Night Moves

The Hot Blog Archive for December, 2010

2010: The Year In Box Office (Part 1)

The tickets sold game… such clap trap.

The stat we do know is overall sales. The cost per ticket is estimated by NATO on a quarterly basis. How accurate is it? Unknown. How accurate is it when you are looking for any specificity or cause-and-effect? Worthless.

Simple logic tells us that a $400 million domestic gross for Toy Story 3 vs a similar gross for Transformers 2 means more tickets sold for TS3. Why? More tickets priced for kids. Of course, it’s possible that the 3D bump balances out or more than balances out the numbers of tickets sold at a lower price. But the truth is… we don’t know.

We do know that Tickets Sold is The New Black in media coverage and that the ultimate self-promoting (and most often way off track) analyst, Rich Greenfield, will just keep beating that drum in order to be quoted. He’s quite literally making numbers up… based on broad stats that cannot be reduced down into the kind of detailed claims he frivolously makes. And his claim that studios have jumped into the 3D business to pump up the number of people going to the movies is simply wrong. It’s a cash business, not a tickets sold business. Domestically, Inception clearly sold fewer tickets than Harry Potter 7.0. But that’s the dream! Make a movie for adults and make more money from less tickets sold.

Anyway… back to earth…

If you want to know the big difference between 2009, the highest grossing year every, and 2010, start with this stat; Thirty-two $100 million domestic grossers in 2009… Twenty-five in 2010.

And is wasn’t like this led to a bunch of films grossing between $50m and $100m that just happened to fall short of the mark. There was a much bigger “middle class” in that gross range… but mostly in the 70s, well short of nine-figures.

In terms of gross, things are worse than they might seem, as the $10.5 billion figure being thrown around includes films released in 2009 that played into 2010… which includes $470 million of Avatar‘s $750m domestic gross, giving 2010 a near $200m bonus over last year on that film alone. 2011 won’t get that benefit. It will have a similar amount of holdover business aside from Avatar, but nothing to come close to matching Avatar.

But as I have always said, “It’s the movies, stupid.”

The audience shows up when they want to show up. They aren’t avoiding the theaters. It’s not that kind of proposition.

There were four $300m+ domestic releases this year, compared to three last year. But there were more $200m-$300m films last year.

There were ten $450 million grossing films worldwide both this year and last.

But there is no December title this year that’s going to get close to $200 million domestic… or, most likely, $400m worldwide. Last year, there were three.

The only November title to get there this year will be Potter… last year, there were two.

But what does this mean? Chicken Littles will scream that the screen is falling. But there is no logical indication of that. It’s the movies.

Was there a potential The Blind Side in the last couple of months that I didn’t notice? I don’t think so. Was there an Avatar that didn’t quite take off? Even reducing expectations significantly from Avatar to Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Tron 2 and Narnia 3 didn’t get there… but would have really been a surprise had they gotten there.

And for me, this is the lesson. It’s not about quality… it’s about popularity. We can argue all day about how the two things match up or do not. But in the end, Inception can be a 100x better movie than 2012, but at the box office, Inception did only 6% better. Obviously, given a choice, every studio would prefer to have Inception (now that it proved to be a mega-grosser). But every studio would also want a 2012 on their schedule every November, no matter how embarrassing as a movie.

If you look at the movies at the top of the charts, you’ll see that it was adults, not kids, who seemed to show up less at the movies this year. Was it the recession or what it too many movies aimed at kids? Impossible to know. But last year, I see four of the Top Ten aimed at adults (The Hangover, Star Trek, The Blind Side, Sherlock Holmes) and this year, only Inception. (Pixar is age neutral… and obviously I am using a broad brush as to what “aimed at adults” means.)

