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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

News By The Numbers

10. Restaurant Armageddon: Bruce Willis may be able to save the earth this summer, but his restaurant is under a threat worse than an asteroid. The 87-unit Planet Hollywood chain has had its credit rated as “junk” by Standard & Poors. Corporate analyst Dawn Hu says “the themed restaurant sector carries even higher business risks than other restaurant formats.” More risks for customers, too. Bad food, expensive T-shirts and the very real threat of seeing a piece of memorabilia that will remind you of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
9. Racing With Ford: It looks like Ford U.K. is the European equivalent of America’s Denny’s. For the second time this year, they’ve had to pull an ad over complaints of racism. This time, it’s an ad based on The Full Monty that features four dancing men. But none is black, unlike the movie. That may not seem serious, but the last pulled ad featured a photo of four black assembly workers who had been given white faces.
8. Jew Gotta Be Kidding: Jerry Maguire‘s Renee Zellweger is playing a Jewish woman who clashes with orthodox rules in A Price Above Rubies and some Hassids don’t like it. But their protest wasn’t well attended. Only 18 people showed up. Director Boaz Yakin laughed, “I could get a better turn out with my co-op board.”
7. Le’ Porno: Finally, a way to erase the deficit and lower taxes at the same time. And we have the French to thank for it. The French Health Ministry is partially financing five short X-rated films to promote condom use. No comment on the trend from the Clinton White House, but we may have just found a post-Presidential gig for Bill.
6. Semi-Pro or Con: The story got out via The New York Post last week that actors Matt Damon and Edward Norton were so into their roles as gamblers in Miramax’s Rounders (which we referred to last week as Good Will Gambling) that they would play in Las Vegas’ World Series of Poker and that real gamblers were so upset that there was a bounty on their Hollywood heads. Additionally, the story said the team had already played Miramax’s Harvey and Bob Weinstein out of $1,200. I guess that’s the per diem for a publicity trip to Vegas.
5. Not Jada-ed Yet: Will Smith just signed for a romantic comedy, but his co-star will be Whitney Houston, not his newly-christened wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The project is called Anything for You and is about a guy who dumps his girlfriend and then has to jump through some serious hoops of her design to get her back. Maybe Jada’s gonna be unavailable due to baby duty, but this one sounds like a perfect role for that particular 5-foot-tall sassy comedic actress, not for stiff songbird Whitney.
4. It’s A Small Universe After All – A couple of weeks ago, it was Paramount going down under. Now, Universal is opening a movie theme shopping center in Beijing. Universal execs are hoping to add a theme park as soon as possible. Look for the Tiananmen Square Action Stunt Show, the Back to the Past movie ride and the fun of E.T., the Extremely Territorial, where they ask for your name as you enter the ride and by the time it’s over, your entire family has been imprisoned.
3. Celine, Can You Hear Me?: Guess who’s not going to be singing in public with Celine Dion again? The elusive Ms. Streisand, of course. This time it’s the Oscars she’s missing, thwarted by a bulging disc and bronchitis. It’s beginning to look like we’re going to have to wait for a tearful 2 a.m. meeting between the two divas on The Jerry Lewis Telethon if we ever want to see them work together.
2. Under Pressure: Robert Downey Jr. will serve an extra three days in the lock-up to make up for his bad-P.R.-for-the-judge days of out-of-jail/on-set duty last month. Downey definitely has a serious problem and earned his jail time, but this additional time is just a response to public pressure and is unfair. Downey will do four months in a residential rehab when he leaves the Los Angeles County Jail on April 1.
1. He’ll Be Back: The Ahnuld is back after a self-imposed 18-month post-Batman & Robin hiatus. Well, kind of self-imposed. Universal refused to commit to his I Am Legend, a sci-fi flick with a budget more than $150 million, so now they’ve greenlit End of Days at a cost of only $100 million. (What a deal!) The film has the Big S. trying to keep the Bigger S. (Satan) from finding a bride in New York City. Arnold as Dr. Ruth! Gotta love it.
READERS OF THE DAY: Krillina says: “When I think of Chris Rock in Lethal Weapon 4, I think “It’s that annoying guy from the 1-800-COLLECT commercials.” If Rock wants people to think he’s a hot commodity in Hollywood, he should leave 1-800-COLLECT to Phil Hartman and Ed O’Neill, kings of not impacting the box-office.”
But, Matt B says: “If there is anything that would compel me to see Lethal Weapon 4 this side of a team of wild horses, it is Chris Rock. I would see him in anything. In fact, he sure would have livened up The English Patient.

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin