Why are journalists who know better talking about this idiotic Forbes value list as though it made sense?
And then I realize… it’s late summer! Any crap flies as news about now!
I mean, seriously. I have never read anything quite as random and profoundly irrelevant. The list purports to actually say something about the value of actors, but it is so random about the circumstances of rankings, you have to throw your hands up in the air.
There are movies on the list from as long ago as four years… yet it is “the last three wide release movies” of each actor. Yet, Fred Claus is not on the list for Vince Vaughn. And animated films, even if advertised based on the star, like Julia Roberts in Charlotte’s Web, don’t count. Naomi Watts is in the Top Five with films earning (another problem… domestic only) $238 million… $219 of which is from one film King Kong). Sorry, but if two of your last three wide-release films grossed $19 million total and if the one that grossed over $200 million cost over $200 million for a CG monkey, you aren’t on the top of any studio’s value list.
There is also the little problem of back-end, which is clearly not accounted for in any way…. except when, suddenly, the biggest stars are having points counted… but inaccurately.
There is also the problem that in a case like Vince Vaughn’s, the coincidence that he was in a career lull and did Wedding Crashers and Dodgeball for relatively little (seems like Forbes guessed at $5m per) and then The Break Up for $20m isn’t a sane survey… not to mention the absence of Fred Claus and Be Cool (which was not just a cameo and in which he was as advertised as anyone but Travolta) and Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show, which probably didn’t make the list because it only went out on 962 screens instead of the 1000 which seems to be Forbes’ line for “wide.” If Jennifer Lopez gets stuck with Jersey Girl, how can Vaughn avoid Be Cool?
How did Hugh Jackman get to #9 on this list with 3 films grossing a total of $73.7 million… two outright flops and one soft grosser? Apparently, these three films happen to be the ones he did for $7.4 million total.
Yet where is Daniel Radcliffe on this list with $832 million from his last three films… his “gross income for studios for every dollar he was paid” can’t be less than $10, can it?
What about Seth Rogen, whose last three films grossed $345.9 and for which he got paid, what, $6 million total? $10 million total? Even $15 million total (and he is surely now getting paid that per film) means a $23 return per dollar, blowing away everyone else. And unlike many on this list, he earned every dime of it.
And if anyone at Forbes wants to pretend this project took months and months to research, I cry “bullshit” on them. Anything more than 2 weeks doing this was a waste of a salary. Really. Not complex. I ran the numbers on the first 10 people on the list in less than 30 minutes.
Shall we project into the future? Christian Bale’s last three wide releases – The Dark Knight, 3:10 To Yuma, and The Prestige will gross at least $400 million. To beat Vaughn’s current (not well researched) mark, he will have to have been paid just $27 million for the three films. (I expect Knight to do more than $290 million, so he is even more likely to reach the top!)
But wait, there’s Robert Downey, Jr and his $369m in Iron Man, Zodiac, and Good Night, And Good Luck… if he made less than $26 million on those three films – pretty much a guaranteed bet – he will smash Vaughn. In fact, if his paydays were something like the $12 million total that I suspect might be high, his “per dollar spent” is over $30, more than twice Vaughn’s chart topper.
And what exactly does Forbes think they are doing with Will Smith?
According to their numbers, Smith, who grossed $599.5 million domestically with the “considered” I Am Legend, Pursuit of Happyness, and Hitch, earned $106.3 million for those three films. Huh?
No one else has anything suggesting gross points being counted. So he averaged $35 million upfront for these three films? Huh? He paid himself $35 million on Pursuit? Or he did that for $30 million and charged WB $40 million for I am Legend? The math makes no sense by the standards the magazine set.
These are the same people who are estimating that Ben Stiller made only $38.5 million on The Heartbreak Kid, Night at the Museum, and Meet the Fockers. This is possible, even though Stiller is a $420m comedy guy, because he might have taken a lot more in points… like Smith.
Even worse is Tom Cruise, who doesn’t take big upfront salaries at all, but eats large gross points. But here they have him earning $96 million in three films, one of which we know he got paid almost nothing to be in, as a producer. So again… they have to be estimating based on points. But that is not the standard they are using for everyone else. As a result, Forbes has the “controversial” dropping of two of the biggest stars in the world into also-run status as “value plays.”
This list is so inaccurate, so full of missing movies, and so remarkably misleading as to come close to being a lie. I will include the entire list after the jump, since it should be accessible in a way that Forbes can’t seem to figure out how to make it.
Really, nothing against Vince Vaughn. He is a good buy as actors go, but as in so many cases, it’s because he makes movies that don’t cost a ton to make. The real analysis, even with bad numbers, would be two-fold. Who opens movies and who gives the best return on dollars spent? It is that combination that establishes the value of talent. And in a very small group – currently occupied only by Will Smith – is it consistency of picking winners and then delivering them.
May we never speak of this stupid list again!
We in the media jump like trained monkeys when studios and others offer up press releases. Yippee! It’s NEWS!
But a lot of the time… really, more than 20% of the time… the story fades as the players decide not to play. And very rarely is there a course correction since no one releases a story that their initiative failed and few journalists take any of this too seriously… until there is another press release.
The Weinstein Co has announced its re-pacting with Showtime… at the expected lower price (the Hollywood Reporter reporting on TWC paying Showtime upfront cash makes little logical sense… there may be smoke and there may be money changing hands, but why and how and how much probably has not yet been uncovered)… which is most likely exactly what Paramount and MGM and Lionsgate will end up doing also.
With The Weinsteins out… MGM building with Mary Parent, but unlikely to be delivering much product to anyone before product that would have been running on Showtime will need someplace to land… Lionsgate having a rough run and 13 films on the schedule for the rest of this year, which means a lot of cash out in marketing and few guarantees of big hits… and Paramount already in flux with the anticipated DreamWorks exit in the months to come and not able to promise more than a half dozen films to a new outlet for cable release in 2009…
It’s independence vs. security. And with all three major players weak… well…
Meanwhile, just a breath after Philippe Dauman was saying about the decision not to renew the Showtime deal, “We wanted to control our destiny,” Paramount has done a deal with Jaman for digital delivery of its product:
JAMAN.COM AND PARAMOUNT DIGITAL ENTERTAINMENT ANNOUNCE ONLINE DEAL
The Kite Runner, There Will Be Blood, Into the Wild, Cloverfield and many popular titles to Jaman’s online library
San Mateo, Calif.- July 15, 2008 – Jaman.com, a leading global community and online destination for quality entertainment, today announced the completion of a distribution deal with Paramount Digital Entertainment. Many popular movies from Paramount Pictures will be available for rental or purchase from Jaman’s site to viewers across the nation.
Jaman’s expansion of its library continues to connect people with movies they love with the convenience of the Internet.
“Jaman is proud to deliver the latest hits and classics from Paramount Pictures,” said Gaurav Dhillon, founder and CEO of Jaman. “The addition of these wonderful Paramount titles is a big stride towards our goal of making Jaman the biggest online destination for quality film.”
“By bringing our titles to Jaman, we hope to engage new audiences with great movies,” said Malik Ducard, Vice President of North America Digital Distribution, Paramount Digital Entertainment. “Jaman’s creation of a secure, high-quality platform was a big draw for us as we strive to make our films easily accessible to audiences around the world.”
Paramount has also made deals, beyond its direct control, for digital distribution of clips and shows from its cable nets with Joost. Why does Paramount need two separate digital distribution channels to deliver content from the wide range of content creators? (shrug)
Paramount continues to fight itself, leasing out assets that the company should be keeping for itself. And how long can Sumner Redstone allow Viacom division Paramount to compete with Viacom division CBS, which owns Showtime? They are now on the way to having – and more importantly, paying for – competing pay-cable networks and competing movie divisions… INSANE.
The three major movie pay-channels are:
HBO – Established in 1972 – Deals with DreamWorks, Fox, Warner, Universal
Showtime – Established in 1976 – Expired Deals with movies still in the 2008 pipeline from Paramount, MGM, Lionsgate
Starz/Encore – Established in 1994 – Deals with Disney, Sony, Overture
So, no new major pay movie nets in almost 15 years. As you can see, Disney and Sony have the comfy position of dominating Starz/Encore and are in excellent position to someday split the two sides of the company into individuated networks. WB obviously has natural family dibs on HBO, but the ratings at the first pay-TV major still make being there attractive for Universal (which has flipped around a bit), Fox, and DreamWorks. Don’t be surprised if the next major pay-tv net is Universal/DreamWorks, splitting off of HBO at some point.
What there is not is a financial incentive to sell outside of the family ahead of selling inside the family anymore. On individual movies, yes. On overall deals, no. And the cost of launching a stand-alone net in future will become less of an issue as niche branding becomes increasingly the norm. Paramount is five years ahead of itself – as the dominant element in their attempt to launch a new net – and too weak to force the issue.
How can Paramount fail to return to the Showtime fold before January 1? There needs to be some kind of realistic outlet in place by then. Is Redstone really going to let this go on past then? Because right now, there is no network to put on the books. And while the 2008 number for pay-cable lease of the average studio movie may be under $10 million, it’s another $120 million – $160 million that a studio can count on. And after Paramount has left much of that on the table because of the DreamWorks deal – yet another hidden cost – rebuilding, which is exactly what’s about to happen, can use every base of support possible.
Moreover, the Weinstein deal, whatever the terms, speaks to the state of the content-creator business at the moment, as does their deal to move Project Runway to ABC’s Lifetime network from NBC Universal’s Bravo. The issue of the moment is survival. And as The Weinsteins spread out over Disney and Viacom’s CBS (spurning Viacom’s Paramount), while still seeking a distribution partner – likely a third corporation – for the future, the opportunity to hold out for your own place on the dial is not an option unless you are very, very deep pocketed.
And right now, very few outlets are.
I quite liked The Dark Knight.
Christopher Nolan and his collaborators quite carefully walked the line, as others have already noticed, between a classic movie cop drama and a comic book. This is inherently the strength and the weakness of the work. The mere effort to combine the two, combined with the degree of filmmaking skill involved, makes this film not only enjoyable, but somewhat important.
However, the schizophrenia of the effort is also what keeps this film from being a masterpiece on any level.
I am going to avoid spoilers in this review. Thing is, it’s hard to imagine that any more than 10% of the audience for this film don’t know the biggest “spoiler” is coming before walking into the theater. How it comes is, it would seem, the only surprise.
What Nolan is clearly reaching for is a Godfather-esque effort. You can feel all the corrections of his first film… all the improvements by spending more freely… all the “stuff we would have done differently.” And almost all of them are, indeed, improvements. Maggie Gyllenhaal in for Katie Holmes was a step up, though in the context of the two films, switching actresses was unfortunate. Either one appearing in both would have been better. And eliminating Wayne Manor and The Batcave for a penthouse and array of basement hideouts is a daring, odd, and nearly unspoken call.
Still, it speaks to Nolan’s agenda. This is not a Batman movie… this is a 2008 version of The Untouchables with The Batman as Elliot Ness, The Joker as Al Capone, much better toys, and, it seems, a topper.
But the topper is a bit unwieldy, in that it makes the film too long to sustain by pushing beyond the main story – DePalma and Mamet’s The Untouchables was 119 minutes – and too short to do the second push of Nolan’s thematic idea real justice at 152 minutes. Unlike many long films, the problem with The Dark Knight is that it is too short.
The movie works really well – however pitch black and undeniably inappropriate for any kid who isn’t over 12 or playing Grand Theft Auto with mom & dad’s blessing – in delivering The Joker’s mayhem in the first 100 minutes or so. (Actual timings were impossible as, for the third time in my career, my camera-free Blackberry, aka my movie watch, was disallowed from the screening.
Ledger is terrific, though the Oscar talk is pretty goofy… something I am convinced he would agree with were he alive. Ledger’s embrace of sheer mayhem and recklessness in playing The Joker makes for a perfect counterbalance for the sphincter-tight self-seriousness of The Batman, as played by Christian Bale.
But that is not where Nolan & Co are really heading. For all the magnificent IMAX landscapes and cool action sequences (this film is destined to provoke many discussions of who Nolan was stealing from, who he topped, and who he fell short of), Nolan’s real interest is in the bigger moral question that goes well beyond The Batman and The Joker. Faced with chaos, how will the civilians act? Who is willing to break rules and what is the cost of breaking them or nor breaking them? How close is any society from anarchy?
