Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Smart Movies vs Dumb Trailers

Some interesting threads coming together, interesting if you're a dork like me who watches movie marketing the way other people watch hockey.

Articles such as this from the LA Times are ringing alarm bells about smart movies falling flat at the box office.

Examples? State of Play bested by 17 Again.
Or more recently The Soloist squashed by Obsessed.

Both State of Play and The Soloist are prime Hollywood product. Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr. Russell Crowe etc.... The poor performance of State of Play was so jarring that KCRW's entertainment radio show "The Business" actually cornered Tim Bevan in a follow up interview asking him what went wrong.

His response is interesting. He admits the marketing of the movie could have been better but then, not once but twice he basically begs the audience to go see the movie because "if they don't see films like this, we can't keep making them."

Now while you all snicker at the idea of of the producer of State of Play and The Soloist pounding his chest for intellectual cinema, let me say (as i did in my podcast) I enjoyed both of those movies. State of Play for the mood and the subtext about journalism. The Soloist for director Joe Wright's vision of L.A.'s lost people.

But the reaction to these movies betrays a certain nervousness out there. In the interview, the host of The Business even went so far as to ask Bevan if Russell Crowe was too portly, and did his rumpled visage cost him box office points?

At the end of the day, all this obsession over box office performance is silly. The box office is just the trailer for the really money maker...the DVD sales. Good box office helps build buzz and give studios bragging rights.

A great, great article on this can be found here in the New Yorker. Among other things you'll learn how firms that track box office performance know if a new movie is a winner or loser by mid-Saturday. And the companies that produce the trailers for the studios are often separate entities. There are company that specialize in trailers, like Seismic Productions. And that explains a little of what went wrong with State of Play and The Soloist.

In my humble opinion it isn't that people don't like Smart Movies, or we're getting dumber. This is case of bad trailers turning people off.
Look at the trailer for State of Play.

Generic and underwhelming. Also, false. That line where Russell Crowe's character says "I heard a young girl was murdered?" Never happened. Just a little of the tweaking done to quash a complicated story into a 2 minutes trailer.

Now, how about The Soloist...

This one, near the end where Robert Downey Jr. says "We take care of each other. I'm the closest thing to family he has..." As far as I can recall those lines never made it into the movie. Why? Because the director probably felt they were mawkish, making a point that had already been expressed. But there they are in the trailer, over-torquing the storyline and causing us to roll our eyes. ("Oh, another one of those movies.")

Of course it didn't help that trailers for The Soloist have been running for months. People start to wonder, when is movie coming out? Why are they pushing it so hard? Their spidey-sense went off, it smelled like a stinker and they left it alone.

What didn't make the trailer? The cast of homeless people, real streetlife veterans who give the movie a touch of authenticity. In the end they were edited out, promoters selling schmaltz instead of smarts. Well you reap what you sow. The moral: If you're making a smart movie and going for a smart audience don't insult their intelligence with a dumb trailer.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Milton Lives! (Spolight on The Soloist)

I'll be talking about Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx's new movie The Soloist on the ray-dee-oh this Friday. Short version. Liked it. Much better than the trailer suggests and extra point to director Joe Wright for trying a couple new ideas there.

Right from the first scene of this film I got the sense this is a quality movie. Again we're in a newsroom. This time it's the Los Angeles Times. But Wright has this place down. They shot on location, in the newsroom and the atmosphere, the crosstalk sings.

Now..to the point of this post. Remember Milton from Office Space?

Of course you do.

He, meaning Stephen Root makes a great little appearance in the movie as a reporter called Curt.

He's not on screen for long, but it's quality stuff.
Root is one of those actors that's always fun to watch so keep your eyes open.

All in all the cast for The Soloist is quite deep, lot of choice small roles here, this one is recommended.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth's Secret Side

Well I finally figured it out.

I've been talking about Disneynature's new Earth movie all day. And all day I've been seeing the figure of 60 percent thrown around when describing how Disney reused the footage from the Planet Earth BBC series. But how could it be 60 percent? It didn't look like there was anything new there. It must be 100 percent recycled.

Well here at the bottom of a comment field on the always great Vulture pop culture blog I've think I've finally found the answer.

The answer is Disney bankrolled part of the original series in the first place. And the same team worked on both films. The Mousehouse paid for the aerial shots, and perhaps if you add all of those up you'd get something like the 40 percent of new material.

