"Lawrence of Arabia". "The Godfather". "Gone with the Wind". "Casablanca". Is it time for "Ant-Man and the Wasp" to also enjoy Oscar gold?
BY LEE PFEIFFER, Cinema Retro Editor-in- Chief
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has announced changes to its annual Oscars broadcast. The event will be confined to three hours and certain awards will not be seen live on the broadcast. Instead, they will be given out during commercial broadcasts then edited into a segment that will be shown later in the telecast. After all, who wants to see some science-obsessed geek get honored for inventing something that enhanced the film industry when, instead, we can all enjoy some innovative ads for erectile dysfunction? Additionally, in an admitted attempt to gin up ratings, AMPAS will introduce a new awards category for outstanding achievement in popular film. That's right, movie lovers...you might live to see the day when the producers of a "Transformers" movie stroll on stage to be honored in the manner in which the greatest filmmakers of all time were. In fact, "popular" movies have long been recipients of major nominations. Films such as "Jaws" , "Star Wars" and "The Towering Inferno" were nominated for Best Picture, while a little flick from 1997 named "Titanic" won the coveted award. Exactly how the Academy will distinguish which "popular film" releases should be relegated to the new category is not known. What if the "popular film" that is honored happens to also gain a Best Picture nomination- or will the categories be mutually exclusive? AMPAS isn't saying.
AMPAS has been grappling with sagging ratings for the Oscars for years. Unless there is a major blockbuster to liven up the proceedings, audiences tend to drift away from the broadcast. Not helping matters is that the Golden Age of great Hollywood stars is also long over. That isn't anyone's fault but the lack of legends on any given broadcast only serves to diminish the special quality of the evening, as does the fact that there are now so many movie awards shows that ol' Oscar is struggling to remain relevant. The producers of the show are undermining the very people the ceremony was designed to honor. This is nothing new. AMPAS decided years ago that it was too boring to broadcast honorary awards to older people in the industry, thus these have now been consigned to a couple of snippets from an earlier ceremony. Ditto with the geniuses who are honored with technical awards. Under the current scenario, Charles Chaplin's acceptance of an honorary Oscar in 1972 (one of the great moments in Hollywood history) would now be deemed unworthy of being telecast. Instead, the broadcast has morphed into a quasi-comedy special hosted by late night hosts who replicate inane (and often embarrassing) extended skits that seem to drone on forever. It's the height of irony that there is plenty of time to allocate to such nonsense but it comes at the expense of the true artists who are supposed to be the focus of the show. As we point out every year in our review of the ceremony, even the tastefully creative tribute to talents who passed away in the last year has become contentious. Rather than simply extend the segment for a few additional minutes to include more qualified artists, the truncated tribute now not only excludes legendary personalities but even famed artists who were once nominated for an Oscar.
The reaction in the industry over these proposed changes has been universally negative, leading us to think this is the worst marketing "improvement" plan since the introduction of New Coke in the 1080s. Hopefully, the backlash with cause those who make the decisions at AMPAS to rethink their position- otherwise we're likely to soon see the creation of the Steven Seagal Lifetime Achievement Award.
UPDATE: MOVIEPASS HAS REVERTED BACK TO ITS ORIGINAL PROGRAM THAT ALLOWS SUBSCRIBERS TO ATTEND ONE MOVIE A DAY. CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS.
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Moviepass is a subscription program available to movie-goers in the USA that allows members to pay $9.95 per month in return for receiving a card that allows them to see a different movie every day for no charge at over 4,000 theaters nationwide. (The price is less if you get the card via www.costco.com, assuming you are a Costco member. Costco also includes a year's subscription to the classic movie streaming site www.fandor.com) Over 2 million people subscribe to the program through www.moviepass.com. Some skeptics have stayed away on the basis that the service was too good to be true. They were wrong. Moviepass isn't too good to be true and subscribers have become fervent enthusiasts of the service. There's no catch. From New York to L.A., from Montana to Florida, you could go to a different movie every day of the week. But now the party is at least partially over. Moviepass has been predictably bleeding red ink from its business design, which sees the company paying participating theaters the full price of a customer's ticket. Do the math. The company only gets $9.95 per month from each subscriber but in big cities, Moviepass has to pay out as much as $15 bucks a ticket to theaters every time the customer attends a movie. Moviepass has gambled that they would have enough leverage over theater chains to coerce them into revenue sharing proceeds from concession sales. But that hasn't happened in a big way even though the service can justifiably argue that theaters are selling seats to customers who ordinarily would not have gone to many movies. One of the problems is that theaters are raked over the coals by movie studios that command the lion's share of ticket revenues. It's only when movies enter extended runs that theaters get a meatier share of the ticket sales, thus they depend on sales of over-priced concessions. This is why your local big city theater now resembles a restaurant, offering everything from Mexican food to pizza, along with the ability to dine while watching the film. Theaters are stuck in a dilemma: they can deny Moviepass a percentage of those precious concession revenues but if Moviepass dies, their theaters will have far fewer customers.
Moviepass has announced a "temporary" change to its core program: new subscribers will only be able to see up to four movies a month- and customers can only see the same movie once. Existing customers can still see a different movie every day but are still barred from repeat viewings of the same film. New customers are supposed to take solace from receiving a three month trial to a subscription radio station....but that's caused a backlash because the subscription automatically continues on a pay basis unless the customer pro-actively remembers to stop it. An article in Fortune addresses the challenges to Moviepass and casts doubt on whether existing customers will be able to continue to enjoy their "movie a day" plan when they renew their subscriptions. Moviepass is already losing $20 million a month. On the other hand, even seeing four movies a month would probably satisfy the average subscriber, so it isn't known how many subscribers might defect- and if they do, what will they gain? They will just end up paying much more at theater boxoffices. It seems a happy medium is in order if both Moviepass and major theater chains can come to terms. Moviepass should get some percentage of the revenues they are sending into theaters, especially on slow nights when attendance is sparse. After all, theaters are selling far more buckets of popcorn to customers who would not be there if it weren't for Moviepass. At the same time, the Fortune article addresses the poor customer service at Moviepass, which lacks a phone number customers can call if they experience problems. The company is also rather slow in sending out important notices. When some New York City theaters dropped out of the program months ago, customers weren't notified for days, with the result being that people showed up at the theaters and were simply told their cards were no longer valid. Only after an outcry did Moviepass notify customers. Still, even a streamed-down version of the plan is a value that will continue to tempt avid movie-goers because it beats the alternatives. Click here to read more.
