The Hot Blog Archive for November, 2010

Box Office Peek

It occurred to me… how is Harry Potter 7 really doing, now that we are a week in?

The answer, of course, is great. Big consistent series. However, the excitement around the massive Friday number last week? It does seem to be falling back into the Potter pack. The gross for HP7 has been behind HP6, on a daily basis, since Day 3 and remains so after Thanksgiving Thursday. HP7 will probably push ahead over the rest of the holiday weekend, as HP6 opened on a Wednesday in summer, meaning days 8-10 were Wed, Thurs, Fri. Regardless, Potter 6, which was way out ahead of the previous films going into the second weekend, scored the weakest 2nd weekend in the franchise’s history. Second worst 3rd weekend… worst 4th, 5th, and 6th. By then, you’re looking at weekend under $3m… not big scoreboard changers.

The point is, front-loading is getting greater for the series. No reason, yet, to think that 7 will be exceptionally big.

I am amused by the spin on Burlesque, which would have to do unusual numbers indeed to get to Sony’s $17.8m prayer. Rent started with $2.3m more over the first two days (if you buy Sony’s Thursday estimate, which is likely high) and ended up with $17.1m for the 5-day and $29m total domestic. Perhaps that drop-off is more extreme than Burlesque will experience, but $16m seems like a more realistic 5-day goal and $40m domestic does seem to be about the max we could see from this title.

Fox kind of expected to split the Love & Other Drugs weekend with Burlesque, in terms of the core audience for these film, women. And that’s where it seems to be going. It will be interesting to see if the less showy romantic melodramedy will catch up with Cher’s narrow lead before the five days is over… and where the legs are.

Faster is a career-worst start for The Rock. Perhaps even the great Terry Press – and I mean it, she is great – can’t turn the CBS Films train around. Perhaps The Movie Gods have just decided that Sumner Redstone allowing his two sides of Viacom compete directly as though they were random strangers is just stupid and self-destructive. If you can’t open a violent Rock movie to much more than Summit opened a star-free Never Back Down to -and really, Faster will open to less without the 5-day advantage – something is wrong. This ain’t Harrison Ford in a surgical gown looking as confused as the audience. This is The Rock Kicks Ass. Come on.

Hard to be sure where Tangled is going, but at the least, it looks like the best non-Pixar Disney animation opening in many years.


BYOB Thanksgiving Weekend


The Way Back, director/co-writer Peter Weir


Somewhere, writer/director Sofia Coppola

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The Ghost Writer. actor Olivia Williams

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Thankful 2010: Episode 13

As I find myself considering the annual ritual, there are more things I am not thankful for than usual. I feel like the profession I have toiled in for so long has been degraded by fear, lowered standards, and a lack of historic perspective. A friend-quaintance, who was a very close friend and mentor to some of my closest friends, was murdered in cold blood on a public street just days ago. The industry is in turmoil, as studios flail around looking for a way to replace reduced DVD revenues, and feel under attack, forced to spend insane amounts on movies and not INSANE amounts. (Of course, it’s the middle class of the industry that gets killed.) And I seem to have hit that age when the generation ahead of me is now starting to lose the battle with age, and indeed, some people my age and younger are going in greater numbers.

And yet, I remain profoundly thankful.

I Am Thankful For great filmmakers who stretch. Some of them are doing it under duress right now. Others seem to be right in their sweet spot. Doing a lot of interviews with a lot of quality directors each year, it’s heartening to be reminded that business is business and the work is the work. Few of them are so cocky as to disregard the realities of the business, but the box office is a means to an end. Whether it’s an aging veteran like Scorsese or Eastwood, or a rising star like Aronofsky, or a one-for-me-one-for-them like Soderbergh, or a true artist like Fincher who plies his trade exclusively in the higher priced realm of the majors, or a guy like Mike Leigh who does what he does and is no looking to change… and so many others it kinda boggles the mind. When the cynicism seems to thick to climb over, I am reminded, over and over, about The Work, and I remember why I love this stuff. It doesn’t really matter whether I love the film. The passion behind it is what makes it art.

