Thursday, August 30, 2007

Transformers Review

Word to the wise: If a film makes $300 million without being a sequel, chances are it's probably a good film.

I wish I adhered to this lesson sooner because I ended up stumbling upon this movie inadvertently (I was waiting for another movie to start and wandered into the Transformers theater) and I was fortunate to discover THE event picture of the summer even if it was eight weeks past its release and there was no one left who hadn't seen it that I could proclaim it's greatness to.Produced by Stephen Spielberg and directed by Michael Bay, I'm happy to report that between the clash of these two creative visionaries (or should I say one creative visionary and a guy whose primary interest as a movie director is making things explode), that the end result is a movie that's far more Spielberg than it is Bay.

Transformers plays out along the lines of Spielberg's "Things are best seen from a children's point of view" theme that is most closely associated with E.T. Along the lines of this E.T. analogy, massive credit goes to the casting department for using Shia LeBouf in the "Drew Barrymore" role, because he is largely the reason the film works so well. Charismatic, a little vulnerable, and witty, Shia LeBouf balances the heavy mythology with lighthearted fun reminiscent of Han Solo's role in Star Wars. I think it's also a good bet that like Harrison Ford, Shia LeBouf will enjoy a rich and long-lived career.

While coming off as the second coming of E.T., the film also has a touch of Roland Emmerich films like The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day where the impossible task of trying to portray an entire planet as it deals with a global attack is portrayed through a cross-section of people whose story lines weave closer together as the plot progresses and there were plenty of interesting characters from Jon Voight's airhead Secretary of defense (a little reminiscent of Rumsfeld but a slightly better listener) to Jon Turturro as a special agent to Rachel Taylor as a sexy intelligent computer programmer to Megan Fox as a very compelling girl-next-door type who commands the protagonist's interest. The only two people in the cast who I don't feel added much were Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel as the macho army guys. I don't think they treated the material in as lighthearted a manner as the others in the picture.

Of course, with Michael Bay as the director, the action gets a little excessive (especially in the final battle scene) and the film isn't as good as Independence Day because there's just too much CGI, but ultimately, the film is all about character and that's what makes it memorable.

A film for every state

This article is a work in progress. I'm trying to narrow it down to one film that best exemplifies the spirit of the state (possibly in a positive way):

Alabama-To Kill a Mockingbird or The Color Purple

I think one has a more realistic portrayal while the other (Mockingbird) is a successful adaptation of one of the quintessential American novels, and personifies the racial conflict that has marked the state's history.

Alaska-The Gold Rush
Also considering: Road to Utopia or Mystery Alaska

The Gold Rush was a defining period of which the most romanticized literature has been produced in the history of the state of Alaska.

Arizona-Tombstone

There have been many films marking the gunfight at the O.K. Corrall. I think My Darling Clementine might be too romanticized, however. Gunfight at the O.K. Corrall I've never seen

Arkansas-Primary Colors or Walk the Line


California-Chinatown
Also considered: Flower Drum Song and Sunset Boulevard
Flower Drum Song represents the immigrant experience and the infusion of Asian immigrants that have been defining to the state's history. Sunset Boulevard and Chinatown both focus on Hollywood and the Southern half of the state and get to the core of the conflicts that have taken place there, but I felt like Chinatown with its ideas of developers' fantasies, droughts and irrigation, greed that can be said to run rampant, and events based in real life history take the cake.

Colorado-Aspen Extreme


Connecticut-Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Mystic Pizza, Stepford Wives

Deleware-Dead Poets' Society
Deleware is the first colony so symbolically it's kind of representative of Old World mores that Robin Williams fights against in this film.

Florida-Sunshine State
Florida is a state with such rich diversity that one film can't really capture the culture and history of the state, but Sunshine State reminds me a lot about the spirit of Florida and Florida is probably the state that I'm more familiar with than any other state, except Virginia where I was born and raised. Sunshine State deals with people who are reacting to their dreams of a piece of the beach shattered and geography writer Joel Gerreau says this about Florida and Andrew Flagler (the guy who originally developed Miami when he built a railroad): "The only hitch was that Paul Beach was that it still was not relatively Carribean enough tp guarantee the rich a permanent haven from the cold. It's important to note Flagler's dream because it was the first of the many that have washed over south Florida in waves, each different, each ultimately receding, but each leaving its mark at the high-water line. Every one of those dreams continues to exist here intact captured by the promise of the sun. Because they are dreams - visions of a kind of perfection leaving old problems behind - they do everything they can to ignore each other. The yachted aristocrats, in their dream, had not envisioned an invasion of pensioners wishing to leave cheap where the slush does not grow. The white-haried from a homogeneously Anglo-German Great Plains, menwhile were rather taken aback that large numbers of blacks and some crackers, as they are still locally called, considered Florida an extension of the South. The crackers and blacks were amazed that the Mafia considered South Florida a vacation spa.

