Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #544: GEEK ALERT!!

Welcome to the show folks...

It's a geek-a-rama kind of post this time, so let's get going...

WONDER WOMAN OR BLUNDER WOMAN?

DC Comics has once again embraced the "change for the sake of change" philosophy and rearranged their classic character Wonder Woman with a new look, and a reworked back-story. So in case you haven't seen it yet, here it is:
My reaction: Feh.

I mean it looks like they dug up a rejected idea from the 1990s that was going to be called
Wonder Woman: EXTREME! and just shaved off the spikes, pouches, and over-sized high-tech looking guns.

It's not the first time they fiddled with this character. In the 1970s DC assigned comics legend Denny O'Neill to "update" the character to make her in tune with the times. This reboot essentially took away all her powers, her magical weapons, and just about everything else that made her unique, especially the original book's fascination with bondage, and tried to revamp her as a Mrs. Peel type spy/vigilante using gadgets, guns, martial arts and a white polyester jumpsuit to smack around the bad guys. It almost killed the character's sales, and they had to eventually revert back to her roots.

Which is probably what will happen again now.

The "classic" Wonder Woman look is too ingrained in the zeitgeist to get rid of completely. There are just too many facets of its marketing that's dependent on that look for this one to stick around for very long. A classic character's design can be modified gradually, something that has actually happened over the decades to Wonder Woman, but not completely overhauled in one go. Usually such radical changes aren't natural and evolutionary, but are done to justify the existence of someone in a position of authority.

Plus, when heterosexual comic geeks start saying that the boobs are too big, they are
waaaay too big.

What do you think about the new Wonder Woman?

DEPP WHO?

There's a rumor going around that American movie star Johnny Depp is going to play the title character in a big screen version of venerable British science fiction franchise Doctor Who.

For those who don't their who from what, I'll do a little explaining. Doctor Who is a TV series that first started in the 1960s and is about the last Time Lord, a very ancient alien called The Doctor (his real name is never revealed) from the planet Gallifrey. The Doctor has a vehicle called the TARDIS (for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) which looks like an old British police box from the outside, but appears near infinite on the inside. (It looks like a police box because of a malfunctioning camouflage circuit)

The Doctor uses the Tardis to take him, and a usually young attractive female companion from the planet Earth, to wander through time and space, battling aliens, monsters, and megalomaniacs.

Now the Doctor has been played by 11 actors over the years. This is explained by something his species can do called "regeneration." When a Time Lord dies, he is reborn with a new face, body, and even a slightly different personality. This became a necessity when the first Doctor William Hartnell's health started to fail, leaving him unable to continue, but the BBC didn't want to cancel the show.

It chugged along well into the late 1980s, but budget cuts, changing attitudes at the BBC, and a dip in the ratings killed the show. There was an attempt to revive it in the 1990s with an Fox-Universal TV-BBC co-production shot in Vancouver, but it never got past the pilot movie.

The BBC decided to revive it as a series, and hired writer Russel T. Davies to oversee it. This revival, with actor Christopher Eccleston doing the first season as the 9th Doctor, was a monstrous global hit. The show stayed a hit through 10th Doctor David Tennant and Matt Smith who just wrapped his first season as the 11th Doctor and a new executive producer named Steve Moffat.

Now this rumored project isn't the first attempt to put the Doctor and his Tardis on the big screen. The mid-1960s there were 2 movies made with actor Peter Cushing as Doctor Who. Except the film's producers wanted time travel, and the show's perennial villains the Daleks, but they dropped everything else about the character. Making him an Earthling inventor of a time machine named Who, instead of an alien with a stolen ship and a name that's kept secret from everyone. They're not considered canon by fans, and viewed more as curiosities than classics.

So let's look at the pros and cons of a big budget Hollywood version of Doctor Who.

PROS:

-Johnny Depp is a very good actor with a solid record of memorable and original performances in big budget fantasy extravaganzas.

-Fans would love to see their favorite character on the big screen, and a movie could expand that fandom to others.

CONS

-Johnny Depp has a lot of baggage as a 'movie star' taking this role. I find that the best "Doctors" are the ones that make you either go "Who is that guy?" or "Why on Earth did they cast him?" For some reason the factor of surprise seems to work in casting this character.

-The fundamental theme of The Doctor is loss. He's lost everything and everyone he's ever been connected to. He lost his family, his planet, his people, and just about every companion has either left him, or been dumped back home. He keeps picking up and dumping losing companions because he can't bear to be alone, but also can't bear to have these mere mortals face the same dangers as him. That works in a series when you have time for attachments to form, and then be broken for great emotional effect, but can you do it in a feature film.

-I'm pretty sure a major studio would balk at doing a Doctor Who movie without trying to drastically change The Doctor. He balks at using guns, contrasting the default position of the classic movie hero, but he's committed genocide multiple times over the course of the show. (He's even destroyed his fellow Time Lords and burned his home planet to a cinder) I'm not sure a Hollywood studio can accept this kind of character without trying to re-mold him in the image of something more marketing friendly.

What do you think: Do you think it's a good idea for Doctor Who to hit the big screen with a big star, or would you rather he just stay a TV series?

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #543: Shrinking-Growing

Welcome to the show folks....

2 stories today, one about shrinking, one about growing, read carefully, because this material is going to be on the exam.

THE SHRINKING STORY

It's beginning to look like film financier Spyglass Entertainment is in the lead to take the leadership of the debt crippled MGM Pictures. Now normally I'd be happy to see someone taking an interest in doing something with MGM, but I'm not quite so sure now.

The reason why is talk that Spyglass is looking to turn MGM into just a production company, and dump its marketing and distribution capabilities completely.

I just have one thing to say...

THAT DON'T MAKE NO SENSE!

Spyglass is already a production company, turning MGM into one will reduce the already minuscule company to just a name and a logo that doesn't sell as well as it used. The one thing MGM has going for it was that it could get movies on screens. The trouble was that it didn't have the movies to put on those screens. When I first heard that Spyglass was interested in running MGM I thought:
A-ha, they're tired of being jerked around by their distributors and want to be masters of their domain. Yet here they are dropping this damp turd of an idea.

But before I condemn it any further, let's look at the pros and cons.

PROS

-Marketing and distribution is expensive, and the money saved by dumping those departments can be put on paying off MGM's massive debt.

CONS

-Getting another company to market/distribute films for a fee is also expensive, a lot of the time much more expensive than doing it themselves. Any savings made by dropping the Marketing and Distribution departments will probably be lost very quickly.

-Getting money out of distributors is a pain in the ass. They take a long time, they fiddle with the numbers to bleed production companies out of every nickel and dime they can. It's the nature of the beast.

-Getting the best treatment for your movies out of a distributor that is essentially a competitor is not always guaranteed. They aren't going to burn the sort of calories that a company that's fully invested in the film will do.

Now that the pros and cons have been weighed, you are now free to condemn the idea as being a big steaming pile.

