The Hot Blog Archive for September, 2004

More On The Moore Conspiracy

Last night, on The Apprentice, I saw one of Sony’s Fahrenheit 9/11 ads and I have to say that while I understand the concern that spots like the ones used to sell the movie in the first place, these spots don’t include any images of George W. Bush or any of the mockery of the original sell.

Based on that, I’m not sure that I would agree that these spots should be kept off of network news air. After all, the content of the product is not where the judgment lies. In a case like F9/11, the ads themselves were political. But not anymore.

As much as I would like this to absolve Nikki Finke of being a bit of a hysteric on this, the fact that she was in such a rush to hang the conspirators, one of whom she is still suing, that she missed this key component… the nature of the ads themselves.

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Lost?

Shouldn’t it be called “Gilligan’s Island With Supermodels?”

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Nikki’s Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

Now that the Democrats have decided to aggressively campaign the idea that Dan Rather’s overeager, under-thought screw-up was part of a right wing campaign to concur the world, the conspiracy against Fahrenheit 9/11 – you may know the title as the $119 million grossing victim of the right – is apparently back on the list of talking points.

Nikki Finke, who does an excellent job scooping the news that the 3 major networks have all refused to run F9/11 ads during their “hard” news shows and that Sony Home Entertainment has no intention of advertising on any Fox outlets, then spins the story into a remarkably misguided political conspiracy that all but defines the mindset that seems to have already cost John Kerry any chance of being elected.

She writes, “For all the hundreds of thousands of words broadcast and written about so-called Rathergate, the news of Sonygate hasn’t received any attention at all.”

Well, could it be that “Sonygate” is not a big scandal because the networks aren’t accepting 527 ads from either side on their hard news shows either? (Of course, to Nikki, all Bush ads are attack ads and all Kerry ads are self-defense.) Could reasonable people of either side dare to dream that this actually suggests journalistic responsibility instead of a vast right wing conspiracy? Or could it be that no one is up in arms because these conspiratorial networks are accepting ads for the film on all of their entertainment programming?

So, whether attacking Disney, GE or Viacom, Nikki doesn’t want to linger on the fact that all three will make money on selling F9/11 on their networks. And on the cable nets? Is Sony Home Entertainment. buying ads on Viacom’s MTV or Comedy Central, where that right-wing fanatic Jon Stewart co-opts The Daily Show every night? Is S.H.E. buying ads on G.E.’s MSNBC or Disney’s partially-owned ESPN, A&E or E!? Did Nikki even ask?

I can’t answer any of these questions, but I am guessing that we’d be hearing about it if Sony Home Entertainment was barred from any of these nets, given that the blockade of about 10% or less or network airtime has unnamed Sony execs spinning like tops, according to our fair Nikki.

Do read Nikki’s piece for yourself. If you can take someone who writes, “Eisner had already given the Bushies the biggest gift of all: pulling the distribution plug on Fahrenheit 9/11,” seriously as a voice of reason in this argument, as Eisner gave Michael Moore and Harvey Weinstein and Team Lions Gate the biggest gift of all by giving them a handle with which to market this film into a $119 million domestic grosser with scores of millions more in profits coming from this poor downtrodden DVD release, you are a far, far less cynical soul than I.

Or perhaps you are, like Ms. Finke and so many people on the Hollywood’s fire-breathing left these days (Nikki actually wondered out loud whether her piece on Jay Leno leaning left led to his ouster… oy!), so outraged by the still-building consensus that John Kerry will fail in his race for the presidency, that you are willing to flail at any reason for that failure other than a poor campaign and, most painfully of all, the huge mistake that Kerry made in following Hollywood’s drama queen rage about Bush instead of running the affirmative campaign of ideas and principle that was his only chance of unseating a sitting president in the middle of a war.

Personally, I think Hollywood will have a lot to answer for if Bush wins this election. Kerry, who ironically has little to no chance of losing California or New York to Bush, took the advice of his most famous and newly-big-moneyed supporters and ran most of his campaign on Bush rage and not on Kerry love, spelled by bouts of milquetoasted silence, and the strategy – now back in full effect, with desperate acts all that seem left for him to attempt – failed utterly. There are many notches on The Wheel of Blame… but I think this covers about 40% of the possible winners.

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What's The Hot Studio Story Now?

Bob Iger, at a television conference in London, off-handedly suggested for the first time in a long time that the Pixar deal may not happen for Disney. I get the impression from the report I read, he practically tilted his head to the side and said, “Whatever, dude.”

And so, the Death To Eisner beat dies.

What’s next?