The great irony of box office coverage at this time of year is that it echoes the ideals of Wall Street, not movie fans… that somehow, hitting the target of beating the grosses of the year before is the goal. It’s not. Max profitability is the goal… as ever. Critics often pay lip service to the idea of quality and how studios would be well served to embrace it. The meme of recent years was All Blockbusters and Little Hits. 2010′s answer to that was, Blockbusters, lots of mid-range box office ($40m – $100m), and most under $40m wide releases being seen as disappointing, even if they were profitable. But it’s not like audiences are trying to hit a number at the box office. Bigger numbers are coming for nichier product. And the things that don’t catch fire are deader than ever. Adam Sandler up, Never Let Me Go down. And the box office for movies that writers want to beat up, like The A-Team, is fine… they just spent too damn much on the picture.

There is nothing broken about the box office. There is no reason to panic. But the studios, which are always smarter than the media understands, need to continue to find ways to make it work at a price. There is plenty of audience for everyone… and for every delivery format.

Part Two: The Studios

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9 Weeks To Oscar: Let The Narratives Begin!

Here we are… ballots are out… Phase One will be over in a couple of weeks… and the battle for The Big Win has begun. The primary weapon is in the process of changing from the movies themselves (central to The Great Settling™… c/o Mr Condon) to The Narratives.

The Narratives are the big perspective ideas, almost always instigated by someone with an ax to grind or a bonus to earn. Narratives should not be confused with Dirty Pool, which is when some personal or oddball issue comes to the forefront for no other reason than to tear this film or that film down. The media, of course, can come up with stupid ideas on its own as well… like the notion that Natalie Portman’s pregnancy is somehow a strategic event in support of her potential Oscar nomination and win.

The Narrative for The King’s Speech goes something like… “It’s a movie about humanity and humility… one of the most powerful men in the world is really just a broken child and with the help of a commoner, he can be healed… it’s about a woman who is so strong and wise that she can change her husband’s life and never lose her dignity… it’s about a commoner whose principles are strong enough to withstand the pressures of the monarchy, back when the monarchy meant something… so do you really want to vote for a movie about a rich jerk or some crazy mixed up girl or a violent western that the filmmakers admit they dumbed down to make more money… or do you want to vote for an epic story of courage and overcoming obstacles?”

The rest…

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Cairo Time, actor Patricia Clarkson

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True Grit Watch

Now that True Grit has muscled its way into the frontrunner slot to win Best Picture – more in a 20 Weeks column coming up later today – watching the film’s box office, a major influencer, becomes more interesting.

The best comparison I can find is Benjamin Button, which didn’t win Best Picture, but actually came to the table with higher expectations than Grit. They had slightly different points of entry, as Grit opened on the 22nd while Button stuck to the Christmas Day release. And with one extra day, Grit’s 7-day is only about a million dollars up on Button’s 6-day, putting both on even footing on the Tuesday after Christmas.

However, while Button blew out of the gates more strongly, Grit is the film that’s accelerating post-opening faster, grossing $2.1 million more than Button on the comparative Monday and $1.4 million more on Tuesday. Projecting a modest (using Mon/Tue as a guide) 30% increase onto Button’s run from yesterday (Wed) to the end of the upcoming holiday weekend, which was $31 million, you’re looking at True Grit closing the holidays at just around $90 million domestic, passing The Social Network as the highest grosser other than Toy Story 3 and Inception in the field by midweek, maybe Jan 4 or 5.

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BYOB Before The Ball Drop

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True Grit, actor Barry Pepper

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DP/30 Sneak Peek & B’Day Shout Out, actor Patricia Clarkson

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The Silly Season: Crap Excuses For Not Winning Best Picture

I am always thrilled when the excuses for not winning start coming just after the ballots go out, before most of them come in, and long before nominations are announced. Here is the short-list…