Would you pay $50 to stream Adam Sandler's next movie for 48 hours?
BY LEE PFEIFFER
If you haven't heard of The Screening Room, you surely will. It represents a new technology championed by Silicon Valley wiz kid Sean Parker (one-time founder of Napster and President of Facebook) that would allow movie lovers to stream new films in their homes on the same day the film opens in theaters. There is a catch- and it's an expensive one. The program requires you to purchase a set-top box for $30 and then pay $50 for the privilege of streaming a new movie for a period of 48 hours. We at Cinema Retro have long railed against the extortionist price of movie theater tickets but this almost makes them look like a bargain. The Screening Room is obviously gambling that there are enough well-heeled movie fanatics out there who will find this to be yet another excuse not to get up from their living room recliners and journey out to a theater. Nick Schager, writing in The Daily Beast web site, points out that the advantages might be the ability to enjoy a new film without rude people around you texting, chatting or trying to shut up their screaming toddlers. Fair enough. But the technology would also increasingly alienate people who have already become socially alienated due to their obsessions with social media. How many times have you gone to dinner with people only to have someone whip out a mobile phone and begin breezing through E mails and instant messages? It has happened enough to me that last year I posted a plea on my Facebook page: if you find my company so boring that you can't sustain a conversation with me over a dinner table for an hour without being tempted to see who E mailed or texted you, then kindly make an excuse when I ask you to join me for a meal and spare me the indignity of competing for your attention. Remarkably, I had some people take issue with my request, saying it's part of contemporary society to engage in such behavior. To that I responded, "Well, would it be appropriate if I was a dinner guest in your house and during the meal I took out "Moby Dick" and began to read it?" Inevitably, the answer was met with silence because the logic is obvious: it would be inexcusably rude to read from a novel at a dinner table just as it would be rude to read a cell phone. New technology such as streaming movie services is wonderful in many ways but there it might diminish the collective experience of seeing movies with appreciative audiences. Even the best of screen comedies are so much better when you are joined in the laughter by others. In the case of The Screening Room, there is scant evidence that this particular program would be successful. Pay for View concerts and sporting events can command such prices but they are largely paid by groups of people who gather in the same room and share the expense of streaming the one-time event. Does anyone think they will be able to rally friends and neighbors to chip in to see the latest Nicolas Cage or Adam Sandler flick? Then there is the instinct among moviegoers to share the experience of seeing a major new film in a state-of-the-art theater with superior sound and a giant screen. It's doubtful that anyone would have bypassed the chance to see the latest "Star Wars" or James Bond flick in a theatrical environment where such movies are often attended by groups of friends who enjoy debating the merits of the film afterward.
Despite the drawbacks associated with the Screening Room business plan, Nick Schager points out that once such technology has been invented it seems unlikely it won't find a way on to the market in some format. Certainly Sean Parker knows this. Napster was founded because record companies were tone deaf to hearing about the prospects of allowing people to download music legally for a fee. Thus, Napster allowed them to download songs illegally. Suddenly it was all the rage. Instead of embracing the technology the record companies took legal action to close down Napster...but it was too late. Ironically, when the record companies finally did reluctantly embrace legal downloads, the technology proved to be the remedy for sinking CD sales. Basically, it saved the music industry. It seems likely that the ability to download and screen current movies that are playing in theaters will indeed become a normal part of the viewing experience once it's decided to price the service at a non-prohibitive level. Movie theater owners are scared...and well they should be. The film industry had long ago declared virtual war on them by taking increasingly bigger shares of ticket revenues and mandating that theaters undergo costly conversions to digital projection (though, in fairness, studios covered much of the cost if theaters implemented the new technology by the deadline date.) As I've pointed out previously, some theaters only survive by turning into semi-restaurants. The film ticket revenues can't pay the rent so the chicken wings and pizza have to fill in the slack. The Screening Room concept has also divided the Hollywood community itself. Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg are proponents and Christopher Nolan and James Cameron have opposed it.
We don't want to adopt a Chicken Little philosophy and claim that the sky is about to fall in. The demise of movie theaters was predicted when sound was first introduced on the bizarre premise that audiences weened on silent movies would not accept the new technology. In the 1950s it was advent of television that would cause theaters to close, but Hollywood studios responded with the wonders of color, widescreen productions that no B&W TV screen could hope to match. In the 1980s it was the skyrocketing popularity of the VCR that would bring an end to traditional movie-going. It's doubtful that the Screening Room technology will ever ensure the closure of movie theaters. People still like to go to movies on dates or on family outings. However, if the concept does unexpectedly take off, it could further hurt independent small town theaters that are struggling every day to survive. We at Cinema Retro will always be advocates of watching films the way they were meant to be seen: on the big screen. (Pity the poor soul who is introduced to "Lawrence of Arabia" by watching it on a mobile phone.) Home theater advances are wonderful and exciting but there is simply no substitute for the traditional movie-going experience.
"Batman v. Superman": potential blockbuster or "Cleopatra Redux".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
The heavily-hyped Warner Brothers super hero epic "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice" is one of the most heavily promoted films in years. It's also one of the most expensive. Variety estimates that the film's $250 million production budget plus ancillary marketing costs will make it necessary for the movie to gross $800 worldwide just to break even. You read that right: $800 million. One industry analyst says that anything less than a gross of $1 billion will be considered a disappointment. Warner Brothers contends that those figures don't take into consideration ancillary revenues from video and merchandising. Fair enough, but if a film bombs, generally speaking, the merchandise and video sales do, too. If you doubt it, how many people did you see walking around with "Waterworld" or "Howard the Duck" T shirts? Veteran screenwriter William Goldman once said of the film industry "Nobody knows anything." That was decades ago and it's still true today. The major studios are so devoid of any original ideas that they can only keep upping the ante in hopes of milking the current passion for big-budget comic book hero productions. It seems that if "Hamlet" were to be brought to the big screen nowadays, the famed soliloquy would have to be delivered by some guy in a cape and mask. Warner Brothers says that the fate of the studio doesn't depend on "Batman vs. Superman", but the fact that they would have to make such a statement indicates how high the stakes are in terms of this film delivering the goods.