Georgia-Ray (it's a biopic but also a story about the State Song), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Hawaii-Blue Hawaii

Idaho-Sun Valley Serenade (NOT NAPOLEON DYNAMITE)

Illinois-Young Mr. Lincoln, Chicago, Road to Perdition, Blues Brothers

Indiana-Hoosiers
Aside from the obvious basketball connection, Indiana is known as being a peaceful haven on the breadbasket and the film has those iconic shots of wheat fields.

Iowa-Music Man
I don't know if any other film could possibly romanticize a place more than the Music Man does for small-town Iowa life.

Kansas-Splendor in the Grass, Wizard of Oz, Kansas City
Haven't seen Robert Altman's Kansas City. If it's more Kansas City, Kansas than Kansas City, Missourri than I'll take it.

Kentucky-Seabiscuit, Riverboat Rhythm (story of Colonel Saunders), Elizabethtown

Louisiana-Big Easy, When the Levees Broke, Cincinatti Kidd, Streetcar Named Desire

Maine-Cider House Rules
Those shots of the rocky shorelines are easily identifiable with Maine and that line "Good night, you princes of Maine, you Kings of New England" easily puts that picture in your head.

Maryland-Diner
Barry Levinson writes pretty much everything from the standpoint of a Baltimore-native.

Massetchussetts-Fever Pitch
Bostontonians are noted for being obsessed with their sports teams.

Michigan-Roger and Me

Minnesota-Mighty Ducks
Coen Brothers and Terry Gilliam can't make a Minnesota tribute as good as the Mighty Ducks. Love of hockey, communal activism (the hockey team has the strong support of the community, the state is #1 in civic engagement or something like that) a sense of community, and shots of the winter carnival where Coach Bombay goes on that date with the single mom do much to promote St. Paul's greatest attraction. Also, tons of people skate on ponds in Minnesota.

Mississippi-Oh Brother Where Art Thou (Mississipi Burning has Mississippi in the title but presents a less flattering view)

Missourri-Meet me in St Louis
The film is practically sponsored by the St. Louis chamber of commerce

Montana-A River Runs Through It

Nebraska-About Schmidt

Nevada-Bugsy

New Hampshire-On Golden Pond

New Jersey-Dogma (in comparison to other Kevin Smith films, this has a very pretentious view of New Jersey, placing it as the nexus of the Universe in the battle between God and lucifer)

New Mexico-Blind Horizon
R-U: Fat Man and Little Boy

New York-On the Town

North Carolina-Cold Mountain, Junebug, Bill Durham

North Dakota-Fargo ?

Ohio-Small Soldiers

Oklahoma-Grapes of Wrath

Oregon-Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Pennsylvania-Witness
R-U: Kingpin, Philadelphia, Rocky

Rhode Island-High Society

South Carolina-Porgy and Bess

South Dakota-North by Northwest

Tennessee-Mystery Train
Nod to Elvis and Nasvhille since the film is built around the song Blue Moon, and also takes place in Memphis so it covers two beloved Tennesse cities

Texas-Giant
Accumulation of wealth, oil, family dynasties

Utah-Melvin and Howard

Vermont-Holiday Inn

Virginia-Shenandoah

Washington-Far Country

Washington D.C.-Mr Smith Goes to Washington
Runner-Up: Enemy of the State

West Virginia-October Sky

Wisconsin- Map of the World

Wyoming-Shane
Wyoming has an incredibly sparse population which is what the central conflict of the film is about: Too few people. The footage of those lush green fields also makes Wyoming look very attractive as opposed to those Westerns that take place in the desert and are very barren.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More box office inaccuracies

Also, I've been seeing more inaccuracies in box office representations everywhere. Jimmy Kimmel repeatedly referred to Brett Rattner as a billion dollar director, when in fact Brett Rattner had grossed a little less than 850 million dollars domestically prior to Rush Hour 3 coming out which was when Brett Rattner was touring the promotional circuit. Peter Bart and Peter Guber also incorrectly classified Rattner as a billion dollar director on Sunday Morning Shootout. They might have been referring to his international take but I doubt that's the case as that would mean that the number of billion dollar directors would expand to people whose commercial instincts are not that impressive. Guber and Bart also cited Rush Hour as a billion dollar franchise internationally, when Rush Hour 1 and Rush Hour 2 both made less than $600 billion.

There was also an article in Variety I read here: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117970302.html?categoryid=1082&cs=1, which misquoted the box office return of The Day After Tomorrow as a $200 million film domestically when it only grossed $186 million. It also was slightly off on Star Wars III's gross: 380 million. The article is more accurate in taking into account production values but it doesn't say how much in advantage the number of sequels give one summer over another.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Invasion review

Nicole Kidman stars as a doctor who is trying to save her son, as well as the entire planet from an invasion of microscopic aliens, in this remake of the 1956 classic sci-film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Like the Jonathan Demme thriller “Manchurian Candidate”, the Ashton Kutcher-Bernie Mac comedy “Guess Who?” (based on the 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”) or the Adam Sandler comedy “Mr. Deeds” (Based on Frank Capra’s 1936 film “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”); “The Invasion” belongs to a class of remakes that is created out of a desire to reintroduce modern audiences to the classics. I find these films far preferable to the class of remakes like The Italian Job (2003), The Shaggy Dog (2006), and Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) that are created out of a desire to improve on a film that never resonated with audiences in the first place. Too often, the films in the second group feel like an excuse for a writer not being able to come up with original material of his own.

