Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Cinemaniacal: Men Of Action...

The Wrap recently recently did an article that declared Liam Neeson a genuine action movie star since his latest film, the wolf punching movie The Grey, had a boffo opening weekend. They crunched the numbers and showed that the 59 year old Irishman's relatively modestly budgeted action movies usually outperform the actors that Hollywood insists are the real action movie stars like Matt Damon and Vin Diesel.

I agree with the numbers, they are pretty clear cut, but there is one word of the article I disagree with.  They used the word "improbable" to describe Neeson's action movie status.

Let's see what Mr. Neeson thinks of that description:
 I think he disagrees with that description.

Personally, I've long thought Neeson would have made a good action star, because he has many of the qualities a good, long running action star needs.

1. Commanding Presence. Neeson is a big, strongly built man, and it shows on screen.  He looks and acts like a man who can take care of himself, and others, and be able to take command when the situation turns bad.  

2. Humanity. A good action hero can't be superhuman.  A good action hero in films that people will remember and watch for decades to come has to be in way over his head in every movie, but have the will and the grit to see things through.  

What keeps Vin Diesel and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson from breaking through to real consistent and substantial success outside the Fast & Furious franchise because there's too much posture and not enough humanity in their characters.  They're arch, they're camp, they're not the sort of portrayals people really connect too beyond a fleeting comedic level. That "super-inhuman" quality is the main reason Diesel and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson seem forced to do family comedies to "humanize" their image.  

Neeson's characters don't pose, they just do. That's why audiences seem to truly connect with his action roles.

Matt Damon always struck me as too boyish to be a consistent action star, and his Bourne franchise is essentially a ninja-superhero cartoon with very shaky camera work. Also, they strike me as just paycheck roles that he does so he can still get top dollar for doing things that don't perform as well.

Watching most action movies you never feel a twinge of doubt that this time might be it for our intrepid hero.  They're presented as superhuman and destined to win no matter what, and that carries not one whit of suspense with it.  With no suspense, you're not a story, just a stunt show.
3.  Experience. Now most Hollywood "experts" would assume that Neeson was too old to become an action star while in his mid-to-late 50s.


Action stardom is one of the few areas where age can actually work to your advantage.  John Wayne, Lee Marvin, and Charles Bronson became legends, but they really didn't hit their stride until as action movie superstars until they were in their late thirties or forties.

An action star has to look like he's been through stuff, be it war, crime, or just a hard like.  They need to look like they've lived a little, taken a few punches, know what it feels like to be hurt physically, but still keep going.

Too many of the actors pushed on us as "action star" either look like their experience is centered entirely on the gym, and/or the hair salon. You can't really buy them as a veteran of anything.

Sure, the bulk of Neeson's career was spent as a dramatic actor, and he's a truly talented dramatic actor, but there's nothing improbable about him being an action star outside of the fact that it didn't happen sooner.


I'm collecting questions for an upcoming Q&A post. So CLICK HERE and ask me anything pop culture or business related questions in the comments.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #844: Why Oh Why?

Today, I'm going to ask the question "Why?" and try my best to answer it.

First up, I'd like to announce that Universal Pictures did not do something stupid.

They dropped the plan to co-produce a big budget action-adventure movie based on this...
That's right, the old Stretch Armstrong doll, a speedo clad Adonis made of rubber and corn syrup. They had even signed Twilight hunk Taylor Lautner to star in the title role, though he's now out of the project as well.

So you're probably asking yourself.... Why?

Well, let's look at the facts of the case.

1. Now I was a little kid during the original Stretch Armstrong era and even had one.... he was pretty lame as a character.  Especially compared to the Star Wars figures that were flooding the market at the time. Sure, he could stretch, but that was it.

