic locales, and even the super-sleek production design work of Ken Adam.

Yet from the moment I saw Moonraker on TV about 2-3 years after its theatrical run, I felt nothing but disappointment. That disappointment comes from the fact that it has some good elements that are crushed by the overwhelming power of the bad elements.

First, the good elements:

1. The Villain. French actor Michael Lonsdale does an excellent job as the villain Hugo Drax. He understands the role better than a lot of actors who had the job. He does more than just delivers his lines, he sells it. They give him some really hokey chestnuts in the dialogue and he does them with the sort of conviction you need when you're playing a Bond villain. The most common mistake among villain actors is that they play them evil. Lonsdale plays Drax as a sober and serious man who truly believes that he's doing the Earth a favor by wiping out civilization and with it the bulk of the human race.

2. The Action. Moonraker features some really well done action sequences. The stunt work is first rate, and the special effects, considering the primitive technology they were using, even by 70s standards, is for the most part pretty good for their time.

3. The Production Design. Ken Adam does his usual crackerjack work creating the sleek metallic HQs of Bond super-villains, creating unique sets that put the series in their own special little universe. My only little quibble is that a lot of death and injury could have been avoided if said super-villains invested in some railings for his stairs and mezzanine areas. Just a quibble.

Now I come to the bad parts, which are really small parts of a greater unpleasant whole otherwise known as THE SCRIPT.

1. The Plot. I assume the writing process for Moonraker went something like this: The writer took the basic plot of The Spy Who Loved Me, which is rich man steals government property in order to end humanity, then Bond stops him. Then the writer replaced nuclear submarines with space shuttles, and an undersea habitation with a space station. Of course the writer was limited by...

2. The Premise. Even when all they take from the original novels was a title there was usually some sort of organic idea behind the film's central premise. This isn't so with Moonraker. With Moonraker there's nothing organic about it, just an attempt to cash in on the success of Star Wars by trying to turn 007 from a relatively Earth-bound spy to some sort of Han Solo rehash. Even why I was a kid and saw the ads declaring 007 was going into outer space I thought: "What a hack job."

3. The Jokiness. Despite the fate of the entire world lying in the balance the film is unrelentingly silly. It goes from really ridiculous visual gags like the gondola that turns into a hovercraft and runs through St. Marks Square in Venice, to some really hokey joke lines. Bond is expected to drop a fitting pun or double entendre on occasion, but they really go overboard here, and with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

They also bring back the metal toothed goon Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me, and transformed him from a scary unstoppable killing machine into a comical oaf, who switches sides and joins Bond to save his diminutive girlfriend who doesn't match Drax's image of perfection.

When I see Moonraker I can't help but think that they should have stopped before the camera's rolled, and took the time to find a better script, so that the good elements of the film could find the home they deserved.

It's a must for 007 completists, and the extra features show you a lot about the state of the franchise and film in the late 1970s, but that's pretty much the only reason to buy Moonraker.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #684: Inevitabilities & Consequences

Welcome to the show folks...

It looks like Charlie Sheen has finally found the line he had to cross to get in deep enough shit that not even his bloated head can float out of it. His recent antics, and feuding with producer, studio, and network has gotten his hit sitcom Two & A Half Men canceled for the rest of the season, and highly unlikely to come back next season.

I've written about Chuckles Sheen before, but if you're too lazy to click the link I'll sum it up for you.

The only thing that's kept Charlie Sheen viable as an actor and TV star are expectations. People have very low expectations of Charlie Sheen. He was known as a drug addled, sex obsessed screw-up even before he became a movie or TV star.

Scandal destroys a career when the audience is disappointed by the star's behavior. Sheen inoculated himself from disappointment by making just showing up for work wearing pants look like a tremendous achievement.

However, when your behavior goes from scandalous to bat-shit insane, you've crossed that precious line. This means that you don't have to worry about the disappointment of the audience ruining your chances for employment, but the reasonable expectation of your co-workers that you're going to drive an SUV through the studio wall, firing pistols, and screaming that you're Lizard King.

What lead to this sad and inevitable conclusion?


Or to be more exact, the lack of consequences.

Sheen's never really had to pay any price beyond the hourly rate for his favorite whores. He's never suffered any consequences of any consequence.

Even now he's coasting. Sure, his show is canned, and he's not going to be paid for the rest of this season, but this only comes after raking in tens of millions of dollars a year in both salary and royalties. He's dumped, but he's been dumped into a vat full of money, so I don't see any real change in his behavior.

What I do see is that the people who worked on Two & A Half Men are now unemployed, and I have the sneaking suspicion that Mr. Sheen really doesn't give a royal shit.

So I advise that the people from that show wash their hands of Mr. Sheen, and come up with another show for the cast and crew to do without him. He doesn't care about them, so they should stop caring about him.

My suggestion: A show where Jon Cryer plays a rich spoiled actor with no impulse control and the Angus T. Jones as his neglected child who tries to live a normal life despite the drug and sex mad antics of his dad. End every episode with the drug-addled dad landing face first in manure, and you've got a hit.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #683: Random Snark Attack!

