The Hot Blog Archive for November, 2009

White or White… Whine.


Marc Shaiman @ The Oscars

The announcement of Marc Shaiman to be Musical Director for The Oscars is not much of a surprise, given the relationship with Adam Shankman and his years of being around the Oscars, especially in the Billy Crystal era, when he worked with Crystal on all of those show opening numbers.
What is being left out of the press releases is that Shaiman got his foot in this particular door at Saturday Night Live, working with Billy, Marty Short, Chris Guest and the rest of the very musical cast that year, after having already had an established working relationship with Bette Midler and others as the kinda next gen Paul Shaffer. So his ability to work on a short schedule and mixing it up creatively with performers is top of the charts. And as he has proven over years of movie composition and arranging, he can do that with the best of them too.
You know his music, but you probably know his face best from this sequence in Broadcast News. (He’s the one on the right.)


Super Movie Friends 8

I was thrilled to welcome Quentin Tarantino’s editor, Sally Menke, Michael Haneke’s cinematographer, Christian Berger, and the editor of Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man (and longtime Menke collaborator), Joan Sobel to the table to talk about their work. A really fun and fascinating group, I found.
My apologies for some iffy sound. But you should be able to get through it okay.
Here is the mp3 file for those who want it.


Review – The Blind Side

I knew the material that is the source of The Blind Side since I had quickly consumed the Michael Lewis book when it was released. I was late to the cult of Moneyball and had caught up with his work. The thing about The Blind Side was that it was fascinating on some levels and completely unfocused in others. It kinda wanted to be the football version of Moneyball, thus the subtitle “Evolution of a Game.”
On the other hand, it was very much about Michael Oher, whose future was a question mark at the time of publication. While imagining Oher via Lewis’ vivid writing was interesting, as a character, Oher was no Billy Beane. He was acted upon as much as he acted.
So whoever developed The Blind Side was very smart to shift the focus to Leigh Anne Touhy, the woman who took Oher in and was the driving force in turning his physical gifts into a future as an athlete.
After that choice, the next big challenge was to make a movie that didn’t make your teeth rot from sugar as you watched. No mean feat.
The film is the Anti-Precious… giant black kid, living on the margins, finds the support of a female angel…
…and thrives under her… except this time, the kid’s “happy ending” isn’t getting AIDS, two children he can’t support (including a special needs kid), or an unlikely-to-be-happy future.
This kid turns out to actually be smart enough to do reasonably well in a religious day school, his size was a singular asset, and he learned the game well enough to be valued by all the wealthy white men and women who would have otherwise locked their doors if they stopped at a light and saw Oher or any of his childhood friends on the corner.
Not only that, he would go on to be a premiere player at the college level, be drafted by the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens in the first round, making him an instant millionaire, and is starting for the Ravens in his rookie year.

This is a movie that really does make you feel good. And not just because of racial guilt.
Sandra Bullock is terrific here, but the secret weapon of this film is Quinton Aaron, who has to give a nearly silent performance through about 2/3rds of the film before speaking up a little more. So we have to get his whole performance through his eyes and body language. And it is a remarkable and easy to undervalue performance.
His role will surely be derided by some, in much the way Michael Clarke Duncan’s Oscar-nominated turn in The Green Mile was. But again, breaking the stereotype of the large, quiet black man who is angelic in some way – The Magic Negro, as some call it – Aaron’s turn as Oher is a bit more sophisticated. He is a gentle giant, not because he is stupid or mentally challenged, but because it is in his nature and he chooses, against logic on some level, to remain kind even at the expense of his own comfort.
And John Lee Hancock, who wrote and directed the film, doesn’t milk it mercilessly. When Oher is sleeping in the gym at night because he has nowhere else to go, we don’t see him laying there, alone in the dark with rats crawling around, with Oher eating the left over end of Snickers bars. Hancock gives the audience enough clues about what is happening, but when Leigh Anne figures it out, it is the first time we have it on record. And the last thing that would befit Oher’s character would be him complaining about it in any way.
It’s odd, but if I had to say that this movie reminded me of another, I would probably cite Fried Green Tomatoes. There is something old fashioned about this film


