Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gilligan's Island boat up for sale

Come sit right back and hear a tale -- the S.S. Minnow is up for sale. One of the four boats used for the television show "Gilligan's Island" is being offered for sale. In a case of life imitating art, the boat capsized on a trip from Alaska to the U.S., but it has been restored. "Gilligan" creator Sherwood Schwartz named the boat after my dad, Newton Minow, then the chairman of the F.C.C. He had called television a "vast wasteland" and urged broadcasters to do better. Schwartz intended it as an insult, but our family has always considered it an honor; if we ever have a family coat of arms, the S.S. Minow will be the centerpiece.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Don't trust the Dove

I have about had it with the Dove Foundation, which bestows its "family-approved" seal on media it considers appropriate. It is beyond me what kind of standards they apply. Material Girls gets not only their okay for 12 and up, they call it "a perfect comedy for moms and daughters" -- a blurb picked up in the movie's ads. Dove does acknowledge in its review that there are some language issues and tsks that a character's "thank you" when told she's too thin "might send the wrong message to young girls about body weight issues."

For some reason, they don't think to mention some other areas of concern, like the main character's decision to copy Erin Brockovich and wear skimy clothes to beguile a young man into letting her look at some files. Or that doing so gets her arrested and thrown into a jail cell with prostitutes who stroke her arm suggestively. They don't think to mention that the behavior of the silly rich girls is as clueless after their big supposed new understanding as it was before. Worst of all, they don't think to mention that it is a bad movie, poorly written, directed, and acted. Even if this film had no objectionable material, its complete worthlessness would make it unsuitable for viewing by kids. One family value has to be that children deserve quality entertainment.

And Barnyard is "suitable for all ages?" I would suggest that under "violence" they might want to mention the death of the main character's father, and how that character could (should) feel responsible. But what they feel is worth mentioning is the sight of a child's tush when his pants are pulled down. They do mention the predatory coyotes but they gloss over the death of the father and don't even bring up the weirdness of the main character's love interest being pregnant (by a bull who was killed) and later (off-screen) giving birth. It's even weirder that they abdicate their responsibility to provide some kind of guidance by deferring to audience members. Their "worldview" report leads off

The Dove Foundation recently hosted a special screening of "Barnyard," and the response was very positive. "It was pretty good," said a lady named Laura who had brought her three-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son to the screening.

The Dove Foundation says that it promotes "family-friendly entertainment. Our standards and criteria are based on Judeo/Christian values, free from the pressure of commercial interests. We believe in a positive approach of commending high-quality, wholesome movies rather than condemning filmmakers for not meeting those standards."

Neither of these movies can be considered "high quality." The one thing people should be able to rely on from Dove or anyone else who provides guidance to families about media is a clear picture of any area of concern. These reviews are inadequate and misleading. If I had a seal, I'd stamp them "not approved."

Monday, August 28, 2006

Duds In The Water

As the old joke goes, "How do you make a million dollars in Hollywood? You come to town with $10 million and start investing in movies." As this Business Week article makes clear, investing in movies is riskier than stock-picking on Wall Street. And, as it makes even more clear, Wall Street knows very little about the movie business.

The finance pros figured they had moviemaking all figured out. But several megaflops have some Hollywood insiders wondering if the private-equity guys are in way over their heads. "It's tough to be an investor when the studio gets to pick the films and you stand behind them in line to get paid," says leading Hollywood banker John W. Miller of JPMorgan Securities. "It's hard to see how you can get more than single-digit returns -- if you're lucky."

Um, duh.

The Wall Streeters arrived in Hollywood armed with sophisticated models that they say will protect them from losses. Essentially they project film profits based on the records of directors, stars, genres, and even distribution dates.

Oh, yeah, that works. Just ask the folks who invested in the recent dud made by the man who had one of the best track records in Hollywood history, M. Night Shyamalan. Fellas, as they say on Wall Street, "past performance is no guarantee of future performance."

Someone had better tell that to Dan Snyder. The guy who owns the Washington Redskins hasn't done too well with Six Flags, but he thinks he has the time and the ability to go where Sumner Redstone fears to tread and make it work with Tom Cruise and his partner Paula Wagner, who, based on her statement last week apparently thinks that anyone with money is a hedge fund. So she knows as little about investors as he does about movies. I won't predict the merits of the films that are likely to emerge from this partnership, but I would by a ticket to a documentary about this new relationship. And I'm accepting suggestions for a cute TomKat style nickname for the partnership.

Update: be sure to see today's post from the always-hilarious Andy Borowitz:
In the latest ominous sign for the film career of actor Tom Cruise, a large video piracy ring based in Beijing said today that they will no longer sell illegal copies of the star's films, calling Mr. Cruise's recent behavior "unacceptable."