THE GROWING STORY

Elizabeth Murdoch (daughter of Rupert) and her Shine Group just keeps on growing. They recently added comedy producer Brown Eyed Boy Productions to their roster which also includes Kudos, Firefly, and Princess Productions, as well as the Reveille company from the USA.

The recipe for Shine's success is to make partnerships with successful producers that gives them the resources and
infrastructure they need to grow, but otherwise leaving them alone as long as they keep making money.

I think that it's only a matter of time
before Shine starts looking across the pond at the USA. It's a big market, and it already buys a lot of their programming, and it's always been the land of opportunity.

If they keep growing at this rate, they might be able to afford a run at MGM some day, if it survives.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #542: Will Marvel TV Be Marvelous?

Welcome to the show folks...

Marvel, hot from the success of some of their movie properties, have decided to expand into TV, and have tapped TV and comic book writer Jeph Loeb to head up the effort.

I think it's a good idea. Not every Marvel character has the cachet needed to carry a $100+ million budget big screen release, but they might just click on the small screen. As I wrote about DC's Jonah Hex, it failed as a big fantastical movie, but it could have had a good healthy life as a more down to Earth and gritty TV series on a cable outlet like HBO.

It also gives the people making the shows the chance to work on the longer, more involved, story arcs that you can't do in the uncertain world of big budget movies. Situations where hundreds of millions of dollars to make a trilogy with one continuous story arc are extremely rare. Usually you much need decades of fan anticipation to guarantee that sort of situation, like
The Lord of the Rings, because without it, the risks are just too great.

Television is different. If you have a full season order, you have 22-26 episodes where you can play with longer sub-plot story-lines, while still being able to do one and done episodes.

I wish them good luck with this, because they're going to need it. TV networks are as bad, if not worse than dealing with the studios, so it's going to take a lot of brains and diplomacy to pull this off.

So here's some advice on handling these sorts of shows:

1. Keep the core fans on your side. Does anyone remember the CBS series The Amazing Spider-Man from the late 1970s? I do, because I actually first saw it from a hospital bed right after a spinal tap, which tends to be a day you never really forget. Despite decent ratings it was canceled and pretty much instantly forgotten by anyone who didn't have a spinal tap that day. Why? Well, the official reason was that CBS had 2 other super-hero shows and dropped Spider-Man and Wonder Woman and kept The Incredible Hulk, because they didn't want to called the Super-Hero Channel at the network playground. Personally, if they made me money, I'd say screw it, but that's me.

However, the main reason it didn't survive was because the hard-core comics fans couldn't work up enough passion to make them fight the network for it.

Why?

Because the show's producers decided to drop Mary Jane, all of the super-villains, and they even made J. Jonah Jameson pleasant.

So they took a character, but removed pretty much all the drama and conflict that made that character interesting. Not a good strategy if your going to get the core fans passionate about the show, and hopefully bring new ones to the printed product.

2. Have a plan for the show. The problem that sank the similarly themed Heroes was that its creators didn't have a single clue what to do after the first season. If you're going to do a science-fiction/fantasy/superhero themed television show, you must need a plan. You must chart out a plan for each season before a damn thing is shot, yet remain flexible enough to handle things like cast changes, and other situations my grandfather dubbed "the imponderables" that tend to pop up.

3. Plan the ending. Not only must you plan the show's story-lines, you have to plan for an ending. I suggest aiming for seven seasons maximum, it's a good run, gives you a healthy syndicated rerun package, affordable box-set packages, and allows you to wrap up before the actors become too old for the action, and the plots slip into self-parody, grasping at straws trying to keep the damn thing alive for one more year.

Those are my suggestions. Does anyone else have any suggestions for Marvel's TV division?

Hollywood Babble On & On #541: An Unsolved Mystery

Welcome to the show folks...

Some folks are touchy when it comes to their favorite movie stars. I made one little comment about actress Jennifer Aniston's status as a box-office draw at Deadline: Hollywood, and got some pretty passionate rebuttals from her most ardent publicists fans.

Basically I said that the producers of an upcoming
film called Horrible Bosses which features Aniston were making a smart move surrounding her with other name actors, which was done by the producers of He's Not That Into You. Well, that really got the dander up for some people who went on to take me to task for belittling the awesome stardom of the former cast-member of Friends.

Well, I thought, this must be what her fans are doing instead of buying tickets to her movies, because I've taken a look at Jennifer Aniston's actual box office stats. Despite being outnumbered, she isn't completely without money-makers, so I've compiled a list of her biggest movies, how much they made and why they made so much money:


Bruce Almighty Uni. $242,829,261

Her single biggest hit. Owes most of its success to the fact that Jim Carrey was one of the hottest properties in movie comedy at the time.

Marley and Me Fox $143,153,751
It was about a cute, rambunctious, dog that (SPOILER ALERT) dies. I didn't even know Aniston was in the film until I saw it on the list at Box Office Mojo.

The Break-Up Uni. $118,703,275
Put Vince Vaughn in a comedy and you're pretty much guaranteed anywhere between $70-$100 million at the domestic box-office. The sad part, at least for Aniston, was that her role could have been cast with any number of actresses, and still perform about the same.

He's Just Not That Into You WB (NL) $93,953,653
This movie pretty much had every actor working in Hollywood. Poor Jen was just a face in a big crowd when it came to selling the film.

Along Came Polly Uni. $88,097,164
It was a Ben Stiller comedy released at a time when Ben Stiller comedies pretty much averaged that gross. Pretty much the same situation as with The Break-Up.

As for the films that are marketed as Jennifer Aniston star vehicles, things aren't so rosy. They range from romantic comedies, to "gimme an Oscar" indie films, and the biggest of them was The Bounty Hunter at $66 million. That's not bad at first glance, until you remember that it had a $40 million production budget and about the same, or more, spent on prints and advertising. Then you're looking at a loss of about $20 million. That's story's repeated with almost every film, with the biggest raking up $20-$40 million, but usually falling shy of profitability or even breaking even.

So why does she continue to get so much attention and big movie roles when she's not a safe bet as a ticket seller?

The answer is simple, it's because she gets so much attention.

I don't think a week passes without her appearing on some magazine cover, or entertainment show with an "exclusive" shared only with 20 other media outlets, whining about her fizzled failure of a love life. The tabloids also take turns speculating and circulating rumors about her reuniting with ex-husband Brad Pitt behind the back of his current squeeze Angelina Jolie, and these get to the level of a feeding frenzy whenever she has a movie coming out.

It helps get her work, because studios think that anyone that gets that much coverage must be a big star, but it also keeps her from being a really bankable star. Basically the people who buy these rags to read about her getting dumped, again, and watch her whine about her need for privacy on her 15th exclusive TV interview that week, are pretty much sick of the sight of her when it comes to buying a ticket.

That's what I think. What do you think?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Discount Bin Film Club: Alfresco!

