Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #88: Grand Theft Audience

This week marks the beginning of two things.

The release of Iron Man, which kicks off the Spring-Summer movie blockbuster season, but I'm not going to talk about that.

What I'm going to talk about is the other big news in pop culture.

The release of Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest instalment in the ever growing and occasionally controversial line of video games from Rockstar Games. The Grand Theft Auto games evolved from a fairly simple game of automobile theft into more elaborate story-lines where the player assumes a character who is either out for revenge, to rise through the ranks of the underworld, or both, and then steals, shoots, or sneaks to their goal.

I guess the best way to sum it up, is that the Grand Theft Auto games are essentially interactive gangster movies. The kind of story that would have starred Charles Bronson, or Lee Marvin in their prime. Except the player is the star.

Now while I enjoy the occasional video game, I'm not very good at them, and I'm not an expert on the subject of games. In fact, my computer game glory days involved Zaxxon, which probably reveals that I was hatched from the primordial ooze sometime early during the Pleistocene Epoch.

What I do know is how GTA-IV is causing a lot of worry and what would be the furrowing of brows, if those brows weren't frozen stiff by Botox. You see studio executives are worried that the all powerful ticket buying 18-35 male demographic will be too glued to their XBox 360s to go to the movies. And with 100 hours of free flow multi-player game play, they have a reason to be worried.

You see, the video game market is whittling down at that all important disposable income of the average Joe which is the life's blood of popular culture, and they're specifically taking it away from movies.

Now some experts say that the main reason is that games are interactive. Instead of sitting down and being told the fate of characters, gamers control the fates of their characters. Well made games have a myriad of combinations that can be expanded by the choices of the players, and more free form "sandbox" games take that to the exponential level. That's a hell of a lot more bang for your buck, than 90+ minutes of watching stuff happen.

But there's another, and I think more relevant reason for the success of games.

In games the audience still matters.

The game industry still follows the simple business plan of making a product and selling that product to people. The success or failure of a video game company is based on their ability to connect with fans on that all important emotional level.

That's where the movie business has fumbled.

Sure, they'll still put out the occasional crowd pleasing blockbuster, but when was the last time people were as sincerely excited about the release of a Hollywood movie as gamers are about Halo 3 or GTA-IV?

The movie business these days is not about the simple co
ncept of making movies that make money by connecting with the audience. Nowadays the priorities of studios involve obscure European tax shelters, arcane accounting regulations, formulating complex contracts, litigation, scoring a sweet seat at the most fashionable political fund-raiser, as well as the starlet with the new breasts paid for by the company expense account, and other incidentals...

The movies and the audience are way down at the bottom of that list of priorities. Somewhere below remembering to sign the birthday card for Jerry the guard at the studio gate, and tipping Pablo the gardener for Christmas.

Another factor is the simple fact that games are made by gamers for gamers.

The people who make the best computer games are people who play and enjoy computer games.

That sort of blissful joy in the act of film-making as love making hasn't really been seen since Quentin Tarantino first burst onto the movie scene in the 90s. And I'm pretty sure that he even his legendary enthusiasm has probably been dampened by now, thanks to the soul sucking tendency of what Rod Serling once called that "hideous bitch goddess" of Hollywood.

Right now the prevailing attitude in Hollywood is not a desire to tell great stories that the audience will love, it's trying to suck up enough to people in positions of power, so you can make on more film, to suck up to the same people, to make one more film... etc...etc....

And those people in power aren't in the movie business because they love movies, or even business. They want the glamour, the fame, the status, getting away with playing with other people's money, and more importantly, the power.

Now all those things can be achieved by being successful with audiences, however, that takes work. You have to go outside of the Axis of Ego to find out what people want, and it's much easier to just kiss up to all the other rich folks in your neighbourhood.

And when those folks in the neighbourhood control the media, it creates a dangerous bubble that isolates the average Hollywood folk from the common people almost as much as a North Korean political prisoner in solitary confinement.

That bubble doesn't yet exist in the field of computer games. The makers of games work in worlds of fantasy, but live in the real world.

The same cannot be said of Hollywood.

And that's why it's costing them.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Take My Advice... Please

Here are a few pieces of advice, pointers if you will, that I think folks in Hollywood should take heed, you know who you are...
1. Sometimes, you should say "no" to Annie Leibowitz.

2. Just because you won an Oscar doesn't mean you should deliberately go for a second right away.

3. After a financially devastating strike, a union shouldn't go around making itself a target of potential litigation by its own members.

4. Just because Paris Hilton did it, doesn't mean you have to as well.

5. The DUI is not a fashion statement.

6. Pay your taxes, and keep good books, because if you don't you'll be the IRS's bitch, and Rocko the Jailbird's too.
I hope these words of advice help.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Discount Bin Film Club: Heat

I'll start this edition of the Discount Bin Film Club with an admission: For a long time, I didn't really think very highly of Michael Mann's film Heat*.

Of course I missed it in the theatres, and had only seen a pretty badly pan & scanned, "edited for content" and "compressed for time" version on TV, so my you can probably understand why.

Now I liked Michael Mann's Manhunter, and his show Robbery Homicide Division, and everyone I knew who saw it properly, loved it, so when I saw a basic wide-screen edition in the $5.00 bin I decided to give the movie a second chance.

I don't regret that decision.

Heat is a grand, sprawling yet engrossing story about crime, criminals, but mostly about the city of Los Angeles itself. It's more like a novel than a standard thriller, with its characters, subplots, and thematic excursions.

One on side of the film is Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) the man in charge of the LAPD's Robbery Homicide Division. He's work obsessed, and heads up a team of LAPD's top detectives Bosko (Ted Levine), Casal (Wes Studi) and Druker (Mykelti Williamson).

