Posts Tagged ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Box Office Hell — January 12

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Our Players|Coming Soon|Box Office Prophets|Box Office Guru|EW|Box Office . com
Contraband |19.0|15.2|16.0|20.0|21.5
Beauty and the Beast 3D|17.2|17.6|19.0|18.0|17.5
Joyful Noise |14.6|7.3|14.0|15.0|15.5
Mission Impossible — Ghost Protocol|14.0|14.3|14.0|14.0|15.0
The Devil Inside|11.8|9.8|10.0|11.0|11.0
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows|9.6|8.6|9.0|n/a|10.7

Critics Roundup — January 12

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Beauty and the Beast 3D |||||Green
We Need to Talk About Kevin (NY) |Green||Green|Green|Green
Newlyweds (Chicago) |||Yellow||
Joyful Noise |||||Yellow


Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Leader In 3D Filmed Entertainment To Offer At Least 15 Films On Growing Blu-ray 3D Format For The Home

— TRON: LEGACY and TANGLED Lead Day-and-Date 3D Releases and THE LION KING and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Make 3D Debut —

BURBANK, Calif. — January 3, 2011 — Continuing its leadership in the advancement of 3D entertainment and marking the most significant title commitment to the growing Blu-ray 3DTM market, The Walt Disney Studios today announced plans to release at least 15 of its films for in-home viewing on Blu- ray 3D in 2011.

Among the stellar list of films to debut on 3D include beloved and celebrated animated classics THE LION KING and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, recent theatrical releases including the visually stunning high tech adventure TRON: LEGACY and acclaimed box-office smash hit TANGLED, plus many others to be announced that will release day-and-date and packaged with the Blu-ray 2DTM version.

“As our contemporary library of 3D content continues to grow, and the original artists and filmmakers meticulously „dimensionalize‟ their work for release on the Blu-ray 3D format, we will be offering movie- lovers the most incredible in-home entertainment experience they will ever have,” noted Lori MacPherson, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. “In addition to offering new releases day-and-date in 3D and further cementing our leadership in the marketplace, we‟re thrilled that consumers will have the exclusive Blu-ray 3D experience of two of the most celebrated Disney animated features, THE LION KING and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, in their homes.”

Also included among the titles slated for release in 2011 are BOLT, MEET THE ROBINSONS, TIM BURTON’S THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, G-FORCE and CHICKEN LITTLE. These titles will join Walt Disney Studios‟ recent 2010 Blu-ray 3D releases ALICE IN WONDERLAND, DISNEY’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL and STEP UP 3, bringing Disney‟s list of available Blu-ray 3D titles for the home to nearly 20 in all.In addition to the film being in 3D, each disc will include thematically linked 3D menus, 3D previews of coming-attractions trailers and an introduction to the eye-popping world of Disney Blu-ray 3D featuring beloved characters Timon and Pumbaa from THE LION KING.

The DVD Wrap: The Karate Kid, Beauty and the Beast, The Human Centipede, The Rig, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Slumber Party Massacre Collection … and more

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

The Karate Kid

The concept is simplicity itself: The Karate Kid in China, with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s way-cool son, Jaden Smith, in the Ralph Macchio role and Jackie Chan in the place once reserved for Pat Morita. Instead of shooting a silver-anniversary version of Karate Kid in Vancouver or a back lot in Culver City – and a quick straight-to-DVD release — the producers elected to roll the dice and stage it in China. The decision might have been influenced by the commercial success of Kung Fu Panda or, more likely, Chinese backers with reasons of their own to showcase their country’s bounty. Either way, it worked.

Smith plays a 12-year-old Detroit boy, Dre, uprooted by his recently widowed mother to Beijing for career purposes. At first, kids at his new school treat Dre as if he had personally convinced the International Olympic Committee that the Chinese gymnastics teams were force-fed anabolic steroids with their daily regimen of Wheaties and dim sum. He’s bullied by members of the local kung fu club and ignored by almost everyone else. While Dre’s knowledge of karate might have impressed classmates in Detroit, it isn’t nearly enough to keep him from being tossed around by the Chinese kids.

For help, he turns to his apartment complex’s maintenance man (Chan), a martial-arts master gone to seed. His methodology requires extreme patience and unquestioned discipline on the part of Dre, who’s deficient in both qualities. It isn’t until Mr. Han takes Dre to a dojo in the spectacularly beautiful mountains and forests a short distance from the capital that the boy begins to understand kung fu is as much a lifestyle as it is a sport.