Short-sighted studio executives have always been suckers for mega-budget would-be blockbusters. After the success of "Ben-Hur" and "The Ten Commandments" in the late 1950s, studios churned out any number of big-budget roadshow productions. Some worked out well ("The Sound of Music", "Patton", "The Longest Day"), some did okay ("The Alamo", "The Sand Pebbles") while many more lost substantial sums of money ("Mutiny on the Bounty", "55 Days at Peking", "Reds", "Hello, Dolly!", "Cleopatra", "Paint Your Wagon" and the notorious "Heaven's Gate"). That isn't to say that most of these boxoffice bombs weren't good movies. In fact, some were great movies, but from a sound business standpoint, their budgets should never have been allowed to jeopardize the health of the entire studio. When James Cameron's "Titanic" went over-budget and ended up costing $200 million back in 1997, industry executives swore they would never put themselves in such a precarious situation again. Guess what? The film became a blockbuster and all caution was thrown to the wind. Before long, directors who were deemed to be hot could get a virtual blank check if they could convince studio bosses that they had the next "can't miss" formula. That included Cameron, who ended up dropping $300 million on "Avatar", which managed to denounce capitalist corporations even as Cameron sought millions from the same entities to finance his already-forgettable blockbuster. (Cameron had learned never to sink your own money into your own production, regardless of how passionate you are about it. It was a lesson learned the hard way by John Wayne on "The Alamo" and Francis Ford Coppola on "Apocalypse Now".) However, the truth of the matter is that the industry is relying on fewer and fewer blockbusters to carry the baggage for other costly productions that either under-perform or bomb outright. The jury is not yet in on "Batman v. Superman" but how it stacks up in terms of quality isn't the most relevant factor. If the movie doesn't open huge there will be at lot of pants wetting in the corporate boardroom. (Word of mouth on the film is worrying. Apparently, trailers aren't testing that well with the fan boy base the studio needs to woo.)
Here's a suggestion: how about cutting back on productions that have budgets equivalent to some nation's entire gross national product and get back in the business of making modestly-budgeted movies that are designed to make modest profits. Studios never bet the ranch on mid-range westerns, war movies and spy flicks. Kate Hepburn, Jerry Lewis, Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster and Marilyn Monroe never starred in high risk blockbusters but their films could always be relied upon to make a decent profit. In the rare cases they did not, the losses were never very substantial. Remember when classic sci-fi movies like "Planet of the Apes" could be completed on relatively small budgets even with major talent involved? Today, insane salaries for overpaid talent have driven the costs of films sky high even before shooting even begins. This, despite the fact that unlike days of old, there are precious few genuine "stars" still left in the industry. What defines a star? Someone whose name on the marquee virtually guarantees a film's success, regardless of the quality of a film. Try thinking of how many actors today meet that criteria. The studios have learned nothing since the era in which Fox bet its very future on the fate of one film: "Cleopatra". It's a practice akin to the average person betting their life savings on a sure bet at a casino. I dunno. I'm just a guy with a blue collar background from Jersey City but I think I could run a studio boardroom more responsibly than some of the folks who are now doing so-- and so could you. Nobody knows anything.
Within five minutes it was old news that the extended trailer for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" was setting this universe on fire. So many fans attempted to order tickets for the film, which does not open until December, that the Fandango web site crashed temporarily. The trailer gives tantalizing bits and pieces of classic and new characters including those played by Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. Conspicuously missing is Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. The absence of his presence in the trailer is setting off Warren Report-like investigations in the fan community to theorize what it could mean. For more click here.
Roger Ebert Presents is a half-hour syndicated program that carries on the tradition started by the legendary film critic and his colleague Gene Siskel back in the 1970s. At the time, serious discussion of movies and the film industry was largely relegated to brief reviews sandwiched in on local news broadcasts. Ebert and Siskel changed all that by pioneering a program that featured intelligent debates about movies- and not just high brow fare. The two Chicago critics would often disparage prestigious releases as pretentious and lavish praise on other movies that were often derided as "B" films. In doing so, they revolutionized film criticism in general and exposed millions of people to movies that would otherwise have languished in obscurity. A lot has changed in the ensuing years. Siskel has passed away and Ebert has been robbed by health problems of his ability to speak. Ironically, he's probably as influential as ever. Ebert has mastered social media programs to keep in touch with his readers and he continues to write high profile, well-regarded books. He and his wife Chaz have also valiantly tried to keep Roger Ebert Presents on the air. Despite the fact that the show is widely syndicated to a large audience, the Eberts have not been able to find funding to continue for the 2012 season. In this era of austerity in the arts, Roger and Chaz have been forced to violate the key rule of producing: never fund the project yourself. That's exactly what the Eberts have been doing: paying the bills for all costs associated with the program. They have not even been taking salaries for their efforts. However, they can't continue to do so and have put out a public appeal for potential investor(s) to save the show.
I have never met Roger Ebert and my sole interaction with him was exchanging signed copies of books we had written many years ago. I have no idea if he has read Cinema Retro magazine or what he thinks of it if he does. I point this out because I have no vested personal interest in championing his cause- except for the fact that with so much sludge and valueless sleaze on TV today, it would truly be a shame if a man who is trying to maintain a bit of class and integrity in the medium would not find any takers. The budget for keeping Ebert's show (which features two young film critics) on the air wouldn't cover the coffee budget on the set of most programs. So here's hoping one of our most prolific film reviewers succeeds in his quest. For more click here
In the 1960s, Heston was one of several prominent film stars to march for civil rights. He also attended Dr. Martin Luther King's legendary rally in Washington, D.C.
Charlton Heston's former publicist has launched a petition to honor the iconic actor with a postage stamp bearing his likeness. Although Heston was a controversial figure in his later years due to his staunch support of the National Rifle Association, he was also a beloved symbol of the golden age of Hollywood. Considering we've had Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse adorn U.S. Postage stamps, it seems appropriate to honor Heston, who considered himself a devout patriot. Click here for more and a link to the petition site.
Lawrence O'Donnell, TV producer and political pundit, is going against the grain in stating that Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds should not only win the Best Picture Oscar- but will, indeed, do so. Read his rationale by clicking here.
