The Hot Blog Archive for September, 2010

Your Chance To Back An Oscar-Winning Documentarian

The great Zana Briski, who lived with the children of the brothels of Calcutta for months before she and her then-boyfriend decided to document her experience, is now working on her next experience. And she’s hoping to be funded by… you.

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Hollywood Reporter Plays The Race Card

I think The Hollywood Reporter is going to an interesting place, but I find this muckraking crap.

Last year, we saw the second black director in history nominated… the first time there were two black men nominated for producing a BP nominee… the first black winner of a screenplay Oscar… black nominees in three of the four acting categories, including a winner, and a second woman of color in Supporting Actress… and not only a nearly all-black cast film nominated for Best Picture, but two films that invoke ethnic racism as their central themes, not to mention The Blind Side.

And what have you done for us lately?

In this case, the racism belongs to The Hollywood Reporter.

Besides assuming that For Colored Girls… will not make it… besides suggesting that the only color that isn’t “white” is black… there is a kind of stunning ghettoization of black Hollywood that someone is even out there counting, especially at this point in the season.

And is there any reason for it… aside from trying to get attention for the trade-cum-tabloid?

If For Colored Girls… got 5 nominations, what would it mean? Was Dreamgirls not getting in a show of racism? Was Precious getting in a defense of the Academy against accusations of racism?

Do we all understand that these questions demean the films and filmmakers who aspire to Oscar gold?

And for the record, I do think there is a racial element in The Academy. The group is vastly white and significantly jewish… and as a jew, I can tell you that I feel that many of ours feel like blacks are a step behind us on the food chain. So I am not uninterested in the discussion of race and The Academy. But let’s get more serious about the conversation. How racist were we, in the media, for beating the drum endlessly about Kathryn Bigelow being potentially the first woman to win while virtually ignoring the story of the first potential black person to win Best Director… and he was only the second black nominated while Kathryn was #4 for the women? Some feel that The Blind Side being nominated was a show of racial pandering. Etc, etc, etc.

But here we are, counting potential black nominees in September. Oy.

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Armond Picks A Fight With The Web

I can’t say I disagree with Armond White.

Well, except for the part where he does to “the internet” and “bloggers” precisely what he claims “they” do by their nature.

The reason many of us still bother to consider what Armond White writes is because, as here, he is nothing close to insane. He’s just an old guy who doesn’t want to do the heavy lifting of distinguishing from smart conversation about films on the web and idiotic, aggressive, mostly worthless wannabe vomit.

He writes: “Attacks from bloggers—crude interlopers of a once august profession— are not about diversity of opinion. What’s at root is an undisguised rivalry. Every moviegoer with a laptop claims equal—vengeful—standing with so-called professionals.”

Well… sometimes. And in many cases, not.

There is a difference, which completely eludes Armond, between commenters at Rotten Tomatoes and many writers who toil professionally – whatever they are paid – on the web. In some cases, the RT screamers may be smarter than “real” critics. But there should be standards for professional standing as a critic of films. But the standard should not be – and is not in the NY Film Critics Circle or National Society of Film Critics, for that matter – publication by a Traditional Media outlet.

He writes: “The most important concern exceeds the critical profession; it’s the danger these changes pose to the culture in general. Ridiculing the need for mature thought and discriminating judgment diminishes film culture. Any opinion that challenges the blockbuster market gets punished. We never experience a healthy exchange of ideas. The social networking approach to criticism encourages anti-intellectual harassment and the excoriation of individual response; it may spell the end of critical habits altogether.”

Agreed.

But Armond, baby, you are so busy pissing on your potential allies in this fight and you are so prone to wildly overreaching about who is degrading your art, that you end up destroying your own authority.

“The Internet’s querulous, sarcastic backtalk should not be mistaken for intellectual debate; it’s schoolyard bickering, enmity from an otherwise voiceless mob unable to synthesize opposing points of view. What’s missing from the Internet hordes’ meanspirited griping is the learned skepticism, detachment and rationalization that are essential to intelligent cultural consumption and maintaining individual taste and choice. The late Pauline Kael’s warning, “Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising,” has gone unheeded thanks to the newly empowered nonprofessional bloggers. Now, moviewatchers—including some scared reviewers—have lost faith in journalistic criticism as a trustworthy source of information or judgment.”