Welcome to the show folks...

I think this is the first time I've discussed a TV show here at the Discount Bin Film Club, but it's my blog, my rules. Now if you're a regular reader of this blog, as I'm sure you are, I posted a video on June 19th of a sketch from the show Alfresco, and asked you to spot the Oscar winner.

Today I'm going to talk about how I stumbled onto that sketch.

I like to drop in on one of the local discount stores because they have a wildly varied discount video rack. It carries everything from the expected direct to DVD flicks, surplus copies of big studio films, and the occasional foreign chestnut. One such chestnut was a box set of the complete series of Alfresco for $9.99 Canadian.

Alfresco the series marked some of the earliest TV work of head writer/co-star Ben Elton (co-writer Blackadder/Mr. Bean), Hugh Laurie (A Bit of Fry & Laurie/House), Stephen Fry (A Bit of Fry & Laurie/Kingdom), Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Howard's End/ Sense & Sensibility), Robbie Coltrane (Cracker), Siobhan Redmond (Between The Lines) and in the pilot Paul Shearer (The Fast Show).

But first a little history...

In the beginning, it started with the explosion of Britain's Alternative Comedy scene in the early 1980s. These comedians broke away from the set-up/punchline formula that dominated British comedy of the post Python era and tried to recapture the absurdity of Monty Python with a new, more "rattle the cages" almost punk do it yourself sensibility.

This explosion lead to comedian Rik Mayall being offered a sketch show by Britain's ITV. He brought on his university friend Ben Elton as head writer, then he dropped out for another job.

With commitments made ITV then recruited a replacement cast literally straight from Footlights Club of Cambridge who were hot from an award winning run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and a hit comedy recording called The Cellar Tapes. They were former Footlights president Hugh Laurie, his then girlfriend & Footlights co-star Emma Thompson, his writing partner Stephen Fry, actress Siobhan Redmond, and comedian Paul Shearer.

Now the commitment wasn't for much, chiefly 3 pilot episodes to be only aired in Britain's northwest under the title There's Nothing To Worry About. The show performed well enough for ITV to commission a 7 episode series to be named Alfresco.

The series was called Alfresco because it was shot mostly on location, instead of a stage in a TV studio, and Shearer was replaced by Robbie Coltrane. Shearer wasn't completely gone though, because ITV recycled much of the material from the 3 pilot episodes in the first season of the show.

Now let's get on to the review. The box contains 2 discs, #1 has the first "series" and Disc #2 has the second series as well as the three pilot episodes.

The first series is a little rough. The performances are good, and the scripts clever, but the directing is a tad all over the place, lacking the sharp creative focus that filming sketch comedy needs. Some of the sketches don't work at all, more concerned with making some sort of then relevant point rather than making a laugh. Other sketches run well, but don't end, they just sort of stop. However that doesn't mean that the show is bad. Some of the material is hilarious, and some pieces like the recurring "Mr. Baker & Mr. Butcher" conversations are near masterpieces of nonsensical wordplay.

The second series is much tighter. The sketches are shorter, the "look at me being dark and rebellious" factor is downplayed in favor of delivering the funny. However, one new factor are bits between the sketches set at the blatantly fake "Pretend Pub," where the cast play various British stereotypes from the foppish egocentric aristocrat, the Thatcherite "barrow boy," to lowly, occasionally Marxist lower classes. They serve more to make a statement on the inanity of most sitcoms than as stand alone comedy material. In fact, they struck me as being a reaction to some notes from a network executive to make the show more "sitcom-like." A sort of "we'll give you a sitcom that you can stick in your pipe and smoke it" kind of reaction. Still, the sketches are solid, fast paced, and most important, mostly still funny.

They aren't as many recurring bits or characters in the second series. One of the few though are these skits where Emma Thompson is on the phone, and we only hear her side of the conversation. They cover everything from bad jobs, infidelity, to finding out your mother is a serial killer. Now she plays different characters each time, but they all carry the same basic attitude and dry nasal voice.

This box set is definitely for people, who:
  1. Love sketch comedy.
  2. Love British sketch comedy.
  3. Study how sketch comedy is made.
  4. Remember the early 1980s as sort of a sketch golden age. (Especially if you're Canadian & getting a steady diet of Canadian, British, and American sketch material warping your child-like mind.)
  5. Like seeing just how young some of their favorite performers once were.
I have to say that despite the rough patches, the series was definitely worth my $9.99.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #540: 2 Little Biz Bits...

Welcome to the show folks...

Bit of a slow news day, at least for me, so here are a couple of short bits...

1. I GUESS IT WASN'T LUCIFER AFTER ALL:

Well, since no one commented of how they think The Weinstein Co. got out of debt on yesterday's post, I might as well tell you how they did it. TWC's 200+ film library is now the property of their creditors Goldman Sachs, Ambac, and some guy named Louie the Leg-breaker. (Okay, I made that last one up.)

So now the Bros. Weinstein can rebuild their company without the revenue made by having a film library, and their creditors have a bunch of films that cost too much and made too little.

For some reason, I don't know who to congratulate, or for what?

2. OH CARL, YOU CUT-UP!

Renegade shareholder Carl Icahn isn't too keen on reports that his takeover target Lionsgate has renewed interest in merging with the debt crippled MGM. In fact, he said:

"It's analogous to a couple not being able to pay their mortgage on a little house and starting to negotiate on a big, overpriced mansion that's rumored to be haunted."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Lionsgate is a mid-sized company with a debt load that's a hassle for a mid-size company.

MGM is a formerly large, now small company, with a debt load that's a hassle to a huge company, death to a small or mid-sized company.

While Icahn says it's not impossible, and it isn't, it's probably not prudent.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #539: What The Hell?

Welcome to the show folks...

I've had a rough and busy day building a brick wall when I know nothing of masonry, and I now have a lot of crippling physical pain to go along with my crippling emotional pain. But the wall is finished, and here's a short little post for you:

Check the skies, because pigs are flying!

Reports are bopping all over the internet that the troubled Weinstein Company (TWC) has been absolved of all their debt by their major creditors.

What in the name of sweet jumping German Jehoshaphat is going on?

I'm not sure the company's
ever made any money, and its prospects of becoming a moneymaker are somewhere between slim and none. TWC's specialty is spending millions of other people's money on making and buying indie films, and then burying all but the ones that might have a chance to win Harvey Weinstein another Oscar. Even those bits of Oscar bait barely get a release, because the company can't afford to put their movies in theaters.

So how did they swing this absolution of their many financial sins? How the hell do I know, but I can guess... and here are my top guesses:
1. FEDERAL BAILOUT

Harvey got some of his politician buddies to slip TWC's name on the list of all those bummed out banks and Wall Street brokerages, and the Feds paid their debts.

2. HARVEY'S ALWAYS RELIABLE HYPNO-COIN

It's saved the brother's bacon many times in the past by wooing investors, but this whole absolution deal means that it had to have been bumped up to maximum.

