Off Hollywood: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Bay!


Michael Bay knows how to make visually stunning, crowd-pleasing content. His production techniques earned him some of the highest achievements in the advertising world, all within a few years of graduating school. In addition, two of his films have cemented their way into the Criterion Collection (the holy grail of laudable films). So, whatever you think of Bay’s plot style, the man knows how to produce a movie. It’s worth picking up a few tips from him.

Go Funny

Remember this commercial? It pretty much dominated the airwaves of the 1990s and bred a generation of milk lovers. The direction of the video is practically flawless. Bay captures the humor of every moment, starting with the details of the museum around the subject, and perfectly captures the thirst-spawned desperation of his situation.

Humor and satire are the most difficult, but effective, means to convey your message via online video. Unless you happen to accidentally catch a goose flying out of a hen house and stealing the toupee off of a famous politician on video, you’re going to need to do quite a bit of planning and perfecting from every vantage point.

Go Big!

Explosions, chases, beautiful people, these are all things that tend to attract viewers. While it’s not recommended that you simulate giant explosions without the help of trained professionals, you can still enact some BIG ideas from the comfort of your home or studio.

Your explosions don’t have to be huge to make an impact. Take “The Rock,” starring Nicolas Cage, where the closest thing to an explosion was the threat of those little green glass balls exploding all over the San Francisco Bay. Although, fire and melting skin do look cool, the threat is what drove the audience’s adrenaline in the theater. How can you cultivate big emotions with your viral videos?

Get Creative

If Bay doesn’t have the right equipment to capture the shot exactly how he wants it, then he invents it. On the set of “Bad Boys II,” instead of relying on locked-off cameras, Bay wanted them moving, bringing you right into the action. So he proposed the idea of the “Bay Buster,” built by John Frazier. It’s basically a Chevrolet 3/4-ton pickup truck with a reinforced front end, roll bars, and safety cage for the stunt driver, and something that looks like a cowcatcher on the front end, like you might see on a train. It’s Y-shaped, low to the ground, and cameras are protected with armor plating. The Y-shaped device on the front picks up oncoming objects and flips them over the vehicle.

Bay’s movies are a staple of Saturday afternoon cable reruns. Learn more about your local cable providers at www.directstartv.org.

“The Watch” and Other Myopic Endeavors


Exhibitors by nature are a cautious lot. They are at the bottom of the feeding frenzy that is called the film business. Producers aka studios make films. Distributors set the advertising and get the films to the theaters. Exhibitors are the theaters. They are totally reliant on the films Hollywood sends them, and without them they would not be able to charge $7 for a box of popcorn that costs about 75¢ to produce.

Exhibition is a business. The people that run them are businessmen and women. Certainly they may be knowledgable and certainly they may be above average in intelligence, but the business does not require an abundance of creativity. It has a tendency to make the people in it become conservative in thought and speech. Exhibitors are constantly amazed when a film they hardly understand becomes a hit. They’ll shrug their collective shoulders and say, “Who knew?” It is this mentality of not understanding the art side of the business that was one of the imperatives towards creating megaplexes. If you play every single film available, it mitigates the chance of missing something that might sell more popcorn, er tickets.

So it comes as little surprise that the industry is abuzz with the Arizona exhibition chain that recently nixed playing THE WATCH. THE WATCH is distributed by 20th-Century Fox. Fox is a ‘firm terms’ company. They disdain and officially put the kibosh on the age old industry dance called negotiations.

In the good old days, when a film finished playing, the person who was responsible for putting the film into the movie theater and the person responsible for selling that film would ‘settle’ the film. Or in a more colloquially manner of speaking, they’d start acting as if the film were a bag of potatoes being purchased by a frugal minded grandmother at an open market dealing with an old established adversary, the grocer. They would start with a standard dance. One would say, “The film tanked.” The response would be, “No it didn’t, you made money.” Then a counter, “It was flawed p.o.s.” Followed by the standard, “You made money.” Which would yield, “What are you talking about?! People walked out.” “Yeah, they may have walked out, but that’s because your floors are sticky.” The argument would go back and forth in a good natured dance. Ultimately they would arrive at an acceptable price for all. The movie industry was like that for years.

Firm term means we will not negotiate. It is what it is, take it or leave it. Remember exhibitors don’t want to miss out on any potential hit, so they will take it. They will grumble, but they will take it. They are over the proverbially barrel. Now comes that 30 screen Arizona theater chain that said “No!”. They said no to Fox’s THE WATCH. On some level you applaud them, but of course they took a film that most knew was a dog, had positioning problems in the marketplace and at a time when there was plenty of product to fill the other screens. They bold statement was hardly bold. Of course, they said it was because an agreement on the rental feel couldn’t be achieved. Hardly. Fox offered what it always does. The exhibitor saw a bad film with little chance to make any money and made a public case of it. They look bold. They appear strong.

