By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, February 5, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Academy Award-winning director says Behind the Candelabra is his last film. But he’s only 50.
Steven Soderbergh swears he’s getting out of the business. After he completes his Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra—which features a scene of Michael Douglas as Liberace making out with Matt Damon as his lover—the director, who just turned 50, has vowed to retire from movie-making, and focus on directing plays and painting. It’s hard to imagine. There isn’t a major filmmaker in America more prolific, or provocative, than Soderbergh. In the past two years alone, he’s made four movies, a diverse suite that includes a disaster flick (Contagion), an action picture (Haywire), and a $7-million story of a male stripper that grossed $167 million (Magic Mike). His latest film, Side Effects, is a thriller that poses as a cautionary tale about pharmaceutical drugs, then derails expectations with such diabolical mischief you can almost smell the ﬁlmmaker’s impatience with convention.
Soderbergh is Hollywood’s most successful misfit. For all his success as both a director and producer, he still hasn’t found a comfort zone. In an interview in New York magazine, he expresses mounting frustration with “the tyranny of narrative . . . or at least narrative as we’re currently defining it.” He says, “I’m convinced there’s new grammar out there somewhere.” He also complains that “the audience for the kinds of movies I grew up liking has migrated to television.” In fact, after no Hollywood studio would risk $5 million on distributing his Liberace movie (which he describes as “pretty gay”), he took it to HBO, the promised land for filmmakers aching to break out of the Hollywood straitjacket.
In Side Effects, Soderbergh casts Rooney Mara, that Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as a girl with a lethal prescription in a thriller so perversely deceptive it should come with a list of side effects all its own. The movie’s time-release narrative is a jagged little pill of retro noir, coated with a smooth, contemporary glaze of pharma politics. Emily (Mara) and Martin (Channing Tatum), a New York couple who once owned a yacht and a mansion, are struggling to rebuild their lives after Martin comes home from a four-year prison term for insider trading. A suicide attempt leaves Emily in the care of a shrink (Jude Law), who puts her on a new anti-anxiety drug called Ablixa. As her former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones) enters the picture, lies are unravelled and we’re pulled down a very different rabbit hole from the one we signed up for.
At the heart of each characer is a haze of moral ambiguity—something Hollywood abhors and Soderbergh adores. He seems to delight in aiming curveballs at his audience. But then this is a director who made his name by breaking the rules. He was just 26 when he won the Palme D’Or in Cannes with the first of his 26 features, Sex, Lies and Videotape, a brazen feat of minimalist style that helped launch a new wave of American indie cinema. He’s since won an Oscar for Traffic, which he accepted with barely a flicker of emotion. He turned George Clooney into a movie star, by stubbornly casting him until the notion stuck. And he has mastered the art-commerce shuffle, switching between studio blockbusters, like the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, and experiments on film’s wild frontier—such as casting porn star Sasha Grey as a high-priced hooker in the Godard-like verité of The Girfriend Experience (2009).
In the spirit of Godard, Soderbergh toggles between stylistic subversion and political expression. His “issue” movies range from whistleblower dramas (Erin Brockovich, The Informant!) to his Communist opus, Che. But all his films are inflected with dissent. And in a movie culture that thrives on lush sentiment, Soderbergh frames stories with a clinical, dispassionate eye—literally, given that he serves as his own cinematographer.
Along the way, he has built a cohort of loyal actors, notably Douglas and Damon, who agreed to take the plunge as gay lovers in the Liberace film. “It was great to see Michael and Matt jump off the cliff together. They just went for it,” says the director, apparently content to finesse his career with another end game of truth or dare.
By Mika Rekai - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 10:37 AM - 0 Comments
How to reduce distraction from texting during movies? There’s an app for that.
In an age of constant communication, the movie theatre is one of few places where using your cellphone, with its bright glowing screen, is still a social faux pas. A new app for Android phones, however, may change that. Developed by a Toronto tech company, the In the Dark app switches smartphone screens to a mix of dark grey and black so users can continue texting without disturbing others. It also automatically puts the phone on vibrate. The app’s developer, Kyle Goomansingh, was inspired to create In the Dark when he was in a movie theatre and distracted by the bright light on a fellow audience member’s smartphone. The app works with the phone’s existing messaging systems, but reconfigures settings so texts and emails appear on a grey screen with black lettering. (It’s also a good way to keep your texts hidden from prying eyes reading over your shoulder.) Of course, the other solution to the texting-during-movie dilemma would be to just watch the movie, but who does that anymore?
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, August 20, 2012 at 12:56 PM - 0 Comments
Jaime Weinman on the influence of the Hollywood director
Tony Scott, the director, committed suicide
after learning that he had inoperable cancer. Update: The ABC report about Scott’s condition has been denied by his widow. It’s terrible news, and a terrible ending to a notable life in film.
When I first became aware of Tony Scott’s name – in the late ’80s, of course – I hadn’t yet heard of Ridley Scott. That’s mostly youthful ignorance, but that, at the time, was also probably an accurate reflection of where they stood in the film world. Ridley had had one hit (Alien) followed by a lot of flops (Blade Runner had yet to make the trek from cult flop to cult classic). He made Thelma and Louise followed by a bunch of other bombs, until Gladiator finally made him a trye superstar director. Tony took longer to get into feature films, but Top Gun established him as the go-to guy for the quick-cutting, violent, profane, and — above all — fast action picture, and a leading director of the new Hollywood studio system.
Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer were the top producers of this kind of film, and Top Gun made Scott their top in-house director for a number of years: he did their sequel to Beverly Hills Cop, the Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder—aka Top Gun on land—and Crimson Tide, one of the most effective big-studio thrillers of its era. He also directed Quentin Tarantino’s script for True Romance, and had a good enough relationship with Tarantino on that picture to bring the young hotshot on Crimson Tide for a rewrite. That movie also began his second important relationship in filmmaking, with Denzel Washington, who starred in four of Scott’s last six films.
Scott was one of a generation of British directors who made it big in features during the ’80s after directing commercials. The style they brought to movies was rooted in commercials (and the emerging genre of music videos), where the director must think not simply in terms of scenes, but the impact of every shot.
In a traditional feature, flashy shots are reserved for flashy moments, or you linger on those flashy shots to make it clear what they’re trying to accomplish. The commercial style doesn’t dally, nor does it allow any shot to be “normal”: it consists of a lot of stylish, carefully composed, and short shots, which—when put together—create a sort of sensory overload. In this style, the motivation for setting up a particular shot in a particular way is less important than the overall effect of all those shots put together in a dark theatre.
You can see this style in Scott’s famous commercial for Saab, which launched his feature career and helped land him Top Gun. There are few “normal” shots in the commercial — everything is seen with unusual angles, heightened lighting, slow motion, zooms, blurs. It’s a collection of what would previously have been considered gimmick shots, mashed together until it seems like the normal way of looking at the world. That’s the style Scott and other directors helped to bring to feature films.
Because there’s been a backlash against the prevalence of this fast-cutting, gimmick-laden style—and because Scott’s successor as Bruckheimer’s star director, Michael Bay, has given the style a bad name—it’s easy to dismiss Scott. Throw in the fact he was part of a generation of directors who were more subservient to strong producers than the ’70s generation (which makes them the villains in those tiresome “the ’80s ruined the New Golden Age of Cinema” books). And finally the fact his brother Ridley finally became a bankable, consistently successful director in the ’00s, just as Tony’s career was starting to slip. All these things work against Scott’s reputation.
But if you look at the action movies being made before the Commercial Directors arrived, you can understand why they made such an impact. A lot of big-studio action pictures of the late ’70s and early ’80s had terrific stunts but somewhat uninspiring, functional camerawork. An example would be the James Bond films of the ’80s: fine stunts, well edited, but not very stylish whenever something wasn’t blowing up. The “classical” approach to action movies, where the camera doesn’t get in the way of the action or call attention to itself, produced such masterpieces as Raiders of the Lost Ark. But for every Raiders, there were three or four other movies that just felt slow.
The Commercial Brats restored excitement and a fast pace to types of movies that had become a little bloated. Now, of course, these same movies have succumbed to bloat again in terms of length and the overloading of gimmick shots and fast cutting. Every approach eventually becomes decadent. But if the post-Top Gun action movie needs a change in approach, so did the pre-Top Gun action film. And Tony Scott’s style of making every shot a movie in itself was exactly what the ’80s needed.
By Jessica Allen - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 7:58 PM - 0 Comments
Internet backlash after a reporter suggests a Disney-Pixar princess might be gay
Entertainment Weekly’s Adam Markovitz is under fire for suggesting that the arrow-wielding, suitor-denying princess in Disney-Pixar’s latest animated feature, Brave, might be gay. Because princess Merida can “fight like one of the boys” and is prone to “squirm when her mother puts her in girly clothes,” Markovitz argued that some viewers might be confused about her sexuality.
Backlash ensued on Twitter and on websites, like Crushable.com where author Jenni Maier sardonically writes: “Parents all over the country with teenage daughters who don’t want to get married because it interferes with their high school sports practice schedule should just join PFLAG right now. Their daughters are all gay. It’s a shame right. Unless, and this is a big unless, unless their daugthers are openly swooning over boys and carving their names into their arms. Then there might be hope. Otherwise, gay, gay, gay, gay gay.”
Maier, evidently, doesn’t buy that princess Merida is gay. “She’s an independent female protagonist who wants people to see her an individual with her own wishes, hopes, dreams, thoughts and aspirations,” she writes. “But clearly, Adam Markowitz, missed that entire lesson. Which is understandable when you’re watching a children’s film with the goal of outing an animated character.”
At last count, Markowitz’s EW article had 685 comments. Make that 697. And they’re not all scathing. Notorious J.O.E. writes, “What’s wrong in hypothesizing if this character is gay? Based on the many, MANY comments posted here, it’s ”offensive” to merely wonder if the character is gay…as if being gay is an offensive thing.”
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 9:38 AM - 0 Comments
A lot of ink was spilled (if bandwidth counts as ink) over Ryan McGee’s post “Did The Sopranos Do More Harm Than Good?”, where he raises the question of whether heavily-serialized, “novelistic” TV has become such an all-pervasive standard that it can lead to weak individual episodes and half-baked serial stories that don’t go anywhere. (Or, as I sometimes put it: after the writers of Nash Bridges went off and did Lost, even the shows that would be better off being Nash Bridges tried to be Lost.)
Like others who have responded, I don’t think The Sopranos is the show to blame for this, if “blame” is the right word, and it probably isn’t. The Sopranos arrived on TV in a time when broadcast network drama had already become very serialized — as John Wells explained in a 1995 article that may have introduced the term “showrunner” to the public, the modern showrunner role in drama came about because TV dramas were too complex to be written by freelancers. And both The Sopranos and Six Feet Under were more reliant on standalone episode stories than almost any subsequent HBO drama.