I Am Thankful For all the new delivery systems, even if I am still sorting through how it all fits together into a daily relationship with content for me and for other real world consumers. I am constantly amazed by how much in love the media is with anything new and how blinded so many are to the very real questions that are attached to the new delivery systems. But because Roger Ebert tweeted that The Human Centipede was now streaming on Netflix, I flipped it on with my iPhone during a break in shooting the other day, as part of our now $8 a month service and drove right in. Thanks, Roger (he said a little sarcastically). Another night, I watched the first 6 episodes of Soap on a whim. Catching up with the first season of Modern Family… no problem with Hulu+Plus. Disney sent a Blu-ray of Fantasia that I am watching like a child getting his first ice cream cone. Most of my DirecTV package now seems to be in HD, with specific studio channels from MGM, Sony, and Universal that are loaded to the gills with content. We have about 400 hours of hi-def DVR space available to us that follows us anywhere in the house. And while I love getting awards screeners, it’s kind of breathtaking that they are, pretty much, the lowest quality media in my home. It’s not like they are sending out VHS, but with tens of millions sent every season, trying to give voting groups the best possible experience… hmmm… well, thanks for the discs.

I Thank all of my “enemies.” I’m not sure if they can really be qualified as enemies, as they rarely make real contact. But they remind me, with ease, that losing perspective is a threat forever lurking right around the corner. We are all capable of ugliness. We are all capable of cruelty. But when the fires of ire rise around me, I usually get to a point, after stoking the fire by engaging, where I finally remember that my anger is not about them and their anger is not about me… not really. We are about ourselves. And so, I try to keep to the work, which I understand feels very personal to people. But we work in public by choice. I we can’t deal with challenges to our work, why are we here? If we can’t deal with challenges to us personally? That I understand. But it’s a constant battle to keep perspective so that we can see the difference.

I Genuinely Thank the truth tellers. We all carry our stuff into every conversation, but there are people who just prefer to tell the truth and thank the Lord above. I can’t speak for anyone else, but there are plenty of people who seem to want to placate me… and if that requires a lie, please don’t. People need to learn to eat their porridge and move on. And they need to demand accountability. Power should not be defined as the ability to manipulate the petty fear of others. Sunshine remains the best disinfectant.

Thanks To everyone who allows DP/30 to happen. It has become the most important work that I do. And it has been supported by a parade of personal publicists, studios, and the talent that allows themselves to engage in something closer to a real conversation than we usually get to have in this business. I just had the amazing experience of shooting six 30-minute interviews for one film and by the end of the day, I really had more insight into The Work that all of these people did together with hundreds of others. It reminds me what’s possible in the work I do… and why aiming low is such a sad choice (for those of us fortunate enough to have choices).

I Thank The Production Fairy for my current lighting cameraman, Graham, who is an experienced pro and has the interviews looking their best ever. That is not to say that I am any less thankful for my other two camera people this year, Ed and Heather, who also kicked ass. But there is a certain thrill to know that the guy who is key to what the talent looks like knows exactly what he’s doing in every circumstance.

My Thanks Hardly Have To Be Spoken Out Loud to the team that makes MCN go, year in and year out. This year, that group includes the folks as Santa Fe Web Design, who built (and continue to build) the new site. I am happy to still have Kim Voynar on board, after six months or so of some serious concerns about her health. I think Mike Wilmington is doing some of his best work with us. Gary Dretzka and Len Klady have been with us from nearly the start, 8 years and a month ago. Noah and Andrea and bears, oh my! Can’t forget the Gurus, who put up with being prodded weekly for answers that they are going to get grilled over for months each year. Laura has been my partner in this from the start and is now the keeper of Film Docket as well. And at the heart of the machine, knocking out those Curated Headlines every day, is Ray Pride… and I know what that work is like, having done it mostly on my own for the first years of the site’s existence.

