The Hot Blog Archive for April, 2010

Mini-Review: Please Give

Please Give has stuck with me.
I have had mixed feelings about Nicole Holofcener’s work over the years. The intensity of praise can overwhelm the reality of what she is making. But one can’t argue, many of her moments are indelible… and that is no mean feat.
She and I share a lot of common touchstones. And Please Give is perhaps the most directly connected to those elements that match. I feel like I have known the people who have inhabited all fo her films. But somehow, whether it’s age or parenthood or the fact that I have now had a discussion about the film with three different estate furniture store owners – Please Give is apparently my FourSquare – I feel more connected.
The story is pretty basic. A couple, who own an estate furniture business in Manhattan, have hit a certain wall in their lives together. Their daughter is becoming a self-obsessed – though unusually self-aware – teen. They are waiting to expand their apartment, where presumably they will live out the last few decades of their lives, having purchased the apartment next door, which they will take occupancy of when the current tenant dies. And the wife is beginning to consider whether their business lives off the loss of others. Things turn as guilt draws them into the lives of the woman next door and her two granddaughters.
Lovely and Amazing and Friends With Money were both, it seems to me, about being settled into a comfortable place that isn’t always so comfortable. But it seems to me that the settled in this film has a capital S. Perhaps the first of more capital letters to come.
The death of Friends With Money, for me and I think for many others, was Jennifer Aniston as a struggling young woman who worked as a maid. No question, she exists out there. No question, it felt completely false in this movie, by no fault of Aniston’s performance or Holofcener’s writing or directing. Not only did she feel wrong, but the circus she brought with her to the film was a big distraction. Not her fault. But the problem is, I think, a real one.
Imagine if Emily Mortimer did the “rate my body” scene from Lovely & Amazing now. Instead of her being an appealing woman doing this fascinating thing, it would be Emily Mortimer’s breasts, ass, pubic hair, etc, on display. Her nudity and her performance might be little different, but looking at someone you “know” versus someone who is new to you – even though many of us had scene Mortimer in other films, she was still an actor and not a celebrity of some kind, at least in the US – is quite different.
Trucker was at EbertFest and Michelle Monaghan is riding some guy in the opening scene with her t-shirt still on… and it doesn’t feel like she’s avoiding nudity because he character isn’t interested in getting cozy or being gently touched by this man… she is getting her rocks off and moving on. But nothing takes me out of a scene that involves vulnerability, physical or otherwise, that feels like some part of it is a contractual choice, not an aesthetic one by the actors or director.
In a movie called FRIENDS With Money, the wealthiest actor in the film playing the can’t-get-her-shit-together weak link… tough to get there. And I wonder what the film would have felt like without her.
But I digress (a lot)…
While the motives and behaviors and noise of the people in Please Give is often less than pretty, I felt all those pieces floating together in The City, where unlikely is likely to be the rule of the day, and one faces a parade of demands on one’s skill to self-justify through every single day.
Oliver Platt is the only major male character in this piece. As usual, Holofcener is making a movie that is mostly about women. But as a man, I didn’t feel disconnected from the themes. Death hangs over the film and as we get past 40, more and more in all of our lives. Ann Guilbert steals the show as the grandmother… the specter of death. But even more so, she reminds us how we all narrow as we get older… the death before the death.
As with all Holofcener, the story takes us from H to H-and-a-half in the lives of her central characters. But we might be getting a little farther here. The decision not to leap can be as profound as the decision to leap. Of course, that was what Eyes Wide Shut was about and a lot of people walked away from that film unhappy. So…

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DP/30 – Spork

Writer/director JB Ghuman and the movie’s co-stars Savannah Stehlin and Michael William Arnold sat down for a chat…
Spork is a Tribeca Film Festival movie, somewhere in between the spirits and styles of Welcome To The Dollhouse & Napoleon Dynamite. JB Ghuman tells the story of this girl who just doesn’t quite fit in, but isn’t willing to stop trying… even though she is a hermaphrodite… thus, the title.
But really, it’s for the hermaphrodite in all of us.

