‘The Lovely Bones’: Stuck in the in-between

Posted in awards season, movies by Diane on January 25, 2010

That's David Cassidy in her locker

Kudos to the production designer for “The Lovely Bones” — it’s eerie how much the film evokes Pennsylvania in the early ’70s.

We lived in the Keystone State in 1973, the year in which the movie was set, and believe you me it looked just like that. Those clothes! The neighborhood! David Cassidy posters!

Adding to the shock of recognition: Susie Salmon, the girl murdered early in the movie, was a few years older than I was at that time. I didn’t have a David Cassidy poster on my wall — or locker — but did have a crush on him like all the girls. I vividly recall belting out “I think I love you” on the merry-go-round with a group of pals; we never missed an installment of “The Partridge Family.”

The  period  detail was so uncanny that I fixated on the Nike running shoes Susie’s sister wears after the murder, the only detail that didn’t quite match my memory.  (Would they not have been blue and gold Waffle trainers?)

The movie itself was better than expected: It is less grisly than feared, focusing more on the aftermath of loss than the violent act itself. In his movie adaptation, director Peter Jackson created a nice blend of realism, suspense and mystical sequences.

Now that I’ve finally seen it, I’m a little surprised “The Lovely Bones” hasn’t made more of a splash. Maybe it’s too prosaically retro for some — and the story hook too forbidding for others. Perhaps the movie, like Susie Salmon, is stuck in the “in-between.”


Conan’s all right, he’s just a little weird

Posted in LAT, media, TV by Diane on January 24, 2010

Contrary to Neil Gabler’s incredibly wrong-headed essay in yesterday’s L.A. Times, Conan O’Brien wasn’t too cool for “The Tonight Show.” Rather,  he was too quirky.

And, judging by comments from the network, and O’Brien himself, both parties had been arguing about what the host should do about it: Defang his comedy further, in an attempt to draw mainstream auds that once watched Jay Leno and Johnny Carson before him, or to let Conan be Conan.

This was not, as Gabler argues, a battle between cool hipsters and dorks. The labels simply don’t fit. It had everything to do with splintering audiences and changing media consumption patterns.

NBC decided to go broad as possible and bring Jay back after his disastrous run at 10 p.m. And Conan decided to be true to himself and the traditional “Tonight Show” timeslot. His musical choices on the  last “Tonight Show” said it all: Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” on his video montage, and “Free Bird” closing out the show courtesy Will Ferrell in ’70s regalia.

Consider the “Surrender” refrain:

Mommy’s all right, daddy’s all right, they just seem a little weird/Surrender, surrender, but don’t give yourself away

and the story about leaving a relationship that wasn’t working in “Free Bird,” that 70’s anthem requested as an encore at so many concerts:

But please don’t take it so badly/Cause Lord knows I’m to blame

But if I stayed here with you girl/Things just couldn’t be the same

Cause I’m as free as a bird now/And this bird you cannot change

Add Neil Young’s acoustic rendition of “Long May You Run,” and you’ve got a pitch perfect score for Conan’s last “Tonight Show.” Can’t embed video here, so click over here for a vintage rendition of “Surrender,” and to Hulu for the montage, and Conan’s last show.

For now, that is.

Back to blather on CNN

Posted in journalism trends by Diane on January 21, 2010

Today was another bad day in Haiti — a strong aftershock rattled the country further and medical supplies remained scarce in the face of overwhelming need. Yet CNN kept spending far more time dissecting Scott Brown’s Senate win yesterday in Massachusetts than on the devastation in the Caribbean.

Anderson Cooper, who has once again done remarkable work covering a disaster, has been squeezed to the margins. And for what: More endless punditry overseen by Wolf “I’ve got a Situation Room” Blitzer.

It’s frustrating as a viewer. It must be exceedingly frustrating for Cooper and the rest of the CNN team in Haiti, where citizens are dying for lack of basic medical care more than a week after the original temblor. The situation has been so dire that Cooper and medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta, among other journalists, have all dropped their observer pose to help ailing Haitians.

But CNN thinks we want endless speculation about the Democrats’ loss of its super majority in the Senate. Guess again.

To watch CNN footage of Cooper’s rescue depicted above, click here.