I’ve worried about the decline of the standalone episode in TV drama. (Not to mention the fact that shows often seem to announce in advance that they’re only doing standalone episodes because they think that’ll pull in some newbie viewers; you don’t get good episodes that way, you get them because you like them and the writers pitched some great stories, like they did on The X-Files.) But I would not blame one particular show or group of shows, and again, “blame” is the wrong word. And it’s Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, February 17, 2012 at 10:20 AM - 0 Comments
Ever noticed those mountains looming behind New York City?
In a scene from The Vow, Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum park by the Chicago waterfront, strip down to their underwear, and scamper into the lake for a frigid late-night dip. But the lake is Ontario, not Michigan. The couple is cavorting on Cherry Beach in McAdams’s home city of Toronto, and the skyline is visible—minus the CN Tower. Canadian locales routinely impersonate American cities in Hollywood movies, but what’s striking about The Vow is how blithely it shows familiar glimpses of a city that’s supposed to be incognito. The lovers first cross paths at City Hall, and exchange their vows at a guerrilla wedding staged in the Art Gallery of Ontario. The movie is punctuated by postcard vistas of the real Chicago, but whenever the actors are in the shot, Toronto backdrops shatter the illusion, at least for anyone who knows the city.
There’s nothing wrong with faking locations. It’s something Hollywood has always done and always will. Movies, after all, are in the business of make-believe. But after so many years, the routine casting of Toronto and Vancouver for American burgs has become irksome, especially now that these cities have more personality and profile of their own. Ontario film commissioner Donna Zuchlinski claims local audiences enjoy spotting their hometown onscreen—“it adds to the movie-going experience, that sense of pride.” But stripped of its character, a surrogate city exudes blandness. In a confection like The Vow, despite a spirited performance from McAdams, that cavalier lack of authenticity penetrates deep into the bones of the movie, from the generic characters to the formulaic script. It seems to say: what the hell, the audience will never notice.
When American studios shoot movies north of the border, would it kill them to set one there? That almost never happens. Although Canada is the only country in the world that’s lumped into Hollywood’s domestic market, apparently we’re not domestic enough to be a place where people would actually live. “Americans want to see American cities,” says Toronto production designer Sandra Kybartas, a veteran of both Canadian and U.S. shoots. “They have a limited palate for exoticism.”
By Peter Nowak - Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 12:24 PM - 0 Comments
Wednesday, January 18, 2012 marked an intriguing confluence of events. No, it’s not some sort of Mayan end-of-the-world situation, but it is the day on which Wikipedia, Google and a number of other big websites posted the Stop Online Piracy Act. It was also the day on which the Adult Entertainment Expo kicked off in Las Vegas.
How on Earth are the two related? Bear with me.
I’ve written before about how SOPA has the potential to kick off the equivalent of an Internet Cold War. If enacted, the legislation would give U.S. authorities power to block certain websites. The target would be file-sharing enablers such as the Pirate Bay, but could also encompass other undesirable websites, which historically has meant porn. But that’s not the tree I’m barking up today.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, January 6, 2012 at 2:15 PM - 0 Comments
Three-dimensional, that is. A layer of schmutz floating around a few feet in front of your nose while a movie plays behind it is not a reasonable simulation of our tactile physical universe. We can sit around arguing about the increasing quality of this floating schmutz in the digital age, but schmutz it remains–distracting bits of pollen hovering around our theaters. For a moment it amazes us, and then we struggle (consciously or not) to ignore it so we can focus on the story.
And the story is at the crux of this. 3D advocates point to early resistance to sound and color in the movies as proof that they are on the right track. But sound and color became crucial elements in cinematic storytelling. We’ve yet to see a 3D film where the floating schmutz is integral to the plot, and which could not be understood if you took the goofy glasses off. 3D is a gimmick, and has been since the days of the drive-in.
Poor Hollywood. The industry’s hopes and dreams were pinned to 3D. It was supposed to be a piracy-resistant bit of spectacle that would levitate teenagers out of their basements, away from their Playstations and smartphones and into movie theatres, where they would gladly pay a hefty surcharge on an already hefty ticket price for an “in-your-face” experience. 3D was also supposed to perpetuate the endless consumer gadget cycle, compelling overcompensating dads to ditch last year’s 52 inch HD LCDs for giant 3DTV flatscreens that let them bring the schmutz home. This in turn would propel the next wave of physical media sales, wherein we all would dump our DVD (or Bluray) collections at yard sales, replacing each classic flick with a new edition, digitally upschmutzed to 3D. George Lucas was moist with anticipation!
In short, 3D was the last best hope for business as usual in both the entertainment and consumer electronic industries. A couple of years ago at CES, the massive electronics trade show in Vegas, 3DTVs were everywhere. A couple of years ago, Avatar made Hollywood salivate. But as CES 2012 gears up, the reality is sinking in: Consumers don’t really want 3D at home, and Avatar was a one-off. Sports fans are lukewarm on floating balls, and people feel ridiculous wearing those goofy glasses in well-lit living rooms where they can be seen by their friends and families. Even gamers who bought Nintendo 3Ds are tiring of the optical illusion and turning 3D off.
There are still a few (hundred million) bucks more to be squeezed out of 3D before consumers grow completely sick of the experience, so we will surely see a slew of schmutzy pictures in the months and years to come. And of course, there will be an Avatar 2.
