The Hot Blog Archive for July, 2012

DP/30: AI Weiwei: Never Sorry, director Alison Klayman (July 2012)

And the interview from January, at Sundance…


20W2O: 29 Weeks To Go

Yes, it is that time again.

Like it or not, Oscar season has begun. We’re just 5 weeks from the Toronto International Film Festival, where a whole slew of contenders and pretenders will show themselves to a hungry media throng… and real human beings too!

I have 30 legitimate Best Picture contenders on my list right now. And by the time TIFF ’12 ends on September 16, we who see these movies and give our opinions about their chances, will have seen more than half the field.

Did You Know?: Six of the last seven Best Picture winners had their North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival? And the one that didn’t (The Departed) had its US junket over the last weekend of TIFF that year?

Of course, two of the Best Picture winners that North America-premiered at TIFF didn’t get released until the next year after TIFF (Crash and The Hurt Locker). And, of course, six of the seven BP winners before that had nothing to do with TIFF. Things change. So don’t get overly locked into one idea of how these seasons go.

But let’s start with the Toronto list this year.

The rest of the column & charts…


Weekend Estimates by The Comeback Klady

Analysis will go up around 11a PDT, but just wanted to note the significant rise in the weekend numbers vs the Friday numbers. I think the Olympics opening – which drew a massive TV crowd, in spite of anger over NBC tape-delaying to create a massive TV crowd – was significant on Friday and that the rest of the weekend left the box office looking… pretty normal. I still feel we’ll need to wait until next week to get a really good read on whether there’s any ongoing hangover from the Aurora tragedy… but it looks like most ticket buyers (a small percentage of the public overall) have gotten back to their habit and that the sadness factor had more impact than the fear factor.

Estimates now have The Dark Knight Rises as the 3rd strongest 10 day grosser in history. (Note: Records for speed are not subject to Tickets Sold mania the way other records are as the front-loaded speed thing is a relatively new phenomena.) What a disaster!!!

In other DISASTERS!, The Amazing Spider-Man passed $650m worldwide this weekend and will pass the Hunger Games to become the #2 grosser of 2012 next week… at least until it gets passed by TDKR.

More later…


It’s later.

Not a ton more to say than I did.

Worth pointing out that the Step Up opening is on the top half of Lionsgate openings this year. Hunger Games, 2 Tyler Perrys, and Cabin In The Woods with $14.7m opened better for LGF.

Great hold for Ted, which should be over $200m domestic by this time next weekend.

Focus is killing it with Moonrise Kingdom and looks now like it might pass The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Searchlight is also doing great with the very narrow audienced Beasts of the Southern Wild.


Friday Estimates by Step-Up Klady


It seems to be fair to say that The Dark Knight Rises paid a price at the box office for the murders in Aurora from Sunday through Thursday of this last week. But the Friday number… not so clear. If you look back at the last Olympics opening night, numbers were low that night also, though no one opened against the event… the two wide-release films that opened that week, opened on Wednesday. Also, TDKR is less than 7% off of TDK at this point in their respective runs.

I think it’s safe to say that this film doesn’t have the mania around it that the last one had and that, like the final Star Wars film, it was always destined to do 10% (or more) less than the biggest film in the cycle… even if it wrapped things up and it felt like that’s what everyone would want to see.

I should also point out that the price hikes that journalists throw around without much thought are mostly a product of the 3D bump, not base ticket prices. So, on real ticket prices for this non 3D, but often IMAX film, I’d say the increase from the last film in the series is realistically no more than 4%.

Anyway… it’s still early in the life of the film and really, if the movie does 10% less than The Dark Knight, I will have two thoughts. First… that’s pretty impressive. There could have been real panic and a 10% drop doesn’t suggest that real panic occurred. Second, I wouldn’t have been shocked by that kind of drop-off even without Aurora occurring.

As for the two films that chose to open against The Olympics opening night… what were they thinking?

Still, if Step Up Revolution – opened by Summit, not Disney for the first time – opens to $12m, that’s right in step with the history of the series, which has shown diminishing returns each time out. Blaming Aurora for this one is moronic.

As for The Watch… there is a long list of reason why this isn’t so shocking, though certainly not thrilling for Fox. Does the audience know what the film really is, aside from 3 familiar guys wise-cracking? Is it a spin Ghostbusters? Is it the SNL sketch where the guys tell increasingly dirty jokes and break into some song in between? Is there any reason why any woman would go to this film or allow themselves to be taken to this film?