Now I can't confirm this, but gosh darn it, it feels right. So thanks Clunybrown whoever you are. And if you haven't seen it, go check out Planet Earth for a lot more than cuddly polar bears.

Films for a Blue Planet

Ah Earth Day, when Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Gore and Mother Nature all join hands and dance the dance of melting ice caps, global warming and drinking our coffee in reusable travel mugs.
Let's be honest, with all the green stuff being pushed at us, sometimes Earth Day can feel a little ... artificial.
So if you're looking for some real inspiration, a trip to the video store might be in order...

(As long as you bus, bike or walk there.)

I'm reviewing the new Disneynature film Earth on CBC Radio today. (Dumbed down and Disney-fied but boy it sure is pretty.)

And I'm also offering a list of alternatives. Some green themed movies to get you in the right frame of mind.

So without further ado here are four Earth-friendly films.

Manufactured Landscapes

Canadian Photographer Edward Burtynsky takes photos that are uniquely human and yet alien at the same time. In the documentary Manufactured Landscapes Burtynsky follows the trail of our stuff.
From our marble quarries and mines to tire dumps with mountain of unrecycable black rubber. Nickle tailing mines where a sickly red sea of lava appears to cut across a black empty moonscape. The images are as poetic as they are disturbing. And when you see what happens to junked computer parts in China you'll think twice about putting your monitor on the curb.


A year in the life of meadow somewhere on Earth. The story is told through amazing marco photography where caterpillars are the size of water buffaloes and falling raindrops burst on the ground like cannon shells. The visuals take the everyday events of insects and give them a heroic narrative. This is movie where you cheer for the dung beetle....now that's a shift in perspective.

Princess Mononokee

One of my favs is actually an animated movie but this is NOT for kids.
Princess Mononoke is a film by Japan's master animator Miyazaki
Set in feudal Japan the movie tells the tale of a princess raised by wolves.
She and her furry friends are fighting off the villagers from an iron mine who want to raze the forest.
No Disney movie, this is a ful- blooded tale of courage and human greed. And if you want to see what happens when Mother Nature turns on you, wait until the end where the forest spirit is unleashed as a headless pool of black bile. The Moral: Don't mess with the Earth Mama.


It's not that bad.

Alright this isn't the smartest environmental film..but it is fun and it has moments of sparse strong set pieces. (Tip of the hat to my buddy Derek who put me onto this one.)

In 1995 people gasped at the budget of 172 million.
People called it Fishtar, a soggy bomb...but in the name of reuse and recycle go back and give it a chance.

The idea of melting icecaps and world covered by water might have seemed like science fiction, but sadly it's not as laughable now.
And all the Earthiness aside...the movie is better than you thought.
A man, a girl and woman, alone on a boat, in world where soil is worth more than gold.
Yes it features Dennis Hopper as a crazy despot named The Decon...but the best stuff is without dialogue.
Shot in the real ocean, not a pool on a Hollywood parking lot, it's a great yarn, one of the better Kevin Costner hero movies and a nice change from re-watching An Inconvenient Truth.

(Got a green fav of your own? Add it in the comments!)

Friday, April 17, 2009

My Fav Film Reporter (riffing off State of Play)

I'm talking about reporters on the big screen today as I review State of Play, the new movie starring Russell Crowe.

That got me thinking about who is my favourite on screen journalist. There are lots to choose from. The Paper. (Michael Keaton!) Broadcast News. All the President's Men. It Happened One Night. But for me it will always be Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy.

She plays Amy Archer, almost a parody of the Hepburn-like fast talking dames of the 1950s where this picture takes place.

If you don't know it, this is the Coen Brothers at their zaniest. I of course love it. And when I think of reporters, I'll always think of the Amy Archer, the fast-talkin' Pulitzer-winning crackerjack of a character.

If you want to see exactly what I'm talking about take a listen to this scene from The Hudsucker Proxy. (Starts 4.22 in)

For more on State of Play check out my Podcast by searching for "Glasner on Film" in iTunes or on the CBC Podcasting index here.

Oh, and State of Play... (in case you don't feel like following links)...I liked it. It's a lot better than the by-the-numbers trailer suggests.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Guess "A Bunch of Guys in a Steel Box" Didn't Work Either...

Ladies and Gentlemen....I give you the lamest title of 2009 (So far.)

Coming next September.

Prepare your self for Armored.