2.  What the hell kind of a story were they going to do with this property?  A wrestler gets stretching powers, so he goes around stretching at people? At least Plastic Man was an all around shape-shifter and Mr. Fantastic was also a super-scientist with three super-powered pals.  There is no real story behind the Stretch Armstrong character, and even the overactive imagination of sugar-cartoon-buzzed young kids were taxed trying to come up with situations that needed the help of a guy with blobs for hands dressed only in a speedo.  Eventually the only entertainment value he had was just seeing how far you could stretch him before he started bleeding corn syrup.

3.  Poor Taylor Lautner's first non-Twilight leading role, Abduction, was out of North American theaters before the opening credits were done. In the old days of Hollywood the studio would have "toughened him up" by putting him in a couple of war movies and/or westerns alongside a more experienced actor who looked like he could take a punch as well as give one.

4. The only plus for this project was that the toy company Hasbro was willing to partially back it, and that was only because they already owned Stretch Armstrong and hope that 70s nostalgia would sell some tickets and move some merchandise.

However Universal's fairly sound decision isn't the end of this story. In fact, I wouldn't be stretching the truth to say that there was still a little while left to go before this boondoggle in the making starts leaking corn syrup.

Relativity Media has picked up the project and are showing every intention of running with it.

Which makes me ask once more.... Why?

I think the answer is quite simple. Relativity's been losing money, investors, partners, and friends faster than a reality TV star loses their dignity.  They need a big sized partner like Hasbro with deep pockets to keep their ship afloat, and if that means making Stretch Armstrong: The Movie, or Hungry, Hungry Hippos, to be directed by Lars Von Trier, then so be it.

UPDATE: Reader ILDC mentioned that Hasbro won't be "producing" and how that might mean that they won't be doing any direct financing of the films in question.

Well, the term "producing" has some very nebulous definitions in Hollywood. There are many hedge funds and investment firms that put money into films while not considered to be "producing" them, and there are people and companies that get credited as producers while contributing no money or effort to the movie but simply because they hold onto the rights to something that was necessary to make the film.

Also, having a big international manufacturer like Hasbro on your side is a great form of insurance if your company is having money and investor troubles. This is because there's nothing better guarantees that a film will be finished and released to other money sources, a real concern for investors, than having a big corporation with a vested interest in the film.

Then there's the inevitable marketing blitz Hasbro will have with their toys cross promoting the film, and doing a lot to cover the usually onerous prints and advertising costs that can often be more than a film's production budget.


I'm going to do another "Ask Furious D" this coming Friday, so CLICK THIS LINK and ask me anything about pop culture and/or the business behind it, and I will either answer it, or pompously fake my way through it.

Friday, 27 January 2012


That's right kiddies!  Here's another chance for you to drink of the bottomless well that is my wisdom!

If you have a question about pop culture and the business behind it, then leave it here in the comments, and I'll answer it some time next week.

While you're composing your questions take a gander at these groovy fan-made titles for The Dark Knight Rises.  Makes you feel that more movies need creative title sequences.

The Dark Knight Rises - Opening Credits Project from Doğan Can Gündoğdu on Vimeo.

Get asking!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #843: SNARK ATTACK!

I'm in a snarky mood, so let's get the vitriol flying...

1. An Australian politician was busted for plagiarizing a speech from the Michael Douglas movie The American President.

That's nothing, last month the same politician ended a speech with: "YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!"

2. California has made it mandatory for performers in pornographic movies filmed in the state to wear condoms.
Naturally the industry says that the new rule is just too hard-on them.


Anyway, filming porno movies will now have to begin with the director yelling: "THAT'S A WRAP!"

3.  Rosie O'Donnell's struggling talk show on the EGO OWN Channel has got a new set and a new executive producer in the vain hope that it will save the show, and recoup the mega-millions spent on making it.

Of course all this is just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, since the one thing the show desperately needs is a new host that doesn't repulse the majority of the audience.

4. NBC is considering a spin-off of The Office centering on the character Dwight Schrute played by Rainn Wilson.

They are also considering a new more honest slogan for the network:

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #842: Random Drippings From My Brain Pan


Jack Selby, a former grande fromage at PayPal, has started an independent film company Incognito Pictures.  The purpose of the company is to take $50 million and use it for “creating intelligent, genre-agnostic films with worldwide appeal.”