The Kids Are All Right: Sexism, Homophobia
The Social Network: Qualityphobia
The King’s Speech: Anti-Faux-Anti-Semitism
The Fighter: Classism
Black Swan: Sexism, Genrephobia
Inception: Blockbusterphobia
Toy Story 3: Animation Category Syndrome
True Grit: Westernaphobia
Winter’s Bone: Indiephobia, Poor White People phobia
127 Hours: “Dey took my t’umb, Cha-leeeeee!”
The Town: Septemberphobia
Another Year: Mirrorphobia
Inside Job: Docophobia
Biutiful: Francophobia (Generalissimo Franco, that is)

and…

Burlesque: Cheraphobia, Botoxaphobia, Gauzeaphobia
How to Train Your Dragon: Katzenbergaphobia
The Karate Kid: Willaphobia
Salt: High Blood Pressure phobia
Please Give: Nextdoorneightboraphobia

I don’t think it’s crazy to say that gay or black are not the favorite things at The Academy. But if you build it, they will vote. Small, quality movies like The Kids Are All Right are fortunate to be in the game, regardless of these issues. Great movies sneak in every year. Good movies sneak in with a group of ten. But winning is about connecting in a very certain way… and yeah, it’s highly unlikely that Kids will win… but it’s also highly unlikely that at least half of the nominees might win. Enjoy getting there and don’t pander for votes. It’s beneath all of you.

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Poll du Jour: The Rules Of Journalism?

This week, two New York papers decided to break the decades long tradition of not reviewing a show until the producers say it’s complete. It’s Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark… a hot story and a record-breakingly expensive show.

I see only one reason for the breach… to get attention. It’s not to inform the public. The show has had enough negative press to fill a stadium (or the Foxwoods Theater, which is almost as big). It’s not because people are paying to see the show, since that is the case with every single show that has previews, which is all of them for decades. (The issue of reviewing out of town is more complex, as the shows that play out of town do have openings and do get reviewed locally… when they open locally.) And it certainly isn’t because reviews are going to change the box office outlook for the show… people are going to pay a fortune to watch this circus… and the more people who get broken, the more people will come.

In a Twitter exchange, internet journalists seem to take the position that if there are paid shows, it’s open season and that in this era, you can’t expect a show to go unreviewed, And indeed, S-M:TOTD has been reviewed by people on the web… but not by professionals… not until this weekend. What is the difference between professionals and everyone else with web access? Intent, access, and rules… all of which, in the entertainment coverage business, are the product of relationships.

Theater rules are not movie rules. “If there is a paid screening, embargoes are off” is not the standard. Never has been. Perhaps the people who are tweeting this meme are just ignorant of this history. Dear God, I hope so. Or are we so disinterested in the standards of professional conduct that we need to go to the, “Is it okay if I kiss you? (explicit consent) Is it okay if I touch your breast? (explicit consent)” game?

And I am talking about professionals, not the public at large. Is this some game we are all playing with the businesses we cover? Is the standard, “If you don’t explicitly restrict it with my consent, sod off, I can do what I please and keep the moral high ground.”

“Uhhhh… really good date… you like me well enough to sleep with me… and I have gotten a pretty good idea that you are either completely unwilling to be anally penetrated or you are very cautious and selective about when you do that… but you didn’t tell me not to, so “Surprise!!!”

Something a little less extreme? “It doesn’t say in the menu that the food hasn’t been spit in!”

More mundane? “There is no rule about leaving the shopping cart next to my car when I leave so that no one can part in the spot that was next to me!”

Making excuses to serve our selfish needs is not good behavior. And as professionals, we have higher standards. Ask the publications who haven’t published all the WikiLeaks stuff… or the New York Times, which took a long time to vet the Pentagon Papers, for that matter. That would be the NYT that hasn’t run something from their critics… like the NY Post, where Riedel is infamous for pushing the envelope… and hasn’t here.

One gentle soul tweeted that the show may close before previews, so the critics should see and review now. But sorry… that’s bullshit. News is news. And there has been plenty of it. No one is saying that the news should not be reported. And really, there is zero reason why critics can’t buy a ticket and see the show now, in case it does close (less than 5% chance of that). But there is no excuse to review an admittedly unfinished show… period. Not for pros.

