The usual intriguing conversation, except the tech snuff wasn’t up to snuff. I was in a bedroom in Fairfield, Connecticut, and talking into a 1997 cordless phone. Phil was in his usual spot. And Sasha was handling her end from her mother’s place in Ojai, California. No intro or close-out — Sasha couldn’t figure out how to record one with the laptop she had. Sound, face it, is bad all around. You know how it goes — we reach for perfection and don’t reach it.
Brooks Barnes has written a post-Xmas N.Y. Times piece about how big-studio crap doesn’t float anymore, and how movies have to be sharp and dynamic and pushed along these days by social-network organs (and conversation-starters like HE?) or it’s hasta la vista, baby. Slick sludge ain’t doin’ it no more. Which explains this weekend’s modest success of Little Fockers.
There were plenty of 2010 films “clinging to the tried and true in 2010,” Barnes writes. “Humdrum remakes like The Wolfman and The A-Team; star vehicles like Killers with Ashton Kutcher and The Tourist with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp; and shoddy sequels like Sex and the City 2. All arrived at theaters with marketing thunder intended to fill multiplexes on opening weekend, no matter the quality of the film.
“But the audience pushed back. One by one, these expensive yet middle-of-the-road pictures delivered disappointing results or flat-out flopped.
“Meanwhile, gambles on original concepts paid off. Inception, a complicated thriller about dream invaders, racked up more than $825 million in global ticket sales; The Social Network has so far delivered $192 million, a stellar result for a highbrow drama.
“As a result, studios are finally and fully conceding that moviegoers, armed with Facebook and other networking tools and concerned about escalating ticket prices, are holding them to higher standards. The product has to be good.” Or at least it can’t blow chunks. And it really helps if a new movie is, you know, really something. Yep, things sure are different these days.
Early this evening a friend and I were among the few who dared navigate the country roads of Fairfield, Westport and Wilton during the Great Blizzard of ’10, which is still going as we speak. “The totals in some New York areas could pile as high as 20 inches, forecasters said, [with] gale-force winds whipping in excess of 50 miles per hour,” the N.Y. Times reported.
“In a business as ephemeral as the entertainment industry, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re really selling,” Peretz says. “The truly great ideas are built on concept” because filmmakers need to “get beyond plot and dialogue” and into “the essence of a movie, a video game or an entire film-based franchise.”
Peretz isn’t wrong in identifying plot and dialogue as secondary elements, and saying that movies tend to sink or swim because of things within that resonate with people due to their own personal reasons. But marketing people who try to simplify the mystical process of movie-creation and movie-selling always seem intellectually smug. In itself the phrase “get beyond plot and dialogue” is enough to make my blood boil, but what really sets me off is Peretz’s assessment of the James Bond franchise.
Bond “is not a cold-blooded killer but “a cool-blooded one who must temper every assassination with a joke,” Cieply summarizes. But “when Bond became too serious in Quantum of Solace,” Peretz reportedly believes, “the entire franchise was put at risk because it wandered off-concept.” (This despite “healthy worldwide ticket sales of $586 million,” Cieply notes.) The killing-with-a-wry-joke thing goes back to Dr. No, and it was the staleness of this attitude or behavior that led to Quantum taking things into an angrier, more visceral direction.
Meet The Parents was conceptually popular because we’ve all been grilled and assessed and perhaps unfairly judged by families of boyfriends or girlfriends. But the second and third Fockers didn’t connect, in part, because misjudgments tend to be early and temporary and the basic truth of things tends to prevail after a while, so it made no sense that Ben Stiller‘s Greg Focker would continue to suffer except for the persistence of asshole-ism, which is not restricted to families. The second and third films were made in order to make money, plain and simple.
Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides, a PBS/American Masters documentary airing on 1.12.11, is apparently a standard ass-kiss thing. Surely a wonderful talent and great fellow! Didn’t Bridges get enough adoration last year during the Crazy Heart parade?
I initially thought the focus of this 90-minute doc might be about Bridges and the Coen brothers and The Big Lebowski . That I’d love to see. They could call it “Jeff Bridges: Don’t Pee On My Rug.”