The flip side is Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) a master thief who tries to live without any connection to anyone or anything that can't drop in 30 seconds. He commands a robbery crew staffed by gambling addict/incurable romantic Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) and ex-con Michael Cherrito (Tom Sizemore).

Both have their troubles.

Hanna is
on his third marriage to a somewhat solipsistic LA socialite named Justine (Diane Venora), and has a stepdaughter Lauren Gustafson (Natalie Portman) who is neglected by her biological father, and all but ignored by her mother. This relationship is not going well at all.

McCauley saw a perfectly good armoured car heist turn into a triple homicide thanks to a recently recruited scumbag named Waingro (Kevin Gage). This heist starts a mini-war with an oily yuppie money launderer named Van Zant (William Fichtner) and puts them in need of a real big final score. And he's broken his own rule of having no connections by getting romantically involved with a young woman named Eady (Amy Brenneman).

This starts a game of cat and mouse between the cops and the robbers.

Now trust me, that's just a bare bones summary of what happens in the film, with a city full of supporting characters and subplots who all seem to have lives outside of this film.

And it's interesting, in a Freudian sense, that I use the term "city" to describe the film, because the real star of the film isn't Pacino, DeNiro, or even Tom Noonan, it's the city of Los Angeles itself.

This isn't the Los Angeles shown to the tourists, there's none of the usual visual cliches, instead it shows a certain combination of affection with the City of Angels, but also a certain amount of disappointment. Which brings me to what I think is the real theme of this film: Loneliness.

Almost all the major characters are alone in their own way. Some are in relationships, but most of them are unhappy, usually caused by
narcissism, selfishness, and addiction. The most happy conversations are about business, and that goes for both the cops and the criminals. When someone does make some sort of emotional connection, they cling to it desperately like a drowning person to a thin thread.

For the rest, it's a life of quiet desperation in a city where millions dwell, but so few actually know each other.

On a technical level, the film is masterfully constructed, maintaining interest despite its long running time. Also the action scenes are a refreshing combination of realism and suspense that's missing from most movies these days, replaced by cartoonish over-the-top theatrics.

Overall the acting is excellent and low key, with Pacino only having a few instances of the histrionics that have come to define his career since Scent of a Woman.

So if you like crime films, complex plots, and well done action, then you really should add some Heat to your collection.

___________________________________
*Trivia note: Heat is actually a remake of an unsold TV pilot Michael Mann made in 1989 called LA Takedown.

Fun & Games: The Translation Game 2 (Answer Edition)

Oy gevalt!

Not one guess, let alone a winning one, for last week's edition of The Translation Game, I guess I made it a little too hard. So, here are the answers...

1. What makes? It goes behind man! That is to say to kill me at once that bad which can prove!

Dog Day Afternoon: What's he doing? Go back there man! He wants to kill me so bad he can taste it!

2. Reality is that we do not wash our own laundry - it receive more dirtily right.

Serpico: The reality is that we do not wash our own laundry - it just gets dirtier.

3. They have it with the original forces of nature, Mr Beale geeinmischt, and I do not have it. It is it free? They think that you stopped only one business agreement? That is not the case. The Arabs took billion dollars of this country, and now they must place it return. It is a low tide and a river, of tide revolved. It is an ecological balance. They are an old man who thinks expressed in the nations and the people. Do not give nations; do not give people. Do not give Russians. Do not give Arabs. There is no Third World. There is no west. There is only holistic one system of the systems; who, influencing is closely dependent, one on the other considerable one, multivaried, multinational capacity the dollar.

Network: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it. Is that clear? You think you've merely stopped a business deal? That is not the case. The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. It is ecological balance. You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations; there are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems; one vast, interwoven, interacting, multivaried, multinational dominion of dollars.

4. I made money sufficiently to satisfer my necessities and mine whims. I only make examination of such cases that keep while I interest, and I am legalizing, my interest for its in case that that he is, uh... that he diminishes.

Murder on the Orient Express: I have made enough money to satisfy both my needs and my caprices. I take only such cases now as interest me, and to be frank, my interest in your case is, uh... dwindling.

5. That what I would have to make are, they strike the fat bastard over the head with those macis here, then they bury it in a enough large hole in order to repair its bloat and then they transmit small its masterpiece outside under mine just name.


Deathtrap: What I should do is, beat the fat bastard over the head with that mace over there, then bury him in a hole big enough to accomodate his bloat, and then send his little masterpiece off under my own name.

Be sure to check out next Sunday when I will go a little bit easier on you folks.

Friday, 25 April 2008

TIME FOR THE ANSWERS!

Thanks to all the folks who left me questions. There were more than a few pate-puzzlers, but, as promised, I will answer them, or fake my way out of it.

Here we go...