When it is limited to the two central costumed figures, it is pure Untouchables. “I have become what I beheld” translates quite directly to Joker’s “You complete me,” which also harkens back to Tom Burton’s controversial choice to have his Joker’s origin come down to “I made you… and you made me.” Moreover, The Joker suggests directly that they, as a pair, are nature in the Garden of Gotham, the immovable object and the unstoppable force.
But the “extra part” of the movie, the topper, is not about them, it’s about about collateral damage… real humans in a real city with real ambitions to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
And that is where it feels like Nolan is forced – by time – to restrain himself. For the first time in the movie, characters have to explain themselves, over and over and over again. (Well, one in particular.) Strong ideas don’t seem as clear and complete as they do earlier in the film. And the keynote of the last part of the film is delivered by a character we really don’t know (though the actor will be familiar to everyone), while other grace notes are offered in montage.
I wanted that movie that Nolan was chasing. I really wanted that movie. But as is the nature of the dramatic arts, there is a mystical and undeniable gut feeling when you know that even the best film has come to its natural end. And in The Dark Knight, this occurs more than half an hour before the picture actually ends… maybe an hour… before the issue of collateral damage.
With $50 million and 45 minutes more to paint in – a second film containing about 45 minutes of this one – Nolan surely could have delivered his Godfather. He would have the time to more completely explore the powerful issues of how civilians and police and criminals and yes, even costumed folks, behave when they are in the midst of what feels like unstoppable anarchy. He would have the time to really give a proper middle to the story that is there to push past The Joker’s story. And most importantly, he would have had a bit more time to deal with Bruce Wayne and The Batman trying to come up with the right answer to it all.
From a purely business angle, this film will absolutely be limited by its content. Word of mouth about the personal and realistic violence of the film will keep women and younger kids out of the theater after opening weekend and waiting for DVD. And the length of the movie will cost a screening a day on opening weekend… more in big multis where four or five screenings a day will be lost. Obviously, there will still be plenty of room for a massive opening weekend gross. But the pre-word-of-mouth opportunity will be lessened. And no matter how good the film, the darkness will be a factor.
Had this been two 110 minute films, the box office for both would have been nearly identical, doubling the total revenue while increasing costs by roughly a third. A win all around.
But… The Dark Knight is what it is. And that’s still quite good… and explosively good for the base that is busting, waiting for this film.
There may be a director’s cut someday with the 30 minutes that was apparently in a cut as recently as two months ago. Maybe it will speak to these issues. Maybe not.
But The Dark Knight is a terrific film. And though it is an effort to be a retro, high quality crime drama in a cape and cowl, in looking back, it is looking forward and breaking new ground. It is the first big studio comic book movie since the pre-Superman: The Movie era to try to make more of less, while at the same time offering all the more that studios think they need to deliver.
It is fascinating that this is coming from the same studio in the same summer as The Wachowski’s latest groundbreaker. I believe that The Wachowskis got caught up in their Matrix sequels with an idea they didn’t completely know they were caught up in, with each of their three films arguing a step in the evolution of Neo, each episode closer tied to spirituality than the next. (Kubrick’s way of fixing this was to keep re-shooting endlessly… but the puzzle of Eyes Wide Shut still kept that masterpiece audience unfriendly.) The packaging of the central idea in the first Matrix film was so neat and the packaging in the second and third film so uncertain – you have to work hard for it – that it provoked rather than seduced audiences. Likewise, with Speed Racer, they busted the genre brilliantly, but potential audiences never got the real central idea – family, however structured, is everything and subsuming the personal for those you love is an honor, not a burden – and were distracted exclusively by the racing effects.
And here we have Christopher Nolan saying that you can do a straight drama with guys in wild costumes and live by most of the rules of straight drama. It is the skill and convention of Nolan’s action sequences that will keep audiences close to home as he breaks new ground.
Nolan is working with the same crayon box as The Coen Bros, bouncing from Blood Simple to Miller’s Crossing to No Country For Old Men. The Dark Knight is big time philosophy… which should get unanimous raves, since critics who don’t like to think too much will be able to understand it. (Some, like Peter Travers, will just want to be quoted and will hyperbolize as much as they can to win the quoting wars.) But still, it deserves some unanimity of support and appreciation. It must be hailed for both its ambitions and execution.
The Dark Knight fails to reach the highest level of the form – not the comic book form, the movie form – because it ultimately has to cut away from its ambitions and blow some stuff up real good. If Nolan had the opportunity to have a more even balance between explosions and ideas, it could have been that masterpiece that was prayed for.
A spoiler review will follow in a few days to discuss the many sequences and ideas worth discussing in depth. I’m going to see the film again before writing that one.
The First Sin Of Musical Conversion!!!!
Hiring the stage director who doesn’t have the slightest idea how to shoot a movie and has no real understanding of why a movie is NOT simply the stage show on film.
And this is, simply, why Mamma Mia! is a pretty terrible movie.
Worse than Rent. Worse than Annie (a movie with three numbers that really work and an overall tone that does not). But it is one step better than the conversion of The Producers, as it is a jukebox musical and actually requires very little sophistication… just more than Phyllida Lloyd could deliver from behind a movie camera.
I had a hard time getting a handle on what exactly they were going for with this mélange of beautiful settings, terrible green screen (or whatever technique they used to leave massive lines around the actors’ heads when they were looking out onto the sea from the hotel), overt breaking out in song, 60-is-the-new-45 casting, big energy, little consistency, a stunning amount of obvious ADR-ed/dubbed dialogue scenes like we haven’t seen/heard in an American movie in a long, long time, and the bravest performance of Pierce Brosnan’s career since anyone who sings like that choosing to expose himself to the public is daring indeed.
After about 30 minutes, it hit me. They were making an AIP beach movie… Gidget Goes Grecian… How To Stuff A Wild Souvlaki… Marital Beach Party. It’s meant to be rollicking, cheesy, brain-dead good fun.
I’m not kidding. There is a distinct filmmaking style that suggests that they looked at these films as a template. (Exec Producer Tom Hanks has also shown his interest in that period, including with his own directorial debut, That Thing You Do.) The problem is that the filmmaking doesn’t deliver on that either. Ms. Lloyd just doesn’t know what she is doing with the camera. She leaves some very talented people hanging in the breeze as she fails to understand the language of film and how to support the ideas of her actors’ performances with how she shoots the images.
Really, there are only two moments that really fly. One, when Streep does a song on a mountainside with the sea as a background and, essentially, only three angles to cut between. And you get the feeling that this song was why Streep did the film – aside for one last chance to do a movie romp without having to play the smart-mouthed matriarch – and that it was shot exactly as SHE wanted it to be shot. (Attention must be paid!) Second, over credits, when songs are performed on a stage somewhere and the fourth wall is broken… there is real delight in the actors and they seem to be having real fun. But still, it is shot so poorly as to undermine a really great idea.
It’s kind of impossible to do spoilers for this film. If you have seen the ads, you know all the surprises. And that’s okay. Mamma Mia! has enough of a story to work. Really simple… girl’s getting married… girl wants to know who her dad is… she invites three candidates with three distinct personalities… door slamming, singing, and romance ensues.
One very clever idea is that The Girl, Amanda Seyfried, has two BFF girlfriends who mirror The Mother (Streep) and her two BFFs, played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski. Unfortunately, instead of figuring out how to make this play throughout the movie, the younger duo, who never get to distinguish themselves, are pretty much dumped after the first quarter of the film. So much for that movie theme. Baranski and Walters are natural scene stealers and they pretty much steal the movie when they get a chance, Walters most of all.
But it’s not enough to say, “There is some good stuff so this is a decent movie.” Their performances and some wonderful moments in other performances are a distraction from the filmmaking mess that the movie is.
Amanda Seyfried and Streep get a ton of close-ups, so the make-up decisions by Streep’s personal make-up artist J. Roy Helland are a constant focus. And the way she is made-up and lit chance in scene after scene after scene. She is at her most beautiful when she seems to be trying the least hard to look 20 years younger and windswept.
Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos was an incredibly bad choice for this film. Not only is he inexperienced in dealing with aging beauties, but his only major American credits are Sony Classic’s Sleuth, shot with a slick, but harsh style, and 2nd unit on Batman Begins, where he clearly did good work, but mostly lighting plastic and metal. So the Streep variations may well be more his fault than Helland’s.
Zambarloukos clearly has a DP crush on Ms Seyfried, who is shot in such warm close-ups that you almost want to spread her face on your toast. The difficult part of that, however, is that as an audience member, you are tracking her bouts of acne on her chin throughout the movie. It’s not severe, but her skin is so luminous so often that when it does turn up, it’s a little shocking. And seeing it… is utterly unnecessary. Her skin is not the responsible party.
Speaking of Seyfried, who broke out as the doofus hottie in Mean Girls and ended up doing a lot of TV, including HBO’s Big Love as a daughter of bigamy, she acquits herself nicely. She is a beauty and she can sing. But she doesn’t pop in a special way beyond her looks and energy. You don’t walk out of the film saying, “Star.” You come out noting that she did a good job. You want to marry her and travel the world, not see her in any movie she does because she is so compelling. She may have that in her… but it would help to have Mike Nichols behind her and not Ms. Lloyd.
There is also an odd sense, at least for me, of Seyfried being a bit objectified by the filmmaking. The whole movie has an air of pleasantly relaxed morality and the costume design by Ann Roth does a really good job of taking it all right to the edge of exploitive or attractive or flattering. But Ms. Seyfried, who has a pretty spectacular shape, seems to be the only person running and bouncing in bikini tops or hanging out with three older men all day in nothing but her skimpy one-piece. As a guy, I was appreciative on some level. But as a film critic, it seemed to be a little out of character for the film. Even when the movie gets loud about sex, its spirit is PG. (The exception is one shot, during a musical sequence, of Christine Baranski dropping out of frame in front of a Speedo-clad 20something boy… a set-up for a joke that would have been less creepy if shot more effectively.)
I think Seyfried has a lot to offer and that she will, eventually, find a real breakout role. We still don’t know quite who she is and that is very much the nature of being a movie star. If any movie proves that, it’s this one. Baranski, Walters, Brosnan, Skaarsgard, and Firth are all playing their images. And Streep is at her best in this film when she finally lets loose with some Streep-isms… that laugh, that look, the sigh. I kept thinking to myself, “Damn it! Someone needs to write a great dramatic role for her soon… she’s been slumming for so long!” But Doubt is also coming this year and that may be one of her best. (Meanwhile, she should have taken Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, which would have probably taken the movie up in quality by 20% or more and perhaps won her another Oscar.)
As I just wrote, the trio of men are pretty much in their personal wheelhouses… though Brosnan singing is… well… uh… eh… brave.
It’s possible that Mamma Mia! will be a surprise break out in the vein of Sex & The City, but the problem is, I think, that it’s a tweener. Universal is not selling it as the out-and-out musical that it is. (Yes, people just break out into song and people dance in packs.) Ms Seyfried is beautiful and accessible, but the movie really isn’t about her and her girlfriends. And the age of the trio of parental-aged women is not S&TC 40s, but 50something. Who is the movie for? Who is going to show up?
I can tell you from the screening that there was enthusiasm, though one has to keep in mind that we were in a room loaded with people who signed up to come see Mamma Mia!. They were not show virgins. The good news for the studio is that they seemed to mostly be women and not so much gay men. The gay audience that wants to show up will show up. It’s not a very gay-friendly show and, actually, is a bit homophobic. But the gay audience is very discerning and wil either show or not based on materials and the reviews (perhaps the last group on under 50s – those under 50 – that is really critic-interested). But the female audience is the real challenge and teh real box office hope here. The straight male audience is not coming.
I like musicals. And I was ready to embrace the goofy fun of this film. But I could not. I blame that mostly on a failure to reconsider the show in any real way for movies by the producers, Lloyd, and stage writer/screenwriter Catherine Johnson. And even with what was there that charmed, Lloyd just had no idea how to take any moment from a 7 to a 9 or a 4 to a 7 or, most frustratingly, from an 8.5 to a 10.
If you want to do the work for a movie and love ABBA and feel desperate for something light (and probably, are over 40), you might have a good time at the film. I suspect that the box office will look a lot like The Phantom of the Opera, light at home and more forgiving overseas, where the popularity of the show and the music tend to drive more business. Unlike Phantom, the film will be given a pass by many critics, who are generally more forgiving of the flawed lightweight than the flawed heavyweight.