Welcome to the show folks...

Sorry no blog yesterday. Bit of a dental emergency, basically I was having some nasty pain in the pie-hole. Turns out I have to get a wisdom tooth yanked next week, but enough of my problems, it's time for me to channel my pain into one of my patented RANDOM SNARK ATTACKS!!!

1. Veteran newsman and veteran of the Spanish-American War Larry King has announced that he is going to do a one man show about himself. It's going to be called: Where Am I, Who Are You People, & Why Are You Looking At Me?

2. Warner Bros. announced that they're doing a remake of 90s hit The Bodyguard.


Here are the possible reasons:

A) They're out of ideas.

B) Original ideas scare them.

C) Dolly Parton is holding the children of Warner's bosses hostage demanding a new cover version of her "I Will Always Love You" song.

D) They really hate the audience and think they are all idiots.

E) They're looking for a starring vehicle for Ashton Kutcher and Ke$ha.

F) All of the above.

3. Charlie Sheen wants to do another sequel to his 90s hit Major League. His plan is to play the coach of a team made up of the pink elephants and enchanted elves he thinks live under his water-bed.

Hopefully, there will be something to rant about tomorrow. Until next time!

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #682: News Corp Gets Shined Up

Welcome to the show folks...

Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has inked a deal to buy his daughter Elizabeth's Shine Group for $673 million. There are also reports that they're interested in reality TV juggernaut Endemol as well, but that's a different story. Let's take a look at the facets of this story.

Some are rooting through the entrails of th
is merger for signs of a potential soap-operatic succession battle between Elizabeth and heir apparent James. Personally I think Rupert's a canny enough cat to see a potential empire wrecking war in the making.

I think his plan comes from the fact that the family's News Corp media is very diverse, and needs diverse thinking to be properly managed in the future. I don't know much about James Murdoch, but I can easily assume,
without making an ass out of "u" and "me," that his background is probably more on the corporate side of the business. Mergers and acquisitions of media outlets like channels, newspapers and websites seem to be his bailiwick.

Elizabeth Murdoch's success with the Shine Group is based on finding talented television producers and writers and giving them the clout of a big company when dealing with networks but without the meddling interference and layers of bureaucracy normally found in a major company. In other words, while he handles the media outlets, she can provide the media content for those outlets. Which means they can work together very well on a business level, if they can work together on a personal level.

Now will Shine's position as part of a big multimedia conglomerate change its previously successful business model? Or will Shine's relatively lean and mean structure change the way big multimedia conglomerates are run?

We will have to wait and see.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #681: Pretty Iffy Ideas

Welcome to the show folks...

Today a few quick thoughts about a couple of pretty iffy ideas.

Glee Gets Political, Or Suicidal?

Ryan Murphy, the Creator/Executive Producer of Fox's musical teen show
Glee has announced that he's going to be adding a "right wing" character. This character is described as a "Tea Party" political candidate and "Sarah Palin type."

This "Sarah Palin type" will be played by comedian and reality TV D-Lister Kathy Griffin.

Personally, my theory about the process that lead to this casting decision is that Ryan Murphy knows the show is not long for this world and is looking for a way out. I don't watch the show myself, but I do see the activity of Glee fans on Twitter and other social networks.

Basically outside of the music, most of the chatter about the show is complaining about convoluted story-lines that don't go anywhere, forgotten and lost characters, and the frequent use of the term "jump the shark."

Then comes along the news that they're creating a character based on a popular, but admittedly controversial, politician, and stunt-casting the part with a comedian who got booed off the stage at a USO show for verbally attacking the
children of that same politician.

Now some say that this is just another sign that Hollywood hates middle-America, Christians, and anyone who votes to the right of Eugene V. Debs, but I think there's another kind of politics behind this decision.

I'm talking office politics.

Ryan Murphy gets a lot of attention within Hollywood from
Glee, including lots of feature film work, and offers for more work. He's gone from the creator of one acclaimed but canceled show Popular, to a moderately successful cable drama Nip/Tuck, to the man behind Glee, which started out as a mega-hit, but is quickly turning into a career black hole.

High school shows built around specific cast members have a short shelf-live. Actors age, and when they're playing teens on TV, it's pretty much a dog-years like scenario, and they can quickly degenerate into self-parody. Plus Murphy is getting increasingly pigeon-holed by
Glee which could hurt attempts to do anything that isn't like Glee. All the complaints I hear about the show's stories and characters strike me as if there's a lot of discontent and possibly boredom at the show's top creative/management positions.

So what do you do if you're in Mr. Murphy's position?

Well, you try to pull a stunt that can get the show canceled before it completely crashes and burns in the already contracted 3rd season, but in a way that will still get you the accolades of Hollywood. Perhaps by casting a deliberately obnoxious comedian in a politically charged role and storyline that could very easily alienate a large chunk of the audience while getting pats on the back and feature film deals as a reward for your "courage" for hating someone who the rest of Hollywood hates.

Ashley Judd Does TV but will it work?

