March 24, 2006

Bored Of The Rings?

Seriously, who's bright idea was it to make "The Lord of the Rings" into a stage play with all three volumes crammed into one 3.5 hour, $23 million production?

It apparently premiered in Toronto yesterday and this critic was bored to tears:

The problems with this version of The Lord of the Rings are so basic that you wonder how those involved with it could watch it coming together and still not see what was wrong.

To begin with, it looks like no one ever decided what kind of show it was meant to be. “It’s not a musical,” the creators kept insisting, but Warchus gives us enough trappings of the form to make us think that it is.

ThereÂ’s a saccharine ballad between Arwen and Aragorn thatÂ’s repeated endlessly, a lengthy dance number at the Prancing Pony Inn which stops the action dead in every sense of the word and a meandering new-age anthem for Galadriel to warble while dressed in disco finery.

But when push comes to shove and the big emotional moments arrive, no one ever actually gets to sing. The music swells behind the cast and they often have to shout to be heard over it, but it doesnÂ’t help them soar.


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March 09, 2006

Why Today's Hollywood Doesn't "Get It"

Peggy Noonan is one of those writers you look forward to reading every week. But every once in a while she puts one out that's so good you want to bookmark it and go back later to read it again. And again.

Although the subject of the Academy Awards has been written about to death, she is able to express so clearly what so many of us feel about today's film industry. There are so many pull quotes I can only urge you to read the entire column.

But here's the closing section that addresses George Clooney's self-aggrandizing acceptance speech as it applies to Hollywood in general:

"But Mr. Clooney's remarks were also part of the tinniness of the age, and of modern Hollywood. I don't think he was being disingenuous in suggesting he was himself somewhat heroic. He doesn't even know he's not heroic. He thinks making a movie in 2005 that said McCarthyism was bad is heroic.

How could he think this? Maybe part of the answer is in this: The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they've experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven't experienced life; they've experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.

Most Americans aren't leading media, they're leading lives. It would be nice to see a new respect in Hollywood for the lives they live. It would be nice to see them start to understand that rediscovering the work of, say, C.S. Lewis, and making a Narnia film, is not "giving in" to the audience but serving it. It isn't bad to look for and present good material that is known to have a following. It's a smart thing to do. It's why David O. Selznick bought "Gone With the Wind": People were reading it. It was his decision to make it into a movie from which he would profit that gave Hattie McDaniel her great role. Taboos are broken by markets, not poses."

To quote Nirvana: "Here we are now. Entertain us."

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March 06, 2006

Final Thoughts On The Oscars

I actually hestitate to put this post in the category of "entertainment".

The Conservative film blog, Libertas, always offers interesting perspective from outside the Hollywood bubble. Editor Jason Apuzzo goes right to the heart of current problems of the movie biz:

Nobody is seeing these films. Some LIBERTAS readers criticize me and others on this site for writing about films we havenÂ’t seen. Perhaps after last nightÂ’s fiasco youÂ’re beginning to understand what an utterly vacuous criticism this is. Simply stated: nobody is obligated to go see these films. Hollywood seems to have forgotten this. The powers-that-be in this town seem to be under the impression theyÂ’re entitled to an audience. TheyÂ’re not.

Everyone who writes for LIBERTAS, for example, is an avid movie-watcher. We’ve all seen thousands and thousands of films; I personally am almost cybernetically attached to my DVD player. So why don’t we go to the movies? Do you really think it’s because films these days are ‘liberal’? Hardly. ‘Liberalism’ never stopped me from watching Easy Rider or All the President’s Men or Apocalypse Now or Battle of Algiers or anything else. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that the films stink - and that the liberalism in Hollywood has reached its reductio ad absurdum. Politics now rules everything in Hollywood. Is there any other way to explain Clooney winning an Oscar last night? No, there isnÂ’t. Clooney gave a half-assed performance in a half-assed film this year that just happened to bash Bush & Big Oil - so Clooney got the bling. ItÂ’s really that simple. ItÂ’s a reward for political services rendered, and everybody knows it.