Baby Weinstein

Many thanks to my friend Danny Ornstein who sent me this hilarious
item from The Onion:

New 'Baby Weinstein' Tapes Prepare Infants For Career In Entertainment Law
August 24, 2006 | Issue 42•34

LOS ANGELES—Zazz! Entertainment, Inc. announced Monday that sales of their Baby Weinstein series of children's DVDs, CDs, and videotapes designed to inspire children under the age of 3 to pursue careers in entertainment law reached their 3-million mark. "We're proud to be the only multimedia company featuring colorful imagery of kids pre-verbally arguing their own contracts, playing with the building blocks of major franchises, and refusing to be seen on the screen with competing babies," company founder and producer Josh Noah Levy said. "And we're currently going to court to make sure we remain the only people doing that." Despite the success of such titles as Baby Spielberg and Baby Ovitz, production halted in July after several babies made what Levy called unreasonable demands for their mommies.

Positively My Last SoaP post

The Washington Post's Paul Farhi has a perceptive assessment of the lukewarm box office reception for "Snakes on a Plane." Two of the people he spoke to made especially important points:

(1) In the words of a studio spokesman, "you can never be sure that the people who are Googling your movie are going to go out and see it."

(2) "New Line might have erred in marketing the movie, too, by withholding the film from critics before its release, says Douglas Gomery, a film and mass-media scholar. That not only signals that a bomb is afoot but also killed whatever momentum the movie might have built up, says Gomery, who notes: 'They had the ball rolling, and then it came to a dead stop.'"

Most of the critics liked the movie. If reviews had been out before it opened, it might have brought in audiences beyond the hard-core junkies who made a big fuss online. A good thought to keep in mind in a week in which none of the nationwide releases is screening in time for reviews.

Oh, and this just in: there's a new porn film called "Trouser Snakes on a Plane." I'm going to try not to think about that one too hard.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Invincible Jeannette Catsoulis

My favorite movie review quote of the week, by one of my very favorite critics, my friend Jeannette Catsoulis, from her New York Times review of "Invincible."

Battling inexperience, hostile teammates and an excess of slow-motion photography, Vince is soon being pummeled in summer training and body-slammed in a losing game against the Dallas Cowboys. As Jackson Browne mopes on the soundtrack and the football fans wilt in the stands, Vince’s embittered dad, Frank (Kevin Conway), cautions against optimism. “A man can only take so much failure,” he warns. Recognizing that the same is true of movie audiences, Disney piles on the uplift on and off the field.

If only the movies were as entertaining and smart as her reviews.

Home Film Festivals

Feel overwhelmed with your options on Netflix? Eyes glaze over looking at the New Releases shelf at Blockbuster? An overdose of fungible multiplex fodder? Take a look at Spiritual Cinema and Ironweed Films. Both seek out the arresting, the inspiring, and, most of all, the unusual, and send it to you.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

No more Ishmaels

The End is a shivery spoiler of an article about the new trend of no-survivors endings. Abandon all hope ye who enter here, and I mean ALL ye.

Redstone v. Cruise

In this corner, irascible Sumner Redstone, who survived a hotel fire by holding onto a window with one terribly burned hand and came back from surgery no one thought he could survive. And in this corner, couch-jumping, baby-hiding tabloid cover boy Tom Cruise, also known for holding on (except fo his two wives). Redstone says he let Cruise's production company go because of his off-screen behavior. Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner say he can't fire them, they quit, and that they have a better offer including funding from two mysterious unnamed hedge funds.

A plague on both their houses. Unfortunately, it looks like both sides will come out of this better off, financially if not reputationally. Paramount can still bid on any Cruise project that looks good to them, and if they end up paying more for one it will be outweighed by what they save on the deals they don't do. Cruise will probably make more money, with the chance to shop around his projects to the highest bidder, though studios might want to take a look at "Lady in the Water" (the deal, not, goodness knows, the movie). M. Knight Shyamalan's huffy public quit/fire with Disney when they wanted changes in his script turned out to be not a case of the artist standing up for creative integrity against the sterile and callous forces of corporate thuggery but the case of someone who ignored the Talmudic advice about reality checks: "When three people tell you you're sick, lie down." A movie star is a brand, and a production company, even one headed up by a movie star, is still a business. Tom? Feeling a bit feverish?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

How to Marry a Millionaire

Cinematical has dubbed How to Marry a Millionaire a guilty pleasure. It's a pleasure that I don't think anyone has to feel guilty about. Three glorious stars, Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe play models who cook up a plan to find and marry wealthy men, and all three spend some time with Mr. Wrong before finding their Mr. Rights. There are only two things wrong with it. First, the movie made great use of the then brand-new technology of Cinemascope, taking up all of the wide screen, so it really suffers on television unless it's letterboxed. Second, the leading lady marries the wrong guy. SPOILER ALERT: Bacall almost marries wealthy widower William Powell, assuring him that she's crazy about older men: "Look at Roosevelt, look at Churchill, look at old fella what's his name in The African Queen." (That would be Bacall's real-life husband, Humphrey Bogart.) Instead she ends up with Cameron Mitchell. Nope. Don't buy it for a minute.