Now the idea of Ashley Judd doing a TV series for ABC isn't the iffy idea. I'm sure she's perfectly capable of doing very well in TV, my sense of "iffiness" comes from the show's concept.

The show is called Missing, and is basically a gender switched version of Liam Neeson's hit movie Taken with a dash of 24. Judd plays a former CIA agent whose son goes missing in Europe and she goes on an ass-kicking search for him.

Okay, you might get a season out of that concept, but if you get renewed for a second season what are they going to do? Will they have her find her son at the end of season 1, only to have him get nabbed again in season 2? Or maybe it'll be another relative who gets snatched? What do they do?

When people watch a show with a central mystery format they will want answers delivered in a reasonable time frame, or they will feel that their chain is getting jerked and they will tune out. After the royal chain jerking that
Lost gave the audience, viewers are a lot more cynical about these kinds of projects, and less willing to give them a chance, regardless of quality.

Maybe if the storyline of finding her son wraps up neatly and leads to a new, more episode friendly, career finding and recovering lost people and property, it might have legs. Otherwise, I don't see it getting very far with viewers.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Time To Get Your Geek On

Welcome to the show folks...

Sorry I didn't post yesterday. Let's just say that it wasn't a very good day. However, let's try to start today with a smile by taking my usual Saturday break from ranting and raving about the business behind pop culture and have a little giggle.

Today's a music video featuring so many pop culture references it actually made my head spin. Enjoy.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #680: Foreign Cash Domestic Problems

Welcome to the show folks...

Imagenation the Abu Dhabi based film finance fund is undergoing a major shake-up, one of the major causes of this shake up is the company's poor financial performance. It seems that in the fund's short life it dropped more bombs than Curtis LeMay on a Saturday night bender.

But how could have these trials and tribulations been avoided?

Hollywood is a tempting place for investors.
It's ripe with the dazzling effects of glamor, and the possibilities of huge financial rewards for success. If you're a relative newbie to the world of high finance with oil money gushing out of your wazoo, and some slick talker in an expensive suit tells you that he can make you even more money, and get you a chance to chase starlets, you're going to dive in head first.

Of course there are risks, big risks, risks those same guys in the slick suits don't really like to tell you about. For every hit film there are dozens, if not hundreds, that fail to break even, let alone make a profit. The real rub is that even if the film makes money, a foreign investor's Hollywood partners have literally boatloads of methods to avoid paying said foreign investor one thin dime.

So how does a foreign investor avoid getting skinned alive.

Let's play a little thought experiment where you inherited a tiny but wealthy kingdom after your father, the king, died of 9 mm lead poisoning. You have billions in oil money sitting around, and you need to get it off its duff and doing something, because when it comes to money at that level you have to use it, or you could lose it.

You could invest in widgets, but they're dull, and aren't going to help you get into the painted on pants of a starlet. You decide to invest in making movies for fun and profit. But how do you avoid losing your investment?

Follow these steps.

1. Learn everything you can. Study every facet of the business. I'm talking about how movies are made. How much they cost. How are they distributed and marketed. Then learn everything about the flow of money from box office and home video to studio coffers. Look at how previous investors have performed, and learn from their mistakes.

2. Gather intelligence. This is different than just learning the mechanics of the business, this is all about learning who is who, and what's what. Hire private investigators, recruit informants, and analyze the data they bring you about who you should do business with, and who you should avoid.

3. Pick your own partners... carefully. The most common method of recruiting foreign investment is for someone from Hollywood to get on a plane and make sales pitches to deep pocketed plutocrats like yourself. Forget that. When you have how to do business, and who to do business down pat, you approach the people you want to approach for a partnership. No one in the movie business will say no to outside cash, because it mitigates their own risk.

A key factor is to have a partner who can't just bulldoze over you. You need to be powerful enough within this partnership to toss your weight around when you have too.

4. Avoid "importance." Hollywood filmmakers have these little pet projects that they don't want to pay for themselves, because they know these films won't make money. These films are designed to make the sort of political/artistic/social statements that will get them nominations and prizes and pats on the back at some of the fancier restaurants in Malibu and Beverly Hills. So they go to foreign investors and beguile them with talk of Academy Awards and other stuff. When they talk about awards, watch your money, because you're probably not getting your money back.

You have to weigh risks with rewards. If you deem a slim chance of getting an award a fit enough risk, then invest away. If you're looking for a cash return for your cash investment, then look for something more commercial.

There will always be an element of risk when investing in movies. Sometimes the best made, widest appealing films tank, while relative niche film prosper. But at least you can avoid being treated like an idiot.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #679: Random Snarks...

Welcome to the show folks...

Slow day for the sort of business news I like to rant and rave about so I'm just going to snark like the bastard that I am.

1. The Late Show with David Letterman got a bit of egg on their face when a hoaxer posing as a "friend" of Lindsay Lohan booked her to appear on the show. In a related story, Lindsay Lohan has hired the hoaxer as her new agent, because that was the first real gig she's landed in a long time.

2. Whoopi Goldberg accused the New York Times of "sloppy journalism" for leaving her out of a story about African American Oscar winners. The New York Times was reportedly shocked to find out that somebody actually still reads the New York Times.