Anonymous Kevin asked...
What is the best HD Camcorder for a Drama TV shows?
Hmmm. Okay, I'm not going to fake my way out of this one, and I'll freely admit that I'm not all that techno-skilled, but I can offer suggestions on how to find out. First, find an internet forum for cinematographers, they are out there. Join it, and read what they say about new digital technology. Also look up the trade journals for cinematographers. Or, find out what they're using on Doctor Who and Torchwood. They look pretty good for video.
I am thinking starting my own film studio on a tight budget. Do you have any good Ideas digital equipment at reasonable price?
Don Coscarelli's Bubba-Ho-Tep was allegedly edited on a Macintosh desktop with store bought editing software. So the means of professional looking production are becoming more and more affordable. Do what I suggested with digging up info on the HD cameras, except with post-production and editing gear.
How to do Producing and Directing for A Drama TV shows?
First: Hire an intelligent and experienced Production Manager (AKA Line Producer). The production manager is trained to study a script and figure out everything you need to get, who you need to hire, and where and when you can shoot your show. While this is going on the Producer works alongside the production manager to obtain money for the needed staff and equipment, while the Director works with the Production Manager to figure out how to best tell the story while filming it in the most efficient manner.
Have any body here work on a TV shows before?
I did a lot of ultra-low budget and student film work while studying in Toronto. Ironically I once played a Holocaust survivor for a TV documentary's re-enactment. I include the term "ironically" because I'm the last person you'd cast as a Holocaust survivor, so all you ever saw of me was my shadow.
What is a showrunner? What usually do their jobs entail?
The show-runner is the executive producer of a TV show. But all executive producers are not created equal. Some executive producers are the people who put up the money to develop the show, some are representatives from the network or studio, and some are just credited as executive producers because they won a piece of the show in a poker game.

The show-runner is the executive producer who handles the actual running of the show. He/she hires and fires the staff, cast, and crew, has final say on the scripts and story-lines, and usually acts as the show's head writer. He's assisted by other writer-producers, as well as the production manager to keep things running smoothly.
How to do Screenwriting for for Drama TV shows?
Now there are whole courses to teach you that. I suggest looking up some good screenwriting books, like Screenwriting by Richard Walter, Screenwriting 434 by Lew Hunter, and non-screenwriting books like The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri, The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, and On Writing by Stephen King. I would also suggest trying to get your hands on actual screenplays and teleplays. Avoid the books that screw around with the format, try to find books marked as the "shooting scripts" to show you what they look like.

Also check with the WGA to see if they still sell that booklet on screenplay/teleplay format. It's a real help to figure out format, and help you make better use of your computer's screenwriting program, which is pretty much an essential these days.

Some folks swear by Syd Field, but I could never afford one of his talks, but if he floats your boat, go for it.
What do you think of distributing company called Rocky Mountain Pictures?
I wish them luck. Film distribution is a nasty business that's been dominated to much by the big players, and needs some real competition for the good of the business.

Dark Eden asked...
Why hasn't a conservative (or libertarian in my case) alternative to Hollywood developed? Conservatives have lots of cash and lots of ideas, why can't the people with the cash get together with the people with the ideas and make some movies? I'm tired of whining about what Hollywood is doing, how do we put these people out of business by releasing a superior product?
Multiple reasons.

1. The movie business is a fiscal nightmare for all but the most courageous/litigious investors.

2. Any film made with an openly conservative/libertarian bent will be savaged by the press no matter how good or bad it really is.

3. The big boys who dominate the business makes it their business to crush any and all competition no matter how healthy competition helps the business as a whole.

Alex asked...
What sort of balance of movies would you like to see? As in: 10% high concept blockbusters, 5% character drama, 5% B-movies...
I try not to enforce any sort of formula on what movies are made. I just want good, entertaining movies made, whether or not they are high concept blockbusters or small character dramas.

Fletch asked...
If you have a milkshake, and I have a milk shake, how long does my straw have to be to drink yours up?
I heard your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. But I don't share, because I'm a bastard.
Whatever happened to John Hughes, really?
He's in my attic. I've tried to send him home, but he won't leave. He just sits there watching reruns of old sitcoms and popping bubble wrap. It's kinda sad, really.
Can you give me a proper explanation of Eraserhead?
The butler did it.
Beverly Hills : United States :: ?? : Canada?
Beverly Hills : United States :: Rosedale area of Toronto : Canada?
Why don't theaters sell DVDs? Or movie posters? (This one really baffles me, to the point where I want to buy a theater and do it myself.)
That could work, but the big-box stores would probably have a conniption fit.
If I want to make a low budget film, what's the best camera to purchase on a budget (that obviously still gives perfect hi-def results?
Look up my answers to Anonymous Kevin.

Thanks for your questions.

I hope my smug know-it-allness has illuminated and inspired you.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

For Your Consideration...

The Large Association of Movie Blogs (or LAMB) is holding their first ever Lammy Awards, and I would like to declare that I intend to shamelessly whore myself for as many Lammies as I can get.

So to any LAMB members that read this, VOTE EARLY, VOTE OFTEN, and most importantly VOTE FOR ME!

In the categories of:

Best Blog
Best Design
Best Running Feature:
-Hollywood Babble On & On
-Cinemaniacal
-Discount Bin Movie Club
-Or any of the many others.
Best Blog Name
Best Impression of Bob Dylan
Best Use of Widgetology

So remember LAMBs vote for Furious D, he's shameless.

And while you're here, don't forget to:

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #87: Beware the List! The List!

The Writer's Guild of America has released a list of people who went "fi-core" during the Writer's Strike. Fi-core writers basically acted outside the union's collective bargaining system to get their own contracts with the studios. To some they were just people struggling to survive in a dog eat dog business, and to others they were traitors to the cause of writers everywhere.

Now I'm not going to judge the folks on either side about why they did what they did, I'm sure they have their reasons, whether it was right or wrong is for history to decide. The decision I'm questioning here is about the publishing of the list of names.

It has a Joe McCarthy odour to it, and we all know how popular that was in Hollywood.

I know there's a lot of bad blood between the folks who took a financial and emotional beating during the strike, and the folks who tried to get out of it, but once the war is over it's time to bury your dead, not to start shooting again.

A good model to try is what South Africa after the fall of the Apartheid regime. The bad blood between blacks and whites in that country in the aftermath of decades of racist divisions and oppression makes the feeling between the unionists and fi-core look positively trivial. Now the old way dictated brutal and bloody revenge of those who had been wronged wreaked upon the wrongdoers. But that would have served no purpose at all except to transform a peaceful transition from oppression to real democracy into a civil war.