3. LUCIFER

Because we all know the Prince of Darkness hates seeing independent films make it into theaters.

Those are my guesses, what are yours?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #538: Some Miscellaneous Musings...

Welcome to the show folks...

I've had a helluva day, my back is killing me, and the news isn't exactly blowing up my kilt with excitement, so this will be just a short post.

THE OSCARS OR AS I CALL IT: PASSOVER

I bastardized that line from Bob Hope because I have been passed over yet again to produce the Academy Awards telecast. Despite the brilliance of my ideas those Philistines at the Academy went and hired two other guys instead of me, citing crazy stuff like "experience" and "talent."

Now you're probably wondering just what wonderful ideas blinded the Academy with their brilliance. Well here's a list:
  1. An opening musical number inspired by the most controversial film of the past year: The Human Centipede. Starring a whole brand new kind of chorus line made up of senior studio executives.
  2. Speeches that go on too long will get a fire-hose. Depending on the celebrity in question, soap could be included with the water.
  3. There will also be a half-time musical tribute to Hollywood's Most Insensitive Stereotypes. Presented by Paddy O'Furniture, the Drunken Irish Brawler.
  4. I also proposed to use computer graphics to add product placements to the montage of celebrities who passed away in the past year. They said it was tacky, but I was thinking about only high end products for the serious cha-ching.
  5. Joan Rivers would be banned from the red carpet.
The last idea was the only one the Academy even looked at.

Now how many people are going to take that literally?

COULD KNIGHT & DAY SINK M:I4?

Deadline Hollywood is reporting that Paramount's got a case of the uncertainties over letting Tom Cruise resume the role of Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible 4. The cause of these uncertainties comes from reports that his upcoming action-spy-caper-comedy Knight & Day could call it a night on its opening day.

So let's look at the facts:

1.
Mission: Impossible is a mostly successful franchise. The past movies have made shit-loads of money for Cruise and Paramount. However...

2. Tom Cruise was blamed, rightly or wrongly, for M:I3 losing money despite making $300,000,000+ worldwide. The film changed directors more than the average person changes their drawers on an average day. Suffered major delays at every stage of production, and even when it sold a truckload of tickets, Cruise's immensely bloated Dollar 1 contract pretty much wiped out the entire profit margin. This is bad because...

3. The
Mission: Impossible franchise seems irrevocably locked with Tom Cruise for some reason. The original series dropped it's original lead Steven Hill in the first season, and replaced him with Peter Graves, so it's shouldn't be that big a stretch of the imagination for them to do an M:I reboot with Robert Downey Jr. as the new team leader. I don't know if Paramount gave him part ownership of Mission: Impossible, so they can't do it without him, or what. If they did, it was a stupid move on their part. This leads to uncertainty because...

4. Tom Cruise's status as a box office attraction is on the bubble. His last couple of films since
M:I3 weren't exactly stellar performers, and Knight & Day looks like an overpriced, over-hyped, under-delivering CGI effects fest with basically the same plot as the Heigl/Kutcher bomb Killers. That's not healthy, plus, the recent announcement that they're making a feature film from the character of an obnoxious movie producer he did as a cameo in Tropic Thunder looks like a stretch at best. But...

5. Tom Cruise is promising to behave this time. He's forgoing the sort of contract that can bloat the budget completely cripple the revenues. They also have some partners to share the costs and risks with. So if they can keep the budget under control, there's still a chance that Ethan Hunt can wow audiences one more time.

Tell us what you think in the comments. Would you green-light M:I4?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Cinemaniacal: Where Have All The Tough Guys Gone?

Welcome to the show folks...

Take a look at this trailer for the upcoming Green Hornet movie.



This trailer, which actually looks pretty entertaining, has sparked Mike Fleming, one of the writers at Deadline: Hollywood to ask "What happened to the bad-ass action heroes who could really win a fistfight?"

Well, first thing, it looks like Rogen, who co-wrote the film, is banking on the improbability of him in the role as "action hero" as a source of comedy, so neither he, or the film, are supposed to be bad-ass. Yet the author does make a point.

What did happen the bad-ass action hero?

It's a long story, and involves quite a bit of history.

Back in ye-olden days, happy golden days of yore, there really wasn't such a thing as an "action" movie genre. If you craved action, and demanded satisfaction, you had to drop your nickel at the bijou for the action and adventure dished out in war movies, science fiction films, historical swashbucklers, detective and gangster movies, and westerns.

Now most of these genres didn't really require a specialist "action star." Most of Hollywood's male leads dipped their toe into those genres, but one genre provided the template for what would become the quintessential action hero.

That was the Western.

The bulk of western movies were pure action, emphasizing stunts, fights, and shoot-outs. And while the historical swashbucklers starring pirates, knights, and dashing musketeers, were popular, they weren't quite as culturally prevalent as the western, because they cost more to make. If you wanted to make an adventure movie in the 1930s, all you had to do was drive an hour outside of Hollywood, and you had a perfect location for a cheap western.

As I mentioned before, the Western provided the template of the action hero. The ordinary man, both a man's man, and a lady's man, with a strict personal code of behavior/honor, who is willing to stand and fight, alone if they have to, against what they consider evil and injustice.

Any actor of the golden age of movies leading men had to be able to carry at least one western to prove their macho bona-fides.

World War 2 marked the beginning of a
major shift. The population of real-life action heroes skyrocketed as the men came home from the front, and the movies and their attitude toward heroes were effected.

Film noir, and darker more "adult"
westerns, emerged, expressing the cynicism created by the horrors of World War 2. They toyed with heroes that weren't complete paragons of purity. They could be ill tempered, drunk, and even corrupt, and some had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing. But they did end up doing the right thing in the end.

Harder edged heroes emerged from the trenches of low budget b-movies like Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson. Marvin and Bronson were actual war veterans from hardscrabble backgrounds, and the evidence of the trials they faced was etched in their faces. However, there really wasn't an action genre all of its own... not yet.

The action genre came of age and got its driver's license when a certain Englishman named James Bond hit the scene.

Suddenly here was a movie that didn't rely on World War 2, The Old West, battling gangsters, or the legend of Robin Hood to provide an excuse for action. It was just action. You had a hero, a suave, yet slightly sociopathic, whose job was to swan around the world, getting into car chases, shootouts, and seductions while he saved the world on a thrice weekly basis.

This spawned thousands of imitators, most of them rightfully forgotten, but it also liberated other storytellers. They could go back to the more familiar homes for action, like war movies, cops and robbers, and westerns, and amp them up. This was especially true of war pictures, who evolved from being just dramatizations of actual events, to the more action-adventure oriented "Men on a Mission" film. These movies were about spies, freedom hungry POWs, and commandos operating behind enemy lines, and were less about the horrors of war, than about the thrill of sticking it to an evil enemy with as much suspense and action you can stuff in.