3. Comic and screenwriter Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has been hired to rewrite the script for the troubled musical Spider-Man: Turn Of The Dark. In keeping with the show's tradition he broke his right leg, cracked three ribs, and ruptured a testicle in a freak accident with his laptop.

4. Seth McFarlane has been named Roastmaster for the Comedy Central roast of Donald Trump. Despite what you expect, jokes about Trump's hair will not be allowed, because TV is not allowed to broadcast cruelty to animals.

Okay, I'm snarked out.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #678: Take Me To The Pilot

Welcome to the show folks...

And speaking of shows, it's pilot season in Hollywood. Now I'm not talking about the time of year when celebrities and studio execs get pilots for their private jets under their magical airplane trees by Santa. Nope, I'm talking about TV.

You see television channels need to have something to show because static doesn't win audiences, and if you don't have audiences, you can't sell ads, and make money. But how do you pick a show that can win an audience?

TV shows are picked by a caffeinated chimpanzee named Stinky Pete who goes from network to network and throw his feces at various show ideas and wherever the shit stuck would decide the new fall season.

Okay, I kid, but the real system is only about 10% more scientific.

To explain the system we're going to have to use our imaginations.

Imagine that you have an idea for a TV show, one that's a guaranteed hit. But how do you get it on air?

Well, first you need an Executive Producer.

Now there are a couple of different types of Executive Producers, and I'll explain each one as they take their position in process of getting your idea and transforming it into a show.

The first one you need is a Money-Man Executive Producer. This person has the resources either with their own company, or in conjunction with a studio or network based production company to get your show made into a pilot. A script is written, a "bible" outlining the concept and characters of the show, and then those are shopped around to various entities like studios or even networks. If they like the script and the concept they will give the greenlight to a pilot episode.

Then you will need the second type of Executive Producer.

This type of Executive Producer is called the Show-runner. It's the job of the show-runner to supervise the writing, casting, budgeting, and day to day operations of the show. Now two or more people can be show-runners on the same show, with some tending more towards working with the writers (often the show's creator), while others lean more toward handling the business and administrative issues.

Then you can start making your pilot episode.

The purpose of the pilot episode is to sell the network on your idea. This is not an easy process. Studios and networks are crawling with executives all trying to justify their existence by meddling with your pilot. Rewrites will happen, actors will be cast and re-cast, then re-cast again. If you're lucky, you might actually get to shoot your pilot. Then you have to survive the next round of notes calling either for you to re-do it again, or be canned before you're even done filming.

If your pilot is unbelievably brilliant, or you catch the network CEO in the post-priapic glow of a nooner with an easygoing mistress, you can get the green-light to go to series.

However, that's very rare. Thousands of scripts are pitched at this time of year, and a couple of hundred get made into pilots, but only a tiny percentage of those pilots make it to series, and a lot of the ones that make it to series get canceled very quickly.

It's an expensive, wasteful, and extremely frustrating system, but until the day someone figures out something better, it's the only system we've got.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #677: Belieb It Or Not

Welcome to the show folks...

Since I'm going to be discussing pop star Justin Bieber I will probably get a bunch of angry comments from freaked out tweens for daring to discuss their latest deity in less than adoring terms, but here goes anyway.

Right now the little bugger with the bowl-cut is everywhere. His songs are all over the radio and the few remaining channels that still show music videos, his public appearances generate hysteria, his mug is everywhere, even on venerable crime drama
CSI. People are talking about him becoming a movie star and when he lost out at the Best New Artist Grammy to jazz chanteuse / bassist / bulk shampoo consumer Esperanza Spalding, someone vandalized her Wikipedia page.

Personally, she has my vote, but that's another story.

Now I'm not going to knock his music as repetitive and grating, or his image as being as organic as polystyrene, or his fans as prepubescent neurotic harpies, but I'm not going to do that.

I'm going to be nice.

I'm going to offer him some sage advice that he better take to heart.

That advice is: SAVE YOUR MONEY.

You see, the rules of the game of fame have changed over the past 20 years. Constant media coverage can make someone a huge phenomenon, however being a huge phenomenon is one of the worst things to be when you're in show-biz.

The sort of screaming raging hysteria that Bieber is getting used to ensure someone a spot in music history. Nowadays it means that you will be lucky if you can get a guest spot on a trashy reality show when you're forty, broke and unemployed.

There's a line in an old song that says that things are burning too hot not to cool down.

That goes double when it comes to the fame game. The greater the intensity of hysteria at the beginning of your career, the shorter said career will be, and the greater the revulsion felt by former fans.

One minute they're screaming for more, the next minute they're screaming for you to get off the stage.

As for him becoming a movie star, that's highly unlikely. His entire career is too wrapped up in a single unchangeable image, that's not good for an actor. Sure a lot of stars have an image they follow pretty closely, but their careers won't end because of a change of haircut. Can anyone picture him in a heroic role, in a period piece, or any other sort of leading man project without looking ridiculous or dated within weeks of release?