Don’t believe it. They are positioning themselves for Fox’s next film. They hope, probably erroneously that they will get a better deal. The distributors doesn’t really care about exhibitors as long as they pay whatever they dictate. It is part of the problem with the film distribution model that was created a century ago. It is archaic and dictated by people who don’t truly care about what’s best for the industry.

So it goes.

Battleship vs John Carter: Why Some Losers Lose More


OK, so JOHN CARTER tanked. The media had a feeding frenzy. Disney chopped some heads and a good time was had by all, sort of. The film cost more than $200 million to make. It scored a measly $73 million in the States while doing better internationally to the tune of $232 million. Remember, what the studio takes in after the theaters take their taste runs around 50%. So the film, not even counting advertising and hype, lost at least $50 million. Tack in the additional costs and that number is heading towards $200 million.

Then along comes BATTLESHIP. It cost north of $200 million. It took less than $50 million domestically, but did slightly better than CARTER by taking in over $250 million internationally. It looks to lose at least $150 million., but to hear the quietude from the media, that’s chump change and hardly worth mentioning.

So why does JOHN CARTER get blasted and BATTLESHIP gets a pass?  According to the LA Times, the reasons are as petty as the movie industry itself.

First is one of spite. The media does not like the folks over at Disney. Disney is tighter than a miser with a penny and getting something other than what the handlers hand out of Disney is nigh impossible. So when bad things happen to them, the media just loves it. They get their pound of flesh.

Now toss in the pre-opening machinations. The film’s title was changed because Disney’s marketing mavens knew they had trouble. So rather than blame the film itself and its attendant egos, and blame the name. The MARS NEEDS MOM disaster had them convinced that the Red Planet evoked ill will with audiences. A similar theory was held for years about the name of Paris in a title. All the films that had Paris in them tanked until Woody Allen’s last film. The name Mars got tainted as well, at least by the guardians at Disney.

There is also the unwritten law of Hollywood,  “the first shall always gets the biggest slice.” If there are two competing film films along similar themes, the first out of the gate will usually do much better. The same is true for bad news. The first film to cost a ton and then lose a ton will get the majority of the negative ink.

And finally, BATTLESHIP’S studio, Universal, seems to have done a much better job of mitigating the bad news by handling the flop more gracefully. The folks at Disney went into panic mode and heads started rolling. If heads are to roll at Universal, it will happen sometime in the fall, long after the disaster has become a memory.

Is there any other lessons to be learned from BATTLESHIP? Not exactly or more precisely not just yet, but if there are more mega-flops like BATTLESHIP and DARK SHADOWS, (yes, Virginia, Barnabas has bitten the big loser) we may be looking at a re-thinking of the summer tentpole. Here’s a suggestion for this omnipotent studio heads. Get better writers. Have your seen BATTLESHIP? The opening is too long and since when did poetry theirs become officers in the Navy? The film was on the shoals before it started.

Review: Men in Black 3


Movies are about expectations. No matter how jaded we may be, we enter the theater with a certain set of those darn expectations. When your expectations are exceeded with a smart, entertaining film there is a feeling of exhilaration. Remember the first time Indiana Jones made his way into our universe or maybe that Imperial battleship coming out of the right hand of the screen, and kept coming, and coming. It’s a delight.

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The opposite is also true. Going to a film with the expectation that it will be everything you want only to find that the trailers and the hype don’t even come close to matching your hopes. It’s a bummer. Usually this comes when the premise of the film has been played out. The film is as arid a field of wheat in the 1930s dustbowl. Swirling wind signifying nothing but a waste of time, and if you bought a popcorn, no fun and added fat. Yuck.

“Men in Black 3” has some expectations. You go in thinking this is going to be the same old, same old. It took them so long to get around to making this that it has to be a simple case of cashing in and running off with our money. It will offer nothing new and those aforementioned calories are going to be added to an already too large midriff.

But surprise, surprise. MIB3 is a fun. It doesn’t have a serious bone in its digital body. It doesn’t take itself seriously and as a result, it is enjoyable fun. It has nice SFX, but more importantly, it has some fine acting. What? Fine acting in a loud, summer sequelized film? Yeah.