Westerns were also freed to be darker and more violent under the direction of men like Sam Peckinpah. By the end of the 60s it reached its peak with The Wild Bunch, a story without heroes until the very end, where the career criminals silently decide that their lives had been wasted, and seek redemption in a bloody nihilistic, bullet riddled finale. They do the right thing by dying, and taking the vicious General Mapache with them.

The seventies marked further evolution in the action movie. Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson entered the mainstream, Clint Eastwood leaped from spaghetti westerns to American crime films, and Burt Reynolds came in, blending action heroics with a sly nod and a wink. Most of these films were more grounded in a sense of gritty realism, dealing with the audience's concerns over crime, drugs, corruption, and general societal decay.

Seventies action film heroes were treated like anachronisms. Western gunfighters trapped in a world that doesn't understand or want their views of right and wrong. They are misfits for fighting for what's right, because it looked like society gave up.

Things changed again in the 1980s.

The 1980s saw the malaise of the 1970s shift into an attitude of extreme exuberance. America, and Hollywood, were both feeling good about themselves again, and they wanted to have fun.

Action heroes began to change. The battle hardened tough guy in the mold of Marvin and Bronson was still around, but they were getting older, and their films smaller. Eastwood forged a niche for himself as an action star and drama director, and his contemporary Burt Reynolds veered between action and comedy with his own career.

They were soon to be replaced by a new generation of action stars. These new stars went beyond bad-ass into the realm of the live action cartoon. You had Schwarzenegger, Seagal, Van Damme, and Stallone, who changed his image from underdog to action hero with the second Rambo movie. These new stars were either superhuman-sized, like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, or were presented as having super-mad-skills like Seagal and Van Damme. These were guys who weren't dragged into a battle, they were born for it, and had a legion of special effects technicians to amp up their battles and stunts to new levels of the outrageous.

Bruce Willis made himself stand out with a more everyman caught in over his head image, but even that began to blend in with his more cartoonish contemporaries.

The street level, small scale threats were gone. Replaced by literally armies of bad guys and infinite numbers of bullets.

The 80s rolled into the 90s, and the trend went on... and on... and on... The 80s generation began to age, some badly. With action centering mostly on cartoonish hyperbole, the sight of aging actors trying to flit around like they were 30, started to look kind of ridiculous.

Another poison was irony.

Most of the action films of the 80s had humor. It was natural to inject some laughs when things were so over the top, but most of those were natural occurrences within the logic of the story's universe. But then everything became some sort of ironic statement about the genre itself, and got a little too cute to accepted.

Irony's fine, but too much irony, and you're just being repetitive.

Another problem was that most of the next crop of actors could carry an action role. Most were just too pretty, too childish, or too goofy, but all were too inexperienced. They lacked the all important quality that real action stars needed, which was to look believable in a street fight.

Things shifted yet again. Stars became secondary, almost disposable, as long as there was enough CGI to do the work for them. Special effects went from just amplifying the action, to completely creating the action. The characters went from being pretty-much superhuman, to being completely superhuman, doing not just the physically trying, but the physically impossible.

Now we're a bit stuck. There's very few actors under the age of 50 who look like they're capable of watching your back in a brawl, and the ones under 50, just don't measure up to their predecessors.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #537: Jonah Hexed?

Welcome to the show folks...

It looks like the
Toy Story franchise is chugging along, meanwhile Warner Bros./DC Comics dream of launching a new franchise from the comic book Jonah Hex has crashed and burned like an old fashioned stunt-horse being tripped on a wire into a barrel of flaming nitroglycerin.

So I think it's time I pipe in with my two cents to explain the...

5 REASONS WHY
JONAH HEX TANKED:

1. SUBJECT MATTER:
Jonah Hex is not Superman Spider-Man, Batman, or even Iron Man. He's a cult character with a smaller but dedicated following that like his grim and gritty adventures in the old west. Remember, he's not a superhero, but a disfigured alcoholic with a hair trigger temper and a taste for vengeance. That's going to take some selling to get across to the mainstream audience.

2. PLOT & TREATMENT: First the plot- Jonah Hex is assigned by US Grant to take down a retro-Confederate trying to revive the Civil War. Where have you heard that little chestnut before? It was used in 1981's
Legend of the Lone Ranger, and the more recent Wild Wild West. If you want some expert opinion on how much the audience loves that plot-line, just ask Klinton Spilsbury, if you can find him.

Now let's look at how the story was treated. It was essentially a mish-mash of western, steam-punk meets James Bond gadgetry, and some supernatural hokum tossed in as an excuse for even more special effects. The whole thing looks like an incoherent mish-mash of ideas, just stopping short of that short lived stint from the 1980s where Jonah Hex ran amok in a post-apocalyptic future. (Yes, DC Comics really did that)

3. THE RELEASE: Releasing a movie consists of two very important factors: Timing, and Marketing. Timing wise, it was a disaster because Warner Bros. released the film against
Toy Story 3. Whose idea was that? That's guaranteed to make it look pale in comparison, and in Hollywood image is everything. Then let's look at the marketing, which can summed up as "Josh Brolin looks ugly, Megan Fox is in a corset, and a lot of shit gets blown up." Nothing about whether the story is worth paying money to see or not.

4. BUDGET: First they spent a lot of money on the movie. Then they spent a hell of a lot more money reshooting most of the same movie. That's not a good sign.


5. STARS: Josh Brolin is a pretty good actor, but as
a star, he's the "you know, that guy in that movie, the one that wore the hat" guy. His presence alone isn't going to put bums in seats.

Megan Fox on the other hand is a different story, and it shows that Hollywood doesn't know the difference between "being sexual" and true "sexiness." Megan Fox has all the ingredients of what should be considered sex appeal, a pretty face, a good figure, fashion style that makes her look slutty, etc...etc..., yet she is about as sexy as a common gray brick. It's not just the tattoos, which are not my thing, it's that she lacks the key ingredient of true sexiness: INTEREST.

Outside of her physical appearance, there's nothing to interest people. Look at the great sex symbols of the past and present, and they all have something beyond their appearance that makes them interesting. They're either exotic, funny, intelligent, dangerous, or something else that makes someone more appealing than others. They promise adventure, laughter, intellectual challenge, or excitement, or their fragility and delicacy inspires a chivalrous desire to protect and defend. All Megan Fox has is on the surface, so why would the 9th Graders who settle for solely surface attributes pay to see her in a theater, can just download her picture off the internet and store it in a file marked "Li'l Billy's Spank Bank." Li'l Billy don't know why he settles on just ogling her picture instead of paying money for tickets to see her on the big screen, and apparently neither does Hollywood.

I guess to sum it all up, the key to a real sex symbol with staying power, is the ability to make people to want to do more than just look, but also listen.

Enough with the negatives, let's look at...

