The Hot Blog Archive for September, 2009

CineVegas Craps Out

The climate for film festivals is even harsher than the climate for studios and indies. The first major fest to now announce a complete wipe-out is CineVegas, a festival that quickly became a favorite with journalists, boasting happy Vegas accommodations and some tiny finds along the way.
IndieWIRE breaks the news, but offers no real answers as to why the plug got pulled. “Quality” is a bullshit answer, with due respect to all.
My bet would be that they either lost The Palms as the central sponsor or the Brenden Theaters multiplex (inside The Palms), where the festival was held… or both. Vegas is hurting. And all things considered, CineVegas probably never earned the casino hotel a single room night sold.
The Palms is all about showy promotion, but the tipping point for CineVegas was 2007’s premiere of Ocean’s 13. Brad, Matt, and Don walked the red carpet.
In 2008… The Rocker.
2009… St John of Las Vegas.
Game over.
Studios are not spending on festivals the way they used to. Vegas casinos can get celebrities on their carpets for less. And CineVegas never emerged as a sales fest or even a festival that could draw media together – which it did – to get behind a film that would go on to have even minor commercial success.
The effort of the entire team is to be respected. Dennis Hopper could not have been a more willing and available advocate. But festivals that survive this economy will have to have a purpose clear enough to draw sponsors. Fewer days, fewer press events, less money spent on traveling talent… it’s already started, but it’s only going to get worse from here.
Yes, I hope there is a new CineVegas resurrected in the years to come. It was not a cynical effort by those who ran the event. Not at all. But if and when it comes back, expect it to do even more to service its sponsors in a city that is built on hype.


Solipsism: A Love Story

The defining moment of Capitalism: A Love Story, for me, so far, came last night, listening to Bill Maher slather Moore’s bullocks with the slimy slick saliva of his tongue for minutes… only to gently explain after the licking was done, why the movie’s conceit really makes no sense. Seriously… Maher has a future doing movie quotes for Rolling Stone.
But the sad part of this exchange was watching Moore’s eyes… I think he knows that his latest film is coming up short. He looked sad, not enraged. He was saying all the words that he must as One Of The Greatest Salesmen On The Planet. But he is sending a movie out into the world that is right out of Animal House, when Belushi’s Bluto gives his “Nothing is over until we decide it is!” speech and no one follows him.
“What the fuck happened to the America I used to know?,” Moore must be wondering. But the question America may be wondering is, “Where is the Michael Moore we used to know?”
The answer is also in that same scene in Animal House. Bluto is pure Id in that film. But after being beaten down, the Deltas won’t follow pure Id anymore. It’s when Otter acts as The Ego, putting Bluto’s unstructured rant into a perspective that his frat brothers can connect to (even if he is still being a bit silly.)
The genius of Moore has been that he is Id and Ego in one as a filmmaker. And this film, like much of Sicko, is all super-ego. We still see that fun, thoughtful maniac in there… glimpses of the Id and Ego. But mostly, he wants to be a moralizing Super-Ego these days. And part of that, I would suggest, is because he is making a movie that is dealing with issues too fresh for him to get perspective on, much less give us perspective on.
Last night, on Maher, he talked about wanting to make a movie that was so outrageously honest that no studio would ever fund another one of his movies. Epic Fail, Mike. There is not a single thing exposed in the body of Capitalism: A Love Story that Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, David Letterman, and even Jay Leno haven’t already mocked… and mocked in a more funny way. No one needed a film to tell us that bailing out banks sucks and that people being thrown out of their houses – that they took insane loans on, of their own greedy accord, btw – at the same time feels like a shot in the gut. America gets it.
You used to convert. Now all you seem to want to do is to preach to the converted.
I truly love your work and believe in your gift, Michael Moore. But you need to get further out ahead of the news cycle or you become just another f-ing talking head for the liberals instead of the idiots of Fox News who do the same crap on the other side.