I would guess that you will see a flurry of stories spurred by desperate Miramax staffers followed by the official annoncement of what is probably alreasy a done deal at Miramax/Disney. But Miramax has been out of the true indie business for a while, so the parade of “The Death Of The Indies” stories will ring hollow.

It looks like the revamp at Paramount is about to begin in earnest and while Sherry Lansing is not a potential target for Tom Freston, she may be ready to move on without any help. My guess would be that if Sherry goes, a revamp of all of her departments follows.

After that, the Sony integration of MGM and the 2006 negotiations with Joe Roth and his Revolution Studios becomes the hot story.

And about then, the succession options at Disney could heat up again as outside candidates pile up and start to get some traction with the media as alternative for Iger.

Call me when it’s all over…

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"A Work Of Entertainment"

I heard this phrase on The Michael Medved radio show as an alternative to “a work of art” and I thought it was a wonderfully appropriate turn of phrase. While I find it snobby and unkind to refuse to use the word “art” because you don’t respect a particular effort, “a work of entertainment” covers a multitude of sins and still accuratey describes the effort and intent behind a lot of films.

I’m still not a fan of Medved or his politics, but this is a phrase worth coining.

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Has Anyone Else Noticed…

… that Wimbledon could gross well under than $20 million domestically?

Thunderbirds grossed less than $7 million.

Brutal.

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Motorcycle Sputtering

I find myself sympathetic, but wholly uninterested in the arguments that The Motorcycle Diaries is somehow dangerous because it celebrates the life of Che Guevara.

Firstly, as much as I don’t like Castro, it seems to me that Guevara died before he might have become as corrupt in spirit and action as El Jefe. Secondly, communism as a political ideology has run its course, so why would we still treat it like a threat? Finally, the movie in its own context, speaks to a youthful passion for honor and love… no matter where that might have gone.

But then again, there were a lot of people who could never get past the fact that Max presented Hitler as a troubled human being and not just as a pitchfork carrying devil.

I can sympathize with people who are passionately offended by anything that honors Che and his memory. But in the end, it feels a lot more like attacking A Beautiful Mind for petty inaccuracies than a legitimate reason to let a beautiful movie slip away for consideration in its own terms.

And just wait for the Alfred Kinsey bashing if other studios start seeing that bio-pic as a serious contender…

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A New Lion Roars

While MGM is fading away and Miramax is retooling as an indie again, there is one indie player who is quietly building what they hope will be the next major mini in the world… Lions Gate.

The stock is going crazy because people are seeing the company, the one really big indie left on the board, as a takeover target. But Jon Feltheimer & Co. are behaving more like predators than prey. In the last week, they announced an aggressive plan to get further into the doc business, announced plans to raise over $125 million, and played the unexpectedly gruff John Travolta card in the Oscar race.

They also have the stability of a film library of over 6000 titles, which they add to by dozens every year.
The danger and the opportunity for this company is divining the next step. Do you spend more to make bigger hits? Do you lie in wait for a next Blair Witch? Do you remain happy to groove in an 8% return every year?

Of course, in a tight film biz world, these are great worries to have.

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Shouldn't Everyone Be Revving Back Up By Now?

It’s funny how everyone got back to work after the festivals and the holidays, but we are still in this tape delay before anything that actually qualifies as news happens.

Is reporting on An Unfinished Life and Proof moving out of 2005 actually news at all?

News would be a Employees Of Harvey list that indicated just who The Weinsteins want to stay on and who they want to make disappear before they have to pay any severance.

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Box Office Monday

It’s time to put away the crying rags for September.

Virtually every box office story this month seems to want to apologize for these crappy films that open in September, as though the month is some sort of closet for the industry’s sins.

But give distributors, especially Jeff Blake and the entire team at Sony and Screen Gems, for turning late August/September into as good a time to open as movie as there is in the half of the year that is not the summer or holiday season.

In the last seven weekends, we have had eight opening weekends of more than $10 million:

Resident Evil: Apocalypse – $28 million
The Forgotten – est. $22 million
Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow – $19 million
Exorcist: The Beginning – $18 million
Hero – $18 million
Without A Paddle – $14 million
Anacondas – $13 million
Cellular – $10 million

The five weekends of last October, presumably a better time to release a movie, delivered nine opening weekends over $10 million:

Scary Movie 3 – $48 million
Texas Chainsaw Massacre – $28 million
Kill Bill – $22 million
School of Rock – $20 million
Out of Time – $16 million
Radio – $13 million
Good Boy – $13 million
Intolerable Cruelty – $13 million
Runaway Jury – $12 million

Now, of course that list of openings is more impressive… but not that much more impressive. The average for this year’s late Aug/Sept. launches is about $18 million. The average for last October’s big openers is about $20.6 million. And if you take away the $48 million start for the big sequel, October’s average drops to $17 million.