But this thing is on the wane, and Hollywood may soon have to resort to actually producing movies people want to see on account of their content.
Or they could just bring back Smell-O-Vision.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, June 24, 2011 at 11:51 AM - 0 Comments
The questions are many: What’s your debut novel worth? What are you willing to pay for a video game? How much does the best song ever cost?
Also: how do you compete with free? How do you beat piracy? What am I willing to pay in order to not feel like a leech?
One dollar minus one penny seems to be the magic number when selling virtual goods that can otherwise be easily acquired for free. Self-published authors are discovering that when they drop their sticker price from $2.99 to $.99, sales shoot up, and their titles rapidly climb the charts. Rovio, makers of Angry Birds, have built a multimillion dollar business, a buck at a time, and now preach the gospel of that sweet spot price. Kindle Singles are Amazon’s bargain-priced short e-books, which are breathing new life into long-format journalism. Nine of the 10 best selling apps right now on iTunes are priced under a dollar. As different industries experiment with a range of pricing schemes for their wildly divergent products, they are all arriving at the same conclusion: 99 cents.
So is the web just filled with cheapskates, or what?
Maybe, but we’re righteous cheapskates. Any content seller who has tried putting their wares online at the same sticker prices as in brick and mortar stores deserves a bit of dollar store justice for playing customers like chumps. Some have even demanded higher prices for digital downloads. This betrays an outright contempt for consumer intelligence. Baked into the price of a DVD at HMV are manufacturing, printing, and shipping costs, retail space rental and the hourly wage of the stockboy who pointed you to the right aisle. Eliminate all of that, and the consumer rightly feels entitled to a significant savings. Pretend this isn’t true, and you’ll be lucky to get 99 cents.
There’s more to it of course… 99 cents is a magic number that for most people means they don’t have to think too hard about pushing “buy”. Most folks are still getting used to paying for a download, and the low price point allows more and more people to get comfortable with virtual goods. For more experienced users who know how to find content for free, .99 cents is about what it’s worth to not have to bother.
Should a song cost the same price as a movie? Do we value a great book no more than a time-wasting iPhone game? I don’t think so, an in time I imagine that content sellers will regain a bit more pricing flexibility in the hearts and minds of consumers. But for now, I’d buy that for a dollar.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 10:13 AM - 0 Comments
‘Rubber’ adds a new twist to the subgenre of schlock horror about homicidal objects
Jean-Luc Godard famously said, “All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.” Now that we’ve seen Rubber, a film by a younger French provocateur, perhaps that should be amended to: “All you need for a movie is a girl and a tire.” Adding a new twist to the sub-genre of horror films about homicidal objets, from killer cars to killer tomatoes, Rubber is about a killer tire. For no apparent reason, a dusty old tire hoists itself out of a junkyard and comes alive, rolling under its own steam. Taking baby steps, it learns to flex its power by crushing a water bottle, then moves on to small animals, and finally people. It doesn’t run over them. The tire just stands there and quivers with a low rumble, emitting a psychokinetic force that will make your head explode, just like the heads in David Cronenberg’s Scanners. Nothing says horror comedy like an exploding head: one minute someone is having a conversation, then in the blink of an eye his brains are all over the wall.
A tire that makes skulls splatter may seem like a stretch, but since finding traction at its Cannes premiere last May, Rubber has been gaining ground. Shot in English by French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux—better known as electro-house music producer Mr. Oizo—this absurdist horror flick rolls into a Toronto multiplex April 8, and will make tracks for other Canadian cities later this spring. The kick of seeing a movie like this lies almost entirely in its surprise value. So a spoiler alert is called for: if you want to experience the full impact of Rubber first-hand, you may want to skip the next paragraph.
The story, such as it is, takes place in California, on a desert highway that leads to a derelict motel. Driving a red convertible, a French babe with dark bangs and short shorts (Roxanne Mesquida) has just checked in. After following her into the parking lot, the tire nudges open her door, and watches her take a shower. Yes: a peeping tire. And he’s just getting started. Later, after blowing the head off a chambermaid, the tire gets a room, takes a shower himself, and sits down to watch a Formula One race on television.
The tire, by the way, is male. Despite the shape, no one suggests for a moment that it could be female. Everyone in the movie refers to it as “he,” and the director calls him Robert. Before long, we start to impute character to the tire. He’s smug, ruthless and enigmatic—mysteriously superior to everyone else in the movie, like Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men. This discarded husk of rubber is an existential anti-hero, a Big O with a hole where his conscience should be.
Aspiring to be more than a retread of schlock horror, Rubber is not content to be a movie about a runaway tire that becomes a serial killer. It’s arty and conceptual, the kind of deadpan semiotic gag only the French could come up with. It begins with a black sedan slaloming through an array of wooden chairs in the desert, knocking them down one by one. A cop steps out of the trunk, and addresses a group that has gathered to see a film. He lectures them on things that happen in movies for no reason. “The film you are about to see,” he says, “is an homage to no reason.” Binoculars are distributed to the audience, and the “movie” unfolds around them in the desert, while characters debate the desirability of various plot points.
It’s all pretty silly, a B-movie with a fake degree in post-structuralist philosophy. But Dupieux, who’s billed as Rubber‘s writer, director, cinematographer, composer and editor, likes to call himself its “stupid creator.” Pointing to the demon truck in Stephen Spielberg’s Duel (1971) as inspiration, he delights in the fact that he shot the tire without digital effects, using just a cheap robotic gizmo and puppeteering.