So they set up the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. There those who did wrong on both sides met with their victims, and they talked about what they did and how it affected the lives of those involved.

Guess what happened?

Civil war was averted, and South Africa is now one of the most functional democracies in Africa. They got a long way to go still, but they made a great first step.

That's what the Writer's Guild should do.

Have a meeting between fi-core and unionists, and hash out their differences. Both sides need to explain the reasons for their actions, no shouting down, no name calling, civility would be strictly enforced by a neutral third party until both sides understand each other and what they did during the strike.

If people can find common ground after blood, real human blood, has been shed, then I think a Hollywood's writers can set aside their relatively petty differences and do the same. It's not like anyone got killed during the strike, it shouldn't be that nasty.

Besides, you can order out for Chinese food. Nothing says reconciliation than a platter of dim sum.
___________________________

PS- Looks like my latest edition of the Translation Game was a little too tough. So I'm planting a hint to make it a little easier, I'm going to tell you what those films have in common.

Gotta question about pop culture and the business behind it: LEAVE IT HERE BEFORE THURSDAY @ MIDNIGHT and I'll either answer it, or fake it.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #86: Switching The Channels

Oy, the media world is getting confusing.

I guess to explain this story I have to start at the beginning.

In the beginning, there was Sumner Redstone. He was the majority shareholder and chairman of Viacom, who owned Paramount Pictures, MTV Networks, CBS, Showtime, and other media holdings.

One day. for various reasons, it was decided that Paramount and some of the channels split from CBS who held onto Showtime and some of the other channels, with the Viacom corporation being the majority shareholder of both.

Les Moonves was put in charge of the CBS company, and it was assumed that the CBS company would have good relations with the Paramount company.

Well you know what they say about assuming things?

When you ASSUME, all you do is make an ASS out of U and ME.

According to the oft cited Nikke Finke, Les Moonves the pupil in the CBS eye immediately started playing hardball over what Showtime would pay for the right to air Paramount movies.

Now Moonves has a point. Movies aren't all that big a draw for pay cable with their easy availability on DVD and upcoming download services, but I guess the folks at Paramount thought Moonves went a little too far, because they decided to start their own channel.

Paramount touched base with other disgruntled content providers MGM/UA and Lionsgate and recruited them to be junior partners in this new channel. The exact nature and content of this channel is all up in the air right now, but there are promises of new original programming.

Excuse me if I get a little wee bit cynical here.

There are a lot of channels out there, and a grievous drought of content for these channels, adding another one can only exacerbate the problem unless the companies involved boost their output exponentially and be patient enough to ride through the first few shaky years.

And this also does not bode well for Moonves.

It takes a rare gift to alienate one of Hollywood's more incestuous corporate relationships, and the loss of the movies and TV shows these companies produce is going to hurt CBS and Showtime. But I can see why Moonves decided to view Paramount as an rival than a relative, they were no longer part of the CBS family, and were outside the prevailing theory of media consolidation.

The theory of media consolidation is to do all creative endeavours in-house, to the barring of any outside involvement, to maximize profits, but that theory is essentially flawed.

All industry, television especially, requires competition, and the regular infusion of fresh people and ideas. When you consolidate everything in-house, you are essentially transferring creativity to internal corporate bureaucracies. Bureaucrats aren't interested in taking the sort of creative risks that bring in rich returns, they are interested only in maintaining their position with a minimum of risk or effort.

Under this mindset you get barraged with remakes, spin-offs, and rip-offs of older material, and the cheap reality shows that are themselves remakes, spin-offs, and rip-offs. As things progress quality suffers, quantity suffers, as productions are cut back, and then everything comes to the point of collapse.

Which is why I'm cynical of this new channel. Paramount's just as ossified as CBS, so there's the temptation to go the easy route and create yet another channel re-running The Hunt for Red October, and making low-rent reality shows staffed by washed up celebs working for food and a hammock behind the equipment truck.

I hope, and yes, hope springs eternal, that the folks behind this new channel take this as an opportunity to break the calcified mindset of modern media and take a chance for a change.
______________________________________

CLICK HERE TO PLAY THE TRANSLATION GAME

And it that ain't your bag...

Gotta question?

Then CLICK HERE and ask me, I'll either answer it, or fake it.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Fun & Games: The Translation Game 2

Hello it's time once again to play....

Today we have some real toughies for all you players out there.

The rules are simple. I've taken some lines and speeches from some famous films, and run them through the Babel Fish translator, some several times, until they are linguistic linguine. You have to identify what movies they come from to win a FABULOUS STUPENDOUS PRIZE!*

And there's a bonus game, all these quotes have something in common. Spot that commonality and win another FABULOUS STUPENDOUS PRIZE!**

So let's play the game!
1. What makes? It goes behind man! That is to say to kill me at once that bad which can prove!

2. Reality is that we do not wash our own laundry - it receive more dirtily right.

3. They have it with the original forces of nature, Mr Beale geeinmischt, and I do not have it. It is it free? They think that you stopped only one business agreement? That is not the case. The Arabs took billion dollars of this country, and now they must place it return. It is a low tide and a river, of tide revolved. It is an ecological balance. They are an old man who thinks expressed in the nations and the people. Do not give nations; do not give people. Do not give Russians. Do not give Arabs. There is no Third World. There is no west. There is only holistic one system of the systems; who, influencing is closely dependent, one on the other considerable one, multivaried, multinational capacity the dollar.

4. I made money sufficiently to satisfer my necessities and mine whims. I only make examination of such cases that keep while I interest, and I am legalizing, my interest for its in case that that he is, uh... that he diminishes.