Weekend Box Office by Klady (Vampire)

An estimated $258.8 million worldwide – we can discuss how absurd it is for the LAT or any other journalistic organization to be sending out corrections for an estimate 4% different than the first published estimate later – is very impressive. A summer number for a top franchise in mid-November.
I don’t know what else to say about this that I haven’t already said. It will fascinating to see how well the movie holds… or doesn’t. But I don’t have any strong feelings about it. When you get these kinds of numbers, history can be more distracting than insightful.
Just last weekend, 2012 did $225 million worldwide. And the studio’s estimates for the end of this weekend have it at $450m worldwide. It’s Team Who The Hell Is In The Movie vs Team I Don’t Really Care About This Film, But That Sarah Palin 2012 Gag Was Pretty Funny.

Yes, because 2012 is a lot more expensive, it will not be nearly as profitable as New Moon. But it will probably gross more… which is also irrelevant on some level… but reminds us that so much of the “excitement” is coming from the media and what movies seem to sell more magazines and not based on what are actually the most popular films.
The Blind Side, a movie I quite like – one of those cases where an embargo kept me from writing about it until I was distracted by other things and never did – may have actually benefited from the New Moon hysteria. I thought there would be a critical wave against the Bullock starrer, for reasons I will explain in my review, and a real effort to make people feel silly for loving this movie. I also thought that people would find the movie in increasing numbers of the weeks to come as word-of-mouth built.
I think this film can play, given the rest of the release schedule, through Christmas. They have just started tapping that various audiences for this film, which include religious groups who choose to see the film – which doesn’t push the issue hard – as a triumph of faith and well as the aforementioned football crowd. I mentioned the lack of push for me before and someone commented that they had seen plenty of ads on sports shows. I have watched football on four days of the week, plus plenty of ESPN in recent weeks and there have some ads. But even as I sit right now watching Michael Oher staring as a rookie for the Ravens, there has not been an ad or a single mention by the announcers (at least since the 2nd quarter) of the guy who is the center of a $33 million movie opening.
On the flip side, Precious continues to grow strongly. $11 million on 657 screens is exceptional and Oprah’s announcement just happened to be on an episode with Gabby Sidibe. Smart.
Vince Vaughn has quietly continued his great run of having $100 million-plus movies in 5 of the last 6 years with Couples Retreat crossing the line in the last week. (The exception was Fred Claus coming up short in 2007.) It’s not quite Tom Cruise’s run of 7 straight years with a $100 million movie and it’s not quite Tom Hanks, who did 5 years in a row twice. Vaughn is not quite the guarantee they were. But it’s pretty damned impressive.


Work In Progress – DP/30: The Site

With DP/30 closing in on two hundred thirty-minute interviews, it was time to figure out a way to make it a bit more manageable. With seven interviews posting just this week, dozens since Toronto, and more than dozen in the can awaiting launch, the challenge of keeping the episodes easily accessible and even enticing has grown.
So… welcome to the DP/30 site.
There are still things to fix, such as making mp3 audio files for each interview easily accessible, notes on posting date vs shooting date, the entire back catalog of Lunch With David and DP/30, and more. But I thought that no group would give me more intense feedback on the new page than y’all.
You will also find the first appearances of a full interview with Anna Kendrick, new DP/30s with Vera Farmiga and Michelle Monaghan, and a recent discussion with Henry Selick,
Let me know what you think…


Friday Estimates by Klady (Werewolf)