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Box Office Hell, pre-Iron Age Edition

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McCarthy Gets A Blog… May The Ebert Be With Him

I suppose I am supposed to have an opinion about Todd McCarthy landing at indieWIRE. Well… uh…
I hope he’d getting paid well.
I am glad he’d got a place. I am glad they are so enthusiastic about celebrating his arrival.
And I think this fits into the ongoing problem of websites that are trying to expand their audiences but at the sane time, keep making their niches smaller.
It’s nothing against Todd or his work, anymore than it would be about other critics who have written for outlets that have strong positions as perceived influencers. Todd’s work and the power of Variety over the last decades are separate issues. And Todd does have influence. But he has influence over exactly the same niche that indieWIRE already services… actually, a part of that group.
What does the idea of building Eric Kohn into a major critic, using indieWIRE’s position, become now? Unless there is a plan to make it Kohn & McCarthy At The Indie Movies, McCarthy can’t help but to usurp Kohn’s budding authority. (Eric also has a range of authority… younger than Todd’s… but very much the same group of festival-focused writers.)
In short, Leonard Maltin expands the indieWIRE brand more than Todd, simply by the nature of who each one is. Leonard will have some over-50s, who wouldn’t normally click on indieWIRE, showing up for him and – I’m sure they hope – rolling over to other writers.
Of course, none of this has much to do with celebrating the work of each writer. But while I consider Todd a worthwhile read and think he may be much better while not under the yoke of Variety’s structure – meaning deeper pieces with less interest in commercial success – a critic with a history of lining up in recent years against some of the most challenging indies with an aggressive tone that bordered on Fox News at times… well… part of me remains comforted by the loss of power, while at the same time I am more interested in how he will now evolve as a critic.
So there you go.
May The Ebert Be With You… may you embrace your new freedom with the gusto and fresh eyes that Roger has brought to his most recent incarnation.

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Doubling Down w/ David & Anthony – Episode One

Welcome to the first episode of Doubling Down, which is basically Anthony Breznican of USA Today and me talking about our movie week… what’d we see, what’d we hear, what’d we think. For the sake of sanity (and YouTube), we are keeping it to 10 minutes.
Obviously, this one is a little visually rough, but we hope to make it more and more visually appealing as the weeks go on. Hope you enjoy.
Topics this week include Iron Man 2, Avatar & The Fox Carbon Neutrality Promise, Disney chasing boys, and of course, Magic 8-Ball: The Motion Picture

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Little Hobitt-y Thing

Haven’t really be obsessing on it, but some of you might be. Horse’s mouth to you now.
Apparently, there has been some stuff floating around, via the IMAXers, about The Hobbit waiting until 2013. Not the case, according to the Hobbit team. 2012 and 2013 are the current release dates.
We will now resume regular broadcasting.

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Gobsmacked!: Episode 938

LAT to add paid links to stories, blogs
Wow.
I just find this breathtaking.
One a gut level, I equate these kinds of links to junk e-mail and weight loss banners and flashing ads that ask you to play whack-a-mole in order to force you to click thru. It’s the detritus of the internet.
Year after year, I have refused the many requests from the companies who do this in-content linking to hook up MCN because, simply, it does not serve the reader.
I guess the LA Times is just more desperate for money than I am.
There really needs to be a better answer.

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DreamWorksAnimaton @ Paramount Makes Sense… But Does WB Make More Sense?

It’s funny to see the New York Times in the wild speculation business, as with Will DreamWorks Animation Abandon Paramount?. The reason the blog entry is mostly speculation is because Brooks Barnes (surprise!) hasn’t actually thought it out. He throws out the notion that DWA could leave Paramount (which has done a good job for them), but never gets down to the nitty gritty…
Where would DWA go if they left Paramount?
Is there any chance that Disney would add yet another animation producer to its distribution schedule?
Would Fox or Sony move off of their animation ambitions to make room for two DreamWorks animated titles a year?
Would DWA be willing to make a long-term deal with Universal with the unknown quantity of Kabletown hanging over the company’s head?
That leaves Warner Bros, in my view, as the only legitimate alternative. They have destroyed their animation legacy over there and haven’t released an animated movie that they funded since 2006. The last movie they released with any in-house effort added to the production was Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003.
When you think about it, the company with the greatest kids-first franchise in history, Potter, has failed to leverage it with the most obvious fit… animation. DWA comes to the table with almost no risk for a studio, but a solid two-picture-a-year animation output with what will probably be an 8.5% distribution fee this time around.
And maybe Barnes was signaling something without typing it out when he mentioned the international market, where many feel that WB is stronger than any other studio. (Don’t tell Fox.)
The one problem with a WB deal is that they have such a full schedule already and that their non-Potter family product has had some success, mostly in live-action films with animation in them. Does the studio that tends to release the most movies each year cut back by a few? And for that matter, does DWA think Sue Kroll and her team will be as strong domestically as Megan Coligan’s… or can they just put Terry Press back on the case for a year to get it moving before the pieces work right?
If you figure that DWA movies can do about $350m each worldwide, a 2% cut to the distribution deal (taken against gross) means about $7m per title back into the DWA coffers. It’s not live-changing, but for the publicly traded company, it is a positive showing.
So if all things were even and we assume that WB can do what Par has done with the pictures domestically, forcing Paramount to take a cut in their distribution fee would probably be the safest choice. If you think, however, that WB International can mine more out of these movies…