Naturally, Karate Kid concludes with an exciting series of bouts in a citywide tournament. By that time, however, the movie’s inspirational message has already been delivered. The splendid Blu-ray package includes an interactive map of China, focusing on Beijing, the Great Wall and picturesque Wudang Mountains; “Chinese Lessons,” which offers a primer in the language; a nine-part production diary, hosted by Chan, and making-of featurette; an alternate ending; Justin Bieber music video; a pair of digital copies and a DVD; BDLive and MovieIQ functionality. Rated PG, Karate Kid easily qualifies as a film the whole family can enjoy.


Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition Blu-ray

Every new technology brings with it an expectation of immediate gratification by early adopters. Having spent the money, we want to enjoy our favorite movies and music as the digital gods intended and as quickly as possible. Typically, though, the titles released soonest will have been sent out absent the refinements and features that would take full advantage of the advanced playback units. It explains why “special” editions of movies sometimes are released within a few years or even months of a title’s initial debut.

The addition of supplemental features is always a good excuse to send out new packages, even if they occasionally feel like afterthoughts. Too often, though, the practice smacks of planned obsolescence. Long before anyone could dream of owning a personal copy of a Disney movie, the studio began re-releasing its animated hits in six-year intervals. Brand new prints would be shipped to theaters and, if necessary, reformatted to conform to advances in projection and audio systems. The studio adopted the same practice with its VHS, Beta and DVD releases, each new edition offering more bang for the buck.

If Disney has been slow to release its most valuable properties on Blu-ray, it’s probably because the studio now intends to do things right the first time. The evidence arrives in Diamond editions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast and, soon, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, as well as Platinum editions of Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio. Disney promises that each title, which will be available for a limited time, will be re-mastered from the original negative (when available) for a 1080p picture and 7.1 soundtrack. (Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty will go out Diamond next time around, as well.)

It goes without saying that the discs will arrive, as well, with a pile of extras. The Diamond Beauty and Beast package includes the 92-minute extended version, the 85-minute original and an early “storyreel” PIP “experience.” Add to that an extensive audio commentary, with producer Don Hahn and co-directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale; a sing-along track; a fast-play option; deleted scenes; “Beyond Beauty,” a feature-length making-of documentary; standard-format features from previous DVDs; a music video; a look at the Broadway production and music; an interactive game for 2-8 players and “Enchanted Musical Challenge”; sneak peeks; a screen saver; Smart Menu; and BD Live access portal. Beauty and the Beast will make you happy you invested in a Blu-ray.


The Secret of Kells

Unless one was a member of the Motion Picture Academy’s feature-animation committee or had already seen The Secret of Kells at a film festival, news of its nomination probably was greeted with a, “Huh?” Like fellow finalists Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Princess and the Frog, the Irish import didn’t stand a ghost of a chance against, Up. Being noticed at all, however, truly could be considered a victory.

Unlike those larger-budgeted pictures and such also-rans as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Astro Boy, Monsters vs Aliens, 9, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Ponyo, there was a very good chance Kells wouldn’t be accorded a decent DVD run, either. After all, there’s no disguising the fact that it’s as much a film to be enjoyed by adults as children and, as such, might not fly off the shelves of video stores.

Tomm Moore’s traditionally drawn Kells has finally arrived, though, and, while it may still be invisible among the big trees, it is well worth finding. That’s especially true for anyone with an interest in Irish history, medieval art and Celtic mysticism. The story is set in the 8th Century, a time when Vikings threatened to overwhelm the civilizations of Ireland and England.

Twelve-year-old Brendan, whose parents were killed in the invasion, is living in the walled monastery of Kells under the supervision of his uncle, the Abbot Cellach (voiced by Brendan Gleeson). Cellach has instilled in the boy both a fear and curiosity of the unknown territory outside the monastery. His opportunity for enlightenment comes with the arrival of an illustrator of illuminated manuscripts, Brother Aidan, who enlists him to find berries for ink. While in the woods outside the monastery, Brendan encounters demon wolves, a fairy, pagan gods and other potential threats to god-fearing souls.

Once his fears are vanquished, Brendan is able to study under Aiden and collaborate on the Book of Kells, which, today, can be viewed at the library of Trinity College. The elaborately drawn images found in The Secret of Kells appear to have been influenced as much by the Gospels as Celtic iconography, Byzantine paintings, the pottery of America’s Pueblo Indians and native art from Asian cultures. Practically every frame can stand as a work of visual poetry and the impression of light passing through page is palpable. The DVD arrives with several interesting making-of featurettes and backgrounders. Kells is a must-see for anyone interested in animation.