Klady’s Friday estimate for New Moon is a few million lower than others, but still a new record. The number is about double the Friday for the first film.
That said, the big question here will be the multiple. The box office is getting more and more front-loaded. Twilight did 2.9x opening. You have to figure that this one is looking at around $130m for the 3-day. At the first multiple,that would be about $375 million domestic. But I am thinking more a 2.2x multiple and $286m domestic. That would put it in the realm of other 2009 movies Watchmen, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fast and Furious, and Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail. This is not a doubt of the quality of the film itself, though it seems to be – to others, I wasn’t invited to see it – a less thrilling experience than the first film of the series. It is the nature of having such intense must-see response to a film that is niche… albeit a big niche.
New Moon so skews everything this weekend that it is hard to read the opening for The Blind Side… except to note that this will be Sandra Bullock’s #2 opening of all time, right after The Proposal. What confuses me about opening opposite “the girl movie of the year” is that even though Blind Side has a giant football player at its core, I haven’t seen a very hard push for the film with men, who would seem to be a key demo, especially this weekend. Still, a good start, even if it is in the shadow of the vamps.
This is less true of Sony’s Planet 51. Thing is, even though this number is crap when compared to the big studio animated releases, it’s pretty good for a group of films that now needs a name… say, B-Animation. This is made of up films that majors acquire but which are not up to the standards that audiences expect from in-house, more expensively produced product. In this case, Sony picked up domestic theatrical only for this film made with UK financing.
By that standard, an opening of $7m – $9m is not so bad. TWC’s Hoodwinked is the king of this genre. Here’s a list…
As you can plainly see, the holdovers all got slammed yesterday by New Moon‘s opening, though that should ease up over the weekend, in part because of less tickets sold for the vamps and in part because many of these films probably lost screening times to multiplexes stealing every screen they could for the big opening of the month.
It looks like 2012 will come up well short of The Day After Tomorrow, but $450 million still seems inevitable as a worldwide number, which is about enough for this one to break even.


For Leah…

(apologies to those who now have to re-vote… puberty was misspelled… the irony was too much…)


The Story That Won't Die


Who Says Gossip Doesn't Pay?

When writers, particularly on the web, are accused of quid pro quo on ad sales, I don’t like it… unless there seems to be a clear correlation. After all, having an ad sales division is quite unusual for websites that aren’t under major corporate ownership and everyone needs to eat.
(CORRECTION, November 25 – The inaccuracy of the following paragraph Has been brought to my attention by Ms. Finke and a correction/retraction has been, to quote Ms Finke, “demanded”…
But when the first and only mention of Epix on your blog is unsubstantiated gossip claiming to know of fear in the heart of the direct competition of one of the sources that both constantly feeds you scoop and is one of the corporations partnered in Epix… and then the ads show up shortly thereafter… especially when most studios won’t buy ads on your site with a 10 foot pole… hmmm…
Unfortunately, when I did a search of Deadline Hollywood using its search engine, no Epix headlines came up. But there were, in fact, two. Therefore, I am happy to oblige Ms Finke’s demand. So the paragraph should read…)
But when the only mentions of Epix on your blog are in support of the company, things are suspect. First we got press release boiler plate in “Joint Cable Channel Epix Debuts October.” No big deal. Then there is the EXCLUSIVE press release preview, “Epix Inviting “More Than 1 Million People” To Experience Free Preview Weekends Starting Today Through Thanksgiving.”
And most recently… and suspiciously still hanging out in the “breaking news” links on top of the page even though the “news” is over a week old… is a bit of unsubstantiated gossip claiming to know of fear in the heart of the direct Viacom A/CBS competition of the Viacom B/Paramount leadership that feeds Nikki scoop. For instance, scoop credited to Nikki as important news broken, like John Lesher’s exit from Paramount. Of course, this access is used her to position the “news.” In that case, it was a vicious personal attack on Lesher while he was already humiliatingly being kicked out of the job after a very brief reign. And Nikki’s source/keeper blaming Lesher for being who he is even though Nikki’s source/keeper knew exactly what Lesher’s behavior was like when Lesher lost $150 million in under 2 years at Par Vantage before Nikki’s source promoted him to the job running the studio.
And when this source is a top exec in one of the corporations partnered in Epix… and then the Epix ads show up shortly after Nikki’s attack on CBS’s Showtime… especially when most studios won’t buy ads on your site with a 10 foot pole… hmmm…
(My apologies for my failure to find the two earlier stories on Epix through means other than the Deadline Hollywood search engine. End of Correction.)
Of course, we have ads on MCN for The Hurt Locker and we are promoting a Hurt Locker screening coming up Monday… but the ads have been up a lot longer than its been since we booked the film. Is that the same thing?
Truth is, we sell all of our awards ads in advance of content rolling out. And I don’t think we have ever had ads sold or withdrawn over editorial content over these last seven years. I don’t think anyone has even mentioned it as a threat or a joke.
But y’all can judge for yourselves.