Read the full article »

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The Science Of Avatar

It was a rather fascinating evening at the California Institute of Technology, as Jim Cameron and three scientists discussed the science, fictional and factual, behind Avatar. What was most interesting was how completely comfortable Cameron was having these conversations. He knew his stuff.
There was a lot of discussion about the thickness of the atmosphere on Pandora, the acid rain that might explain why none of the animals had fur, the nature of the glow and what it did and didn’t mean to Cameron, and the volcanos that the scientists though must have been on Pandora… Cameron’s response… “They just fell off of the To Do list… we had art with them there.”
Asked whether the Alien or a Na’vi would win a fight, Cameron’s answer was, “Sigourney (Weaver) would win.”
How the animals breath through their bodies… the blue color of the Na’Vi was pigment, not blood, blood was red allowing pink lips and mouth, etc… how excited the scientists were to both see masks when the fatigued men land on Pandora and when it turned out that Grace Augustine was a “good guy,” not a “bag guy,” which is what they are used to seeing scientists portrayed as…
Lots of discussion about diving, with Cameron saying he has spent over 3000 submerged hours, more than have of that in a scuba suit.
it was a fascinating night. I would expect it on the Gen-2 DVD set. (i still haven’t seen this Blu-ray release, though the clips from it, played on a PS3, looked pretty great in the theater.)
And had they been doing this kind of event back in late January, Avatar might have the Best Picture Oscar on top of its $2.75 billion dollars. It was just the right tone… scientists getting excited about how smart the film was on their level… Jim relaxed and clearly knowing every tiny detail of his film…
Oh well.

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Review – You Don't Know Jack

I thought Barry Levinson might be done.
Homicide: Life On The Street and OZ aside, the last time Barry Levinson delivered a film of some significance, for me, was 1997′s Wag The Dog.
But You Don’t Know Jack is sublime. There was every reason for this thing to go wrong. The story is either too hot or too cold, flipping from historic moment to historic moment. Al Pacino is capable of euthanizing the scenery. Brenda Vaccaro as the second lead?
It all works.
Jack Kevorkian is a small character. He has a big idea and an unshakable conviction, but he is not BIG. And Pacino embraced his quiet. He underplays everything. And he steals – even though he is meant to own – every scene he is in. Even when Kevorkian is going for the dramatic, as when he dresses up as a founding father to go to court, Pacino allows the outfit to wear his character… never a wink… never a Pacino signature.
Brenda Vaccaro, only six months older than Pacino in reality, though decades older than him in “Hollywood perspective,” is perfect here. It’s a rather brilliant stroke of casting, as she is as big as Pacino can sometimes be. He can hide his Kevorkian in her energy. And she plays each moment just right.
Susan Sarandon has her moments. And so does John Goodman, who gets a chance to play the kind of supporting role he played when starting out… giving it all up for his fellow actor.
The cast of actors who play the dying… wow… just plain remarkable.
I guess it’s not surprising that the writer, Adam Mazer, wrote the underappreciated thriller, Breach. That film was written in a minor key, for a thriller. And here, he tells the story of Kevorkian, yes. But somehow, the movie is a quiet plea for Kevorkian’s beliefs… for the right of people to determine their own death.
The film is not without its harrowing moments. There is no celebration of death here. And perhaps someone who believes that this practice is dangerous or barbaric will find that offensive… not enough of “the other side.” But like abortion, I think the argument that people take this lightly is kind of grotesque.
This is the Barry Levinson of Avalon. This is work by Pacino that you really haven’t seen before… maybe in some of the quiet moments of Heat or some of Serpico. And the movie is a sledgehammer that feels like a feather hitting you.

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BYOB Tuesday…

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Sharon Waxman, Please Explain This.