In the case of the original “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the film was not only considered to be one of the high points of 1950’s science-fiction filmmaking, but in its day, the film was read as a metaphor for the dangers of passivity in the McCarthy era (although Director Sam Peckinpaugh never admitted the film was anything more than a film about aliens). The 2007 remake, however, leaves out any preachy subtext and simply tries to recapture the excitement and feel of 1950’s science fiction through updated techniques.

The result is an interesting blend of outlandish scientific absurdity with elements of the modern thriller. Science-fiction from the 1950’s and earlier came from an age where modern science was at much earlier stages of deciphering the mysteries of outer space and the human body, so the science-fiction stories of the time was usually built around more fantasical plots that didn’t need scientific explanations. In another recent remake of a 1950’s sci-film, War of the Worlds, Stephen Spielberg didn’t even try to explain the scientific absurdity of having aliens spring up from underneath the streets and just turned the film into a tight-paced thriller. Although without the craftsmanship of Spielberg to guide them, the camerawork and editing feel a little overambitious without in some scenes, but Invasion still feels like a thriller of the same caliber. Like Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” the struggles of the entire planet in the wake of an alien invasion are played out through the race of a single parent trying to protect themselves and their offspring from attack.

“Invasion,” however, is a little more science-heavy. In “War of the Worlds,” Tom Cruise spends the film outrunning the alien invasion, but since he knows practically nothing about where they came from or where else they’re located, one is tempted to ask “Where exactly is he running to?” In “Invasion,” issues like these are well-thought: she’s running to a lab that will cure her. Of course, with this outdated plot, you have all sorts of stretches like Nicole Kidman’s misguided belief that by drinking lots of mountain dew and taking pills she can stay awake forever, but Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig (who plays her boyfriend and colleague) and Jeffery Craig (playing her colleague) are such consummate professionals and they take the material so seriously, that the plot holes seem that much smaller. The film’s attention to detail can be enjoyed in the same way a Tom Clancy or a Michael Crichton novel can.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

10 Actors who should get a second Oscar

When someone is awarded an Oscar in acting (or anything for that matter), it's a way for Hollywood to officially declare that the Oscar-winner is officially a part of the upper echelon of accomplished actors. Every year, Hollywood has an opportunity to invite up to four distinguished actors into that group. Last year they chose a character actor who had been invisible for most of his career (Forest Whitaker), one of the grand dames of the British theater (Helen Mirren), an aging comic actor who gained most of his fame in the 70's (Alan Arkin), and a singer who cut her chops in Reality TV living out a Hollywood fairytale (Jennifer Hudson). The year before, the Academy invited one of Hollywood's most beloved character actors in one of his few lead roles (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and one of Hollywood's biggest matinee idols in one of his few supporting roles (George Clooney).

Sometimes, however, The Academy gives an Oscar to someone who already has one, despite the limited opportunities they have to honor peers that are too talented to be without any. Whether there's an inclination to deny someone a second award, because they already have one is hard to conclude, although it isn't too far-fetched to say that the "They Already Have One" effect could have played a role in certain cases. Among recent examples where the better performance lost out, I'd say Meryl Streep losing to Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tom Hanks losing to Russell Crowe for Gladiator, and Russell Crowe losing out to Denzel Washington and then being snubbed in Master and Commander and Cinderella Man or Cate Blanchett losing to Jennifer Hudson in Notes on a Scandal. Still, an Oscar going to someone who isn't a first-timer happens fairly often.

Recently: Hillary Swank (2004), Denzel Washington (2001), Kevin Spacey and Michael Caine (1999), Jack Nicholson (1997), Tom Hanks, Dianne Weist, and Jessica Lange (1994), and Gene Hackman (1992).

Here is the list of actors and actresses who have won more than one:
Actors-Walter Brennan, Spencer Tracy, Frederick March, Gary Cooper, Anthony Quinn, Jack Lemmon, Marlon Brando, Jason Robards, Melvyn Douglas, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Tom Hanks, Kevin Spacey, Michael Caine, Denzel Washington
Actresses-Louise Rainier, Bette Davis, Olivia de Haviland, Vivian Leigh, Ingrid Bergman, Shelly Winters, Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, Helen Hayes, Glenda Jackson, Maggie Smith, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, Dianne Wiest, Jessica Lange, Hillary Swank.

Some of the great actors to have only one a single Oscar include Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda, Alec Guiness and Jimmy Stewart. A couple of others, Paul Newman and Al Pacino won the Oscars so late in their careers that it felt a relief for them to win just one. Still, others like Peter O'Toole have won none at all.