5. That what I would have to make are, they strike the fat bastard over the head with those macis here, then they bury it in a enough large hole in order to repair its bloat and then they transmit small its masterpiece outside under mine just name.
So get working on it now.

HINT ALERT-HINT ALERT

Since you folks seem to be really suffering out there, I'm going to tell you what these quotes all have in common to make your task a little easier.

They all come from films directed by SYDNEY LUMET.

Now you can show your stuff!

___________________________

And if you have a question about movies, the movie business, or pop culture in general, CLICK HERE and leave your name and question, before next Thursday at Midnight, and I will answer it (or fake my way through it) next Friday!

*Fabulous stupendous prize does not exist.

**Neither does this one.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Ask Me A Question!

Since there seems to be a minor drought in Hollywood business-related idiocy lately, I've decided to let you ask me questions about movies, the movie business, or anything related to pop culture, and the business behind it.

Ask me anything, I'm a raging smug know-it-all, and I will either answer your question accurately, or I'll fake that I know what I'm talking about!

I'll be collecting questions all week and will be answering them sometime next Friday.

So get asking!

Addendum: When you leave a question, leave a name, even if it's a fake one, hell, some of my answers are going to be fake, so I won't be too picky. I just don't like calling everyone Anonymous.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #85: Patriot Games

The conservative film/news site Libertas put up a post today bemoaning the rather thin roster of celebrities volunteering to work for the USO entertaining American military personnel at home and overseas. In fact, Gary Sinise of CSI: NY seems to be carrying the bulk of it on his own back, and appearances from starlets like Scarlett Johansson* are few and far between.

Now the knee-jerk reaction is to say that Hollywood actors are just being left-wing yahoos, and there's a certain amount of truth to that theory. There are a lot of very vocal members of the Hollywood community who, if George W. Bush announced that he personally discovered a cure for cancer, would immediately form a "Coalition for Tumour Rights," and start waving signs declaring "Bush Lied Cancer Cells Died."

But that's not the whole story.

I think the main reason is a combination of fear and ignorance, and that combination is born from what I call the Great Divide.

The Great Divide is that ever growing space between the world of celebrity, where movie stars and media figures dwell, and the real world, where everyone else lives. The people in Hollywood have been growing increasingly isolated from the mainstream, mostly due to a siege mentality created by the 24/7 bottomless media chum bucket. They honestly don't know what the average moviegoer thinks and feels, and have forgotten that it is the audience that is the foundation of their industry.

They honestly believe that the media people who don't pay for their own movie tickets have more sway over the course of their career, than the people who actually pay the bills. And to a certain extent they're right. An actor's career can be temporarily hurt by negative media reaction to them, because the media and their management is just as isolated as they are, but it doesn't last, because if the audience likes an actor, they will break through.

But the average actor doesn't know that. They don't know that audience goodwill can keep their career alive, no matter if they get "red-listed" as a Republican by the chattering classes, and it scares the crap out of them.

Which brings me to a reason why they should be doing USO work.

Even if you absolutely hate President Bush, the Iraq War, or the entire American nation, and all you care about is your own career, volunteering for the USO is the smart thing to do. A celebrity's career is based on the goodwill of the audience, not the fawning attention of the corporate media elite.

There is no audience in the history of this planet more appreciative than a military audience far from home and stuck in a war zone. They remember the people who go out of their way to entertain them, and they repay loyalty with loyalty.

Look at the career of comedy legend Bob Hope, it literally lasted generations. He worked hard and made a lot of personal sacrifices to bring some lightness and laughter to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in hell holes around the world, during conflicts that make the current ones in Iraq and Afghanistan look like garden parties. He went above and beyond the call of an entertainer's duty because he loved and respected the soldiers as people and they repaid him with enough goodwill to power his career for decades.

But thanks to Hollywood's isolation from common people and common sense, fear of being snubbed by Sean Penn at the Oscar after-party, is outweighing not only their latent patriotism, but even their baser venality. And it's not only hurting the soldiers overseas, it's hurting Hollywood too.
_______________________________________
*Yes, I know I put up a picture of Scarlett Johansson over the hardworking Gary Sinise, but I like to think that Gary Sinise would prefer seeing Scarlett Johansson.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

All About Me: The Music Edition...

Now I know you all come to this site to partake of my vast wisdom and knowledge about the film industry, but I don't really talk much about myself. And since this is a blog and prone to the whims of my immense ego, I've decided to talk about something that really matters. Me.

This time, I'm going to talk my career in music.

Yes, I did have a career in music, a long one, and this is my fascinating story of a life in music.

It begins in the late 1950s. I had just lost my job as a badger rancher when I realized that badgers do not make good pets, what with the psychopathic violence and all, and I needed a new career.

I got my start playing piano at the Leaky Tiki Lou
nge, a Hawaiian themed bar renowned for the fact that it had the leakiest roof in the Poconos. My music was considered perfect for bars and lounges because it seemed to drive people to drink.

One night I was discovered by a liquor company executive who envisioned my liver burning brand of smooth experimental jazz playing in every bar in the world. He financed my first album.

The album sold well to bars all over the world, though the staff did require to wear earplugs, for fear of drinking the profits, and it won the coveted Silver Liver Sliver at the International Wine & Spirits Convention in the Catskills.

That went on for a few years. But my music was overshadowed by the prevalence of Rock & Roll.

And since I've always been willing to whore myself, artistically that is, I jumped right into it feet first.


Then I realized that you need to play the guitar with your hands, not feet. And I released my first rock & roll album: Wanna Pluck My Twanger?