Rubber may act like a B-movie, but it doesn’t look like one. This low-budget lark was shot entirely with a still camera (a Canon 5D, the SLR of choice for photojournalists), which has a cinematic lustre that’s revolutionizing indie filmmaking. It has allowed a French artiste to run amok in America with a nutty idea and a minimal crew. The result is a practical joke on the audience that Godard might appreciate: a movie that refuses to be a movie about a tire that refuses to be a tire.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, March 4, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 3 Comments
The famous country star was ‘flattered’ to lend her voice to an odd Canadian fable
Anyone looking for proof that Canadian cinema is a mongrel beast need look no further than The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom. The director of this eccentric first feature, Tara Johns, describes herself as an assimilated Anglo Quebecer, “born in Calgary, deflowered in Vancouver and indoctrinated in Montreal.” Her movie is about an 11-year-old girl in a Prairie suburb who imagines she’s Dolly Parton’s adopted daughter, and bikes across the border to look for her. Shot in Quebec and Manitoba, it’s a Canadian film hitched to the marquee value of an American star who never appears onscreen.
For Johns, it was a gamble. She spent two years writing and rewriting a script that hinged entirely on the participation of Parton without knowing whether the country music star would allow her name or music to be used. “It was a chicken-egg thing,” the 46-year-old director told me last week. “I couldn’t go after Dolly until I had a pretty solid script. Without her, I don’t know what I would have done—maybe changed the name to Pierre Trudeau or something.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 17, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 6 Comments
The best movies of 2010
In True Grit, the Coen brothers’ new remake of the classic 1969 John Wayne western, the heroine—a hard-headed 14-year-old girl on a mission to avenge her father’s murder—tumbles into a collapsed mine shaft, where a snake lurks coiled in the rib cage of a decayed corpse, ready to strike. That’s a fitting image for the kind of year it’s been at the movies. If Hollywood is the Dream Factory, 2010 was the year of dreaming dangerously, a year when horror films had no monopoly on nightmares. Scan the lists of award-pedigree movies, and a striking trend emerges: time and again we’re dropped into a snakepit of fear and loathing, paranoia and paralysis, isolation and loss. Almost all the good movies played like bad dreams.
You have to address the nation with a monumental stutter (The King’s Speech); you’re hit by a tsunami while shopping for trinkets in paradise (Hereafter); you fall for a nice guy who turns out to be the bank robber who held you hostage (The Town); the older brother who’s training you to be a boxing champ is a crack-addict pimp (The Fighter); you’re dancing the lead in Swan Lake and something weird is growing out of your back; or, in the best worst dream of all, you’re trapped by a boulder and have to cut off your arm with a blunt penknife (127 Days). Even children’s fantasy was not immune. In Toy Story 3, a utopian daycare centre turns out to be a prison camp that tortures toys; The Nutcracker in 3-D gave us a Nazi Rat King whose stormtroopers feed toys into industrial ovens that blacken the sky.
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 5:23 PM - 0 Comments
Shaking up Canadian TV with an ‘all you can eat,’ on-demand Internet-based service
For Canadians, the idea of watching television or movies over the Internet has not yet caught on in a big way. And that’s partly because there has so far been relatively little on the Web for us to watch (many popular U.S. sites like Hulu.com are blocked to Canadian surfers to protect licensing deals with Canadian broadcasters).
But now one company—an American one—is hoping to finally shake things up north of the border. Netflix, which built its U.S. business on mail-order DVD rentals and generated US$1.4 billion last year, is planning to launch a television and movie streaming service in Canada this fall, its first effort at international expansion. Details are scarce, but spokesman Steve Swasey says Netﬂix plans to offer Canadian consumers a “robust” selection of TV shows and movies, though he declined to say how many titles would be available and how much the service would cost per month (U.S. customers pay US$8.99 for unlimited mail-order DVD rentals and streamed videos to their computers). “Streaming is really going to be the way of the future,” says Swasey, who adds that Netflix doesn’t plan to offer a DVD mail-order rental service in Canada.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
An existential heist movie delivers a megaton blast of originality—and summer thrills
Ellen Page sits nestled in the middle of a large couch in a Beverly Hills hotel room, her small frame almost lost among the pillows. She looks artfully casual in a blue linen shirt, scarf, jeans and boots. Chestnut curls spill from a brown cotton cloche that masks her high forehead, and makes her face seem even more childlike than usual.
Clutching a water bottle in one hand and gesturing rapidly with the other, she’s visibly excited as she talks about Inception. When stars promote movies, it’s their duty to be excited, even when they’re not. But in this case, Page’s enthusiasm seems genuine. “Usually, I could care less if my friends see my movies or not,” says the 23-year-old Canadian actress. “In Nova Scotia, I like to leave my job behind. So when friends say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see that one,’ I don’t care.” But Inception was different: “I was just like, ‘Go see this!’ ”
By Scott Feschuk - Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 2 Comments
In which we meet the heroes of Splash, Footloose, and E.T., and find they’ve changed
Oliver Stone’s new movie, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, will bring Gordon Gekko back to the big screen after more than two decades. This surely means that rival studios are already rushing to make sequels to other big films of the 1980s. What has become of some of the most famous characters of that era? And how will they have adapted to very different times?
