The Hot Blog Archive for August, 2014

Loving “The Knick”


I’m not running a traditional review because it doesn’t feel right.

This series is everything great and distancing about Steven Soderbergh.

Here’s the best way I can describe it. If you enjoy all of Magic Mike, you will love this series. If you only are there for the “big” moments, you will probably find the first 4 hours frustrating and then start falling in love with the show in episodes 5, 6, 7, and beyond.

Me? I love the detail. I love the subtlety. I love that Soderbergh rarely tells you, as the audience, how to feel in anything other than the most demanding way.

What is the show about? Too much to turn into a sentence or even a paragraph. It’s about women who embrace their equality when the society doesn’t. It’s about race. It’s about extreme bravado and stunning fear. It’s about old money. It’s about the nature of power. It’s about how power can shift in an instant. It’s about how sheer bravery and utter stupidity can occupy a person in the same moment.

The series kind of reminds me of the most recent season of Boardwalk Empire, which really cut back on the genre fun (tits, guns, oversized personalities) and got to the gut of things. There are some big personalities in The Knick, but you won’t see a big, fun, wild Bobby Canavale-on Boardwalk–type performance on this series. (You might see Bobby Canavale next season… who knows?… but he would likely be seething, not barking.)

Casting by Carmen Cuba and Soderbergh is remarkable. Clive Owen is perfect here… but it’s not a Walter White or Don Draper kind of showy role. He is dry as a martini with a drop of Vermouth. Over the course of the 7 episodes I have seen, he is the show’s rock and shines, but without trying (or being written) to outshine others.

André Holland becomes a household name (or at least a Hollywood household name) from this show. The writing and the performance challenge him and his character to stay within the truth of that period while also pushing as hard as he can. The waves of frustration and relief are a dramatic joy to experience.

Eve Hewson, Juliet Rylance, and Maya Kazan each carries the baggage of famous families with them (I’ll let you look them up, if you care), but you wouldn’t know from the work. Three very different roles and performances. Each about as dead on – and unexpected in many ways – as you could seek. The further along you get in the series, the more complex and less expected each becomes.

And it’s great to see a vet like Cara Seymour get a great role to play.

I don’t want to make a forever-ling list of other great performances, but Danny Hoch, Michael Angarano, Matt Frewer… and Chris Sullivan, who is going to work FOREVER off of this show. How much range does he have as an actor? No idea. But if he’s a good guy – in real life – he will soon be one of the most popular guys to add to movie ensemble after movie ensemble.

Okay… so let me lay it out. People are going to have a hard time for the first 4 episodes. Soderbergh and the writers take their time laying out their corner of the universe. The frustrations of the situation will frustrate many viewers… because they are not cleanly resolved. And truth be told, I’d probably be happiest watching the first 4 back-to-back-to-back. There are moments of true delight along the way. But there is a lot of status quo establishing. But after that, things start really happening. And you will be hooked, week by week.

I know I am. Can’t wait for the last few episodes… and really, I am already excited about next season.


BYOB 8814



Kickstarter, Take 2

It occurred to me that I hadn’t posted any of this on the blog…

It then struck me that it is ironic that I am posting this on the blog, as I know many of you feel that the time I spend on DP/30 kinda killed the blog.

In any case, here is the latest.

1 Comment »

The Simple Math Of Moving Batman vs Superman… Without Blinking

Jeff Sneider asked me to write something up on this after I noted that there are a lot of silly/shitty stories out there on the subject that are basking in the “who blinked?” thing. So I have.

If you look at the last 8 summers, each has launched with a Marvel-based superhero movie. 5 of the 8 films have been #1 or #2 for the summer.

The only ones that were not were X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the first Thor, and this summer’s Amazing Spider-Man 2. All three of those films come with a fairly reasonable excuse. Wolverine was a reboot of sorts. Thor was the first attempt by the current Marvel regime, following Iron Man. And ASM2? Well, it didn’t really have a chance to start the big movie season. Captain America 2 took that honor.

Wolverine also got overshadowed by a big movie one weekend into release, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. Wolverine opened to $10 million more… but lost the battle of the legs by over $75 million domestically.

Thor came in #6 for the summer of 2011… but while close, did beat the first Captain America in both opening and domestic gross. It also beat X-Men: First Class by a more sizable margin and crushed Green Lantern in the first four-comic-book-movie summer ever.