Which brings me to my first question: What the hell does he mean by "genre-agnostic?"

Are his movies going to be undecided if they're comedies, horror movies, or musicals, or will they just wander around wondering if there really is such a thing as a genre?

The mind boggles.

Anyway, while I applaud Mr. Selby for wanting to make movies and for having the cash to pull it off, I do have to ask a second, probably more important question:

The Weinstein Company is where the whole concept of the producer / distributor partnership goes to die. The company's business model is to not distribute movies that can't get the Weinsteins Oscars or money they don't have to share with anyone else.  If your film doesn't fit into either category, you will be bombarded with all sorts of excuses for them to not release your movie, there will be lawsuits, counter-lawsuits, and then they're just going to be dumped into the discount DVD bin.

TWC is in an almost constant state of litigation with former partners. The only time a partnership has managed to come back from the brink of turning into a full on blood feud is with Relativity Media, and that's probably because both know that they only have the money to sue each other, or do the Crow remake that only they are asking for, they can't do both.

I'm really amazed that a survivor of the madhouse that is the online business world like Selby would dive head first into this black hole. There are other distributors out there that would love someone who can put out product on a regular basis. The Weinstein Company is only really good at selling Oscar bait, talking rich people into going into business with them, and making lawyers lots of money.

The mind boggles once again.


Director Spike Lee went on a bit of a tirade at the Sundance Film Festival. The highlight of this spiel was his declaration that Hollywood executives "know nothing about black people."

He's right. Hollywood executives don't know a thing about black people.

But he also misses the big issue at hand.

Hollywood executives do know absolutely nothing about black people, but they also know absolutely nothing about:

- White people.
- Asian people.
- Christian people.
- Jewish people.
- Muslim people.
- Hindu people.
- Buddhist people.
- Poor people.
- Rich people.
- Middle Class people.

Hell, it's easier to just say that Hollywood executives don't know anything about anyone who isn't part of the upper class, Ivy League graduate, greater Los Angeles - Beverly Hills - Malibu Axis of Ego social clique that they belong to. 

They live in a strange extra-dimensional bubble where everyone is either kissing their ass or stabbing their back, and possess a screaming ignorance of how the rest of humanity lives. 


Jay Leno is being sued over a joke.

Apparently the former comedian late night host made a joke claiming Republican candidate Mitt Romney lived here:
The problem is that this isn't the lavish mansion of rampant capitalist excess Leno's writers thought it was, it is, in fact, the Harmandir Sahib; the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holy center of Sikhism.

Now Sikhs are calling their lawyers and suing Leno and NBC for libel and defamation.

I'm actually surprised. I expected Leno to get hit with a class action suit by other comedians for rampant hackery way before he got sued by anyone else.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #841: It's Oscar Time Everyone!

Here are the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards, lightly peppered with my trademark bitter snarkasm...

Best Picture
  • “The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer- I can't really say if this film is worthy of an Academy Award nomination, something went wrong at the screening and I spent the whole time yelling "Turn it up, I can't hear a damn thing!"
  • “The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers- It's got George Clooney, domestic dysfunction, and according to reviews, not much happens, so it's a perfect awards movie.
  • “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer- I haven't heard of a single person saying that they liked the movie, and people seem to be avoiding it despite having Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, but since it's an overly sincere drama with a mopey kid with dead father issues, the nominations are pretty much guaranteed.
  • “The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers- Hollywood loves a movie where the noble white person helps the noble oppressed black people. So it's to be expected.
  • “Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers- Many who saw it say it's a magical love letter to cinema. Too bad there weren't that many in North America who saw it.
  • “Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers- Woody Allen made a movie that was seen by people outside of New York and Los Angeles, they had to nominate it.
  • “Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers- There had been so many problems during development of this movie I think the nomination's simply for getting the damn thing done.
  • “The Tree of Life” Nominees to be determined - Nobody knows what the movie was supposed to be about, and it also looks like nobody knows who produced the damn thing.
  • “War Horse” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers- Spielberg is threatening to send the titular horse to the glue factory if he doesn't win.