I Thank the festivals out there for trying so hard to make it work in a difficult economic time. The model is evolving again. And we in the media expect our asses to be well kissed. I miss going to film festivals like I used to… 5 or 6 movies a day… staying up until all hours to get in reviews of everything. 3 or 4 interviews a day means a minimum of a 12 hour commitment, especially if distributors and producers are being cautious with pre-fest screenings. For all the work that I can complain about, however, there is still the experience of new film, challenging film, and possibility. Just a couple of years ago, I remember Melissa Leo pushing journalists she already knew to go see this little movie she did called Frozen River. The film didn’t become an event at the festival. But with a distributor that believed in the film, she would be at The Oscars just a year later, nominated for Best Actress. Every film you walk into offers that kind of possibility. Most, obviously, don’t deliver on it, but when they do…

I Thank Whatever Deity There May Or May Not Be for my longevity in this business. I have seen people go from assistants to department heads, junior execs to division presidents, and everything in between. There have been plenty of people coming and going. Good people succeed and so do bad people. Sometimes they fail. It’s not random, but it’s all so random. The people I adore, I find, don’t change any more than those who I do not. I am less amused or blase’ about suffering in both the media and the film industry, even if it seems “deserved.” Have I grown up? I don’t know. Plenty of people my age who have been around just as long who are still pretty gleeful about the losses of others. At some point, for all the ego involved with writing on the web and expecting someone to give a damn, you just realize it’s not about you.

Of Course, My Heart Thanks The Boy. Mr. Perfect. The one for whom everything is still possible. The one who doesn’t even understand that he is asking, but for whom the answer is, for now, always “yes.” He’ll be a year old in just a few weeks. And every day with him is a gift beyond definition. And The Wife. I’m a lucky man.

I Thank all of you who take this journey with me, every day or every week or every once in a while. A few of you are commenters. Most of you are not. But your willingness to pick around my eclectic interests and repeated drum beating on certain issues and stupid jokes in order to engage with the ideas that I think are worth discussing is a gift to me. And I thank you. I would not still be doing it without you, though I would never want to do it if I had to be someone else to keep you coming.

And I Am Thankful That I still truly love this stuff. I can still be transported by a movie in a way unlike almost anything else. There really are no people like show people. And that juxtaposition between art and commerce is endlessly fascinating to me. There are so many frustrations and I am still trying to find the perfect balance. But a conversation or a performance or just a knowing smile from a friend can remind me that it is all worth it.



True Grit’s TV Spots Roll Out… Yippee Ki Yo!


Review: Burlesque

It’s a Xerox of a Xerox of an Original. Steve Antin imitates Rob Marshall imitating Bob Fosse.

Cher plays… “Cher”. Stanley Tucci queens it up to great effect, The Magic Homosexual, really. Cam Gigandet plays The Boy. Kristen Bell is objectified as The Villain. And a series of cardboard cutouts posing as actors turn up, including Julianne Hough and Eric Dane, who previously managed to be boring even in a sex tape three-way. Peter Gallagher is wasted, but compared to the abusive (to the audience) non-use of Alan Cumming, he got off light.

And Christina Aguilera doesn’t so much act as glow… assisted mightily by the permanent gauze from Cher’s camera that the somehow infected every frame of the film. I am conscious of Ms Aquilera, but had no idea how many ways there were to photograph her hair and boobs until this film. Seriously. I expect there to be a website dedicated to the passion Steve Antin shows for his starlet’s bust and the many ways he features it in frame, from loosely hanging to practically strapped down. Is she an A-Cup or a C-Cup? I don’t know. But the framing constantly demands high torso attention. And her face is equally unpredictable in the angles from which it is shot. At one point, I thought she was a new character I couldn’t remember. Generally, a director and a DP figure out how they want to shoot an actress and strive for consistency. Here, Cher and Tucci are very consistent… and the novice seems to be shot from every angle known to man.

But back to the boobs…

Seriously… I would be fascinated by the behind-the scenes documentary on The Underwear of Burlesque. It manages to be the most exposed, least threatening display of flesh I have ever seen in a film. Even more fleshy than Showgirls, really, though none of the naughty bits ever turn up. Because of the way Antin shoots and cuts, it’s something like a PG-13 pornographic butcher shop… parts and parts and parts and parts, but the only real hint that anyone has used them successfully is a third act pregnancy. With shot after shot of beautiful body parts, I found myself wondering how these painted on outfits worked… were they comfortable… how were they lined? I don’t think that was the goal… their goal or mine. i just wanted to be able to stare at something sexy for more than 36 frames at a time. Even the central romantic relationship is so much tease and so little please that in the real world this character – who spends as much if not more time obsessing on himself as the girls in the bar and the girl in his home – he have either thrown her out or become a violent asshole.