But unlike Rent, this film should have been easy to make work more effectively. (Rent carried the burden of being out of its time by the time it was made as a film, whereas the stage is much more period-friendly. Better choices could have been made, but the material was its own biggest enemy, no matter how thrilling on stage.) It has the light feel of Hairspray, if not the teen exhilaration. It has the “let’s put on a show” of Grease, but not as well supported a supporting cast or as iconic a song selection. It has the potential visual beauty of Evita, but a director who can’t begin to compare to the skill set of Alan Parker.
It’s not going to be anyone’s Waterloo, but it’s no mamma mia of a movie either.
Ken Turan, the lion in winter of Los Angeles criticism, wrote a piece today that will aggravate some. But I actually agree with him about what he wrote. That said, I don’t think he went nearly far enough or spoke directly enough to the issue for my tastes.
He closes by saying, “Criticism is a lonely job, and in the final analysis either you’re a gang of one or you’re nothing at all.” And he is absolutely right.
There was a lot of talk about this issue here on the blog last week. And at the core of it is that philosophy.
What I see is that there are more and more outside pressures on film critics as the work gets done. From the very first days I got into this in L.A., I was privy to the little non-coffee klatches that gather after screenings as people compare notes. Not all critics participate in this.
But the seduction of engaging is powerful… and not just for the wrong reasons (or taking a poll). We are (mostly) people who really love and care for movies. Discussing film with others who are similarly passionate can be wonderful. Even conflict, as we see so often on this blog, can be exhilarating, as defending one’s position can clarify one’s position to their self. None of us can consider every idea about a film… certainly not on deadline, whether that deadline is 2 hours or 2 days.
And with any conversation, the issue of reacting instead of build one’s own opinion is dangerous. And it’s not a black and white situation. And not talking to others does not necessarily mean you are not being pushed by outside influencers, like ads or feature stories or tone from your colleagues or real-world friends.
As Turan says, “criticism is at its core opinion shaped by all the personal and societal forces that shape anyone’s taste.”
Now… “the closest I ever came to making a mistake” may seem like an arrogant argument that Turan was never wrong, but I read it as saying that it would have been a mistake to offer anything but his real, personal opinion… so even if he changes his mind about a film, the original review was not a mistake.
And that is where I think the piece comes up a little short. Only someone in profound denial could ever go through hundreds of movies for years and never think their original take on a few of them turned out to be wrongheaded. Even if the film didn’t change, we all do. And even the movies we most love change in the perspective of time. Mr. Turan does not offer a personal example of this. All he does is to offer a self-serving example of a movie that he “fought the crowd on” to be honest. Yawn.
We live in a new era of media. Movies, like television, is now often “re-run” and reconsidered. I haven’t read “The Immediate Experience” by critic Robert Warshow – I now will – but I suspect that the idea of committing to our first reactions is no longer valid in the way it once was.
To toot my own horn, I have been looked at funny by media and publicists alike for years for often going to movies twice before writing about them. But I don’t consider my job to be to simply spew out my gut reaction to everything. I am not here to be “one of you,” which is not to say that I am better than any of you. But it is my work to be considerate of the films on a professional level and to offer my best insight into the work that you may or may not pay to see. If I’m not sure, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest for me to guess. I want to see the film again and see how it plays, because the film will exist long after I viewed it and long after opening weekend. The film, like any work of art, is there pretty much forever, to be considered and reconsidered. My real, personal opinion should be as informed as I want it to be before I offer it to others in a professional capacity.
As for a film that has changed in my view over time, Die Hard 4 is one where the phenomenon of what it is… not really a Die Hard movie by the standards of the iconic series… but something new and different that I was unwilling to separate from last summer when I saw it… is worth reconsideration. In that same vein, I am ongoingly reconsidering this summer’s Marvel movies. Though some of you take my lack of real love for them to be a continuing slap, what I am really after is context for them. I would not judge a Corman film in opposition to a Lean film… that would be silly and unhelpful. Likewise, I consider it part of my work now to recognize what is going on with the Marvel product line… or with the newly CGed Indiana Jones… or with the more densely populated Hellboy II, etc. I am not withdrawing my critical perception. But I am trying to consider context in a more complex way. And I think that is part of the work of the post-DVD critic.
I am already girding myself for the parade of discomfort that comes when I have a differing view on a film that has already been “positioned” by a few critics. Ironically, Variety, in fighting like mad and reasserting its ancient and currently unwarranted and illogical for studio “first” position, has become a definer of movie criticism again, even though the trade tends to miss the mark 90% of the time it goes particularly strong for or against a movie. It’s an interesting phenomenon. Todd and his minions are obviously well versed and think deeply about film. But whenever they get emotional – particularly Todd – they become remarkably misguided and lose focus completely. Yet, studios continue to indulge the tradition of letting the trades go first, often at their own cost, rather than allowing the open exchange of ideas start so that no one voice becomes defining.
Meanwhile, after being out for a few days when this film premiered at the LA Film Festival, I will be taken to task by those who disagree and want to disagree without having seen the film as mop-up boy, relegated to a discussion of why I have my opinions, as opposed to simply arguing opinion. Everything is either “contrarian” when you go against a small group of voices or “going with the crowd” if you are of a similar mind when you don’t see a movie “first.” This thinking becomes nearly impossible to fight when so many professionals really are either being contrarian or going along with the group. (not all, but many)
Of course, if you push to see a movie first, if only to keep your ideas about the film purely your own, you are obsessed with winning the race… because so many people are obsessed with winning the race. I would have to cop to having been one of them… about 5 years ago.
I should be as detached from the maddening crowd as, say, Manohla Dargis or Ken Turan or the lovely and talented and not heard from enough about the last 40 years of criticism Joe Morgenstern (detached though not unhinged, like Peter “You Can Quote Me About Hitler Being ‘The Best Ever One-Balled Jew Murderer Ever!’ So Long As My Name Is At Least 20% Of The Quote’s Type Size” Travers) and just put my head down and do the job. There is an elegant logic to that mindset. Interestingly – to me – it is quite the opposite of being a columnist or blogger, in which awareness of your surroundings is an absolute requirement of the job.
All of that seemed like an aside as I typed it, but it actually does match up with my concerns about Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which is a remarkably easy review to write…
Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army is much less formal, much more comic book, and ultimately a bit less effective for anyone outside of its core constituency than the first film in the franchise. If you know these characters, I have little to add, other than to tell you that this time, Hellboy faces a dark nemesis who seeks to break from the honorable tradition of his magical forest family and to destroy mankind for its sins, but his sister, who doesn’t fight but has the power of a puzzle piece, gets in his way. Hellboy & Co. are there to clean up the messes the resulting monsters create or become. If you don’t know the characters, you should rent or buy the first film, preferably in Blu-ray, or skip this sequel altogether.
Here is a bit more about what I feel.
Guillermo del Toro is truly a bright, beautiful light in the industry. For all of his genius in the imagination of characters and creatures, his real power is in the drama of the misunderstood or broken coming to a place of love and peace, often through violent means. His best film, The Devil’s Backbone, is also his least effect-y film, though it is a ghost story. The second film in that trilogy, which he will likely complete after The Hobbit, Pan’s Labyrinth, has more magical stuff, but also comes back to the emotions of his “Dorothy,” not just amazement at the beauty of his visual ideas.
Here, with a second shot at Hellboy, he was at first constrained by Universal on budget, then not unlike Jackson/Walsh, he expanded his vision – and budget – because of his skill and charm and the studio’s urge to ride his very special train to its natural end. But there can be a problem with getting what you want. And Hellboy II suffers, in my opinion, from too much of everything.
I will warn you if any spoilers are coming… and if you haven’t seen the first film, you might want to skip this from here on, since I presume if you are reading this, you have familiarity with that movie.
From the time we enter the Bureau for the first time in this film, unlike the original, there is a kind of Men-In-Black-ization of the movie, with other paranormal creatures in passed doorways or down long hallways. And right there I thought, “Okay… maybe.” But as the movie pressed on, I was more and more aware of the size of the visual palette and less and less interested in the storytelling, the basics of which were there, but often seemed like the afterthought.
In other bad words, Guillermo Goes Lucas.
Unlike Mr. Lucas, it is pretty clear that Guillermo can come back to his best self anytime he wants. He is still young enough and still bursting with new ideas enough that he can make the adjustment, just as Peter Jackson did after he went off the rails a bit with The Frighteners.
There were also two character points that really distracted me through the new film. The first is not a spoiler… the second is, and I will mark it when I get there.
Abe Sapian, still played by Doug Jones, is now voiced by Doug Jones. And the truth is, Doug Jones ain’t David Hyde Pierce. The odd thing is, I would probably have been fine with Mr. Jones playing the character outright had the movie series started there. But it didn’t. As a result, I was distracted every time he spoke… and he speaks a lot more in this film. Moreover, with Abe as a much more significant character this time around – yay! – Mr. Jones, presumably with the collaboration of GdT, has made Abe less balletic than in the first film. So Abe feels like a very different character… less of a marked contrast to Hellboy, which was kind of the beauty of him the first time around.
MINOR SPOILERS COMING…
The Fire to Abe’s Water, Liz Sherman, is now living with Hellboy. And it is, not unsurprisingly, difficult. That is exactly the kind of non-effects exploration that Guillermo is all about and able to pull off with great skill. But it is filed down here to a few minutes and, as the movie progresses, an odd disconnect of Liz from Hellboy and from the movie. Until she becomes the “must save Liz” object, the relationship doesn’t really move us… and when that does happen, it really does move us.
The title character of the film, The Golden Army, is beautifully rendered with puppetry in the opening of the film, one of the truly elegant segments of work. But by the time we get back to it being real in the movie, The Golden Army feels like the ultimate red herring. We really don’t need to see them brought to life to get to the end of the story. And story logic actually suggests that we won’t. But of course, we will. And as with most of the big action in this movie, it is not a story driver, it is a set piece that’s really cool.
I know this is an odd distinction in big action movies. But the genius of the first Indiana Jones movies, for instance, was that every action sequence had to be fought past by Indy in order to get to the next part of the movie. It was the understanding of this that made the expedience of shooting the guy with the swords one of the great movie moments ever. It said, “We’re not just dragging you through set pieces because that’s what a movie is… if we can get right to it, we will.” And it worked brilliantly. In Men in Black, using the investigation thread to push the story, every alien they rousted led to the next alien which led to the big alien and the tiny universe… as well as to the education of Will Smith’s J. Here, not only in the end, but in earlier sequences, wonderous lifeforms seem to be thrown in Hellboy’s way just to have a great big beautiful fight. You can’t say they aren’t cool. But if you took out most of them, the story would remain exactly the same. And in one case, there is a remarkable lack of story logic, as – dancing around the spoiler – Hellboy being occupied means that a key object in the story is absolutely vulnerable to being snatched… 30 minutes before it is eventually, inevitably snatched.
Del Toro reconfigures his heroes in this film, from one central hero, Hellboy, into a real team of three; Hellboy, Abe, and Liz. He then adds an otherworldly interoffice antagonist who can do more than cower like Tom Manning or pine for Liz like John Myers. Cool. But he has the problem that you have with a lot of team stories… it’s still called Hellboy. And as a result, the other heroes have to do a lot of standing around, not acting, to give him the stage for his heroics. And in the literalism of a movie, it doesn’t work as easily as it does in a comic. Yes, they all ultimately participate… like I said, Guillermo is a genius, not a schmuck. But there is an awful lot of “why didn’t they do that?” in this film. A lot.
All that said, the movie feels more like a comic brought to life than anything since Tank Girl, which this movie reminded me of more than once, oddly. And I think it will play very, very successfully with the comic book loving audience. It almost feels like it was made for them and their tastes with a happy disregard for making a movie that is really accessible for a wider audience.
This doesn’t mean it won’t find a wider audience, especially on opening weekend. But in many ways, this is a narrowcast movie right in line with Universal’s summer of The Incredible Hulk and Wanted. I’m not quite as confident that we will see that same $50m – $55m start that the other two got… but then again, no one really saw that number for Wanted.
There are some remarkably beautiful things in Hellboy II. That was a given. And as I say, the rough hewn touches are manna from heaven for the geek boys. (And unlike my criticism of the two Marvel movies, I don’t actually have the slightest objection to them reveling in every minute of this one.) Liz is a very identifiable character for teen girls. And the performances are pretty great all around, though as I wrote, I prefer a more elegant Abe… but that’s just me.