  • “The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius- Token foreigner so the Academy could feel cosmopolitan. He might win if there's a split in the vote.
  • “The Descendants” Alexander Payne- Domestic dramas are Academy faves, plus it has the Clooney stamp of approval, so he might have a shot even though hardly anyone actually saw the movie.
  • “Hugo” Martin Scorsese- He made a magical love letter to cinema, but the biggest block against him is that he won just a few years ago after years of being shut out. To the Academy's gestalt mass-mind, he's had his turn and there's no drama to be had in giving it to him.
  • “Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen- Academy voters like him, but he's unlikely to show up for the ceremony, so he's probably not going to win.
  • “The Tree of Life” Terrence Malick- Many academy voters want him to win, but fear that his acceptance speech will start with him thanking the Big Bang, and going on from there. They only have five hours for the show.

Actor in a Leading Role
  • Demián Bichir in “A Better Life” - Never heard of him, or the movie. No chance.
  • George Clooney in “The Descendants”- The front-runner. An Oscar semi-regular, a past winner, past nominee, who is firmly entrenched in the club playing a dead eyed suburbanite who gets cuckolded.
  • Jean Dujardin in “The Artist” - If he wins, he should just walk on stage, mouth a speech, then walk off without making a sound.
  • Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” - Brilliant actor in by all accounts a brilliant performance, but a long-shot because he's not exactly "Hollywood's boy," plus the outspoken conservative political stances of his business partner/producer Doug Urbanski may hurt his chances with liberal Academy voters.
  • Brad Pitt in “Moneyball” - Despite his popularity in Hollywood, and the film actually being seen by people, there really isn't much "show-stopping" stuff in the role to overcome Clooney.

Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn” - Long shot.
  • Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”- The Academy is going to demand Jonah regain the weight he lost since Moneyball to avoid confusing viewers if he wins.
  • Nick Nolte in “Warrior” - A real war horse of an actor, so starved for good roles in features that he's doing TV now with Dustin Hoffman in HBO's Luck.
  • Christopher Plummer in “Beginners” - Had a long and respected career, and while it was a barely seen movie, it could come to him as a lifetime achievement sort of deal. But that's only if the Academy has any sense of history.
  • Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”- Someone had to be nominated from that movie, so why not give it to the long running, but under-appreciated von Sydow.

Actress in a Leading Role
  • Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs” - Sorry Glenn, playing butch only works for Hillary Swank.
  • Viola Davis in “The Help” - By all accounts very deserving of the award, so that makes her a long shot.
  • Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” -The manic pixie dreamgirl goes punk, and give the Academy a shot at pretending to be "with it."
  • Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”- Won't win because Academy voters will fear that voting for her will be considered a vote for Thatcher herself.
  • Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn"- The Academy will see this as a little too blatant an attempt to woo them, and probably reject her.

Actress in a Supporting Role
  • Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist”
  • Jessica Chastain in “The Help”
  • Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids”
  • Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”
  • Octavia Spencer in “The Help”

Animated Feature Film
  • “A Cat in Paris” Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
  • “Chico & Rita” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
  • “Kung Fu Panda 2″ Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • “Puss in Boots” Chris Miller
  • “Rango” Gore Verbinski

Foreign Language Film
  • “Bullhead” Belgium
  • “Footnote” Israel
  • “In Darkness” Poland
  • “Monsieur Lazhar” Canada
  • “A Separation” Iran

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
  • “The Descendants” Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
  • “Hugo” Screenplay by John Logan
  • “The Ides of March” Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
  • “Moneyball” Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

Writing (Original Screenplay)
  • “The Artist” Written by Michel Hazanavicius
  • “Bridesmaids” Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • “Margin Call” Written by J.C. Chandor
  • “Midnight in Paris” Written by Woody Allen
  • “A Separation” Written by Asghar Farhad