If the Academy wants anybody to care anymore, they will need to turn this situation around. But they wonÂ’t. Why? Primarily because there will be no pressure within HollywoodÂ’s elite circles to do so. The conventional wisdom within these elite circles is that movies exist to enlighten and inform a benighted, ignorant public - and if that public doesnÂ’t show up to the movies, who cares? Just stick the bill to the studioÂ’s shareholders.

For example, there was a point last night when a producer - I believe it was for Crash - ascended to the stage and informed us, in the most unctuous, serious tones, that the “purpose of art is to shine light on dark places.” It occured to me that the same sort of thing could be said of proctology. But that’s where Hollywood’s head is right now. They’re the ‘light,’ we’re the ‘dark place.’

So here, basically, is my simple thought for the Academy, as they do their post-show biopsy in their offices over on Wilshire Boulevard: The purpose of the movies is to entertain the public - and just occasionally, the public is actually right. Think that one over. [all emphasis is Jason's]

Go read the whole post here.

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78th Oscars A Yawner

Okay, true to my word I didn't watch any of the Academy Awards show. It wasn't hard. I was off in the other room paying bills before collapsing in bed from a busy weekend with the family. We did tape it, and the Mrs. (who is interested) will have the luxury of being able to fast-forward past the tedious parts. She'll probably be able to zip through the whole thing in about half an hour.

I have read several reviews of the broadcast - some live-blogged reports and others written the morning after. It seems like poor Jon Stewart is going to be the scapegoat on this one. Most reports say he was awful. But then again, when a live audience is as lame as the one he had to work with anyone would seem awful.

Face it, Jon Stewart is at his best when he's cutting Hollywood hot shots like these to ribbons. For the members of the Academy and the entertainment elite, the Oscars are a very solemn and serious event. Unless you're making jokes about George Bush, how successful are you going to be making light of the whole affair?

Andy Dehnart on this morning agrees:

Two CGI characters, Chicken Little and Abby Mallard, presented an award, and Ben Stiller dressed in an all-green unitard to introduce the special effects Oscar. Later, Will Farrell and Steve Carrell introduced the makeup award while wearing awful makeup, Carell looking like a drag queen without his wig or gown, and Farrell appearing as if his face had been dragged along the red carpet.

Those moments evoked smiles and giggles. But that humor is safe, easy, and non-confrontational. It does not require the stars to laugh at themselves or their hypocrisy.

Exposing hypocrisy while being self-depreciating is what Stewart does best; in fact, it's basically all he does. Those who believe "The Daily Show" is actually "fake news" don't understand either satire or the exceptionally smart, informative humor that the show invokes on a daily basis. Stewart and "The Daily Show's" team emphasize and demonstrate the importance and gravity of the day's news by making fun of it.

But that sort of contradictory, somewhat nuanced humor didn't work well for the Oscars' audience. The theater audience's lack of laughter was judgmental and was odds with viewers who were laughing because this was the funny Jon Stewart we know from cable.

As I've already stated, I didn't watch it. But I suspect that one of the biggest reasons Stewart's performance fell flat was because the audience in the Kodak Theater was full of people who take themselves way too seriously in proportion to what it is they do. Honestly, they're entertainers. The make movies. They do their thing and we laugh, we cry and kiss nine bucks goodbye. Then we move on. Sadly, since 9/11 the absurdity of Hollywood's self-absorption has only become more magnified. It's because those of us who make up the unwashed masses were reminded about what's really important in life. And in the grand scheme of things, missing out on seeing a "ground-breaking" or "risk-taking" film just isn't all that big a deal.

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March 03, 2006

Obligatory Oscar Post

OK, so the Academy Awards are coming up this Sunday. And, not surprisingly, I have no intention of wasting my time watching this awards show. I'm not "boycotting" it or anything like that. In order to boycott the Oscars, you have to accept the premise that I would be making a sacrifice by not tuning in just to make a point. The fact is, I couldn't care less. Although, I actually care less than I did last year.


There are only two categories that I have a passing interest in: Lead Actor and Lead Actress. I would like to see Phillip Seymour Hoffman win for "Capote". I haven't seen the film, but I've appreciated Hoffman's talent for years. Most Oscar pundits expect that it will come down to him or Heath Ledger. My guess is that Reese Witherspoon is the favorite in her category and, not to take away from the other nominees, I think she should win.