I love the first Hellboy… even more so after watching it again from top to bottom in Blu-ray. I didn’t need more, just the next step. But we got a lot more. As a story, it’s a little too big for its britches and a little too small to be epic. There are always holes in any story, but there were some here that I just don’t expect from Guillermo, who seemed to be a little to distracted by all those wonderful toys. Wait ‘til they get a load of me, indeed.
I feel a burning urge to respond to Anne Thompson’s “Fluke Zone” piece, but I am having a hard time nailing down what she is actually arguing.
First, the idea of a “Fluke Zone” is demeaning to the efforts of the talent being discussed and misses the point… it’s anything but a fluke.
There is no such thing as “can’t miss.” There is such a thing as being “can’t miss in a vehicle that connects with your primary demographic.”
There are almost never more than 2 such stars in the business at any one time.
There are stratifications of this principle as well.
Adam Sandler and Denzel Washington are completely reliable stars in America… and reliably have not translated overseas, though Denzel seemed to be improving his standing with Déjà Vu… but then crept back with American Gangster, even with Russell Crowe by his side.
The reason Brad Pitt is “such a big star” is not America, but overseas. He hasn’t had a film perform better in the US than overseas in many years. He has 15 titles with over 60% of their revenue from outside North America, including a 73% overseas stake on Jesse James last year. As a result, he’s only had two films do less than $100 million worldwide in the last 15 years and 10 that have done at least $100 million overseas alone.
Will Smith is the biggest star in the world right now because his films play worldwide and has had just two of his thirteen movies starting in 1996 (ID4) come up short of $100 million domestic and $220m worldwide. And it’s now been seven years since Ali, the last “flop.”
Part of this run, however, is that he’s only gone away from his base once in these last seven years… for The Pursuit of Happyness, which did over $300 million worldwide.
Being a mega movie star is, in great part, about knowing what people want to see you do and doing it.
The decade-long run of Tom Hanks was 13 movies long, the only box office “underperformer” being Philadephia, which did $77 million domestic, $202 worldwide, and won him an Oscar. It was also the only film that Hanks did that was out of the two stock characters he player – Earnest & Goofy.
Tom Cruise’s big run was 14 years and 14 films, though he had two underperformers with Eyes Wide Shut and Magnolia, two efforts to work with top drama directors and/.or to win awards that were not won. But aside from that, a dozen $100 million+ domestic/$200m+ worldwide hits.
Conversely, Julia Roberts run was four years (1997-2000), seven films… with only four of the films cracking $100 million domestic and all for doing over $30m internationally. While she became as star in 1990 with Pretty Woman, she never seemed to be able to deliver the nine-figure grosses more than a couple times in a row. Sleeping With The Enemy would be followed by Flatliners… Hook and Pelican Brief by I Love Trouble and Something To Talk About. That kind of thing.
Harrison Ford, by the way, always felt huge. But he was forever coloring out of the lines and never had The Big Run. The only time in his entire career when he has done $100 million domestic back-to-back were the two times he did Star Wars and Indy back-to-back. In fact, aside from those franchises, he’s had only four films gross $100 million domestic… and one of those was a franchise movie (Jack Ryan). And only three of those four cracked $200m worldwide. Beloved movies like Witness and Working Girl and Presumed Innocent were hits, but not blockbusters. And he always had the tendency to throw some real duds – often ambitious duds – in between the hits.
Stars are valued by their ability to open movies. Mega stars are valued by their ability to open and then deliver $100 million-plus consistently.
Robert Downey Jr. and Shia LaBeouf are talented, but there is no indication that either one is a sure opener. Not even close. The only film LaBeouf has ever opened to real business was Disturbia ($22m) and the film didn’t manage $100 million domestic in spite of great reviews and it came up short of $120 million worldwide. Good for Disturbia, but not a money-in-the-bank star. And anyone who even tries to argue that he had any significant role in opening or delivering on Transformers or Indy 4 needs shock treatment. He may become a star – I imagine not – but he is not close to being money now.
As for Downey… love the work… but if you would gamble money on him delivering a $100 million gross in anything but Iron Man, I’ll sell you a bridge and the papers on Tobey Maguire to boot.
Anyway… this is why this is a difficult conversation. Perception is not reality… but it is real.
And Hollywood wants us to believe in stars because that makes them more valuable as commodities. But as commodities go, very, very few ever have even a remarkable short run, much less the decade or so that the very biggest stars manage to get through.
There have been very good – and very repetitive – pieces on The Indie Meltdown of 2008.
I am not of the belief that we are at the end of indies, but that we are at the end of a certain kind of cycle, particularly regarding theatrical distribution.
I am not of the belief that this is a “sky is falling” moment in which people are panicking for no reason, but that there is a real paradigm shift going on and that indie distributors are as slow in adjusting mindset at the major studios.
I am not of the belief that the shutdown of studio Dependents is deadly to the indie world, but that it is simply a natural coming to sanity that “indie” movies are not mainstream movies and cannot carry the budgets of mainstream movies.
Every door that closes opens another door. That is the nature of the world, not a showbiz issue. Nature abhors a vacuum. But what the next door is going to be, no one knows. Let me restate that… NO ONE knows.
In the last five years, we went from a Dependent standard of $12 million per film, set by Searchlight, growing into the 20s by way of Focus, and then into the 30s and beyond via Vantage in the last two years. Higher budgets mean more risk, which to the people who oversee these companies means more ad dollars are needed to insure the risk.
The three rock solid Dependents as of this writing are Fox Searchlight, Miramax, and Sony Pictures Classics. But neither company followed the Dependent trends of the last few years. Searchlight started to head down that road – it was their success that created the opening for bigger budgets and higher profile – and then backed off… they could feel it was wrong as they were doing it. Meanwhile, the studio has become as sure an annual Oscar bet as any, ever… and cracked the $100 million ceiling last year for the first time with Juno. Still, we are in one of the company’s down years, with just 4 releases due this year, none of which seem likely to be terribly significant in any way.
Disney’s Miramax has been very cautious in its approach under Daniel Battsek. He will spend money, but he won’t through a lot of cash at the wall and see what sticks. He’s gone acquisition and production funding pretty evenly. He’s taken his hits, but he’s never risked so much that a failure threatened the division’s profitability for the year. And with No Country for Old Men, The Queen, The Diving Bell & The Butterfly, and Gone Baby Gone (plus foreign on There Will Be Blood), no one has had a better high-profile run in recent years (though Searchlight has had bigger hits).
Sony Pictures Classics has never much played that game, though they stepped towards a bigger production slate – that seems to be over – and they do act as a domestic distribution and marketing arm for some of Sony’s international efforts, like the Stephen Chow films.
Clearly, there is an opening for popular movies that have a likely audience of a size that suggests that grosses between $5 million and $15 million are reasonable… and only more than that when magic strikes. But at that price point, how do businesses proceed and succeed?
“Too full a marketplace” is, to my ear, a gross simplification. It’s not how much competition there is, but how the product competes.
Unfocused competition is an issue. Last year, there were 156 releases onto 1000 screens or more. There were 123 such releases a decade ago (1998) and 127 five years ago (2003). So we’re looking at an increase in wide releases of roughly one extra release every other week. This is clearly not what is clogging the system’s arteries.
Most of that 20% increase is in the range of 1000 screens to 2000 screens… which is where The Weinsteins and the Dependents often live and majors dump their junk. Just seven of the thirty-eight films released in 2007, on between 1000 and 2000 screens, grossed more than $30m domestic, the biggest being Sweeney Todd, which hit $53.9 million. In distribution, anything can happen, but “anything” doesn’t often happen.
There were only another 81 titles last year that opened on between 100 and 1000 screens.
We’re looking at 156 wide releases over 2000 screens and 125 releases between 100 screens and 2000 screens. Yet only 147 total films last year did as much as $10 million. 33 films opened on more than 1000 screens and didn’t hit this modest goal.
Just 280 titles – or 5.5 a week – that get significant releases… it’s a lot, but it isn’t the cause of drowning.
There is a fascinating grouping of films right around the 300 screen release level from last year; Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, Lars & The Real Girl, The Assassination Of Jesse James, and Away From Her. All four films had much higher ambitions. The highest domestic gross in the group is $7.1 million.
You can’t blame the failure of these films – released with stars, recent Oscar-nominees, an avalanche of press, and lots of acclaim – on marketplace overcrowding.
When people write about “no one wants to go to the movies,” they should be writing, “I no longer care about going to a theater, paying a lot, being bothered by kids and ads and popcorn prices… all-in-all, I prefer my living room.” Nothing wrong with that. But, it is time for us all to acknowledge is that the audience for indies is EXACTLY the audience that is actually abandoning the theaters. Teens aren’t. Lower income people aren’t. It is people over 30 with busy lives who can afford bigger TVs, a wide array of pay cable channels, and DVD rental and purchase.
Ironically, it is their disinterest and the success of DVD that has caused the sense of a theatrical glut.
Have you noticed that few of the “too many film”ers talk about the number of films in release seem to acknowledge that at least a third of the titles are released theatrically by contract, going through the steps to a better life in ancillary markets, which is where they were intended to earn their keep in the first place? This is a phenomenon of the last five years in particular.
258 films were released in 2007 that didn’t gross $100,000. A tiny number of these films were expecting to find a stronger theatrical life after dipping their toes in the water. Many “opened” only in New York City… which is what drives the New York Times a little nuts. But the vast majority was just putting a floater out there on the way to DVD.
It is these films that roughly doubled the overall number of annual theatrical releases from a decade ago to today, not serious players in the distribution business.
The biggest change in indie theatrical is the size of the releases competing in that realm. Between Lionsgate, MGM releases – which were all independently made in the last couple of years – and the studio Dependents (not the genre arms, like Screen Gems or Rogue), there were 48 releases of over 1000 screens last year.
But that only taps the most overt part of the problem. When you have a major “indie” at every studio, how does anyone who isn’t a major going to get space at the top art houses, with less marketing power?
What’s playing on the five screens at Landmark’s Magnolia Theater in Dallas? A split between The Fall and The Promotion, Lelouch’s Roman de Gare (Sam Goldwyn), The Weinstein Co’s release of Argento’s Mother of Tears, Sony Classics’ When Did You Last See Your Father, and, uh, Get Smart.
Lamdmark in West LA? De Gare, Father and Fall (split with daytime shows at LAFF) again, Overture’s The Visitor, Picturehouse’s Mongol, IFC’s Savage Grace, and… The Love Guru on 2 screens.
Get the picture?
There are some great and ambitious exhibitors in NY, LA, and even in some smaller towns. But the bigger the nut the theater is carrying, the more tempting to just roll forward in the most obvious way… bet on the movies that have the most marketing might behind them.
So where does it all go from here?
We already discussed the “answer.” No one knows.
But like any situation in which change is afoot, there are, in the broadest sense, two paths to travel. The internet, for instance, can empower… or it can be a way to avoid life and to isolate oneself in a very destructive way. A nuclear weapon can force peace by being a deterrent… it can kill millions when used to the end for which it was created. And the void that is about to hit the indie-minded exhibitors can make room for more films from a wider array of distributors or it can just mean more playdates for the ongoing Dependents and Lionsgate.
The thing is, much as I love seeing movies on screens, it’s probably time to reconsider what success looks like for these movies that have a smart but narrow market. Some companies, like IFC, have mostly abandoned theatrical, but the signal that that isn’t a step down hasn’t really be accepted by the intelligentsia. Cinetic is reaching for the future with its digital delivery program, meant to take hold of the long tail and shake it up, but that nagging wish for a theatrical life is still writ large on the soul of most young filmmakers.
But it seems more likely that some large amount of money will come flying in from whatever new sucker there is out there and will continue to feed the lust to do things as they have always been done. And I can just recycle this column again in five years.
Okay… now that I have finished off the vast majority of the Broadway season with a few last additions, a quick Tony rundown for tonight in the obnoxious Will Win/Should Win schtick that is as cliché as thanking God or mom or your “significant other.”
Will Win: August: Osage County” (Tracy Letts)
Should Win: August: Osage County” (Tracy Letts)
There was a lot of straight plays on Broadway this year and a high percentage were very good… this one was easily the best.
Will Win: In the Heights
Should Win: Tie: Xanadu and Passing Strange
I am amazed that people refer to Spring Awakening as “groundbreaking” and can’t see how clearly Passing Strange is the same show… for adults. Passing Strange kicks ass… but my heart belongs with Xanadu, the show that people are still scared to see… and scared to vote for. I guess the tie-break, for me, is that Passing Strange is so much about Stew while Xanadu is a show that can play – with deceptively talented people – anytime, anywhere like a Broadway classic. Unlike A Chorus Line, it will still be perfect when someone brings it back in 20 years.