I figure the best they can do for him as an actor is for his owners at Paramount to quickly plop out a high-school romantic melodrama that mostly consists of him and a starlet exchanging sappy puppy-dog glances while their respective parents disapprove for some painfully contrived reason. Wrap it up with an equally contrived happy ending, and rake in the opening weekend cash. Of course if they don't do it right away, and I mean quickly because the clock is ticking, they'll be just wasting their money.

Which is why I'm advising young Master Bieber to save every penny he gets his hands on. It's not going to last, and it's much better to retire with dignity (and cash) than to end up the pathetic answer to a trivia question no one will admit to knowing.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Saturday Silliness Cinema: A Service You Need

Welcome to the show folks...

Time for me to take my usual Saturday break from ranting about pop culture and the business behind it for a little laugh.

Today, a word from our sponsor for a service that you might actually need. Not me, but probably you. (Mildly NSFW)

Friday, 11 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #676: Lionsgate Tries Being Lionsgate For A Change

Welcome to the show folks...

After some mixed results trying to become the next major studio and a long and financially bloody battle with Carl Icahn independent producer/distributor Lionsgate have changed tack.... sort of.

Lionsgate's new program is to be more like... well... Lionsgate.

They're trimming the fat, so to speak, by selling off some assets, and launching a new micro-budget initiative to produce low budget comedies and horror films.

I like the micro-budget idea. It's a great way to find and develop new talent, and low budget horror flicks and comedies have long been the company's meat and potatoes, and going back to them exploits a niche for the company that the major studios are more or less ignoring. All I hope is that they don't screw it up like Paramount's Insurge project which went from being a micro-budget talent factory into just another label they can slap onto things like Justin Bieber's concert movie to screw up the accounting even further.

My advice for Lionsgate, recruit new talent, train them to be able to do more with less, and when profits are made, pay folks their fair share, thus ensuring the loyalty of profitable filmmakers who know how to make films without breaking the bank.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #675: Summer Movie Pile Up

Welcome to the show folks...

The folks at The Wrap have noticed the inevitable, there will be a veritable traffic jam of big budget blockbuster movies this summer with 14 big openings over a 12 week period.

Give me a second to get my smart glasses and my professorial pipe, and I'll explain how this situation came to be.

I say this was inevitable because Hollywood's been building towards it for a very long time. Ironically, it's a repeat of the philosophy that began in the 1950s with the rise of television and almost brought to bankruptcy in the late 1960s before it was revolutionized by the film school/TV generation.

That generation created a flood of smaller films that did big business. That business led to them making bigger films inspired by the adventure serials and genre films they enjoyed as kids, and they did even bigger business and the blockbuster movie era was born.

Smaller films were still being made by the big studios, but in recent years those films have become fewer and fewer in number as the studios repeat the aforementioned history by putting all their eggs in the blockbuster movie basket.

There are two sets of reasons for this situation, and it's more than just the folks running Hollywood not remembering any history, and those reasons are both corporate and social.

CORPORATE: When the "high concept" revolution hit in the 1970s, the studios went from being borderline bankrupt basket cases to become the darlings of Wall Street, especially the junk bond dealers looking to make billions from the mergers and acquisition frenzy of the 1980s and 1990s. Big companies saw the chance to become even bigger companies and went nuts, buying up each other with wild abandon.

Big conglomerates bought newspapers, book publishers, TV networks, cable channels, and movie studios, then mushed them all together into the new conglomerates that we now know and love as the Big Media companies. These new media giants had a strategy, it was called "synergy." In theory, the studios would make movies and TV shows, many from books provided by their publishing wing, the networks and cable channels would air them, and the newspapers would promote them. In theory everything would be done in house, creating a perfectly oiled machine that chugged along making billions for all involved.

In theory.

In theory Communism works.

And corporate synergy works as well in the real world as communism.

The reality of the situation turned out to be very different. Instead of an efficient well oiled machine they usually ended up with a top heavy rattling contraption whose gears often seized up from sheer weight. Instead of having the security of size, these companies became incredibly insecure, having accrued massive debts in their merger binge. Executives lost their nerve, having no real ownership or investment of their own in the company or its legacy, outside of a desire to cash their bonus and not get fired, they fell back on the familiar. Like remakes of old and not so old movies, big screen versions of old TV shows already owned by the company, and comic books.

Also, big corporations need big returns, partly to cover their exploding overheads, like buying TV ad-time from their own networks. Such ad time always seems to cost more and more, mostly to pay for the debts incurred during the mergers. Plus, pursuing the elusive mega-blockbuster also helps cover the fact that their own shoddy business practices are responsible for production costs having a rate of inflation similar to Zimbabwe. In the 1980s, a movie making $100 million in ticket sales was considered a blockbuster smash hit, nowadays, that wouldn't cover the production costs of any film with more than one "A-List" star in it. So now even "modest" Hollywood movies have to make at least $200 million to at least break even. The idea of making smaller budgeted, modestly profitable films are anathema to them, if it doesn't have the potential to break any box-office records, they don't even want to look at it.

