Friday, May 13, 2005

This Week in Show Biz!

News headlines collected from this week on the IMDB:

It’s always something Dept.

Diaz Slams Producer Romance Reports
Britney Slams Sickness Rumors
Blanchett Slams Botox
Abdul Brands Allegations "Character Assassination"
[Jessica] Simpson Slams [Fred] Durst Fling Reports
[Eva] Green Slams [Ridley] Scott for Removing Her [Kingdom of Heaven] Sex Scenes


Group Has Allergic Reaction To New Fonda Movie
"The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network has condemned Hollywood for making fun of the unfortunate. Igniting the group's ire is the upcoming Jane Fonda movie Monster-in-Law, which it calls "an insensitive and vindictive portrayal towards individuals with food allergies." The group objects to a scene in the film, in which Fonda's character attempts to derail her son's marriage by serving a gravy mixed with nuts to his fiancée, who is allergic to nuts. FAAN said that the scene "sets the stage for 'copycat' incidents where kids may think food allergies are just a funny subject matter" and expose their friends to a similar situation."

Amazing Shock Show Biz Headlines of the Week:

Chris Tucker Pleads Guilty To Speeding
[Danny] Bonaduce Checks Into Rehab
[Ron] Howard Struggled with [Russell] Crowe's Moods
[George] Lucas: New Technology Made 'Star Wars' Possible


Unlikely Show Biz ‘News’ Story of the Week:

[Michael] Jackson: "I'm Not a Nut"
Robin Williams Sues Celebrity Impersonator

Which is ironic, because in about two more years, that’s what he’ll be

Entirely believable Show Biz News of the Week:

[Ewan] McGregor: "'Star Wars' Fans Scare Me"

Actually surprising stories of the week:

ABC Gets Out Its Black Ink Pens
Details how on the back of new hits Lost, Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, ABC has posted it’s first profits in eight years.

Meanwhile:

Peacock Plucked
NBC is likely to experience a 20-percent drop in ad income for the current season -- or $550 million less than last year, the New York Daily News reported today (Tuesday), citing estimates by unnamed broadcasting and media execs.

Astounding Follow-Up Report:
NBC's Zucker: "Not a Good Year"

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Awesome DVD news!

Just found a link to this announcement on the Mobius Home Video board:

"As first teased here a few weeks ago by CHFB's own Gary Prange, word has come that indeed, Universal will be offering a new DVD set of Universal Horrors this fall. The set will include MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, THE RAVEN, BLACK CAT, INVISIBLE RAY and BLACK FRIDAY.

It's unclear how the collection will be titled, but because Bela Lugosi is in all five films and Boris Karloff only four, there seems little chance this will be billed as a Boris/Bela collection. In fact, there's rumors the set title might tilt to Lugosi, which would cause considerable debate among Monster Kids. After all, Karloff co-stars in every film except RUE MORGUE. If that happens, it will be more proof that Bela still has star power, all these years later.

Substantial extras would be doubtful, given recent DVD offerings. Still, this latest collection shows the Universal vaults are not closed yet. And how often do we get to say...'Poor Boris.'

This Week on DVD 05/10/05

Not a good week for bad stuff, but not a bad week for good stuff:

Alone in the Dark Uwe Boll’s latest (I haven’t caught any of this guy’s films, but from the disdain he’s garnered from my fellow, I’m probably missing something) is another video game adaptation, this one with Christian “Remember me?” Slater and Tara Reid, whose performance as a brilliant archaeologist is the most heralded such since Denise Richards played a nuk-u-lar scientist in The World is Not Enough.

The remake of Assault on Precinct 13 is out, which is as good a reason as any to hunt down the DVD of John Carpenter’s original.

Burden of Dreams: Criterion release of the documentary chronically the making of Werner Herzog’s Fitzccarldo. Now that both are out on DVD, you can finally double bill them.

Controversial Classics: Another fine Warners’ DVD set. For $50 (at DVDsoon.com, anyway), you can get DVDs for seven films on separate discs, including Advise and Consent, The Americanization of Emily, Bad Day at Black Rock, Blackboard Jungle, A Face in the Crowd, Fury and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. Black Rock and Face in the Crowd (with a brilliantly malevolent performance by Andy Griffith—that’s right, Andy Griffith) are probably the class of the show, but Advise and Consent, Blackboard Jungle and Fugitive are all good movies. Each comes with a commentary detailing their ‘controversial’ history. Each film is also available on its own.