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 3 Comments
A new market will let people bet on Hollywood’s box office returns
Movies are about to join the likes of corn and crude oil with their own futures market. Cantor Futures Exchange, a subsidiary of brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald, is planning to launch a new online market next month where investors will be able to buy futures contracts on box-office revenues, allowing film buffs and Hollywood studios alike to place bets on how much cash movies will earn.
“There are a lot of people that have opinions on what films will make,” says Richard Jaycobs, president of Cantor Fitzgerald. “We’ve got to bring all the constituents in the marketplace together.” The contracts trade at $1 for every $1 million a movie is expected to gross in its first month, so for every million a film takes in over projections, investors can gain another dollar on their investment. It seems simple, but box-office predictions are notoriously inaccurate, which leaves a lot of potential to both make and lose cash. “There’s no question. It’s risky,” says Jaycobs.
Anyone can buy the contracts, but the market is primarily meant to serve as an insurance policy for studios that want to hedge their investments. They can sell shares of their movies to speculators, spreading the possible risks. But the trade has at least one big drawback. “This is the type of product someone could cheat with,” says University of Toronto management professor Eric Kizner. He says it will be difficult to prevent studios from over- or under-inflating projected box office numbers. Changes in advertising or a leak of bad news from on set, he says, could alter expectations, increasing possible profits for insiders. The Motion Picture Association of America has also spoken against the new market, saying it’s little more than “unbridled gambling.”
Still, both Jaycobs and Kizner feel box-office futures have potential. “It’s kind of sexy to show up at a cocktail party and talk about your shares in Avatar,” says Kizner.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 12:14 PM - 0 Comments
Boozy film crew leaves 118 pages of top-secret screenplay under the table; how much will be revealed?
The UK Sun—arguably the least discreet daily in the world—is in possession of some big secrets regarding the plot of movie based on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The question is how much, if any, of the information it will publish before the movie’s planned release date in November. The script was left under a table in the Waterside Tavern in Kings Langley, Herts, where crew members reportedly launched themselves on a bender last Thursday. The Sun then got its hands on it, and returned the pages to Warner Bros.—but not before publishing pictures of it with the words pixelated, along with the tantalizing claim that the movie will diverge from the novel by author J.K. Rowling (the newspaper says it’s not revealing any more because it doesn’t want to play spoiler, but we’re talking about a British tabloid here, so let’s just wait and see). Warner Bros. is understandably ticked, but one thing is clear: the butter-fingers is not star Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry. He frequents the Waterside but was not with the crew on the night in question.
By Colby Cosh - Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 2:35 AM - 18 Comments
Nikki Finke’s deadline.com carries a compelling account of Warner Brothers’ sequel negotiations with the stars of The Hangover, who received less than a million dollars between them for the unassuming comedy that became a half-billion-dollar global box-office smash. (That $1 million doesn’t count the bonus of a million apiece the studio gave them shortly before commencing talks.) Production of Hangover 2 would normally be well underway by now, but Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, and Ed Helms presented a united front. Mike Fleming calls it “a perfect storm of leverage”.
The Hangover is a divisive movie—embraced with a greedy thirst by the masses, but considered seriously overrated by some. The funny thing about this is that the most notable quality of the movie, in general, is intelligence. (Sure, there’s low humour in it; can we take as axiomatic the patronizing explanation that there are pee jokes in Shakespeare and Swift and Sterne? I mean, I’m happy to patronize you if you really need it.) I found The Hangover much more admirable than hilarious. It took the cliché of the “increasingly chaotic and risky Vegas blowout” and essentially gave it a highly original time-travel twist without recourse to outright science fiction. Though I’ll concede that its ideas about the effects of Rohypnol are a little science-y and fiction-y.
The plot is intricate, but clear and free of detectable loose ends; it has the satisfying click-clack of a Rubik’s Cube, with the end credits as the satisfying flourish that finally restores order and clarity. All four of the main characters have or develop specifiable, interesting relationships with one another. Little comedy grace notes—most memorably, Ed Helms’ “Stu’s Song” piano number—impart some of the tenor of undirected real life to the tight, logic-driven narrative that yokes the characters. There’s legitimate suspense. And the whole thing kicks off with a demonstration of in medias res technique that would give a classics professor an erection. It’s a model exercise in screenwriting, and will certainly be used as one for decades.
So how, to ask the question that’s already on the minds of 60 or 70 million audience members, can the sequel not suck? The Hangover was attractive for its originality. By definition, it’s hard to see how a sequel could possibly succeed. And it’s easy to see how it could become a wearisome exercise in revisiting gags from the original. “Oh, no, it’s Mike Tyson! This can’t be good!” Even coming up with a first approximation to a premise for Hangover 2 is difficult; actually writing the thing seems like it would be a task on the same order of complexity as a lunar landing. Everybody wants the Wolf Pack reunited, but nobody wants to walk into the theatre on opening night and hear the words “Dammit, Alan! I can’t believe you roofied us again!”