There are a lot of factors about which films end up where, domestically, for the whole of its summer run. So let’s take a look at opening numbers as a basis for analysis…

In the 7 summers in a row with comic book openings until this one, the “opening day” film was the #1 opening 5 times in the ultra-competitive month of May.

In 2 of those cases, all May films were ultimately out-opened later in the summer by a Transformers movie, and in the 3rd, The Dark Knight. But that speaks to the power of those films more than a show of weakness for opening day. (And of course, Transformers 4 had the top opening this summer too.)

Spider-Man 3 outdid both of the other threequels in domestic gross – Shrek and Pirates – and was the #1 opening by $30 million.

Iron Man was the #2 opening of the summer, but by having more “open space” on the schedule, ended up out-grossing the #1 opener that summer, Indiana Jones 4.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine dropped like a stone, but was the #2 opening of that summer, out-opened only by Transformers 2.

Iron Man 2 was the #1 opening of the summer, though it was ultimately outgrossed by Toy Story 3.

Thor did well, but not Top 5 in opening or gross.. though it did top both other comic books movies. And there is this… Fast Five opened the weekend before Thor and outopened the official summer launch by $20 million.

Avengers. #1 opening by $46 million and won the whole summer. #1 grosser in the domestic box office.

Iron Man 3 was #1 opening by $57m and won the summer.

I don’t think anyone is out there arguing the power of that opening day summer slot. It doesn’t guarantee anything – a fact even more apparent before the CG comic book onslaught – but it is the best May launching pad and tends only to be matched by the weekend before July 4 or the weekend after. (The second weekend of July slot was opened by Pirates and then, Batman)

But this year, we saw something different. A big sequel dated one month before May’s official-ish opening day. And the results spoke for themselves. Cap had the best opening of the year, as of that time, by a 36% margin.

In 2013, the leap by the summer opener over all other opening days that year was $95 million (120%).
2012 – 36%
2011 – (neg) -31%
2010 – 10%
2009 – 21%
2008 – 107%
2007 – 114%

Only one exception, as you see… the year Fast Five jumped ahead of summer’s opening day.

That is, until this year, when Captain America 2 jumped opening day. As things went, it opened only 4% ahead of Amazing Spider-Man 2. But it flipped the script. And by having the proverbial “free space” earned the top domestic gross of the year to date.

So… Which is the real, best “opening day” slot? The first weekend of May or before that?

The answer appears to be self-evident. Of course, the movies involved carry no small amount of importance in this equation, especially in total domestic gross. But being first is a clear, undeniable advantage. And if you have a big enough movie, the launch of the summer clearly can move.

Batman vs Superman is certainly a big enough movie. Moving five weeks before Captain America 3 is an advantage on paper. The gamesmanship of “who blinked?” is nothing but silliness. Both films represent investments of more than $350 million with worldwide marketing… perhaps more than $400 million.

What was the best business move? Going first.

But there is more!

This summer, both Captain America 2 and Amazing Spider-Man 2 went out to international markets two weeks earlier than domestic. The World Cup was an issue, but these were not the first cases of international leading domestic.

So if in 2016, Warner Bros does what it tends to do, releasing the film worldwide on the same date, what would happen if Captain America 3 decided to go out 2 weeks early again? It could crowd Batman vs Superman after just three weekends. By going out the weekend before April 1, Warner Bros keeps their spacing clean and actually discourages Cap 3 from stepping on its heels.

Warner Bros wins again.

Of course, there is other stuff floating out there. Zack Snyder has had 4 of his 6 films open in March. On the other hand, only one has opened at the end of March… and it (Sucker Punch) bombed. Moreover, Snyder’s only opening over $71m million was in June. The issue is not March or Snyder’s history… it is, again, a business decision on a very big piece of business.

Anyway… that’s it. Not too complex.


When The Messaging Eats The Medium

I am about to turn 50. I have lived through the days of wonder in the film business, much as my father lived through them in the real world as he saw the car become mass produced, the Depression in the US, war across the globe, man walk on the moon, and ultimately, cellular phones and the dawn of the internet.

People in their 60s have lived long enough to remember the end of the studio system era, the flailing of the late 60s and early 70s (which didn’t just glitch businesswise to create the opportunity to make great films, but was also connected to political turmoil that influenced the work), the corporatization of the studios, the birth and explosion of wide release, VHS, DVD, and now streaming.

Of course, you would have to be in your 70s or 80s to really remember the one big delivery shift in the first 70 years of “filmed entertainment”… the birth of television.