You can’t help but to enjoy In The Heights, but it is not a great show and will never be a great show. It’s got enormous energy and the choreographer deserves a Tony… but the show and the lyrics are nothing more than mediocre.
Will Win: Xanadu
Should Win: Xanadu
Douglas Carter Beane dreamed this thing into what it is, which is not a retread of the movie. Stew’s story is a worthy book, to say the least. The others are not.
Will Win: Passing Strange
Should Win: Passing Strange
The only real competition is In The Heights… and there is not a lyric in that show that comes close to Stew’s work.
Will Win: Boeing-Boeing
Should Win: ?
This is one category where I am most blind. Macbeth came and went before I could see it. The strike caused me to miss The Homecoming. And very soft reviews for ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses kept it from being a priority.
Will Win: South Pacific
Should Win: South Pacific
Gypsy is a truly great show… a firmament of Broadway… and not very exciting this time around. And I was not the fan of Sunday in the Park that others were, mostly because I was not thrilled by the male lead. If there is an upset – and South Pacific has them all wet with joy – it will be Sunday… but there won’t be an upset.
Will Win: Mark Rylance, Boeing-Boeing
Should Win: Mark Rylance, Boeing-Boeing
It’s real simple… Mark Rylance gives the performance of the year. In this very broad period farce, he manages to keep to full speed without ever once looking like he is acting. It is very, very challenging and he is truly spectacular in this turn. He will be the next Brit who Hollywood doesn’t want to make a movie without in support.
Will Win: Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County
Should Win: Amy Morton, August: Osage County
Dunagan is spectacular. This is no insult to her. But she has the show pony role. And Morton has to build what seems to be a very simple character into a match to go toe-to-toe with Dunagan. She is the lead of the best show of the year. And she deserves a Tony for it.
Will Win: Paulo Szot, South Pacific
Should Win: Stew, Passing Strange
SP is the show they all LOOOOOVE. But Stew is not only giving a great performance that demands his physical, vocal, and emotional presence for virtually every second the show is on stage, but he grabs us all by the heart. I could see a Daniel Evans upset. If Miranda wins for In The Heights, it will be tragic… he is a very talented kid… and the weakest lead performer in his show.
Will Win: Patti LuPone, Gypsy
Should Win: Kerry Butler, Xanadu
I wish I loved LuPone in this role like I was supposed to… but the real star of the show was her daughter.
You have to believe Kerry Butler is magic in Xanadu. It is an epic piece of comic acting, in addition to the singing and dancing and skating.
If there is a LuPone upset, I wouldn’t be surprised by O’Hara in the Love Show or Russell, who makes Sunday work.
Will Win: Jim Norton, The Seafarer
Should Win: Jim Norton, The Seafarer
Many think that Raul Esparza will get make up sex for the absolute theft of his Tony last year. (I finally saw Curtains… love David Hyde-Pierce, but puh-leeze! Esparza was epic in comparison.)
Norton was the guy everyone was talking about coming out of The Seafarer and I like to think it will stick. David Pittu had two great turns in the last year, also as the one great thing in LoveMusik. A star. But not his year.
Will Win: Mary McCormack, Boeing-Boeing
Should Win: Mary McCormack, Boeing-Boeing
Rondi Reed is great and the show will win the most awards tonight, but McCormack is a showstopper in Boeing-Boeing, doing what might be the hardest thing for an actor to do these days… committing 100% to a farce. Great performances all around, but…
Featured Actor-Musical: Daniel Breaker, “Passing Strange”; Danny Burstein, “South Pacific”; Robin De Jesus, “In the Heights”; Christopher Fitzgerald, “Young Frankenstein”; Boyd Gaines, “Gypsy.”
Will Win: Laura Benanti, Gypsy
Should Win: Laura Benanti, Gypsy
Ladies & Gentlemen… your next Broadway legend in the making.
Benanti, simply, is amazing. The title role in Gypsy is one of the most challenging ever because of its range. Most actresses do well with one of the halves of the personality and overact the other. No Benanti. She not only gets them both right, she brings the audience through her transition with fluid grace.
Will Win: Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County
Should Win: A 4 way tie
Every single one of these turns by a director is complex, almost impossible, and close to perfection. Really. The 39 Steps is unlike anything you’ve seen in a theater and must be seen. The Seafarer is such a work of focus, but because of the stage full of men, the whole things needs to remain compresses. August: Osage County is a massive epic, both relentlessly verbal and physical with a huge cast and a runtime over 3 hours. Shapiro maneuvers the full-stage and empty-stage moments to perfection. And Boeing-Boeing is a farce of over 2 hours that isn’t just a door slammer, but a constant color chameleon of styles.
Will Win: Bartlett Sher, South Pacific
Should Win: Uh…
I would really be okay, though not all that enthusiastic, about any of these directors. It shows the lack of imagination of Tony voters that Passing Strange and Xanadu are not included. Even though I think the show overrated, I would be more than comfy with Thomas Kail getting it for In The Heights… he gives the audience all the reasons to have a great time at the theater.
Will Win: Andy Blankenbuehler, In the Heights
Should Win: Dan Knechtges, Xanadu
Heights is all energy… more choreography than anyone can consume in one sitting. Well done. Xanadu makes the impossible work… on skates.
Will Win: Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman, In the Heights
Should Win: Stew and Heidi Rodewald; Passing Strange
I feel I have explained this already. Both are exhilarating… one is just better.
Will Win: Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Should Win: Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Not even close.
But I won’t be shocked by an upset.
Will Win: David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday in the Park With George
Should Win: David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday in the Park With George
The theater they put YF in, which ate some great work, cost Robin Wagner a Tony this year.
Will Win: Rob Howell, Boeing-Boeing
Should Win: Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Great costumes for the women in Boeing… sexy as hell, but just the right side of obscene, they play a real role in the storytelling, as does our reluctant hero’s suit and moth-bitten sweater.
But the flexibility of the costumes on 39 Steps is a sight to behold.
Will Win: Catherine Zuber, South Pacific
Should Win: David Zinn, Xanadu
Not an exciting category this year… again, Xanadu was the real story. Cheesy is not easy.
Will Win: Kevin Adams, The 39 Steps
Should Win: Kevin Adams, The 39 Steps
I’m not sure why I believe this show will get these craft awards… but it really deserves them.
Will Win: Donald Holder, South Pacific
Should Win: Donald Holder, South Pacific
Sunday in the Park could upset.
Will Win: Mic Pool, The 39 Steps
Should Win: Mic Pool, The 39 Steps
Really? 3 Tonys for The 39 Steps? This one is the one that should be the lockiest lock.
Will Win: Sebastian Frost, Sunday in the Park With George
Should Win: Sebastian Frost, Sunday in the Park With George
Enjoy the show.
Wow… what a goofy series of exchanges about the state of criticism today-ish.
You have Glenn Kenny on a blog reading a Brooklyn Rail report by Vincent Rossmeier about a blog entry by and an interview with Michael Atkinson and going ballistic.
But let’s step back a few steps, being as this is allegedly a conversation between three journalists.
First – since he wrote first – you have Atkinson, who wrote in a much more complex way about the status of film criticism in his blog, Zero for Conduct, than Rossmeier reports on or Kenny gives him credit for.
“Of course, those jobs existed to begin with because publishers and editors thought writers were valuable, and paid them to sit on their asses (like they still do at The New Yorker) because they wanted those writers’ availability and flow of copy. But today that’s far less important. The pancaking financial burden, and quarterly losses, of newspaper and magazine publishing is certainly one aspect of it. So is the undeniable sense that critics in general, being the last independent defense standing against a full-court press of consumerist ideology, may be doomed because of their adversarial position toward the corporate sell-machines that pay them.”
This is a completely fair observation. The conclusion within it happens to be dead wrong. But what would Atkinson know about it? He’s a film critic.
Yes, writers are valued in a different way than the people who print the papers, sell the papers, and even, to some degree, edit the papers. The work of a daily Metro writer or a daily political writer is something else. A daily byline is a special kind of grind that is more like a traditional job. But that’s not the part I have a problem with.
What Atkinson misunderstands – and by dint of his own exit from the print work, understandably as an ego protection – is that “writers’ availability and flow of copy” is every bit as valued today as it ever was. What is quite different is that publishers expect to see some cause and effect from those they keep on board. If you are a film critic or highly paid entertainment journalist at a print outlet, you better have a following that cares about what you say – which doesn’t necessarily translate to ticket sales – or you are dead.
What Kenny misunderstands, belligerently, is that no publisher or major editor read The Brooklyn Rail or Michael Arkinson’s blog for insight into the value, or lack thereof, of film critics… I was going to say, “until Kenny brought it up,” but no, I think a simple “period” would do. And Glenn can rage about it. And I can write about the both of them. And still, Sam Zell could not give two of the tiniest little shits about our little intramural argument.
Publishers are trying to figure out how to keep making a buck (and thus, keeping power). Editors are trying to keep their newsrooms (and thus, their power) intact. Journalists of all stripes are trying to survive the boys upstairs.
The hero of this story will be the editor who figures out how to make things look rosy for the publisher or the publisher who has a real vision for the future which includes respect for the cheapest part of the Traditional Media machine… the writers.
The lesson that we all have to learn is that in a niche future – and in spite of Gawker’s Nick Denton foolishly trying to spin that niche is not still the future… he of the most niched (and increasingly so now, with multiple voices on more and more of his blogs) media business in the world – building a personal brand, aka a star profile, is critical in distinguishing any one of us from another. Because as much as none of us want to admit it, determining what “good” writing in a newspaper is comes down to opinion, not objective analysis. Good editing – any editing! – can keep standards much higher. Really… give Nikki Finke an editor who she would actually show respect to and she could do some good work, just as Sharon Waxman – a much saner reporter – could have if the NYT had ever been able to get a handle on her wilder proclivities. And make no mistake, I know my work would be improved a lot by a strong editor pushing me. No question.
But as long as writers keep acting like petulant children, we will mean nothing.
I am always frustrated by feeling an issue is crystal clear… yet talking about it makes me sound like a bad guy.
But such is the nature of arguing that runaway production is, to a great extent, a non-issue when you look at the big picture.
Philosophically, this kind of reminds me of the Democratic primary fight. Clinton started as a prohibitive favorite. Then she became a prohibitive underdog. Then Clinton used the leverage of being the underdog to both propel herself and to bring the leader down to earth, while the frontrunner was unable to respond with similar tactics without looking like an ingrate.
Southern California is The Home Team… The Prohibitive Favorite… The Standard Bearer. It’s hard to maintain that position when the world wants to compete with you. There is no question that there is a benefit to other cities when the Hollywood circus comes to town. A movie is, in principle, a retail buyer.
Yes, they will make a deal with a hotel to pay less than the rack rate and get a discount at the hotel restaurant. But they will spend in ways that tourists and business travelers do not. And, obviously, when a movie shoots in a non-industry town, the entire cast & crew is renting housing for week after week, eating and drinking out for week after week, and spending on life’s needs for week after week. That is a lot difference in how a town is helped by a movie spending as opposed to the crew driving home to their houses in the Valley to have dinner with the wife and kids. A movie cast & crew out of town works its ass off… and is, in some ways, on a very long vacation.
This was all pushed to the forefront today because of a segment on KCRW’s The Business. (Note: I think Claude Brodesser-Akner is probably a funny guy in real life… but what may be funny off-the-cuff is painful to listen to when he smirkily does the jokes when he thinks they are funny on the show. Please… stop.)
The first guest was Ugly Betty EP Silvio Horta, who made – without apparently trying to – the case for what is good about production in other places than Los Angeles. The show, which has become a point of focus as they decided to move from Raleigh Studios in Hollywood to New York for their next season of production, was, Horta says, always meant to be shot in New York…. but it was simply too expensive for the studio that owns the show. Asked whether a tax break in Los Angeles would bring them “home,” Horta offered that the show’s producers think of New York as “home,” so no,
But the most important point, which was undersold, was that the New York tax break is about 35%… and the cost of production in New York is so much more that the show will do slightly better than breaking even on the move.
Think about that. Even if there is a 10% cut in hard costs by way of this tax break – and this is overly generous – the bottom line is that shooting in New York costs 25% more than shooting in Los Angeles.
This is why NY has to pay people to shoot in New York.