Again… agreed… except for your notion of “non-professional.”

And more importantly, though I understand the aggravation of becoming a target for having a differing opinion from the majority, you are being way too hard on The Internet and not nearly tough enough on you Traditional Media brethren. Seriously. If there is a single film critic of serious Traditional Media standing who is shredding the fabric of legitimate criticism, it is Peter Travers, who is quoted on, it seems, about 50% of movies, almost invariably before the overall embargo date.

On the issue of The Social Network, Sony has paraded Travers’ wildly extravagant quotes in combination with Scott Foundas’ Film Comment quotes… which came before screenings of the film for critics. I have a lot of respect for Foundas and the very serious folks at Film Comment and NYFS. But it was not some web wildman who set the bar that made your review seem contrarian… it was your brothers in print.

As for “spoilers,” I think it’s your right to review as you like. Personally, when I write before people have a chance to see a film, I like to be as spoiler-free as possible and then, when the film is out, to engage in conversation about the details of the film. I consider it part of my gig to do both, as both conversations engage my readers and commenters differently. But the idea that any critic should feel encumbered by people not wanting to have a film “spoiled,” an indignity which we who see movies early almost never have to suffer, is silly. Just make it clear that you are going to write about whatever elements of the film you want to write about. People can come back and read you later.

On the other hand, so many “critics” make 50% or more of their reviews a rote recitation of the story of the film, which is not only not intellectually engaging, but disrespects the idea of experiencing a film for yourself. Maybe you should be screaming that any 2 or 3 paragraph run of “here’s what happens in the movie” should disqualify the author (sometimes cribbing directly off of press notes) from “professional” status.

Moreover, on the web, it is not just commenters and anyone who can afford the $20 a month to start a blog, that clog up the critical ideal. There are many feature writers who now consider themselves critics. In most cases, “Blech!” But again, what is The Standard? How do we do this? Is AO Scott qualified because he started as a book guy and not a movie guy? How many years of TV makes Richard Roeper a “real” critic? And who gets to decide? You? Me?

I can tell you, many people who like me and show respect to me, refuse to allow to consider me a “real critic.” And I have to tell you, I write more in-depth coverage of movies, exploring films in depth, than 90% of the writers you surely consider “professional.” That doesn’t mean I am the best at it or even good at it. But I engage serious discussion of current films as much as anyone out there. Doesn’t keep Glenn Kenny from thinking I’m a twit.

In any case…

The issue of reestablishing the authoritative voice in film criticism is as serious and challenging as you suggest. But you’ve picked the easy, dare I say, lazy target. Oh, that darned interweb!!!!

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FIRST!!! Sony Classics Gets 2 DVDs Into Voter Hands

Naomi Watts starrer Mother & Child and Aussie crime drama Animal Kingdom started landing around town this week.

We’re still weeks away from the public DVD releases of Winter’s Bone(10/26), Toy Story 3 (11/2), and The Kids Are All Right (11/16), so it will interesting to see if they turn up sooner than that. Shutter Island lands next week from Par Home Ent… and I won’t watch it in anything less than Blu. Inception is scheduled to be released on Dec 6 in the UK… still not clear about the U.S… but I would say the film would be well-served by a strong push to get people back into movie theaters for that one, instead of relying on the DVD experience.

Most of the other contenders are less than two weeks into theatrical runs or not yet in release. I count 11 due after Thanksgiving, which is kinda the drop dead date for screeners, with the exception of the highest profile films (True Grit and How Do You Know likely to be the last screeners on the shelf this year.)

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22 Weeks To Oscar: The Year Of Good Being Good Enough

The biggest news coming out of Toronto, aside from films that were non-starters, was that we now have only seven films, by my count, that are in any way contenders that have not been widely available to be seen by The Press and some public. And the only one that seems to be an inevitable nominee – scary words, those – is True Grit.