Outsourced: Deluxe Edition

In 2003, NBC fell flat on its face when it attempted to adapt the hit British sitcom, Coupling, for American audiences. It found much greater success in its adaptation of The Office. New this season to the network’s Thursday-night comedy block is Outsourced, which was adapted from a movie about India, shot primarily in and around Mumbai.

While it remains uncertain as to how long the sitcom will last on NBC’s prime-time schedule, I do know it will be given every opportunity to succeed. Even with The Office as its lead-in, the show is up against some very stiff competition. No matter, I can easily recommend seeking out the DVD of the movie, which has been re-released in a “deluxe” edition.

Even if the first two episodes of the sitcom were lifted almost verbatim from John Jeffcoat’s romantic fish-out-water comedy, a distinctly more serious tone that reminds viewers that Outsourced was inspired by the cold realities of life in the current global economy.

Josh Hamilton plays Todd, the manager of a Seattle firm that facilitates the purchase and delivery of novelty items to consumers. One day, he’s told that the company is moving its phone-servicing operation to India, where he’ll train the man taking his place as manager. Moreover, before handing over the responsibility, he’s being required to improve production to a nearly impossible level.

The manager really has no interest in the company or India, beyond the necessity to protect his retirement package. In fact, he’s downright hostile toward his boss back home. The NBC show tempers the manager’s resentment, as well as his company’s cutthroat attitude to its new employees.

Both versions labor to give the Indian employees real personalities and career ambitions, absent the usual Bollywood stereotypes and forever-meddling parents. On TV, though, the same characters also are required to deliver laughs on cue, every 20 seconds or so. The movie benefits, as well, from being shot in the teeming streets of India. As the love interest, a smart and beautiful Indian employee, Asha (Ayesha Darkher), is given far more depth than most women in similar roles.


The Misfortunates

The Misfortunates, Belgium’s entry in the 2010 Best Foreign Language sweepstakes, goes to great lengths to beg the question, “If it were possible to choose your family, would you ask for a trade?” For 13-year-old Gunther Strobbe that question is anything but rhetorical.

As cute and aware as any boy his age, Gunther was born into a family of unvarnished louts, boozers and miscreants. His mother, a “whore,” took a powder early in his life, leaving Gunther to be raised by his good-for-nothing dads and uncles. His grandmother tries her best to keep him from going with the flow of family tradition, but she’s overmatched by her overgrown and unabashedly lazy sons.

Gunther loves his family, even if he understands how much better off he’d off be living at a boarding school. He even respects their dubious achievements: setting a world record for beer consumption, winning naked bike races and singing obscure drinking songs. The Strobbes aren’t alone in their daily celebration of debauchery, though. Homegrown alcoholics appear to outnumber solid citizens, 2 to 1. Just as Gunther reaches the point of no return in his adolescence, a social worker places him in a facility where other kids won’t judge him by his relatives’ antics and he won’t be ridiculed for doing his homework.

Flash ahead to adulthood, when Gunther is confronted with a familiar dilemma. After impregnating his girlfriend, a genetic predisposition to cut and run is revealed. His decision not only will determine his future as a writer and un-conflicted human being, but also the lives of the young woman and their child, who would inherit the Strobbe curse. Felix Van Groeningen adapted The Misfortunates from a best-selling novel by Dimitri Verhulst, whose books are informed by a childhood spent in foster homes and institutions.

His characters make Judd Apatow’s creations look like the Rover Boys. The Misfortunates easily qualifies as a comedy, but there are times when you’ll be ashamed of yourself for laughing at the indignities of life among the Strobbes.


The Human Centipede
The Rig
30 Days of Night: Dark Days
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The Slumber Party Massacre Collection
The Evil/Twice Dead

Critics and fanboys, alike, had a field day with The Human Centipede (First Sequence), an example of torture porn so twisted and depraved that unsuspecting test audiences found it difficult to stay in their seats and only in a handful of American theaters would take a chance on it. Reviews were split almost down the middle as to its worthiness as an entertainment, with Roger Ebert going so far as to eschewing the star system as being inadequate to the task at hand.

Actually, Hostel and Saw are far more graphic, at least when it comes to depictions of amputations and surgery. The horror in Human Centipede is far more cerebral. The more one thinks about the concept of a human centipede, the uglier and more distressing it becomes.

Dutch director Tom Six‘s story begins familiarly enough, with a mad scientist (Dieter Laser, who resembles an insect) rounding up hostages to be used in a surgical experiment. We learn that he’s brilliant, especially in the area of separating conjoined twins, and guess that he’s a closet Nazi. His dream is to attach people front to rear, by removing the ligaments that would allow them to stand and run, while also suturing mouths to rectums.