The same situation was true in Toronto and Vancouver. Not only was there a tax break from the Canadian government and not only was there infrastructure created to support a significant amount of production in and near those cities, but for a long time, there was an additional 10% or so bonus because of the strength of the U.S. Dollar vs the Looney. As the Dollar has fallen, so has American-based production in Canada.
What I don’t buy is the anti-CA tax incentive argument that says that it is welfare for the studios. It would be, on some level. But the benefit sought here is not for the studios, but for the employees who work for the studios and indies on production.
The industry is not going to up and leave Southern California because of tax incentives in other places. That’s obvious. We are the home team here. And I would argue that physical production is only one part of the overall local industry and should actually be done in other places when appropriate. The health of the industry should supersede many of the details of physical production. Yes, I understand that a “detail” may be a human person and that thinking in the abstract may keep someone from paying their mortgage or paying for their kids schooling. That is the cruel reality of any political or economic discussion. Sorry.
The studios that are funding the majority of dollars that are going into big production of TV and movies have a vested interest in keeping some part of production here in Southern California. Besides the more conceptual reality that having one city as the major center of production makes sense – the same way that having unions actually makes sense in this industry once you accept that there will be unions at all – there is the simple reality of real estate. I guess Universal and Warner Bros and Paramount and Columbia and Disney and Fox could all get out of the backlot business and sell their lots as they move to the cheaper environs of… uh, uh… Montana… Sacramento… North Carolina… Eastern Europe?
The reality of runaway production – which presumes that production somehow belongs at “home” – is well illustrated in this chart that I culled from State of California studies on the issue. It only goes through the first half of 2003, but it pretty much tells you what you need to know. The percentage of American film releases in the early 90s made in full or in part in California dipped under 50%… but since then, it’s been consistently over 50% of product. What you don’t see is a progression of movement away from “home.”
The question, while emotional, is simple. Does California, as the dominant “home” of TV and film production, have a financial interest in trying to keep people from shooting movies elsewhere? As much as other cities have motive for trying to bring in movie dollars – which for them are much like tourist dollars, a single film like bringing in a half dozen good sized conventions – I would argue that the “home town” paying people to stay where they are already staying – for the most part – and where at least 20% will always leave for location reasons, is simply unnecessary.
The reason so much of the film and television world stays in California is because the crews are better and more plentiful, the machinery is here in large numbers, as are actors and the rest of the “talent,” and it is financially sensible to be here for so many. There’s nothing wrong with a little competition. But this is not like manufacturing, which can go to other countries for cheap labor, easily making up for lack of quality with massive savings. There is no reason to think that the industry will leave California… until there really is a financial penalty for shooting here that is big enough to make the hard parts of being away just too unworkable.
And in the meanwhile, even the films that shoot elsewhere are tethered to this community by the studios. And there’s no running away from that.
David Halbfinger’s long piece on MGM does an excellent job looking at what the situation over there is. And he puts together a lot of the underreported elements from the last few years of the story of the studio. This piece was heavy lifting indeed.
But as is so often the problem with the NYT rotating smart reporters with no knowledge of the past of this industry, it is missing the full perspective on the story (which to his credit, Peter Bart got right to on his blog). This is a clear case of déjà vu.
What they are now doing at MGM was done, almost exactly, by Chris McGurk and Alex Yemenidjian over and over and over again until the market was right and they finally found the right suckers/buyers to cash them and Kerkorian out.
As I wrote about for years, it always seemed to me that the amount of money being spent by MGM was directly related to how close they thought they were to a sale. Kerkorian was always looking to sell, before McG&Y came aboard and every minute thereafter. The big asset was always the library, but the bait, the argument was, the idea of a major studio.
Yemenidjian and McGurk came into Kerkorian’s life in 1999, when he bought the studio one last time (we think) and was looking to do what he had done before… raise the perceived value and get someone to hand him a billion dollar profit for his trouble.
1999 was not their mess, 2000 saw just three wide releases, including Supernova, which the boys got Coppola to re-cut before giving him a deal to run United Artists with a budget of $100 million over two years covering five films. Tom Cruise needed five times that to get into business.
2001 leapt to seven wide releases, including wannabe star vehicles Original Sin (Banderas/Jolie), What’s The Worst The Could Happen? (DeVito/Lawrence), Heartbreakers (Weaver/Hewitt), and Bandits (Willis/Thornton/Blamchett). The foursome grossed $131m domestic combined. The savior was one of the lower budget hopefuls, Legally Blonde, though MGM didn’t have the juice to convert the event film for teen girls into a $100 million grosser domestically. And the one mega-hit was Hannibal, the awful Silence of the Lambs sequel, that grossed just over $350 million worldwide.
But no buyer for the price Kerkorian was looking for…
2002 also has seven wide releases. The big one was Bond in Die Another Day. Great. Barbershop was the underdog success with a $76 million domestic gross… and just over $1 million overseas. Still, a winner. After that… red ink. Windtalkers, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, Hart’s War, McTiernan’s remake of Rollerball, and Deuces Wild… $114 million domestic… it’s getting worse.
2003, the money dried up. No more movie stars, thanks. The only one MGM had in their eight wide releases that year was Denzel Washington in Out of Time… unless you count the sequel to Legally Blonde as a star turn… I count it as a sequel. The studio did nicely with cheap no-star kids movies Agent Cody Banks and Good Boy!. But the also-not-terribly-expensive, low wattage efforts to find teens (Uptown Girls, Bulletproof Monk, and A Guy Thing) all stiffed.
In 2004, Kerkorian put a part of the company’s cash in his own pocket – to the tune of somewhere around $1.4 billion – with a stock dividend scheme. The timing was most surely in line with Kerkorian interest in making his cash out with a sale – which could come five months later, in September – as tax-burden-free as possible. The cash-out represented about a third of the total value of the eventual deal to sell the company.
As for the studio, they had gone strictly low rent, with six wide releases, 2 of them cheap sequels, 1 a remake of a studio property, 1 failed attempt at another black franchise, 1 teen girl flop, and one non-starting thriller.
Throughout all of these years, whether the two aggressive years or the three fallow years that followed, the theme was “we’re in business… we’re a real studio… we’re in the game.”
But Kirk’s Boys had found a magical opportunity that no longer had anything to do with whether the studio was operational. Blu-ray and HD-DVD. The owner of the largest library in Hollywood – not just MGM’s but many others acquired over the years – was in the cat bird seat as Sony (pushing Blu-ray) and the HD-DVD group, led by Microsoft and Toshiba, were battling for position in a new technology. Sony, which had gotten beat on Betamax two decades before, primarily by maintaining its equipment as proprietary, but in some minds because they didn’t dominate and control the software.
So now we are in HarrySloanLand. What does he do? He lashes together a coalition of independent distributors – most of whom are now effectively out of business – to take advantage of the one significant asset MGM actually had, a Showtime cable output deal at a rate higher than anyone else could negotiate on their own. (Irony cubed… no Weinstein Co titles released by MGM and then on DVD by Genius have come out in any high definition format.) But Sloan was just treading water until he could grab back complete control of the MGM brand, which was blurred by the shockingly brief active Sony relationship.
In the process, according to what Halbfinger unearthed in the company’s filings, MGM’s current owners, led by Sloan, have added about $1.7 billion to the $2 billion in debt they assumed buying the company from Kerkorian almost four years ago. So far… just like Kirk would do it.
Starting from that deep hole, it’s been setting up a UA deal for Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, with a different mindset, but not dissimilar to tying the UA name to Coppola earlier. (Coppola’s deal fell apart before it was “complete,” but the UA brand was really resurrected, in the end, but Bingham Ray, who led a team (some now with McGurk at Ovation) that made small films with some Oscar heft, including Hotel Rwanda and Capote.)
Next, it was setting up the idea that MGM was still seriously in the movie business. Hiring Mary Parent was a legitimate power move (making her the Michael Nathanson of this situation). Cale Boyter is a solid high-profile hire. Money is being spent.
The problem remains the same as it was for Kerkorian, as it was for DreamWorks, as it was for New Line, as it was for Zoetrope, as it is for any small studio. You are vulnerable to the vagaries of the industry weather. With a bigger company, not only do you have a large infrastructure that supports the business if a picture of any size fails, but you have all kinds of opportunities to created additional value in the production you create, especially the big hits.
I am not saying that a Valkyrie will shut down UA if it doesn’t work at the box office… but the hard reality is that if it were to bomb too badly, it could shut the studio down. Conversely, if it hits modestly, say $180 million worldwide, then it means nothing to the studio’s future in a particularly positive way. When you are small, you are always fighting the negative and rarely get to enjoy the success… unless it’s Rings-level crazy success or Wedding Crashers or The Mask costing virtually nothing and hitting big.
I am not saying that Mary Parent needs a $100 million domestic grosser in 2009. But she does have to balance what she spends and what she earns. Bond is an existing major asset that the studio really doesn’t control… never has. Pink Panther will be profitable, but its profits won’t cover the executive contracts that Harry Sloan just signed.
On the other hand, there absolutely are advantages to a smaller company. There is an intimacy, a camaraderie, and a focus on the few films the company releases. A big part of handicapping DreamWorks as a stand-alone studio was losses they had chasing television production. That shouldn’t be a big issue for MGM.
That said, birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim. Setting up – finally! – serious marketing and distribution arms at MGM means that they need movies to sell and push out into theaters. Terry Press, if she ends up taking the marketing job, can tell them clearly. Those six-movies-a-year years at DreamWorks were brutal. There was this sense of revving this very powerful engine that had been created, waiting… waiting…
What DreamWorks did to make things work better was to find a franchise that consistently won… animation. But MGM doesn’t have a Katzenberg. And Bond only comes but once every three years. Even then, the franchise is still looking to its next film to be its first $600 million worldwide grosser, just as it took until Casino Royale to crack $500 million. The franchise is very valuable, but it’s not a studio maker. After all, Lord of The Rings – which grossed $2.9 billion in three films – couldn’t save New Line, at least not after the franchise ended.
What Mary Parent is likely to be able to deliver is a bunch of doubles, some of which can be stretched out to triples. Typical is the notion of taking a Ludlum novel and putting Denzel Washington in it. Great actor. Could be a great Bourne-like property. But Denzel has never had a $300 million worldwide grosser… ever. And Bourne went $215m, $290m, $445m worldwide over its 3 film run. And maybe this could be Denzel’s $300m break-out… in a second sequel in 2016.
Like Bond, a franchise that can be counted on to crack $200m each time out is a good, good thing. But Hannibal ($350m worldwide) and Legally Blonde ($142m ad $124m worldwide each) didn’t find a buyer for MGM. Blu-ray did.
And that buyer paid way, way, way too much. Of course, if you measure by the inanity of $900 million for the DreamWorks library of 59 titles…
But looking at that deal, which is not likely to be profitable for Paramount on the ongoing movie side, they paid $700 million for DreamWorks as an ongoing asset, beyond the library. MGM production might be worth something near that right now, as an investment, based on the Bond franchise, a percentage of The Hobbit and the Mary Parent and Tom Cruise businesses. If the library is legitimately worth $2.5 billion, then add another $700 million and the investors who currently own MGM can’t cover the $3.7 billion of debt they are carrying with a sale at a reasonable value today, much less the additional $2 billion they spent buying the assets.
Moreover, while I believe there is still going to be significant money in quality libraries, the value headed down based on what looks to be the new economies of ancillary delivery. There simply is no scenario that suggests that we are ever going back to $19.95 DVD level costs of “owning” a film or even – most likely – $15.
As a movie lover, I love the idea of chasing that long tail, but the industry has to start getting used to the idea that the more that’s available, the more easy the access, the more relentless the pricing battle will become. Some little known doc or indie will end up being sold a million times for $2.50 a pop and make its makers/marketers a nice chunk of change, but these are not the kinds of numbers that pay for studio overhead.
When Kerkorian bought MGM for the third time in 1996, he paid $1.3 billion. The one big shift in value that occurred over the last decade was DVD. And MGM’s library was there to take advantage of the opportunity. Kerkorian nearly tripled his investment. Genius… since the studio is overpriced at $5 million, much less the apparent $6.7 million it now on the books.