It’s also easy to forget that Vaughn and Stiller, both hugely successful in the past, are a bit out of practice, not to mention that they are now 42 and 46, respectively… a dangerous time for movie stars. Vaughn’s last comedy was The Dilemma, preceded by the more successful, but similarly irrelevant Couples Retreat, Four Christmases, and Fred Claus. Stiller co-fronted Tower Heist, which still only opened to $24m, and his last live-action studio comedies before that – aside from Fockers 3 – was 2008’s Tropic Thunder (with fresh-off-Iron-Man Downey) and The Heartbreak Kid, which opened to $14m. I’m not saying they are “over.” I think that’s overstating the situation. The right role and they are both still audience favorites. But they are not sure-fire and you certainly cannot take each star’s guaranteed opening in the teens and add them together for a new guaranteed open level. And Jonah Hill, who often steals the movie, opened The Sitter to $10m last year.

Again, there may be some reluctance after Aurora, but this film opening to $12m or so isn’t big proof of anything… it really asks more questions than it answers. And just attaching a recent tragedy to the number is lazy and a bit stupid.

All that said, I would not be shocked if on a planet where we could really come up with a truthful numerical study of how the box office is being affected by Aurora this weekend showed that there was a 5% – 10% price being paid across the board. That’s not nothing. But it’s not a game-changer either. And it allows us to imagine that by next week, the issue, in terms of moviegoing, will be moot.

But this is one of those hindsight stories. We will all be smarter about it in a few months, when we can look at this month’s numbers in perspective and get a real, not hyperactive, sense of the impact of the Aurora tragedy.

The indies are having a nice weekend. Nothing is breaking big. But nice numbers.


DP/30 Emmywatch: Breaking Bad, actor Aaron Paul

And here’s another Breaking Bad interview with Aaron, from June 2010.

BYOB – One Week Later

It’s remarkable how the world keeps on truckin’…

Sad. Liberating. Horrible. Glorious.

And the conversation moves on… box office ramifications, Olympics, elections, film festivals…


WB, Violent Movies (& The NY Times)

A really bad piece of psuedo-journalism by Cieply yesterday, claiming to be “News Analysis,” got my hackles up this morning.

A Studio With Violence in Its Bones (sub-hed) Warner Brothers and Its Decades of Violent Films” got me thinking about Warners’ history of noir films. The picture on the piece was Clint Eastwood. Okay. Home of Dirty Harry. I have the box set. But then, reading the piece, it starts to get thick in there.

Disney is about family. Okay. True… until they fired Dick Cook. Do the distributors of The Avengers, Reel Steel, and Fright Night in the last year get to maintain that “DNA?”

Universal is about monsters. Okay. In a history book. Since 2007’s Van Helsing, which tried to revive that studio history, there has only been the failed The Wolfman and, if you want to stretch a bit, the sequel to Hellboy, which had started at Sony. But you could argue that the studio’s last year of Contraband, Safe House, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Savages, makes it the most violent studio in town.

And then, the piece gets into a factually accurate, but highly misleading argument about WB’s history with violence, “a discussion that is perhaps more familiar at Warner than at any of Hollywood’s major studios.” Perhaps you can come up with more history dealing with this issue of the public good vs artistic freedom in relations to violence at WB than elsewhere. But recent history does not offer a legitimate claim that WB’s modern branding is violence… and certainly not more than most of the other studios.

The thing that disturbs me most about this piece is that Cieply focuses on some of the best films of the last 50 years and leaves out all that messy pushback. How the NY Times can bring up Bonnie & Clyde and not mention that attacking it for violent content essentially ended Bosley Crowther’s career as a critic to be taken seriously? How stupid do you have to be to not understand that A Clockwork Orange is a movie that’s anti-violence, using the raw ugliness of disaffected youth – as well as acknowledging the uncontextualized pleasures of youth – to make its point masterfully, and why constrain the argument to the negative perception? Why no nod to the powerful and timely political subtext of Dirty Harry… or the later weight of Harry at the center of American politics when Ronald Reagan adopted, “Go ahead, make my day”?

There is virtually no modern controversy around any of these films. But no one would know that reading this piece.

The Lethal Weapon series was not seriously violent, even at the emotional center was a suicidal cop. It was big, masterful, edgy-enough-to-feel-new big audience filmmaking.