The new humanoid creature, comprised of two American girls and a Japanese man, would be given a common digestive system and be required to skitter across surfaces on all fours. We hope police will arrive in time to prevent the vivisection, but are given no reason to think they will. (I found it impossible not to flash on the Milwaukee police officers who discovered the horrible contents of Jeffrey Dahmer’s refrigerator.)

In my opinion, movies that prompt great debate in the media are rarely as shocking or controversial as pundits make them out to be. The argument almost always boils down to First Amendment rights of expression and censorship issues. In Human Centipede, though, the image is so disturbing that repeating, “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie,” does help soften the blow. And, of course, no one’s holding a gun to the head of any viewers, forcing them to witness such an atrocity … however fake. A planned sequel reportedly could include a human centipede segmented 12 ways. The DVD package adds a deleted scene, rehearsal footage, making-of material and an interview with the director.

Made months before the massive oil spill off Louisiana, but only released direct-to-DVD this week, The Rig offers a perfectly plausible diagram for disaster on an offshore drilling rig: piss off the Creature From the Black Lagoon’s salt-water cousin and see what happens. Like the crew members stranded on the “Charlie” platform in Peter Atensio’s goofball thriller, it’s possible the BP crew was too distracted by an undersea creature to notice their rig was about to explode.

The rest, of course, is history. Veteran character actor William Forsythe is the only actor I recognized in The Rig, suggesting just how little money was expended on the project. The other big clue is the scuba-suit costume worn by the actor playing the creature, who spends less time on the screen than the opening credits. Otherwise, the movie’s plot is textbook horror: strand a bunch of people in an enclosed space and prompt someone or something to begin picking them off one-by-one. By the time the assassin’s identity and motivations are revealed, only the fittest will have survived to battle the monster.

Unfortunately, The Rig offers precious little else in the way of explanation for the attacks. The monster just is. … If its makers had anticipated the oil spill, The Rig could have exploited BP’s lack of foresight and readiness, and sicced the creature against company executives. Only younger teens are likely to get a charge from The Rig, which is rated “R” primarily for an extended shower scene, which they won’t mind seeing, either.

A year after the population of Barrow, Alaska, was obliterated by vampires in 30 Days of Night, the lone survivor moves to California to exact revenge on the invaders for killing her husband. This time around, Kiele Sanchez has taken over the role of Stella from Melissa George and Mia Kirshner has replaced Danny Huston as the boss bloodsucker.

Dark Days takes place in a pre-True Blood universe, in which vampires are everywhere but most Americans refuse to accept their existence. So, along with a handful of believers, Stella takes it upon herself to save the world from another, even lower budget sequel to 30 Days of Night. The Blu-ray edition of Dark Days adds commentary, a backgrounder featurette and “Graphic Inspirations: Comic to Film,” which follows the creative process that originated in graphic-novel form.

When he isn’t producing and directing mega-budget popcorn flicks, Michael Bay keeps busy supervising the creation of contemporary re-makes of classic slasher/horror pictures, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Besides the fact that these aren’t pictures that are crying out to be re-made – neither was Rob Zombie’s Hallloween – Bay’s choice of mostly untested feature directors suggests he’s conducting some kind of a boot camp for filmmakers. Nightmare director Sam Bayer, for example, cut his teeth on videos for such artists as Nirvana, Green Day and Metallica. Here, Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley plays Freddy Krueger, he of the knifed hands, and Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander, in the Hollywood remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is Nancy Thompson.

The Blu-ray edition adds an alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; the featurette “Freddy Krueger Reborn”; Maniacle Movie Mode; and a digital copy.

Shout! Factory’s series of upgraded Roger Corman Cult Classics continues apace with the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy and a double-feature of The Evil and Twice Dead. First released in 1983, the Slumber Party films illustrate what it took to be a drive-in classic in the waning days of the genre and outdoor venues. In addition to the many pretty girls who weren’t shy about taking off their tops when asked, there was an escaped mental patient with a power tool, clueless parents and a wolfpack of horny boys.

The slumber party needs no explanation. Ironically, the first installment – written by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones—was intended as a quasi-feminist parody of teen-slasher films. The producers decided, however, to leave parodies to Mel Brooks and accentuate the boobs, blood and lesbian undertones. In the first sequel, Crystal Bernard takes over for party-survivor Courtney Bates, who can’t shake nightmare premonitions of an Elvis wannabe “driller killer” returning to finish the job. SPM3 opens with a beach volleyball game, but the action moves to a slumber party. None of the movies could be confused with art, but, as campy entertainment goes, the trilogy is a great diversion.

Haunted-house thrillers The Evil and Twice Dead are paired in a separate “Cult Classics” release. In the former, a psychologist played by Richard Crenna purchases an antebellum home, which, of course, is already inhabited by, that’s right, Satan. Mayhem ensues when rehabbers inadvertently unlock the doors to his prison. In Twice Dead, a family inherits a mansion once owned by a famous actor. Before moving in, the new owners are required to deal with a street gang and the actor’s ghost. All of the titles in the Corman DVD series arrive with a full complement of bonus features, commentary and interviews.

Also from Shout! Factory come new double-feature editions in its series about the giant, flying, fire-breathing turtle, Gamera. At this point in long-running Japanese franchise, the producers have begun to cater to its loyal audience of kids, who can identify with the increased use of younger characters. The packages include Gamera Vs. Guiron/Gamera Vs. Jiger and Gamera Vs. Gyaos/Gamera Vs. Viras. The freshly polished movies arrive in English- and Japanese-language versions.


The Last of the Mohicans: Director’s Definitive Cut: Blu-ray

Michael Mann‘s gorgeous and exciting adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper‘s The Last of the Mohicans arrives on Blu-ray in a “Director’s Definitive Cut,” which is a new distinction to me. Among other nuances, most of which I wouldn’t recognize if a tomahawk flew past my ear, the new edition is several minutes longer than the original and several minutes shorter than the first director’s-cut DVD.

What remains is the beauty of the Smoky Mountains locations and Mann’s earnest attempt not only to be faithful to the novel, but also to the spirit of the Native Americans upon whom it was based. To this end, Mann also cast Native American actors, such as Wes Studi and Eric Schweig, and activists Dennis Banks and Russell Means, in key roles.

A totally buff and athletic Daniel Day-Lewis plays a Playgirl-approved version of Hawkeye, the American settler raised by the Mohicans, who would be enlisted by the colonists as a guide and protector of British womanhood in upstate New York. (Mann changed his given name from Natty Bumppo to Nathaniel Poe to avoid snickering by rubes in the audience.)

Russell Means plays his Mohican companion, Chingachgook. The movie also attempts to present hand-to-hand fighting as it might have looked and sounded in real combat. It’s an amazing re-creation. The Blu-ray edition, which also looks and sound terrific, adds Mann’s commentary and a making-of featurette with new interviews with Day-Lewis.


Hand in Hand

Of all the original cast members of L.A. Law, Corbin Bernsen probably has enjoyed the most productive afterlife on television and it the movies. His lascivious lawyer, Arnie Becker, may have been an archetypal character, but Bernsen has moved beyond it to play a wide variety of people in projects large and minute.

In the last five years, he’s also been active behind the camera as a director, writer and producer. He does a little bit of everything in Rust, as well. The protagonist is a minister who gave up on his small town life in Canada to wander the secular desert in search of God. He returns home 30 years later to comfort his best friend, who’s confessed to setting a fire that killed an entire family. Naturally, Bernsen’s lapsed minister finds clues that could lead to the man’s acquittal, if only someone in the small town would listen. Suffice it to say, Moore´s faith pulls both men through the ordeal.

Originally released in 1960, Hand in Hand tells the story of two 7-year-old friends — the Jewish Rachel (Loretta Parry) and Catholic Michael (Philip Needs) – who must learn at far too early an age how to cope with religious prejudice and outright bigotry. Unlike their elders, the kids open their minds to the other’s religious ceremonies and traditions. To escape their small-town confines, they embark on a dream journey to Africa in a dinghy, and, not surprisingly, it doesn’t last very long. Instead, it becomes another test of faith.


Human Target: The Complete First Season
Ugly Americans: Volume 1
Scrubs: The Complete Ninth and Final Season
Bill Burr: Let It Go Bill Burr: Let It Go

In the Fox action series Human Target, protagonist Christopher Chance represents the kind of endangered super-agent who can crack a joke, slip a knot and pinch a fanny with equal aplomb, while bullets whistle past his ears and his car barrels down a cliff. As played by the handsome blond hunk Mark Valley – the ex-marine lawyer on Boston Legal – the character appeals as much to women viewers as males … or should.

Chance is a private security contractor whose job it is to protect clients from assassination. In the original comic-book version of the story, Chance would morph into his clients, a trick that could look silly on TV. Fox moved the show to Friday nights this season, a move that’s generally regarded to be the kiss of death for a series. There’s no reason for late-comers not to sample the first 12 episodes, though. Adding to the enjoyment are eccentric supporting characters played by Chi McBride, Jackie Earle Haley and Emmaunelle Vaugier. The set includes a pair of making-of featurettes, pilot commentary and a gag reel.