Of course to break those records they need to target an audience with disposable cash and time on their hands. That audience is the tween-teenager crowd, the cash is their parents, and that time on their hands comes in the summertime. It looks good from a corporate perspective, because you can advertise on the cheaper youth oriented channels like MTV and rely on the little bastards to spread the word for free via Facebook and other social networks.

SOCIAL: This reason is all about convenience, or to be more exact, the lack of it. Back in the Golden Age of Hollywood most folks in the cities and mid-sized towns could just walk on down to the local Bijou and catch a double feature for a quarter. Times have changed, drastically. For one thing, since the 1950s North America has become a car dependent culture. People drive everywhere, and thanks to suburban sprawl, they have to drive everywhere.

The idea of just strolling to the neighborhood theatre has been replaced with loading the family into the car, paying for the gas that takes the family to the mall that houses the local 100 screen cineplex, paying for parking, then paying over $10 a head to get into the theatre to see the movie, then there's the popcorn, sodas, and other stuff you have to pay for. What was once something that could be done almost entirely on whimsy, is now a major expedition for a large percentage of movie-goers.

Now studios think, and they may be right about it, even a broken clock is right twice a day, that all these expenses, hassles, and other impediments have convinced moviegoers that if they're going to all that expense and effort, they're going to want to see something big. They're not going through all that for a modest little drama, they need big stories, with big stars, big action, and big special effects to get them off their collective duffs and to plant those duffs in theatre seats.

Now those reasons come together when it comes to timing. When do people, especially the younger target audience have the time to go to the movies? The summer, when school is out, and families are on vacation. TV is mostly in reruns, or cheap reality/filler programs, so not only is competition for attention down slightly, so is the price of TV ad time.

However this creates an extremely narrow window for studios to plop out the blockbusters they hope will rake in the audiences and their sweet, sweet money. Making the market seem more crowded even though most studios have reduced their output, and creating the traffic jam we're going to experience this summer.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #674: Sony Lands Bond

Welcome to the show folks...

It looks like Bond 23 will be released by Sony Pictures. MGM managed to leverage their only big franchise into not only a distribution deal, but also a deal to co-produce Sony's adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, also starring Daniel Craig.

Now if things go the way they seem to go, it should be the way a deal should go, and by that I mean good for both sides.

It's good for MGM because if Dragon Tattoo does well, it will give the long moribund company some actual box office revenue which it hasn't seen in a long time. Plus having with

It's good for Sony, because they get the distribution fees from the copper-bottomed Bond franchise and a co-financier for Dragon Tattoo which is a nice infusion of fresh capital after the $100+ million debacle otherwise known as James L. Brooks How Do You Know.

Of course that's if someone doesn't do something to screw it all up, and with this being Hollywood, there's lots of opportunities for both sides to blow it. I just hope they don't, because MGM needs to stop hemorrhaging employees, plus I love those damn Bond movies.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #673: Two Stories About Three Fat Guys

Welcome to the show folks...

Today I have two tales that involve three fat guys, and no, none of the fat guy stories involve me, thanks for bringing that up. (Runs away to ease pain with a bag of chocolate chip cookies.)


Somebody's putting together a play about the last 18 months of the life of the late comedian Chris Farley.

My question:

You see, I never thought Chris Farley was very
funny. I know he has his fans who think he's the most wonderful comedian in the world, I just think he's grievously overrated and unoriginal. And it's not just my dislike of his period of SNL, I saw him on a show about Second City Chicago, and even then his antics left me cold. They were doing different improv games and in every scene, all he did was come up with some excuse to jump around screaming his head off. Context of the scene didn't matter, the actions of his partners didn't matter, he'd just freak out and thrash around.

I didn't find him particularly original on SNL, simply rehashing and amplifying the surface elements of some of John Belushi shtick, even in the manner of death by drugs.

But my main beef wasn't with him as a person, I'm sure he was lovely in rare moments of sobriety, it was with the overall theme of his comedy. In the 90s we saw the emergence of what I call the "Laugh At The Loser" school of comedy. Before then comedy was about underdogs sticking it to the often pompous and inane
powers that be sharp tongues and slapstick action, a tradition that goes all the way back to vaudeville. John Cleese expressed this philosophy best by saying something along the lines of: "Imagine a man with a facial tic who hears voices in his head. Make him a homeless drug addict, and you have a tragedy, make him a Lord and head of the Secret Service and you have a comedy."

In the 90s things changed. They shifted to presenting characters that come out as losers, who stay losers, and the laughter was to be derived not from them getting a leg up on a cruel world in wacky ways, but from how big a loser this loser really is. Farley didn't invent this, but he did milk it for all it was worth.

I just couldn't get into that, I just couldn't get into him, and I can't see how any portrayal of his last death spiral could be anything more than a PSA about the dangers of drugs.


Filmmaker Michael Moore is suing the Weinsteins for $2.7 million that he believes they owe him for his film
Fahrenheit 9/11, on top of the $19.8 million he's already been paid for it.

Personally, I'm amazed he got anything for his film knowing the intricacies and inanities of Hollywood accounting.