Nevertheless, here's a list of those I'd like to see get a second Oscar to join the Multiple-Oscar club and an analysis of their chances to do so:

1. Ben Kingsley (Ghandi)-He keeps on giving career-defining performance after career-defining performance but if one were to look up his win for Ghandi, it would suggest that his career peaked in the 1980’s. I think he could have won an Oscar for House of Sand and Fog if the cards went a slightly different way. Other than that, though, I don't know how he can do it again. He keeps getting gangster roles like in Lucky Number Sliven and You Kill Me and a gangster part is kind of Oscar-baity but if he does another gangster role, Oscar pundits will just say "oh, it's his usual gangster shtick." I think Kingsley would have to find another real original part like the immigrant homeowner in House of Sand and Fog, or perhaps something biographical.

2. Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs)-It's kind of a shame how Hopkins doesn't get any attention from the Oscar pundits, and probably the voters, despite the fact that he consistently knocks your socks off. Maybe it's because people just can't see him as anything but that evil brain eater from Silence of the Lambs but films like Proof or Hearts in Atlantis or even Meet Joe Black are great performances despite the quality of the films themselves, and he gets no recognition for it. Let me ask: Were Matt Dillon, George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Jake Gyllenhall, or William Hurt truly that much of a line-up to bump Anthony Hopkins out for his performance in Proof?
Maybe, the academy only likes seeing Anthony Hopkins play evil roles and he has to be given a really good villainous role to garner the academy's attention.

3. Jeremy Irons (Reversal of Fortune)-He’s on my wish list because he's very talented and has lacked the career acclaim of some of his peers. Most people (including myself) easily forget that he won an Oscar already but this could work to his advantage because he doesn’t have as much pressure to distinguish himself in a new way with the voters: He just has to distinguish himself anyway at all.

4-5. Susan Sorandon (Dead Man Walking) and Frances McDormand (Fargo) are two that I'm rooting for because I think that they are simply the best of their generation, they've continued to stay interesting throughout the years and I think they're both being unfairly billed as old. I'm at least happy to see that Frances' Oscar in Fargo hasn't stopped her from being recognized for great performances in Almost Famous and North Country. In that respect, I'm also happy that these two talented actresses have a sizeable list of nominations to their name to reflect their prolific careers. McDormand should just keep doing what she's doing and hope for the best and Sorandon needs to try more for the starring category, in my opinion. In movies like Igby Goes Down and Elizabethtown, she's bound to get lost in the FYC ads that might push for a younger costar (i.e. Kirsten Dunst or Amanda Peete). Sorandon is capable of taking over a movie and she's not noticeably removed in age from when she single-handedly carried movies like The Client, Dead Man's Walking and Stepmom.

6. Tommy Lee Jones (Fugitive)-A project like Three Burials of Mesquilada shows he's a multi-faceted star which might make him a more prestigious name as an actor although at the same time, it could prevent him from getting an acting Oscar since he might become nominated in another category. I don't think, however, that Tommy Lee Jones, an aging star, is seen as a hall-of-fame type actor on the level of some of the other guys who have yet to win two like Jon Voight or Robert Duvall. To get another Oscar, he might have to find a meaty supporting role in someone else's movie.

7-8. Speaking of Voight (Coming Home) and Duvall (Tender Mercies), I'd count those two as the last of that De Niro/Hackman/Hoffman/Nicholson generation to not have a second oscar. I think they're considered to be slightly below the level of those four in terms of an accomplished career and that's why a second Oscar would be great for their legacy. For Voight and Duvall, it could be a combination of dues that plays into a win if the voters are thinking: it's been too long since they've won an Oscar. It would be interesting to see Voight win since his daughter, Angelina, is such a tabloid fixture, and all the subsequent publicity might give us a closer glimpse into that enigmatically strained father-daughter relationship.

9. Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock)-Wouldn't it be great for Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock) if she won an Oscar for a picture that people had actually had seen? Pollock grossed just $8 million domestically and $10 million total (accounting for international gross). She got a nomination for Mystic River and I don't think that's the last great role she has in her. People who are likely to win a second Oscar. Harden should be taking the kinds of roles that are being gobbled up by Laura Linney and Patricia Clarkson that require an intelligent woman with range. The fact that she was able to distinguish herself in Mystic River with relatively little screen time proves she's a scene stealer.

10. Russell Crowe (Gladiator)-Despite his temper tantrums, Crowe remains my favorite actor among those currently at A-level status and his knockout performances in A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander and (from what I hear) Cinderella Man show that he has the potential to be the actor to beat on any given year. The question is whether Crowe has to work on his image before his peers award him with another statue.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Keeping Improv Shows fresh

Drew Carey is taking over The Price is Right which I think is going to be incredibly hard to do because so many fans might not want to watch if Bob Barker's not there. I actually stopped watching Price is Right when Rod Roddy died (I wasn't really that regular of a watcher) because I felt it wouldn't be the same, so you can imagine how I'd feel about Bob Barker retiring. Now that he's gone, I kind of want to watch it while Barker is still there in reruns before Drew Carey takes over.