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE WITH
JONAH HEX

Now I'm not saying that Jonah Hex can't be adapted into a live-action medium. He can, but Warner Bros. should have gone beyond the: "Any comic book can be a multi-billion dollar franchise" mindset, because it's wrong.

Not every comic book can become a successful movie franchise, the simple numbers back that up. However, many comic book characters can have a life off the page, and I think Jonah Hex is one of them.

I think Warner Bros. should have taken the character in a different direction, as a TV series. Not a bland network television western, which is automatically pigeonholed as "family entertainment" for its retro charm, but as a dark, gritty, and violent series about a man scarred inside and out dishing out revenge not just for himself, but for the people he encounters on the trail. You could then use that as a vehicle to tell bigger story arcs involving popular recurring rogues like Quentin Turnbull, and El Papagayo. Get some decent writers to write decent stories, the sort of stories that the big screen isn't delivering lately, you might actually get a hit on your hands.

Then, maybe, Jonah Hex may have found his place, but not on the big screen.

Saturday Silliness Cinema: Spot The Oscar Winner

Welcome to the show folks...

It's time for my usual little Saturday break from my usual ranting and raving about the business of popular culture to have a little laugh.

Today, a comedy chestnut from the strange, mysterious era of the early 1980s. Specifically, it's a sketch from Alfresco, a short lived series from Britain's ITV that marked the beginning of the careers of many of that country's biggest stars.

And there's a contest. Spot the Academy Award Winner in the sketch, and you win a prize.*



*Prize will exist solely in the imagination of the winner, and has no connection or presence in reality.


Friday, 18 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #536: What To Do With The Writers?

Welcome to the show folks...

Warner Bros. has announced that they will now be strictly enforcing their deadlines on writers to turn in their drafts. The studio says that they have to do it because they go and sign up directors and stars to their movies, but then have to wait sometimes months for a completed draft to come in. They used to be more comfortable with waiting, wanting quality over speed, but now they want more speed because time is money, and the economy is cutting back on everyone's time.

The writers case is that they often have to wait months to get paid, even the precious "commencement" payments that are supposed to keep them in gin and nacho chips during the 12 weeks usually contracted for a first draft. They are also forced to take on multiple assignments at the same time, partially because of the chronically late payments, but also because studios force them into something called a "One Step" deal. A one step deal basically means that they have one crack at the bat to get the script done the way the studio likes, and if they don't, the job goes to someone else. If they're desperate to stay on the script, they can do a free pass, but they usually still get hosed in the end.

The studio's logic is that they don't want to get hung up on someone trying to rewrite their way out of a hole, and want to replace that person with someone else who can do something new and quick. Many times studios assign multiple writers on the same project at the same time, and then pick and choose the bits that play best with the focus groups the studio marketing department picked up in the parking lot of the Home Depot. The recent A-Team movies went through 11 writers that we know of. You don't need 11 writers for a movie version of the A-Team.

However, the chickens are coming home to roost. Ticket sales are down compared to past summers, and the biggest complaint among moviegoers is that big feature films aren't delivering the stories they want, and cable TV is.

It wasn't always like this. During the Golden Age of Hollywood writers were under contract to the studios. Then they were paid a very good weekly salary for the time, they worked in an office in the "Writer's Building" on the studio lot, dividing their time between adaptations, and their own original work. If someone was stuck, story problems were handled more collaboratively by people more directly involved with the project than today. Today's version of studio-producer-writer collaboration usually consists of a bunch hastily scribbled notes from some producer or executive with little or no real connection to the project, usually contradicting each other in everything except the demand for more fart jokes.

People complain that it was an era of "slavery" and in some aspects, it was, but it was also an era where there were a hell of a lot of well written movies made back then.

So let's look at some major facts about writers:

1. Writers thrive on deadlines. Most writers find deadlines invigorating, it gets the adrenaline pumping and compels them to stop surfing for videos about Japanese nurses being naughty and get to work. The great majority of writers meet their deadlines, because it shows to their employers that they are reliable, and available for other assignments so they can achieve their dream and make their dream-project about the sass-talking robot that learns about love from an orangutan addicted to Kraft dinner.

2. Writers thrive on collaboration. It's a lonely business, and there's nothing more invigorating than being able to hash out ideas with other writers without fear or favor. You'd be surprised what can come out of such gatherings.

3. Writers thrive on security. You'd be amazed how much a writer can get done quickly if they're not worrying about paying the rent on their grotty little bedsit apartment, or can buy real groceries instead of living off ramen noodles.

What can we do with these simple basic facts?

1. Keep the deadlines, but do what it takes to help the writers meet them. Robert Towne wrote Chinatown, which put him eternally in the pantheon of screenwriting legends. But he is notoriously slow, and tended to overwrite projects to an epic degree. When he started out working for Roger Corman, the legendary exploitation auteur used to lock him in a room with a sign on the door reading: "You May Feed The Writer, But Don't Let Him Out Until He Delivers His Day's Pages." I know it sounds harsh, but remember, 99% of writers don't need those sorts of drastic measures. For the majority, all you have to do is...

2. Promote collaborations. Like I said earlier, it's a lonely business. So regular meetings of writers working for a given producer and/or studio to hash out problems on each others projects might prove to be very helpful. Especially if such meetings are held in a non-competitive atmosphere where they can speak freely about their work. If you need rules to guide these meetings to keep them from turning into brawls, then compose some, it's not that hard. If chemistry forms between teams of writers, then get them working together.

3. Promote writer comfort. Most writers write because they have to, not just because they want to. If they don't have to worry about their bills, food, clothing, or shelter, they will be more productive. So pay them what they're owed on time, in full, and stop playing silly bugger games to pinch some pennies out of their pasty, pimple-dotted hides.

Maybe then Hollywood might get back to what made it great, making good stories and selling them to the world.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Cinemaniacal: Never Let Me Get Rid Of A Hackneyed Idea

Welcome to the show folks...

First I have to say that this post is chock full of
SPOILERS. So if you are planning to see the movie Never Let Me Go, and don't want it ruined, go no further, for here be dragons, known as big fat spoilers.

Last night I saw this trailer for the upcoming film
Never Let Me Go:



Something about the story seemed familiar. In fact, it sort of made me think it was a Masterpiece Theater/Merchant-Ivory version of this film:



Which itself was the Michael Bay version of this low budget 70s shocker,
PARTS: The Clonus Horror, ably mocked by the good people and robots of Mystery Science Theater 3000:



In fact,
The Island was so close to PARTS, that the studio had to shell out some shekels to settle a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Now the latest version of this is adapted from a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of Remains of the Day, so his defenders will say that it's all a metaphor for the British class system as seen through a Marxist-Leninist Organic Agriculturalist context, or something like that, but I have to say that there's something about this whole sub-genre that bugs the living crap out of me and my clones.

That something is that as a plot device, cloning and raising people into adulthood to provide replacement organs for the elite is total horse-shit.