That is not to say that the other unseen films are not serious contenders. Four are comedies – Due Date, How Do You Know, Love & Other Drugs, and Morning Glory – three from very serious directors and one from the director of one of last year’s commercial phenoms, The Hangover. The Fighter is from revered David O. Russell… who has never made it into the Oscar race. And another, For Colored Girls…, is from critically reviled Tyler Perry, who is a commercial sensation and is working from a play that was one of the most widely seen in the 70s and 80s.

The full column and new charts for Best Picture and the Acting categories

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Disney Night

Oh yes, it’s Disney night… and the mood is right… oh yes, it’s Disney night, oh what a… oh what a night.

Okay… it wasn’t something to dance about. But Disney rolled out the Tangled, unfinished and not 3Ded, 20+ minutes of Tron Legacy, and the Pete Hammond commercial for Secretariat… or the Secretariat commercial for Pete Hammond… or something like that.

Tangled was perfectly pleasant, though whatever media hum that they were pushing hard to make the film more boy-friendly was not in evidence in the film. It’s an animated chick flick and the male action hero was more boyfriend material than Shrek material. The weakness of the film is the lack of a great villain. Their villainess is mean, brunette, and has a Salma Hayek bustline that she keeps on point with the help of Rapunzel’s magic, restoring hair. But because sleeping sickness, much less the death of her salvation is not an option that our villain could ever consider, the threat is minor. Really, it comes down to her angry, aging mother trying desperately to keep her little girl, who keeps her young, from being an obnoxious teen, much less jail bait for somewhat older rogues for whom she has an eye.

Still, a pleasant film. And likely to do similar business to last year’s Disney November animation, though this film could have used a villain as fun as The Princess & The Frog.

The Tron Legacy footage still isn’t selling me… for this reason… they keep saying that it’s a new take, but all we keep seeing is the updated versions of what we already know from the first film. Yeah, Jeff Bridges playing old and young at the same time is cool. And the competition with the Underworld series for tightest costumes may have been won. Speaking of which… Michael Sheen turned up in the clip reel for about 5 seconds… and he looks like the kind of thing we are waiting to see from this film. Right now, still cool – and I enjoyed the original, having rushed to see it on opening night – but waiting for the other shoe to drop.


This is the only physical version of the Light Cycle. It doesn’t actually roll on its wheels. But it’s still pretty cool.

Besides seeing Sheen on screen, I also said, “hey” at a little cocktail after the screenings. He said, I think it’s safe to quote, that he thought the script was “great.” So more reason for hope. Sheen was also great in Beautiful Boy, which premiered at Toronto and won some award up there. And as he plans to do Hamlet on stage next year, after shooting the last two Twilights, he is also talking about producing, writing, and directing as well.

He stood for photos with James Frain, who is also in Tron Legacy, I kept an eye out for someone with a stake running up to seek vengeance. Didn’t happen. Though Mandy Moore looked a little suspicious… and really quite beautiful, though not dolled up as a Disney Princess. (She voices Rapunzel.) Hellboy himself also attended the screening, though seemed to skip the party… and refused to wave to the crowd when mentioned at the event by studio chief Rich Ross.

Speaking of Rich Ross… my favorite part of the evening was spending a little time with and around the new Team Disney. I actually avoided a chat with Mr. Ross, but I got to chat with MT Carney, who was kind of silly and funny and very direct, which is the direct route to my movie business heart. This tone, which also fit with Rich Ross’ introductions, seems to fit the team that has been assembled over there. The success or failure of the marketing group is something only time will tell. But I must say, I like these people. I like the attitude. I like the directness. And I get the feeling that they know/have learned what they don’t know and are doing exactly what they need to do to overcome the deficits in experience.

Obviously, a number of people I count as friends were dumped, rather unceremoniously, by this regime. The sting remains. But business is business and moving forward, I think this group will be a pleasure to work with.

If they were all uptight and paranoid, I would be worried about their ability to push forward. But that’s not my read. As I wrote before, they need to do the job… that is the ultimate determining factor. But for now, I am encouraged.

And one last thought on Tron Legacy… I chatted with one of the producers of the film, who is 30, came to LA right after graduating Kansas State, and found a job with Sean Bailey for five years. Very cool. It’s another positive statement about Disney and Sean Bailey. I mean, TL is, no pun intended, a legacy project and who knows whether the current team would have greenlit it. But young and rising and promoted based on hard work would be a profile for people working on a lot that would make a place vibrant and exciting.