Unlike the invaders in Independence Day and Superman II, reality show stars don't require space ships or ray guns to infiltrate the White House. Their weapons of choice are gowns, tuxedos and chutzpah.
By Lee Pfeiffer
No sooner had I partly recovered from TV's endless coverage of the ludicrous "Balloon Boy" story, then another scandal arose, caused by a couple whose mad desire to gain a reality show made them the center of international attention. The couple in question (whose names I refuse to promote), somehow managed to crash a White House state dinner and gain personal access to President Obama, Vice-President Biden and other dignitaries. They might have gotten away with it had they not bragged about their scam on their Facebook page (The two were so clueless that they misspelled White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's name as "Ron Emanuel"!) Aside from exposing a serious breach of procedure in the Secret Service, the incident just points out how far people will now go to gain even a modicum of media coverage. They look like real people, smell like real people, but like the pods in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, they are driven solely by a inherent need for self-preservation and lack any empathy for others. Ultimately, it's up to the public to put a stake through the hearts of these mad men and women by simply shutting off "reality shows". Like the character of Henry Hill states in Goodfellas, the worst fate for some people is just to be an ordinary schmuck. Read actor/comedian Harry Shearer's hilarious take on the invasion of the reality shows stars ("Sign Us Up Before We Kill Again!) by clicking here.
Move over, Obama - the networks found a REAL newsmaker: a 6 year old boy who wasn't inside a runaway balloon.
By Lee Pfeiffer
In yet another example of America's cable news networks jumping on any story to fill air time, yesterday wall-to-wall coverage was devoted to a bizarre story centering on a home made hot air balloon that was accidentally launched from a family's backyard in Colorado. A 9 year old boy in the family said his 6 year old brother was inside a small basket in the balloon when it took off. The networks began streaming live video of the balloon's 80 mile flight, breathlessly speculating as to whether the kid was somehow inside the balloon or whether he was in a basket that had dropped off somewhere. Everyone but Lassie was called in for the rescue attempt, and when the balloon finally landed, the kid was nowhere to be found. Reporters spoke breathlessly about his presumably horrible fate- perhaps he was struggling to survive in some desolate patch of wilderness. This went on for three hours virtually uninterrupted. This on the same day as the President's visit
to New Orleans and as the health care debate continued to heat up. At
6:00 PM, I tuned in to political commentator Ed Schultz's nightly news
analysis program on MSNBC - generally a compelling and informative show. I was
distressed to find that Schultz, who never engages in sensationalist
stories, was carrying over the "Boy in the Balloon" tale. It was then
revealed that the story was a non-starter because the little brat was
found hiding in his attic, having possibly set the entire thing up as a
joke with his brother.
This should have been the end of the story, but even the normally sober Schultz continued to exploit it, bringing on a woman named Sheree Silver who - get this- had been a contestant with the boy's family on the nutcase ABC reality show Wife Swap. She described her adopted TV family as a bunch of eccentrics who were obsessed with amateur science projects with the intention of proving the existence of extraterrestrials. The father is apparently a combination of Caractacus Potts and The Nutty Professor, who dabbles in building the kind of home-made contraptions that always end up transporting hapless people to the moon in B sci-fi movies. According to Silver, the young boy (whose first name is Falcon!) was a foul-mouthed prankster who was rarely disciplined by his family. If you thought it couldn't get any crazier, Silver then revealed herself to be a self-proclaimed psychic! Schultz kept driving the story even after introducing political commentator Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post. To her credit, Huffington quickly chastised Schultz and asked why the hell they were still discussing this non-story even after it was proven to be a possible hoax. Amazingly, Schultz dug in his heels and tried to defend the relevance of the story on the reed-thin premise that it would teach parents to better keep an eye on their kids. (Yeah, there's been a rash of kids in runaway helium balloons in my neighborhood - how about yours?) Huffington was not having any of it and kept criticizing Schultz until he was embarrassed into switching the topic to the war in Afghanistan. If only someone with Huffington's good instincts could show up on cable news every time network ninnies decide to abdicate real news in favor of unproven, but sensational stories, the medium might enjoy some respect once again. (Click here to watch the debate) The bad news? Now we'll be inundated by thousands of reports of UFO sightings from naive people who observed the runaway balloon.
Update: Speculation is growing that this story was a hoax from the start, possibly caused by parents who simply wanted to get media attention. Disgracefully, even though the networks knew yesterday the kid was never in the balloon, the family has been rewarded by being given coast-to-coast interviews on TV. This morning on two TV shows, little Falcon vomited on air. The kid is clearly sick, but the family keeps shuffling him in front of TV cameras - with the full co-operation of network brass who would rather endanger a child than pass up the opportunity for ratings.
Watch out, Sham Wow guy- CNN's Anderson Cooper may be auditioning for your job!
By Lee Pfeiffer
It's bad enough that CNN forces its anchors into those God-awful, cookie-cutter Ken and Barbie teams to co-host broadcasts. There is also no shortage of celebrity stories disguised as genuine news, stories about cute animals and star anchor Anderson Cooper's nightly cringe-inducing funny photo caption contest. Now comes a new low: CNN has introduced a new application for I Phones that allows consumers to get some pretty amazing updates. However, the network is too stingy to use its commercial breaks to promote the new app, because it would mean bumping out paid advertisers. Thus, the anchors have been forced to shill for the new application, with significant segments of news broadcasts devoted to having the hosts demonstrate how it works. The low point came tonight when Cooper, bringing boot-licking to a new level, threw in an enthusiastic remark that, at only $1.99, consumers couldn't afford not to have the new CNN application! Deceased cable pitch man Billy Mays has nothing
on the CNN team when it comes to shilling. What next? Maybe Cooper will
have to start using a CNN-brand Sham Wow to clean his desk while
delivering the news. When you wonder why the golden age of broadcast
news has passed us by, try to imagine what Walter Cronkite's reaction
would have been if someone tried to get him to shill for a product
while delivering stories. Mind you, there are still some excellent
reporters at the network, some of whom risk their lives to bring vital
segments to the air while Cooper and company keep the world informed of
the latest developments on Jon & Kate Plus 8. The network also still retains the services of top flight show host Howard Kurtz, who often uses his Sunday morning program Reliable Sources to criticize his own network. The
efforts of these genuine reporters are undermined by their employer's trivialization of the
news. CNN should just admit what its call letters stand for: Commercial
News Network. (Gotta run: Cooper just announced the next segment - something about "the world's fastest nudist." Sadly, I kid you not.)