Friday Estimates by Klady – Meatballs With A Side Of Surrogates

No one can hide behind September this week. Just look at this weekend as it rolled out last year…
Eagle Eye – $9.8m Fri – $29.2m
Nights in Rodanthe – $4.7m Fri – $13.4m
Fireproof -$2.3m – $6.8m
Miracle at St. Anna -$967k – $3.5m
Choke – $477k – $1.3m
Those were the five newbies. $18.2m in new product on Friday. $54.2m over 3 days.
The top three new movies this year this weekend are slightly ahead of Eagle Eye‘s opening Friday alone.
Proud moments.
Love the folks at MGM… but with nothing to sell but Fame for month after month after month, it looks like they’ll be lucky to get a $10m opening out of it.
Surrogates is like the post-Avatar knock-off that came out months before Avatar instead of months after. But it has Bruce Willis being grizzled, which there is still an audience for. But the outdoor campaign looked like vodka ads… literally… like a recent vodka campaign mixed with Calvin Klein. And the result is better than Hostage or Perfect Stranger or 16 Blocks…. but not by much.
And the sickest part of this weekend… it could actually provide cover for more bloodshed at both MGM and Disney next week.
The story in limited releases is Capitalism: A Love Story, which is looking at a $45k-ish per screen over the 3-day weekend. Sicko did $69k on 1 screen in its first weekend. F9/11 did $39k per screen on 2 on a Wednesday and a Thursday before going to 868 screens on that first Friday (where it did $28k per-screen).
In other words… this number will be inconclusive… in Michael Moore dollars. Any other doc would be dancing a jig just grossing over $100k in a weekend, much less in the limited before going wide.


The Truth, The Truth, The Truth Is On Fire

The line between personality and news gets blurrier everyday and some days, my ability to just look away without public comment is overwhelmed by the sick feeling in my stomach that comes from falsehoods being consumed and repeated across the media spectrum because these falsehoods are designed to be eye-grabbing and not because the public author of them has given it a single thought greater than the fact that they could gather some attention.
I get angry.
And I get frustrated.
I get as frustrated with the public – some of whom are professional journalists – as I do with the self-aggrandizing sources of this kind of “news” because all that is require to change the dynamic is, in the case of journalists, the tiniest amount of attention to detail and history. And yet this seems to be beyond the level of interest in doing the job these days.
And I completely understand that when these moments of bubbling over come up, it can read like some sort of personal issue. It doesn’t help that people like Patrick Goldstein now use major dying outlets like the LA Times to go little past the personal these days.
Today’s drama starts, as it often does, with Nikki Finke.
Apparently, everyone – starting with Nikki – has quickly forgotten that the same person who got it dead wrong in July when she was being fed spin by Harry Sloan’s operatives that everything at MGM was looking up in back-to-back EXCLUSIVEs – “GOOD NEWS FOR MGM: Audit Will Show Struggling Studio Is A “Going Concern” and “TOLDJA! MGM Audit Shows Full Compliance With All Debt Covenants; EXCLUSIVE UPDATE: Studio Library Valued At $5.5B” – is now the person they are quoting as gospel as she finally is being fed the “news” that everyone who was actually seriously considering what was happening at MGM knew was inevitable from the time Harry Sloan pulled the already flailing situation away from Sony in the arrogant believe that he could rebuild a dying library valuation into an empire again.
The new EXCLUSIVE…”EXCLUSIVE DETAILS: MGM Makes Phone Plea To Bondholders To Stay Alive; Both ‘Hobbit’ And James Bond In Peril; Bondholders Tell Studio To Go Bankrupt; MGM Calls That Worst Possible Outcome
And now, of course, we have media all over the place jumping on the Big Lie of the headline… that MGM’s fate will define the fate of these two partnered projects.
Anyone with a brain and any sense of the players would instantly understand that neither Barbara Broccoli and Warner Bros are going to allow their franchises to be derailed by the situation at MGM. And they don’t have to. There is money available for both projects to move forward. And even if MGM went bankrupt, no bankruptcy judge on the planet would stop significant incoming revenue -especially without a cash layout – to be created and absorbed into the company on the inflated notion by whomever is selling this shite to Nikki that maintaining distribution and a cash position in these films in spite of not being able to move forward because of a lack of cash in the company is in the interest of the company.
This is not complex.
And frankly, it is not just Nikki’s fault for being the George W Bush is a town full of Dick Cheneys, never really understanding the agenda, but selling it with all her tiny heart and soul.
When someone writes, “Some say the call lasted 6 1/2 hours. Others said it lasted 2 1/2 hours with lenders, and then the lenders themselves had a conference call that lasted another 2 hours,” that person is openly acknowledging that they don’t know what actually happened and that there are wildly varying versions of the tale being told. This opening screams, “Take all of this with a grain of salt.” But this is the Nikki-ism of it… she then boils it down to a screaming headline that is neither smart nor accurate, taking full advantage of peoples’ disinterest in actually reading the sometimes obvious subtext of her work.
People don’t want to think too hard and Nikki doesn’t want to do the journalistic job of thinking it out for them. The #1 goal is promoting Nikki, not seeking truth.
And in the current media universe, everything is a writeover waiting to happen. There is no memory. Getting it dead wrong today is not big deal so long as you get it dead wrong tomorrow.

Read the full article »


Dp/30 State Of The Union – Sony Pictures Classics

The Sneak Peek is here
Sony Pictures Classics co-presidents Michael Barker & Tom Bernard sat down for a 30 minute discussion about where things stand in the business of being independent.