Now some are saying Moore is being greedy for starting this lawsuit, but I can see his point. He needs to get his hands on every penny he thinks is his due, because of one simple truth:

Nobody gives a rat's ass about Michael Moore anymore.

There was a time when Michael Moore was a star. Hollywood rushed to kiss his broad behind because he was very good at hating all the people they love to hate.

Well the people they hated the most are out of office, Moore's most recent efforts came and went like a fart at chili cook-off, and nobody cares about him and his "look at me and gimme money" antics anymore. Moore has a swanky lifestyle to maintain, and that means he has to be as greedy and grasping as the people he loves to malign in his movies.

Personally, I'd like to see him and the Weinsteins fight like pit bulls in a sack. It could be the most entertaining thing either of them have done in years.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #672: Terra No Thank You

Welcome to the show folks...

I saw the preview for the upcoming Spielberg produced TV epic Terra Nova, and if you missed it, take a look for yourself:

Well, I guess I can start with an expression of how I feel about this: Feh.

I guess you can break it down to a simple formula that the folks behind it cooked up:

Jurassic Park + Avatar ÷ TV x $$$ = Mucho Success

Me, I fear that little equation's going to turn out to be way wrong and it's going to turn out to be an over-priced, over-hyped boondoggle of epic proportions.

Here's why:

1. THE FUTURE: The premise of the show is that 130+ years in the future the planet Earth is an overpopulated polluted mess, so they go back in time to start anew. I'll get back to their destination in a second, but first I'd like to express a beef with the makers of the show.

My beef is that, according to the writers, by 2149 mankind has mastered time travel, yet seems to have forgotten what would be almost 200 years of knowledge and technology in the field of pollution control.


Of course it's all blamed on the old standbys of "greed" and "war" as if anything short of the total nuclear annihilation of civilization would cause such massive technological and social regression.

That's been the standard dystopia trope, or dys-tropia since the 1960s. In fact, I was expecting to see the family snacking on Soylent Green while they packed for their trip to Dino-time. But I digress...

When this dys-tropia idea first came around it was seen as new, novel, and perceived as a timely warning against all the things Malthus spoke about a century or more earlier. Nowadays, it's just a cliche, and a boring one at that.

So where do people go to escape this cliche? They go into--

2. THE PAST: But not just any past, a part of the past with lots of nasty dinosaurs running amok in it.

Couldn't they have picked a time that was less overrun with very very large carnivores?

Couldn't they have sent someone back to prevent the civilizational collapse that rendered the year 2149 uninhabitable?

Also colonizing the past contains a whole
heap of concerns about alternate realities, changes in history, and other possibilities that I don't think the show will touch on, sticking with dino-attacks and domestic melodramas.

3. THE CHARACTERS: I looked at that trailer and I saw a parade of stereotypes, not characters. Chief among them is the gruff militaristic colony leader played by Stephen Lang, a talented actor who tends to get wasted on roles like this.

I can see his entire character arc. He at
first sells himself as a tough but fair leader on a harsh frontier. Then he'll be fairly quickly revealed to be a psycho monster looking to repeat all the mistakes made in the future, and he'll be opposed by a bunch of dino-hugging Jurassic hippies who see his true nature and agenda, because they're in tune with their environment.

Our central family will eventually get through whatever dysfunctions the writers think will make them three dimensional, and join the fight against this wannabe Mussolini, and it'll be a fresh battle each and every week.

4. THE LIMITATIONS: There are two sets of limitations holding this show down, the limitations of the medium (mainstream network TV) and the limitations of the message (the format).

Mainstream TV networks have a poor record with science fiction and fantasy television, especially in recent years. This is because the classic SF shows tended to be guided by the imagination and leadership of a single visionary, a Rod Serling, or a Gene Roddenberry, who create and run the show while hopefully protecting it from network interference.

There was a time when either success, or clever gamesmanship could protect a show, to a certain extent, from undue network interference, but those days are long over.

Today networks are runs by committees of presidents and vice presidents all eager to pipe in their two cents to justify their existence, and feel those same two cents are justified by their Ivy League background. They love to meddle, and to go for the safe and the familiar, thus ruining a genre that is founded on the risky and the original.

Then there's the limitations of the format. I distrust shows where the villain is in the opening credits. Villains can recur, that's great, but having one as a headlining co-star is a recipe for trouble. It forces the writers into a corner to make this person the center of every plot of every episode at the expense of other potential characters to give a weekly show the variety of material it needs to thrive.

I also get the feeling that if the show goes beyond a second season, they're going to start pulling Lost like stunts out of their collective ass involving things like Chariots of the Gods/Ancient Aliens stuff or evolved dinos walking and talking.

To sum it all up, I'm not really holding out much hope for this show. I might be proven wrong, but sadly that's rarely the case.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #671: Let This Prime Suspect Go

Welcome to the show folks...

NBC has given the green-light to an American version of the classic Brit police procedural Prime Suspect.


I'm sorry I don't like this idea, at all, and it's not because I'm a fan of the original British series that starred Helen Mirren. It's easier just to list them.