So… a pleasant evening on the Disney lot tonight, even if the product wasn’t life changing. And I still fear Rich Ross and Bob Iger’s plans for eliminating the theatrical window. But sometimes, you don’t really know how something is going to work out, but you just have a good feeling about the intent. This was one of those nights.

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Photos du Jour


I’ve never seen an embargo sign at a screening check-in desk before. And the funny part is, the film, Red, is, I think, ill-served by silencing writers. But it’s not my call.


Really great outdoor. Not there to convince new people to see the latest in the series, really. But an iconic image gone psycho. Perfect and beautiful.


I love that Veronica Hamel still looks so great! And to have her and Magnum and Johnny Drama in one show…

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BYOB 102910

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ivi, Streaming, Copyright & Secondary Transmissions

I wrote, it seems, in haste a while back when I slammed ivi for being thieves.

Now, having seen the product in action, I was struck that ivi is less than I thought met my eye. And that makes it less illicit… but also less of an interesting business model.

Simply, ivi has a couple of ubse-Slingboxes running… one in NY and one in Seattle. They offer local TV from the two markets, obviously representing the East and the West. There are some international sports channels, that I assume are being broadcast somewhere.

What ivi is not is competition for Hulu, which is a rerun streaming business, not a live TV business. Same with Netflix.

What ivi seems to be after, for now, is the right to compete with cable for a slice of the pie. And really, there is no clear legal reason why they should not be able to do so. They have said repeatedly that it is their intention to pay royalties to the broadcasters, the same as cable TV does, based on revenues.

The law states: “Secondary transmissions. A secondary transmission is the basic service of retransmitting television and radio broadcasts to subscribers. The statute requires all U.S. cable systems, regardless of how many subscribers they have or whether they are carrying any distant signals, to pay some copyright royalties. However, instead of obliging cable systems to bargain individually for each copyrighted program they retransmit, the law offers them the opportunity of obtaining a statutory license for secondary transmissions.”

Of course, in the last couple of years, broadcasters have been pushing past the law and insisting that cable providers pay more than copyright royalties for retransmission. But this is irrelevant to the law, though it may be seen as very significant by the networks/studios. We’re also on the road to cable and satellite nets streaming their content for subscribers, so allowing outside businesses to compete on delivery of content, especially sports, is not a happy possibility.

The law was designed around a now antiquated system. Cable nets were, essentially, local monopolies and national oligopolies. Each city made their deal with the cable net that would wire their town. And the requirement that cable nets run all local broadcast channels was fundamental. The royalty was a minor cost. The idea was that each cable deal in each city/town had to service the local community and not separate them from local broadcasters.

When satellite came in, it was not, at first, functionally capable of handling the broad base of local channels in every market satellite served. I am pretty sure that even DirecTV is still short of 100% coverage of local stations. The technology has evolved and satellite companies quickly learned that delivering local stations was a service that customers wanted… as opposed to having cable for local stations – or worse, rabbit ears – and satellite for the rest. HD made it even more of an issue, as local stations and the networks they are attached to converted fully to HD.

But here comes an outsider, saying they want to play by the rules that were prescribed over a decade ago, and they have caught the window between the business situation and the law. I think they are actually right about the law on this.

However, the law should change. Quickly.

Some might consider it a conservative position, but I am a supporter of very strong and specific copyright rules, now more than ever. Every piece of programming is already spreading out over many outlets of many kinds of delivery… and the spectrum of delivery possibilities is expanding. At the same time, the value of any one delivery system is decreasing. Don’t get me wrong. Hollywood is a big fat pig. But as we continue down this road, the margins will tighten and every kind of revenue will be more and more important to capture.

I believe that, for instance, Warner Bros TV, should have every right to sell every kind of rights to a show they paid to produce. They should be free to sell, for instance, NBC, a show for network broadcast and go down the check list of other delivery possibilities, yes or no, each one. How many reruns? Hulu or some other rerun streaming? Cable and satellite companies streaming NBC content for subscribers? Great. Pay for it. Pay enough to cover it all. Or don’t. Because someone will.