PSHoffman.jpg witherspoon.jpg

But I don't get to make that call. In fact, no ordinary consumer of Hollywood's output gets to weigh in either. This is a popularity contest among the elite who comprise the Academy. It's a chance for the Liberals in this industry to send a message to the rest of America: We don't care what you like, you should like this and if you don't then you're just a bunch of uncultured, narrow-minded rubes.

Never has an industry had so much contempt for its customer base. Imagine if a car company put out a commercial that said "We know that this car doesn't appeal to you, but we think its the one you should be driving. And if you don't like it? Well, then there's something wrong with you." That would go over really well, wouldn't it?

My point is not that Hollywood shouldn't make (or in the case of independent films, promote) films that push a Liberal/politically-correct agenda or criticize (fairly or not) America or its culture. It's a free country. But moviegoers are also free to see what they want. It's their nine bucks and there are plenty of entertainment alternatives for their money. My point is that the film industry has no right to complain that its box office receipts are slumping when they refuse to accept the reality of the big picture (no pun intended).

Look at the five films nominated for Best Picture and look at their box office gross:

"Brokeback Mountain": $76,078,000
"Crash": $53,404,817
"Munich": $46,227,050
"Good Night And Good Luck": $30,506,195
"Capote": $23,441,493
Total Combined Gross: $229,657,555

Combined, these five films earned 25% less than "The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe", which earned $288,193,914. That's a difference of $58,536,359 (room for an extra nominee or two).

You can argue that Narnia was heavily promoted but look how much publicity these five films got even before their nominations were announced on January 31st. Since then, they've gotten a solid month of hype and they still failed to attract a significant audience. It almost seems that as more information about these films came out, fewer people were interested.

Now consider some of the films that earned more than four of the five nominees (put "Brokeback" aside for one moment"):

  • "Fun With Dick and Jane", a remake of a 1970's comedy with Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni: $110,333,000

  • "Flightplan", a mystery aboard a commercial airliner staring Jodie Foster: $89,700,000

  • "Cheaper By The Dozen 2", a sequel to a remake starring Steve Martin: $81,528,000

  • "Big Momma's House 2", Martin Lawrence as an undercover cop disguised as a large black woman - also a sequel: $65,800,000

  • "Underword: Evolution", Kate Beckinsale as a hot vampire chick fighting werewolves - and, yes, it's a sequel: $61,426,000

  • "The Pink Panther", another remake with Steve Martin: $60,847,000

Right now you're saying "OK, dude. What's your point?"

Hear me out. I'm willing to bet that the above films weren't all that great. I'm also willing to bet that most of the people who payed to see these films probably knew going into the theater that they weren't going to be all that great.

But that means that more people were interested in paying to see these mediocre movies than four of the five nominees for Best Picture! This speaks volumes to the Academy. Yet they choose not to listen. I'm not saying that box office gross should be the only factor in determining Oscar nominations. And I'm certainly not saying that the five films that were nominated are without merit. What I am saying is that they have limited appeal. And all the hype in the world isn't going to change that.

What this also means is that a four hour awards ceremony with this list of nominees will also have limited appeal. They don't even have Billy Crystal to make it worth tuning in for a little comic relief. Jon Stewart may do an adequate job of hosting, but Crystal is probably second only to Bob Hope as the best host this awards show has ever had.

If the ratings come in on Monday morning showing that more people were interested watching a repeat of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" than the Academy Awards I wonder how the Hollywood elite will react? My guess is they'll shake their heads and say that America "just doesn't get it". But until they realize that its they who just don't get it, we'll probably get a similar batch of nominees year after year.

UPDATE 3/6/06 12 noon:
CRASH: Coming as no surprise, the ratings for the telecast were down.

"The Academy Awards were down 10 percent from last year's ceremony, based on preliminary Nielsen Media Research ratings from the nation's 55 biggest markets. If the full national ratings follow suit later Monday, this year's ceremony will likely be the second least-watched Oscars telecast behind 2003, when "Chicago" won best picture."
Also not surprisingly, the broadcast did very well in the New York City and Los Angeles markets.

Congratulations to Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Reese Witherspoon.

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