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How to Beat the Variety.com Paywall
By Temp X
Published: March 31, 2010

I’m not linking because, “Screw you.”
You really have the unmitigated gall to sell the hypocrisy of threatening Newser for doing a slightly more aggressive version of what your business has done from the start and then you publish this?
Ha ha. Here is how to get around Variety’s business model. Isn’t this funny!?!?
I think the paywall is dumb, as many do… but is this really the level of journalistic ethics to which you wish to lead the web? (Don’t sweat it… it’s a rhetorical question and everyone but you knows it.)
I just don’t get how someone can be as tone deaf as you in regards to the industry in which you do business. I am actually happy for the people who will work for you as you lose this next $2 million. People need jobs. You’ll be ghostwriting some retired exec’s memoir soon enough.
I know that few will care… just as few people cared about you obtaining Variety’s long built Academy list using much the same technique with which Gizmodo acquired that iPhone. Fortunately, you have little idea how to use it and none of the people who gave you the list are still around. But it’s the principle of the thing, right?
prin

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I Met Daniel Ellsberg And Gizmodo, You Are No Daniel Ellsberg

Sometimes we are faced with the challenge of deciding whether the law should protect the least of us.
Such is the case in the story of Gizmodo and the next-gen iPhone they paid to exploit. Paying to get access to a proprietary prototype phone that may or may not have been stolen – no way for Gizmodo or us to know… and it doesn’t seem to be an issue for them – and then not only publishing every proprietary detail they could glean from the phone, as well as nailing the guy who “lost” the phone.
If you can find the news in that… and I mean News, not gossip… let me know.
There was no “public deserves to know” interest whatsoever in this story, which is why the comparisons to the Pentagon Papers is absurd on its face. Ellsberg knew the government was lying to the public about a war in which hundreds of thousands of Americans were dying and he broke the law to expose that lie… and the NY Times and then, dozens of other papers followed suit on principle.
The only principle in the iPhone story is Gawker Media’s hunger for hype. This was further served by delaying the announcement about the search and seizure until Monday, when the web traffic for news stories like this is higher. (Could Gawker Media have spent the weekend selling ad space for this breaking story?)
But that is where it gets tricky. If we want to claim that defending The Pentagon Papers is honorable, we have to seriously consider Gizmodo and Jason Chen.
And the crux of it, for me, goes right to the argument that Devin Faraci and Drew McWeeny are Twitter-slapping each other over as well.
WHAT IS NEWS?
This may be one of the big questions that is truly of the internet era. As the ability to publish to a significant number of people was taken out of the hands of the dailies and weeklies, the standards that were so tightly held by Traditional Media, led by the New York Times, were thinned. And then, because of popularity, redefined as the new standard of the day.
If what used to be purely the province of industrial espionage is now what we call “news,” then there is no question that the government infringed on Chen’s rights on Friday. If not, then not so much.
But assuming it’s “news,” the California Penal Code is not generous to those who would claim, “finders keepers.”
CAL. PEN. CODE

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LA is a great big freeway…

Just getting settled back in to the City That Never Thinks.
I wish I felt like I missed more… but I guess that is the nature of April.
Looks like we’ll have Sharon Waxman to kick around for a couple of more years. I can’t think of anyone whose skills levels are more appropriate for more mud-wrestling with Nikki Finke.
Apparently, Bob Welkos, who I have always liked, write about “Hollywood bloggers” and brought up Jeff Wells as some sort of psychotic doppelganger to me again. What’s a brother gotta do to get the monkey off his back? I haven’t read the guy or written about him – except like this – in over four years. I really have to read about some idiotic moment in 2000 as though it means something? This is about as stupid as obsessing on what Nikki looks like or dumb, small errors by Sharon Waxman in her book. These are such petty issues… especially when there are real issues regarding the future of journalism at play.
I love this piece by Mark Cuban about NEVER listening to your customers. Obviously, there is some hyperbole in this, but especially in the film business, where every movie is a short-term marketing effort for a massive launch followed by brand management for less than 6 months (as a rule), but with a 2 year turnaround from concept to public release, trying to chase your customers instead of just telling them what the hell they want is a bit suicidal. (not that it always works)
Ah… thank GOD I have multiple outlets leading with the press release about Jimmy Kimmel doing NBA specials for the playoffs!!! What important journalism this internet thing hath wrought!!!
(I know… I’m sick of complaining about it… just trying to figure out a good answer… there has to be a 3.0, right?)

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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