The Hot Blog Archive for December, 2004

Finding Neverland Call & Response

A note from a reader read:

"Maybe because I liked this film so much that I am being too sensitive but for the second time in a month USA Today has taken a shot at Finding Neverland by drawing unnecessary comparisons of J. M Barrie and Michael Jackson. Nevermind that nothing was ever proved against Mr. Barrie. The jury will soon try Mr. Jackson and we will know whether he is guilty or innocent, but in the court of public opinion, the court that matters when it comes to box office receipts, J.M Barrie’s named mentioned next to Mr. Jackson’s is a cultural guilty verdict and a serious blow to the films Oscar chances. Whether you feel Finding Neverland is worthy of Oscar consideration or not is a fair debate but do you agree that USA Today is being irresponsible in their attempts at humor."

I responded:

“I think it is irresponsible to bring up in a blithe way… there is a real debate and I do think that the discussion is fair game… in no small part, the film creates its own problem by being, at the very least, overly blurred as to Barrie’s motives to be so much a part of this family’s life. If Mr. Jackson was believed to be having heterosexual relations, the suspicion about his potential as a gay pedophile would lessened… even if that is an inaccurate indicator. Finding Neverland does not fess up about Barrie’s sexual peculiarities… whether he just had a low sex drive or was a closeted homosexual or, indeed, an active or inactive pedophile.
But no… not really funny any way you cut it.”

What do you think?


I wonder…

… what people think they are achieving by telling someone in the public eye that they are being laughed at.

My readers and even my detractors tend to be fairly polite.  This morning, after the L.A. Times ran a Counterpunch article by me responding to a factually inaccurate (in the part about me) and mean spirited (in the part about the BFCA) article that ran in the paper a couple of weeks ago, I got one of those notes. 

"Hey David:

     George Pennacchio and Sam Rubin are not critics. They’re jokes. Like you. Pathetic jokes.  Aren’t you in the pay of Paramount??  You guys make the Hollywood Foreign Press credible. That’s saying a lot.
   David, face it. You’re a loser. You’ll always be a loser. You know that. We all know that. Everyone laughs at you."

If you are feeling the urge to send a nice note to comfort me, thank you, but really, it’s unneccessary.  I’m not worried about being a loser or a joke.  I do take it seriously when people write and make me thoughtfully question a position I’ve taken on something or a tone that was unfortunate.  But this kind of stuff is just so third grade.  I hope, at least, that sending it made the writer happy… but I doubt this guy is ever very happy.


The Last Time Oscar's Box Office Cabinet Was So Bare

One has to go back to 1989 to find a year in which none of the five Best Picture candidates were over $100 million at the box office at the time of nominations.   Of course, we are four box office weekends away from the announcement of nominations this year.  But even with expansions of The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Phantom of the Opera and at the end of the period, Sideways, none of the contenders, except long-shots The Incredibles and Fahrenheit 9/11 will even be close to $100 million.

The 1989 group and its box office at the time of the nominations announcements…

Dead Poets Society – $95,860,116 – 1109 screens
Field of Dreams – $64,431,625 – 1100 screens
Born on the Fourth of July – $48,358,094 – 1315 screens

Driving Miss Daisy – $32,941,528 – 1302 screens

My Left Foot – $65,732 – 50 screens

Driving Miss Daisy would go on to win and to be the only $100 million film in the group, over $30 million of it after it won and over $40 million between nominations and the win.   Born on the Fourth of July also got a bump, but only about $21 million total after nominations.  And My Left Foot, a classic Miramax effort, got to almost $15 million on the power of a nomination.

1989 was a very different box office year than 2004, with eight $100 million films before Oscar… four sequels and Batman, Look Who’s Talking, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and Parenthood, which was expected to make the cut and did not.

This year, there are nineneen $100 million movies already, with a few more to come out of this month, before any Oscar jumps.  Amazingly, only four are sequels.  But even with that much commerciality, only Collateral, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Passion of The Christ and The Incredibles are considered worthy even of consideration from that group. 

So what does that mean for this year’s nominations?  Well, not much.  You can’t change the numbers. 