By the way, this was not the first time this story was filmed. The first version was in pre-Hayes-Code 1932, with the spicy title, "The Greeks Had a Word for Them" and had Joan Blondell as the ringleader of a trio of ladies who were very well taken care of by their beaux. Like the Bacall/Grable/Monroe version, the ladies were very well dressed. The costumes were designed by Chanel. Loretta Young and her two sisters schemed to find rich husbands in 1938's "Three Blind Mice." Grable herself appeared in another earlier version called Moon Over Miami. There's even a Hong Kong version from 1960 and a late 1950's television series with a pre-Jeannie Barbara Eden in the role played by Monroe. It was updated as a made for TV movie in 2000 called "How to Marry a Billionaire," and this time the gold-diggers were...guys: John Stamos, West Wing's Joshua Malina, and Diary of a Mad Black Woman's Shemar Moore.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Movie death (a Snakes Spoiler)

SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you don't want to learn some key plot elements of "Snakes on a Plane."

As I was watching "SoaP" last night, I thought about movie deaths. The biggest mistake a movie can make is killing off the wrong person. Audiences will forgive cardboard dialogue and superficial characters. They won't just forgive preposterous plots, repetitive formulas, and logical inconsistencies; they often seem to prefer them. But they won't forgive the death of a character who should have been alive at the end of the movie.

I don't mean that they can't kill off a likeable character. On the contrary, the character whose entire purpose in the movie is to die so the hero or heroine can have a learning experience is an honorable tradition. My personal favorite of the DBTA ("dead by third act") crowd is Anthony Edwards as Goose in "Top Gun." He's pretty obviously gone from the first time we see him but as soon as he sings with his pretty wife (Meg Ryan!) and adorable child, you know he's got to die, not just to move Maverick's story forward but to get out of the way. He has no story arc; he is already perfect; in other words, he's toast.

Some movies that make big mistakes in killing off the wrong people are "The Great Waldo Pepper" and "Diggstown." Enough spoilers -- I won't say any more about them here.

One of Snakes' strengths is its solid understanding of all the different reasons we can feel satisfied with the death of a character. Old-timer/veteran turning the reins over to our leading man/lady with a sentimental Hollywood send-off? Double check. Supercilious Brit? Oh yeah, and in a suitably gross-out manner. Funny looking fat lady with a flask? Yes, some darkly comic relief. People having sex in a bathroom? Yes, with an extra helping of puritanical relish on the side, please (see also Halloween, Friday the 13th and all those other dead teenager movies. Captain of the flight, to get him out of the way to create more (MORE!) of a sense of danger? You betcha! On the other hand, a baby or two adorable children? Don't even think about it!

All of the deaths in "Snakes" make some sort of moral sense. They fit the innate story template I think of as buried even deeper in the lizard brain than food and shelter. There are sad, dignified deaths, comic deaths, gross deaths, but they are all somehow just (as in fair, not as in merely) deaths. Except one (and I'm not referring to the pets). It's that sweet newly married couple. What did they do to deserve that end? That's my point.

Oh, and if you've seen the movie, check out Slate's spoiler report
podcast with one of my very favorite movie critics, Dana Stevens. I love this new Slate feature, reviews for people who have already seen the movie, and I enjoyed her point about the movie as a response to post 9/11 security issues. I raised that issue obliquely in my review, but think her more forthright take is terrific.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Snakes on a Daily Show

No hard feelings even though the "Snakes on a Plane" guys decided not to screen the movie for critics, which means I have to stay up late tomorrow to see the 10:00 premiere (I've already Fandangoed my ticket). You gotta get a personalized voicemail from Samuel L. Jackson or send one to a friend. And take a look at this Washington Post chart showing the dialectic between the studios and the fans in putting this movie together.

I'm guessing this clip from "The Daily Show" with Samuel L. Jackson and John Stewart is more entertaining than the movie. And oh, no, did I hear the word...sequel??? Now that's scary.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Jumpcut -- free your inner Spielberg (or nerd)

I met up with some of these folks at Comic-Con and think their new site is worth a look. You can audition for the remake of "Revenge of the Nerds," "The Power of Few," or "STARZ Stand Up or Shut Up" or look at others' auditions and respond to them. You can also upload your own movies, using some of their stock footage or other goodies, with the best ones being selected for broadcast.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Chick Flicks

My darling husband says that the definition of a chick flick is a movie that includes at least one humiliating public apology, often including a marriage proposal. The Not Coming to a Theater Near You site has a terrific salute to Chick Flicks -- just click on the upper right corner of the picture for some chick flick essentials: the little black dress and "when Meg (Ryan) met Nora (Ephron)" as well as reviews of canon films like "Working Girl," "Walking and Talking," and the indispensible "Say Anything." Holding a boom box overhead blasting "In Your Eyes" is as good as a humiliating public apology anyday, at least in the movies.