Denzel Washington: a $16 million paycheck is beneath his dignity.
By Lee Pfeiffer
The New York Times has an insightful piece regarding the concern among Hollywood agents and studios about the lack of drawing power exhibited by top movie stars this year. Under-performers include Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, John Travolta, Will Ferrell and Johnny Depp. The consensus is that these actors have not delivered audiences in numbers great enough to justify their paychecks. (The article cites Eddie Murphy among the non-performers, but apparently only Hollywood executives didn't get the message that Murphy hasn't been hot since Bill Clinton was in the White House). Consequently, studios are cutting back on paychecks - and actors aren't happy. Denzel Washington refused to take "only" $16 million for his next movie - despite the fact that his recent films have all performed softly. Reasons given for the falling star power is everything from distraction by other forms of entertainment to poor marketing. Here's another one: many new films are simply lousy - and in the current recession, it now seems to cost a king's ransom to have a night out at the movies. For more
Predictions that the Jackson family would make a circus out of Michael's death are coming true, though even I didn't think it would occur before the pop legend was interred. The family patriarch, Joe Jackson, has shocked even hardened reporters with an interview last night at the BET awards show and in a press conference today by using the media spotlight to plug a new record label he has established. Joe Jackson tried to imply that he was responding to CNN reporter Don Lemon's questions about his business plans, but Lemon played the interview today again to prove that his question was only about plans for Michael's funeral. Instead, Joe Jackson made an awkward promotion for his new label and introduced his business partner, who had to remind Jackson what the name of the new label was. The situation was repeated this afternoon when Jackson made some rambling statements at a press conference in which he cheerily promoted the new record label again. He again implied he was responding to a question from Lemon about his "plans". This prompted Lemon to say on air to CNN anchor Ali Velshi that no such question was ever asked of Mr. Jackson. Lemon then took the extraordinary step of saying outright that "one member of the Jackson family" was personally turning the death of his son into a circus, even as other members of the family were intent on mourning.There was no mystery as to who Lemon was referring to.
Joe Jackson, who was accompanied by the ubiquitous "Reverend" Al Sharpton, was then brought before the microphones again after apparently having been told that his comments were tasteless. (When Al Sharpton is held up as a paragon of good taste, you know you've crossed the line.) Jackson again offered a weak and rambling explanation, and was all smiles despite the fact that his son's death was the reason for him being on-camera. He said he mourns Michael's loss inwardly, not outwardly, apparently in answer to those who have criticized his seemingly jovial demeanor while on camera.. He also made reference to "my publicist" and said he knew that "we" are loved the world over. Funny, I don't recall seeing any kids wearing Joe Jackson t shirts. The frenzy is only beginning...and here's a bit of unsolicited advice for the Jackson family: put a lot of miles between papa and the nearest microphone. - Lee Pfeiffer
Like most people of my generation, I can remember where I was when I heard the news that Elvis Presley had died. I was in a tacky souvenir shop in the beach resort of Seaside Heights, New Jersey when the announcement came on the radio. Like anyone who had grown up with Elvis as one of the dominant pop culture figures of our time, I felt a sense of loss over the fact that the world had lost a great artist. However, I was shocked when friends of mine began to tell me how emotionally devastating the news was. A female friend said she couldn't cope with the sense of loss and a number of my others friends immediately went out and bought an assortment of Elvis albums. All of this would have been understandable if any of these people had idolized The King, but, in fact, none of them had ever mentioned his name to me prior to news of his death. To most of us twenty-somethings, Elvis had long ago lost his "street cred" as an innovative entertainer. Granted, he worked hard and put on a great show, but he had been content to live off past glories and pick the low hanging fruit of being a Vegas attraction. Still, upon news of his death, millions of people who barely knew he was still performing became Elvis fanatics overnight. The irony is that The King earns more in death than he ever did in life.
I mention all of this because of the inevitable fact that the same scenario will be played out regarding Michael Jackson.Although he still maintained an enormous world-wide following, for most of the general public, he was a punch line on a late night comedy show. Yet, the beatification process has already begun. It's one thing to acknowledge Jackson's well-earned reputation as a master performer and musical genius, but the news media is making Jackson sound like Mother Theresa. The immediate aftermath of a man's death is not the time to assault his reputation. Jackson's scandalous behavior in many aspects of his life has been amply chronicled elsewhere. However, one has to question the emotional stability of anyone who is now indulging in the world-wide mania for Jackson memorabilia. It stands to reason that virtually none of these people could have been induced to purchase this junk just two days ago. What comfort does it give someone to jump on a bandwagon and become an instant loyalist to a man they had virtually no interest in up until his death? It's a curious phenomenon, but one we should be used to by now. The Times of London reports that sales of Jackson's music and memorabilia is skyrocketing around the world. Why? Most of us probably already own the good songs he made (and Thriller is as standard as furniture in most households) So what motivates a person to go out and buy the second-rung music? Does one really get a sense of personal worth from wearing a cheesy T shirt commemorating Jackson, even though it was ground out by an opportunist within minutes of his death? Given Jackson's propensity for the outlandish, he would probably be complimented by all this - after all, in his world, any attention was better than being ignored. However, for many of these people, as of a few days ago, Jackson was as relevant to the contemporary music scene as Liberace. The international news media predictably deemed that there was no other story in the world worth covering than Jackson's life and career. Iran on the brink? Who cares? The health care debate in America? Big news a few days ago, now irrelevant. Violent eruptions in Iraq on the verge of the U.S withdrawal from urban centers?Yawn... The only one grateful for this is South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, the Amelia Earhart of politicians, whose bizarre disappearance and related sex scandal pushed him off the front pages.