The Dain Curse: James Coburn was exactly the wrong body type to play Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op, but hey, he’s still James Coburn. By the way, let me strongly recommend the two collections of Op short stories, The Continental Op and The Big Knockover, available in numerous editions. The Op also appeared in the novels The Dain Curse and the seminal Red Harvest.

Have Gun Will Travel The Complete Second Season– All 39 (!) episode of the classic Western series starring Richard Boone.

Hoop Dreams: Criterion release of the much acclaimed Chicago-set documentary about poor black kids hoping for a one-in-a-million shot at stardom as a basketball player.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: The first film to really suggest that director Wes Anderson’s career may soon be afflicted by repetitive quirk fatigue, but still an interesting little movie. For a few bucks more than the regular release, you can get the 2-Disc Criterion edition, chock full of extras.

The Perils of Penelope Pitstop: The Southern belle from Wacky Races (already out on DVD, and actually still pretty funny) got her own show, featuring her Wacky Races co-stars the Ant Hill Mob. This series basically parodied old adventure serials, with Penelope in constant peril from the devious Hooded Claw (voice of Paul Lynde). Also out today is the other Wacky Races spin-off, Dastardly & Muttley In Their Flying Machines.

Media Blasters continues their bid for prominence with a fab DVD of Toho’s sub-Godzilla epic Varan the Unbelievable. Features both the Japanese version and the heavily altered American cut. Given the great job MB did with The Mysterians and Matango, this is a must buy.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Ranting and raving...

These are all pie in the sky ideas, but anyway.

This year has been abysmal for Hollywood, and so have the last several. The mantra has been, when the films are better, more people will come out. And there’s undoubtedly some truth to that. Yesterday a local TV station ran Return of the Jedi during the afternoon. I had poor reception, and of course there were constant commercial breaks, but I still watched, almost hypnotized, the opening chapter of the film, detailing the rescue of Han from Jabba’s clutches.

Even with the truly obnoxious added CGI effects to that desert pit monster (which actually served to make it less distinctive and cool), the sequence was just terrific. Especially satisfying was the foreshadowing of Luke having come into his own as a Jedi, and his eventual appearance proving it was so.

So it’s not just golden memories. Here was a film that (until the Ewoks) really paid off in a way that the Matrix series could only dream of. (Or, for that matter, Revenge of the Sith. Even if it is as terrific as the buzz indicates, nobody really cared about the last two films, meaning that any ‘pay off’ing actually comes from it’s connection to the original three films.) Even having seen it, even having never been a hardcore Star Wars fan, even with commercials and bad picture and truly stupid updating, the film was mesmerizingly good.

However, that’s really a bit off the point of where I’m going on this. DVD is where the money is now, much more than the cinema box office, and the question is whether this will sustain a crippled, moribund system or encourage a break with the current patterns.

One change already wrought by this, at least in this area (Chicagoland), is the demise of the ‘second run’ house, where you could catch a movie after a couple of weeks or months for three or four bucks rather than ten. Because movies make so much money on home video (DVD) now, they’ve shortened the amount of time before films are released to the home market. Therefore keeping films banging around theaters for an additional month or two, wringing a last few bucks out of them, would be counterproductive, to the studios at least.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is still enthralled by the blockbuster idea, where you make 20 films and lose money on 17 of them, but have one huge monster hit and end up (somewhat) in the black overall. DVD can encourage this, as it adds to the moneys blockbusters can make.

However, I’d like to think that DVDs also allow small films to find audiences and make money, even if, so far, Hollywood isn’t that interested in making twenty million dollars off a film that cost ten million. Again, they want that blockbuster.

What I’d like to see is a sort of return to the second run idea, only instead you’d have too different sorts of theaters. One would show the blockbusters, the Star Wars, etc, and charge a higher price for the tickets. These would feature fewer but bigger screens.

Meanwhile, smaller films would play on a circuit charging smaller admittance charges. This would make the occasional hugely profitable small film more unlikely, but also make the odds of a film being profitable more likely, especially as more adults would return to moviegoing.

One way you could make this more feasible is to allow studios to own theaters again. They used to be able to, but that was made illegal, which is what brought about the end of the Studio System. However, the world is a different place now, and I don’t see why you couldn’t have Universal theaters and so on, or consortium ones. Since so many of the modern theater chains are over extended, they could merge with the studios and sell different venues to different studios. Or, in the case of multiplexes, different wings of each theater.