If there's one thing I can't stand is a bad idea being re-hashed over and over again, and I don't care if it's a metaphor for labor, capital, and imperialist exploitation of third world resources as seen through a Maoist-feminist context, it's still a bad idea, so find another one please. I wasn't afraid to call Repo-Men on being horse-shit, and I'm sure as sugar going to call this movie on it.

Now here's why I think it's all total horse-shit.

1. TECHNOLOGY: The most promising research being done in organ replacement is taking fat cells, turning them into stem-cells and growing them into organs using specially designed bio-chemical matrices. It's showing to be actually more promising, faster, and simpler, than trying to clone an entire person for replacement parts.

2. TIMING: The whole operation is founded on the premise that the wealthy elite will know when their organs are going to fail, and can arrange to be cloned over 18 years in advance.

3. COST: First there's the cloning. Then there's feeding, clothing, housing, raising, and educating the little bastards so they stay healthy and will go quietly to the organ harvesting lab to be stripped for parts. Then there's bribing every level and branch of government, law enforcement, and the media because such an operation would be extremely illegal, no matter how powerful the wealthy elite are. That would literally mean millions upon millions per clone, per year.

4. SECURITY: You would literally need an army to guard such a facility. People firebomb medical labs for testing drugs on monkeys. What do you think people like that will do when they find out that human beings are being chopped up for parts to keep the rich and incontinent alive? Then there are the rivals of the rich elite who didn't have the money or clout to buy into this plan. They're going to do something to put the screws to their enemies, from kidnapping clones, to exposing the operation to media or legal scrutiny.

Then comes all the killing you have to do, and not just of the clones. You will have to kill every scientist, doctor, teacher, care-taker, janitor, security guard, and kitchen staff involved to keep them from talking, whether they're intending to or not. That's a lot of killing, and pretty soon, the people that do the killing are going to realize they're on the hit list too, and then you have a world of hurt.

All this means that no matter how well Never Let Me Go is made, or how good the performances are, I will never be able to enjoy it, because the fundamental premise behind is complete horseshit.

It's just that simple.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #535: The Lion Needs To Be Furious!

Welcome to the show folks....

Poor old MGM is currently looking for a new Chief Executive Officer to replace the recently shit-canned departed Harry Sloan. The problem is that none of the usual suspects are biting this bait.

So, let's take a look at the pros and cons of taking this job.

PROS:

THE MGM LIBRARY- It's really big, and it contains: (according to Wikipedia)
  • Nearly all of its own post-1986 library;
  • Most of the post-1952 United Artists catalog (although it also includes a tiny fraction of pre-1952 UA material);
  • The post-1981 Orion Pictures film and television library
  • The Filmways library (except The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction);
  • The American International Pictures library (except early films);
  • The Heatter-Quigley Productions library;
  • The pre-1997 Samuel Goldwyn Company library;
  • The pre-1996 Motion Picture Corporation of America library (excluding co-productions with other studios such as Dumb and Dumber with New Line Cinema);
  • In regards to the 1991 film version of The Addams Family, MGM only owns the international rights, as Orion had sold North American rights to Paramount Pictures due to Orion's bankruptcy
  • The theatrical rights to most of the ITV Global Entertainment catalog, including their inherited Granada International and ITC Entertainment (The Return of the Pink Panther, Capricorn One, On Golden Pond, etc.) libraries;
  • Most of the Cannon Films library (King Solomon's Mines, That Championship Season, etc., with a few exceptions, including certain films distributed by Warner Bros., the television rights to Lifeforce—those stand with Sony Pictures Television, and most territorial rights to Surrender and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace);
  • Most of the pre-1996 PolyGram Filmed Entertainment library, which include international rights to most of the Interscope Communications co-productions with The Walt Disney Company, who handles U.S. rights.
  • Selected Nelson Entertainment properties (including the pre-Turner-merger Castle Rock Entertainment library with the exception of co-productions with Columbia Pictures), and Embassy Pictures properties, under license from StudioCanal (with the exception of two films co-produced and co-distributed by Columbia);
  • The Epic Productions library:
  • Those of other smaller defunct studios, including Atlantic Releasing Corporation, Scotti Bros. Pictures and Hemdale Film Corporation.
  • The home video rights to It's A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, under license from NBC.
  • MGM also has the international theatrical and DVD rights (in certain territories) to Army of Darkness, which was released in the US by Universal Pictures , who has domestic theatrical and DVD rights.
Also, the home video division is pretty good at getting their films out into stores at reasonable prices. Probably the most reliable earner in the company.

2. FRANCHISE PROPERTIES- MGM also owns the movie rights to the James Bond character, and JRR Tolkien's
The Hobbit, both fairly copper-bottomed and eagerly anticipated movie franchises.

3. IMPORTANT BRAND- The name Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer practically encapsulates glamor, fame and Hollywood movie history into 3 simple initials.

Now let's look at the

CONS

1. MONEY- It ain't got no money! In fact, it has over $4 billion in debt. That's $4,000,000,000 if you like lots of zeros. That's officially gone beyond a shit-load of debt into the nether regions from whence few ever return without some sort of miracle. This debt is the net result of 40+ years being passed around like the corporate equivalent of a doobie at a party.

2. DOING SOMETHING WITH THOSE FRANCHISE PROPERTIES- They may own James Bond, and
The Hobbit, but they don't have the money to actually make them into money-making movies.

3. THE MGM LIBRARY- Most of the "Golden Age" MGM and United Artists movies are currently owned by Time-Warner. That leave a huge and important gap in the company's history/library.

4. THE IMPORTANT BRAND- The MGM brand not only encapsulates history, it is history. Tack it onto something new, and you've automatically branded it a loser. It's only good at one thing, and that's selling old movies.

5. MONEY- Don't forget about the $4,000,000,000 in debt.

Now there is only one man brave enough, egomaniac enough, and just plain bug-shit crazy enough to take on this impossible task. That simple fact means that the powers that be must...
That's right, as the new generalissimo CEO of MGM I will not claim to be tough but fair. I will be brutal, and incredibly unfair, but that's what needed. I've said some of this before, but what the hell, I'll say it again.

1. As the company's despot CEO, my first act will be to sell the MGM name. I'm sure Warner Bros. would be interested, not only because they own the pre-1986 MGM library, but it gives them a familiar brand name for the inevitable time when they flush Ted Turner's name down the corporate memory hole. You can re-brand the company United Artists or one of the dozen other names in the company's arsenal.

2. Sort out the debt. Right now, these forebearances and other schemes, are just keeping the company in a coma. They need to trade the debt for some sort of ownership right after naming me shogun CEO.

3. Find partners. Fox and several others are keen to keep MGM an independent film company. Fox especially, because they have the foreign and home video distribution rights to MGM's product. As tyrant CEO, I will make such friends, and use their money to get MGM's heart pumping on its own again. Bond and The Hobbit have to get out there making money if the company's going to eventually get out of debt and be able to pay my immense salary and perk package.