And again, the game of bringing up Last Action Hero as a move away from violence, somehow crediting another studio with greater sympathy to violence, is trash. Columbia/Tri-Star, which released LAC, was also the home of Paul Verhoeven, who was ground zero for the complaints about movie violence for the decade of the 90s. From RoboCop (at Orion) to Total Recall (both being remade outside of WB) to Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers, his was the brand that anti-violence crusaders cited for years. The Hitcher, by the way, another major lightening rod, at Tri-Star.

Commando, Predator, True Lies, all at Fox. The Running Man, another one at Tri-Star.

And at WB in the 90s? Stone’s JFK. Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Burton’s and then Schumacher’s lighter versions of Batman. Falling Down, Dave, The FugitiveMaverick and Kasden’s Wyatt Earp opened back-to-back. What was The Brand then?

And yes, there were violent movies as well. The most controversial was surely Natural Born Killers. I would argue that it’s one of the best films about the violent culture of modern America ever made. But to many, it was just a bloody rage party. It was also a film from a 2-time Oscar winner/10-time nominee at the time. Does that seem like pandering to violence because it’s “in your bones?”

But I digress…

As one swims through the last 30 years at the studios, it becomes apparent that the biggest difference between one studio’s level of violence in their annual output and the others is the talent that has landed at any given time at any given studio. As noted earlier, Columbia/Tri-Star was the home of violence when Verhoeven’s films were their bread & butter (as well as a relationship with producer Carolco). WB became “more violent” when Ah-nuld landed there. And as is pointed out in the piece, Steven Seagal had that effect for a moment, though he was created, essentially, by Andy Davis… and would people really put The Fugitive in the “big violence” category?

Want some violence? Where is Joel Silver? Paramount and Fox carried his imprint until he settled in at WB in the late 80s. And for 20 years, he rolled out the mayhem there… including being behind The Wachowskis. (And what bizarre rhetoric is trying to pin WB with the work of The Wachowskis on The Matrix? WB didn’t know what they had with that first film. And it broke ground in the US, but a lot of what it was had already been done in anime’.)

And have we forgotten about the Bad Influence of Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson? American Gigolo, Thief, Cat People, Flashdance, Thief of Hearts… and later, the era of Bad Boys, The Rock, and Con Air. They also had more mainstream hits and Bruckheimer got kinder and gentler in the years after that. But this was highly controversial cinema in its time.

I went back to look at the last five years and 2012 for WB to see just how much violence branded the studio. And there is little doubt that under Jeff Robinov, it is even more of a “boy” studio than it was before. But for a studio that releases about 20 films a year most years, does 20% of that output being violent (standard made up, of course) define a brand or make it any different than any other studio. I mean, this decade… not the 1940s.

The “worst” year of the last 5.5 as regards the percentage of violent movies was 2010, when WB released 7 such titles out of 19 new, wide releases. Clash of the Titans was the biggest hit, making $163m domestically and $330m internationally (where there aren’t as many guns or as many rage crimes). The Book of Eli was a modest success with $94m domestic and $62m internationally. And The Town grosses $92m here at home and $62m internationally. Perhaps the most problematic of the films, in the moral regard, was Ben Affleck’s Town, which had a criminal as its hero. But it was also a quality film with moral values and challenging, compelling ideas. Hmmm…

Of the other four titles, the biggest grosser was Edge of Darkness, a Mel Gibson release in the midst of his troubles, finding $43m domestic and another $38m internationally. A financial loser. The other three were all under $30m worldwide. The Losers and Jonah Hex were both financial losers. WB might have been okay with Splice, which was a pick-up.

But the point is… the market seems to be pretty good, even with more than 1/3 of the releases being “violent,” at making choices for itself about what it wants to see.

Meanwhile, in the same year, at Paramount, Iron Man 2, True Grit, Shutter Island, Jackass 3D, The Fighter, and Paranormal Activity.

Last year at WB, the only movie with violence anyone might take seriously was Sucker Punch… and even then, it was mostly fantasy. Green Lantern? Red Riding Hood? Contagion? And an apocalyptic thriller (didn’t see it), Unknown.

Not very good branding by WB, I guess.

As noted from the top of this piece…if the goal was to detail, as news analysis, that WB has faced public flack for violence many times in its history, that’s 100% legit. But “violence in its bones” is a load of crap and clearly meant to hype the notion that somehow, WB is at fault for this, whether in releasing a PG-13 movie with a hero who grows through each of the films in the Nolan cycle, or by (gulp) advertising said movie.