On this, the 65th anniversary of D-Day, Cinema Retro commemorates the heroes of the epic battle, both living and dead. At today's moving ceremonies in Normandy, President Obama, President Sarkozy, Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Stephen Harper and Prince Charles paid tribute to the men who liberated Europe in the greatest battle in the annals of modern warfare. As this was probably the last major gathering of veterans of the invasion, the ceremonies took on special significance. Some of the veterans who made the journey were quite infirm and one American veteran passed away on the eve of the ceremonies after visiting the graves of his comrades. Today is an appropriate time to reflect on the sacrifices of these men. Why not view the two best D-Day movies, The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan? Better still, have your kids join you so they can gain a greater understanding of the type of heroism that not even Hollywood can do justice to. - Lee Pfeiffer
If class among the Hollywood elite is dead, Julia Roberts is among those who buried it. The woman many say epitomizes glamour was among a star-studded line-up that toasted Tom Hanks at The Film Society of Lincoln Center's annual lifetime award ceremony on Monday. Roberts noted to Hanks, "So everybody fuckin' likes you." This was followed up by the observation that "I'm wearing the same fucking dress tonight as your publicist." Apparently it brought down the house and Hanks good-naturedly joked about Roberts' "potty mouth". I'm far from a prude (as regular readers can readily attest), and there is indeed a place for dirty humor. However, there was a time when it was restricted to roasts at the Friars Club and similar venues. What does it say about Roberts that a vaunted venue like Lincoln Center should act as a recepticle for crass comments? There was a time when society would not applaud such behavior, but boo her from the stage. Then again, we live in a society that extolls the worst type of behavior. In England, an idiot game show contestant recently went from national disgrace to virtual saint when she was diagnosed with a terminal disease - and coverage of her death rivaled that accorded to Churchill - despite the fact that she was prone to vile, racist comments. In America last week, only a sane judge prevented indicted the former Illinois governor from being a contestant on another game show set in the jungles of Costa Rica! (I'm not making this up.) We idolize singers who engage in self-destructive behavior and sports figures who beat up women and charge little kids for their autographs. I suppose it says more about society than it does the miscreants it puts on pedestals. For those who consider Julia Roberts and her ilk to be modern incarnations of old time Hollywood class, I say "Are you kidding?" Can you imagine a similar event decades ago at which Grace Kelly made such remarks in "tribute" to Cary Grant?
Like many news addicts, I keep the cable TV stations on during the day while I go about the more mundane aspects of running the Cinema Retro "empire". Yesterday's miraculous landing in the Hudson River of an airliner that suffered the loss of its engines after striking a flock of geese, was truly a head-turner. The networks, both local New York affiliates and national cable stations, appropriately reported on every second of the breathtaking event. The captain of the stricken craft had managed a truly spectacular water landing in the shadow of where the World Trade Center once loomed and, equally impressive, a Dunkirk-armada of disparate rescue boats managed to get all 150+ passengers evacuated from the plane within 90 seconds. The only thing that would have made it more riveting is if we found out Karen Black had been piloting the plane a la Airport '75. However, as the minutes turned to hours, the networks fell back on their reliably lazy and pandering methods of showing endless loops of the same footage, interviewing and re-interviewing the same passengers and aviation experts even as it became clear no remarkable or new information was forthcoming. As compelling as this story was, it was still mostly relevant to New Yorkers - after 9/11, the prospect of any airliner flying at an abnormally low altitude over the city would be of great concern. However, the incident occurred so quickly that there had been no panic or even speculation about what was happening. If you lived in Des Moines, Iowa and finally wanted to get some international news, you were out of luck. The networks were giving you wall-to-wall coverage of a story they decided was so compelling that the outside world would not exist. This is usually the same treatment afforded cases pertaining to missing sexy, white teenage girls.
Think I'm being too harsh? Well, I like a heart-warming story as much as anyone - and this one not only provided some real heroes but the all-too-infrequent happy ending because all of the passengers escaped without life-threatening injuries. However, at what point does coverage of a feel-good story become excessive and find the networks abdicating their responsibilities to report on what is happening elsewhere in the world? Consider just what else was occurring yesterday:
There was a contentious senate confirmation hearing for Eric Holder, who stands to become the most powerful law enforcement official in the United States.Want to know where he stands on the important issues and how he would run the department differently from the Bush administration? Well, if you didn't see the hearings when they were broadcast live in the morning, you were out of luck as far as cable news networks went.
Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden gave their farewell addresses to their colleagues before assuming their new positions as Secretary of State and Vice-President.
The battles in Gaza saw the worst day of violence so far and a UN building was shelled.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Fuggetaboutit! Journalists are risking their lives to cover these conflicts, but they seem to get as much airtime as the battle of Gettysburg.
Finally, President Bush gave his farewell address to the nation, though it was clear the networks only reluctantly afforded him 13 minutes of precious "non-news" coverage of the airliner crash. Depending upon where you stand on the President's performance, the speech was either moving and gracious or delusional and arrogant - but there was little air time afforded to discuss these issues or debate the significance of the speech, though MSNBC did allow its hosts to dwell on it a bit before resuming the "All Airliner, All the Time" coverage.
Late in the evening, and hours after the last relevant news had been released about the incident, I turned to the BBC to find out if there were any other human beings left on the planet who were making news. Alas, it did not appear so. How about Nightline for analysis of the Holder confirmation or Presidential speech? Nope - it was 100% airliner news - and included an entire segment on the bird menace to airliners. There were so many of these stories about feathered fiends that aired last night, I thought Hitchcock had risen from the grave to direct them.
This morning I turned out CNN in the vain hope the airliner story had been placed in proper context, but no such luck. In spot-checking the network, it's been hours and I haven't found a single story that wasn't related to the rescue. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Paddy Chayefsky's Network now seems like a documentary instead of a comedy. I guess the airline rescue story will be omnipresent on the news shows - at least until the next sexy, white teenage girl goes missing.