As I screened Into The Storm, I was thinking of Twister, which was the first studio DVD… released less than 18 years ago. That’s not a short time, but given the ubiquity of the DVD and now, the hasty retreat of the form as catalog content moves to streaming, it’s remarkable.

The Great Train Robbery premiered in 1903. Sound didn’t break through until 1927. Color started showing up in the mid-30s. We went through about 40 years until the next big things… cable TV (and HBO with it) and VHS. In the 40 or so years since that, we have been through paradigm shift after paradigm shift, making progress both in delivery systems and in the technology of film (or what we still tend to call “film”).

Historically, most of the big changes in the movie industry have taken place because of failure. For instance, Warner Bros was in trouble financially and thus, The Jazz Singer… Fox was having a bad run and released 3 of its biggest hits on the burgeoning VHS platform… and digital projection has been driven by studios looking to cut distribution costs.

But I sense a major shift in the film business lately that isn’t so easy to turn into a snappy news headline. As the corporate parents of the major studios seek to turn the film business into a commodity, less vulnerable to the ups and down of success and/or quality filmmaking, they have also sought to turn media coverage of the film business into a commodity as well.

Of course, publicists have always wanted to control media. And media has always flexed muscles of independence.

But we have a different media landscape in 2014 than in the past. The “freedom” of the internet has led to a much lower bar for independence in journalism. And the financials on “Old Media” have become so bad that the standards for not only independence, but for what qualifies as News amongst the legacy outlets have been considerably lowered.

The following clip was clearly intended to be funny… but as a professional journalist, the laughs make me sick because they are so reflective of the reality. Internet didn’t kill the newspaper star… the newspaper star is willingly cutting the throat of journalism in the name of instant, short-lived popularity…

And as long as I am showing you video, here is another hilarious/horrible piece that aired after I started writing this entry…

I started thinking about all this a lot in recent months, but particularly after seeing Guardians of The Galaxy, a mediocrity of a movie and a likely hit. (Ed Note: I wrote this before the release of the film… and it is, indeed, a Top 5 summer hit.)

This is the point when some of you start mumbling that I hate Marvel or comic book movies in general, so my opinion doesn’t matter. And on some level that is fine. But mostly, it’s not. It is a symptom of a disease that is not just about me or you or Marvel or any other specific film or genre or franchise.

Forget about the idea that critics no longer matter. We don’t. At least not in the major studio release universe. There is a real and measurable influence on indies, particularly on a city-by-city basis. But against the onslaught of advertising dollars, critics can make neither Shinola nor shit. People are inundated with the materials and they make their choices.

But what I find truly scary is the machinery that clouds the minds of even some of the most intelligent people I know and read about how film is approached. (The cabal is even smaller and more authoritarian in TV… but that’s a different conversation in many ways.) Media is being managed like… well… the audience. Marketed to within an inch of its life. Abused and manipulated. Pre-sold becoming preordained.

Journalists are human beings, after all. The same way that film marketers convince ticket buyers who care about opening weekend to commit to going to Movie X on opening weekend regardless of reviews or even early word-of-mouth, studios are now convincing the media. And once that commitment is made, like most human beings, journalists don’t want to change their minds.

I have witnessed the phenomenon on Broadway for years now. People pay $100+ for tickets and suddenly, every show deserves a standing ovation every night. This devalues those shows that really deserve spontaneous passion from the audience. But, as people will argue, there are great performances and good moments in pretty much every Broadway show or it would not have gotten to Broadway. Or there is an actor that we, as an audience, really really love. So what’s the harm in showing appreciation to hard working actors and crew for doing their job for our pleasure?

“Harm” is a relative thing. We are talking about movies (and/or theater). Can there really be any harm? No one gets ill from being disappointed at a movie. No one dies from having a hyper-inflated experience at a movie caused by their determination to not be disappointed after investing emotionally.

But more and more, my sense is that media is not only a part of the packaging of a film, but is expected to be a part of the packaging for the film. A junket, which used to be about spreading the word to cities that were not located within the natural geographic sphere of the film industry, is now – in an era in which every print interview and every piece of video tends to end up online – about density of message.

And no outlet is above it.

Not one.

The most effective lie is one that is mostly true. And the best manipulation is one in which the subject does not think they are being manipulated at all… to the degree to which they will fight anyone who even suggests that there is a problem worth considering.