I do think there are many legitimate and complex avenues for discussion on the issue of violence and the current culture, in the US and worldwide… we’re a big exporter. But “violence in its bones” is very much, to me, like saying that Germans can never be trusted because of the Nazi era or Italians because of the Crucifixion or Muslims because of 9/11. Unlike a company like Cannon or even the old Carolco, Warner Bros is clearly not a studio built on violence. It is a studio that has made a lot of very good films – and some very bad ones – that are not afraid to deal with violence.

When I look at their “violent” movies, I see filmmakers, not pandering with bullets. I see Christopher Nolan and Steven Soderbergh and The Wachowskis and Ben Affleck and Clint Eastwood and Francis Lawrence and Neil Jordan… and even the ones I like less as artists, like Zach Snyder. I look at the producers. I look at actors. And to reduce it down to an easy-to-swallow form of blame… no. Not acceptable. Certainly not from the NY Times.

And as those who have read me for a while know, I can be a prick about violence. I broke my own rules as a journalist because I was so incensed by Hostel 2, because it did feel to me like the filmmaker was having too much fun torturing women. I felt that way about Michael Bay throwing bodies out of the back of a truck in a car chase in Bad Boys 2. I wondered whether the number of bodies in Total Recall (the first one) was a problem… or not. I am not a person who thinks that no boundaries are acceptable, certainly not in conversation.

But when you start finding ways to insidiously blame WB or Nolan or the movie or the advertising for what happened in Aurora, I have to object deeply… much as I had to object to WB being held up as the standard for sexism in Hollywood when, in fact, the other studios (two run by women at the time) were making fewer films for and/or about women. No one’s hands are 100% clean. This is not a black & white issue.

Nor, for that matter, is gun control in light of this slaughter. The difference is that one is a discussion of process and one is a discussion of ideas and mindset. Process is not judgmental.. at least it should not be judgmental. It becomes political when people want it to be. But it can be discussed objectively. Ideas & mindset cannot – at least not within years of an event like this – be discussed objectively. We may come to learn, to some degree, what this guy had in his mind. But even assuming that what he may say is true, it will always be warped by the prism of his full life and experience and memory.

So when you are slinging around the history of WB and tagging it with lines that suggest that, somehow, WB was playing with fire, you are not creating a factual basis for discussion… you are begging for people to riff and to manipulate the facts to fit their goals. And the responsibility not to write “analysis” that intends to or will easily open the door to people getting the wrong idea is a responsibility that serious journalists carry on their shoulders. It’s why there should be editorial caution, not a race to publish every idea or potential fact FIRST!. You don’t have to look further than the current battle over Obama’s “you didn’t build that,” a line that taken out of context is a lie… but that many in this country have no shame about spreading.

The New York Times is all the news that’s fit to print… not all the gossip. We have plenty of hacks for that, thanks.


DP/30: The Watch, director Akiva Schaffer

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Great Moments in Media: NSFW Edition

I’m not 100% sure why this made me laugh so hard. I guess because the object, which is actually a sex toy, is so odd looking and yet, not unidentifiable as a simulation of body orifices. Combine that with the seriousness and length of the reporting and its respect for elders… and I laughed out loud a few times.

If you don’t know what it is, it probably is safe for work. Just don’t be ordering any mushrooms into the office.

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Another Netflix Quarter

I have been repeating myself over and over, so I will keep it brief.

Content issues are still the #1 long term problem for Netflix.

People are not fleeing like people from a building on fire from the company, but every quarter, Netflix’s content packages become a little thinner… a little more narrow. The company is fortunate that Amazon isn’t terribly aggressive about selling it’s streaming service… and that the studios continue to drag their feet as well. But the quality of Netflix’s offering is not pushing it further into the leadership of the streaming business… it is slowly, but surely eroding.

The last major studio whose recent releases are being streamed by Netflix, Paramount (by way of EPIX), is about to go non-exclusive, as EPIX finds other stream of revenue. It take s a long time for people give up something they are used to having. But at some point, people will start comparing other offerings to Netflix, and increasingly, some will make other choices.

I can certainly see a future where TV is catalogued by multiple streamers, say, product from the last 3 months on Hulu or Amazon, and material over 2 seasons old on Netflix. I am not saying that I know exactly how these chips will fall… only that they are already falling and while Netflix is likely to be a surviving brand, what precise kind of brand is completely up in the air.


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