It does mean that Ray may want to start a whispering campaign about it being the most financially successful of the serious candidates, which it certainly will remain in the next two nomination voting weeks. 

It’s another arrow in the quiver of Harvey Weinstein and Michael Moore as they continue to push F9/11.

Andit gives a good argument to the Hotel Rwanda team for status as the My Left Genocide of the season.  (Wouldn’t that be ironic, given that Terry George and Jim Sheridan are professionally tied at the hip.)

The thing is, there is no way of effectively getting these ideas out into the minds of Academy voters in the next 12 days… and that’s all that’s left.  Besdies which, do Academy voters really think about these details or do they just plain vote for what they like, with the simple exception of not feeling like they are wasting their vote?

And isn’t it ironic that, even with screeners, even with lowered box office expectations, it still looks like neither Lions Gate, Newmarket, or the youngest of the Dependents, Warner Indie and Focus will make it to the big slot at the big show this year?  And two of the likely nominees, The Aviator and Ray, were truly independently financed, but released by major distributors (as with Oscar, Miramax is a major). 

I would say that the results of the Academy move to February are cool… very cool indeed.



In Order of Current Totals… (edited at 12:22p to include Ray)

TITLE                                     3-DAY (Per Screen) TOTAL  SCREENS

The Incredibles                                 2.6 (1,510)             242.6       1732

Ray              &nbsp         &nbsp                      0.2($754)             $70.7       273

Closer                                            1.6 (1,520)            22.5         1069

Finding Neverland                             1.5 (1,640)            19.9         933

Sideways                                       1.2 (3,460)            18.5         356

The Aviator                                        8.8 (4,910)            10.2         1795    

Phantom of the Opera                           4.1 (6,640)        6.4           622

Kinsey                                             .32 (1,660)             5.7           195

Million Dollar Baby                         .21 (23,440)          0.55         9

Hotel Rwanda                                 .11 (15,360)           0.15         7

Beyond the Sea                                42,500 (4,720)       0.11         9

The Woodsman                                 58,400 (9,740)       0.06         6


Has Anyone Ever…

… had as high a profile as John Cameron Mitchell after making one film in his life, which grossed less than $4 million worldwide and couldn’t win one Indie Spirit Award with five nominations?

The guy is still a major face in indies over three and a half years later… and I hope he’s a great talent… but even his one film was based on an established theatrical success that was worked to perfection over years of work… and he did sign on to Tarnation… but geez… his follow-up film started casting two years ago… and I’m sure he’s a great guy… but Kevin Smith made two films in the three years after Clerks and six in the decade since… time to put some new chum in the water if this shark is supposed to keep swimming near that boat…


Two Great Surprises This Weekend

I finally saw Ocean’s Twelve and I have to say, in spite a a really f-ed up third act, I felt great about the film.  I felt as though critics who mocked the film for being a bunch of arrogant celebrities on holiday, jiving their way through, were fixated on feature stories about the actors and not really paying attention.  And Soderbergh’s work, as director and DP, is quite wonderfully loose and tight and often brilliant.  This is, as a production, what I was hoping Ocean’s Eleven would have been and if they can get a script that has a really good third act punch, I would be excited to see Ocean’s Thirteen.  (I’ll do a real review on THB next week.)

Also, the Kirby Dick documentary, Twist of Faith, which made the Oscar short-list without many people having seen it, is stunningly good.  Again, I will hold off on details until I do a full review, but this look at child molestation – and one priest in particular – has all the intimacy and none of the self-righteousness (outside of the deserved emotion of its subjects) that has so bent the documentary form as of late.

I still love Born Into Brothels and will root for it to win the Oscar, but  I would not be outraged if it went instead to Twist of Faith.


Boring Holiday Box Office

As I commented on in my ‘Twas The Box Office Night Before Christmas, there is something oddly flat about this season’s box office.  No one would complain about a near $250 million haul for The Incredibles… except for Pixar and Disney, who immediately moved Cars into a summer slot where less is more and more is not less.