That album earned me a Tin record and a spot in the record books for the most times a performer has been slapped, punched or kicked when asked the title of his album. In fact, it's been credited with inspiring the British Invasion. John Lennon and Paul McCartney heard it and were inspired to form their own band. I think the exact term they used was: "We could do better than this shit." Which I think is his way of expressing his admiration.

Rock and roll changed and I changed with it. Looking for a new challenged I joined a group of trippy acid dropping toke-smoking hippie musicians named Psychedelicatessen out of the lesser known Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood of Moncton.Our self-titled debut album premiered at #76 on the Bulgarian pop-charts. Apparently all copies were purchased by interrogators with the Secret Police, but hey a sale is a sale.

Sadly, after our attempt to play Woodstock ended in a brawl, and drummer Gunther Farfignuggen getting his ass kicked by Joni Mitchell, I left the band...

....left, fired... it's all really the same. I was itching to try new things, and it was probably that itch that made me tell Joni that Gunther thought she was fat.

I joined a pair of struggling folk musicians named Crosby and Nash to experiment with a new sound I called "Gangsta Folk."
Our cowardly record label rejected my proposed album title of Folk All You Motherfolkers, and just called it after the band. It was soon after the album's release that I realized that David Crosby and Bing Crosby were two completely different people.

Disappointed I decided to go solo again.
I've always considered The Wet Album my masterpiece. It's unique blend of free jazz, seagull squawks, and white noise was praised by the American Psychiatric Association as a more human alternative to lobotomies.

This record of my performance of at the Blue Ballroom at the Lake Flaccid Motor Lodge at Intercourse, Pennsylvania, has the unique distinction of not only being condemned by critics, but also every major religion, political party, and social organisation.
My next solo album Can I Borrow A Feelin'? had a more relaxed country sound due to my being deeply relaxed, thanks to my addiction to valium, percodan, percoset, novocaine, aspirin, bennies (as in Hill & Hana), quaaludes, alcohol, fire, ice cream, and toad licking.

In fact, I needed to borrow a feeling, because I had completely lost my sense of touch, smell, and taste, especially in groupies, and even more so in music as seen by this now forgotten funk album from 1972...
For some reason people didn't want to partake in a funky dance that involved giving your partner the plague. Excuse me for being scientifically accurate.

But I hadn't hit rock bottom yet.

My albums were still selling well in countries with low levels of English comprehension and high levels of tone-deafness. So my fame was seen as the shot in the arm that my old associates at Psychedelicatessen needed.
The band was re-formed as Furious D featuring Psychedelicatessen, and our album Funky See-Funky Do, hit Gold in Kazakhstan.

But things were about to take a turn for the worst....
I sort of feel responsible for the deaths of my old friends in Psychedelicatessen, partly because I cut the brake line on their tour bus when they fired me again, but mostly because I never told them how I really felt about them, mostly loathing. Still, it gave me a great album of what I call memorial disco that went platinum in Burma.
I went back to my experimental jazz-lounge roots, and melding it with disco, and although the album didn't sell very well, I did get an award from the Sweaty Hirsute Fetishists Society of Pomona.

Disco had died, and I took a moment from my narcotic haze to form a new band with the new sound of New Wave.Too bad it was 1986 and New Wave was dead too.

I was no longer making trends, but following them, long after they were dead and buried.

Now I had figuratively hit rock bottom.

I later hit rock bottom literally when I fell down a well, but that's another story.

When I got out of rehab and physiotherapy I tried to rebuild my shattered career, with a new album, a new sound, and a new look.
Sales of my blend of Latin beats and German industrial music were poor, selling only to radical church groups who claimed to use the cover picture to "cure" Gay men straight.
Awful by name, awful by nature, the less said about this album the better.

But a new sound had caught my ear, and it nested in there like a parasitic insect laying eggs in my brain. That music was rap. I was briefly a member of NWA, but the label made them drop me, because they thought a white man playing the bagpipes wasn't "street" enough. So I went solo...
Hip-Vibe Magazine voted me the "Whitest Rapper of All Time." Take that Vanilla Ice you punk-ass imitator. I was back on top of the charts again in Papua-New Guinea, Outer Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and Slightly to the Left Mongolia.

I decided to spread some of this success around, not in my usual form of STDs and paternity lawsuit payoffs, but by helping other untalented white rappers make it. So I formed a new group, the 2 Cool 4 U Crew with Eugene "White Chocolate" Olaffson, 5th wife Hildegarde "Ho In One" Hassenfeffer, and author, MC, DJ, and ukulele maestro John "Uke 'til U Puke" Updike.
Despite the success of the 2 Cool 4 U Crew in Cambodia, and our wildly popular tour of Lichtenstein, I had reached the limits rap could do and wanted to get back to basics. Plus Hildegarde got custody of Updike and White Chocolate in the divorce. It was time to get back to rock and roll.
I formed a new band with 7th wife Imogene Popanfresh, the former Miss Dental Hygiene UK, and bassist and drummer brothers Clyde and Otis Tubthumper to start the Furious D Band.

While Seattle was going Grunge, we went in a new direction called Sponge Rock. It was a clean looking band with filthy lyrics lying beneath the soft squishy music like fecal coliform bacteria on a kitchen sponge.

Folks, Imogene included, didn't really get the sound, or noise as most described it and she left me for the Tubthumper Brothers and formed a new band without me called The Smashing Pumpkins. But they got sued by another, already famous, band with the same name.

It was then that I realized that the music biz was just a horrible bitch goddess that ate souls for breakfast, lunch and supper, so I decided to look into a business where they treat people right.

The movie business.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Are Sci-Fi Fans The Best Fans?

A blogger for The Guardian seems to think so.

Read it, absorb it, and let me know what you think.