I guess that what scares me the most is that outlets that would consider themselves journalistic no longer feel compelled to actually be trusted by the reader. They have stopped taking that responsibility. Nowadays, they are just conduits of information, not arbiters of it.

I am not saying that every journalist is a suck-up or is a shill. But (almost) everyone seems to be hanging on by their fingertips to such a degree that the sin of omission or self-imposed. blindness is just a few Hail Marys, Our Fathers, and a couple of “everyone is doing it… can’t be avoided”s from absolution.

I am not pure. No one is pure. I expect no one to be pure. But there is a big space between virginal innocence and giving it all up.

Film marketers, who are much smarter than most of you understand, have figured out how to maximize every element they have in selling their products. They fail, too. But their ability to turn out the media instead of answer to it is… just breathtaking.

And it doesn’t matter whether I like The Product or not. Don’t lean on that to absolve yourself of thought about this issue. It’s not about the product. It’s about the end game for journalism. It’s not about fireworks, it’s about the constant flow of solid, clean journalism on a daily basis.

It’s about the authoritative voice and whether it will ever come back in force. The only way it can is for journalists to hold themselves accountable to the degree to which they can earn authority and maintain it.

And it gets harder – for all of us… for any of us – every single day.

Perhaps this is something to think about the next time some form of advertising is positioned and embraced as content. Because if ads are content, than content can be wholly about manipulation and not about truth. And as soon as we lose the ability or will to distinguish the two, we are finished as a meaningful culture. And if our culture is lost, our nation (you know… the serious shit) will soon follow.


Weekend Estimates by Pop Soundtrack Klady

Weekend Estimates 2014-08-03 at 9.05.55 AM

What can one say about an estimated $93.2m opening for Guardians of the Galaxy? Well done, Disney.

The estimate is being rounded up by the studio and some outlets so that it is bigger than Godzilla, the #2 opening of the summer and #3 for the year. And indeed, it may be bigger. It may also be smaller. In the rush to write, it seems that now nearly all outlets have chosen to acknowledge that no one actually knows what will happen on the day we project into 3-day estimates each late Saturday night/early Sunday… Sunday. The bigger the gross, the less trustworthy the estimate. And given that Disney is estimating a bigger Sunday for Guardians than for Cap 2 or Godzilla and slightly smaller than the $100m-opening Transformers 4, we really, really don’t know. But estimates are not estimates anymore… they are marketing. And so, “94m!” Definitively above Godzilla… until it is or is not actually that.

Guardians is – regardless of whether it is a little higher or a little lower – the #1 opening in August by about a 35% margin. It is either the #3 or #4 opening of the year and #2 or #3 of the summer. It gives Marvel-based films four of the six top openings in 2014 with Avengers 2 due up to launch next summer. If it has the same trajectory as Cap 2, it will gross about $255m domestically. But as is now the norm, because of the price tag, the international is where the real revenue question lives. That larger front got off to a good start this weekend with about $66m in roughly half the rest of the world.

Get On Up opened to around $14m, and 42 opened to around $27m. They are saying that there was a Saturday bump, so that is a good sign, box office-wise… not about word-of-mouth, but about the kind of audience that is going to see the film. Better chance of stronger legs.

Lucy held up pretty well against the Guardians onslaught and this weekend suggests, as much as anything, that whomever at Universal decided to move the movie into an earlier summer slot was very, very smart. The film should hit $100m domestic in the next 10 days.

Roadside Attractions has had a good history with summer dramas and that continues with their handling of A Most Wanted Man, which expanded nicely this weekend. It should become the distributor’s #3 all-time grosser next weekend and is sure to be their #2, though whether it can topple their #1, Mud, and its $21.6 million is a question. But worth noting… it’s not a VOD movie on top of theatrical.

IFC also has a summer hit in Boyhood, which is currently IFC’s #3 all-time. There is a giant anomaly in IFC’s history… My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It is an outlier in virtually every way. But in the rest of IFC history, Boyhood is now their widest release ever and has remained solid in a slow expansion. How much wider will it go and how quickly? We’ll find out one week at a time. Maybe IFC is not pushing their story as hard as the Weinsteins were pushing theirs… but no coincidence that none of IFC’s Top 3 pictures were scheduled for VOD on top of theatrical.

The Woody Allen, Magic in the Moonlight, is kicking along with a strong $11,440 per screen on 65 screens. But the real questions will start to be answered as the film expands further. SPC has been a little more aggressive on the theater counts with this release so far, so it will be interesting to see if they go wider than 800 screens or not… and what the gross is.