Meet The Fockers is looking at a 3-day of between $25 million and $35 million, probably right around the middle.  That puts them in the Top Ten 3-day openings for December.  But given that the film was tracking through the roof compared to anything else this month, even a $55 million 5-day is not an out-of-the-park home run.  The 5-day number is about 25% better than last year’s Cheaper By The Dozen, but that film learned what Universal seems to have missed by giving Fockers such a late date… there is almost always a huge January drop-off.

Isn’t it ironic that The Polar Express, the film that we all made fun of, me included, for going out five days after The Incredibles, is turning out to have made the smartest play, giving itself two whole months of playability even in the face of presumed tough opposition?  Of course, I would still argue that a couple of weeks in IMAX 3-D only would have changed the critical view of the film so dramatically that it could have added another $30 million to the final domestic total, if not more.

The issue of having time to play is not only a Fockers problem, but one for Lemony Snicket, which is holding well but will have some trouble holding when kids go back to school and The Phantom of the Opera, which has left too much of its fortunes in the hands of the critics and bi-coastals who the studio knew would hate the film in high percentages. 

Of course, Universal will be thrilled by their opening.  But will all the must-see of the film, one has to wonder today, will it pass the original’s $166 million domestic draw?  The really fascinating question will be whether the iconic Barbra Streisand will make the international number even stronger?  (The first film played almost identically internationally and domestically, which is a big win for a verbal, sociological comedy.)


Great Docs This Weekend

Over the holiday weekend, The Sundance Channel is offering up some fairly rare and truly magnificent documentaries.  Watch, tape or Tivo, but try not to miss them…

On Friday…

The Other Final – Johan Kramer’s remarkably humane and joyous documentary takes us behind the scenes as the two lowest ranked FIFA members, Bhutan and Montserrat, prepare to have their own match a day before the World Cup final.  I saw the picture at the Bermuda International Film Festival and have been blathering on about it ever since… though I have seen it on very, very few festival schedules. It’s a feel good doc, but in surprising and challenging ways.

The Game Of Their Lives – This is a bit more straight forward.  Daniel Gordon tells the story of North Korea’s trip to the semi-finals – a first – of the World Cup.  Fascinating, especially for those of us who do not see football as a national obsession.

And on Sunday…

Whole – Melody Gilbert offers us this doc on a subject that few people have ever even considered, much less looked at in such detail… people who want to have amputations to “complete themselves,” in very much the same way people want sex changes or plastic surgery.  It really doesn’t seem like a winner from the outside, but seeing the film at the LAFF two years ago had a really powerful effect on me.  We must remember the complexities of the human mind in order to continue to appreciate the complexity of the many who think so differently than you or I might.

Also over the weekend, really worth your time and a bit more accessible in recent years… Amargosa, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, Hoover Street Revival and the fabulously insane Dear Fidel: Marita’s Story.


Sony Summer Dates

The Lords Of Dogtown –  6/10
Fun With Dick and Jane – 6/24
Bewitched – 7/8
Stealth – 7/29
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigalow – 8/12


The Assassination of Richard Nixon

We had a great screening last night, the last of the MCN Screening Series this year, of The Assasination of Richard Nixon.  Director Nils Mueller came by for a Q&A after the movie and explained a lot.

He talked about how Sean Penn committed to this film in 1999 and stuck with it until the money finally came together.

He explained how this was first called The Assassination of LBJ.

He explained that his father was, in days goen by, an immigrant  with an office furniture sales showroom.

He told us how a film about a failed assassination ended up being financed by Mexican filmmakers (The Cuarons and their producer, Jorge Vergara), as well as Leo DiCaprio, Alexander Payne and eleven others.

He explained how he held out for years before the film finally came together with him as the director.

But he could never explain how smart his work behind the camera and behind the keyboard (with co-writer Kevin Kennedy) is.

Sean Penn should be Oscar nominated for this film.  In fact, I would argue that this is a better performance than the one he won for last year.  And while in support, I would argue that this is better work from Don Cheadle than Hotel Rwanda is… not because Cheadle isn’t great in both, but because this character, who has so little screen time, is not a hero, but is somehow richer.