I only managed to attend one small "con" so I can't be an accurate judge, but I did meet a comic book store clerk who bore an eerie resemblance to Vampirella.

So leave your thoughts in the comments.

Hollywood Babble On & On #84: No New Line No Never No More

Looks like New Line Cinema, the company that I tried to save for the past few months is well and truly sunk. First came some massive layoffs, and it looks like there are more on the way.

Well, I must say that it's a shame, and if anyone from Time Warner is reading this, and I know you're out there, I think it's a mistake.

Yes, some heads had to roll, but I think that the only heads that really needed rolling, were the heads of the company.

Does that make any sense to you?

I've always advocated that the company be spun off. Get some desperately needed new managerial blood, new investment partners, and set it up as an independent producer and domestic distributor with Warner Bros. retaining 30-40% ownership to guarantee a first-look / first-refusal deal for foreign distribution and television rights.

But, judging from the way the axe is swinging I guess nobody's listening to this voice in the wilderness.

Now there are folks who are wondering if it's good business to literally create a competitor.

Well, it is when you're in the movie business.

The core of the film business is the making and marketing of movies and television shows for profit. However, in the age of media consolidation the core business for these companies have become acquiring more companies, especially media outlets, while reducing the output of content for these outlets.

There's something I call the Law of Consolidation. Each film studio, no matter how big, can only produce so much original content, and each studio has its own mindset concerning what kind of content that is. So when a bunch of smaller companies get swallowed by the bigger one, suddenly the amount of fresh content produce plummets.

That's why I can't turn on TBS/Peachtree TV without seeing the Austin -frikkin'- Powers trilogy playing on a pretty much weekly basis. I enjoyed the first two films, now I won't even look at the third one, because their constant presence on TV has made me sick of the whole franchise.

The immense size of these corporations also make them slow to react to changing trends and times. There's nothing more pathetic than seeing a movie, constructed from focus groups, trying to cash in on a trend that was over 6 months before the film was even given the green-light.

That's not healthy for the movie business.

It's not healthy for any business.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #83: D-Sop's Fables...

There's a lot of chatter and debate going on about the turf battles between the performer unions SAG, and AFTRA, and within SAG itself over the "qualified voting" issue. Now I'm not going to pass judgements on the merits or demerits of any side, I'll leave that to people on the inside of the issue.

However, I have composed a happy little fable to offer my opinion on the divisions itself.
A short time ago in the relatively close Kingdom of Egonia Two brothers, Jack and Zack were going to the town of Narsissa to earn money to buy food, but to get to town they needed to cross Piranha Pond.

Now they had crossed treacherous Piranha Pond many times, using their rowboat. However, they're boat wasn't very well designed. It needed both of them to get it into the water, and once on the water, on had to steer from the back of the boat, while the other rowed and looked out for floating logs ridden by ill tempered feces hurling monkeys.

Normally Zack steered, while Jack rowed and watched out for trouble, but today, as they stood on the shore of the pond, Jack decided that he wanted to steer instead.

Zack was about to agree when a piranha poked its head out of the water and whispered: "What kind of a crap idea is that? You're the best steerer."

Another piranha poked its head out of the water and whispered to Jack: "Don't take any crap from Zack, he thinks you're too dumb to steer."

Suddenly, what could have been a civilized discussion ended up in a big brouhaha. Insults were exchanged, feces were thrown, and then came the punching.

"That's it," declared Jack, his nose bloody, "you can row and steer the boat yourself, I'm going to swim across the pond!"

"Oh yeah," said Zack, his nose just as bloody as his brother's, "Betcha I can swim across faster."

Both brothers dove into Piranha Pond, and were promptly eaten. Their now empty skulls floated to the surface, where they were retrieved by log riding monkeys who used them for target practise until they were buried under a mound of dung as high as a Malibu beach-house.

And the lesson is, don't fight in front of the piranhas or you're both going to be eaten alive and in deep shit.
Thus endeth the lesson.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Fun & Games: The Translation Game

It's time to play!Here are the rules.

I've taken some classic movie quotes and run them through the Babel-Fish translator into foreign languages and then back to English, mangling them thoroughly.

Identify the movie the quote came from in the comments, be sure to leave a name for yourself, and you will win a MASSIVE INCREDIBLE PRIZE*!!

SO LET'S PLAY THE GAME!

1. "Fixed yours seatbelts. It is going to be one irregular night ."

2. "Round raising those upward usual suspected."

3. "Which we here have. is to be been located to disturbance in connection."

4. "I will introduce one proposed that it cannot refuse."

5. "When you must draw, to draw. You do not communicate."
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*Prize does not exist.
UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER

Dark Eden handily won the first round of The Translation Game and won our glorious non-existent prize with these answers!

1. "Fixed yours seatbelts. It is going to be one irregular night ."

Fasten your seatbelts. Its going to be a bumpy night. - - All About Eve

2. "Round raising those upward usual suspected."

Round up the usual Suspects - Casablanca

3. "Which we here have. is to be been located to disturbance in connection."

What we have here is a failure to communicate. -- Cool Hand Luke

4. "I will introduce one proposed that it cannot refuse."

I'll make him an offer he can't refuse. - Godfather

5. "When you must draw, to draw. You do not communicate."

When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk. -- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Give a round of applause for Dark Eden!

And be sure to check out next Sunday with more obscure quotes that have been run through the translation wringer!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #82: Live Nude Girls / Dead Movie Career

The gossip and movie sites are all abuzz about Lindsay Lohan's insistence on doing a nude scene in an independent film thinking it would revive her stagnant career and get her "respect" as an mature actress.

The question: Will the nude scene jump-start her career?

The answer: No.