Comedy Central’s animated horror-comedy series Ugly Americans,could hardly have been any stranger. The show follows a social worker at New York’s Department of Integration, as he helps new citizens – human, alien, horrific and angelic – get accustomed to their new home. On the small screen, the mélange of mutants and misfits can be difficult to absorb, but, truth to tell, this is how the Big Apple must look to people from North Dakota. Given the proclivities and appendages of some of the characters, Ugly Americans is definitely not for the kiddies.

It’s always difficult to say goodbye to an old friend, especially one that’s been put through the ringer for most of the last nine years. That’s how long it took to kill Scrubs, a series more beloved by audiences than the network executives who never quite knew when to schedule it. That’s how it is when nearly the entire cast of characters can be described as offbeat and storylines often blur the line between tragedy and surrealism. Scrubs, which began as an ABC project but debuted on NBC, ended its run back on ABC. In the final season, J.D. returned to teach at Sacred Heart’s medical school, where he was surrounded by new faces and very different story lines. The package includes deleted scenes, bloopers and a segment, “live from the golf cart.”

Road-warrior comic Bill Burr says realized a longtime dream when he was booked into the Fillmore Theater for his recent Comedy Central concert. Not only does the Massachusetts native spend 300 nights a year in the clubs, but he also is a regular on the Opie & Anthony Show, has a weekly podcast and can be found on every social network on the planet. Addition material includes “I’m Blind”/”Thank You,” outtakes and “The Monday Morning Podcast.”

Red Vs Blue: The Recollection Collection represents five hours worth of episodes from Seasons 6-8, a pair of mini-series, special videos and behind-the-scenes footage. Also included are audio commentary, special videos and PSA’s, deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews and visual effects breakdowns.

ShoWest Sampler: Animation, 3-D and the new Woody Allen Film

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

LAS VEGAS — It’s been rumored here that the annual ShoWest soiree, as sure a harbinger of spring as any returning robin, soon could go the way of such once-storied conventions as COMDEX, VSDA, NATPE, NAB, Summer CES and E3.

The computer industry’s “geek week,” as COMDEX became known, once brought 200,000 conventioneers to this city, making room vacancies as scarce as Megabucks winners. Two years later, it disappeared completely. After the Summer CES, held each June in Chicago, was overwhelmed by the demands of an electronics industry in which shelf life was measured in months, not years, the only segment that continued to make things interesting spun itself off as the Electronic Entertainment Expo. That once rowdy convention, like VSDA and NATPE before it, now has deflated to the point where it could be held in a phone booth.

The only success story in the world of conventions lately has been the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, which is held simultaneous to the increasingly less fun Winter CES. Given the ready availability of freely available pornography on the Internet, though, it, too, might have gone the way of the dodo bird, if organizers hadn’t opened the exhibition floor and awards show to the public.

ShoWest became famous mostly for the largesse shown by Hollywood studios to North American theater owners. In the days before a handful of chains owned the majority of theaters and multiplexes, distributors would compete for the right to deliver the greatest number of celebrities to banquets and show the best product reels. There was nothing quite like it, even at Cannes or during Oscar week.

When video revenues began to overtake theatrical box-office, the same distributors who financed ShoWest made VSDA the best show in town. After such operations as Blockbuster and Hollywood began to dominate the mom-and-pops – and organizers became embarrassed by the growing adult-video sideshow – VSDA nearly disappeared entirely. Ditto, syndicated-television’s annual love fest, NATPE, which saw its value to broadcasters fall to Fox, UPN, the WB and the cable networks. The National Association of Broadcasters’ tech show, held each April in Las Vegas, hasn’t been the same since it let the software jockeys and post-production nerds steal the thunder from actual broadcasters.

For the last five years at ShoWest – or ever since “digital” became a buzzword in Hollywood — equipment-producing companies have attempted to assume the role once reserved for the studios. Smaller studios and production companies have partnered with such firms to put on a good show for the punters, but they couldn’t command the same star power as the larger entities. This week, the near-absence of gala studio-funded banquets and tchocke-filled goodie bags was more apparent than ever. If it weren’t for the excellent quality of movies that were previewed here, the death knell might already have sounded.

This isn’t to say, however, that that movie business is about to pull up stakes and move to some Third World country, where negotiators for SAG, AFTRA and the Writers Guilds would be shot on sight. No, as we learned this week, too, box-office revenues worldwide soared another 5 percent in 2008, bringing the grand total to $28.1 billion, and U.S. ticket sales already are tracking 8 percent better than those last year. Ducats now average $7.18 a piece and the number of screens with 3-D capability is nearing 2,000. Considering that some international markets have yet to emerge from the bedsheet-on-the-wall era of movie exhibition, the upside remains great.

Still, the MPAA seemed so embarrassed by its member studios’ willingness to overspend in the face of a worldwide economic crisis that, for the first time in 20 years, it refused to divulge industry estimates on production and marketing costs. That wasn’t the reason provided by the lobbying organization’s boss, Dan Glickman, for not revealing the every expanding numbers, of course. Last year, the average total cost was $106.6 million, up $6.3 million from 2006. Those are Bernie Madoff numbers … sometimes for the same payoff for investors.

By comparison, the estimated budget for the Best Picture-winning Slumdog Millionaire was $15 million, and its best publicity came from positive word-of-mouth. Milk was limited to the same amount of money, while Frost/Nixon and The Reader were allowed about $35 million. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million, not taking into account what it may have cost to market the picture (the industry average in 2007 was $36 million) after it was finished. To date, Slumdog has logged a domestic box-office gross of $137 million, while Button is plugging along at $127 million.

Even so, the MPAA reportedly has been faulted by some members for not scoring the same tax incentives and infusions of money from President Obama’s stimulus package as other, more troubled industries. In the face of such a public diss by easily bought legislators – many of whom still see Hollywood as suburb of Havana — it probably wouldn’t have been prudent for the studios to lavish even more money on rubber chicken, celebrity lineups and souvenir T-shirts at ShoWest. Alas, it was fun while it lasted.

That said, though, much of the reason exhibitors continue to attend ShoWest is to get sneak previews of the movies they’ll be showing in their theaters from March until Christmas. By all outward appearances, they weren’t disappointed.

As usual, Monday night was reserved for screenings of upcoming independent pictures. Several years ago, My Big Fat Greek Wedding was introduced to exhibitors at this forum and, ever since, they’ve come here looking to re-capture lightning in a bottle. Bill Milner’s heartfelt dramedy, Is Anybody There?, in which  a retired magician (Michael Caine) mentors a death-obsessed 10-year-old boy, drew packed audiences back-to-back, and Kathryn Bigelow’s harrowing  Iraq war story, The Hurt Locker, also attracted much attention. Stephan Elliott’s lavish period adaptation of the Noel Coward rom-com, Easy Virtue was as much fun to watch for its beautiful rural setting as the all-star cast (Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Colin Firth). Kristopher Belman’s documentary profile of LeBron James, More Than a Game, followed the Cleveland Cavalier star’s rise from the playgrounds of Akron to the NBA Pantheon, with the accent on the friendship he forged along the way.

For the next two days, though, the future of 3-D would dominate most of the discussion … just as it had last year, after The Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour blew the hinges off the box-office. Last weekend’s dynamite numbers for DreamWorks Animation’s Monsters Vs. Aliens — 56 percent of its nearly $60-million haul came from 3-D venues, even though they represented 28 percent of the 4,000 theaters showing the movie – gave exhibitors hope that their investments in digital projection systems might pay immediate dividends.

If that report didn’t provide enough cause for optimism, Disney/Pixar introduced a slate of 17 3-D projects that had everyone in the standing-room-only crowd dizzy with anticipation. A generous preview of Pixar’s first 3-D animated feature, Up, promised blockbuster numbers, as did news of plans to re-release Toy Story and Toy Story 2 as a digital 3-D double-feature for a two-week engagement in early October (along with a trailer for next summer’s Toy Story 3). Snippets from those movies, and the dance scene from a re-formatted Beauty and the Beast, came next, as did a peek at Pixar’s new series of animated shorts, Cars Toon, and a delightful scene from the 2-D, hand-drawn, The Princess and the Frog, set for a Thanksgiving 2009 release. Also in the pipeline are animated features from Jerry Bruckheimer, Robert Zemeckis, Tim Burton and a sequel to Disney’s 1982 ground-breaker, Tron.

At Tuesday’s luncheon presentation, Sony Pictures Animation previewed its September 3-D release, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The feature was adapted from Judi and Ron Barrett’s popular children’s book, in which a hapless scientist creates a rocket that, when shot into the sky, makes food fall from the clouds like rain.

Another stereoscopic feature, The Battle for Terra, imagined a futuristic battle for survival on a planet invaded by desperate Earthlings. The peaceful world is populated by humanoids who look like guppies, crossed with dolphins, and whose advanced technology might have been designed by Jules Verne or H.G. Wells.

Warner Bros., usually a competitor for the title of most-lavish banquet, this year was content to preview Terminator: Salvation, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Hangover and Sherlock Holmes, for which Robert Downey Jr. made a guest appearance.

Downey would be seen later that evening, as well, alongside Jamie Foxx and Catherine Keener, in Paramount’s The Soloist. Another full house greeted director Joe Wright and writer Susannah Grant’s already much-hyped drama, which was based on a series of columns by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez. In addition to demonstrating that exhibitors enjoy watching movies as much as their customers – only they’re far more polite and appreciative of serious fare — The Soloist delicately alluded to the very real possibility that a decimation of newsrooms, even at the nation’s most important papers, could prevent stories like that of homeless musician Nathaniel Ayers from being published. It’s unlikely that the same impact would have been felt if Lopez were required to condense his reporting in a blog or Twitter, before it ran full in the Times, as is the current trend.

Wednesday began with a low-key presentation by Sony, during which exhibitors were teased with previews of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks’ sequel to The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons; The Ugly Truth,  a rom-com with Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler; Julia and Julia, in which Meryl Streep portrays Julia Child; the Peter Jackson-produced sci-fi thriller, District 9; Harold RamisYear One; and Tony Scott’s The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta. Attendees also were pleased to hear that the studio had committed to the resuscitation of its Ghostbusters and Men in Black franchises.

Among the live-action pictures showcased were the Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds rom-com, The Proposal, in which a much-hated publishing diva is forced, by fear of deportation, to marry her much younger assistant. The plot thickens when the city girl makes a pre-nuptial visit to his Alaskan hometown, where relatives played by Betty White, and Mary Steenburgen seriously test her resolve. Bullock looks quite a bit younger than her 44 years, so the purported age gap between her character and Reynolds’ isn’t nearly as wide as it should have been. Still, their chemistry is good, and The Proposal is the best comic vehicle Bullock has had in memory.

It was mentioned at one point during the convention that The Cove could appeal to many of the same people who made March of the Penguins such a hit. It would be a mistake to advance that theory in the documentary’s marketing campaign, though, as what happens to unsuspecting dolphins in their visits to a Japanese fishing region more accurately resembles the aquatic equivalent of genocide. In it, a group of western activists travel to the Japanese coast to reveal the deeply hidden secret of the almost daily dolphin harvests in a cove near Taiji. It’s where the country’s whaling industry has been memorialized and trained dolphins actually have been imported to entertain tourists. Also indicted and found guilty are the Japanese government officials who knowingly fed mercury-tainted seafood to students, bought votes at international trade gatherings and actively promoted the idea that whales and dolphins were “pests,” responsible for depleting the world’s fish inventory. The Cove is a powerful documentary, but I can only hope that cooler marketing heads prevail.

The week’s final screening was Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, a fractured romantic fairy tale that suggests the filmmaker’s four-picture European sojourn might have helped him see his beloved New York with fresh eyes. In it, grumpy Larry David plays a misanthropic physicist – and, of course, Allen’s newest alter ego – who gives up his research after a divorce and failed suicide attempt. After dinner, one night, he’s confronted by a blond waif who’s run away from her Mississippi home and is in desperate need of a meal and couch on which to sleep. Even though Evan Rachel Wood’s character touches all of his raw nerves, they embark on the unlikeliest of relationships. Things get even crazier when the girl’s estranged parents (Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr.) arrive in New York, a year later, separately, and experience culture shock. Often hilarious, Whatever Works is set for a June release.

Among the more entertaining aspects of any ShoWest was a tour of the exhibition floor, where theater owners could deal directly with purveyors of everything from floor polish and lighting strips, to genetically advanced popcorn and infinitely more gummy snacks. If the effects of the recession on the movie business could be seen anywhere in Las Vegas this week, it was here. Hardly any new treats were introduced by concessioners and the number of booths seemed diminished from last year’s show.

This meant the delightful cacophony of smells, sounds and tastes was sadly reduced, as well. Nowhere was the absence felt more succinctly than the booth annually maintained by Chicago’s Eisenberg Gourmet Frankfurters. In years past, people would wait in line for a half-hour for the opportunity to enjoy an Eisenberg hot dog or Polish sausage.

Last year, apparently, ShoWest organizers tried to reduce congestion around the booth, by asking the company not to offer traditional garnishes. Tragically, this week, the Eisenberg reps were manning the same location, but both the hot dogs and their magnetic aroma were missing, along with the relish and mustard. If corporate belt-tightening were to blame – “no comment” was the only explanation proffered – then, truly, the impact of the recession on show business must be more serious than box-office numbers would suggest.

– Gary Dretzka
April 3, 2009