Then the script manages to be so much more complicated than the 3 ideas that Mr Antin seems to have in his head for this film that it becomes either laughable or infuriating. The entire movie has a case of blue balls. Just get on with it!

And did I mention that the original songs are stunningly forgettable? For the first act of the film, the dancers lip sync covered standards. Why? Don’t know. But at least the songs are good. All of a sudden, when they start singing for themselves, they inexplicably start singing new material that is desperately trying to sound like standards. Was it budget? Was it ego? Was it the need for album cash flow? Don’t know. But a musical with songs you can’t remember… oy.

And yet…

I can’t say that Burlesque is a painful movie experience. It is a little sexy. It is a little funny. It is a little compelling. It isn’t any of these things to the degree that the films clearly intends. But in the end, it is a series of music videos. Not original ones. Not special ones. But the film asks so little of you and changes speeds so relentlessly that it’s hard to ever get serious about disliking it. It’s like a bag of Halloween candy. Kids are willing to eat it all even if the bag isn’t filled with their personal favorites. Coffee Nips? For a 7-year-old? Okay… there are some Sour Patch Kids just a grab away,

Don’t get me wrong. This movie is crap. But it’s the kind of crap that does actually get to BETBF (Bad Enough To Be Fun).


DP/30 With Amy Adams… Through The Years

The Fighter




Poll du Jour – Underrated 2010



The first thing that struck me when it was announced/reported/hyped that Lindsay Lohan had separated from the Linda Lovelace movie was, “Who could they get to replace her?”

It had nothing to do with Ms Lohan’s talents. It had to do with nudity.

Anne Hathaway dethroned herself from PrincessLand pretty early on, giving eyeball access to The Goods in back-to-back films after the second Princess Diaries movie. I don’t imagine that she did it on purpose. But she was up for tougher roles and went for it. Both roles would have been a departure without the nudity, but nudity was called for and with it, the 17th happiest moment in the history of Mr. Skin.

Now, there is a lot of talk about Hathaway and Gyllenhaal being naked in Love & Other Drugs… and they are… for about an act. And then, it’s a movie that really isn’t about naked. But even the naked parts are not so much about sex as about the comfort of being together. It is a cliche’, but the sexiest thing about Hathaway in this film is her mind. She is a complex, very smart, challenging woman who, initially, is comforted by shutting off her brain by being serviced by the Pussy Savant played by Mr. G. She is powerful in the way young people with all those tools often are. Of course, she is also completely out of control on another front… and so goes drama.

In some ways, the sex life of L&OD (Law & Order:Drugs?) reminds me of The American, which featured the breathtaking view of an often-exposed Violante Placido, but was not about sex at all. It’s a cliche’, but… it’s a 70s thing. If Anne Hathaway’s lanky stretch of flesh highway covered by feminine speed bumps is all that this film is reduced to, not only are we diminishing her performance and the film, but it will probably mean that less people will see the film in theaters, leaving the images mostly to the boys and men who will “browse” them on the internet. This probably says more about men than about the movie or Ms. Hathaway. In the end, Love & Other Drugs is really a movie that will appeal more to a female sensibility, I think… and if Gyllenhaal’s dick-first thinking and the promise of lingering on Hathaway’s body makes it “safe” for men to be dragged to the theater, so be it.

But I digress…

Hathaway does nudity. Can’t imagine her playing someone like Lovelace… not a great fit. Hathaway is a fine actress, but she is also a movie star by nature. She doesn’t disappear into characters. Neither does Lohan, but her performance would have walked that line where the audience feels like they are seeing a layer deeper into a character they know from the tabloids and may well have worked that way.

Who else? Charlize Theron could never be that small. Jolie would kill all those men and we’d be wondering what was going to happen for two more acts. Helen Mirren is a little too old for the role. The Spanish-language/Oscar nominated nudists are too accented. Maggie Gyllenhaal could do it, but doesn’t seem a good tonal fit. Seyfried is looking to more commercial roles and I would bet that she’ll be putting the breasts away unless a very gifted director feels they are needed. (A good career move.) McAdams could do it… and would probably win an Oscar, even with a mediocre director… but goes so deeply into the work that she might never recover from the experience. Michelle Williams is playing Marilyn Monroe now and could, indeed, make a brilliant Lovelace, but won’t happen. Zoe Saldana was naked all through Avatar, but never on set. Rachel Weisz, Maria Bello, and Vera Farmiga are all just a little too old now. Jessica Biel is more Jenna Jameson than Lovelace.