The Consortium could not have bought at a worse time… not unlike DreamWorks getting into the studio business and trying to build a TV business at exactly the worst time, when showrunners were being paid massive amounts upfront by everyone in town. For Sony, the investment, however oversized, would pay off if the deal led to Blu-ray winning the format war. (I would argue that the deal did help… but that Sony continues to drag its feet on hardware pricing, which is fighting an ever-narrowing window for cheaper HD home delivery, both by cable, satellite, and to a much smaller extent, internet. When the hardware price point drops under $150, the non-Blu-ray values of a PS3 – or whatever it’s called by then – will make them the standard and Blu-ray DVD sales may become the standard for a significant percentage of buyers. But the idea of buying DVDs could also be passé by 2012 – or earlier – so they better hurry.)
Thing is, building positive assets is building positive assets. Would The Consortium be happier with a way overpriced asset that is building more positive assets or one that lays there like a lox and demands a multi-billion write down?
If Sloan, with Parent, can keep this thing afloat for a couple of years, hitting for percentage, then there will be the big moment. Parent will get bored and she and her people will find The Home Run Shot and want to take it. And that one film may be the “yay” or “nay” for MGM as a production entity.
Meanwhile, the Titanic of MGM already sank. Harry Sloan and Mary Parent and everyone else over there are already on a very luxurious lifeboat. They don’t really have to bail water. They aren’t like to make it any worse in a hurry. And positives are positive, so bless them. But there are still icebergs out there. And all it takes is one.
The furor is already subsiding. But the tea leaves, thinned out a bit, are showing themselves more clearly.
One pundit on MSNBC said this morning that people calling Mrs. Clinton “Hillary” all time and Mr. Obama “Obama” was a show of subtle sexism that America just can’t admit to itself. She didn’t, in convincing herself, note that Clinton’s campaign signs mostly say “Hillary” and not “Clinton,” if for no other reason than to point out that she is not her husband… she is beyond his identity. And of course, need I point out that both Clinton and Republicans love “Obama” being so easily misspoken as “Osama?”
But I take the furrowed brow commentary of zipless-fuck feminist Erica Jong more seriously, as I think she does speak to a significant, albeit deluded, group of Clinton supporters.
“I didn’t know it would feel this bad. I didn’t know it would feel this personal.”
Well, we knew.
We read it in every column you wrote for the HuffPo. We heard it in every screed by Gerry Ferraro. We got an earful of it last night when Hillary continued to manipulate your generational pain by suggesting that you and your political needs were being made “invisible” by others.
“Losing my last chance to see a woman in the White House feels like shit. And the gloating by the press is even worse. It sounds like “I told you so.” It feels like watching Joan of Arc burned at the stake.”
Yeah… I hear ya. You’re batshit crazy… Joan of Arc… but yeah, I really do hear you.
You must realize, as the fog lifts, that the “gloating by the press” is a campaign manipulation by The Clintons & Co. You must realize, as you get back from Stockholm, that every rational analysis of this race knew that Clinton overcoming Obama was a 100-to-1 shot all the way back in March, as she has never gotten as close as 100 delegates since then and the reason “the media called the race” after North Carolina and Indiana is that she slipped 25 delegates further behind that night, making her only opportunity a million-to-one shot at getting a large number of Obama superdelegates to turn on his candidacy.
This was not, to use a sports analogy (I know… more sexism!), wide right on a 40 yard field goal at the end of a football game. This was down two touchdowns and a field goal late in the fourth quarter. There was still time on the clock… anything could happen… the opposing team could drop dead on the field. But from the Obama side, it was like playing loose defense – a choice both sportsmanlike and actively defensive – and having the losing opposition score one touchdown, and their receiver spiking the ball in the face of the defender who blew the coverage… as though the wining team was being dominated… or the losing team had won.
It’s time for the Erica Jongs of the world to start looking in the mirror and realizing that it is not sexism they are suffering… it’s ageism.
“’It’s not sexism — it’s her’ seems to have replaced, ‘I’m not a feminist, but’ in our national lexicon. This is not to imply that Hillary Clinton is faultless — far from it. But it’s clear that the faults we tolerate and even overlook in men, we see as glaring in women. The problem with sexism is that it’s so damned invisible. McCain can confuse Sunnis and Shiites and nobody blinks. Bush can admit to his press secretary that he outed a secret agent while claiming that he’d fire any aide who did so — and the press sleeps. Men make mistakes. Women are not allowed to. We are held to such high and impossible standards that the possibility of any woman penetrating the barrier again seems remote.”
Let’s not even bother spending a lot of time correcting the delusion that McCain or Bush “get away” with those mistakes. No one has impeached Bush, but he doesn’t go a day without getting slammed in the groin for his mistakes as president. And “Sunni/Shiite” is a daily talking point about McCain and his age issue.
But the reason that sexism “is so damned invisible” is that it has become so damned invisible. This is not to say that there isn’t sexism or misogyny or racism, for that matter. But for starters, women are the majority in this country. But sex and race are not what they were 40 years ago or 30 years ago.
Reagan/Bush were the last presidents of the “pat ‘em on the head and wait for ‘em to clear the dishes” generation, smiling all the way and thinking they were treating women the way women were meant – even wanted – to be treated, all the time revering their mommies. Bill Clinton was the first of the Boomer Confused presidents, charming and talking feminism, all the while looking for a girl who would don the kneepads in the back room, not thinking twice about her pleasure. (I am more offended, personally, by his treating Monica like a drunken frat house conquest than the fact that he sought sex out of a marriage in which his partner clearly was/is aware of his proclivities and sticks around for more.) W is of the same group as Willie, kicking his coke habit and apparently finding God back in his wife’s arms.
One of the great ironies of this sexism argument is that it completely overlooks Michelle Obama, who is no shrinking violet herself. She has a somewhat less impressive legal resume than Hillary did (another reason to call her “Hillary” is not to call her “Mrs. Clinton,” which seems like a diminutive), but her Harvard Law degree (at 24) matches up pretty well with Hillary’s Yale Law degree (at 26). Like Hillary was 16 years ago, Michelle is being held up as “dangerous” to the Obama candidacy. But not by the Hillary Feminists… she is pretty much non-existent to them.
Does Erica Jong really believe, “(Women) are held to such high and impossible standards that the possibility of any woman penetrating the barrier again seems remote.”
She’s writing this, mind you, on The Huffington Post, a website led by a woman that now competes as one of the top independent news sites in the world, arriving there by the actions of that woman (and many men and women in her support). The blanket, “No We Can’t” attitude of 70s feminists, who really did face impossible standards in breaking into the business and cultural worlds and being taken seriously, is as narrow and self-defeating as the idea that America should not talk to its enemies unless its enemies concede their political positions.
The notion of this is that disagreement defines the person (or nation) who disagrees as inherently evil and irrational. But at the very least, every one of our “opponents” in this world can be expected to act in their own self interest.
We are long past the point where, in the vast majority, men/businesses/voters will allow they sex or race biases to lead them into choices that are inherently self-destructive. We are still at the point where the determination of what is most effectively pro-active is blurry and when faced with that blur, many men will still choose men over women when they can’t be sure that the woman is not a significantly superior choice.
We are not sex blind. Nor are we color blind. We will need more time for that. And in that pursuit, women ARE at a disadvantage in the long run, as compared to other groups, because men and women will, presumably, continue to have sex with one another… and sex is a messy thing, either in the act of it, the pursuit of it, the consideration of it, or the denial of it. It would be nice to think that the world could never think with its groin in arenas where the groin is not the issue… but I don’t know that it is possible so long as penises are used to deliver sperm to eggs.
Jong’s internal conflicts are apparent. As she moans about sexism, she is also worrying that racism will lead to Obama getting assassinated or not elected (in that order).
I think one key reason why I – and other Obama supporters – find sexism and other excuses for the loss – the pundits got her! – so irritating is not only that it diminished Obama’s remarkable accomplishment, but that Jong and so many others are processing a personal loss in public and foisting the responsibility onto everyone – anyone – else.
Truth is, those of us who are thrilled about Obama being nominated want to celebrate! It’s exciting. He isn’t Jesus walking across water, but he offers the hope of a highly intelligent, well-intended person whose philosophies we share. We shouldn’t be asked to apologize for that. And all the second place finisher can talk about is whether our winner was on steroids. It sucks.
And in perspective, Jong is a representative of a dead form of feminism… one that asks for what it hopes to be given. The new feminism is about taking your spot… fighting for it… expecting it. As a Jew who has qualms at times with Israel’s shows of force, I also know why Israel stills exists as a nation. It’s not by whining about being hated. This is a theme of boy culture, from The Godfather to Iron Man.
You might not like Michael Corleone, but as reluctant as he is, when time comes to act, he acts. Sonny is too macho… Fredo too weak. Women in that film are still victims in that world, though Michael’s wife, Kay, is a modern woman on the cusp of feminism. Part of Michael’s tragedy is that he doesn’t know how be with her and to still be part of his Family.
A big part of what makes Juno work is that our 16-year-old female lead takes action… and it’s not easy. She makes the choice to keep and then to give up her child. She navigates all kinds of emotions. But she doesn’t spend her time looking for someone to blame.
And a child shall lead them…
A very smart person commented in passing, in a different conversation, about a very interesting piece of history that is more relevant today than it was even a day ago. It’s a little hard to put together some of the details, since the memory goes back to 1996… before the web grew up and, interestingly, earlier than Variety’s archives seem to go. But…
John Lesher’s 28 month tenure at Paramount Vantage (nee’ Classics), then the move to “Big” Paramount is remarkably similar to Tom Rothman’s move from Searchlight to “Big” Fox (and then, to sharing Bill Mechanic‘s job with Jim Gianopulos).
Lesher’s first release at/as Vantage was the Sundance pick-up, An Inconvenient Truth, released about six months after he took the job. The film was a publicity bonanza, and in spite of a huge amount of spending to get all that attention, the film grossed a remarkable $24 million, making it the third highest grossing domestic doc of all time. (It’s now #4 with Sicko surpassing it by a small amount.) It would turn out to be the only profitable film of the extremely high profile Lesher regime.
Lesher’s second release at Vantage came 6 days prior to his one year anniversary with Paramount, though the film, Babel, was not made under his auspices (except as an agent, since he made the deal for the film repping his client, Alejandro González Iñárritu with Bred Grey while still at Endeavor). He fought to get the film under his banner… and succeeded. And his team, led by Megan Colligan, fought hard and long to get an Oscar nomination. Unfortunately for them, they sold off the foreign rights on the film, which is where the movie made triple what it did in America, which meant that Paramount would lose money on their first Oscar nominee since 2002’s The Hours, which was their first since Titanic in 1997.
Black Snake Moan was the second release… also from the previous administration… also a money loser, with a worldwide gross of just $10 million.
Lesher’s first release of his own (kind of… it was via Plan B, Brad Grey’s production company with Pitt and, then, Aniston) was Mike White’s Year of the Dog, 18 months after he took the job. It was the start of a run of 7 films from high profile directors that Lesher had worked with at Endeavor.
Mike White – Year of the Dog – $1.5 million
Michael Winterbottom – A Mighty Heart – $9.2m
Sean Penn – Into the Wild – $18.4m
Noah Baumbach – Margot at the Wedding – $2m
Marc Forster – The Kite Runner – $15.8m
Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood – $40.2m
Martin Scorsese – Shine a Light -$5.3m
Five of the films would be sold as Oscar contenders. One would be nominated. None would break even. But the time the last film was released, Lesher had been promoted to “Big” Paramount and the responsibility for the future released vetted by Lesher would be on those left behind.
A similar thing happened at Fox Searchlight, created by Tom Rothman in 1994, and exited by Rothman for a bigger job before he released his tenth movie via the division, leaving the clean-up to Lindsay Law, a PBS exec and producer who was over his head in the job for about three years… years that included getting an Oscar nomination for The Full Monty, a title that would also remain Searchlight’s biggest grosser for seven years – four years into the Rice regime – until Sideways. (Rice more than doubled that top earner last year with Juno.)
Rothman’s first release was also a pick-up… Edward Burns’ The Brothers McMullen. The film would be the highest grossing film of his tenure with $10.4m. His next biggest hit was a follow-up by Burns (shades of Black Snake Moan, the follow-up to Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow), She’s The One, which grossed $9.5 million.
Everything else would lose money.
Rothman had high profile taste, like Spike Lee (Girl 6, $5m gross), Bernardo Bertolucci (Stealing Beauty, $4.7m gross), Al Pacino (Looking for Richard, $1.4m gross), Nicholson buddy and 70s legend Bob Rafelson (Blood and Wine, $1.1m gross), Bergman collaborator Billie August (Smilla’s Sense of Snow, $2.4m gross), and Dangerous Liaisons writer/conceiver Christopher Hampton (The Secret Agent, $106,606 gross).