BYOB – Friday, 9/25/09

The floor is yours…
Don’t leave a mess that need mopping, please.


DP/30 Sneak Peek – Samantha Morton, dir The Unloved

Also in this clip… Morton tells all she will tell about John Carter of Mars

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P.S. On Snow White…

On the disc with Snow White is the first six minutes of The Princess & The Frog aka The 2D Animated Film That The Media Seems Oddly Interested In Pushing Towards Failure.
It was charming and sweet and yes, the lead character – here shown as a child – is black and lives in a shanty town in New Orleans, where she and her mother – a seamstress who works for rich white people – go home to after leaving the mansion where her mom is making a dress for a spoiled white kid (who looks remarkably like a living homage to the late, great Chuck Jones).
I am sure that some people will want to make something ugly of these black people in New Orleans being poor but proud and honorable. From this small look at the movie, I would have to say that this is very unfortunate.
What hit me most as the mom and child rode from the great, glowing mansions to the wooden stilted homes was Hurricane Katrina and the proud, but often poor people of the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. I thought, quickly, of films like Faubourg Trem


The Next Great Clutter-Buster Blu-Ray

As the Blu-rays have rolled, like DVD, they have become more and more standard. They almost always look better than DVD. Some films are better cared for in the transfer than others (usually because of money). And the pleasure of a package like the Miramax set of Kung Fu flicks (Hero, Zatoichi, Iron Monkey, and The Legend of Drunken Master) is undeniable, even if you would expect more visual punch from a Blu-ray of Hero.
Then there are the Blu-rays that land on the doorstep and are immediately saran-wrapped and unsticky-stripped and you can’t wait for the Blu-ray to warm up to see what it’s going to look like.
It’s been a little while since I have gotten one of those. It’s not that I don’t watch a lot of great films in Blu or that they don’t look great… it’s just that some films have that, “Ohmigod… what’s it going to look like” thing about them. The Kubricks… the first Criterion Collection Blu-ray… The GodfatherThe Dark Knight
And now, the third Disney classic on Blu, Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs.
The film joins Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio on the Blu shelf. And all three are a true joy.
I love 3D animation… so much of the work has been great. But this, the mother of them all, is a stunningly sophisticated piece of art. It’s not the same density of image that we have become used to, but the facial details on the dwarfs or the eerie use of German expressionism in the magic mirror or the simplicity of the animals helping Snow clean up… something we have now seen a thousand times… but with so many of the same things expressed that now require a snappy piece of dialogue and a character voice from Gilbert Gottfried.
And the colors… has anyone, including Disney, ever been as daring about the use of color as in these early films? In a way, the big colors of Scooby Doo seem to pay this work some homage. But even those are muted compared to Disney.
I’ve written before about how watching these films is like watching a different form of the craft, like seeing a Rauchenberg, a Picasso, and a Rembrandt on the same wall and being told they were the same kind of art. But my, how beautiful this work is.
Not many films can make you stop your day to watch and keep your attention to every detail all the way through. And the preview of Dumbo, due early next year, looks no less thrilling.


Note To Bloggers

Yeah… this is inside baseball.
This Friday, Ondi Timoner’s We Live In Public will be doing a live stream showing of the film specifically for bloggers. They have gotten special dispensation from The Academy to do this, so as not to disqualify the film from doc consideration.
If you want to participate, please write to for a private password to the event.
Feel free to pass this information along to other bloggers who might be interested. Obviously, the filmmakers will have the right not to include someone they don’t see as qualified, so don’t be handing out the address on the 3rd Street Promenade. And as always, the best way to see any film is on a screen. But this seems like a unique situation and a unique thing in which to participate.
Now, back to regular programming…

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Riff-ley's Be Screenin' It Or Not