I am proud to have closed our screening series with this fine, complex film.


Dates Already Shifting

The note from MGM… good news for Into The Blue… terrible signal on The Pink Panther.

"The following release date changes have been made for MGM film in 2005.

was 8/19/05
now 7/15/05

was 4/1/05
now 3/30/05 (Wednesday)

was 7/22/05
now 9/23/05"


The Big Pile O' Oscar Stuff

Oscarstuffb Oscarstuffa


Early Box Office Analysis

Paramount is looking for the fifth highest opening in its history with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. 

Interestingly, none of the current Top Five (M:I2, Tomb Raider, M:I, Runaway Bride and What Women Want) are kid-target movies, though Tomb Raider was certainly built for horny teen boys.  But the current #6 is The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, which started strong and fell off the edge of the box office chart after a week.  And Paramount’s best kids-film effort overall was the first Rugrats movie, which barely passed the $100 million mark.

I don’t expect that to be the fate of this film, in part because of Jim Carrey’s presence.  His reviews have been blistering, but Snicket is looking to become his third best starring opening (I don’t count Batman Forever) after Bruce Almighty and How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  Both of those films ended up grossing well over $200 million, which is probably why Snicket is a Jim Carrey movie (besides his talent, obviously).  But Paramountis not over the hump yet.  Carrrey’s current third best opening is for Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, the sequel which opened to $37.8 million and ended up with a gross of just $108 million domestic.

This has been the season, so far, for movies that the critics don’t much like doing big business and movies that critics love struggling to get past the $20 million mark.  Whether what looks to be a near-$40 million start leads to a $120 million domestic total or a $200 million domestic total we will not know until next weekend. 

However, the big bright question mark for Paramount right now is why they gave up the last three weeks of playtime with The Incredibles slotted for November 5 and Polar Express slotted for November 10.  I would, of course, be the first to scream about an overcrowded marketplace.  But I would also have noticed that the highest grossing family-oriented December release of all time, leaving the Rings films aside, is Stuart Little, which grossed “only” $140 million after opening on December 17, 1999.  An incremental improvement over that for Snicket is okay, but not sensational.  And with the price tag on this film, they need sensational.

Spanglish and The Flight of the Phoenix are both going down fairly hard.  For Spanglish, it is the widest James L. Brooks opening ever by about 30 percent, but it will open to about 30 percent less than his next widest starter, As Good As It Gets.  That said, AGAIG ended up doing twelve times its opening figure in 1997.  That would make Spanglish a $100 million movie.  So anything is possible.

As for Phoenix, Fox tried to counterprogram, moving the film into December from a 2005 date.  A $5 million start is a plane crash.

Closer added about 30% more screens and will see a gross increase this weekend of about 15%.  Not bad.  But hardly overwhelming. 

And Ocean’s Twelve looks to fall by more than 50% in its second weekend.  Surprised?  Anyone… anyone…


Oh My He Didn't Like This Film!!!!

Selected outtakes from Matt Zoller Seitz’ review of Beyond The Sea:

Now that Spacey’s dream has come true, viewers have the chance to see a two-hour film with little film sense, about a phenomenally selfish entertainer who was a prick to pretty much everyone, played by an actor who’s 15 years too old for the part and who insists on doing all his own singing and dancing even though he’s not very good. To quote Dallas Observer columnist Robert Wilonsky’s observation about Vanilla Ice during his ganja-and-dredlocks phase, "The kid’s got balls of steel. Too bad they’re rolling around in his head."

Spacey dances like Pee-Wee Herman on a hot plate, and his off-pitch, rhythm-free singing is so lackluster that if he wasn’t playing Darin and singing Darin’s hits, you would never be able to guess whom he was imitating.

Defending his hairpiece, Darin declares, "Sinatra wears one." Yeah, but Sinatra’s looked like it was made of real hair, and he didn’t try to play 20 years younger than he was. Spacey-as-Darin is simply too theatrical—too artificial—to be believed. In broad daylight, he looks like a wax statue of Mike Wallace that’s begun to melt.


Is it me…

or does Batman Begins look f-ing great?


The Hot Blog

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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