However, I’d especially like to promote smaller theaters that sold cheaper tickets to lower budget movies. These smaller theaters would have to enforce certain rules, too. For instance, and this is important, they should pay some burly high schoolers or college students minimum wage to sit in each screening room, perhaps with a highly identifiable red jacket or something, and strictly enforce a no talking rule. If someone were making noise of the sort likely to disturb other patrons, the attendant would boot them out. Same if they answered a cell phone in the theater.

As well, no children under the age of four or five would be admitted to the theater, and no young kids would be allowed in R rated movies, even with an adult. I’m sorry if this means people have to actually hire babysitters if they want to go to a movie, but tough. Eventually, the people who can’t shut up would get the message and start taking their business elsewhere.

I’d like to think that this ‘adult’s’ multiplex, where maybe you could go to see, say, In Good Company or Sideways or whatever without worrying that the sound from the bombastic action flick in the next theater was going to leak into your area, or that kids were going to giggle and yak and throw popcorn during the entire movie, coupled with somewhat cheaper ticket prices, would encourage more regular moviegoing by the sort of folks who have given up on going to theaters.

(Also, once you start drawing a more mature audience, perhaps you could use one of the screening room to show revival fare. It would be nice to be able to see the classics in a theater again.)

I realize there are a mess of logistical problems with this idea, but this is all just off the top of my head, and I think there are elements here that could be made to work.

Monday morning QB(O)ing 05/09/05...

Hollywood, even 21st Century Fox’s competitor, must be praying that the upcoming Revenge of the Sith—ah, Lucas finally got his ‘revenge’ into a Star Wars title—is a blockbuster. This weekend represented the 10th week in a row in which ticket sales were down from last year.

Achieving a pyrrhic victory at the box office was Ridley Scott’s latest historical epic Kingdom of Heaven. Audiences stayed away, despite being assured by critics that (whew) the film was not mean to Muslims. Which, I’m sure, was the prospective ticket buyer’s greatest concern.

Even so, the $140 million pic drew a tepid critical response, with a 41% positive review ratio as compiled by Rottentomatoes.com. Although that was significantly better than competitor House of Wax’s 22% positive rating, it’s not that much better considering the latter is a cheapie slasher flick co-starring Paris Hilton.

Moreover, even Kingdom’s positive review were generally lukewarm. For instance, the Entertainment Weekly review is marked as positive, but the pull quote announces the film to be “a handsome but curiously remote Crusades epic.” Not exactly a glowing recommendation. The most fervid praise, meanwhile, came from critics who lauded the idea of the film as a critique of our current war in Iraq.

Opening extremely wide, Kingdom of Heaven looted a lame $20 million, and about $6,200 per screen. With Star Wars coming soon, expect this one to be gone quickly, undoubtedly with having made under $50 million total in domestic box office. However, it should also do significantly better overseas, which is why we keep getting historical epics even though nearly all the recent ones have done terribly at the U.S. box office (Alexander, King Arthur, etc.).

As a sign of the general box office woes, the number two film, House of Wax, did not much better than half of Kingdom of Heaven’s lackluster take. The movie barely made a pair of fins, raking in just over $12 million dollars, and drawing under $4,000 per screen. This might indicate that the incredibly glut of horror fare lately has finally over saturated market demand. Then again, almost every horror flick out this year has sucked, so it may just be a quality issue. Then too, the atypically gruesome film’s unexpectedly bad performance may indicate that PG-13 horror films are still the ones most likely to draw larger audiences.

The sci-fi comedy Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy shows early signs of thumb fatigue, with its take tumbling 57% to just over $9 million. That puts the current total take around $35 million. They must be hoping that the cult fans make the flick a significant DVD success.

The well-reviewed crime drama Crash took forth place, with a tad over $9 million dollars. The Interpreter saw it’s ticket sales drop 46%, to about $7.5 million, with a $54 million total so far. Sixth place went to XXX: State of the Union, which doesn’t look to get the series reelected to cinema screens. Falling nearly 60%, the film drew a less than explosive $5.4 million, for a $21 million take so far. Given the film’s $87 million dollar budget, along with other costs, this is one of the year’s worst flops so far.