I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say, Will Smith has to go back in time to set somethings right and save Tommy Lee Jones’ character. Along the way, the new head of MIB is played by Emma Thompson. This great actress has some of the best comic timing out there. No wonder, back in the day she learned her trade as a comic with Hugh Laurie. So she’s fun to watch. Josh Brolin plays a young Tommy Lee Jones, but with Tommy Lee’s voice coming out of his mouth. What could have been a distraction, isn’t. Then there is Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays an alien who lives in various futures all at the same time. Don’t ask, it works. And for eye candy there is Alice Eve who plays Emma Thompson’s character in the past. And as Esquire magazine is so fond of saying, she’s one of those gals we love to watch. Another actor who shows some serious chops is Jemaine Clement. He plays Boris the Animal, and when I say chops, he has a set of teeth that would make an orthodontists drool, but his over the top emoting is perfect for his badd as character.

OK, let’s break it down. MIB3 is a fun, empty headed carnival ride that exceeds expectations. What else could you expect from a film coming out Memorial Day Weekend? Not much, Slick.

Three Best Art Films for the Summer


OK, maybe not the best, but the ones people will be talking about.

The first one is “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”. The film is a whose who of English actors – Judi Dench, Tom Wilkerson, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton. It also has Dev Patel from “Slumdog Millionaire” and it is directed by the always reliable John Madden. A bunch of English retirees looking for a cheap place to live in their final days settle on a run down hotel in Jaipur. This will be a big draw for the older art house crowd. Why? Sex, as in seniors having it. Now that the boomers are old, they need to affirm their status as randy seniors versus randy hippies from way back. “Exotic” will be a big crowd pleaser.

The second film is a charming comedy from Wes Anderson. This is the type of film that would get stifled in a megaplex. So naturally it will turn up in your neighborhood art house and run there for weeks on end. Set in 1965, a young couple, and by young we mean 14 or so, fall in love and elope. They can’t go too far because they are on the island of New Penzance, a small pile of rocks off the coast of New England. Of course everyone starts looking for them including Bill Murray, Frances MacDormand, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. The two young leads are self-assured while the comedy is intelligent, whimsical and like I said earlier, charming.

It is tough to call one film better than the other, but if you like your films smartly made and with some serious drama, then the Sundance winning ‘Beaof the Southern Wild’ is your baby. A cast of unknowns drive this tale of a small girl living with her wild, drunken father in the bayous of Louisiana just prior to Katrina. This is a film that could easily have been made by an Italian neo-realist some 60 years ago. It is well done, satisfying and leaves one with hope on lots of levels. There is the hope that this young girl will emerge as a strong leader. There is hope that there are small communities of intensely independent people still extant in the US and there is hope that dramatic film making will once again flourish.

This looks like a very good summer for art house films, but these three stand out. Perhaps another one will pop up and surprise us. Let’s hope so.

Oops, Wrong Again, Maybe


OK I was wrong. It happens, seldom, but it does happen. I make mistakes. Although I am less  willing to admit it. Just ask the ex-wives (yes, plural). Now what was I wrong about this time, Channing Tatum. The good looking star of such classics like “Step Up 2: The Streets” and “GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra” seemed as if he was like his films, a title with a colon – Channing Tatum: Hunk Who Was Doing Everything He Could to be Famous. Oy, another empty mind wrapped in a fine pair of genes.

Then I saw ’21 Jump Street’ and saw a glimmer of self-deprecating humor. Then I started reading about him and something dawned on me. This guy may be something I hadn’t realized- a smart, street savvy kid.

His latest film is ‘Magic Mike’, a comedy/romance about the world of male strippers. It is being directed by Stephen Soderberg, which in itself makes it something to have on your radar. Yet when I took a closer look at the film, I learned it was partially based on Tatum’s years as a male stripper. (huh?) and that he was the producer. Whoa. Either this guy is a media slut, er, savvy, like those Kardashian sisters or he’s really smart. I am hoping that it is the latter. I do like it when I am wrong, and it would be nice to see a new, powerful male actor emerge especially one who knows how smart it is to make fun of oneself.

‘Magic Mike’ could be the proof. If the film is smart, makes enough money and shows Tatum having more range than seen in some of his earlier films, he may be one of the big surprise of the 2012 summer films. Tatum is someone to watch and if he is, I was wrong.

Amazing & Touching Video


Some folks like to complain that technology is dividing us, putting us in fron of tiny machines and not interacting the way we should. But the following video brings is together. Not in some sappy uber-cute fawning way, but in an appreciation of what we are – human beings. The following shows the patience of a father as he records over 600 weeks of his daughter, from tiny baby to a young woman of 12 in a time lapse video.

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His name is Frans Hofmeester. He’s from Holland. The subject is Lotte, his daughter. The film has gone viral and has been seen by over a million  people. He asserts he will continue this video as well as a companion piece that is his 9 year old son, Vince.

I find this all so amazing and touchingly human.