In theory, a company like ivi could decide to place their content gathering tools in, for instance, every NFL city. Suddenly, they have a version of NFL Sunday Ticket, with streaming to other devices included, for $5 – $6 a month instead of the $300 or so that DirecTV charges. It may be legal right now… but you can see how this devalues both DirecTV and the NFL, which sold those rights to DirecTV and the networks for billions of dollars.

We are beginning to emerge from the days of piracy and 2″ screens into a real digital future. The Old School still fights to hang onto the ideas they have been familiar with for a long, long time. Ironically, I believe that it is Old Thinking that movie studios are getting serious about shorter theatrical windows, not new thinking. They are trying to force something that has NEVER worked. The six-week window is silly. They would have a hard time with most films doing much in VOD day-n-date, much less six weeks out.

Bob Iger was quoted the other day as believing they have an audience that wants movies in a shorter window and are willing to pay premium “fight” prices. Well, he must have his own polling company because I have never seen or herd of a single study or experiment that has returned that result. All the history that I know of suggests that younger moviegoers are driven by must-see and go in those first couple of weekends and that adults are rarely concerned with must-see and will wait months for a DVD. There will, of course, be exceptions. A movie like Music Box’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the two films that followed… adult focused… book readers interested… limited theatrical… probably still doesn’t do killer business with fight pricing at 6 weeks… but at double the regular VOD price, sure… that could be a success. Mega-movies might get some traction on opening weekend, even at fight prices. But really, if you are going to spend $40 to see Harry Potter 7a on opening weekend, do you really want to watch it on your TV… even your really big TV?

But I digress…

I’ve written it before, but the Netflix deals for content from studios are not revolutionary, they are simple commerce. Netflix is paying more than anyone else, so they get the rights. Starz’ deal with Sony has been fat enough to keep things happy for now, but with the fees Netflix is now paying, you have to wonder where that goes. HBO is doing its own streaming project because, clearly, they see a strong enough future upside to invest in the idea. Verizon’s TV network on the tiny phone screens has been a loss leader for content providers… but those rights are becoming more valuable daily.

Anyway… I find myself fighting on both sides of this issue. One one side, the cost of production and distribution in this country is INSANE. On the other hand, the filmed entertainment business is in the middle of a 30% – 40% reduction and another 30% because rights are being given away or taken because of legal loopholes instead of sold is potentially an ice age for this business. The music business has recovered, somewhat, but the hard costs of making music are not anything close to the hard costs of making movies and television. This isn’t oil painting. And there is no sympathy in the world for Hollywood filmmakers.

And back to ivi… $300 a season for DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket exclusive NFL package is a rip-off. $150 would be fair. Free (or $$ a month paid to someone who isn’t paying more than royalties) is the seismic event that collapses the pyramid. Extrapolate that out across every content creator and first distributor.

And note, if this all collapses, it will be under the weight of excessive greed and the arrogance of believing that the DVD bubble can be replaced or that the main job is to replace that bubble. No one to blame but those who keep chasing rainbows instead of building solid businesses that are not reliant on bubbles, but can take advantage when they do happen.

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Tragic Passing – Sally Menke Was 56

Sometimes, a death in this business is really quite shocking.

Sally Menke was in the prime of her life. Last year, she was nominated for her second Oscar. Last time I saw her was a few months ago, at Sony, where she was “fixing” The Green Hornet, successfully, it seems.

Obviously, she was a major talent. And personally, having spent a little time with her in this last year, I really liked the woman.

Here are the first few minutes of our Super Movie Friends sit down last Oscar season. She is with her close friend, Joan Sobel (who had worked with Menke over the years and last year cut A Single Man), and Christian Berger (Haneke’s brilliant DP). The rest of the conversation doesn’t seem to have been transferred to the new site, but I will correct that today. Even in these few minutes, you get a sense of Sally Menke.

Tragic.






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Social Network Trailer w/ temp track

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The King’s Speech actor Colin Firth






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Teasing True Grit






ADDED, 4:27p –

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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