4. Keep costs down. There's a rumored $50 million budget for Hot Tub Time Machine? How the hell did that happen? I suggest that someone find out quick, because as dictator CEO I won't be playing that way.

So I hope the powers that be realize that since they've tried the best, and were turned down, it's time they tried the rest, and call me. I'll do it for 3/4 the salary of the average studio CEO, a piece of the profit action, and some other luxurious office perks that we can all negotiate later. I'm not greedy... okay, I am greedy, but I'm not crazy greedy. Which makes me the best buy you can get, because I can't make it any worse, and that's a guarantee.

;)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #534: 3 Bad Ideas

Welcome to the show folks...

BAD IDEA #1: SWIMMING IN THE SHARK TANK

The Summer movie season is not looking all that good, ticket sales overall are down, pundits are calling this "June Gloom," and the studio bosses are so panicked they're actually talking to agents about what to do next.

I have some video of one of these meetings:



I know, it's a joke I did before, but I love flogging a dead horse as much as the studio executives I like to mock.

But seriously, this meeting is a perfect sign of what's wrong with Hollywood, and here's why: It's basically two Hatfields having a discussion about why those damn McCoys are so ornery.

Well, here's my 2 cents about why things aren't working out whether you want them or not.

1. THE SELF FULFILLING IDIOCY: Hollywood should know that their own business practices are the main reason the costs of making, marketing, and distributing movies has a rate of inflation last seen in Weimar Germany. The whole structure of the studio system is designed to burn more mental calories figuring out how to screw some poor actor out of their 2% piece of the net, to get their CEO a better bonus, than making movies people want to see.

Everybody knows that, especially agents, and that's why agents have the reputation for being sharks. They know their clients are going to get hosed by the studios at some point, so they try to get everything they can get up front, and to hell with other considerations, because it's not like their clients are going to get their residuals anyway. The bigger the star, the bigger the demands, and the narrower the profit margin until it disappears completely.

This leads to an atmosphere of...

2. SHEER TERROR in the executive suite. The people who make decisions in Hollywood are terrified to actually make decisions, for fear of getting canned and losing their company paid Bentley, beach house, and jet for trips to the company retreat in Aruba. So they become extremely risk averse, because their practices made everything so damn expensive. This leads to an incredibly bland entertainment landscape, and a shrinking box office, that can't be attributed to the bad economy, because the movie industry is supposed to thrive in bad times. Hell, the Great Depression was a glorious time, both financially and creatively for Hollywood. Not anymore, so the Executives go off in search of a...

3. MAGIC BULLET. That simple, easy, 1 step plan for guaranteed hit movies, so they don't have to use any common sense in the field of studio management, budgets, or accounting. When one studio has success with a type of project, all the others pounce on that type like extras in a bukkake video. Remakes, reboots, adapting TV shows, digitally animation, 3D visuals, comic book movies, market research or even talking to agents. The problem is that most of these magic bullets are more fizzle than sizzle. I myself was shot with one of those magic bullets back in college, and no for a fact that they can do more harm than good.

While a university student in Toronto I was hired to write sketch comedy for a TV pilot. I was part of a team of 6 writers, and we were putting together some pretty good material. Then the producer decided that the project needed a magic bullet to make it a hit. So she went to market research, and from the findings of the market researchers we went from a funny sketch show, to a mildly amusing sketch/candid camera rip-off, then just a candid camera rip-off, and finally, a sitcom about angels. Why did it become a sitcom about angels? Because the marketing whizzes noted that an ad campaign for cream cheese using angels did very well (It's still running in Canada) so the show should rip off the commercials. The entire production crashed and burned over Xmas, the money people fled, and no one got paid.

Magic bullets do not work.

What does work?

Well, in the old days it was instinct. The folks who gave movies the green-light asked themselves:
Would it play in Peoria? It was still a gamble, but at least they weren't completely turning audiences off the way their heirs are doing now.

But they're probably not going to hear that from the agents, because the agents are too wrapped up in the existing system. There's no one in Hollywood that can rattle the cages enough to get the people in power their to take notice.

BAD IDEA #2: MOVIE FUTURES TRADING

The federal regulators who thought Bernie Madoff and sub-prime mortgage backed securities were fine and dandy like sour candy, have decided that "futures trading" (translation: betting) on movie box office performance is a wonderful idea.

I have to call bullshit on this. It's a dreadful idea.

Why?

Think about it.

The values of these "futures" will be based upon the box office estimates made by studios and their rivals.

Those studios, and their rivals, all have reasons for spinning, or outright flim-flamming those estimates for their own ends. (I go into more detail here)

A movies futures market will give them yet another reason to play around with those estimates, and with it the money of even more investors than usual.

So I have to say this...

NO!

BAD FEDS!

BAD BAD FEDS!

DON'T MAKE ME RUB YOUR NOSE IN IT!

BAD IDEA #3: CRIMINAL MINDS - DEFINITELY NOT LADIES NIGHT

CBS has decided to trim the herd on their consistent Top 20 workhorse crime drama Criminal Minds by firing AJ Cook, chopping down the role of Paget Brewster, and keeping fan favorite Kristin Vangsness, for now.

Now CBS is hoping to mitigate the outrage among fans of the show by saying that they're adding a new female (& cheaper) character to the show to replace AJ Cook. Which means that they're already on some sort of damage control, not wanting the fans super pissed off at CBS with a
Criminal Minds spin-off due in the fall.

Now CBS's case is that they're trying to control costs, and they're picking on Criminal Minds specifically because it's their workhorse drama. It's not in the Top 10, it's unlikely that the star's going to be cast in the next big blockbuster movie during their summer break, and it doesn't sweep the Emmy Awards every year like those critical darling cable shows. So they can beat it like a rented mule, and get away with it, but I think it's a bad idea, here's why:

1. OPTICS: It really looks bad to slash the roles of
female characters on a show that's already viewed as pretty male dominated. It also makes CBS management look like sexist pigs, and give internet wags like me the license to whip up little pics like the one to your right.>>>>>

2. FAN RESENTMENT: Fans are getting sick and tired of seeing their shows jerked around because some executive wants to charge a new boat to their favorite show's budget. This is especially true when it involves actors and characters they like. CBS can't afford to lose these fans, especially in the face of...

3. THE SPIN-OFF: CBS is trying to sell a spin-off in the fall. A lot of fans are already thinking that these cuts are to somehow make the costs of this spin-off more manageable, whether it's accurate or not. They're going to resent the spin-off, and quite possibly tune out.

Of course if the costs were the problem on one of the cheapest looking shows on the normally over-slick network, CBS could have negotiated some sort of deal where both sides could have been happy. Of course, they were denied that option by their own shoddy business practices.

Anyway, if they go through with this plan, I expect the show, and its spin-off, to be done and dusted after next season, barring a miracle.