Conan: Free at last

Posted in TV by Diane on January 19, 2010

Getting effed-over by NBC has been the best thing that ever happened to Conan O’Brien’s comedy: The departing “Tonight Show” host has been looser and more at ease than I’ve seen him in years. He actually seems like he’s having fun.

NBC’s treatment of him certainly serves as a reminder of the perils of biding your time and playing the good corporate citizen. In this sped-up culture, networks are less inclined than ever to give shows time to develop on-air.

Here’s hoping that O’Brien doesn’t hold back on his next show. In the meantime, tune in this week for more zingers and high-spirited giddiness as he and his cohorts prepare to exit the show that Johnny reigned over so long. I never thought I would see Colin Firth relate scatalogical anecdotes, but there he was last night. Tom Hanks is up tonight.


Jersey boys: the Sheik and the Situation

Posted in movies, TV by Diane on January 18, 2010

You don’t need me to lobby for “Jersey Shore” — you’ll either succumb to MTV’s trashtastic reality show or you won’t. But I would like to put in a word for an earlier look at Garden State class relations that never fully got its due.

Improbable as it may sound, the shenanigans of Ronnie, Pauly D and Mike the Situation reminded me of “Baby, It’s You,” John Sayles’ third movie. Set in 1960s Trenton, the doomed romance stars Rosanna Arquette as Jill Rosen, a nice Jewish girl desperate to break free from her sheltered existence, and Vincent Spano as a snazzy dresser from the wrong side of town who calls himself the Sheik for reasons you’d probably prefer not to know.

After high school, the snob gets a taste of her own medicine at the hands of her Sarah Lawrence classmates and preppie boys that woo them; the Sheik has his own adjustment problems in Miami, where he’s lipsynching Frank Sinatra tunes. Naturally they take comfort in each other. But can they overcome their growing differences? I think you know the answer.

Among the movie’s many charms is its soundtrack, rich with song by Bruce Springsteen. Which brings me back to “Jersey Shore.” The show, which concludes its first season on Thursday, was filmed right off the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, a short drive down the coast from Asbury Park, Springsteen’s old stomping grounds.

Most of the cast isn’t actually from the Garden State, but no matter. In many ways they are straight out of central casting, Italian-American style: There’s Mike the Situation, a confident fellow fond of referring to himself in the third person, Vinny the mama’s boy, and Ronnie, the burly swain who’s quick with his first. Pauly D, an amiable DJ with open door policy to all ladies, has a signature ‘do, while pint-sized Snooki makes up for her diminutive stature with outsize personality.

MTV is airing the shows steadily, so there’s plenty of time to catch up if you’re so inclined. Or you can just check out the New Yorker’s dissection, which quite frankly, isn’t nearly as much fun — or trashy — as the show itself.

Oh, and if you do catch up with “Baby, It’s You,” be on the lookout for cameos by Matthew Modine and Robert Downey Jr. Tracy Pollan, aka Mrs. Michael J. Fox, plays a pivotal role in the film.


Almodovar: Embracing the past

Posted in movies by Diane on January 18, 2010

Maybe someone else can tell me: Did Pedro Almodovar intentionally evoke “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” in “Broken Embraces” or simply borrow from it? There are familiar elements in “Girls and Suitcases,” the movie within the movie, to be sure: the tomato reds, “Verge” co-star Rossy de Palma, and a scheme involving gazpacho. The reconstituted “Girls” certainly evokes the over-the-top humor of “Women” — and lifts “Broken Embraces” — but are we to read more into the similarities? My guess is no: Almodovar pays homage to Hollywood movies in “Girls and Suitcases” as well: He has the director playfully doll up Penelope Cruz’s Lena as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn.

My view: the intent of the homages doesn’t really matter, though they add to the enjoyment for fans of the cinema.For all the noir elements, “Broken Embraces” is one of Almodovar’s most joyous movies in years.


3D overload

Posted in 3D, awards season, Blu-ray, Variety by Diane on January 8, 2010

Between “Avatar” and CES, it’s hard to avoid the 3D hype machine. Does everyone want to watch 3D at home? Consumer electronics companies, and all the studios pumping out 3D movies, sure hope so.