Does that cover it? All the most-revered acting names who do on-screen nudity?

And that’s how you end up with Malin Akerman.

It’s not that Akerman can’t act. Personally, I think she is a much better comedienne than a dramatic presence, but she keeps taking on tough roles. That makes her a go-to actor for movies in which nudity is required and celebrity is helpful. Akerman has accumulated a better resume than, say, Lizzy Caplan. And she is not someone who gets hired only to be naked, like a Paz de la Huerta, whose presence on the cast list of Boardwalk Empire (and many films) assured that at least one major cast member would be having a lot of sex and frontal nudity.

Boardwalk also brought in Gretchen Mol, who has, I think, got very close to the gold ring as an actress only to become limited by her remarkable body and her willingness to show it. I know it sounds terrible, but I believe this to be true… as an actress, if you are in ONE movie in which the response is, “Her boobs were more memorable than the movie,” it will be hard to find roles that don’t feature your boobs ever again. You can go do theater or perhaps a series, but it is a scarlet letter in this town. Mol is working, which is more than many actors can say. And she’s one of the best things about Boardwalk Empire, even if you disregard every moment of nudity. Her character is one of the more interesting ones and if she never showed anything while seducing this one or that, she’s be every bit as interesting. She was also great in the Bettie Page movie, much more so for her performance than her body, lovely as it is.

We are a funny culture. Boys (and men) always masturbated over images of famous women, but something about the internet and the easy access to every image of every body part ever shown and every video ever “stolen from a celebrity house” makes it harder for the people being ogled to pretend its not happening. Whether it’s Alyssa Milano, who has done nudity in some low-rent situations but wants to control it on the web, or Natalie Portman, whose snippet of our chat I ran last week, talking about making the conscious choice to do sexual material, but not to expose her private bits, it seems a shame that they have to be so much more self-conscious than, say, Rita Hayworth or Ann-Margret. And it’s a shame that we all have so much of this seep into our daily lives, wanted or not.

But when the achievements of women like Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Anna Nicole Smith, and others are limited to their sexual attractiveness and their private sex acts made public and we treat them as Important Celebrities, we have no one to blame but ourselves, I suppose.

My rule of thumb for young actresses remains… keep it on. Because few actors can see what “their thing” is when they are still growing a career. And as Jolie, Theron, and Hathaway (amongst others) show, it doesn’t just have to be about your body simply because you are willing to show your body. But it can go there fast if “your thing” is not well-defined and there to return to when “they” try to box you into being the next “The Body.” I truly think that if Gretchen Mol had ever played a role as funny as Bettie Page without the nudity before Bettie Page, she would be one of the top comedic actresses in the business and probably would have never ended up showing herself in the all-together. But working naked and being quite funny in a film, really for the first time, people only seem to remember the naked.

Finally… for those who are going to wonder…. men… completely different issue. For better or for worse, male genitalia is simply not part of mainstream filmmaking in this country. Neither are close-ups of female genitalia, for that matter. Are female breasts comparable, in this way, to the male sex organ? I guess you could make the argument that they should be considered as such, but it’s not the reality. People are still talking about Sharon Stone crossing her legs. Colin Farrell’s penis got more attention from the media in Alexander than did Rosario Dawson’s nude scene that was mostly about her breasts and butt. Actual genitals are rarely seen in films, from either sex. All the near-naked beefcake in 300 got its share of ogling. But compared to a “wardrobe malfunction” in which we really didn’t see very much of one of Janet Jackson’s nipples at the Super Bowl? Mild.

It makes one wonder why we are so focused on these body parts that most of us see every day. It’s not really the parts, is it? It’s the idea of whatever kind of value is placed on the possessor of the parts. Imagined intimacy. And yet, that is at the core of being a public figure. So read my book… blah blah blah…


The Kids Are All Right, actor Julianne Moore


BYOB 1122


Black Swan, actor Natalie Portman

SPOILER WARNING: We discuss the ultimate scenes in the film in this conversation.


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