Lindsay Law wouldn’t do much better with his 25-or-so shots at the brass ring. He and his team hit the home run with The Full Monty. But only five other films in his tenure would crack $5 million. He too would miss with some big names.
But Tom Rothman went on to the Big Show to great success while Law had to sell stuff that Rothman launched and for which he didn’t have to take the heat. Of course, Rothman’s Searchlight films were not nearly as expensive and didn’t lose nearly as much as Lesher’s… so maybe Lesher will be an even better “Big” studio exec!
The news that finally landed, that Team Vantage was being melded into Big Paramount was not that big a surprise. Things clearly couldn’t continue the way Lesher and Grey had allowed them to, no matter how much attention they got with the films. Eventually the pool of red ink would be noticed. And now we know… it was.
Thing is, Tom Rothman has remained, for over a decade now, remained very committed to the division he birthed. He and Jim G have been smart enough to let Peter Rice and his key team of Gilula and Utley have their heads.
Dick Cook and Bob Iger figured out the right role for a post-Weinstein Miramax and Daniel Battsek has been nothing short of brilliant in navigating the territory.
Focus became an international asset for Universal, as much as it was a domestic art division, and David Linde is now co-running the big show.
And Sony Classics has its own unique set of goals and expectations in its Big Sony marriage and works well within them.
This step backwards for Paramount and Vantage is indicative of the fact that they jumped in with both feet… and never had a vision for the division that went past gathering attention. As a result, there is no way to continue down the road that they were on. The company has just three releases on the schedule the rest of this year… only one that they had their hands on in the making. And it may well be that film – Revolutionary Road – a Scott Rudin-produced film – that has as much as the Vantage marketing remaining intact. They are seen as the ones who can push an Oscar film. (Par can also expect a lot more help from 42 West on this one… as it is likely the go-to film ahead of Rudin’s Doubt, which will be over at Miramax.)
There was some talk, a little while back, that the Vantage kids might knock Gerry Rich from his perch. Didn’t happen. But sometime in the fall, as DreamWorks leaves Melrose in the dust, the ranks will surely be thinned again.
In the meanwhile, the circle just keeps turning…
As things wind down in the Democratic nominating process, I find that I am starting to find room for perspective. The threat of Hillary Clinton and her people changing the rules enough to take the nomination is over. And the answers to the questions of what has happened in recent months start coming into focus.
Of course the details are specific to a very, very unique set of circumstances in this race. But then again… baloney.
The same tortured logic that the Clinton campaign has been selling since losing this race on Super Tuesday remains, albeit in its fourth or fifth incarnation. It’s a logic that isn’t unfamiliar in the annals of human instinct. It’s the logic of bringing down your adversary even when you know you can’t win by any normal methodology.
The problem with “Hilary’s gutsy run” is not that she doesn’t deserve to remain in a race that was always close. The problem is not that she is, like Huckabee was, so far out that her continuing effort was nothing but a stunt. The problem is that in order to compete against someone who is in front of you in a race and who cannot be passed by your speeding up, only by their slowing down, you not only have to keep up the speed you have, but you must find a way to drag the leader backwards.
Clinton & Co have effective been running from behind for months, close enough to kick dirt on the back of Obama’s calves every yard of the way, but never close enough to pass him without his stumbling. The goal has not been to win – except by massive fluke – but to keep Obama from achieving, metaphorically, a world record speed. After all, second best is second best, even if the second-place runner’s time would have been a world record if they had won.
I believe that Obama will survive and ultimately thrive on the attacks of the Clinton campaign. But there is reason to be concerned about it. In an era with a more old-fashioned news cycle and none of the endless coverage via TV and the web that seems so out of control and repetitive at times, Clinton would have won this race by dint of the power of party insiders. There is no chance that Obama, faced with the same numbers as Clinton had coming out of Super Tuesday, would still be in the race. He would have actually been forced out. He would never have been allowed these months of hubris and rage by party leadership.
Simply, in order to “keep hope alive,” Clinton has been forced to run a relentlessly negative campaign against the Obama candidacy, turning issues of what would normally (and would have been for her) private strategy into public smears.
Obama voters are not pro-Obama so much as anti-Clinton… and for some unearned reason, not in response to Clinton’s actions in the campaign.
Older voters prefer to vote for someone they have known for a long time than some inexperienced kid.
The media is in the bag for Obama… Clinton is a victim of their bias.
Obama can’t win… or now, alternatively, he is just an inferior candidate.
By sticking with party rules, Obama is trying to take the nomination away from Clinton.
The problem is not that some or all of these things (except the last one) are not in some small ways true. But these things are the surface text, not the recurring and relentless subtext that is so nasty.
If a voter cannot be pro-Obama without it being about anti-Clinton, then the subtext is that there is no real pro-Obama argument. And the ongoing nastiness of claiming that Obama’s support is based on fairy tales and misogyny and a lack of understanding of core values is destructive to the Party in no small way because Clinton and Obama are so close on policy.
There is no question that older, more traditional voters are change-averse, even if they are worn out by the current administration. If there was any great lesson in Bush’s second win, it was that people will cling to the devil they know against all logic. Clinton’s winning run since Super Tuesday has been based on a clear knowledge of that. Not only did they enjoy a massive advantage in uncontested primaries in Florida and Michigan – where they may have still won, but which Obama had the money to contest in a real way, and which Ohio and Pennsylvania history shows us would likely have cut the margins in half of more – but the whole rough-and-tumble Clinton schtick manipulated these people powerfully.
The Pew Research/Harvard media study about media bias in this race, which clearly shows less pro-Obama bias than pro-Clinton bias can’t read the stories that were not done. How does a candidate who paid more in taxes last year than most of the PA/OH/KY/WV constituencies she “feels the pain of” will earn in combined family income over the next decade… who is Ivy League educated… who enjoys the status of carrying the most powerful name in the Democratic Party in the last two decades… who is the machine candidate… how does her campaign turn the opponent who was raised by a single mother, just paid off his student loans, is Black, carries an ethnic name, and who has built a candidacy on a base of national private support with average donations of less than $200 per supporter into the elitist? By the silent acquiescence of the media.
The logic that Obama can’t win simply boggles the mind… especially in light of Clinton’s “gender is the hardest glass ceiling” rhetoric. Here is the obvious question… if gender is the toughest glass ceiling, tougher than race, then how could Clinton be a better general election candidate than Obama?
And if Obama can’t win the general, how did he win the primaries?
But this is the Clinton specialty… playing the victim publicly while being in control of the situation privately.
Of course the women who are most rabid about the Clinton candidacy are enraged. They have been told to be enraged by Clinton over and over and over again. They have had the opportunity to imagine one of theirs in the White House, which is not much less revolutionary than having a Black Man in the White House. They were the front-runner. The general election was the challenge. The nomination was assured. And now they are being told, “No… it’s not happening. You couldn’t even beat the first-term Senator with the funny name and the rhetoric so compelling that it makes you anxious about believing.” And then, the Clinton team has said, for months now, we’re having this taken from us… Obama’s not far enough ahead to really win legitimately… we’re still in it… switching to the “other side” is a betrayal.
The problem is that the “other side” is still a Democrat who is 90% in agreement with Clinton.
You don’t have to be a bad or dumb person to be swayed by the emotionality of all of this. But you are being lied to and manipulated. And like any great lie, there is enough truth to keep it alive. Clinton is within striking distance… but not close enough to win by any legitimate count… and she hasn’t been since Super Tuesday.
Since Super Tuesday, Clinton has run an anti-Obama, anti-New campaign that has resonated in states where there is a lot of room for it. In the meanwhile, Obama undercut the power of this in the most significant states – by Clinton’s reckoning – taking more delegates in Texas and cutting Clinton’s lead in Ohio and Pennsylvania in half over weeks of campaigning. That’s when Clinton started the “he can’t close” argument. Wherever the bar lands, keep moving that bar.
And has there been a scarier line in this campaign than Geraldine “I Once Seemed Worthy Of Respect” Ferraro’s, “It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment”? Can you parse an “ism” any more profoundly than that? And this comes from a person who broke ground for feminists in a real way.
What is more horrifying to pull out of the bag of racial fear than “reverse racism?” Does Ferraro believe that the less-privileged core of America will be left behind by The Black Man? If not, she is stirring racism with real hate speech. If so, she is, simply, out of her mind, avoiding his policy arguments which are so close to those of the candidate she supports. Either way, is there any way to support an argument of White American Families earning under $100,000 as victims of Barack Obama?
Can you imagine anyone saying, with a straight face, “It’s not sexism that’s driving them, it’s sexual resentment”? Where do we think racism and sexism come from? Good logic? Or is it, as it always has been, from a base of fear, ignorance, and resentment? Are we really discussing whether, “That bitch took my job” is better or worse than, “That nigger took my job”?
It gets worse, the more context you get from Ferraro. “It’s not racism that is driving them, it’s racial resentment. And that is enforced because they don’t believe he understands them and their problems.” But the woman who has been in Washington for decades now and who has $50 million in the bank and who was educated in much the same way “He” was? She has spent months telling “them” that “He” doesn’t understand their and their problems.
And that has been the horror of this ongoing campaign. It is hard to unring a bell. I believe that most people who called for Clinton to get out before the six week slog to Pennsylvania wanted this not because they hate Hillary or because they were misogynists or because they couldn’t see past their Barack-colored glasses, but because they knew, logically and instinctively, that this was a problem that was about to be created. Of course there was already resistance to the new and racism and we-don’t-know-him-ism and even some real dislike of Obama in these states and cultures. But we didn’t have a force using tens of millions of dollars and mighty rhetoric and anger to galvanize them and to tell them that they were right to be afraid, right to hate him, right to resent him, and would be better off with a Republican than Barack Hussein Obama.
And The Clinton Campaign is still stoking that fire of resentment. Florida gets seated by a unanimous vote – including Ickes – and Michigan gets seated in the way suggested by the same state Democrats who decided to break party rules and to hold an un-legal election, not the way The Obama Campaign suggested, and still the Clinton Campaign comes out screaming bloody murder over 4 elected delegates… as though Obama stole them or had the power to do so.
And once again, we are looking at a DNC Rules Committee that, going in, was seen as being populated by a majority of Clinton supporters. Clinton’s campaign went in with the advantage. And they got more, many would argue, than they deserved… which is to say, counting the Michigan vote at all.
But again, the core problem is not the outcome of that procedure, but the tone of anger and “we wuz robbed” that has been coming out of the Clinton campaign since they fell hopeless behind in this election, months ago. They aren’t stoking the positive argument, but continue to undermine Obama every single day.
There is little doubt that Clinton is a tougher adversary than McCain for Obama this year, given that there are real issues between the Democratic and Republican candidates that lean heavily for the Democrat at the moment. The choice between Clinton and Obama has been, from the start, about minutiae and personality more than any real differences. Even the experience issue is a bit silly, given that The First Lady is not an elected or appointed political office. So taking sides meant a commitment. And no one likes to be spurned once they’ve made a commitment. And when one side stokes the idea that the other side hates their side… well, this is where we are.
Simply put, a Clinton supporter who would suggest for one moment that they would vote for McCain over Obama never could be supporting Clinton based on policy. If you believed in Clinton’s policy arguments, the leap to McCain instead of Obama is so distant that you could NEVER make an argument on that level… only on the anger that has been stirred by the Clinton campaign.
This has been made even clearer by McCain’s abandonment of many of his truly independent ideas in order to placate the right win of his party. Reproductive Choice, Health Care, Iraq. Can’t get any more basic than that.
If you really believe in any of the principles espoused by the Democratic Party and you are still saying you will vote for McCain over Obama, then you are either an idiot, a willful liar, or a victim of Stockholm Syndrome via the Clinton campaign.
I believe that Democrats will snap out of the Syndrome and sadly, not only vote for Obama, by really hate Hillary Clinton in time. Like reformed smokers, once people have been manipulated to this profoundly and survive and get clear, they tend to go too far to the other side.
I was never much of a fan of The Clinton Legacy… but even I see this as sad.
But this is a country in which people took massive loans they knew they couldn’t afford to maintain without an ongoing pyramid scheme, whether in 1929 or 1999 or 2007, and who damaged the economy for all the rest of us, and who we now show sympathy towards. We want to believe. We want to forgive. We want to live our illusions.
And on we go… to heaven… or oblivion… or some other undiscovered country…