Here are a couple short stories I wrote for Variety about 3D moves: The first is about RealD’s flurry of deals with TV manufacturers, and the second about the movies arriving on 3D Blu-ray this year.

Last, forgot to post a link to this Variety story about those confusing Oscar rules. Do they really have to be so complicated? Oscar members defend themselves.


Avatar’s weird beauty

Posted in awards season, movies by Diane on January 8, 2010

The thing that dazzled me most about “Avatar” was not jump in your face 3D effects (which kinda made me queasy), and it certainly wasn’t the story (which was laughable in parts). Nope, it was the strange beauty of Pandora.

At first the creatures of this futuristic world looked peculiar, and in a few cases, downright ugly. But the colors of those flying beasts was a wonder to behold; Pandora’s visual charms grew on me. And the terrible last fight sequence with the blue-hued Na’vi in warpaint was simply stunning. Say what you will about James Cameron, and I’m not the biggest fan of his movies, but those achievements are remarkable. I can’t think of any sci-fi movie as beautiful and strange as “Avatar.”

Did the evil colonel really need to be such a caricature? No. The love scenes so dopey? Not hardly. And why did those fierce Pandora creatures disappear for two-thirds of the movie? Oh, I get it: To show how idyllic that world was. So reassuring they were at Cameron’s disposal when he needed them.

But I guess I forgive him for those shortcomings. Kinda. The real question is: Will the Academy overlook them as well? Will they vote for rigorous storytelling of, say,  “The Hurt Locker” or visual splendor of Cameron’s world? Real-life war or mythical one? I know which way I’m leaning.


Netflix got what it wanted. Will other retailers follow suit?

Posted in DVD, Netflix, Redbox, rentals, studios by Diane on January 6, 2010

Remember when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings talked about studio plans for a DVD sales window?

At the time, his comments seemed incredibly self-serving: Warner Bros. was already trying to impose a window on Netflix and other subscription-based rental services. If stores renting movies on a disc by disc basis followed suit, Netflix wouldn’t be operating under a competitive disadvantage.

So Hastings talked about the advantages of such a scheme. “If we can agree on low-enough pricing,” the LAT quoted Hastings saying, “delayed rental could potentially increase profits for everyone.”

And maybe Hastings could get more access to movies for streaming purposes, which is what HE really wanted. Under the vagaries of studio window policies, Netflix has access to movies for a limited period.

Sure enough, that’s what happened. Netflix, Ben Fritz reported in the LAT, got a price break, and more content for its streaming service. Don’t be surprised if other studios broker similar deals with Netflix, and potentially Redbox as well.

The question remains, however, whether ailing chains like Blockbuster will take a similar deal. Even if they did, however, I would expect indies to try and find ways to subvert any DVD sales window studios attempt to impose on rentailers industrywide.

Earlier: Studios playing with fire: Why a DVD rental window is a bad idea; Now we know: WB insisting on a 28-day kiosk windowStudios are trying to withhold movies from Redbox. Is this wise?


Bye bye, Video Business

Posted in DVD, journalism trends by Diane on January 6, 2010

The most amazing thing about Video Business is that it lasted as long as it did.

By the time I worked there in the late ’90s, the mom and pop era of videostores was already over. The battle between Hollywood Video and Blockbuster, which I wrote about for the L.A. Times, was well under way and DVD sales at big box stores were taking further toll on the indies. And these indies were the raison d’etre  for the video trades, subsidized as they have always been by studio product ads.

With fewer retailers to deal with — and direct relationships with the big chains — studios had less reason to spring for those ads. Video Business tried to reposition itself — envisioning studio execs and those toiling in emerging technologies as a broader expanded audience — without much success.

The parent company saw the writing on the wall years ago: When I requested additional resources for the website, the then head of the company likened VB to a broken down old car. And this was before the DVD market started to falter.

Still, VB persisted under various RBI regime changes. Brass trimmed costs where it could, but the past year was clearly a struggle. When RBI announced last week it was going to start shuttering mags it could not sell, I immediately thought of VB.

Despite all that, the actual shuttering seemed sudden. The Jan. 4 edition was the last. Home Media Magazine, the one I always thought would be the first to go, ended up the survivor.