Currently, reruns are playing and I'm not sure why they couldn't have let the reruns go on for ever instead of hiring a new host. If 100 episodes is an ideal number for syndication, couldn't you easily get away with running reruns of The Price is Right for years and still retain the level of excitement? I highly doubt that anyone is going to turn off the show because a viewer is going to say, "Ehhh, I've already seen this episode" or that enough people are going to do so to make it unmarketable. The only factor I can see interfering with this is that after a while inflation is going to significantly alter the prices so that it might be absurd to guess on the prices as they are currently listed. From what I read on snopes.com, the show also had problems with rerunning a particular episode of Price is Right when a trip to New Orleans was featured in the Showcase Showdown within a couple months of Hurricane Katrina occurring.



Anyway, I was also reading in an interview for Time Magazine that Drew Carey was asked if he wishes that he could still be on Whose Line is it Anyway, and he said "absolutely. I would have liked to do that show forever." I liked that show a lot and regularly attend shows at my local improv theater, so I'm somewhat familiar with that format and that got me thinking about how it seemed unlikely that a show with no scripts, and ever changing characters and situations could ever jump the shark and become stagnant. Carey attributes the show's cancellation to misguided business suits. I did used to love the show but I do kind of think that it kind of ran stagnant because scenarios weren't mixed up enough and characters kind of sunk into familiar roles. Wayne Brady, Colin Mochre and Ryan Stiles were regulars and they got pigeonholed into the same scenarios: With Brady doing the singing and Stiles and Mochre being the voiceovers on the infomercial sketch. Or when they did the superhero sketch, Wayne Brady would end the scenario the same way and often be at the end of the line. When they did wierd newscasters, party quirks or the dating game, the one guest member whether Chip Esten, Greg Proops, or Brad Sherwood would always be the straight guy which definitely presented us from seeing any variety. I also felt that some games like A-B-C alphabet, 2-line vocabulary, bartender, or the ones with notecards were highly underused.


There was also a really brilliant improv show called "Thank God You're Here" that allowed us to see comic actor's put to the most basic of tests: They were put in a scene without any clue as to what it was until they entered into it and had to create comedy out of it. It was a really great premise, but there were some things that kept that stagnant too. I wish someone from NBC sent a memo to the show like this:


#1. Either replace David Alan Grier or have him come up with more original banter


#2. Have Dave Foley either a) be more funny or b) deliver some actual useful criticism or judgement. He was one of the most annoying game show host/judges i had ever seen. In the age of Simon Cowell, David Hasselhoff, Morgan Piers, and the judges from all those other shows, why does Foley have to be so politically correct.


#3. When you have the good actors like Fred Willard, Tom Green, George Takei, or Kurtwood Smith don't cut off the skit and ring the buzzer early


#4. It seems like the whole time, the stars were confined to having to conform to the boxes that the other actors tried to squeeze them in. Encourage the stars who are able to do this, to mess up the actors and try to catch them off their guard. Look up Josh Lawson and Thank God You're Here on www.youtube.com to see what i'm talking about. Encourage the actors to blend in a little with the stars, because the way it worked, it could at times seem scripted

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reading through oversimplified blurbs

Yesterday in USA Today, there was a blurb that read as follows:


"Matt Damon is filmdom's sexiest moneymaker. His The Bourne Ultimatum outgunned The Simpsons at the box office ($131.6 million for Bourne in its second week vs. $128.1 million for The Simpsons). The under-the-radar leading man was named most bankable actor by Forbes. Maybe Ocean's Thirteen co-star George Clooney had the inside track last year when he said Damon should be People's next Sexiest Man Alive?"

The main takeaway from this is that Forbes Magazine really needs to stick to non-movie analysis.

It's true that the "Bourne Ultimatum" is successful but to be considered a bankable actor over the course of your career, you should have to show two hits in a row on your resume. The last movie that starred Matt Damon (an ensemble piece like "Ocean's 13" doesn't really count) was "The Good Shepherd" which netted only $59 million domestically. Not too long before that, "Syriana" netted in just $50 million despite high critical praise and Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm" earned $37 million.

Box Office Mojo calculates the average gross of a Matt Damon film to be $80.4 million dollars. If we remove the four films (not including cameos) he appeared in prior to his breakout role in Good Will Hunting ("School Ties", "Geronimo", "Courage Under Fire", and "The Rainmaker") that's adjusted to $90.2 million which is still not as good as the unadjusted figures for Jim Carrey ($102 million), Steve Carell ($108.6 million), Tom Cruise ($99.9 million, although he's averaged $120 million since his breakout role in Top Gun), Harrison Ford ($106 million), or Orlando Bloom ($207 million).

One wouldn't expect a Matt Damon movie to necessarily do well because he usually chooses roles like "Bourne Ultimatum", "Syrianna", and "Good Shepherd" with political subtexts that could tend to polarize audiences like Sean Penn. This is not to say Matt Damon is not a truly gifted and admirably intelligent actor because he is. Damon is not a bankable actor but that is because he chooses not to be: He chooses roles carefully and diversifies his challenges.