Art Direction
  • “The Artist” Production Design: Laurence Bennett; Set Decoration: Robert Gould
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • “Hugo” Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • “Midnight in Paris” Production Design: Anne Seibel; Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
  • “War Horse” Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales

  • “The Artist” Guillaume Schiffman
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Jeff Cronenweth
  • “Hugo” Robert Richardson
  • “The Tree of Life” Emmanuel Lubezki
  • “War Horse” Janusz Kaminsk

Costume Design
  • “Anonymous” Lisy Christl
  • “The Artist” Mark Bridges
  • “Hugo” Sandy Powell
  • “Jane Eyre” Michael O’Connor
  • “W.E.” Arianne Phillips

Documentary (Feature)
  • “Hell and Back Again” Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
  • “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
  • “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • “Pina” Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
  • “Undefeated” TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas

Documentary (Short Subject)
  • “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement” Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
  • “God Is the Bigger Elvis” Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
  • “Incident in New Baghdad”James Spione
  • “Saving Face” Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
  • “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

Film Editing
  • “The Artist” Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
  • “The Descendants” Kevin Tent
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
  • “Hugo” Thelma Schoonmaker
  • “Moneyball” Christopher Tellefsen

  • “Albert Nobbs” Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
  • “The Iron Lady” Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Music (Original Score)
  • “The Adventures of Tintin” John Williams
  • “The Artist” Ludovic Bource
  • “Hugo” Howard Shore
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Alberto Iglesias
  • “War Horse” John Williams

Music (Original Song)
  • “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
  • “Real in Rio” from “Rio” Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Short Film (Animated)
  • “Dimanche/Sunday” Patrick Doyon
  • “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
  • “La Luna” Enrico Casarosa
  • “A Morning Stroll” Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
  • “Wild Life” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Short Film (Live Action)
  • “Pentecost” Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
  • “Raju” Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
  • “The Shore” Terry George and Oorlagh George
  • “Time Freak” Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
  • “Tuba Atlantic” Hallvar Witzø

Sound Editing
  • “Drive” Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Ren Klyce
  • “Hugo” Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  • “War Horse” Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Sound Mixing
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
  • “Hugo” Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • “Moneyball” Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
  • “War Horse” Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Visual Effects
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
  • “Hugo” Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
  • “Real Steel” Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #840: Sundancing Over The Cliff

The Sundance Film Festival is currently clogging the streets of Park City, Utah with SUVs, stretch limos, stretch SUVs, celebrities, their entourages, and the paparazzi and reporters who buzz around them in a self-sustaining, if vapid, ecosystem all of its own.

The incomparable Nikki Finke took a moment to look at how the films that got all the buzz from last year's Sundance did with audiences.  

If you're too lazy to click the link, then here's the short answer:
Not well, not well at all. In fact, it's making Don Draper cry.

The biggest film was the Weinstein Company stoner comedy Our Idiot Brother, which came and went like a puff of pot smoke, potentially making a profit after P&A, but at best only a small one, and was quickly forgotten. The biggest effect that film had on popular culture was giving me a cheap excuse to post a picture of its co-star Zooey Deschanel.

None of the other films failed to crack the $10 million mark, and most failed to crack even a million like Morgan Spurlock's heavily hyped documentary about product placement Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold which only made $638,456 in theaters.

I really don't like this development, because I can remember when indie films actually mattered.  

I was in film school during the indie film boom of the 1990s, and independent film was the most exciting thing in town, even with people who weren't film nerds.  People outside the entertainment industry, and its watchers like me, talked about independent movies.


Because independent movies were giving the audience what they wanted. Intelligent movies that bucked the group-think and dependence on stars, money, and opening weekend grosses that dominated the films coming out of mainstream Hollywood. 
They used their small budgets as an excuse to use a little something called "imagination" to get things done, and audiences appreciated it. Sure, most of the movies weren't big block-buster hits, but films and audiences could make that precious connection.

This golden age didn't last, especially after Hollywood discovered Sundance, the awards the movies could win for the studios, and the "credibility" that celebrities could get from doing independent movies.