Not Sure Why, But…

I found this list, sent by the publicity team at Disney, made me smile. There is something about acknowledging the silliness of taking massive marketing efforts to social networking, though no studio feels they can be on top of things without doing it these days.
And I’m sure someone over there will think I am making fun of them by running this in a blog entry, but actually, having this kind of backstage info from studios makes the lives of those covering them easier. Some tools we use, some we do not. But occasional reminders about how many arms there are out there are very helpful. It’s a smart choice.
And here is their list of Facebook pages


20 Weeks To Oscar – 17 Weeks To Go

The Drip, Drip, Drip
The main variation in the 2009/10 Oscar season that keeps getting discussed is the change to 10 nominees.
And it’s not insignificant.
But as the Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.”
As the Academy made this change, the economy of the film business started to bottom out. (Sadly, I don’t think we’ve quite reached bottom yet, though many businesses have started 12-step.)
The Dependents went from being seven strong (as MGM is still officially a major, according to its membership in MPAA) to three divisions really in business (as opposed to being a placeholder for loose end projects and Home Entertainment libraries).
The True Indies continue to be in the game, though there is a real question of what Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company will look like when next year’s season rolls around and Summit hasn’t yet shown itself to be more than the sum of its vampires. Overture, Magnolia, Freestyle, Roadside Attractions, IFC, Apparition, and Oscilliscope (in order of 2009 domestic box office grosses) all continue to show interest in the season and an inability to get a hold of the voting imaginations of the Academy … at least in the top categories.
Media noise – amplified by a combination of ad budgets being slashed thus making publicity more important again, a wave of new online businesses trying to sell themselves and their ads, and old media flailing about, trying to get attention, also in fear of their own demise – is more relentless and less thoughtful than ever.

The rest…
And the charts…


Screen It 2k+9

I don’t want to start reporting every DVD that hits the porch as though it is news, but with WB, Focus, Sony, Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics, and Magnolia landing with Academy members so far, it is interesting, I think, that WB decided not to ship The Hangover, though there will be Globes push. And even with the big DVD release party, no Star Trek for Oscar so far either.
I’m not sure why Searchlight hasn’t pulled the trigger on Crazy Heart, a movie that will play better on TV… not coincidentally made for TV.
There will be plenty more DVDs on the way…


BYOB Hump-a-vampire-Day


The Princess, The Frog & The Color

I won’t offer any critical position on The Princess & The Frog. I was not embargoed, but the truth is, there is so much moving around at Disney these days, I am going to assume the conservative position and remain silent, looking towards the next set of relationships.
In any case…
What I do want to say is that the film is remarkable free of race as an issue once you get past the first 20 minutes or so. As Disney told everyone, the characters are black, white, and mostly, cajun, whether good, bad or somewhere in between.
The lightening bug that some worried about is one of the strongest characters in the film and doesn’t identify black or white. The horn-playing alligator,a completely positive character, does play black… and unlike the characters who seemed black in The Jungle Book, is voiced by a black actor.
And Keith David, as the voodoo dude, gives – and I guess I am breaking my own rule a little here – a magnificent vocal performance, both speaking and singing. His character is not driven by race, but by greed…. a vice shared by all races.
Anyway, it really hit me about half way through that issues of race – including the prince in the film seeming more South American than black – just were not on the plate in this film, no matter what the setting. The fact that we are dealing mostly with animals through most of the film helps. A frog is green, not black or white.
I saw it at a NAACP screening… and it occurred to me that while race didn’t play much of a role in the film as I saw it, for this mostly black audience, it must have been truly wonderful to see a film based around a black heroine and other black characters whose motivations are human and not just ethnic.


The Hot Blog

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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