1. TIMING: The original Prime Suspect came around in the early 90s, a period where most shows about policewomen were usually campy confections about sexpots with guns.

Creator Lynda LaPlante took a radically different tack, she made her female detective realistic and unglamorous. She was middle aged and had to fight to become a senior police officer, and fight to stay in that position.

Since Prime Suspect's debut in the early 1990s there have been at least a dozen TV dramas about female detectives that have enjoyed varying degrees of seriousness, quality, as well as success and failure. The novelty is long gone.

2. THE CHARACTER: Jane Tennison is deeply entwined with actress Helen Mirren, and anyone taking up the part will be judged harshly as a pale imitation, whether such judging is fair or not. She's also a character that American network TV finds hard to do very well. She's older than the average network starlet, unglamorous, isn't particularly kick-ass, or Sherlockian brilliant, as well as she is very demanding, short tempered, and in later series of the original show, a drunk.

Cable might be able to make that leap, but I doubt if a network has the brass ones to avoid turning her into a hot 25 year old ex-model who solves crimes in 44 minute chunks with her scientific brilliance, marked whenever she puts on her "smart glasses."

3. THE STRUCTURE: Like I said before, Tennison isn't Sherlock Holmes, she doesn't solve cases quickly, she plods through the evidence and the suspects until she finds the truth, and that takes time. The original series took multiple episodes to solve a single case, going deep into the details of each crime and investigation, including the lives ruined as well as lost.

That's an anathema to the 1 & Done story format that dominate most crime procedural shows, and I'm sure they'd be tempted to try to compress the detail that made the original so compelling, into such a tight package.

4. THIS IS NBC WE'RE TALKING ABOUT: They do have a pretty bad batting average. Whether or not this will change with the new regime has yet to be seen.

That's what I think, what to do you think?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #670: Casting Conundrums

Welcome to the show folks...

Right now the folks behind the
Superman reboot have their Superman and are now looking for their Lois Lane, sparking lots of speculating over who is being considered, who should be considered, and who should never go near the part.

It's a tricky job, and not because every decision will be second guessed by legions of fan-boys who can and will find fault if it so pleases them. It will be tricky to cast, because Lois Lane is a tricky character for an actor to sell to the audience.

Think about these points:

1. Lois Lane is supposed to be a top flight investigative reporter, yet she can't seem to figure out that Clark Kent is Superman wearing glasses.

2. Lois Lane can be pushy, insensitive, self-centered, and more than willing and able to walk all over someone to get a story and advance her career.

3. Lois Lane's ambition and desire to get "the big scoop" often puts her in dangerous situations where she needs to be rescued by Superman.

If done wrong Lois Lane can come across not as a plucky heroine, but as an unpleasant narcissistic moron. That's why they need not only a well written script to handle these issues, but an actress with the ability and , above all, charm to get away with it.

Without that the character either becomes an annoying pest, always getting in the way of progress, or just a blank non-entity who is just there, but not really contributing much to the story.

So I'm opening up the comments for you, my loyal and fragrant readers, to tell me who you think should play the part.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #669: Time To Pick Nits?

Welcome to the show folks.


If you haven't already heard NBC has given the greenlight to a pilot for Wonder Woman written by David E. Kelly. Bleeding Cool claims to have a copy of the pilot, and have dropped some spoiler-free hints.

The thing that strikes me is that Kelly's changing around the whole Diana Prince/Wonder Woman dynamic. Essentially he's re-imagining the character by giving her 3 identities. The main identity is Diana Themyscira who is the CEO of Themyscira industries, and everyone knows she's Wonder Woman in the manner that everyone knows Tony Stark is Iron Man.

However that's not all. In those spare seconds found between running a major multinational conglomerate and saving the world, she's also Diana Prince. This Diana is an allegedly mousy girl next door pining for ex-boyfriend Steve Trevor.


Personally I think this re-imagining is really more of an excuse for Kelly to engage in the sort of soapy melodrama based on romantic and office politics than the sort of fantasy adventure that lies at the heart of the character.

Besides, he's apparently missed a great opportunity for product placement/comedy.

Think about it. If you had an Amazon running a company, wouldn't that company be an online bookstore?



Fine, be that way.


Fox is airing an episode of Glee after the Super Bowl.

It's part of the network's plan to create the biggest wave of
"What the hell is this shit?" ever seen.


NBC is casting a lead bunny for their
proposed series set at the Chicago Playboy Club in 1963.

Is it just me, or does this strike anyone else as an attempt to sponge off of
Mad Men's retro-appeal with critics, with what they hope will be the ratings grabber of cute girls in bunny outfits.

Personally, I'm not so sure it's going to catch on.
Mad Men really doesn't get as many eyeballs as the hype would lead you to believe, and the Playboy brand, to modern audiences, has lately come to mean senility over sexuality.


The CW network, home to teen melodramas Gossip Girl and 90210 is looking at ripping off the success of
The Walking Dead and ordering a pilot for a teen melodrama set during a zombie apocalypse.

I think it's a shame that I'm the only person who seems to have come up with a title for this show, even though it's obvious as hell.


Ain't that clever.


Damn it.