Everything went to hell shortly after. Every major studio started their own "indie" division, and stars started inserted themselves in all sorts of independent movies.

Soon the connection between film and audience was forgotten. In its place was a new connection, between Sundance and Hollywood.

Instead of bucking Hollywood's group-think and dependence on stars, indie films were swallowed up into it. A lot of movies were getting made not because of their merits, including the merit of finding an audience, but whether or not they'd get a name actor an award nomination.  The festival changed from one that built around finding an audience for indie movies to giving celebrities a spot for photo-ops to show off their apre-ski wear.

Now I'm not saying that independent filmmakers stopped making good movies. Lots were being made, but they were drowned out in a sea of faux-sincere, faux-edgy vanity projects.

With awards and riches failing to appear, most of the major studios shuttered their indie divisions, and the market more or less collapsed.

But that wasn't the most important thing that went down in the indie film market.

The most important thing that was lost was trust.

You see, the audience must trust that the film they're going to see is at least going to try to entertain them. They must trust that it will challenge them, and not insult them just for being them, and independent film completely lost that trust.

The film Margin Call got good reviews, but poor box office, because the audience couldn't trust the filmmaker to handle the subject matter of the 2008 financial crisis without making it into some sort of strident polemic against the lives that most Americans live. Even those who would have agreed with Hollywood's point of view avoided it, because they don't want to be lectured as much as the other guy.

Then there's the movie The Ledge, which pretty much embodies everything wrong with current independent film, and it's $9,125 box office take really shows it.  It's a film with three name actors, Liv Tyler, Terrence Howard and Patrick Wilson, and it's all about how evil, crazy, and homicidal American Christians are.

The plot of the film revolves around a heroic atheist who has to sacrifice his life on the titular ledge to save his married lover from her psychotically evil Christian fundamentalist husband.

Now the American audience will take having their intelligence insulted as long as its wrapped in a colorful and entertaining package, but they will not stand to have their existence insulted. And even those who agree with Hollywood's only permitted prejudice will avoid the film, because the whole thing promises to bore the bloomers off them. So you get the majority of the audience insulted.

It still got made, because the purpose of the film wasn't to make money, or find any sort of audience. In fact, its failure to make money is seen as a positive.  The purpose of this film was to make the people who made it and starred in it feel all smug and better about themselves. They get to claim to be "edgy" and "daring" while doing nothing that actual challenges the shibboleths and prejudices of anyone who might hurt their career within their immediate social circle. Then they can use the film's financial failure as a badge of honor and sacrifice in the face of the horrendous stupidity of the great unwashed who buy movie tickets.

The only audience that matters to too many indie films and filmmakers now is Hollywood, and even the citizens of the Axis of Ego don't have to see the movie for it to have the desired effect. Even films that actually are trying to find a wider, real audience, are burdened with a mark of Cain that seems visible only to the audience by these movies.

Technology has made it possible to do professional looking film-making at prices not seen since the advent of sound, new avenues of distribution are opening up, and it's now possible for indie films to find their audience, no matter how niche, yet independent film is struggling to find even niche audiences. It's struggling because it's turning into the English Canadian film industry, where that trust relationship with the ticket buying public is gone, and something drastic is going to have to be done to get it back.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #839: DC Logo-A-Go-Go!

DC Comics has formally debuted their new corporate logo, so hold your breath and prepare to be amazed....

What?  You're not amazed, well maybe these jaunty variations on a theme will make you wet your pants with fanboy glee...
Still dry?

Okay, I admit it, I was seriously underwhelmed by the whole thing. In fact, when I first saw it, this is what I thought of...
That's right, I thought it was the logo for a place where you go to get photocopies made.  This logo has reached incredible heights of banality, that I honestly didn't think were possible.

Now before I get to my point, let's meander a bit and take a moment to look at DC's past logos and see how they compare to the new one.