So a journalist friend was saying to me the other day, “Do you think Fame will be any good or not?”
My answer: “Have you seen it?”
I wasn’t saying that I had and didn’t like it or that I had heard bad things. I haven’t and negative rumors are going at sub-prime rates these days. But I do know that the movie has been hyped out the wazoo and is not being shown. Who was at the “premiere” at The Grove last night? Beats me. But it was a premiere at The Grove. The last time I recall that happening, it was New Line pushing Elf out the door and not wanting to spend too much money.
Yes, I still support every studio’s right not to screen, though I do think they should all be considerate of the work process of the critics who do not break embargoes and do need to write about these releases, even if there are no all-media screenings at all. (I have no idea whether Fame will ever screen… all I know is that I haven’t heard word one. My guess is that they have already done an MTV screening and are probably working closely with EW on features and maybe have had a junket screening or two. Pete Hammond and Peter Travers probably saw it twice by now.)
Flip side…
Fox Searchlight has Whip It! coming out… went to TIFF, into the heart of critics looking for an artistic high… screening the crap out of it… doing a somewhat late blooming special screening/premiere at the Chinese… and to top things off, start weekend “sneak previews” for the movie this weekend.
And no surprise… Nancy Utley’s campaign is neon pink and green and screams, GIRLS!!!!, as loud as it can.
I hate to be making predictions about box office on a little movie that could, but I will truly be shocked if Whip It! doesn’t become a very, very hot commodity in the next two months. It’s not brain surgery, but it’s a real pleasure. And it’s messages are both honest about being a young woman and sweet about the same.
In the end, there are movies that have boldly presented and have been hurt by it and movies that hid that would have been a lot better off showing off the merchandise. But going in, it always seems that the confidence of the studio is read – especially by media – as clearly as any ad, trailer or one-sheet.


DP/30 – Two "Whip It" Interviews



Getting Back To Work…

There was a bit of culture shock on returning to LA. A week without stepping galoshes-first into the muck of recent industry coverage really made reacclimating to it quite unpleasant, really.
It struck me today as I wandered down some street that I am not as off-put by what is new – I am turning 45 in a couple of weeks – as I am by what is old trying to take control of what is new. That said, I guess I am equally uncomfortable with “the young” in the way “they” always seem to discount experience (understandably) and try to trade on their real advantages… extreme energy, speed, and short memories.
The great irony of my profession is that there is endless criticism of the film industry for bending to the commercial realities of how younger audience consume content… and how older audiences do it so much more slowly and more selectively… while the media, in general, is desperately trying to do exactly the same thing, but without the financial upside that the film industry understands to come with that loss of ambition.
In any case…
I find myself in that place where I am wondering what the future that I would like to see might look like. As far as my personal work, I am pretty pleased with what is happening with DP/30. I love doing them and can easily see them as my primary output in the future along with Super Movie Friends and whatever other things spring from those activities.
MCN is a little more complicated. We have been leaders in entertainment journalism with aggregation combined with original content, but the block is getting a lot more crowded and, while ego-gratifying on some level, I realize that as many of the new launches shift closer and closer to our core concepts, differentiation is getting more difficult. While I am comfortable in the idea that we serve our core audience better than anyone else out there, these other sites are targeting different groups in addition to our core, the result being massive, maddening overlap.
As sick as I have already gotten of everyone having to have an opinion about everything, which forces those who are more anxious to be “leaders” to shout louder than everyone else, I cannot bury my head in the sand and fail to acknowledge what is happening around us all.
How does one break the clutter without being the clutter?
I don’t think that answering the clutter is the answer… though I often do. I don’t know that ignoring the clutter is a good answer either. Media is a creature of the atmosphere that is being breathed in by our audiences and the audiences we aspire to enticing, whether we like it or not.
I’m also pretty sure that bouncing around in my own head and in my own circle of trusted friends is not the best answer to considering this… which is why, in spite of inevitable nasty comments about my navel gazing, I am offering this up as an issue worth considering, not only for myself and my business, but for all of us who consume in this same narrow, but powerful, slice of the media.
Right now, I find these issues consuming my energy to the point of distraction. Perhaps it is just the quiet at the center of the storm after shooting 13 hours of interviews at TIFF and the awards season that is about to start in earnest in just a few weeks, both of which circumstances demand action more than thoughtful consideration. Maybe it’s the baby on the way. Maybe it’s the health issues on the MCN staff as well as our extended families. And no doubt, part of it is an industry that is in a transition that is more profound than it wants to believe, which is – amazingly enough – being forced by the recession, but is not a product of the recession.
I have always been a strong believer in loving what you do or finding something to do that you can love, even if it means the discomfort of change. It has always been my #1 criteria for hiring people too. Ambition is great, but I want to work with people whose ambitions are served by the work they are doing with me. I love movies. I love the movie business. I love the artists. But in the heat of battle, it is very hard to step back and to see what the fuller meaning of a changing landscape is. We are past, “do we need the trades?” and both we and the trades must be onto, “what will people need in 2011?” If we just keep going, scraping along, lowering standards, degrading ourselves with lesser ambitions, trying to survive, we assure our demise.


Press Release – Just Daring You To Try To Escape 2012 Next Thursday Night



Press Release – NYFCC

— NYFCC 75th Anniversary events to be held throughout the Fall and Winter —

September 22, 2009 (New York, NY) — New York Film Critics Circle Chairman Armond White (lead film critic of the New York Press) announced today that the members will hold their annual vote of this year


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon