In a 7.4.07 piece, N.Y. Times reporter David Halbfinger has looked into “the explosion of the old gentlemen’s agreement by which the Hollywood studios screened movies early for critics, and the critics held their reviews until opening day,” which has brought about the only card that studio publicists have to play these days — i.e., “hide the ball.”
The destruction of the old g.a. “has been several years coming,” Halbfinger says. “The rise of film blogs like MovieCityNews.com and Hollywood-Elsewhere.com — for whom there is currency in being first to have seen an important new movie — has prompted the trade dailies to view them as competition.
“The trades’ quest for a wider consumer audience, in turn, has brought first Variety‘s and then The Hollywood Reporter‘s critics out over the news wires. The Associated Press has often responded by speeding up the publication of its own reviews, publicists for the studios say.
“For film critics from major newspapers, standing by while the available positions on a given movie are staked out by multiple competitors, whether online or in print, can be too much to ask.” Halbfinger quotes N.Y. Daily News critic Jack Matthews as saying, “I think editors are right in asking, `Why is it okay for bloggers to review movies early and not us?’
“Studios used to exercise much control over when reviews and other articles would publish,” Halbfinger writes. “But the contours of today’s online reviewing landscape dictate hard decisions about when to screen movies in advance, and whom to invite. ‘It’s about all we have control over any more,’ Adam Fogelson, president of marketing at Universal Pictures said.
“So, for films that are bad or merely expected to be assailed by critics, the play to run is hide-the-ball, especially when the movie doesn’t need critical support to be a success. In a watershed move last year, for example, Sony did not screen The Da Vinci Code for critics until the night before its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was widely panned, but the movie still was a worldwide blockbuster — in part because interest in the movie had fueled countless articles in the entertainment press exploring the subject from every conceivable angle that didn’t require seeing the movie in advance.
“‘Every single movie is its own little war,’ says David Poland of Movie City News. ‘The whole thing is about avoiding the negative. Unless you’re a smaller picture, reviews are no longer the issue. The marketing is so huge that what they need to avoid are the critics hating something. It’s a defensive game: only a community saying one thing in a single voice can hurt a picture.”
Avoiding the negative, eh? Why is it that articles of this sort never state the obvious bottom-line truth, which is that oppressively expensive dumb-ass tent-polers are the essence of negativity themselves? A movie that numbs, bores, bludgeons, tromps on the gas and recycles is a movie that is saying “no, no, no, no….we will not try anything truly new, we will not work out the kinks, we will not divert or depart…we will do only what the Lorenzo di Bonaventura types want us to do. Bayo, Bayo, Bayo!”
What’s a mild-mannered columnist supposed to do in the face of all this? Channel Susan Granger?
I haven’t heard from my numbers guys, but Deadline Hollywood Daily‘s Nikki Finke reported late this morning that Michael Bay‘s Transformers “made between $8 million and $9 million Monday night, a hefty amount considering the DreamWorks/Paramount pic didn’t even start its screenings until 8 p.m.” The more money Transformers makes, the gloomier I’ll feel.
A site called mingle2 is handing out MPAA ratings to various sites and blogs. I am completely comfortable with Hollywood Elsewhere‘s R rating. (Life itself is generally an R-rated thing.) Deadline Hollywood Daily also got an R. Movie City News has been handed a PG-13, Hollywood Wiretap, Fish Bowl LA, In Contention, Defamer and Drudge Report have gotten a PG, and Thompson on Hollywood, The Envelope, Perez Hilton and Awards Daily get a G. Disney World!
25 movies with real impact have been listed in order of importance by USA Today‘s Suzie Woz (a.k.a., Susan Wloszczyna). I like, love, admire or at least respect all but one of these films. Why, then, did reading this list make me feel so bad, so trapped…so “let me out of here”? Partly, I guess, because the list feels so AFI-ish.
Spike Lee‘s untitled World War II drama, based on James McBride‘s “Miracle at St. Anna“, is apparently going to play like an American riff on Rachid Bouchareb‘s Days of Glory (i.e., Indigenes), the 2006 war film about French-speaking North Africans fighting for the French during World War II and dealing with prejudice in the ranks.
This is definitely the kind of topography you want to shoot a World War II film upon (i.e., taken by myself in an area south of Volterra in 2003)
Lee said during a recent Rome press conference to announce his film that “if you look at the history of Hollywood, the black soldiers who fought World War II are totally invisible,” adding that the film would be about the “paradox” of “black people who were fighting for democracy but at the same time were second class citizens at home.”
Lee will begin shooting the film early next year at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios, in Italy’s Tuscany region — nice! — and in New York City.
An Amazon synopsis for McBride’s book suggests it’s also going to be a bit like Sydney Pollack‘s Castle Keep: “Miracle at St. Anna vividly follows four of the U.S. Army’s 92nd Division of all-black buffalo soldiers as they become trapped between forces beyond their control and between worlds. Three of the soldiers have bolted behind enemy lines to rescue their comrade, the colossal, but simple Private Sam Train.” (Who could Lee have in mind for this role, I wonder?)
“They find themselves stranded between worlds in a remote central Italian village, with the German Army hidden on one side and their racist and largely mismanaged American commanding officers on the other. The strange world of the village floats between myth and reality, where belief in magic coexists with the most horrific acts of war. In the melee that opens the book, Train suddenly comes to believe he can turn invisible, the local miser believes he is cursed with a wealth of rabbits, and each of the other soldiers also exists in a mythical world of his own. But they are all about to be shattered by the Miracle.”
“Magical”, “myth and reality”, a psychologically confused soldier who thinks he’s “invisible”, a miracle”? If Lee’s movie turns out to be half as fantasy-driven and airy-fairy as this synopsis suggests, it’s going to suck eggs. Mix in the fanciful stuff with Lee making a point about the military treating the Buffalo Soldiers like shit…forget it. Too much in the pot.
Instead of speak to Sicko director Michael Moore (who’s been quoted everywhere lately), L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein has spoken to directors Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy) and Brett Morgen (Chicago 10) for a 7.3.07 piece about Moore’s style and tactics.
Moore’s work, says Greengrass, is “‘highly interventionist‘ in the sense that he’s willing to use the power of film, be it clever cutting or funny archival footage or cheap melodrama, to carry the day. ‘His work is often intensely tabloid, but I remember from my days as an on-camera interviewer that the question that makes you sweat by the very idea of asking it is the one you should always ask. And Moore’s brilliance is that he always asks that question, over and over.”
I felt guilt pangs the instant I read that passage about “the question that makes you sweat is the one you should ask.” I’ve wimped out on that score more times than I’d care to remember. Too often when I have a tough question in my head I go into my chickenshit tap dance — equivocation, verbal padding, side-stepping — before saying it.
Shortcut to Happiness, the Alec Baldwin– directed film that was previously known as The Devil and Daniel Webster, is finally opening in U.S. theatres on 7.13 after a delay of approximately six years. I wrote about it last October, but Shortcut may have endured the longest post-production, delayed-release period in the history of motion picture distribution, which easily qualifies it as one of biggest train wrecks of all time.
New York or L.A. critics looking to see and review it for history’s sake are facing a problem though. A publicist working for the Yari Film Group, the film’s distributor, told me this morning that neither screenings nor theatrical bookings are scheduled for LA, NY or New Jersey. She said it will open on 7.13 in only six cities — Las Vegas, Rochester, Ft. Meyers, Columbus (Ohio), Alberquerque and Santa Fe. The publicist graciously offered to send me a DVD screener.
Baldwin directed, produced and costarred along with Anthony Hopkins and Jennifer Love Hewitt. The plot — an ambitious young Manhattan guy sells his soul to the devil in exchange for worldly success, and then hires an esteemed old-school lawyer to get him out of the contract — is a late ’90s rehash of Stephen Vincent Benet‘s story and Archibald Macleish‘s play.
Baldwin had his directing and producing credits taken off eons ago because his edit of the film (allegedly a dramatic ensemble piece with “dramedy” undertones) was taken away by the producers and recut into a comedy.