Now some may ask: Jodie Foster did nudity in The Accused, and it boosted her career from former child star to mature movie star and won her an Academy Award, so why not Lohan?

Because Jodie Foster already had an Academy Award nomination under her belt, as well as a reputation from her days as a child star as a hard worker who did what she believes best for the part. Also, the film was a gritty drama about sexual violence, not a cheap attempt at trading titillation for publicity.

Lohan on the other hand has a reputation for unreliability, addictive behaviour, and shameless pandering for media attention.

See the difference?

Plus, the prurient attraction of an actress doing a nude scene that actually is intended to titillate is an element of erotic mystery on the part of the actress.

Thanks to Lohan's questionable fashion / lifestyle choices and the internet, there is no mystery to anyone on this planet except for a Kazakhstani goatherd named Ughash who is too cheap to upgrade from his dial-up connection to DSL.

There's a second question...

Okay, so she's been to rehab, Robert Downey Jr. had a terrible drug problem and not only is he still working, he's on the verge of a jump to the A-List this summer, why not Lohan?

It all boils down to what I think Hollywood is not paying enough attention to.

Goodwill.

I don't recall hearing anything about Robert Downey Jr. behaving badly on set, or being anything other than as professional a man in his condition could be. He didn't get a reputation for being spoiled, troublesome brat who would show up late for work, if at all, endangering the schedule, and thus the livelihoods of cast-mates and crew because he was partying all night.

His problems were destroying him all right, but he wasn't actively trying to take everyone else down with him.

And his struggle to get clean, and get back to work was positively heroic. When completion bond companies gave him grief, he didn't whine about it, he accepted the things that he could not change, and changed the things he could by working like a mule. That dedication to his health and his work won him a hell of a lot of goodwill not only with his Hollywood colleagues, but with the audience as well. People rooted for him, and now it seems that he's going to have one hell of a summer, and folks feel he deserves it, because he earned it.

Lohan on the other hand, seems to want things quick and easy. She thinks that constant attention will keep her a star, when it was the constant attention of her obnoxious antics was what ruined her career in the first place.

What could Lohan do to revive her career?

First, sell everything, the houses, cars, anything for a cash nest-egg.

Get the hell out of the greater Los Angeles area.

Get clean, for real, and give up partying.

Give up the skanky public behaviour that made her a tabloid darling.

Find a place where she could study acting, out of the public eye. Maybe do off-Broadway theatre, indie films, and work, work, work like that proverbial mule.

It's the only way to beat the image she has an unreliable, addled, party skank.

And she has to commit to it, 110%.

No half measures, because real stardom, where the audience loves them for being a star, not for the bitchy schadenfreude of watching their fall, is something that has to be earned the hard way.

It's the only way.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Woe Canada: Cry Me A Tax Credit...

Pity the poor Canadian film industry.

It doesn't know the meaning of the word "censorship" anymore.

This week the actress Sarah Polley, who was nominated for an Oscar for adapting the screenplay to Away From Her this past year, but was actually seen by paying customers in the movie remake of Dawn of the Dead, went to the Canadian Senate to decry Bill C-10.

Bill C-10 is a government motion that withholds federal tax credits from film/TV productions that the Canadian government finds "contrary to public policy."

Now Canada's "stars" and filmmakers are screaming "Censorship!!" because they can't get tax credits for their three hour epic musical about incest and necrophilia featuring a choir of singing anuses.*

Now, it has fallen upon me to explain the way of the world.

I guess the best explanation comes from Tom Stoppard, who in a recent reminiscence of 1968 told the story of a group of radical students who were screaming "censorship" because a newspaper declined to run their manifesto on its front page. Stoppard made a very telling distinction:

"That's not censorship, that's editing."

Censorship is when the government forces people by law to not say or publish certain things.

Editing is when an entity or organisation simply refuses to put its money and effort into something it does not want. The Canadian public does this every day when they refuse to pay money to see Canadian movies.

Of course that's the way an logical organisation, be it private, or government, acts.

And we're talking about the Canadian film industry here, where logic is in even shorter supply than in Hollywood.

I guess the best analogy for the behaviour of Canada's stars is that of a spoiled 4 year old who stamps their feet and holds their breath in anger, because Daddy won't buy them new crayons. Sure, all the 4 year old does with the crayons is scrawl the word "poopy" on the wall, flush some down the toilet, and throw the rest at neighbourhood pets, but damn it, they want more crayons and they must get more crayons or Daddy is worse than Hitler!

Accusations of censorship always worked in the past. In the past Canadian governments were centred around the province of Ontario, and Canada's largest city: Toronto, which also housed the Canadian Film/TV industry. Those governments folded faster than The Flash on laundry day whenever Canada's cinema brats threatened to play the "censorship" card. Because being called a censor would get you stricken off the guest list of Toronto's nicer parties and film festivals where the occasional real star from Hollywood might show up.

But like all things, they changed.

Canada's current government is not centred around Toronto, it doesn't care what the Toronto media elite think of them, because since they are the Conservative Party, nothing they do will ever be accepted by them, so they aren't going to cave in.

And it's all the Canadian film industry's fault.

I've written before how Canadian Film/TV has repeatedly squandered opportunities, and has become a narrow-minded, inbred clique that's become so dependent on state handouts they honestly think that state funding is their natural birthright, simply for being part of the "in-crowd." As a local Member of Parliament declared shortly before being ousted: "I am entitled to my entitlements."

Well, the real world doesn't work that way.

You can't force people to read, listen to, or watch, what they don't want.

And you certainly can't demand that they pay for it, and threaten to call them names if they don't.

That's just childish.



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*I am not exaggerating, just combining certain Canadian films.