And the trailer which you can see by clicking above is equally lame.

Strange choice of music for the end don't ya think?

And here I thought Matt Dillon's career was turning around...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Slow Dancing With the Suits (Dissecting Duplicity)

If you’ve seen Michael Clayton you’re ready for Duplicity. Same smart director/writer. This time zooming in on the world of corporate espionage. And as you may have gathered from the trailer this is a much lighter touch than Michael Clayton. What it shares is the same smarts. Director Tony Gilroy has a great eye for casting and rounds out each of the players nicely. There isn’t a throw away part in this film. (Keep your eye out for Thomas McCarthy. He played the reporter with the moral blind spot in The Wire.)

And speaking of small parts and big players, let’s talk about Paul Giamatti. The man can do no wrong. And here he steals the show as one of the two corporate titans facing off against each other. Paul pays Richard Garsik the CEO of a Proctor and Gamble type company. Tom Wilkinson plays his counterpart, Howard Tully the CEO of another similar company.

Needless to say they are at war. Which brings us to The Scene.

In a rainy, blustery day the two CEOs meet on the tarmac of a private airfield.
Jets are parked facing off against each other. Each company, a tight tussle of trench coats and yes men and women surrounding their chief.

Conferring with their subordinates, the two (Paul and Tom) begin to walk towards each other. They meet, they talk. At some point something goes astray. It starts with a poke to the chest. A feeble pushing match begins. Feeble because it’s obvious these two men are used to having others do the pushing. But the shock of physical contact quickly gives way to fury, as the two executives wrestle around in the rain like fifth graders squaring off at recess.

And it all happens in glorious slow motion with nary a single word of dialogue. It’s brilliant, it’s effective and it tells us absolutely everything we need to know about these two characters. Show Don’t Tell indeed.

The best micro moment of this might be the reaction shots of all the yes men and women realizing their bosses are actually touching each other. Gilroy catches the ripple going through the crowd, the split-second hesitancy, the flunkies starting at each other, then sending, pushing one of their own into the breech to pull the two soggy opponents apart.

Love it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Flat Fanboys

Take a good look at that poster.
Because it's a sign of what went wrong with Fanboys the movie.

Take look at this Wired article to see the long tortured history of Fanboys, but the short version is Ernie Cline, the ultimate Stars Wars fan, harnessed the power of Lucas fandom to make a movie about Star Wars fans.

Fanboys the movie is actually about a group of Star Wars fans driving across country to break into the Skywalker Ranch to see The Phantom Menance. Oh, and of course of their friends has cancer.

The movie's been in film limbo for years. Fans were teased at comic conventions. Producer Kevin Spacey kept tinkering. Studios cut the cancer plot out. Then put it back in.

Now here it is, 3 years late. Stale and sadly unfunny.

It's not for lack of trying. Fanboys is crammed with Star Wars humour. Every freakin second line of dialogue is a lift from the movie. "The force is strong with this one...." "She's got it where it counts" etc. There are Star Wars sound effects. Everyone wears Star Wars t-shirts. There are even Star Wars edits, the famous Lucas screen wipes.

But somewhere in the middle someone forgot to make a GOOD MOVIE.

A road movie where a bunch of dudes drive across country isn't breaking new ground. Having the pretty girl fall for the shy nerd doesn't either. No amount of cameos (Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Wiliam Shatner) can save this film.

Which brings me back to the poster. Again it's a collection of in-jokes. If you're a geek you probably can tell they're riffing off the "motivational posters" meme that's all over the net.

Funny? Well maybe if you're one of geeks who get the joke.

But what about the rest of us? What about the average movie going public? All they'll see is an ugly poster with a lame graphic.

Now compare that to this. Much better poster, that's at least visually interesting.

Seems to be a sign of what wrong here with this film. Someone that's happening a little too often. Increasingly fans and filmmakers are feeding off each other. Look at Watchmen. Fans were in the loop from the get go. But at some point you need to stop and make your own movie. You can't make a movie by committee. That why they have directors. What the real fans appreciate is vision, originality, something fresh.

Goodness knows there's a movie to made about living in the Star Wars universe. As someone raising a budding Star fan I've thought a little to long about what Lucas' re-imagined fairy tale brought to audiences.

But Fanboys doesn't do that justice. Frankly Fanboys insults it. Replacing best elements of an ambitious space opera with boob jokes and bad puns.

EPIC FAIL as the kids say.