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 11:57 AM - 1 Comment
Movie executives are obsessed with bringing back the decade they grew up in
The 1980s are taking over the cinemas of North America and the UK. Upcoming remakes of ’80s franchises include The A-Team, The Karate Kid,
Clash of the Titans, Nightmare on Elm Street and the ultimate Reagan/Thatcher-era movie, Red Dawn. It used to be that the ’80s was “the decade everyone was a bit ashamed of,” with its terrible hair and pop music dominated by synth and saxophone. But after the depressing experience of the ’00s and ’10s, people are starting to feel nostalgic for the greater certainty of the ’80s, not to mention songs like “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Besides, the executives who are running studios today grew up watching the “irony-free” movies of the ’80s, and now they’re trying to re-create their youth. Does this mean that there will be a remake of Mr. T’s Be Somebody Or Be Somebody’s Fool? One can only hope.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 2:21 PM - 0 Comments
We’ve selected the best in Canadian cinema, books, music and television
It’s nearly impossible to winnow down the best in Canadian culture from the past 10 years, but we asked our critics to do just that and will be publishing their selections over the next four days. Click on a button below to discover Maclean’s picks for the best Canadian television shows, books, movies, and music.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, November 26, 2009 at 8:10 AM - 1 Comment
Werner Herzog lets Nicolas Cage off the leash as a crack-addict cop in ‘Bad Lieutenant’
On the set of Bad Lieutenant in New Orleans, director Werner Herzog was alarmed to see Nicolas Cage snorting what looked like cocaine. In the movie, inspired by Abel Ferrara’s cult classic, Cage inherits the Harvey Keitel role as a drug-addicted cop. It was only the second day of shooting, and Cage was trying to get into character. “He sniffs from a vial of white powder,” Herzog recalled during a recent interview, “and the moment it’s up his nose, he’s so scarily different I walk up to him and say, ‘Nicolas, what is that you snorted?’ ” As the actor explained in a separate interview, “I couldn’t answer the question because it would have broken all the prep I’d been doing. I had this little vial of something really benign. I would snort that and try to pretend I was getting high so I could play the scene. So I told Werner, ‘It’s coke.’ Just to not break that.”
This is what happens when the nuttiest Hollywood star this side of Joaquin Phoenix joins forces with a European director who has a reputation for being a madman. Let’s compare their mythologies.
Insanity has been good to Nicolas Cage. He’s done his finest work playing obsessed, manic and deranged individuals—the mad lovers in Moonstruck and Wild at Heart, the delirious alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas, the demented twin screenwriters in Adaptation. But Cage has also learned to compress his trademark intensity into one hack role after another, with paycheque performances in formula thrillers, from Gone in 60 Seconds to National Treasure. Then again, the man has some crazy bills to pay. Hit with US$6.6 million in unpaid taxes, he saw his two New Orleans mansions auctioned off last week after foreclosures. And his Michael Jackson-like extravagance is legendary. Cage’s purchases over the years include two castles, a dozen mansions, two yachts, a jet, some 50 cars (including a half-million-dollar Lamborghini), a pet octopus, two albino king cobras—and a dinosaur skull that he bought for US$276,000, outbidding Leonardo DiCaprio.
Herzog is notorious for a different kind of excess. When shooting Fitzcarraldo (1982)—starring Klaus Kinski as an obsessed colonist who built an opera house in the Peruvian jungle—the director risked life and limb to haul a 350-tonne working steamship over a small mountain in the Amazon. And in making Rescue Dawn (2006), this “method” director shed 35 lb. to show solidarity with his star, Christian Bale, who lost 65 lb. to play an emaciated prisoner of war. As a director who likes to shoot drama with documentary realism, no wonder Herzog thought his star was snorting real cocaine on the set of Bad Lieutenant. After all, Cage famously ate real cockroaches for his role in Vampire’s Kiss (1988).
But the 45-year-old actor insists he was totally sober on the set, and drew on his experiences with drugs 25 years ago. “I was shocked Werner didn’t know the process by which a film actor uses the imagination,” he says. “It was an impressionist performance, in that I had to look at this landscape of something that happened so long ago and try to recall what that might have been. Werner was saying, ‘Let’s do the bliss of evil.’ But I wasn’t trying to glamorize drugs in any way. I wanted to show the effect they had, the ticks and facial expressions. They can really contort the face.” And the voice. As Cage’s character gets more drug-addled, his voice gets weirdly pinched, until he starts to sound like Jimmy Stewart on helium.
Let off the leash in this darkly comic film noir, Cage delivers one of his wildest performances in ages, as a homicide cop with a lucky crack pipe who hallucinates iguanas while trying to solve a mass murder. In Herzog he has an eager accomplice, a director fascinated with men who lose their minds in jungles real or imagined. “Sometimes I would nudge him to the brink,” says Herzog. “But I didn’t have to push him. When he sees me next to the camera, he knows he can go to the outer limits. He can turn the pig loose.”
Although Bad Lieutenant was touted as a remake, it’s a different script. And while Cage isn’t as nasty as Keitel, he has some great gonzo moments—like when he snatches an oxygen tube from a wealthy matron in a wheelchair, sticks a .44 Magnum in her face, and says, “You’re the reason this country’s going down the drain.” But compared to the protagonist of Herzog’s next film, he’s a pussycat. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is the true story of an actor in a Greek tragedy who becomes consumed by his role and kills his mother. Now that’s method acting.
By Brian Bethune - Friday, October 30, 2009 at 2:00 PM - 66 Comments
It’s not just a movie for those who believe the world really will end then
Even though there are still three years to go, give or take a few months, before the end of civilization as we know it, Hollywood has decided to cash in now with 2012, director Roland Emmerich’s $200-million love letter to special effects. Perfectly reasonable plan. After all, millions worldwide believe that cataclysmic destruction—or, just maybe, total spiritual transformation—will commence as soon as the millennia-old Mayan calendar grinds to a halt on Dec. 21, 2012. In either case there won’t be any Ferrari dealers, cocaine suppliers or anyone else to lavish the film profits on. And, for true believers, there’s every motive to go for the gold now. That may have been the thinking of Richard Heene, when the father of six-year-old Falcon concocted the Balloon Boy stunt. “Heene believes the world is going to end in 2012,” according to his friend Richard Thomas. “Because of that he wanted to make money quickly, become rich enough to build a bunker or something underground, where he can be safe from the sun exploding.”