This logo is from 1949, and it's basic design tells the story of the company.  On the top is the name of "Superman" their biggest star, in the center are the initials DC, which stood for "Detective Comics" their first big magazine, and at the bottom is National Comics which was the original name of the company.

It's not particularly inspired, but it's still better than the new logo.
This logo was adapted in the 1970s, and it's still pretty simple, and tells a slightly different story.  Instead of just plugging themselves as the home of Superman, DC, which is now officially called DC Comics, it's shilling itself as the home of a whole universe of "super stars."  It sort of looks like it belongs on the side of a football helmet, but it's still better than the new logo.

It was soon replaced by this logo...
This logo is not quite as narrative as the last two logos, but it is symbolic.  The round shield shape, the stars, the bold blocky letters have an air of martial heraldry, like the sort of logos made up by members of military units during World War 2. It symbolizes heroism, teamwork, and patriotism, which is rather fitting since the foundation of the business is the making and selling of superheroes.  

That makes it better than the new logo.
This was the last logo DC had before the new one, and it's still better.  The bold streamlined letters, the swooping lines, and the star, symbolize motion, strength, and action.

Pretty fitting for a company that sells superheros.  Still better than the new logo.

What does the new logo tell me, once I get past the thought of getting my manuscript photocopied for 5¢ a page and picking up some post-it notes on sale?
Well, it tells me that whoever designed this logo, and the people that approved don't seem to appreciate exactly what DC Comics is supposed to be selling. There's no hint of action, heroism, no dynamism, or excitement. Just one corporation "re-branding" another without much thought about what the corporation is supposed to do.  It might as well make widgets.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #838: SOPA DOPE!

Today the internet is all aflutter and it doesn't involve Justin Bieber, but SOPA and PIPA.

The only Pippa I'll vote for!

SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA doesn't stand for England's hottest royal sister Pippa Middleton, it means the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

Both are supposed to stop online piracy of intellectual property, and no one of right mind wants to support online piracy, but there's a problem.

Both acts are supremely fucked up.

It boils down to this.

There is piracy online, lots of it, and it costs the movie and music industry several truckloads of cash every year.  And if the creators of intellectual property can't earn money from their work, then there's going to be a lot less creating going on.

However the pirates running these operations are usually in Europe and Asia, and use distance to avoid prosecution and litigation from American companies.  Now these same American companies could try to threaten the governments of the pirate's host countries with boycotts and such to make them do something, but that would be impolitic, and with certain countries, hazardous to your corporation's health.  So the plan is to punish the whole internet for the sins of the relative few.

The laws basically eliminate due process, and the concept of innocent before proven guilty.  All it takes is one person to post one link to something that a media company considers pirated material, and those media companies can shut down entire websites.  Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia, Blogger, YouTube, Tumblr, and others could all be blocked, their owners sued, and in some cases arrested or imprisoned, simply for not preventing piracy to the satisfaction of the media company that lodged the complaint.

It's the equivalent of using an atomic weapon to kill roaches that have gotten into your kitchen.

You destroy your kitchen, and the work and property of millions of innocent people all around you, and all for nothing.  


Guess who can survive a nuclear blast.


Yep, the pirates can still operate freely.


Because SOPA and PIPA are badly written laws full of loopholes that real criminals can exploit, and lots of vague definitions and enough legal baffle-gab to make any sort of previously lawful use of copyrighted material constitute piracy.
Parodies like this old chestnut from the blog's early days could be declared piracy because they involve copyrighted and trade-marked material. It doesn't matter if centuries of common law allow parody, that will be gone if these laws are passed.
Home videos of pets and cute babies uploaded to YouTube could be declared piracy and makers sued, fined and/or imprisoned because of a song playing on the radio in the background.

Ironically, the key to killing SOPA and PIPA is the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.  Some key Republican players are bailing on supporting the bills.

Republicans have lots of reasons to dislike SOPA and PIPA. 

1. The bills are terribly overreaching constraints on the last truly free market in the world.

2. Those constraints will stifle innovation as the big players use the vaguely worded laws to stifle competition in the form of new start-up companies.