Movie studios try to run the inverse con sometimes, taking a film to a festival, pushing for media coverage, but claiming it’s not finished and shouldn’t be reviewed. That’s BS too. Sometimes, an event that is seen as private is suddenly seen as a “real” festival – Butt-Numb-A-Thon comes to mind – and overnight, rules change. I think that’s bad hoodoo too, on both sides, but a much grayer line… and once crossed, those rules are The Rules.

Of course, studios are chicken shit about enforcing their own rules. If you are muscular enough, after you screw them deep and hard, they will slap your wrist before they buy you lunch to kiss your ass for the next thing they need you to promote. If you are a little guy, they will disinvite you from all-media screenings and not even listen to your pleadings for mercy (as in, “Every major paper in the country has reviewed it and you’re going to beat me up for running it two days before opening?”). If studios simply enforced their own rules with an even and decisive hand, none of this would be much of an issue.

And believe me, I’ve been right in the middle of the old “this isn’t really a review” scam, which, in the end, is a half-ass lie the serves neither the writer nor the studio that is splitting hairs in the writer’s seeming favor.

Anyway… I guess some people are comfortable living under “there’s no honor amongst thieves” rules. Outraged when they themselves get tweaked… perfectly comfortable looking the other way when someone else is getting squeezed. Or even better, perfectly happy to hold people who they think are too powerful to a different rules than the ones to which they would like to be held in their real lives.

If I am in a relationship, of any kind, I try to adhere to The Golden Rule. I screw up… too often. As a journalist, the rule is not “do unto others as you would want them to do to you.” The people I write about are public figures and choose to be public figures. (This is one of the reasons why I don’t rush to scoop and rarely write about hirings and firings anymore with execs who are not really public figures.)

When someone forgets to tell me about the embargo and i know it’s an issue, I ask and don’t write the review and then make excuses. (This was not always true a decade ago.) It’s not just about the movie, but someone screwed up and it’s a shitheel move to leave them in danger to satisfy my urge to publish a review FIRST.

On the other hand, a festival screening or a sneak preview in theaters and all bets are, indeed, off. And I let the studio know it’s coming. And they can hedge all they want… they crossed that line, hoping to win, and lost. These are the rules. I don’t get to tell them when to screen for Peter Travers, but I sure as hell get to mention publicly the vomit that comes into my mouth when I see him quoted before the other quote whores (or after, really).

How far do I go? What endangers relationships built up over years and decades? If you do this job and do it honestly, you are going to piss people off. You are also going to be well loved at times. Some studios will call you “relentlessly negative” while willfully overlooking the movies they release that you LOVE. Some studios will only notice when you they feel like you are shiting on them… others only express emotion when they feel like you are licking their asses. Many stew silently, whether you are being kind or cruel. It’s like any other relationship… truth is subjective and personalities mean a lot.

“Us vs Them” is not a relationship. And in most cases with most professionals, it is a lie a journalist tells themselves to get over their self-loathing. There is an adversarial nature to this business. The producers of S-M:TOTD surely didn’t enjoy all the articles about injuries on the set, delays, etc in Newsday and elsewhere. But they had no argument. It is the fact. It is, for the most part, news. That doesn’t make it a free for all. That doesn’t negate long, long symbiotic relationships.

It may make you a “man” to punch the bully in the face in the playground. But it doesn’t make you a man to punch the most popular kid in the school in the face in that same playground because a bunch of people would love to see him/her knocked off of her “high horse.” That makes YOU the bully.

But you tell me…


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True Grit, actor Hailee Steinfeld

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The Return Of “The Exit Through The Gift Shop” Diaries

All the way back in October, Jaimie D’Cruz gave MCN the exclusive to print his diaries about the evolution of his involvement in the film. Things start in February 2008 and go through the US premiere in April in Los Angeles.