Inspired by David Brierly's column about disruptive and rude behavior witnessed in UK movie theaters, writer Steve Vertlieb weighs in with horror stories from the American point-of-view, thus proving the Brits don't have a monopoly on uncouth idiots. To read Steve's previously published essay on his web site Thunder Child,click here - and while on his site, browse through his incredible archive of insightful film-related columns, accessed through his home page.
if hushed, is unmistakable. Like the sound of the captain on the flight tannoy
announcing choppy turbulence ahead or next door’s house alarm going off in the
middle of the night, you know that the shape of your immediate experience is
about to be altered by forces beyond your control. It may come in the form of
giggling, gruff voices or popcorn being spilt. But, rest assured, when the
sound of disruption slips its way into the cinema theatre it is piercingly
It would seem that, nowadays, if you don’t talk during a film at the
cinema, then you are in a minority. For most, the box office is not only the
vendor of a mere flick ticket, but a gateway to passive unrest. Whether they are
parents, couples, professionals or OAPs, a trip to the movies is that apt
opportunity to trade-in the burden of responsibility for the anarchy that boils
over when a teacher leaves the classroom for two minutes. For, the teacher has
abandoned the classroom - the traditional ‘usher’ has become somewhat of an
enigmatic figure in the cinema in recent years. In fact, one could argue he
left the screen almost twenty years ago and never came back. He may be spotted
before the trailers begin, and reappear at the closing credits. But he is
nowhere to be seen for the two hours in between when you need him most. Like a
father who waits in the hall whilst his wife goes into labour, contemporary
ushers are reluctant to get roped into the nitty-gritty of child birth. It is
now a case of ’shut the door and leave ’em to it’. Report any noise and to the
rescue comes a 21st Century Adrian Mole, torch shaking in his hand,
as he apologises to the perpetrators for having to ask them to keep the noise
levels to a minimum. With castigation such as that on the sidelines, who would
dare a put a foot wrong? It is that age old defiance; - ask the public not to
talk, and they will willingly lose themselves to a double bill of Tourettes.
No genre offers any asylum. From the baby sick and flying Farley’s Rusks
of Happy Feet, to the intrusive distraction of somebody explaining every
scene of Casino Royale to the donkey that accompanied them, there exists
no anodyne to the contagious evil of these bullies. You think subtitled drama
would harbor a bit of hush? You’d be wrong. The Diary of Anne Frank tenders no refuge; Schindlers List
will still prove too intense for the Heat-reader on the row behind. Who gives a
hoot about theHolocaust when it looks like Amy Winehouse’s fella might get
bail? Multi-plexes are now a pantheon for these brutes to wave their
single-fingered salute at the mindful minority who still acknowledge the
pillars of respect and self-control, whilst they showboat all the restraint of
a fig leaf. To some extent, it is hardly surprising.To morons such as these, just the impact of a
visual image before them is more than enough to kick start the stimulated urge
to say something. It doesn’t matter what. In fact, anything will do. Preferably
though, utter nonsense tends to do the trick. At times all that is missing is
Roy Walker stood to the right of the screen begging you to say what you see.
Because for the most part, the visual incitement of cinema-going is much like
placing a picture puzzle before a laboratory monkey; where reserved judgment
and primitive excitement collide, there is only ever one winner.
I am sure that this will sound to many like the outburst of your typical
killjoy. But then I can rest equally assured that it is that ‘many’ which this
rant is aimed at. They will scoff at this attack just as they scoff at the idea
of not being heard for an hour or two. What is most worrying is that, in many
ways, this behaviour is a simple snapshot of today’s society, and the selfish,
impatient inconsideration of the everyday Joe. The same one who flashes you to
get out of his way in the fast lane of the motorway, the same one who still
barges in front of you at the supermarket check-out with two-weeks worth of
shopping in his trolley, leaving you to queue behind with your 30 pence
newspaper and exact change.Through the
echelons of time, the “sshhhh!!!!’’ factor of cinema-going is a cliché that has
gathered momentum within the rude thoughtlessness of modern life.
Cinemas may still be theatres. But no longer is their priority to
showcase the latest films. They have become forums, which are
concession-dependent for their profit. Candid in their ability to match your
mortgage payment for a small Asda cola, and shameless in their drive to push
loud, messy and garish three course meals onto the very same John Motsons who
will commentate their way into the screens. Once inside, the film plays a poor
understudy to a gamut of commercials and in-house promotional reels - on
average, a movie will in actuality begin over twenty minutes after the printed
showing time. Showing times - much in the same way as certificates - mean
nothing in today’s climate. Turning up half an hour after the advertised time?
Worry not, you will be free to barge in any way. Never mind the disruption to
those who paid to watch a film uninterrupted from start to finish. ‘Chris and
Claire’ decided to see what was on at the last minute, and that folks means
another £15 in the till. £30 if they’re peckish. Is it any wonder the noise
issues are as they are, if you usher in people who not only arrive forty
minutes late, but still buy food? This is why the theatre managers themselves
are just as much to blame as the gaseous chatterboxes themselves. It is like
buying Bart Simpson a drum kit for Christmas and telling him not to make a
(David Brierly is a UK-based freelance writer. Send comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his profile page.)
I can easily name the worst movie villains in history: audience members who keep their mobile phones on in the theater. Let's face it: anyone can make a careless mistake and forget to turn their phone off. What makes my blood boil are the people who keep them on even after getting a cautionary warning, such as those given before every Broadway play. In one instance, Billy Crystal wished his audience a good night after a performance of his one-man show a few years ago. He then paused and made an exception for the audience member whose phone went off numerous times during the show, thereby disrupting his performance. Crystal embarrassed the unnamed audience member by referring to them as an expletive, to wild applause from audience members. Perhaps if everyone else treated these morons in the same manner, they will be shamed into amending their behavior - and the same goes for selfish people who decide that the movie theater is a perfect place to bring infants and toddlers, who then cry and throw tantrums while the parents sit shamelessly amidst the chaos, not caring about the dispruption they cause. There was a time this type of behavior was considered a minor irritant, but with ticket prices now costing slightly less than a fantasy vacation (in London, prices per ticket are about $20), you have to deal with these idiots in a more aggressive manner. Don't look for theater management to help out. There's no such thing as an usher and when I complained to management awhile back about a disruptive mother and child in the audience, I was told all they could do was give me my money back. Seems fear of litigation is now the driving philosophy - no matter who the management takes to task, they will inevitably say it is on the basis of some type of prejudice.
As long as I'm auditioning for a Grumpy Old Men remake, let's also let loose on theaters who have cut corners by removing such unnecessary baggage as projectionists. I remember seeing a Gone With the Wind revival only to find a large hair had been stuck on the lens that protruded over the actor's faces. When a group of us marched to the theater manager like the peasants in Frankenstein, we were introduced to "the projectionist": a pimple-faced teenager who also ran the popcorn stand! He told us that was the way the movie was supposed to look because it was "real old"! Just recently, I read comments on a blog from someone who had attended a showing of Planet of the Apes at New York's Ziegeld Theatre, the last remaining single-screen cinema in the city. He reported that the audience had to watch every other reel out of focus because the management didn't know how to work the changeover projector.