And look at the titles… of last October’s winning openers only Good Boy and Radio could be seen as September-type titles, though Columbia was pretty high on Radio going into release last year. But the only movie with any star power this September – and we know that Jude Law and Gwyneth and Angelina can only open some movies – is Sky Captain. On the other hand, last October’s list is huge sequel, huge genre remake, QT’s 4th, Jack Black in a near perfect Jack Black vehicle, Denzel, Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. as a mentally challenged guy, a dog, George Clooney and Catherine Zeta Oscar Jones, and Dustin, Hackman and Cusack together.

My point being… shift the October schedules into September and you might see no difference at all… and if you did see a difference, it would probably be towards the better, with less competition for the Human Stains and House of The Deads of the world.

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Oscar Chart Correction

I made one adjustment to the charts today… because I simply screwed up and forgot a key performance that I do believe will be in serious play in the Supporting Actress category.

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How Bad Buzz Can Be Good

Apparently, I irritated and/or confused a number of people with my Oscar Chart squib on Closer, suggesting that the “bad buzz” on the film was a good sign.

To clarify, not that many people have actually seen Closer. Some people claim it is locked while others talk about re-shoots as recently as two weeks ago. It is a major part of the September/early October predictions game, especially in a year in which the contenders seem to be ready to be selected off of a dart board. Everyone wants to know, so minor rumors, with little other fuel available, become “what I hear,” all over town.

In the case of Closer, the negative buzz has been pretty consistent… and pretty ignorant. The main attack is that the film is “cold.” Is that English Patient cold or Cold Mountain cold? Is that a Traffic chill or a Full Frontal wind?

But what Closer is getting that Alexander and The Aviator and Phantom of the Opera – the other right down the center major Oscar-bait movies of the season – are not is this constant sense that it is under attack already. And to me, that suggests that “they” are more scared of Closer than they are the other films. “They” also have more information, as Closer is a very well-respected stage play whose positives and negatives are very accessible to anyone with 20 bucks and a Samuel French bookstore nearby.

When people start lining up to smear a film this early… especially a film that, unlike so many, the long lead press has not had an opportunity to start backstabbing (how many times have I heard a studio claim that Outlet X loved something when people from Outlet X are telling every colleague in town that it sucks)… that film has some power. And any idiot can tell you that Mike Nichols and Julia Roberts and Jude Law and Natalie Portman are going to get all the attention they need and that the movie will run or stumble on its own merits, not what we Oscar baiters – whether a Webster like myself or “mainstream” mooks with a million readers – have to say about it.

And that is why bad buzz can be a good sign.

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Also On Oscar Charts

I am both honored and amused with the obsessive detail with which some people chart my charts. They should read the copy that goes with the piece more carefully.

I approach the charts (and most of my writing) like a chess board. The industry is sitting in the opposite chair. What moves the industry makes, including marketing choices and film quality, is not up to me. If I had the five Best Picture nominees in the top five slots of my chart today, it would be nothing but dumb luck. No one can make that educated a guess right now… not without seeing the films… and not without seeing the films play with a real audience. There is a reason why I see contending pictures multiple times and it’s not just because I love film. It is because the season is most assuredly not about me. And The Academy does not vote based on my taste.

But more importantly… and using yet another analogy… the Oscar season is, to me, a horse race. I am not trying to be Sybil The Soothsayer. I am a guy in the booth upstairs at the track, calling the race. I am not a jockey. I don’t know what patch of wet dirt Horse X is going to hit before he hits it. I can’t foresee a bump between two horses that will allow a third horse to finish in the money.

Right now, I can lay out the odds… I can tell you what the history of the horses are… I can even go to the paddock and spend some time with some of the horses (the ones whose doors are open) and see if they are strong or lame. But now, in September, the horses aren’t even in the gate, even though the planning for the race is already months old.

Movies like Vanity Fair and Shall We Dance, which looked like potential winners, have already scratched. The Man O’ Wars of the field – The Aviator, Alexander and Closer – could easily pull a muscle in training and gamely race but limp out of the gate. And dark horses, like Phantom of the Opera and Spanglish and Sideways, could run the race of their lives.

Anyway, my mindset with these charts is to provide a snapshot of the moment, not necessarily to offer an answer to what will happen in January and February. It is not a measurement of manhood. And it is not meant to send people to the Bahamas to bet on the awards. For instance, Rope Burns may or may not move into this year… but rest assured that I didn’t pull it out of my rectum… and by the time I do my next chart in a few weeks, which will launch the weekly column, it may be out of the race definitively. But right now, it is a real possibility and if it is in, it changes the overall dynamic of what is possible. And if it is not, so be it. Some of you may feel a need to award the winner today, but not me… not what I do.

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Happy Day Of Atonement

It strikes me as so odd that I have gotten more spam on Yom Kippur than on any other day of the year.

I have much to atone for… and much to look forward to. Blessings on all of your houses.

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The Search For Truth In The Media

There has been a lot of whining out there recently about the media being “suckered” into offering both sides of various political stories… as though the job of a journalist was to take sides, even when neither side offers tangible proof.

Journalism – especially entertainment journalism, but not just, as you see when Dan Rather nooses his neck by embracing one source too myopically – is in a difficult time. The internet screams for speed, but getting it right takes time… time no one seems to feel they can afford anymore… because often times the truth is nowhere to be found in the immediate, no matter how close people are to the center of a story. On top of that, journalists have stopped asking the key question about sources who deliver surprises on a plate… “Why is this information coming my way?”

The most simple and powerful tenant of All The President’s Men has been terribly bastardized. “Follow the money!” Journalism now follows the money as though it was just the literal money. The genius of that phrase is, like Sun Tzu, that it is so much more. “The Money” is the motive, not the cash flow.

And the media is so self-absorbed and foolish these days that the guys laying out the trail for us to follow have become so overt as to be laughable.

In recent weeks, Michael Eisner has shown exactly how he’s lasted so long. First, he stretched his muscles by setting his own exit date from Disney. Then he went about naming his successor. Then the company got behind the successor as “the only internal candidate.” Meanwhile, the opposition just kept screaming that Eisner had to go and go now. Why?

And it is no small irony that George W. Bush has moved ahead in the presidential race in much the same way. There was a great stat from a Wall Street Journal reporter that a few months back Americans were polled and only 12% – only 30% of Democrats – were truly enraged at Bush. You can’t sell people on rage… they have to feel it on their own. And the rage is disproportionately on the coasts. And in the media. Forget about arguing whether the rage is appropriate. That’s not the point. Perhaps they should do a poll to see how many Americans are truly enraged by the media and the power alleys on the coasts. I bet that number is bigger than the one against Bush. (And inverted, I’m sure the contempt of the power alleys towards “Middle America” is double that number as well.)

There is nothing wrong with reporting rumors about Miramax and Disney or MGM or whatever controversy of the moment… God, how Chris McGurk played the media in order to play both Sony and Time-Warner in the MGM/Sony deal! But the media’s arrogant addition to the story is that we think we figured something out, that we know something, when a rumor comes our way. DUH! 95% of the time, we are hearing the rumors because someone wants us to hear the rumors. And hearing a rumor, true or not, does not free us from having to do our ultimate job… trying to figure out how likely the information we are gathering is to being true and what it really means in context.

I heard that Alexander was being moved later into November six weeks ago. But it was not for sure… there was no date… the editing was still moving along… and there were also rumors – which I disregarded utterly – that the movie was moving to 2005. No story there. And if I ran it, what was the journalistic value… besides me getting a “scoop.”

But getting back to the original issue here… the idea of balance as a negative is a horrible journalistic notion. It seems to me that the core of bad “balanced coverage” is that there is now too much coverage and not enough news. We have all so embraced the minutiae that the idea of perspective, which is critical to finding anything close to truth, is a memory. Everyone is pitching their idea of the story and the reporter is left laying out everyone’s nonfactual facts and never having a chance to find that perspective… that truth.

A little information has always been a dangerous thing.

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The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

“I am just grateful I am still around. I would love to be Steven Soderbergh, but I am lucky to be Joe Swanberg. Actors want to work with me, people want to give me money, and my nightmare scenario remains: Getting in bed with a studio, spending years on a movie, and it turns out horrible, but now I’m rich.”

Actually, by Hollywood standards, you’re right, I said. That is unambitious.

“It is, and yet, if you can go to bed happy at night, doing what you want, isn’t that ambition for a lifetime?”
~ Swanberg On Swanberg By Borelli

“In retrospect, nothing of that kind surprised me about Philip, because his intuition was luminous from the instant you met him. So was his intelligence. A lot of actors act intelligent, but Philip was the real thing: a shining, artistic polymath with an intelligence that came at you like a pair of headlights and enveloped you from the moment he grabbed your hand, put a huge arm round your neck and shoved a cheek against yours; or if the mood took him, hugged you to him like a big, pudgy schoolboy, then stood and beamed at you while he took stock of the effect.”
John le Carré on Philip Seymour Hoffman