There’s been a lot of talk about whether the doc is a hoax. D’Cruz wasn’t really making an argument about the truth of the film… but his account seems pretty straight forward.

Part I
Part II

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Wrapping Up Coco vs The Devil Leno

One of the scams that has been used to bolster Conan O’Brien’s disastrous run on The Tonight Show and to push the idea that he can, in any way, beat Leno is that the 18-49 has become the first, and often the only, rating reported in the media. It’s a lot like counting movie tickets sold instead of grosses.

Anyway… Dec 13-17

11:30 (35)p – 12:30 (35)a
Leno – 3.9 million viewers
Letterman = 3.6 million
Nightline/Kimmel – 3.9m/1.7m
Adult Swim – 1.9 million

11p – 12a
Daily Show/Colbert – 1.6m/1.2m
Conan – 1.3 million viewers

The only show Conan beats is Colbert.

All three cable shows have double dips – two showings – nightly, which are combined to reach these numbers.

And for those who worry only about the 18-49 demo, Leno has been soundly beating O’Brien and Letterman there as well in the last month-plus.

Some are comparing demos between Conan’s Tonight and Leno’s Tonight this year. But it’s from on particular week in December… and if you look up the numbers from last year, you’ll find “Conan generated his highest adult 18-49 rating in nine weeks (since the week of September 28-October 2).” The reason? Letterman was in repeats.

Bottom line, before the controversy bump, even on this, his strongest of weeks, Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien had about 2.5 million viewers. Leno, for all the beating he’s taken, is now at almost a 50% improvement on that, beating all challengers, and doing it in every demographic.

I’m not asking anyone to love Leno or to root against Conan. I’m a Letterman guy and have loyally been so since the NBC days. Just sayin’…

Conan will do well for TBS. But Leno is the late night king and there’s just no getting around it. It may not be for the best reasons… but it just is. Conan has 1/3rd his audience with a repeat or an early show included in all markets.

Scoreboard. Game over.

(Edited… scheduling error regarding Colbert.)

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Waste Land, director Lucy Walker

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DP/30: BlackSwanSploitation – Meet Benjamin Millepied

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Box Office Year & Originality

I don’t understand what Brooks Barnes smokes before writing up his pieces on the film industry. Today’s bit of absurdity is about how a wave of originality is taking over Hollywood because of this year’s box office.

My sides are hurting from laughing.

I’ll keep the response simple.

There were twenty-two $250 million worldwide grossers in 2010 (counting Tangled, which is just short of the figure and will be there this week).

Ten of them were sequels or direct remakes.
Three of the “originals” were children’s cartoons.
One was based on a videogame. One was based on a children’s TV series. One is an standard-issue Adam Sandler comedy. One is an action movie based quite overtly on the premise of going to the movie to watch a parade of action stars from the last 3 decades, including Governor Schwarzenegger. Robin Hood was a new version of a classic story.

We’re up to 18 of 22. What’s left?

Knight & Day, explicitly noted as the movie Hollywood won’t be making anymore.
Salt, a terrific return to Angelina Jolie kicking ass… a three-times successful franchise.
Shutter Island, a truly terrific, original piece by Scorsese.
Inception, a hat tip to The Nolans doing more Batmans that ended up being a huge (and expensive) success.

How many of these Top 22 grossers have rankings of 80% or better on Rotten Tomatoes? 3.

How many 70% – 80%? Another 2.

The cut-off for Rotten is 60%.

And don’t get me started on the complete lack of (recent) historical perspective when it comes to such claims that hiring “edgy” directors to do seemingly mainstream properties is a new phenomenon. This is an article that calls out Chris Nolan for originality. Has anyone at the Times heard of Bryan Singer?

If Disney’s model for success is Burton doing Alice, great… just make sure the combination of the director and the classic, completely familiar source material make people go, “Of course,” when they hear the combination. I love Guillermo del Toro, but only a small percentage of the audience knows him by name or is clamoring for a Haunted Mansion movie. (I’m sure it will be great and the marketing will, as it must, sell it.)