The bottom line, to quote Network's Howard Beale, we've got to shout out "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" I'm not alone in my criticisms: film critic Michael Russnow has a similarly-themed article that stops just short of calling for the death penalty for mobile phone abusers. To read click here. - Lee Pfeiffer
Where have you gone, Howard Beale? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you...
Ace reporter/author Carl Bernstein, who made journalism history when he broke the Watergate scandal with his partner Bob Woodward, has let loose with scathing criticism about the dumbing down of American culture. In a lecture to journalism students, Bernstein wags his finger at a public removed from reality and more obsessed with the likes of non-entities like Donald Trump and Paris Hilton. He not only blames the media but also the public for embracing a news media that comfortably incorporates celebrity scandals into hard news reports. Strange as it may seem, given the fact that we are a web site and magazine that deals with film stars, we heartily agree. The place for entertainment news is in entertainment-based publications and web sites. There isn't a single film or music magazine or site that should take more prominence in people's lives than those that present world news. It should be a rare occasion when a celebrity makes their way into the legitimate news cycle - perhaps the death of a legendary actor or director or a scandal so shocking that it has actual news value. However, the networks are awash with junk that cheapens the contributions of real journalists who put their lives in danger to report on occurrences in dangerous places the world seemingly couldn't care less about. The news cycle is packed with Barbie/Ken-boy/girl anchor teams chosen for their looks, not their credentials. It's apparent many haven't the vaguest idea about the deeper meaning of what they're reading off the monitors. It's like Braodcast News and Network redux. Ironically, although American cable TV has numerous "news" stations, I had to switch to the BBC today to learn that the worst floods in Mexican history have so far displaced over one million people. Yet, I didn't see a word of it on any U.S. news network - however, CNN did have a very important segment on tossing leftover Halloween pumpkins. Oh, and the nets were awash with Heather Mills in a crying jag of self-pity about how she's suffered living with Sir Paul McCartney -even though she's supposed to walk away with the biggest settlement in British divorce history. Meanwhile, wars rage, health care coverage evaporates, presidential candidates debate in forums most people don't bother to watch (hey, they're on opposite Dancing with the Stars, for God's sake!) and its left to fewer and fewer individuals who actually care about the state of the world to make life and death decisions for everyone.
Network's "Mad Prophet of the Airwaves" Howard Beale had it right when he advised his own audience to throw out their TV sets and shout "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" We intend to do precisely that- but first, we gotta see how this week's episode of Two and a Half Men starring comedy icon Charlie Sheen turns out!- Lee Pfeiffer
If you want to see cavemen in action, you don't have to tune in to the new poorly-received sitcom based on Neanderthal characters from an insurance commercial. Rather you can just work for Warner Brothers' president of production Jeff Robinov at least according to Hollywood Deadline Daily reporter Nikke Finke. Finke alleges that inside sources at WB have told her that Robinov has put out a decree that the studio will no longer finance films with females as leads. This is apparently due to the fact that most movies with actresses receiving top billing have under-performed. Cinema Retro has long lamented the fact that there are precious few bankable actresses left in the industry. The sin of all this is that studios aren't supporting the development of films with female leads. Instead, they choose to go for the low-hanging fruit of sci-fi, raunchy sex comedies and brain-dead action movies that appeal to the prized demographic of young males. Did it ever occur to these over-paid executives that it might be in everyone's interest to actually sink some money into developing films starring actresses that would have broad appeal? Right now if your last name isn't Streep, Dench of Mirren, an actress can't get a decent role if you're north of age 40. Male-oriented films have always dominated the box office but that didn't stop Warner Brothers and other studios from giving us such "minor stars" as Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn. What chance does the next generation have of ever developing their own legends when this type of philosophy permeates the film industry? Even Jodie Foster, one of the few remaining actresses who can pull in a crowd, is down to starring in Death Wish knock-offs like The Brave One. Apparently, the only viable type of female star is one who can out-macho Charles Bronson. Too bad Shelly Winters was 35 years too early with Bloody Mama - she'd win an Oscar for it today.
Warner Brothers publicity shot of Lauren Bacall circa mid-1940s: gone are the days.
You can say what you want about the old studio system: it was run by tyrants and the casting couch was being worn out on a daily basis. But these were also glory days for Hollywood actresses. Based on the current philosophies of the studios, it would appear there is no interest in attempting to reawaken that glorious era. Thank God for DVD and Turner Classic Movies where the true Hollywood goddesses can be enjoyed without the benefit of the "visionaries" running today's studios. (As of this writing, Jeff Rabinov has not publicly given his side of these allegations) For Nikki Finke's article click here - Lee Pfeiffer
MPAA CONSIDERS WARNING LABELS RELATING TO SMOKING IN FILMS
By Lee Pfeiffer
As though lousy profit margins and the need to charge the equivilent of a 30-year mortgage for a popcorn and soft drink combo isn't enough to drive movie theater owners into despair, now comes word that the Motion Picture Association of America may bend to pressure from health groups to factor "pervasive smoking" into their ratings decision for feature films. This means that at a time when theaters are finally getting bums in seats for major movies, the MPAA may provide an impediment to getting younger viewers to see certain movies if they are deemed to have scenes of excessive lighting up. No sane person would argue that smoking is a terrible and self-destructive habit - and among all the stupid things I've done in my life I can say with pride that smoking cigarettes has never been among them. (In fact, it's just about the only stupid thing I've never done!) However, we are now issuing so many warnings for so many acts of personal misbehavior that the situation has become ludicrous. We have safety labels on everything ("Do not attempt to swallow this pitchfork!") and their sheer number has rendered them all but meaningless. The MPAA has been coy about their plans. It's unclear whether the smoking warning would only apply to films in which it is deemed to be shown irresponsibly, or whether it would apply to even period films that depict eras in which smoking was much more accepted.
A NO-NO FOR DR. NO: IT'S OKAY THAT HE WANTS TO CAUSE A NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST, BUT FOR GOD'S SAKE LET'S NOT LET HIM LIGHT UP ONSCREEN!