Fox Searchlight opened Calvary on 4 screens to very strong numbers. It will be interesting on this one to see if the religious groups show up before it’s over in theatrical. But indie movie lovers should come out.


Friday Estimates by I Am Klady

Friday Estimates 2014-08-02 at 10.32.12 AM

So… a very strong opening for Guardians of the Galaxy. Not the best of the summer, but right in the sweet spot between Transformers 4/Godzilla and X-Men/Spiderman. And a few hundred thousand above April’s Cap 2.

We are in a period in which Marvel can do no wrong.

Truth is, comic book movies have been pretty unbeatable for more than a couple of decades now. There have been few outright flops. And plenty of just-over-breakeven “winners,” mostly because the costs are so outrageous.

Historically, every movie trend ends. And when this one ends, it will likely be for the marginal titles, not for the “classic characters,” though even Batman, Superman, and Hulk have seen some soft-vs-costs numbers over their runs and reboots.

We are also in an age where the media has joined the sales team for selected franchises and have become a big part of the marketing effort to open certain movies. And I say marketing instead of publicity quite intentionally. I am not pointing fingers at film critics. We are not much relevant to the marketing effort or to opening weekend. (I will say, however, that harshness and generosity is now often influenced by outside forces, especially the hype machine, in a lot of criticism.) But the relentless machinery towards opening weekend is assisted for or months and often years now by a willing media that seems to be happy substituting marketing for journalism. Like so many things right now, a small dose was fine (like classic geek set visits), but when it becomes the standard, we all end up choking on it.

So, another big opening of $170m+ production that is unlikely to lead to more than $250m domestic. It should tip the scales amongst the 5 big openings towards a generous critical view of the summer as the third of the 5 top summer films not to suck in overall American perception. No one actually knows what this weekend will bring, much less next weekend. But I expect pretty positive word of mouth and the same 60% and change drop next weekend, when the media will obsess on the “battle” between The “summer saving” Guardians and the return of Michael Bay’s Ninja Turtles.


The irony of domestic media’s rollover for marketing departments is that the effort is now really as much about opening domestically as it is to convince international ticket buyers that they should line up. Guardians is yet another summer mega-movie that will need $150m-$200m internationally before it hits break-even on paper. Based on the history of these films, that should be no problem.

Also opening this weekend, Get On Up should put a damper the late summer “black history for white people” late summer slot. Nothing wrong with what may be a $13.5 million opening for a biopic in the summer. But it will probably be half of what what 42 launched with… or The Help opened to… or The Butler. Maybe if they had gotten Oprah to play Aretha it would have opened stronger. I haven’t actually seen the film and the critical response seems to be between “good and better than expected” to “not so good, but better than expected.” The good news for the film is that it could well do 3x opening, as did Jersey Boys and Blended. So not a big hit, but not necessarily a loser.

Lucy is taking on some water under on the weight of Guardians and August doesn’t get any easier for genre films. It should have been a milk run to $100m domestic. And it still should get there… but it won’t be as easy as a $44m launch suggested.

Worth noting about this summer… not a single film that didn’t open to $40m-plus has hit $100m as of this writing. Edge of Tomorrow is the only one in range. Not good.

Nice opening number for Calvary on 4 screens, doing about $14k per. I am more impressed with this than I am with some of the other limited launches of note this summer, as it is a brutal movie to market. It’s very hard to explain and it has some serious stuff going on. (I explained it to a group of people thusly:  “It opens with a confession. The man on the other side of the box explains that he was molested by a priest and his way of making his point in response will be to kill a good priest who is guilty of nothing. He gives the priest a week to sort out his details. The movie is that week.” I think everyone I was selling it to will be going this weekend. But they aren’t looking for Taken or Phonebooth. They will be happy to watch a beautifully-acted and directed film with an internal, human sorting out.)

Brendan Gleeson is an acting deity for me… but I don’t imagine you could say his name to many people and get a response. (Show them a picture and they will smile instantly.) John Michael McDonagh is a terrific writer and director and his last collaboration with Gleeson, The Guard, did just over $5m domestically for Sony Classics, but it was comedy. This is not. And indeed, it opened on 4 to around double what this one is opening to on 4. It’s a challenge, commercially.

Roadside Attractions is doing a very nice job on A Most Wanted Man. Not great reviews. But it feels adult and of some size, people want to see Phil Hoffman work, and summer is rough on grown ups.





The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

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