Sony bet on Sam Raimi for the first Spider-Man film. Great choice. And I hope Webb is one too. But the Spider-Man movies remain Raimi’s only $100m worldwide grossers in his career. (500) Days of Summer did a terrific $33 million… terrific for what it is. A blind monkey with all the movie channels on his satellite could open the next Spider-Man to $100 million. The success of the franchise will not prove the value of an edge director. Marc Foster made the worst Bond movie in many years… but it still beat Casino Royale domestically (not worldwide), made by second-time Bond director Martin Campbell. I am rooting for Webb. I LOVE Andrew Garfield for this job. Tobey Maguire is one of the great characters actors of his generation. Garfield is heading that way and can be a bigger movie star than Tobey is ever likely to be. He’s got that gear. Great! But it proves little.

Phil Lord and Chris Miller are great guys and Cloudy was absurdly brilliant… but the “daring choice” is to remake a 80s TV show. Wow. Edgy. (Don’t even get me started on Sony dumping Soderbergh on Moneyball… though I am very much looking forward to Bennett Miller’s version of the project.)

“Animation is not as infallible as it has been.” A record FOUR animated $200 million domestic grossers in one year… doubling the previous top of two. Huh?

The audience most certainly has NOT pushed back. The “rejected” Tom Cruise and Sex and the City 2, each to the tune of over $250 million worldwide. Julia Roberts was rejected to the tune of $203 million. Nice rejection. Disappointing vs expectations? Absolutely. But a little sane perspective please.

Whipping Boy The A-Team grossed $15 million less than The Social Network. It also cost more. But again, perspective. Paranormal Activity 2, Jackass 3D, and The Other Guys are all modestly reviewed retreads that will be more profitable than The Social Network.

God bless The Social Network. Huzzah. Really. But you can’t take the odd man and try to claim it’s a trend. That goes for Inception as well, a movie that could have been delivered by ONE filmmaker and only one… from his (and his brother’s) mind… and it would never have been greenlit ANYWHERE if it weren’t for the success of The Dark Knight. The success of Batman Begins would not have gotten that film greenlit. Great… but not a standard that any studio can work under.

I am all for originality. It is my belief that the biggest successes come out of the unexpected. Twilight was dumped by Paramount. Slumdog MIllionaire dumped by Warner Bros. Fox sold off 60% of Avatar with less than a year to go before release. Due Date and Shutter Island are great examples of films that were not expected to do as well on paper… any by the way, were director and star driven. There are plenty of good stories.

I love Pixar… very original… yet, a franchise with a history of quality that people follow closely. DWA is out there working it too.

But let’s not delude ourselves. The only original thing about Alice in Wonderland was Burton’s visuals… and they were, in many ways, expected and anticipated, which made the film such a massive hit. But not a great film. Iron Man 2 is a terrible film. The Twilight series is famously horrible (except to the obsessed fans, 50 million strong). Clash of the Titans? Prince of Persia? Resident Evil: Afterlife, the fourth in the series? The horror… the horror…

You know what’s original? Making the right choices and having it all work out. The Karate Kid… fifth in the franchise… but from that first trailer, you knew they made the right choices… the kid is great… Jackie Chan as an old guy… make it international so the alienation is real and not just teen angst… all great choices. Is it the best movie of the year? No. But it really, really works for its audience.

And the same is true of The Social Network, which is pretty much a perfect film within the boundaries of the script Aaron Sorkin wrote. And yeah, $192 million is great for a straight drama. It’s not the best gross in that niche this year. And the film that did better for Sony but got killed as a disappointment? Eat Pray Love… a bad movie that did really strong business worldwide… but still not seen as enough.

Trend. Stories. Suck.

(Edit, 12/27, 1:27p – There were four previous Karate Kid films, not three.)

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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