Iron Men

Audiences who came out of "World Trade Center" feeling dissatisfied should turn on Spike TV on September 5 at 9:00 PM. They will see "Metal of Honor," a heartwrenching documentary about the ironworkers who arrived as the World Trade Center buildings collapsed and stayed for eight months to make sure the area was cleared safely. The courage and dedication of these men is profoundly moving. Their humility, integrity, and compassion is deeply inspiring. No Hollywood version can do justice to the honesty and connection these men convey.

Friday, August 11, 2006

What is the deal with cow tipping?

There's a strong probability that the whole idea of cow tipping, rural kids sneaking up on sleeping cows to tip them over for fun, is a myth, even impossible as a matter of physics. But for some reason, it is the prevalent movie theme of 2006, at least in movies for kids. We've already seen cow tipping jokes in "The Wild," "Cars," "Barnyard," and this week "Zoom." Hey, it wasn't funny the first time. Or the second, third, or fourth. Let's put that joke out to pasture.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Everything has been said....

...but not everyone has said it. So here is the trailer for the new movie about Truman Capote and In Cold Blood. What is surprising about this trailer is that they make it look more, rather than less, like last year's Oscar-winning "Capote," even though this film is supposed to be a broader portrayal of the writer's life and times.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Free your inner Xtina!

I am a big fan of Christina's new video for "Ain't No Other Man". But even better is this fans only version. Who among us hasn't held up a hairbrush as microphone to pretend that sound was coming out of our mouths?

I love the little glimpses of people's homes. I'm sure the only reason one didn't clean up her bedroom before setting up the camera was that she was too busy working on her moves. Not sure about the breakfront/exercise equipment/fireplace as a background, but the from-the-refrigerator POV is inspired. I get the dancing around a cardboard Christina, but I'd like to know what went into the decision to wear Mickey Mouse ears.

I love the range of participants -- children, teens, possibly some grown-ups, male, female, and possibly all of the above, people who sing into wooden spoons, a remote control, even a microphone. And I love the way the fans get into it without any inhibition or coolness worries. Some of them are really quite creative and some have some great moves. Major props go to the editor. That's the video editor; the copy editor committed the hanging offense of an inappropriate apostrophe. It's not "Fan's Only Video," folks, unless you're trying to say that it is the only video the fan has.

But, as with the "Million Ways" competition, what I really love most is the way the line between content creators and content consumers, once blurred, is now dissolving entirely.

And I hearby promise no more videos on this blog for a few days.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

OK Go Dances with You(Tube) Contest

The OK Go Dances With You(Tube) Contest

Here is OK Go's invitation to submit your version of their dance.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Giant Girl Doll

French street performers brought this giant girl to the streets of London. She showers, gets dressed, and goes for a walk. I like the red courtier uniforms of her attendants. Even with those accordian pleated cheeks, she still seems very dear and very touching, very gentle and a little bit regal. And sad, as though she dreams of escaping the strings. I love seeing the children riding on her arm.

Friday, August 04, 2006

OK Go -- "A Million Ways"

A Million Ways

And here's their first video. The story behind it is in this delightful "All Things Considered" interview with Damian Kulash and his sister Trish Sie, a former professional ballroom dancer who choreographed the dance.

There are a million ways to be OK Go, or at least to dance like them. OK Go has invited everyone to create their own versions of the "Million Ways" dance to win the chance to dance with OK Go on stage. As of today, there are 115 entries. "The winning group will be chosen by OK Go, but they're easily swayed by lots of comments and high rankings, so go crazy. Email and post the pants off it."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

OK Go - Here It Goes Again

Here's the OK Go video.

Here OK Goes Again

I love OK Go. Their music is great. Their choreography is spectacular. Their latest video, Here It Goes Again is brilliantly inventive and utterly cool. Like the first one, it's all done in one take, the camera, like the viewer, simply stunned into motionless wonder.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Another list....(big time spoiler alert!) has put together a list of the 50 best movie endings (like the very last minute) of all time. Read the list ONLY if you have seen all of the movies. If you haven't -- get out there and fire up that Netflix queue!

Maim That Tune - Detune your head

At last! A solution to the problem of the dreaded earworm. Just go to Maim That Tune to replace the song stuck in your head. Okay, the new one might be equally annoying, but it will be a change.