The problem is to prematurely label him as the new "It boy" in Hollywood and pin lofty commercial expectations on him and his future projects.

Lastly, who's to say "The Bourne Ultimatum" is successful? It's only been out 2 weekends, and it had a 52 percent falloff rate on the second weekend whereas 40-45 percent is considered the average drop off. The article also says it beat the Simpsons movie's 10-day total, but who cares? "The Simpsons" movie was only the sixth highest ten-day total of the summer. "Bourne Ultimatum" didn't beat "Transformers" or "Harry Potter" which didn't have the advantage of being the back-ends of trilogies.

The lesson: Do not read too much into oversimplified blurbs that are written by people with short-term memory. They're created out of little more than a need to throw a couple of facts together into a paragraph to make copy look interesting

Another case in point: USA Today's movie round-up on the front page of the Life section in this very same issue:

"Transformers at No. 11 this weekend, becomes the fourth movie to cross the $300 million mark this year, a record number. This summer is on par to become the largest of all time, with ticket sales up 6% over 2004, the current record holder."

On the contrary, this summer is highly disappointing if ticket sales are up only 6% over 2004. Transformers is the fourth movie to cross the $300 million mark but considering that past installments of the "Shrek", "Spiderman" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series have each grossed over $400 million* the third installments were in a position to easily sleepwalk their way into $300 million grosses, which is precisely what they did. The critical consensus is that "Shrek the Third" was an entirely unnecessary tack-on, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" was incomprehensible, and "Spiderman III" was arguably decent with some definite cringeworthy moments. The fact that the back-ends of the three most successful summer movie trilogies of the decade were all premiering this summer and none of them grossed more than $340 million is an indication of how they disappointed audiences. "Transformers" is an unabashed success but it's still too early to tell if "Bourne Ultimatum" or "Harry Potter" will join them.

*Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Shrek II, and Spiderman are among just seven movies to gross over $400 million. Spiderman II grossed $373 million which places it among the top 10 all-time




An Interview with a rep from the AFI

An interview with the Allison Dekmatel, PR for the AFI’s Film Institute on the afternoon that the American Film Institute changed their list:
Q: Why, exactly, is the AFI changing the list?
A: It essentially comes down to the fact that there are 10 more years of film history to be accounted for.
Q: So why not just add ten more rather than reorder the list?
A: AFI has decided to undertake this program because in film and in other art forms, our perception of films can change through the cultural temperature of the times. We have a criteria [in selecting these films] that it’s about the test of time and the times change.
Q: The first AFI list is inclusive of all genres, decades, and figures. It looks like it might have been selected rather than done by a vote. If there was just a strict vote and the jurors tended to gravitate toward the Golden Age, than the list would be flooded with films from the 30s and 40s?
A: The list was done through a straight vote. The reason it’s so diverse is that the film historians from within the AFI selected from a panel of 400 films which came from a variety of decades and genres.
Q: So who votes for the actual AFI list?
A: The vote comes from a jury of 1500 people. All people who sign up for a membership with the AFI collectively get one vote.
Q: Are they the same people as the ones who voted on the original list?
A: There are some different people but of the same backgrounds as the original voters.
Q: Does having one of your films selected to the list feel like an Oscar for some directors? Does a guy like Sidney Pollack (whose film Tootsie made the list) ever voice their enthusiasm to you?
A: We’ve gotten responses from both sides. [From] filmmakers who’ve made the list and filmmakers who haven’t.
Q: Any specific examples?
A: I don’t know of the specifics, but there has been enormous feedback to the process.
Q: At this point, who knows what the new AFI list is?
A: It has not been announced to the press. It will be broadcast tonight and that’s when everyone will know. Then we will post the list at 11 pm when the program ends. Very few members of the press know what’s on the new list at this point.
Q: Are you worried that some cult film that’s popular in the here and now like “Napoleon Dynamite” might make the list and ruin its credibility. You did do a pretty good job with the first one, why tamper with that?
A: The beauty of the system is that we have a lot of confidence in our jury and we think that the jury takes this very seriously. If 10,000 out of the 15,000 members of our jury should decide that “Napoleon Dynamite” deserves merit as one of the top 100 films, than we’re confident that they have a good reason to vote that way.
Q: Why doesn’t the AFI release the broadcasts?
A: As a non-profit organization we’re aloud one free TV broadcast and the studios that produce the films are all kind enough to let us use clips for that broadcast. Past that, it would be excessively expensive with all the clips we use.
Q: How recent are the films? Do you have films from 2006 and 2007 in contention?
A: Films released as late as 2006 are eligible but no film later than 2005 was selected onto the 400 films. Films from 2006 can be added through write-in votes, however. They felt that more time needs to pass before [we can analyze those films with proper perspective].
Q: Why did the AFI undertake the original AFI program?
A: The original AFI list was created as part of a year-long celebration to mark the centennial [of film] and the AFI list was the flagship of that program”
Q: What will happen to the old films that will be left off the list?
A: New films will definitely be added and the list is going to change.
Q: Are there any films on the original list in particular that were flying under the radar and got a big boost of recognition when the list came out?
A: The AFI helped bring about recognition to many films and greatly improved their visibility.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Really underrated TV shows: Just Shoot Me

In syndication, sometimes I rediscover something great in a TV show. Some of the shows that I have really fallen in love with in syndication and for periods have made it a point to watch daily are Just Shoot Me, Beverly Hillbillies, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Spin City, Newsradio, Cheers, and I Dream of Genie among others. I think I'm going to start a series on this called Great TV Shows, so if you click on that tag, you'll see the other links.