N.Y. Times columnist Frank Rich has written a “death of reasonable economic proportion in America” piece in today’s edition. He contrasts the old-time theology of Robbins Barstow, a Connecticut family man who believed in 1956 (along with everyone else) in an essentially fair American system that offered bountiful or pot-of-gold fortunes to any enterprising American, with today’s corrupted Inside Job reality.
Barstow’s Eisenhower-era faith was reflected to some extent in some “family goes to Disneyland” home movie footage that he shot in ’56, He edited it all together and then added music and sound narration for a 1995 short called Disneyland Dream, which was admitted to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2008. Here are part 2 and part 3.
“How many middle-class Americans now believe that the sky is the limit if they work hard enough?,” Rich asks. “How many trust capitalism to give them a fair shake? Middle-class income started to flatten in the 1970s and has stagnated ever since. While 3M has continued to prosper, many other companies that actually make things (and at times innovative things) have been devalued, looted or destroyed by a financial industry whose biggest innovation in 20 years, in the verdict of the former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, has been the cash machine.
“It’s a measure of how rapidly our economic order has shifted that nearly a quarter of the 400 wealthiest people in America on this year’s Forbes list make their fortunes from financial services, more than three times as many as in the first Forbes 400 in 1982. Many of America’s best young minds now invent derivatives, not Disneylands, because that’s where the action has been, and still is, two years after the crash. In 2010, our system incentivizes high-stakes gambling — ‘this business of securitizing things that didn’t even exist in the first place,’ as Calvin Trillin memorably wrote last year — rather than the rebooting and rebuilding of America.
“In last week’s exultant pre-holiday press conference, President Obama called for a ‘thriving, booming middle class, where everybody’s got a shot at the American dream.’ But it will take much more than rhetorical Scotch tape to bring that back. The Barstows of 1956 could not have fathomed the outrageous gap between this country’s upper class and the rest of us. America can’t move forward until we once again believe, as they did, that everyone can enter Frontierland if they try hard enough, and that no one will be denied a dream because a private party has rented out Tomorrowland.”
In mid November Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross told Deadline‘s Pete Hammond that “we have the biggest and best reviewed film of the year in Toy Story 3 [so] we’re going for the Best Picture win…if not this year and not this movie, when?” Disneyland Resort hotel workers have a response: “Some other year, pal. Your Disney corporate colleagues are trying to screw us out of health benefits, so you and Toy Story 3 can symbolically share the blame.”
The facts do seem to suggest that Disney is not treating its employees fairly. But is it fair to link the Oscar fortunes of Toy Story 3 to this dispute? The Pixar guys who created Toy Story 3 are, of course, blameless. But if I was an activist for the Disneyland Resort hotel workers, I would be making this same point, unfair as it may seem. Disney is Disney and all corporations are sociopathic in nature. Eff Mickey.
On 12.31 a “remember Inception?” trailer will be shown in “key” movie theaters around the country (i.e., not located in Waco, Tallahassee and/or Dubuque) and will appear online. The purpose will be to remind folks that Chris Nolan‘s film, which has been available on DVD/Bluray since 12.7, “is every bit the artistic achievement that its rivals are, and that it deserves to be part of the Oscar conversation,” writes Popeater‘s Jeff Labrecque.
The trailer tells me the following: (1) The highest-ranked honor that Inception can hope for is a Best Original Screenplay Oscar — it’s also a shoo-in for VFX, score (Hans Zimmer), sound design/editing, etc; (2) Nolan looked like a Best Director lock last summer, but right now the likeliest finalists are David Fincher (The Social Network), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), David O. Russell (The Fighter), and Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) — Nolan might squeak in ahead of Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right); (3) Many of the more dazzling visual mind-benders were created on a sound stage with real organic elements, and it doesn’t matter because nobody trusts what they see in a film these days; (4) Tom Hardy is a much more interesting actor playing quiet and contained than when he’s bare-chested and bellowing and flexing his muscles.