Our friendly neighbourhood star going supernova may be the only destructive touch missing from 2012. The official trailer for the movie, which opens on Nov. 12, has earthquakes, tsunamis and super-volcanos. Whole cities slide into the ocean, and an aircraft carrier, tossed like a child’s toy, lands on the White House. Religious imagery is even harder hit: the dome of St. Peter’s rolls over the faithful; in Rio de Janeiro the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer crumples to the ground; and a lone Buddhist monk (an ecumenical touch, perhaps) is swept away as a wave crashes over his mountaintop shrine. What brings on this Götterdämmerung is barely hinted at in the trailer; according to early reports, it’s not much clearer in the film itself. Continue…
By Jason Kirby - Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 12:40 PM - 1 Comment
Smaller screens may mean bigger profits—if viewers don’t revolt
For decades, Imax Corp., the little company with the big screens, was a Hollywood outsider. Even as crowds were awed by documentaries about four-storey starfish, movies with stars of the Homo sapiens variety were scarce. But behind the scenes the Imax script has recently undergone a remarkable rewrite. The Mississauga, Ont., company is opening new theatres at lightning speed, while studios are clamouring to bring their biggest films to the Imax screen. This month Imax turned its first quarterly profit in three years, thanks to blockbusters like Monsters vs. Aliens, Transformers and Star Trek. “Three years ago we were knocking on doors in Hollywood saying, ‘Will you please put your big-budget movie on our screen?’ but now the studios are knocking on our door,” says Larry O’Reilly, head of theatre development. The dramatic revival has sent Imax shares up threefold since November, making it one of the hottest stocks on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
But this is Imax, which means it’s always too early to predict a happy ending. So, from the company that brought you shareholder lawsuits, regulatory probes and a string of botched deals, comes the latest plot twist: Imax wants moviegoers to forget almost everything they think they know about Imax. In its bid for Hollywood stardom and sustainable profits, the company and its theatre-chain partners have taken the Imax brand to the editing room. Gone is the steep seating traditionally found in Imax cinemas; many new Imaxes are just retrofitted multiplexes with the first few rows removed. The huge (and hugely expensive) Imax film projectors are giving way to the digital variety. And as for those ginormous screens, in some new theatres they’re just 25 per cent larger than the plain ones next door. Where the company once marketed itself under the slogan “Think Big,” the focus now is on Imax as a cut above conventional cinemas. In essence, Imax is transitioning from offering a seven-storey novelty experience that can be so overwhelming that some find it distracting, to more of a premium viewing experience—at a premium price—in the same way that Dolby is synonymous with superior sound. “We’re selling way more movie tickets to Imax theatres than ever before so we believe we’re actually building the brand,” says O’Reilly. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, June 8, 2009 at 5:09 PM - 10 Comments
All the Archie/Betty/Veronica talk the other week got me thinking again about Archie comics, to the point that I promised on my other blog that I wouldn’t make such references for a while. (But I made no such promise here.) One question that interests me: we can see, from the immense public interest in this gimmick, that the Archie characters are some of the best-known comic book characters around, for better or for worse. (I say it’s for better if they are drawn by someone as great as the late Harry Lucey.) Yet they’ve never been adapted into other media with anything resembling real success, unless you count “Sugar, Sugar,” and that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the comics. There have been several TV cartoons, but all of them kind of stunk; the main question is whether the Filmation cartoon stunk worse than “Archie’s Weird Mysteries.” There was that live-action TV movie where they’re grown-up and return to Riverdale, and many, many rumours about possible feature films, TV series and stage musicals, which never come to pass. How many comic book characters are that popular yet have such a dismal track record in adaptations? For God’s sake, they did a flop movie version of Josie & the Pussycats, which flopped because they didn’t include Pepper in it, but not an Archie movie.
One reason why the adaptations never happen is that the Archie world is so generic that you can do virtually the same characters and setting without actually having to adapt the comic book. I can think of at least three successful franchises from the last 20 years that owe an obvious debt of inspiration to Archie comics: 1) Saved By the Bell; 2) High School Musical; 3) Beverly Hills 90210. (I doubt Darren Star intended to do a California Archie show with the Peach Pit standing in for the Chok’lit Shoppe, but that’s what he came up with.) It’s not like superhero comics, where if you want to use the specific powers and villains in your movie, you have to pay for them. There’s no copyright on the concept of teen hijinks and chaste love triangles.
Also, the Archie characters are harder to cast than superheroes, because superheroes depend to a large extent on the costume: you put the actor in a Superman suit, he looks like Superman. Casting someone who looks like Archie, let alone Jughead, let alone Betty and Veronica (who, let us remember, have the exact same face) is much trickier. How do you convince us that this guy is Archie, just because he has red hair and maybe wears an “R” on his shirt?
Still, I think that with all the zillions of comic-book movies around today, it would make sense for someone, somewhere to do an Archie movie. It could even work if they went back to the old Frank Doyle scripts for inspiration on how these characters should talk (which is to say, like old-time Vaudeville comedians).