Recently Just Shoot Me started airing again on TBS during the day and I could not have been more excited. The people who run TV stations pay so much attention to those two or three hours of night time programming and so little attention to the TV viewers who happen to tune in during the early afternoon like myself.

Anyway, Just Shoot Me is a show that takes place in the plush offices of a trashy fashion magazine. The editor, Jack Gallow, is a typical businessman who lives large and marries a girl half his age. He's truly a good guy but he wasn't a particularly attentive father to his grown-up daughter Maya. She's a feminist-leaning reporter with some self-image issues and after getting professionally black-balled, she has to turn to her estranged father for work. Also on the staff are David Spade as snarky personal assistant Dennis Finch, Wendy Malick as has-been model Nina van Horn and Enrico Colantoni as photographer Elliot DiMauro. He's the sensitive artist type and enjoys the easy access to hot and easy models his job gives him.

Essentially, it's the typical workplace sitcom and that's why I ignored it the first time around, despite my like of David Spade. Upon closer inspection, I found I really liked the show however and if I had to pinpoint one thing that makes the show so great, it's how well the five characters complement each other. Each of them has strengths and needs that the other wants.

Maya is possessed with intelligence and the ability to think for herself, but she wishes she had the beauty of Nina and the interpersonal skills and love of her father. As evidenced by her being fired from her previous job in the pilot episode, Maya also doesn't vent out her frustrations well, and she needs to learn to have a sense of humor like Elliot and Dennis have so she doesn't take herself too seriously. Jack, highly successful as a businessman and well-liked person among friends, has been successful at everything in life except being a good father. The birth of his new daughter in the pilot is a great plot device because it makes him need his daughter more so that he can revisit his failure with his first daughter in order to learn how to prevent an estrangement with his second daughter.

Nina, Elliot and Dennis are all childlike and helpless in different ways and need Jack as a father figure to guide them. Nina who was once a model and who now has to prove her usefulness in other ways if she wants to keep working can learn from Dennis' sense of devotion and his ability to laugh at himself and Maya's smarts. While Nina would never concede to being jealous of Maya's looks, she is envious of her youth.

Dennis Finch is perhaps most in need of Maya among the other four adult children in the office. He secretly might envy Elliot for being more successful than him with the models, but he's really more desperate for respect. He's the second smartest person in the office behind Maya, as evidenced by his snappy remarks and his knowledge of various minutiae. While he likes his place in the office he wants to be taken seriously rather than as a "dumb seceretary." An example might be how offended he got in the episode where Jay Leno called him a "seceretary," how he wanted a Christmas present, or how he eventually went back to college. Dennis and Maya might see each other as intellectual equals, or I think that's Dennis' hope. In the episode where they form a softball team, Dennis could relate to Maya's past as a childhood progidy when he reveals how he was a figure skater. Dennis also literally wants Nina. She used to model for his company.


Elliott wishes he could laugh at himself a little easier like Dennis, but more than that Elliott longs for someone who can fulfill his romantic desires with intelligence which is where Maya comes in. With the Elliott-Maya tension, and the eventual relationship, it ties Elliott into the circle of wants and needs.

What's really great about all of this is that this layer of wants and needs that drives the group together is balanced with a surface-level atmosphere of bickering, put downs, office pranks, and even people stepping over each other to get ahead. But at the end of the day, it's about how what's most important is the sense of what each person brings to the people around him and the sense of family that's formed. Just Shoot Me is for every straight-A student who wishes she were prettier, every class clown who wishes he would have the respect of the valedictorian, every successful businessman who wished they could connect to their family, every nerd who wishes they could be friends with the prettiest girl in the room, and every overgrown child who wishes their boss could be more like the dad they never had.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Congratulations to us for killing the record industry

I read an article from Rolling Stone recently (found here: http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/15137581/the_record_industrys_decline/2) that makes me even more aware if how our generation seems to have lost a sense of right or wrong in terms of artistic copyright theft.

We all understand it's wrong to steal a sweater from a department store but due to years of conditioning from Napster, the Napster copy-offs, and now Youtube, we don't seem to feel the same way about stealing a song, TV episode or movie.