3. The biggest supporters of the bills are the big media companies centered around New York and Hollywood, and this is where partisan politics come in, because those very same companies wouldn't give the steam off their pee to the Republican Party.

4. One of the chief architects of the bills is MPAA honcho Chris Dodd, who, thanks to his long political career, is already seen by Republicans as the bogeyman of government regulatory overreach, and crony corporatism. Opponents of SOPA and PIPA need to remind the Republicans in congress of this, and promise to use this fact against them the next time they seek their party's nomination for anything above dogcatcher.

As for Hollywood, there are things they can do to fight piracy.

1. Use the existing laws, but pick their battles wisely. Forget the dancing baby in the YouTube video and go for the big scale pirates and the money they make from piracy. You might step on the toes of certain governments that like to rattle sabers, but even they need to learn that respecting intellectual property rights is essential for an advancing society.

2. Make movies and music that people think are worth paying for.

Then you might be able to do something real about piracy, and not boondoggles like these.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Cinemaniacal: Attack Of The Killer "B"s

When I was a kid I loved low budget genre movies or "B-Movies" as they are popularly, but inaccurately called. I blame The Great Money Movie, and it's late night sister show, Weird 2, both were TV shows from over the border in Maine, which showed them with the same hyperactive glee as they did the big budget movies from the major studios.

My pop culture diet was heavily larded with regular doses of rubber monsters, spaceships that were made out of parts of toys, and sets where the walls looked like a stiff wind would take them away.

I also became a bit of a "B Movie" history buff, reading everything I could about the people who made these movies, and the often crazy stories behind their making.

It was then that learned just how inaccurate the term "B-Movie" was.  You see the term originated from the old studio system when you gave the guy at the box office your nickel, and in return you got two feature films, a cartoon, a newsreel, and a whupping to keep your mind on your business.

The two movies in the double feature would consist of an "A" picture which had a big budget, big stars, and some sort of classy pedigree. The other feature, the "B" picture would be shorter, cheaper genre movie designed to keep the kids on the balcony interested enough to keep them from tossing their popcorn.

What we usually think of as "B Movies" are in fact independently produced "exploitation" movies, and not studio made "B movies."

But enough of my usual know-it-all-ism, and let me get to the meat of this rant.

I've seen some of today's crop of so-called "B-Movies" and I have found them wanting.

What really bugs me about today's movies has roots in the whole "mockbuster" fad. Now making a low budget rip-off imitation of a big budget studio picture is a tradition that goes all the way back to the silent era.  However, it has become a mini-industry all of itself, and it's actually kind of turning me off the whole thing.


2 things, their mission and their attitude.

I've always said that the big studios are creating huge gaps in the movie market with their insistence on blockbusters, and that it should be the mission of independent filmmakers to try to fill those gaps with the sorts of stories that the majors are ignoring.

All these mockbusters do is just rehash what the major studios are doing, only doing it with worse stories, worse directing, worse acting, and even worse production values.

I know people say that they're of the campy "so bad they're good" variety, but I just don't see it. I find them as entertaining as getting a root canal.

And I can't appreciate the camp value of these production because they really don't have any, because of their attitude.

There's this whole air of smug ironic detachment behind these movies that bugs me. A "this movie is supposed to be shit, so why bother trying to be original, entertaining, or interesting, just toss in a washed up pop singer or sitcom star with some CGI done on a Commodore 64 and call it a day" sort of attitude.

The thing that made me love the old B-Movies I remember from my childhood is that even though a lot of the movies were laughably bad, there was still a sincere desire behind their making, even if that desire was just to get paid and hopefully another job afterwards. The people making the movie were trying their best, and while their efforts were often thwarted by the limitations of budget, talent, technology, or all of the above, they at least tried.

Many of those old time "B Movie" makers who had serious talent learned to work within their limited resources, breaking new ground in the process, and moved onto bigger and better things.

I don't really see a desire to break new ground with today's movies, just an itch to scratch the surface.