Yari Flm Group has decided against giving director credit to “Alan Smithee”, the fake industry pseudonymn that turns up on IMDB listings 28 times. Instead, the “directed by” credit has been given to the non-existent Harry Kirkpatrick, according to the YFG publicist.
Last October I called Shortcut to Happiness (then known as TDADW) is “a pre-9.11 nostalgia movie….look at the stills of Baldwin as he appeared while directing the film and compare them to how he looks today — he was a kid! Hopkins hadn’t made Hannibal, Red Dragon or The Human Stain when TDADW was shot, and Hewitt’s feature film career hadn’t yet gone into the crapper.”
This is just another inane side-trip riff, but I’m wondering if anyone has ever used air-freshener spray as a substitute for a deodorant if you’ve run out of the latter and nothing else is in the house. I’m a Febreze man myself, and as I was searching in vain this morning for my usual Right Guard gel it occured to me that applying one chemical to your person was the same as any other, so I went into the kitchen and reached for the Febreze and it didn’t feel that ridiculous. (Unlike the writing of this item.)
“I will confess that the only thing that kept me watching License to Wed until the end (apart from being paid to do so) was the faith, perhaps misplaced, that I will not see a worse movie this year.
John Krasinski, Robin Williams, Mandy Moore
“Come to think of it, the picture might be useful in certain circumstances, much in the way that Reverend Frank’s training program is supposed to be. If the beloved with whom you see License to Wed can’t stop talking about how great it was, you might want to cancel the nuptials. Or, if it’s too late for that, call a lawyer.” — from A.O. Scott‘s N.Y. Times 7.3.07 review.
License to Wed currently has an 8% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The only person to give it anything resembling a pass is Susan Granger.
No major distributor seems to release as many deadhead stinkers as Sony Pictures, but even they sometimes get it right. Within a 20-day period starting on 7.27, they’ve got two apparent groaners and one alleged goodie coming out.
First is a dubious-sounding thriller starring Lindsay Lohan called I Know Who Killed Me (7.27). Next is the return of the hapless Cuba Gooding to career-killing mode as the star of Daddy Day Care 2 (8.8), a comedy for the dolts who paid to see Are We Done Yet? And the capper is the said-to-be very funny Superbad (8.17), the Judd Apatow-produced comedy from director Greg Mottola (The Daytrippers).
The seemingly trashy-perverse quality of the Lohan thriller is unintentionally conveyed by the female narrator of this Sony product reel.
Every now and then the HE agenda allows for an off-topic footnote, and here’s a two-sided one about today’s (7.3.07) L.A. Daily News story about a months-long affair between L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Telemundo anchorperson and news reporter Mirthala Salinas.
(l.) Mirthala Salinas interviewing Antonio Villaigrossa in ’05; Salinas at party within the last year.
It would be truly refreshing if everyone would just shrug this story off (i.e., the way Europeans reportedly do when stories about their own politicians’ messy and/or eccentric personal lives gets out) and get back to work. Politicians are entitled to be people and should be left alone when their private stuff pokes through.
But as Robert De Niro‘s Neil Macauley character says in Heat, “There’s a flip side to that coin.” A story about an extramarital affair between two power-magnet types is always interesting, which in this case is a euphemism for pulse-quickening. Especially when the woman involved is a TV newscaster. Local TV news producers the world over always hire hotties in their late 20s and 30s to report news and handle anchor duties. They know there’s a certain transportation of erotic energy that comes across (and that this usually shows up in the ratings), so it’s always intriguing when a youngish woman whom hundreds of thousands of viewers feel they “know” in this sense is revealed to be a normal person with the usual drives and vulnerabilities.
Okay, “pokes through” was probably a Freudian pun. I knew a married guy in Westport, Connecticut, in the early ’80s who had a girlfriend on the side. He told me the day after one of his assignations that he’d told his wife he was going out to play “poker”, and how he felt on a certain verbal level that he was being honest. The guy had never grown emotionally past junior high school.