If we want a song, TV show, or movie we don't ask "how much does it cost? can i find it at a reasonable price?" but rather "how quickly can i download it?", "is it on youtube yet?", "why not?" I'm not sure what it is that has separated us from our moral radar in this particular sector of consumption but I think it's among our most important. I would really hate to see an inability for those in the arts (musicians, scriptwriters, and filmmakers) to be able to commercially succeed when their material is being diluted by the Internet and not being properly acquired. Do we just assume that recording artists are so rich that they won't know the difference? Maybe, it's that we've always felt that concerts is where musicians make most of their money anyway. I think with youtube showing us live concerts, that gets diluted as well. I care more about that than whether everyone who comes out of the Gap with a new sweater has paid for it.

And that's what's being affected. If we truly respect the artists who we're flocking to on you tube and whose songs or TV episodes we're downloading, I would hope that we would respect them enough to support their endeavours commercially. I am not saying I have never downloaded anything ever, but I do make it a point to buy a CD here or there.

I also understand Youtube's potential to promote certain causes and artists although I believe it's shaky ground. If you post an entire episode of a TV show than that's crossing the line, because you take away any incentive for someone to go to itunes and buy the episode for $1.99.

I think there's a lot of emphasis on how the record executives should deal with this crisis, but there's very little emphasis on how we as consumers take responsibility for ourselves, as if that's just a moot point.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Directors by total gross earnings

Here's an interesting chart I compiled through box office mojo. Richar Donner I had to make an . Michael Bay and Brett Rattner (currently at #24 with 840) should have an easy time crossing one billion dollars with Transformers gaining more and more money each week and Rush Hour opening this weekend.

This list goes to show:
-How Stephen Spielberg is on a whole other stratosphere. He averages a very healthy $149 million per picture and that includes films from the 70s and the 80s when he was starting out that were not designed as commercial vehicles like "Sugarland Express" "1941" and "Color Purple."

-His protege Rob Zemeckis is also at #2 with hits like "Forrest Gump" ($300+ million), and Back to the Future and Cast Away which have grossed over $200 million and if you take away his first two unsuccessful films ("Used Cars" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"), his average gross is $147 per film)
-How much a single trilogy like Pirates of the Carribean, Spiderman, or Lord of the Rings can help push these figures up for a director like Gore Verbinski, Sam Raimi, or Peter Jackson, respectively. These film trilogies single handedly earned billion dollars in domestic revenue for their studios, which makes your resume look very good. In actuality, a terrible third edition of a trilogy like Pirates 3 or Shrek 3 can pay off over 100 million in an opening weekend en route to 300 million total before anyone notices that it's really not that good of a film.
-How prolific Clint Eastwood is rather than how commercially successful he is. He made 26 films which means that he just barely passes the $1 billion dollar mark with a pretty low $38 million average. Only two of his pictures grossed more than $100 million dollars and those are the ones he won an Oscar for, meaning that they were able to benefit from post-Oscar releases

This list does not show:
-Much about how commercially successful any director before the last 10 years was because inflation at the box office is not accounted for here. It is true however that the advent of block busters has grown stronger in the last 10 years as people have
-An accurate representation of Andrew Adamson who was one of three directors working on Shrek 2, which has the 3rd highest box office total of all time
-An accurate representation of George Lucas, considering that he is not credited as director of Return of the Jedi or Empire Strikes Back
-An accurate assessment of a comic director like Jay Roach. Roach directed Austin Powers trilogy and the Meet the Parents/Meet the Fockers series, which were successful more due to the talents of Mike Meyers in the former and the Robert De Niro/Ben Stiller chemistry in the latter than the director.


Directors with total earnings in billions (top 3 films in order):

  1. Stephen Spielberg 3.447 (E.T., Jurassic Park, Jaws)
  2. Rob Zemeckis 1.718 (Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future)
  3. George Lucas 1.700 (Star Wars, Star Wars Ep. I: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith)
  4. Ron Howard 1.606 (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Da Vinci Code, Apollo 13)
  5. Chris Columbus 1.568 (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)
  6. Gore Verbinski 1.306 (Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest, Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End, Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl)
  7. Peter Jackson 1.271 (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring)
  8. Sam Raimi 1.248 (Spiderman, Spiderman II, Spiderman III)
  9. Tim Burton 1.235 (Batman, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Planet of the Apes)
  10. James Cameron 1.146 (Titanic, Terminator 2, True Lies
  11. Richard Donner 10.96 (Lethal Weapon 2, Lethal Weapon 3, Superman)
  12. Michael Bay 1.071 (Transformers, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor)
  13. Clint Eastwood 1.002 (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Space Cowboys)
  14. Andrew Adamson 1.001 (Shrek 2, Chronicles of Narnia, Shrek)
  15. Ivan Reitman 0.996 (Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, Twins)
  16. Joel Schumaker 0.962 (Batman Forever, A Time to Kill, Batman and Robin)
  17. Tony Scott 0.943 (Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Enemy of the State)
  18. Jay Roach 0.927 (Meet the Fockers, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me)
  19. Tom Shadyac 0.878 (Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar, Patch Adams
  20. Barry Sonnenfeld 0.880 (Men in Black, Men in Black II, Wild Wild West)
  21. Roland Emerich 0.850 (Independence Day, Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla)